unbearably cute

The piece, with a truck added for scale
The piece, with a truck added for scale

Here’s a fun artwork from the Stuart Collection at UCSD, Tim Hawkinson’s Bear. At almost 24 feet tall and 180 tons it’s a little bigger and heavier than your average Steiff bear, but it’s gotta be at least as cute.

It’s a pretty simple idea: take eight big to really big boulders and pile them together, just so. There’s a fair amount of engineering that keeps the piece from falling apart, but all the tech stays in the background. Nothing intrudes into the piece’s overscaled cuteness and child-like sense that anyone could assemble a few rocks together like this.

A portrait from closer up. Awwwww......Cuuuuuuuute.....
A portrait from closer up. Awwwww……Cuuuuuuuute…..

In our stats-obsessed world people will compare the piece’s “mere” 180 tons to the 340 ton mass of the monster rock that achieved superstar status as it got transported into downtown Los Angeles to become the central element in Michael Heizer’s Levitated Mass at the LA County Museum of Art. (You can read about the piece–and the rock–lots of places, including [ here ] on fellow blogger Ryan’s Dry Stone Gardening.) But, hey, 180 tons is already double the weight of a space shuttle, so I’ll allow myself to be impressed.

Actually this, the back, is my favorite angle on the Bear
Actually this, the back, is my favorite angle on the Bear

The stone comes from a quarry up in Pala, in the foothills about an hour to the northwest. It looks a lot like the boulders of our backcountry: smooth-surfaced, light-colored, with a warm rosy orange glow. A geologist once told me that at least some of the stone that makes up some of the adjacent formations is quartz monzonite, a felspar-rich mineral adjacent to granite on a family tree of plutonic rocks. But whatever it’s made out of, granite, quartz monzonite, it’s cool to have a big pile of big rocks from East County, remixed into a giant bear.

But one thing keeps bugging me about the work. The campus mascot of UC Berkeley, Cal, is the bear, and I keep wondering whether the artist got it wrong and thought that all the UC campuses had the same mascot. (San Diego’s is–lamentably–the tritons. Lame, but at least not insulting to many members of the population.) If this piece were transported to that northern campus I think it’d be an instant pet artwork and a big hit. So I keep wondering whether this site-specific artwork ended up at the wrong site. Very cute, but also very lost.

9 thoughts on “unbearably cute”

  1. It’s great. I love it. Thanks for posting this. There’s something wonderful about conveying cuteness with 180 tons of granite (or quartz monzonite as the case may be). It almost makes me want to go back down and live in the dorms again so I could get drunk and climb on it in the middle of the night.

    1. Ryan, I love that incongruity, too, that hard/soft edge the piece has.

      Ricki, yah, it does feel a little lost to me. But I’ll just blame that on the brain getting in the way of enjoying something perfectly cute and clever.

  2. That is kind of cool. But I always do a double-take at what outdoor art installations like this cost (or temporary ones), compared to what maintaining existing landscape investments get.

    Makes me glad no granite boulders in the Sandia Mtns are shaped like chile peppers, in case UNM might…

    1. David, I worry about the cost thing too. This clearly isn’t the sort of thing most homeowners or renters could take on, but I suppose that’s the cool thing of doing things as a society, or as an organization supported by forward-thinking folks. Of course for the same amount of funds you could do a lot else, and the arts always hangs exposed when you have to make a choice between it and something else.

      Diana, thanks for the heads-up about Maria Sibylla Merian being feature on the doodle. How cool is that?! I’d love to have my 366th birthday celebrated the same way!

  3. just BTW I see Maria Sibylla Merian in the G doodle. Sadly just a butterfly, since you say she always worked with plant and animal in her botanical illustrations.

  4. Hi James,

    What a cool piece of artwork! Somebody had some pretty neat vision to see that one as a finished piece of art.

    I agree that pieces of art like this are probably not the most responsible expense of public monies, but there’s a lot to be said for the culture and attraction that comes with them, too. Just like anything else, there’s a fine line to be walked, but I think investment in projects such as this are worthwhile, at least to an extent.

    Thanks for sharing! I hope you finish the weekend strong and have an outstanding week.


  5. Hi,

    I’m curious about your reasoning with this idea, quoted from your article above: “(San Diego’s is–lamentably–the tri­tons. Lame, but at least not insult­ing to many mem­bers of the pop­u­la­tion.)”

    Alternate names you could recommend.
    Is it true that UCSD was founded upon SIO, which is still a significant department in the UCSD ‘structure’?

    But what are your detailed feelings on the matter, Triton naming included, with suggestions for changes that could be made?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Scott,
      Thanks for your comment. “Lame” is in the eye of the beholder and when I beheld “triton” I beheld lame. In interests of full disclosure, when I picked my schools I actively picked schools without big football programs. I HATE organized group sports. Nothing turns me off as much as a metastasizing group-think organism that is a stadium full of fans, and team names are just a part of that anti-individualist machine. Maybe “brain-dead mind-controlled zombies” would be a team name I could approve of. In the end “triton” is a perfectly reasonable piece of design-by-committee, accurate, complete, inoffensive, no worse than most–and entirely soulless. Really, the only team names I can wrap my brain around are the ones like the Santa Cruz Banana Slugs–a meta-name that critiques the whole process of naming.

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