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It’s been a long road for Roberto Salas and his series public art installation, “Night Visions.”
The 12 pieces that make up the installation have been running down a short thoroughfare along Park Boulevard between Zoo Place and Village Place since they were commissioned by the city to add some pizzazz to our streets for the 1988 Super Bowl. They were only meant to stay up for 10 years. Twenty-six years later, they’re still here.
You may have never noticed them, as they are modeled after streets signs. Look closer, though, and you’ll see colorful abstract backgrounds and human figures that light up thanks to some strategically placed vinyl coating. Over the years, however, these “Night Visions” started looking pretty busted.
Salas fought long and hard with the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, whose interim executive director, Dana Springs, had recommended that they be removed. In 2013, “Night Visions” was saved from de-installation after a unanimous vote by the commission.
The fully restored pieces made their debut earlier this month on the eastern side of Park Boulevard, stretching from the Naval Hospital to Upas Street.
“I went to see them last night,” said Salas. “They’re not quite complete. The poles need reflective vinyl at this point otherwise the faces [on the signs] look like they’re floating. But I’m happy. It’s up now. You have to go through all that stuff.”
Salas says that once the commission voted to keep the pieces, he approached Springs about restoring them himself. Salas said that he was never granted an audience with Springs and believes that he was passed over for the job of restoring his own pieces because the quote he provided was “too pricey.”
“I hoped we could just sit down and talk about it,” said Salas. “I think there’s room for negotiation in everything. [Springs] found someone else to restore it. They probably gave them a better quote. It’s kind of a little weird that they would do that, but it’s fine. They are restored. I’m fine with it. The person did a good job.”
Springs confirmed that she never met with Salas privately, but said he had “many opportunities to interact with us throughout the process” and was present at some of the public meetings.
Springs said that money did play a role in the decision, though that wasn’t the only factor. In 1989, the city purchased the installation for $11,000. Salas proposed a $40,000 budget to conserve the pieces using the same type of material used to build the original set, and wanted to add two new pieces to the installation. The artist the commission selected proposed a budget of $12,000, and would use more durable technology in the restoration process. No new pieces would be added.
“The city was able to restore its own artwork at a reasonable price with a longer lasting result,” said Springs.
Also, $1,500 of the $12,000 budget was given to Salas so he could fly out from El Paso, Texas, to San Diego to consult on the sign restoration.
“Remember that we are managing objects,” said Springs. “The city is not obligated to engage the original artist. Although, depending on certain circumstances, sometimes the original artist will be engaged. It really is a case-by-case question.”
Even so, Salas is happy that “Night Visions” will live on and now take up a longer, more linear stretch of street, giving viewers the sense of suddenly driving through an exhibition that sits right outside their car window. For him, it’s a win for public art in San Diego.
“You can’t just throw things away,” he said. “There are some things worth saving.”