Oliver Ranch

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Steve Oliver inside Ann Hamilton’s tower

I took a break from our Oakland Fusion Installation over the weekend to recharge, touch base with family and friends, and take advantage of a rare opportunity for a private tour of Oliver Ranch. Our group met in Healdsburg at the home of our gracious friend and host, Cindy Daniel, and carpooled through a late season downpour to the 100 acre home of Steve Oliver in Geyserville, where he has commissioned one of the world’s finest collections of site specific, outdoor artworks by the likes of Richard Serra, Martin Puryear, Anne Hamilton, Bruce Nauman and many others.

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The group explores Richard Serra’s ‘Snake Eyes and Box Cars’

My Yankee sensibility normally limits my capacity for effusion, but I found Oliver Ranch to be one of the most awe-inspiring experiences in recent memory, especially in the context of contemporary art. Despite a steady rain, Steve took the time to personally usher us around the entire site, regaling us with his amazing stories along the way, conveyed with the freshness of improvisation. We were captivated by his quick mind, easy wit, persistent nature and generous spirit. It became evident early in the day that Steve has played more than a collaborative or curatorial role in facilitating these works. He has pushed the limits of feasibility itself by contributing his seemingly boundless technical and financial resources, natural enthusiasm and lack of interest in the ‘art market’ to the artists’ vision at the outset of each project. Despite the consistent themes of metaphysical precision and sheer permanence linking the collected works, Steve took pains to emphasize the significance of relationships, and the value of hosting artists over the dinner table with his children and grandchildren.

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Martin Puryear’s ‘Untitled’ is built from local stones and others from around the globe

Like the Medicis during the Italian Renaissance, Steve has succeeded in laying down the gauntlet of human potential when resources align to support pure imagination, and the site communicates at the level of wonder usually reserved for the magnificence of nature. When serving posterity, Great Art seems to simultaneously compliment and contradict nature.

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Detail of Serra’s ‘Snake Eyes and Box Cars’, one of many 41″ x 41″ x 7′ blocks of solid cortens steel, pounded to increase density.

The only troubling distraction I’ve experienced after having been so viscerally inspired is that collectively, the works at Oliver Ranch ultimately function as a kind of memorial to uncertainty, as a potentially cryptic message sent from an otherwise temporal present to an almost impossibly attainable distant future. Then again, this only adds to the fascination simply by framing the dilemma.

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