WINDOWS: It’s Art About People – And Without Pretense

S.F. EXAMINER – Page 3, Thurs., Feb. 8, 1979

By Jeff Jarvis

You might see The Units, a punk rock band, performing: sometimes people pose as go-go dancers or models, and it's all art, people art.

It is painless art – art where you least expect it:

Art inside the windows at the long-vacant J.C. Penney’s building at Fifth and Market streets, once occupied by little more than the droppings of birds. It’s art brought to you by a curator of unexpected spaces, Mike Osterhout.

Osterhout, a graduate student at the S.F. Art Institute, said he’s “going toward an audience that’s indigenous to an area. They don’t see it as art or anything. They just see it… It’s not aimed at the art community. It’s aimed at the people who are down there every day.”

The exhibit sits behind or on the display windows of the Penney’s building, vacant for eight years. Each week, a different artist does something different in there. The exhibit is called, appropriately enough, Windows.”

The first artist to use the space was Masashi Matsumoto. “He did pieces on paper just taped to the windows – a play on windows,” Osterhout said. “Over the years, he’s been working with doors. So, he did a play with windows and doors and windows and doors.”

Next was Peggy Ingalls, who simply spread a red, checkered tablecloth on the floor behind the window. There was nothing on the tablecloth, nothing around it. But on the window, she pasted this message: “Life is no picnic.”

“That was pretty straightforward – a beautiful piece, I thought,” Osterhout said.

Next, Dan Ake painted the windows with glass wax, the white stuff you see smeared on display windows when a store is “closed for remodeling.”

Ake painted the outside of the windows “so the people had a chance to interact with that. He got some beautiful graffiti … Essentially, the strong poing was putting glass was on the outside instead of the inside.”

Next, Jose Maria Bustos pasted clear plastic bags to the inside of the window. Inside each bag was a $10 bill and above each bag was a red notice: “In case of emergency, break glass.” The managers of the building made haste in getting the $10 bills taken down – it was too great a temptation, they said. So, Bustos put up a note explaining what had happened, “He’s the type of artist – you give him a tight space and he can work with it.”

Kai Beriones and Rachel Webber put a punk rock band called The Units inside the window with some people posing as go-go dancers, models and sunbathing vacationers. The theme was “on vacation.” Osterhout said their’s was “different from the other pieces. It’s more like a performance than an installation.”

Last week, Tony Labat fashioned six-foot-high letters out of black plastic that looked as if it came from gigantic Glad garbage bags. They spelled: “HEY YOU.” And in the center was a large red star with his name in small white letters in the middle. Hanging above the star was a small red light.

Two more artists are scheduled for the “Windows” exhibit. They, like the others, are friends of Osterhout, fellow artists. Osterhout said he doesn’t know what they’re going to do; He doesn’t want to. He likes surprises.

After this exhibit, Osterhout plans to do mote with the building. He wants to put on a “non-artist show – people who in no way consider themselves artists.” And he’s thinking about putting on “commuter performances” - shows at 4 p.m. to entertain workers on their way home.

It’s all fine with the people who manage the Pennys building for its owner, Bob Lurie, who also owns the Giants.

Jean Hagen, manager of properties for Lurie, charges Osterhout a nominal rent. She’s not a great fan of the art that’s appeared in her windows. “I’m kind of a traditionalist,” she said. But she doesn’t haave anything against it, either. “I feel it’s certainly an improvement over empty windows.”

Is this any way to earn a living? Not quite. Osterhout is a carpenter, and he uses the money he earns in that trade to support his art. But he hopes all the work he’s doing now will lead to something – like a grant – so he can continue exploring “alternative art spaces” with painless art.