A few weeks ago I reported that the WHERE THE HECK ARE WE? sign that I posted on a tree in the woods in 1991 is currently on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) as part of artist Colter’s contribution to the SECA Exhibition. It was a fun story, good for a laugh. But things have evolved since then in a more serious direction.
You may remember that I mentioned that Colter made a temporary sign, with the same question on it, and posted it on the same tree in the woods, as a stand-in for the original sign while it is on loan to the MOMA. His temporary sign was up less than a week before it was apparently stolen from the tree. Colter looked all over the place for it, thinking perhaps it blew down. But it seems to be gone. We are not 100% certain that it fell victim to foul play, but it sure looks like it. It’s tough to imagine someone going to all the trouble of figuring out exactly where the original sign was posted and going out there to steal Colter’s substitute. Colter is a well-known artist, so maybe someone thinks that the sign is valuable since he painted it. It’s possible, but very unlikely, that someone read my blog and searched me on the internet to find my old address at the Ranch. I say very unlikely because not very many people read my blog and you who do are close friends and family. Not strangers. (And I thank you for tuning in every week.)
What this means, however, is that the sign can never go back to its home on the tree without being in danger of disappearing for good. Colter plans to give the sign to me for safekeeping after he takes it out of the museum. Whether or not any WHERE THE HECK ARE WE? sign will ever be posted on the road to the Ranch again remains to be seen. The question might be gone from the road up there for good. And I can’t imagine posting the original sign outdoors again at all, even at our current residence, since it would be in danger of being stolen. This whole story, of everything that has transpired since the sign went to the MOMA and the result being that the sign is now exiled forever from its home, feels to me like an allegory.
My friend Helen L. in Fife (Scotland) posted the picture that appears below on my Facebook page a few days ago because she thought I would appreciate the poignancy of the image.
The bicycle was purportedly chained to the tree by a young man who went off to fight in the war and never returned. I read some of the comments about the picture and one of them related that in the short time since the picture was posted on the internet (and has had almost 10,000 views), the handlebars have been stolen. The photo doesn’t indicate where this bike and tree are located. But someone found out and took the handlebars. Coincidence? Hardly. The bike has been in the tree for nearly 100 years and no one took anything before the image appeared on the internet.
I am deeply saddened that the question I posted on our tree in 1991 is no longer living there. I never once considered taking the sign with us when we moved. It belonged there. It was on that tree in the middle of the woods that the question was most meaningful and most humorous. In my opinion, the question means nothing in the context of a modern art museum. Fame, it seems, has killed the question.
The sign in its natural habitat.