UC Berkeley Botanical Garden art installation draws conservative criticism

SOL Grotto, a new installation on display at the UC Botanical Garden, is composed of glass tubes that were manufactured for Solyndra.
Katherine Chen/Staff
SOL Grotto, a new installation on display at the UC Botanical Garden, is composed of glass tubes that were manufactured for Solyndra.

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A new art installation at the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley has prompted backlash from right-wing commentators who say the materials used are a waste of taxpayer money.

The SOL Grotto, which is part of the garden’s Natural Discourse exhibit, was constructed from glass tubes engineered for Solyndra, the Fremont solar-panel company that filed for bankruptcy last year after receiving a $535 million loan guarantee from the federal government.

In a statement released Tuesday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee called the loan to Solyndra a “reckless investment” and dubbed the piece “the most expensive piece of art in history,” putting it at the top of a list of high-price pieces including Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Paul Cezanne’s “The Card Players.” Fox News commentator and UC Berkeley alumnus Greg Gutfeld also expressed anger at the piece and the history of its materials on The Five.

“Most modern art and alternative energies are a lot alike in that it’s for the believer to find value in it, because for the rest of us there is none,” he said on The Five.

The SOL Grotto, which uses 1,368 of the millions of glass tubes “destined for destruction” after Solyndra failed, “explores Solyndra’s role as a company Sh*t Out of Luck,” according to the website for the SOL Grotto’s artists, Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello.  It is meant to act as “a space of solitude and close to nature where one is presented with a mediated experience of water, coolness and light,” according to the website.

Rael said he acquired the glass tubes from JIT Transportation, a shipping company that was stuck with the tubes after Solyndra folded. The owner of the shipping company provided the tubes because they would have been thrown away otherwise, Rael said.

Rael added that the point of the grotto was to encourage different perspectives and even political discussion but said that while all opinions and perspectives can be incorporated into his art, it has been taken to an extreme in an effort to swing voters.

“We intended to open up dialogue,” Rael said. “We didn’t intend to open it so wide.”

But Derek Zhou, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said the SOL Grotto does not belong in the Botanical Gardens.

“A museum of wasted taxpayer money would seem more appropriate,” he said in a text message.

Paul Licht, director of the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, said that the political controversy surrounding the artwork is missing the point.

“It’s really just a piece of art, and the point is to create art that fits into nature,” he said. “What we’ve basically done is recycle these materials.”

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  • Guest

    Solyndra is not “out of luck”. It was destined for failure from the start, but managed to rake in $500 million in government loans because a large fraction of that was going to flow back to the democrat party in campaign donations. Scam.

  • arteetz shup up

    That damn money should go to the plants and their continued preservation. And it would be from every psuedo-creative hipster to decry any fiscal criticism on ART, whatever that is. That piece of “art” should be immediately liquidated to recoup costs, and donated to the botanical garden for water usage and capital reserve.

    I also do not understand what “right-wing conservatrix” etc has to do with the failure of this project. I’m not a conservo, and I think it was a horrible investment.

    The plants are perfection. They use sunlight for energy, not zap it up like light-bulbs.

  • Calipenguin

    Solyndra was a huge waste of taxpayer money, and its CEO referred to Obama as “Bank of Washington” in a clear example of crony capitalism by our prez. However, I don’t see why conservatives have to take it out on artists or those infamous glass tubes. It would be a great idea for the Cal College of Engineering to acquire as many of those tubes as possible and hold an art competition open to Cal students only to build the most innovative self-powered pieces of art or useful machinery, and display them around the campus.


    • Guest

      Seriously. It makes no sense. It would be like getting mad at an artist for using paints that were made by a company that got a federal loan and went bankrupt. WTF?

    • I_h8_disqus

      People love to attack art that doesn’t speak to them, but in this case, I figure the commentators are not attacking the art so much as they are taking advantage of Solyndra being in the news again to attack the folks who wasted half a billion dollars on a start up company with a very bad business plan and poor financials. The government should not be a venture capitalist. The UC could have done so much more with half a billion.

    • libsrclowns

      Anytime we can draw attention to Obama’s record of FAILURE is good for vetting one of our least accomplished presidents in history.

      Obama FAILS with Green Energy Investments

      For those who only hear about these failing companies one by one, the following is a list of all the clean energy companies supported by President Obama’s stimulus that are now failing or have filed for bankruptcy. The liberal media hopes you’ve forgotten about all of them except Solyndra, but we haven’t.

      Evergreen Solar
      Solyndra (received $535 million)
      Beacon Power (received $43 million)
      AES’ subsidiary Eastern Energy
      Nevada Geothermal (received $98.5 million)
      SunPower (received $1.5 billion)
      First Solar (received $3 billion)
       Babcock & Brown (an Australian company which received $178 million)
      Ener1 (subsidiary EnerDel received $118.5 million)
      Amonix (received 5.9 million)
      The National Renewable Energy Lab
      Fisker Automotive
      Abound Solar (received $400 million)
      Chevy Volt (taxpayers basically own GM)
      Solar Trust of America
      A123 Systems (received $279 million)
      Willard & Kelsey Solar Group (received $6 million)

      That’s 17 (that we know of so far). We also know that loans went to foreign clean energy companies (Fisker sent money to their overseas plant to develop an electric car), and that 80% of these loans went to Obama’s campaign donors.

      • I_h8_disqus

        This is why Cal students need to be much more critical and detailed in their research about politicians. Neither side has a candidate that looks out for the students. I would expect that most students don’t have any idea about the insane amounts of money that Goldman Sachs has given to Obama or about all the Goldman Sachs executives who have worked for the administration. One of the main companies behind our recession is seriously connected with Obama’s administration. I only learned about this through the First Solar controversy. Goldman Sachs was a major investor in First Solar, and through their close connection with the administration got the company all those billions in loans. Money that went overseas and to the First Solar executives, while they laid off US workers.

  • berkeleyprotest

    That is nice, now that they are done. in between ranting about berkeley, fox likes to publicize sensitive government information. they are wrong

    • I_h8_disqus

      I would not have expected you to support hiding government information from the public.

      • berkeleyprotest

        assuming makes an ass out of you and me

        • I_h8_disqus

          If you could write some coherent statements, then I wouldn’t get the wrong idea about what you are saying.

        • Stan De San Diego

          You already do that quite nicely for yourself without having to assume anything.