San Diego sculptor Roman de Salvo, the newest artist-in-residence at the Timken Museum, recently began building the equivalent of a large-scale erector set inside the Balboa Park museum’s atrium. At first glance, it seems like a project founded in engineering or physics, but de Salvo’s method started with biology, particularly bifurcation.
Bifurcation, or branching into two segments, is found in trees, plants, human biology and countless other dichotomies or divisions in the natural world.
Technically, though, de Salvo started with art: The Timken’s summer residency program, now in its second year, asks its residents to produce a work inspired by a piece of art in the museum’s permanent collection.
The Timken, Balboa Park’s only admission-free institution, opened in 1965 with a small but impressive collection of European old master works. It doesn’t often exhibit contemporary works, and its new residency program seeks to change that. Last summer, Bhavna Mehta created a large-scale installation  based on Veneto’s “Portrait of a Lady.” These residencies are a way for the Timken to meld its historic collection with new, architecturally minded works by living artists.
The Art (and Science) of Bifurcation
De Salvo chose a Rococo-era piece by 18th century French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard called “Blindman’s Buff.” Specifically, he chose the painting’s backdrop: a gnarled, branching tree.
“I noticed that the entire tree had this bifurcation structure, and I could see the way he painted the tree,” said de Salvo. “I had the sense that he painted the tree on the canvas bifurcation after bifurcation, getting smaller as he got out onto the branches.”
That’s what de Salvo set out to emulate with his residency installation, “Electric Picnic,” with a modular structure constructed primarily using the type of slotted metal brackets used to fasten a garage door mechanism to the ceiling, plus nuts and bolts, and to be finished with a “blossomy” series of twin socket chandeliers. (De Salvo mused that he is buying out most local Home Depots of their garage door frameworks). His penchant for ordinary materials often results in sculptural or conceptual works that are anything but ordinary, such as his massive eucalyptus gateway installed at Ruocco Park near the Embarcadero.
Rather than draft or engineer the tree in advance, de Salvo is essentially winging it, appraising each addition as a bifurcation.
“But it’s a systematic approach.” de Salvo said. “Even though each module is unique, there’s still the system, the rules that I follow to build the network of tree parts joined together.” It evokes the plant world’s cellular framework, seemingly wild and without order but in actuality biologically complex and uniform.
His first task at the residency was to build a series of benches, in part to form a support structure for the branching sculpture, but also to encourage a park-like setting. He described the museum’s architecture as being a work of art itself, and said he is unable to drill into the floor or walls for support. He also said that he chose his materials and method with the environment in mind — specifically, not making dust or using power tools.
“I’m a sculptor; I usually make things with pretty noisy and dusty methods, but here at the Timken you’re surrounded by old master works and people that don’t want to hear a bunch of noise while they’re looking at the work,” de Salvo said. “I had to think of a way to do this project that was compatible with the museum environment.”
After looking at the Fragonard work, he surveyed the space, its audience and environment.
“It’s pretty significant space in terms of its volume and what not,” de Salvo said. “I didn’t want to be doing something kind of small and insignificant in that space.”
Despite his instant observation and subsequent inspiration of the biological and structural bifurcation in the tree’s branch system, de Salvo hesitated to call his work scientific.
“I guess I know enough scientists and about science to feel like that I’m not very scientific in my motivations, but I’m interested in science and understanding the insights that science gives us, that all interests me profoundly,” he said. “In the end, I hope it’s just essentially something that you can read and understand as a series of moves in relationship to a whole bunch of givens: given the painting, given the museum, given the audience.”
De Salvo continues to create the installation inside the museum, working from 11-4:30 Tuesday through Fridays through June 28, and on display through late August. De Salvo will lead a lecture in the space on July 8.
Crafts and Drinks, Lots of Theater Happenings and More News for the Culture Crowd
- Indoor/Outdoor is a new multi-venue exhibition  featuring Southern California and Swedish artists. It runs at the Athenaeum Art Center in Barrio Logan from Saturday through July 2, and at the San Diego Art Institute from June 21 through July 7.
- The Mingei hosts a workshop plus hard kombucha tasting on “the meditative craft of punch needle rug hooking ,” this Saturday at JuneShine. While this one-day workshop has a bit of a price tag, you get a lot of free materials to take home plus boozy ‘booch.
- The Mainly Mozart festival is in full swing and runs through June 23 with a full schedule of full-orchestra performances, chamber pieces, lectures and even a youth performance  this Sunday evening. (U-T)
- This guide to summer outdoor movies  will have you reaching for your calendar — and your lawn chairs. (San Diego Magazine)
- The La Jolla Playhouse has named Talleri McRae and Mickey Rowe,  who run the National Disability Theater, as its 2019-2020 artists-in-residence. (U-T)
- The Pride lineup  has been announced!
- The Old Globe is set to host a new commissioned play about toxic masculinity  by J.C. Lee called “What We Are.” (U-T)
- The Diversionary Theatre just announced its 34th season , focusing on “the intensely personal nature of gender.” I’m excited for “Plot Points in our Sexual Development,” which earns points from me for a clever title and being directed by local icon and educator Kym Pappas.
- Chula Vista’s civic arts program is in the news again. New Councilwoman Jill Galvez has threatened to eliminate the city’s cultural arts manager , Lynette Tessitore.
- Thursday marks the closing reception for Monsters, a multimedia project at You Belong Here .
- The Bonita Museum and Cultural Center’s “California Plein Air ” exhibition closes on Saturday.
- One Michelin star for the whole city. I know this is impressive but it also feels underwhelming. This write-up  after Monday’s announcement, which describes Addison (at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar) as “most expensive” and “most formal,” and I kind of can’t be bothered to eat there. Hope the travelers enjoy it! (Eater)
- Beer writer Beth Demmon has an update on the still-in-progress Museum of Beer . (CityBeat)
- San Diego’s Prohibition gets a nod  in this roundup of bartender-favorite summer cocktails. (Uproxx)
- Oh dear, the minimum pre-IPO share buy-in for Encinitas-based BudTrader is $420 . The group, known as the “Craigslist of Weed,” is considered a tech company, rather than a cannabis purveyor. (Times of San Diego)
What’s Inspiring Me Right Now
- This piece on the new American mother  is powerful and enlightening. “I am here at the epicenter of momming and money in order to understand what it means when one of our culture’s most sacred identity markers becomes a profitable branding tool.” (Topic)
- Here’s a look at gender, race and representation in photography , and the online groups in which WOC photographers can exchange ideas, work and opportunities in an otherwise dismal industry landscape. (Bitch)
- San Diego writer Jim Ruland made the Wigleaf Top 50  Very Short Fictions list with this surprising-at-every-turn flash fiction piece, “Recommence .” “I write for a golf magazine. Not the magazine per se, but the blog. A golf blog. I hate everything about it. Its obsession with swing mechanics. Its upper crust entitlement. I even hate the way it sounds. Golf blog.” (X-R-A-Y)