On a hillside overlooking the San Elijo Lagoon in San Diego County, a grove of young trees has begun bearing fruit. Long, spindly limbs trail the ground, loaded with bunches of Anna apples, their green skin showing a maroon blush as they slowly ripen, inviting visitors to reach out and pluck a sweet, crisp treat.
An apple grove in Encinitas? Yes and no. It’s an art installation by Astrid Preston titled “The Garden of Apple Delights,” on the future site of the Lux Art Institute, a museum with a mission to bring artists and nature together.
“Our site backs up against a preserve of 40 acres,” said institute director Reesey Shaw. “The installation sits on a peninsula of land that comes down from the preserve onto our site. The tip of that was raw and available, and it made a triangle shape for the trees,” she said.
The outdoor installation isn’t the first for Lux, which has been presenting programs since 2001. The project seemed a natural for Preston, an L.A. landscape artist fascinated by apples. It came as a follow-up to her “Apple Valise.” A kind of show-in-a box based on Marcel Duchamp’s “The Box in a Valise,” it was created for Lux’s Kids Art Literacy, an educational program.
For her valise, Preston took a 50-year-old suitcase she brought when she immigrated from Stockholm, painted its lid and filled it with a scroll outlining the history of the apple from 1500 BC to the present. It contained references ranging from Adam and Eve to Snow White, Isaac Newton and Magritte.
Later, when she was asked to do an on-site project for Lux, she continued the apple theme.
“When I was looking at the empty lots, there was a little wedge of land and I thought a beautiful triangle of trees would be nice there,” she said.
They had to be apple trees because Preston loved them as a child. “My sister went to Sweden and took our old baby-sitter out to lunch. She said I used to draw upside-down apples when I was 2 or 3. I didn’t remember that. When I asked my mom why was I drawing them, she said there was an orchard a block or two from our place.”
Jogging her memory awakened Preston’s fondness for the fruit which she often includes in her landscapes. For the installation she chose the apple variety Anna. Developed in Israel and named for the hybridist’s daughter, these apples do not need the same amount of cool weather as other varieties to thrive. Annas can be harvested several times a year and the tree’s leaves are evergreen. The fruit is tart as a Granny Smith when green and becomes sweeter as it takes on its characteristic blush.
Preston likes them so much she keeps an Anna tree in the yard at her Santa Monica home. “When they’re young they’re smaller and cuter,” she said.
At the installation site, it remains to be seen how they will fare. Unlike a group of sculptures or paintings, this work will need to be maintained by a gardener.
“It’ll be interesting to see as they grow taller how the plants will look. They’re planted a little closer than in an orchard and we’ll prune them, so we have to see if we’ll shape them, or have them touching so they make a canopy. They’re 8 feet tall now, but I saw a photo of an Anna apple tree once that was 30 feet tall,” Preston said.
The trees will grow near the entrance to the museum in a complex that will also include indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces, a plaza, a garden, a museum shop, a library and a studio-residence for visiting artists. The institute aims to draw regional and international artists to produce site-specific works inspired by the Southern California landscape.
A fund-raising goal of $8 million has been set, which will be divided between a capital campaign and an endowment. So far $2.5 million has been raised for construction of the main building. Lux has an annual operating budget of $250,000, which will be adjusted once the building has been constructed.
Preston said that as her installation matures it should fit right in with Lux’s plans to connect artists, visitors and nature. “When kids come to visit the artist in residence, they can pick apples,” she said.
Lux Art Institute
Mission: Formulated by director Reesey Shaw, the museum aims to call attention to the region’s natural habitat through art.
Location: 1550 S. El Camino Real, Encinitas; 4.1 acres formerly owned by the Encinitas Elks Lodge.
Collection: There will be no in-house permanent collection. The institute plans to commission four artists a year to live on site and create works specifically for Lux. “The Garden of Apple Delights” is a permanent installation, but most works will be displayed temporarily.
Past commissions: “Bird Hub,” an “avian airport” for migratory birds by Daniel Wheeler, and “Home,” an organic living room of brick and mortar furniture by Ali Acerol.
Main building: A 15,000-square-foot, three-story structure, designed by Santa Monica architect Renzo Zecchetto, is to be completed by 2005.