In an exhibition that celebrates the Centennial of Balboa Park’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition, artists Suzanne Hellmuth and Jock Reynolds take as their point of departure MCASD Downtown’s Jacobs Building. Once the baggage terminal of the historic Santa Fe Depot, the westernmost stop on the San Diego & Arizona railroad, the building was constructed under the ownership of John D. Spreckels. Hellmuth and Reynolds created a layered, multi-media installation employing working model trains, projected historic photographs, and an abundance of vintage luggage. The exhibition evokes both the construction and many challenges that beset what became known as the “Impossible Railroad.” The artists explore how John D. Spreckels, San Diego’s great pioneering business leader and benefactor, pressed on against every imaginable setback to fully complete America’s southern transcontinental railroad route.
Hellmuth and Reynolds began collaborating together in San Francisco during the 1970s and have produced numerous site specific performances, multi-media installations, and public artworks that have engaged selected historical events and institutions across America and Europe. Notable among these was their year-long residency that engaged the history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where radar was developed and then deployed to great effect during World War II. They worked to organize a Centennial artistic celebration that helped to instigate the renewal of the first major library and community center that Andrew Carnegie built and opened in 1889 for his steelworkers and their families in Braddock, Pennsylvania. The duo also created a public artwork that explored the establishment of the School of Forestry’s famed tree collection and medicinal herb gardens on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.
John D. Spreckels and The Impossible Railroad is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. Support for the education programs held in conjunction with the exhibition has been provided by N. W. Gibbons. Institutional support of MCASD is provided by the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture and the County of San Diego Community Enhancement Fund.