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Those Boats Under the Santa Monica Pier are Actually Public Artwork

Published on April 27, 2022

Boats and piers go together like waves and the shore.

This is why a long-standing exhibit featuring bright orange, skyward-pointing boats is such a fitting sight under a pier. So fitting that you may not even realize it’s actually public art.

But art it is. And like all good art, it has a meaningful — and urgent — message behind it.

Where the Boats Under the Santa Monica Pier Came From 

It’s been more than two decades since German artist Manfred Muller first installed a series of three orange boats, entitled “Twilight and Yearning,” under the Santa Monica Pier. When the 18-foot-tall boats were first fastened to the pilings under the pier in 1998, they were fully visible. Now, more than 20 years later, they are submerged 10-feet deep in the sand.

Muller has said that he made this artwork for the people of southern California as a message of life. He wanted to draw attention to the effects of climate change and the ocean’s vital role in supporting all life on earth.

The project was gifted as a permanent public art installation in Santa Monica, but Muller intended to ceremonially release the boats at the time when the Bay received a grade of “A” from Heal the Bay, a nonprofit organization.

With the boats slowly submerging due to changing environmental conditions, the environmental message behind “Twilight and Yearning” remains relevant and urgent as ever. In 1998, Muller probably could not have anticipated that his artwork would become something of a tourist attraction and the backdrop of countless Instagram photos. He hoped, however, that they would inspire a sense of responsibility that would drive meaningful action to address climate change.

The Artist Behind the Boats Under the Santa Monica Pier

As the creator of one of the most iconic public art installations Santa Monica has ever seen, Muller is a well-known artist on the international stage.

Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, in 1950, He trained as a technical draftsman, studied visual communication, and spent time as a freelance graphic designer in advertising. He later attended the Kunstakademie of Fine Art in Düsseldorf and won several scholarships and prizes for his art. Today, he works as a sculptor and splits his time between Dusseldorf and Los Angeles.

Much of Muller’s work is inspired by social and environmental causes and explores the relationship between sculpture and architecture. Another one of his public artworks, entitled “When a Person Plants a Tree…” is on display outside the Civic Center and Library in Agoura Hills, California.

More Public Art Around Santa Monica

“Twilight and Yearning” is just one example of the many pieces of public art around Santa Monica available for locals and visitors alike to stop and ponder.

To explore more, including the area’s famed singing beach chairs and the light installation known as “The Big Wave,” check out the official Santa Monica website.