San Francisco’s art and culture have been increasingly intertwined with technology for the past several decades. Some of the products of that intersection are very visible, such as the Bay Lights, but there are many hidden treasures.
We’ve put together a list of some works, new and perhaps less well-known, that should be on the agenda of visiting art lovers. The focus is on public art works, all over the city. Most of them are visual and sculptural, but there are some fascinating audio experiences in the list too.
This enormous female Buddha figure was only just recently installed at Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley. Made of machine parts, and with subtle embedded lighting, Dana Albany’s piece invites us to reflect on our relation with technology.
This piece consists of a flock of flying books, illuminated from within by LEDs. It hovers over the plaza at Columbus and Broadway, where Chinatown and Broadway come together. Text from the books appears to have spilled out onto the sidewalk, and pays homage to the Italian and Chinese heritage of the area.
This piece consists of multiple reflective plastic tiles, attached to the facade of the new Public Utilities building on Golden Gate Avenue. During the day, the wind ripples through the tiles, creating visible patterns. By night, each tile triggers an LED, creating a light show. The structure supporting the work includes 5 wind turbines, which actually power the piece.
Another new arrival to San Francisco’s art scene is this video piece by artist JR. It’s a vast animated video mural, housed in a space at the SF MoMA. JR used a portable video studio to capture video of hundreds of San Franciscans, and used it to compile a montage that slowly scrolls through the space.
The light show illuminating the western span of the Bay Bridge is a must-see for visitors, and one that can be appreciated from the Embarcadero. This ever-changing light show is now permanent, and uses upgraded lights. Software choreographs a series of patterns based on natural phenomena in the Bay, and ensures that any given pattern will never repeat.
The creator of the Bay Lights has continued his involvement with the San Francisco Bay Area, with more projects, the most recent of which is the new bridge over Howard Street.
Another new addition to San Francisco’s city scape, this LED artwork forms part of a bridge over Howard St connecting Yerba Buena Center to the newly expanded Moscone Center.
This illuminated video art piece on the top of the newly completed Salesforce Tower is probably one of the most visible pieces of public art in San Francisco. It plays ever changing scenes captured from cameras all over San Francisco. Fun fact: a petition to change it to the “Eye of Sauron” from “Lord of the Rings” was accepted for Halloween last year.
Most people don’t realize that the void in the Federal Building is actually a light art work by James Turrell, it changes color over the course of the night, and sends out beams into the linear structures on either side. The space is open to the public, on presentation of a government-issued ID.
Fun fact: Kanye West is a big fan of Turrell’s work, and has committed to funding his work at Roden Crater.
Of course, there is media art that does not involve light. This multi-channel audio experience has been at its home on Bush St. for decades, and is still little-known to visitors to the city. The audience experiences 169 channels of sound – in complete darkness.
One extensive collection of works that is very well-known is at the Exploratorium, a science museum with strong collection of thought provoking interactive works.
A perennial favorite is the Fog Bridge, which becomes enshrouded in an artificial cloud every two hours:
Also at the Exploratorium is Buckball, another work by Leo Villareal. Named in honor of Buckminster Fuller (inventor of the geodesic dome), it consists of two nested geometric shapes.
More to see
If you have more time, San Francisco is full of additional discoveries, many of them little-known to visitors and locals.
Illuminate the Arts
Illuminate the Arts is the non-profit behind the Bay Lights (mentioned above), and they have continued to push forward many other illumination projects.
Illuminate SF is a periodic festival of light art, and their website has an extensive catalog of interesting works throughout the city..
If you find these works exciting and interesting, and are intrigued by the possibility of bringing something like this to life in your organization, go ahead and get in touch with us!
Since we have made projects that use creative technology, we appreciate these works on both an artistic and technical level, and would love to brainstorm with you and your team and how to create ambitious installations.