After a few days of celebrating the Giants win it is time to see the city they call home. There are the usual attractions that people flock to which include the cablecars, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate bridge to name a few, but if you have been before or just want to learn more about the city why not find an off beat way of doing it. One of the big highlights of visiting any city is exploring it by way of public art. San Francisco has plenty of it to share and a visitor needs to do is head out, slow down a few feet per minute and look closer to your surroundings which includes what’s above you.
Many artists have made a living by making large sculptures that can only fit inside a large space like the Tate Modern and other galleries around the world or just outdoors. The lucky ones are able to find sponsors who will provide the funds to transport, create and/or maintain great works for just the purpose of allowing the public to view their works.
There are five particular pieces that are currently on view outdoors in the city of San Francisco. The first one is entitled Cupids Span by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen in 2002. The couple have been making these colossal pieces since the late 1970’s and they have been placed all over Europe, the US, England and parts of Asia. Cupids Span in Rincon Park in the Embarcadero area of downtown San Francisco is a 60 ft. tall 140 ft. wide piece was commissioned by Donald and Doris Fisher, founders of Gap Inc., who donated it to the City of San Francisco and was installed in November 2002. More information about the sculpture is found here.
A neighbor of the Cupid Span is a tall silver spaceship docked near the newly renovated Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. The ship is called the Raygun Gothic Rocketship and was created by a collaboration of artists who were sponsored by the BRAF or Black Rock Arts Foundation. This 40ft tall ship first landed on the Burning Man festival in nearby Nevada in 2009 and will be hanging around here until September 2011 thanks to money raised by the San Francisco Port Commission and varies private donors. Another work sponsored by BRAF which made her debut at the 2008 Burning Man Festival entitled Ecstasy is currently standing in Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley (Hayes/Octavia)
Visitors who walk west to the Moscone Center and Yerba Buena Gardens don’t have to go in to SFMOMA and other area museums to see great pieces. The park itself is filled with beautiful landscape and performing arts space such as the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Sony Metreon Theater to name a couple. It is such a work of art in itself that a most visitors can find enjoyment just walking around the grounds. It’s a great place to picnic, catch up on the guidebook or check email if you must.
There are two large public art pieces that stand out among the rest. The first one is Three Dancing Figures by Keith Haring which is located on the southwest corner of 3rd and Howard. Kids but not adults are allowed to climb on the sculpture which was displayed in 1989 about a year before the artists’ early death. The sculpture was one of many brought to the city by the San Francisco Arts Commission.
If you walk east from the Three Dancing Figures you will see the fancy W hotel on the southeastern corner of 3rd and Howard. If you are standing across the street you will get a good view of the large metal wire sculpture of a woman reclining at the edge of the first few floors. This sculpture entitled Pneumatic Dreamer by Michael Stutz can be easily missed if you were just walking by. This particular work was installed in 2001 and was commissioned by the SF Redevelopment Agency.
Next, continue walking a little over a mile or grabbing the MUNI up Market to the Civic Center. This is home to San Francisco’s Symphony Hall, Main Library and Asian Art Museum. Across from the museum is a sculpture Three Heads Six Arms by artist Zhang Huan was brought to the city also by the San Francisco Arts Foundation in part of the marking of the San Francisco-Shanghai sister city 30th Anniversary. This colossal bronze sculpture will be guarding the Civic Center and Asian Art Museum through 2011. I unfortunately was visiting after the Giants had won the world series, during election season and after it had been victim of graffiti and climbed on. So it was surrounded by a tall ugly wire fence.
I couldn’t find one guide online to all free public art projects but the best thing to do is just do an online search to the city you are visiting next and you will more than likely find some. Many times you won’t even realize that something was actually commissioned like I did while researching for this article. I also came across something online called the San Francisco Art Hunt PDF that was quite interesting and provides a start to exploring SF’s public art. Looking for Public Art while visiting a new city is a great way to get the lay of the land and do something a little of the beaten path. Highly recommended.