San Francisco is a public-art haven with over 3500 works listed by the SF Arts Commission including a walking-tour-guide favorite ‘The Banker’s Heart’
Gordon Huether’s “Infinity”, Napa. Credit: Mars Lasar
By Valerie Fahey
Along with seeing the usual Coit Tower, Golden Gate Bridge and other San Francisco icons, visitors are also seeing some new sights: Large scale public art added in recent months, without much fanfare. Locals and tourists alike have a slew of big, even giant, art installations greeting them in obscure downtown corners, popular outdoor plazas and on hilltops seen for miles around. And unlike museums and indoor installations, these site-specific public art pieces are free and open all the time, and of such scale you needn’t be up close and personal. Check out these new and recent high-impact sculptures, and you’ll see why San Francisco is a national leader in public art funding, arts vibrance, and sometimes sheer hutzpah – with over 3500 pieces in the City’s archive list (more on that, later).
Two new, “Infinity” and “Point of Infinity”
Two new eye-popping sculptures share aspirational names: the 60-ft-by-40-ft “Infinity” loop of Corten steel by Gordon Huether which can be seen for miles away from its Stanly Ranch Auberge Resort hilltop, and “Point of Infinity”, a 69-foot-tall spire by Hiroshi Sugimoto on Yerba Buena Island. Huether’s “Infinity” echoes the new luxury resort’s wellness theme by offering a place for grounding of the body and mind, and is a symbol of the merging of design and earth. It’s also a site for practice of yoga and meditation, and a popular backdrop for weddings and private receptions. The word infinity also draws on empowerment, love and infinite possibilities, something that both these installations convey, in different ways.
On another hilltop amid San Francisco Bay, “Point of Infinity” by Hiroshi Sugimoto was unveiling in summer 2023 on the now-transforming Yerba Buena Island a short ferry ride or Bay Bridge drive from the City’s urban waterfront. The sculpture is the result of a City of San Francisco requirement of development projects to create public art equal to at least 1 percent of project construction costs. It’s also meant to evoke the “Tower of the Sun” exhibit of the 1939 San Francisco World’s Fair that was held on the adjacent Treasure Island.
“Node”, spindly, sky-scraping sculpture
A third making the really-big list, humbly titled “Node”, is a 102-foot spindly steel shaft by Roxy Paine at MUNI’s Moscone station, making the 4th-and-Clementina transit stop one of the easiest to find in the entire 7-mile-by-7-mile City by the Bay.
Left, “Point of infinity” on Yerba Buena Island. Credit: SF Arts Commission
Right, Roxy Paine’s “Node”, Moscone MUNI station. Credit: SF Arts Commission
“In This Place (An American Lyric)” as 90-ft poem
For the literary crowd, there’s a two-dimensional installation, “In This Place (An American Lyric)”, a 90-foot-long wall on Durant Street featuring the work of the first U.S. Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman, arranged by curator Karen Eichler Fine Art. It celebrates Berkeley’s role as the birthplace of the free speech movement while elevating the work of rising-star poet Gorman. She’s also known for her reading of a dazzling new piece, “The Hill We Climb”, to a live U.S.-global audience at President Biden’s inauguration in 2021.
Close-up of Gorman’s poetry wall, Berkeley. Credit: Karen Eichler Fine Art
“Seeing Spheres” offers memorable moments
Want a memorable selfie? “Seeing Spheres” by Olafur Eliasson have a mirror-quality finish making these multi-ton orbs one the City’s must-photograph spots for visitors at the new Chase Center complex in Mission Bay where the Golden State Warriors play and dozens of concerts are held.
“Seeing Spheres”, Chase Center, S.F. Credit: Tony Wasserman via WikiCommon
Less new, still notable faves worth a visit…thousands!
Want more? Some classics of public art still grab our attention. A much-photographed classic is the 140-foot-long, 60-foot-tall “Cupid’s Span” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen on the Embarcadero waterfront.
Another walking-tour favorite is downtown’s 200-ton “Transcendence” by Masayuki Nagare, sited in the public plaza of one of the City’s tallest skyscrapers, 555 California. To many locals, it is better known by its nickname, “The Banker’s Heart” because its stone-cold aortic shape echoed public sentiment of the building’s former tenant, Bank of America, before its headquarters moved to the East Coast in 1998. Gives a whole new meaning to Tony Bennett’s classic tune, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.”
Thousands of public art pieces are all over the Bay Area and by definition, available for easy viewing and enjoyment, day or night. The SF Arts Commission estimates more than 3,500 works are in its Civic Art Collection alone including historic monuments, memorials, gifts to the city, annual art festival purchases and, most recently, hundreds of contemporary artworks commissioned through the City’s percent-for-art program. A cool interactive map helps in locating many of them.
“Transcendence” aka ‘banker’s heart’ was left behind in S.F. Credit: DGIES via WikiMedia
“Infinity” at Stanly Ranch Auberge Resort, Napa. Credit: Auberge Resort
And if you’re traveling through Salt Lake City’s massive new airport, check out Huether’s major works there, some of the largest of their kind and integrated into the SLC terminal design and Utah’s local ethos: The 90-foot-tall “The Peaks” at the entrance, the 300-foot “The Canyon” enclosing the main terminal interiors and “The River” along its subterranean pedestrian tunnel.
Valerie Fahey is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer.