For a city of its size and stature, San Francisco has very little public art. Part of the problem is, as the expression goes, we just can’t have nice things. When Zhang Huan’s amazing Three Heads Six Arms was installed in Civic Center in 2010, it was repeatedly vandalized. The Keith Haring sculpture at Moscone Center was just removed for a refurbishing that sadly has to include graffiti removal. After a sunny weekend, parks like Dolores Park and Fort Mason are literally trashed. I love my City, but at times, San Francisco is the City of Bad Roommates.
The other challenge public art faces in San Francisco is public backlash. We are the city where NIMBYism can be everyone’s favorite hobby. Sometimes it’s for good. My very own block was among those to be torn down in the 1960’s, all to make way for a never-built freeway that was supposed to cut through Golden Gate Park. To see the other side of public opposition, one can just visit the Sculpture Meadow at the di Rosa Preserve in Napa. Many of the pieces were intended for public art in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities. They were stopped due to public outcry. A small group of self-appointed “art critics” often manages to prevent plenty of good public art form being installed in San Francisco.
Perhaps we can manage without more public art because we have, what could be called. the single best piece of public art in the world. Of course I am speaking of the Golden Gate Bridge. I never take it for granted. It still impresses me every time I see it. This year our bridge is celebrating its 75th Anniversary.
Yesterday I visited the California Historical Society and saw the exhibit A Wild Flight of Imagination – The Story of the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought I knew a lot about the bridge and had seen most of the photos. It’s a fantastic show filled with photos, architectural drawings and art that is not published in most of the books about the Golden Gate Bridge. The exhibit also explores the opposition to building a bridge across the Golden Gate (public opposition is nothing new). 80 years ago many people could not imagine a bridge spoiling the Golden Gate. I can see their point, but it’s hard to imagine San Francisco without its bridge.