Mission District Mural (credit: Melanie Graysmith)
Public art is precisely that, art in public spaces and accessible for public viewing free of charge. Public art takes on a wide range of subjects, forms, sizes, and materials and may be permanent or temporary. Public art is organic in that it is site-specific and purposed for the unique location and community where it resides, and may be sculpture, statues, murals, landscapes, architectural work, and digital media installations. Being public art with free access often gives a broader license for appreciation or debate. Everyone will have an opinion as simply being on public display imparts the art with a more vulnerable position than art that sits in museums and private places. Read on for five notable public art sites around the Bay.
Legion of Honor Museum
100 34th Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94121
Visitors to San Francisco’s gorgeous Legion of Honor museum are immediately struck by a most imposing and thoughtful work of art, even before stepping foot into the museum. Perhaps the best known of sculpture August Rodin’s impressive work is The Thinker, a large bronze piece of monumental significance that captures everyone’s eye, not only for Rodin’s bronze, nude depiction of the poet Dante, but also for its pensive, lost in thought quality that is truly mesmerizing. Although Rodin originally titled the statue The Poet, its name evolved into The Thinker by foundry workers who saw a similarity to one of Michelangelo’s statues, Il Penseroso (The Thinker). This bronze cast, although not made by Rodin himself, was made under his supervision.
Willie Mays Statue
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107
San Francisco’s AT&T Giant’s Ballpark sits smack in the center of South Beach, an urban renewal area that remains in an economic boom and continued growth. The ballpark, the most recognized structure in South Beach and a huge draw to the neighborhood and City, is home to San Francisco’s darling Giants team, and many of its players past and present are celebrated. One well-loved player is Willie Mays, one of the smartest and most disciplined players in all of baseball history who played in San Francisco until 1971. Honoring Willie is what it’s all about at Willie Mays Plaza at the main entrance where a lifelike, nine-foot tall Willie Mays statue anchors the corner of AT&T Park.
San Francisco, CA 94110
The most colorful and plentiful murals are definitely concentrated in San Francisco’s Mission District. Well known for its colorful diversity, restaurants, bars, funky boutiques, and unending energy, the Mission area’s legendary murals reflect the colorful people’s art of the Mission, one of San Francisco’s largest ethnic communities. This festive and story-telling art form provides one of the largest concentrations of public art in the Bay Area. While the district is a mecca for mural art, some streets highlight murals best. Balmy Alley is devoted to murals, and mural artists have expressed themselves here in ways that speak louder than words.
578 William St.
Oakland, CA 94612
Oakland’s reputation as an affordable alternative to high-priced San Francisco is changing as Oakland, the weather-blessed city across the Bay, is where much of the artistic energy now lies. Uptown Oakland is the setting for the home-grown, entrepreneurial spirit that is dynamic and central to the urban revitalization Oakland has seen over more than a decade. In 2009 the City of Oakland officially designated the Uptown neighborhood the “Arts and Entertainment District,” highlighting the creative spirit and defining characteristics of the area. Two vibrant examples are Uptown Art Park and Oakland First Fridays, part of Art Murmur, the city’s monthly visual art experience.
Mitchell Park Community Center
3700 Middlefield Road
Palo Alto, CA 94303
The diverse Palo Alto population, with its varied interests and artistic tastes, will find a range of art pieces and installations to connect with both visually and emotionally, from the extensive range of emerging and established artists. One of the newer facilities to receive art for public viewing is the Mitchell Park Library and Community Center, opened in 2014 and Leed Gold certified. Public art is plentiful here with seven artworks throughout the park. Click here for a Mitchell Park Public Art Map, showing the locations and descriptions of the art.