California Today: In San Francisco, Public Art Soars High Into the Skyline


California Today: In San Francisco, Public Art Soars High Into the Skyline

By David Streitfeld and Charles McDermid

May 22, 2018

Good morning.

The Salesforce Tower, the second tallest building west of the Mississippi, has already redefined the San Francisco skyline. Now it will take the concept of public art to new heights.

Starting tonight, 11,000 LEDs will project an ever-changing visual display on the six-story crown of the building. The screen will be fed in part by cameras around the city that survey the bay, the weather and activity in a local park.

Jim Campbell, the artist in charge, calls it “Day for Night.” As the city winds down for the evening, it will catch a glimpse of where it has been.

“The images will be very abstract — clouds, ocean waves,” Mr. Campbell said. “I don’t like street scenes much because they have the feel of a security camera.” But he’s also experimenting with prerecorded images, including dancers from Alonzo King Lines Ballet, a local company.

“A typical model for public art is that you deal with the surroundings — the community and the environment,” Mr. Campbell said. “That has to be thrown away here. You can’t even see ‘Day for Night’ from the immediate surroundings. The skyline is the context.”

Mr. Campbell, a longtime San Francisco resident, studied mathematics and engineering at MIT. He became a filmmaker and in the mid-1980s started doing interactive video installations. “Day for Night” is a nod to the 1973 Francois Truffaut movie, whose title refers to a process for shooting night scenes during daylight.

His project, best viewed from a mile or two away, has nothing to do with Salesforce. It stems from a developer requirement to fund public art in the downtown core. In a city that is getting a reputation for being all about money, Mr. Campbell’s high-profile work has the chance to give new luster to less crass concerns.

“I’m hoping for a lot of different reactions but I don’t want it to be a spectacle,” he said. “The other night, when we were testing, it became clear that the color that works best is amber. It makes sense, it blends right in. San Francisco’s skyline is amber.”