Fugly Public Art Aside, LED’s Might Just Save The Day! [A Tall Glass of Shame] Jan31

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Fugly Public Art Aside, LED’s Might Just Save The Day! [A Tall Glass of Shame]

I hate public art. There I said it. Ok I don’t hate ALL public art, just most of the stuff that seems to end up being chosen around the globe as fit for public display. It seems like every artist with a capital A that submits their ugly sculpture of some deconstructed flower gets the funding to build those fugly objects that become a blight on our landscapes. Art is of course subjective, so there may be people out there that love those hideous multi colored blobs but I am going on record as not being one of them. I prefer public art that references the landscape or the city it is in. I like something that even if abstract makes us think. I like public art that is on a grander scale than just some enamel painted metal blob with bird crap crusting over on the top of it. 

I have often been surprised more cities in this country haven’t explored the artistic options available with light. So many international cities such as Taiwan, Sydney, Paris, Amsterdam and London have us beat when it comes to splashy light displays that feature their landmarks in a fascinatingly beautiful way once the sun goes down. Over the last year, two of my favorite US cities have installed some of the most ambitious light creations in years! New York and San Francisco have jumped on the light bandwagon with spectacular results. 

An epic undertaking for San Francisco’s Bay Bridge is currently happening. The bridge is not only getting a massive facelift when it comes to it’s structure and Earthquake readiness, but it is also set to become the world’s largest artistic light installation. The $8 million light “sculpture” is the work of artist Leo Villareal called “The Bay Lights.” It’s official debut is in March, but testing began earlier this month. Each night more and more lights appear in new and different designs as the artist tests his creation. People along the waterfront are giving the display rave reviews.

Come March 5, 25,000 LED lights, which have been strung along the bridge’s western span, will turn on and stay on for about seven hours each night. Villareal says he is using computer software to manipulate the swath of lights as a high tech piece of fine art. “The movement of water, the traffic, any kind of movement is what I’m taking inspiration from,” Villareal said. You can see the inspiration in the beautiful waves of twinkling or traveling lights across the suspension cables of the bridge. To avoid any accidents or distractions, the display will not be visable to drivers on the Bay Bridge.

Below is the animation of the project as it has been proposed:

Here are some of the tests that have been going on nightly into dawn:


Leo Villareal, the artist of The Bay Lights, is a well known artist that has primarily used LED and complex sequencing technology to create large scale, site specific work. His work can be seen internationally and he is also a well known contributor to Burning Man as a co-founder of the group known as “Disorient.” I can’t wait to get myself back to the city and see this magnificent piece in action. The piece is scheduled at present to only be installed for the next two years, but depending on the public response it may become a permanent fixture on the bridge. Since it only cost 8 million to install, and is proposed to bring close to $97 million to the local economy from tourism, I’m guessing the $30 daily price tag of running it doesn’t quite seem too bad at all for the long haul. 

On the other side of the US, New York has been looking for new ways to liven up their skyline and they found the perfect opportunity by revamping the illumination of the Empire State Building. Since 9/11, the Empire State Building has come to be the most well known landmark in New York’s skyline once again, and after years and years of the same drab orange-ish illumination it’s facades can now glow with millions of potential color combinations thanks to Philips and their Color Kinetic lighting system. The new Philips system, according to a press release, allows “customized light capabilities from a palette of over 16 million colors in limitless combinations along with effects previously not possible such as ripples, cross-fades, sparkles, chasers, sweeps, strobes and bursts. In addition to greater control and management of the lighting, the new computerized system will deliver superior light and vibrancy levels in real-time, unlike the previous floodlights.”

Last November, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment and 14 time Grammy Award winner, Alicia Keys, gave a gift to New York City and the world by revealing the Empire State Building’s new, one-of-a-kind LED tower lights with the first-ever light show on the Landmark. 

In the coming years the landmark will be illuminated for different occasions, holidays, and world days of awareness and remembrance. On election night, the spire showed the vote tally in blue and red as President Barack Obama won a second term. As of right now there are no plans for more light shows in the works, but officials of the building say they would love to do the occasional collaboration with well known NYC artists. I look forward to seeing more of this around the globe, and it really is incredible how much of an emotional response just a series of LED’s can illicit in me. I can’t but help look at our skyline and series of freeway overpasses here in LA and think just how amazing a little light could look on them.