92-foot ‘Venus,’ tallest sculpture in SF, raises its headMay 5, 2016
The tallest sculpture in San Francisco — a twisty genie in shiny steel — is rising along Market Street, and nobody can see it.
The public artwork is called “Venus,” and right now it is hidden behind construction fences and scaffolding, and surrounded by three residential towers that will comprise Trinity Place, the apartment complex at Market and Eighth streets.
When Trinity Place opens next spring, the 92-foot “Venus” will be the main attraction in a public art garden that is the final statement by landlord and housing developer Angelo Sangiacomo, who died in December at age 91.
“This whole city block was his lifelong dream to build, and that’s why he went overboard, which is how he did everything,” says Mia Sangiacomo, youngest of the seven Sangiacomo children, who co-own Trinity Properties with their mother, Yvonne.
Sangiacomo was not known for putting art into his apartment buildings, either in architecture or decor, but he had to do it at Trinity Place because the project falls under the city’s “1 percent for art” program operated by the San Francisco Planning Department. The program requires downtown developers to pay the equivalent of 1 percent of a project’s cost to fund public art. The funds can either be donated to the Public Art Trust Fund, overseen by the San Francisco Arts Commission, or added to a project by its developer, as overseen by the Planning Department.
The Trinity Place art requirement is $5 million, and once that number was reached, Sangiacomo embraced it, taking several trips to Italy with his wife in search of inspiration.
Then he invited four artists to make presentations at the Trinity Property headquarters. The first was Lawrence Argent, a Denver artist, who was invited on the basis of a giant blue bear he created to stand outside the Colorado Convention Center and press his nose and paws to the glass.
“We were so enamored with the creativity of that and how fun it was that we flew him out,” says Walter Schmidt, CEO of Trinity Properties. Argent made his presentation, and Sangiacomo responded in Godfather-like fashion.
Sangiacomo said to “just create a landmark piece, Lawrence. Just create a landmark,” Argent recalls. He recommended that Sangiacomo at least listen to the other three presentations, but there was no point. Soon enough, Argent was with Sangiacomo at his vacation home in Italy.
Together they created “C’era Una Volta,” or “Once Upon a Time,” a classical fantasia that will include a marble quarry wall, a dove sculpture on a pedestal, glass bollards and carved stones. The plaza is the size of a football field, and the goal is to make it look ancient and belie the fact that it sits atop a parking garage that descends six levels beneath the surface.
“What I tried to create was a plaza that felt like it had already been there and the buildings were built around it, ” says Argent, 59.
“C’era Una Volta” will begin at the Market Street sidewalk with a 50-foot pathway of mosaic tile inspired by floors of Pompeii. The mosaic path will lead to a tunnel through the ground floor of one of the apartment blocks to deliver people to a courtyard of cafes, a beer garden and “Venus,” which cost $1.5 million to build and install and will emerge from the ground for all to see and touch.
“I wanted to bring forth something that is like a genie in a bottle,” says Argent, whose only other Northern California installation is “Bunny Foo Foo,” an airborne stainless-steel rabbit, 36 feet long, built for Hall Winery Vineyards in St. Helena.
Fabricated stainless steel
“Venus” is three times the size of “Bunny Foo Foo.” When finished, will stand eye to eye with residents on the 10th floor of Trinity Place. At 92 feet, she is only slightly shorter than the Statue of Liberty, as measured from heel to crown.
To put that into local context, “Venus” will be 10 feet taller than the Dewey Monument in Union Square, 30 feet taller than “Cupid’s Arrow” on the Embarcadero, and almost twice as tall as each of the iron sheets that form Richard Serra’s sculpture “Ballast” at UCSF Mission Bay.
“Venus” was made of stainless steel, fabricated in China and shipped over in 16 containers carrying a total of 70 pieces. On site, the 70 pieces are being assembled into 11 blocks, each weighing about a ton. When each block is ready, a crew of Chinese polishers will buff it. The steel skeleton and concrete base will bring the statue’s weight to 50 tons.
Then a crane does the heavy lifting, setting the blocks atop one another.
Argent expects the last block to go on in late May, but the scaffolding may remain, to protect “the surprise element,” until the opening of the plaza.
At that time, he says, people “will see this majestic icon emerging from a small footprint, blossoming to a breadth of 38 feet at the shoulder.”
The plaza will be walled in, and “Venus” won’t get much sun on her bare shoulders. But you don’t want much sun reflecting off that stainless steel.
“There are very short windows when the light will reflect,” the artist says. “But it will not be an obnoxious reflection.”
Once “Venus” is complete, only residents of the apartments in the two towers facing the courtyard will be able to see it. The third tower will be completed early next year. The public opening is expected to be in March, with the mosaic path beckoning from Market Street and grand gates designed to mimic a map of Genoa on the Mission Street side.
Taller sculpture on horizon
Once opened, “Venus” will have the distinction of being the tallest sculpture in the city for just a few short years.
A 110-foot tapering tree branch called “Node” has been commissioned for outside the Yerba Buena/Moscone Station for the Central Subway. The curvilinear sculpture by Roxy Paine will premiere in 2019.
Argent says it was never his intention to build the tallest sculpture in the city. The towers at Trinity Place range from 19 to 24 stories. The site was specific in telling him how high that genie needed to rise out of her bottle, to make her presence known.
“Angelo said, ‘Can’t you make it smaller?’” Argent says, “and I said no.”
Reprinted from: SFGateBack to In The News