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Art Speaks: Love and Drama

By Annie Shaw

Illustration by Jon Stich.

You’ve seen them around the City, and perhaps these works of public art speak to you. But have you ever wanted to know more? We caught up with three well-known sculptures in San Francisco to find out what they have to say about their lives, and when you should visit them for a chat.

Venus

What are you? A 92-foot, high-polished, stainless steel goddess, whipping out of the ground to be the tallest statue in SF (and just a smidge shorter than the Statue of Liberty).

Who created you? Lawrence Argent, the great Denver-based artist, constructed me as his take on the Venus de Milo. He was commissioned by Angelo Sangiacomo, one of the City’s biggest landlords. The City required Sangiacomo to put $5 million worth of public art in the Trinity development, and he rose to the occasion with his love of all things Italian. Sadly, Angelo passed away in 2015, and Lawrence in 2017, leaving me as a love letter to the city.

Where do you live? I’m at Trinity Place — a four-building complex with 1,900 apartments at Eighth and Market streets. You really can’t see me from the street, but come on into the central area and admire me. The Piazza is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Got any secrets? For an elegant beauty, I’ve got quite large feet. My location in earthquake territory was a hugely significant part of this project: I am supported by a massive concrete foundation that floats on the ceiling of the garage below (30ˇ × 50ˇ × 15ˇ deep).

When is the best time to see you? Any sunny day is wonderful, so that you can see my skin reflect the clouds and blueness of the sky, the nearby buildings, landscaping and people into a wonderful, ever-changing kaleidoscope of color and patterns. At night, the lights in the area reflect off me, and they do say I have a wonderful glow of serenity.

Cupid’s Span

What are you? Only the biggest monument to love outside the Taj Mahal! I’m 64 feet tall and 143 feet long, and I’m basically a bow and arrow pointing into the ground.

Who created you? Married pop artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen made me, commissioned by Gap founders Donald and Doris F. Fisher. They specialized in outsized art— from lipsticks to clothes pins, trowels to flashlights. Everyday object writ large; an emotional symbol for their location.

Where do you live? Since 2002, I’ve been at the foot of the BayBridge along the Embarcadero —just south of the Ferry Building, at Rincon Park.

Got any secrets? Oldenburg and van Bruggen said I was inspired by SF’s reputation as the home city of Eros, god of love. Don’t Google that — it’s NSFW.

When’s the best time to see you? Valentine’s Day? Gay Pride? Engagement photo op? I mean, is there a bad time to have more love in your life? I think not.

Lotta’s Fountain

What are you? A public horse drinking fountain? A vaudeville dancer’s gift-turned-earthquake-preparedness reminder? I guess there are some salty metaphors in there ..

Who created you? I was commissioned by the most highly paid American actress of the time, Lotta Crabtree, as a gift to the city of San Francisco. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, people used me as a meeting point — I was one of the last structures in the area still standing.

How old are you? How rude! I was dedicated on September 9, 1875. Let’s call me a sprightly 144 years old.

Where do you live? I’m at the intersection of Market Street, where Geary and Kearny streets connect in downtown San Francisco.

Got any secrets? Facelifts, you mean? Again: rude! I will say that in 1916, I was raised 8 feet to match the height of new street lamps along Market. My horse-watering trough has been removed, and in 1974, during a $25,000 refurbishment, I was moved 10 feet from my original spot. In 1928, there was talk of relocating me to Golden Gate Park, but public outcry ensued, so here I am. My fountain doesn’t work anymore, but I still look good.

When’s the best time to see you? Every year at 5:12 a.m. on April 18.

Um, seems specific? In 1919, the South of Market Boys — the tech bro drinking club of the day — hung a wreath on the fountain. Since then, survivors of the earthquake gather every year at 5:12 a.m. (yes, on April 18) at the fountain. The last two survivors of the earthquake died after the 2015 anniversary, but the event continues. Wear period costume, gather around to commemorate the victims, and talk earthquake prep with your fellow San Franciscans.

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