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See SFMOMA install its largest painting ever

Massive Julie Mehretu piece on two canvasses is on display free to the public

On Wednesday, SFMOMA installed what the San Francisco Chronicle called the single largest painting in the museum’s history, a 1,728 square foot piece spread across a pair of 27 by 32 foot canvasses that individually weigh some 300 pounds.

The piece, titled Howl eon (I,II), comes by way of Ethiopia-born artist Julie Mehretu. So what’s the the massive masterpiece all about? According to the museum:

The competing impulses of annihilation and preservation at the heart of 19th century westward expansion, and explores how the Bay Area’s history of colonialism, capitalism, class conflict, social protest, and technological innovation have transformed the social and physical landscape.

The surface of the painting is actually a series of images of “contemporary race riots, street protests, and nineteenth-century depictions of the American West” partially distorted and covered up by layers of ink and paint.

The museum specifically commissioned the colossal composition (which took a year to complete) to fit in the lobby of its main entrance on Third Street, which means that it will be on display to the public even without the purchase of a ticket.

Officially, the piece isn’t on display until September 2. Of course, just the installation was an aesthetic adventure in itself, as the Chronicle’s time lapse footage illustrates: