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Enormous LED art atop Salesforce Tower finally premieres

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Fog notwithstanding

On Tuesday morning, head honchos from City Hall, Salesforce, and even Beach Blanket Babylon gathered to celebrate the nominal completion of San Francisco’s tallest building, but there was still one big thing missing from the pomp and circumstance.

SF-based artist Jim Campell’s towering LED art display at the very top of the 1,070-foot Salesforce Tower edifice completed various tests and trial runs over the past few weeks, but Tuesday night was its first evening of real full-time service for the skyline.

Campell’s display takes up roughly two-thirds of the building’s “crown” and employs 11,000 LED lights to create animated scenes and reproduce video footage captured on SF streets.

The artist explained some of the mechanics to the Planning Department last year:

The LEDs will be mounted onto the outside of the building facing inward [...]. This process of reflecting the light off of the surface, as I have done in previous studio work, creates a soft and continuous image instead of a harsh direct image like a Times Square video screen. [...] Characteristic of this artwork is that it is not a destination. One cannot get close to it. It has an ambient presence that is always in the background with the skyline.

Hand it to Campell and those who helped build his towering images, in some of the recent test runs, like this one seen from AT&T Park last week the installation has worked precisely as advertised in its early renderings:

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Unfortunately it’s hard to judge how the big premiere actually turned out Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, since in an entirely predictable twist, tremendous billowing clouds of fog enveloped the top of the building almost all of the time, creating a rather softer and hazier impression than the artist probably intended.

Still, build a tall tower in San Francisco, can’t complain if its gets fogged out now and then. The lucky few seconds of video that did manage to capture a moment of clarity suggest that Campbell’s piece is working as intended, and San Franciscans will have many years to see it all for themselves.