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Neon mural coming to Civic Center

Joseph Kosuth’s permanent installation will illuminate ho-hum side of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Neon mural at dusk.
Mural at dusk.
Photos by Ethan Kaplan Photography, courtesy of SF Arts Commission

Before Civic Center undergoes a potential major renovation, a smattering of improvements will grace the frayed area. Take, for example, the western exterior of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the building’s under-appreciated side notable for its brick facade and pair of charmingly clunky staircases, which will soon play host to conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth’s latest neon installation.

Christened W.F.T (San Francisco), or “Word Family Tree,” the work is a neon white, etymological breakdown of “civic” and “auditorium.” It’s the artist’s first permanent installation on a historic building in the United States.

“The word ‘civic’ is intricately connected to the long history of civil rights activism that has taken place, and continues to take place, in the plaza–from gay rights to Black Lives Matter,” said the artist in a written statement. “The word ‘auditorium’ on the other hand is more specific to the building itself, referring to the collective audience assembled by Bill Graham, who found a way, as a concert promoter to not only promote concerts but also community.”

From its debut in 1915 as part of the Panama–Pacific International Exposition to its ’60s-era rock concerts to hosting Lana Del Rey, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (née Exposition Auditorium) has long been part of San Francisco’s aural history, as well as a choice example of Beaux-Arts architecture in the chronically troubled neighborhood.

“Joseph Kosuth’s striking neon installation brings a dynamic energy to the building, transforming its western facade and enlivening its environs both day and night,” says Tom DeCaigny, San Francisco Arts Commission’s director of cultural affairs.

W.F.T is also the San Francisco’s first public art project funded by a private developer, Emerald Fund, via the Public Art Trust, established in 2012 as a way of helping provide private developers with projects for the use of their 1%-for-art requirement.

The neon mural, a refreshing change from the city’s overload of painted specimens, will have its official dedication and lighting ceremony on Wednesday, March 13 at 6 p.m.

“Auditorium” side.
Mural during the day.