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San Francisco's best light art, mapped

See what’s glowing on around town

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The holidays at nighttime mean lights. Lots of them. But in San Francisco, it can also mean a time to take in the latest and the greatest pieces of nondenominational glowing art. When the nights get longer and darker, it’s a perfect canvas for electrons in action.

On Wednesday, the arts group Illuminate SF will run a free bus tour to take in all of the sights and lights across the city, some of them recent additions and some longtime pieces that often go overlooked despite their wattage.

For those who can’t make it—or who prefer to run their own tours—here’s a peek at some of the illuminated gems the city has to offer.

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Buckyball

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Leo Villareal, the light prodigy who turned the Bay Bridge from under-appreciated workhorse into centerpiece of the waterfront with Bay Lights, also has the mysterious and intimidating Buckyball on display in the public space at the Exploratorium until February.

“A towering 25-foot illuminated sculpture that features two nested, geodesic spheres,” Buckyball uses 4,500 LEDs, about a fifth as many as Villreal used on the bridge nearby.

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Jacob’s Dream

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Installed in December 2016, Jacob’s Dream is a 47-foot-tall “ladder of light” meant to “evoke a pathway between our earthly home and the unseen world.” Created by French artist Benjamin Bergery and local Jim Campbell, it’s visible in Grace Cathedral’s northern arch.

The title and ladder imagery evoke the story in Genesis 28, when Jewish prophet Jacob sees a ladder between heaven and earth in his dreams, although the Cathedral frames the story and art piece as a testament to the theme of finding a home.

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Love Over Rules

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New York artist Hank Thomas installed a six-foot tall glowing message on the side of a SoMa building in November. It’s a sobering tribute to his late cousin, commemorating his slightly ambiguous final words—”Love overrules” or “Love over rules”—in spectacular and permanent fashion.

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Illuminavia

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Appearing at first glance as an overzealous light fixture, this is yet another of Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu’s tremendous tetrahedronal illumination installations, this new one hovering somewhat alarmingly above the bar in the Hotel VIA. Its striated surface is supposed to create optical illusions when combined with the light within.

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Trillian + Dodi

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Patricia’s Green has hosted these giant, glowing steel polyhedrons since 2016, on display untit January. The mammoth installations—the smallest of the pair (Dodi) is 700 pounds, the largest a half ton—are just two of a series of glowing geometries Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu placed the world over.

Conservatory of Flowers

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After this summer’s psychedelic Golden Gate Park light show on the front of the building proved a hit, the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park took the next logical step and set its sterling white facade in bloom again with a holiday theme dubbed Love For All Seasons, blending floral patterns with winter hues.

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It’s possible people walk right by this cylinder studded with words and phrases—many contemplating or illuminating great works in life sciences—every day without realizing that, come nightfall, it lights up and turns into an entirely different and more profound piece of art, projecting the inscribed words in every direction.

Jim Sanbordn has created similar works of metal and language all over U.S., starting with his mysterious Kryptos sculpture near CIA headquarters in Virginia.

Courtesy Illuminate SF

Monarch

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On the other hand, Cliff Garten’s nearby Monarch—which is indeed a pillar of butterflies— looks remarkable during the daylight hours, but nothing can hold a candle to its after hours spectacle.

Courtesy Cliff Garten

The Seed

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These 13-foot tall, glowing dandelion seeds—not full dandelions, as some confused patrons of the installation expected—went up in neglected Jane Warner Plaza in October, the work of LA-based arts group Aphidoidea and inspired by a similar work in Arizona.

SF Weekly slammed the piece as “hideous” when first installed, noting that during the day, when not illuminated, the work looks bizarre, industrial, and out of place. But perhaps in the ensuing weeks—and with the benefit of nighttime viewing and a boost other nearby lights, including the nearby Castro Theater marquee—it’s had a chance to grow on critics?

A post shared by Douglas (@miller_d24sf) on

Hope Will Never Be Silent

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The giant dandelion seeds are meant to evoke the idea of the Castro as a dream or a wish fulfilled. Competing for that same message is the illuminating quotation at the mouth of Harvey Milk Plaza, memorializing the words of former Supervisor Milk. A pointedly direct and no-frills approach to conveying the theme.

Ethereal Bodies

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These jellyfish-like steel cylinders by Cliff Garten at Zuckerberg General Hospital are another piece that looks unimpressive and downright misbegotten during the day. But once the sun goes down and the lights come up the result is an eerie and beautiful marriage of light and form.

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Buckyball

Leo Villareal, the light prodigy who turned the Bay Bridge from under-appreciated workhorse into centerpiece of the waterfront with Bay Lights, also has the mysterious and intimidating Buckyball on display in the public space at the Exploratorium until February.

“A towering 25-foot illuminated sculpture that features two nested, geodesic spheres,” Buckyball uses 4,500 LEDs, about a fifth as many as Villreal used on the bridge nearby.

A post shared by PhotogMFT (@npphotog) on

Jacob’s Dream

Installed in December 2016, Jacob’s Dream is a 47-foot-tall “ladder of light” meant to “evoke a pathway between our earthly home and the unseen world.” Created by French artist Benjamin Bergery and local Jim Campbell, it’s visible in Grace Cathedral’s northern arch.

The title and ladder imagery evoke the story in Genesis 28, when Jewish prophet Jacob sees a ladder between heaven and earth in his dreams, although the Cathedral frames the story and art piece as a testament to the theme of finding a home.

A post shared by Emanuel (@midnitemuse) on

Love Over Rules

New York artist Hank Thomas installed a six-foot tall glowing message on the side of a SoMa building in November. It’s a sobering tribute to his late cousin, commemorating his slightly ambiguous final words—”Love overrules” or “Love over rules”—in spectacular and permanent fashion.

A post shared by Mario (@thelifeofmario.c) on

Illuminavia

Appearing at first glance as an overzealous light fixture, this is yet another of Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu’s tremendous tetrahedronal illumination installations, this new one hovering somewhat alarmingly above the bar in the Hotel VIA. Its striated surface is supposed to create optical illusions when combined with the light within.

A post shared by HYBYCOZO (@hybycozo) on

Trillian + Dodi

Patricia’s Green has hosted these giant, glowing steel polyhedrons since 2016, on display untit January. The mammoth installations—the smallest of the pair (Dodi) is 700 pounds, the largest a half ton—are just two of a series of glowing geometries Yelena Filipchuk and Serge Beaulieu placed the world over.

Conservatory of Flowers

After this summer’s psychedelic Golden Gate Park light show on the front of the building proved a hit, the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park took the next logical step and set its sterling white facade in bloom again with a holiday theme dubbed Love For All Seasons, blending floral patterns with winter hues.

A post shared by amy young (@lighttheroom) on

Anima

Courtesy Illuminate SF

It’s possible people walk right by this cylinder studded with words and phrases—many contemplating or illuminating great works in life sciences—every day without realizing that, come nightfall, it lights up and turns into an entirely different and more profound piece of art, projecting the inscribed words in every direction.

Jim Sanbordn has created similar works of metal and language all over U.S., starting with his mysterious Kryptos sculpture near CIA headquarters in Virginia.

Courtesy Illuminate SF

Monarch

Courtesy Cliff Garten

On the other hand, Cliff Garten’s nearby Monarch—which is indeed a pillar of butterflies— looks remarkable during the daylight hours, but nothing can hold a candle to its after hours spectacle.

Courtesy Cliff Garten

The Seed

These 13-foot tall, glowing dandelion seeds—not full dandelions, as some confused patrons of the installation expected—went up in neglected Jane Warner Plaza in October, the work of LA-based arts group Aphidoidea and inspired by a similar work in Arizona.

SF Weekly slammed the piece as “hideous” when first installed, noting that during the day, when not illuminated, the work looks bizarre, industrial, and out of place. But perhaps in the ensuing weeks—and with the benefit of nighttime viewing and a boost other nearby lights, including the nearby Castro Theater marquee—it’s had a chance to grow on critics?

A post shared by Douglas (@miller_d24sf) on

Hope Will Never Be Silent

The giant dandelion seeds are meant to evoke the idea of the Castro as a dream or a wish fulfilled. Competing for that same message is the illuminating quotation at the mouth of Harvey Milk Plaza, memorializing the words of former Supervisor Milk. A pointedly direct and no-frills approach to conveying the theme.

Ethereal Bodies

These jellyfish-like steel cylinders by Cliff Garten at Zuckerberg General Hospital are another piece that looks unimpressive and downright misbegotten during the day. But once the sun goes down and the lights come up the result is an eerie and beautiful marriage of light and form.