Sites Unseen, Exhibition Launched, Featured in San Francisco Chronicle

People check out the new murals during the Sites Unseen opening ceremony in San Francisco (Santiago Mejia, Special to The Chronicle, 2016)

People check out the new murals during the Sites Unseen opening ceremony in San Francisco (Santiago Mejia, Special to The Chronicle, 2016)

A Baum Foundation sponsored program, Sites Unseen, was featured in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 11th, 2016. The original article “1st Alley Installation Unveiled in Art Scavenger Hunt” is below:

The new art installation from Sites Unseen is appropriately hard to find. In fact, the 60-foot mural at Moscone Center Garage is so well hidden that even motorists parking in the garage may not see it.

As the exhibition marquee, this six-story abstract painting by Barry McGee was unveiled Sunday, Oct. 9, to maybe 100 people who managed to locate it at the far end of a brick-and-mortar walkway directly across from the new Howard Street entrance to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

“That alleyway is the most beautiful frame I have ever seen,” announced Jonathan Moscone, chief of civic engagement at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts as he stood in front of the mural. “I’m so proud to have this be at the center of the arts scene in San Francisco.”

The kaleidoscope-like painting, and smaller drawings on other walls of the garage, compose the first installation by Sites Unseen, a privately funded $3 million, three-year project to put public art in the narrow streets and dark walkways of the Yerba Buena neighborhood. There will eventually be eight installations by eight artists in what project director Jessica Shaefer described to her audience as a “scavenger hunt.”

As the opening clue, the wall mural works perfectly because you can just make out the top of its geometric design while standing at the Richard Serra sculpture “Sequence” at SFMOMA. A quick walk across Howard Street takes you through open gates and between buildings to the painting on the back corner of the garage.

“It struck me instantly as a dazzling geometric pattern, and it activates what would otherwise be a boring stretch of wall,” said Seattle urban planner Sloan Dawson, who happened upon it with a friend. “That’s what makes it an interesting space for art.”

The exterior of the city-owned garage was mostly just white space until McGee, 50, a native San Franciscan who started out as a graffiti artist, was commissioned to use it as a canvas. Now his drawings and paintings, which he calls Moscone Contemporary Art Centre & Garage, are on the back-facing Clementina Street, on the front facing Third Street and on the walls at the top of the stairwell, six stories up.

“It’s amazing that the MTA (Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages the garage) was willing to collaborate with such a well-known artist,” said Michael Spicka, a studio manager who came to the opening. “With all the tech influences here, it is important to recognize that it is all rooted in creativity.”

Moscone Contemporary Art Centre & Garage is free and open to public viewing. You don’t have to park a car here to ride the elevator up and see the art on the top level, open to the sky.

For Sunday’s opening, the roof deck was emptied of cars, except for a decorative 1961 Chevrolet Impala, and turned into an outdoor gallery. People stepped off the elevator to be rewarded with a slice of cake, baked by food-installation artist Leah Rosenberg and color-coded to match the hues of the six levels of the garage.

The cake was served by waiters in hard hats, and to wash it down there was lemonade supplied by David Burns and Austin Young, operating as the collective Fallen Fruit. In exchange for their refreshment, people were asked to draw their own self-portrait on a lemon.

Back down in the alley, standing by and trying to blend in anonymously, was the artist McGee. There is no signage to his work and he likes it that way.

“Ten or 15 years from now, I want this to be peeling and fading,” he said, “and one of those San Francisco mysteries.”

More mysteries are on the way. In her opening remarks, Sites Unseen co-founder Dorka Keehn said, “This project will not continue to happen unless we have ongoing support.” But the second installation in the series, a neon piece by Hank Willis Thomas, is in the works and will light up Annie alley in January.

“It brings community to places undiscovered,” said April Bucksbaum, who supports Sites Unseen through the Bucksbaum Foundation. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be hanging out in this alley.”

View All Highlights