Is Burning Man Art Legit? 8 million reasons why

[Update: this story is on the San Francisco TV news tonight, KTVU and CBS covered it at lunch time. Here’s the ABC story: “soon what some consider an architectural gem will actually be a work of art”]

Congratulations to our friend and Disorient master electro-artist, Leo Villareal. A couple of years ago he was the first Burning Man artist to have an exhibition of 20 of his works in a major Museum, at the San Jose Museum of Art.

Now, Leo has won what must be the biggest commission ever for a Burning Man artist, $8 million for the Bay Lights, a temporary installation of 25,000 LED lights on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. It is actually the largest light installation ever, anywhere in the world. It also may be the largest ever commission for an “interactive“, “electronic”, or “multimedia” artist, as ground-breaking today as Damian Hirst’s $8 million formaldahyde shark was in it’s day, (according to Wikipedia, the iconic work of British art in the 1990’s) or graffiti artist Banksy, who for all the hype, only recently had his first million-plus sale – ironically (iconically) enough, a piece defacing Hirst.

Leo’s previous (and famous) temporary installation, the Rockefeller-backed Multiverse, is a tunnel of 41,000 LED lights at the National Gallery in Washington. It has been seen by more than 20 million people, and has now been made permanent.

We first brought you news of the Bay Lights installation in March, and spoke to Mayor Ed Lee about it later in May. Now we’re pleased to report that the project is now official; although there are still funds to be raised, the permits have been issued by Caltrans after 3 years of negotiations, the city is backing it, and the America’s Cup and Bay Bridge Extension opening will be amping up the hype. In other words: it’s on. The lights will add to a whole bunch of new LEDs going in with the new bridge span.

Villareal, a New York artist, describes the piece as a light sculpture, as opposed to a light show or light treatment. As such, there will be no blinking and no discernible message or image in the lights.

“What you will see are sequences that are orchestrated but will never repeat,” he says. “It will be very subtle and elegant. You could think of it almost as music, but mapped to the visual sense.”

Here’s a sampling of what it will look like:

This is no easy feat – people have to hang off the Bay Bridge on cables, installing the lights.

one of the Bay Lights prototypes, using a 3D-printed model of the steel cable

Over the next several months, electricians in harnesses will be climbing the suspension cables during the midnight hours to affix the LED lights to the vertical suspender cables that connect to the bridge deck. Each bulb will be adjusted to a level of brightness ranging from zero to 255.

Villareal, 45, will direct the installation via laptop, while stationed on a boat, on Treasure Island or on the second-floor deck of Waterbar restaurant on the Embarcadero.

“I’m using software as a primary material,” he says. “There’s a long process of trying things, and there is a lot of randomness and discovery in that process, as I come to resolution on what the piece will be.”

Here’s an interview with Leo on the project:

photo by Liz Hafalia, SF Chronicle

This is very exciting for San Francisco, especially residents with views of the North side of the Bay Bridge, the span from Treasure Island to the city. The lights will run from midnight until 2am every day.

“Bay Lights” will be visible only from the waterfront north of the bridge, or from a boat on the bay. It will operate between dusk and 2 a.m. nightly and will not be visible from the bridge deck, so as not to distract motorists.

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3 comments on “Is Burning Man Art Legit? 8 million reasons why

  1. Pingback: California Gleaming: World’s Biggest Light Art to Stay | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

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