Art Works of the Main Library

The Main Library features three works of art commissioned by the San Francisco Art Commission and planned in conjunction with the library architects, James Ingo Freed of Pei Cobb Freed and Partners and Cathy Simon of Simon Martin-Vegue Winkelstein Moris.

Artists Alice Aycock, Nayland Blake, Ann Hamilton, and Ann Chamberlain were selected to work with the architects. The resulting art was funded by a city ordinance that allocates up to two percent of the project cost of new buildings for art enrichment. Since the inauguration of the new building, the Public Library has installed three other works. Art by Enrique Chagoya, Emanuel Paniagua, and George Rickey was acquired through the San Francisco Art Commission.

In addition, Mark Evans and Charley Brown painted a ceiling mural for the Hormel LGBTQIA Center. The artists volunteered their time, and the production was underwritten by a gift to the city from Asye and Robert Kenmore.

Functional and Fantasy Stair and Cyclone Fragment

Artist: Alice Aycock

Alice Aycock has designed a spiral stairway between the fifth and sixth floors of the suspended, glass-enclosed reading room that projects into the library's great atrium space. The staircase wraps around a cone tipped at an angle, and as the two-story cone appears to unravel, it sheds fragments of false or imaginary stairs. The conical composition echoes the structure of a nearby atrium skylight. The cone, in fact, is an inversion of the skylight.

A second element, the Cyclone fragment, is suspended in the adjacent atrium and functions as a ghost projection of the spiral stair. If the stairs suggest knowledge unfolding, the Cyclone symbolizes knowledge in its most dynamic and transitional state. For the artist, her work in the library is the culmination of years of ongoing dialogue with the architect James Ingo Freed.


Artist: Nayland Blake
Lighting by Architectural Lighting Design

Long Shot of Constellation (It's the lengthy vertical panel on the right behind the stairs.)

Detail of Constellation (Clearly demonstrating the glass shades on which authors' names are inscribed.)

Echoing the inscriptions of authors' names on the outer walls of the former building, 160 names of writers are illuminated on a wall that rises five stories behind the grand staircase.

The artist's work is inspired by a Beaux Arts tradition with origins in the Bibliothèque Saint-Genevieve in Paris (a model for the old Main Library). On that building, authors' names were inscribed on the facade according to the location of their works inside.

Nayland Blake revisits this idea of an index of authors with glass shades placed before fiber optic light beams. Each shade is inscribed with the name of an author whose work is part of the library collection. The wall is designed to hold 200 more names as patrons endow additional shades and lights.

To select the first 160 names, the artist formed a guidance committee of local scholars and community members to develop a list of recommendations. Blake then held a series of public meetings in the branch libraries to solicit community response, as well as suggestions.

Latino/America: Authors from Latin American Roots

Artist: Enrique Chagoya

Just inside the Grove Street entrance, the mural-a gift from the Mexican consulate in San Francisco-is a work of charcoal and pastel on paper and canvas.

Measuring 160 inches square, the mural contains some thirty names of prominent Latino American writers and poets who have made important contributions to literature. They include Claribel Alegria, Isabel Allende, Jorge Amado, Manlio Argueta, Miguel Angel Asturias, Mario Benedetti, Jorge Luis Borges, Lydia Cabrera, Alejo Carpentier, Rosario Castellanos, Ana Castillo, Sandra Cisneros, Julio Cortazar, Ruben Dario, Rosario Ferre, Carlos Fuentes, Romulo Gallegos, Jorge Icaza, Sor Juana Inex de la Cruz, Jose Lezama Lima, Jose Marti, Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Elena Poniatowska, Roberto Sosa, Luisa Valenzuela, Cesar Vallejo, and Mario Vargas Llosa.

Into the Light

Artists: Mark Evans and Charley Brown

This circular mural on the ceiling of the Hormel LGBTQIA Center depicts gay and lesbian history and culture as a structure being built toward the center. Along the stairs are figures: women, men, older adults, and children-working together and carving the names of famous gays and lesbians in history.


Artists: Ann Hamilton and Ann Chamberlain

With the move to the new Main Library, items in the card catalog (used to access the collection for more than 100 years) have been supplanted by an online computer system. Obsolete cards embedded in artisans' plaster cover the principal diagonal wall on three levels of the building.

Each card is annotated with a quote from its corresponding book or from another book associated with the title by subject matter. Nearly 200 individuals annotated the cards in a dozen different languages. The cards not only represent a process of research unique to the person who created them but also express the diverse meanings derived from reading.

Moreover, the annotations on the cards expose the interior of books-the text at the heart of a library's holdings. The wall represents a window into a world of books that can be browsed by those who enjoy the library and its collection.

Perhaps Better Voices

Artist: Emanuel Paniagua

In the Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room at the lower level, this mural has two main elements, according to the artist: the central figure and the surrounding area.

"The central figure is an allegorical representation of the Latin American writer-a physically vigorous symbol of civic and political leadership," says Emanuel Paniagua. "When democracy is nonexistent or weak, it is the artist that gives truth to the moral, civic and political values that would otherwise be silent. This condition is especially prevalent in Latin America."

"The second element is the images surrounding this central figure, suggestive of the world of literary creation. From his pen flows literature, fruit of his creation, burning with almost chaotic force, imbued with its own life," the artist adds. "The background is a profusion of scenes from pertinent and interrelated famous works, representing the surrealist image that distinguishes Latin American literature. That is to say, it presents a universe where the rule of law is poetry."

Public Art in the Vicinity of the Main

Double L Eccentric Gyratory

Artist: George Warren Rickey

Located before the Main Library's north-western corner on Larkin Street, by Fulton.

A vertical composition, two large letter "L"s, which rotate independently through currents of the air, on a concrete base. A leading artist in the "Kinetic Art Movement", Rickey is also considered a "Constructivist."

Pioneer Monument

Artist: Frank Happersberger

Located between the Main Library and the Asian Arts Museum, on Fulton Street.


Artist: Fred Parhad

Located on Fulton Street by the Asian Arts Museum.

Simon Bolivar

Artist: Victor Hugo Barranechea Villegas

Located in United Nations Plaza at Hyde, near the northeast corner of the Main Library.

United Nations Plaza Fountain (Photograph of the Fountain)

Artist: Lawrence Halprin

Located in United Nations Plaza, southeast of the Main Library.

Mid Market: Including Civic Center and the Tenderloin

A miscellany of neighborhood photographs.