SAN FRANCISCO — After more than 75 years in the shadow of its glamorous cousin, San Francisco's "other" bridge is getting a chance to shine.
The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge has been turned into the latest — and by far the biggest — backdrop for New York artist Leo Villareal, who has individually programmed 25,000 white lights spaced a foot apart on 300 of the span's vertical cables to create what is being billed as the world's largest illuminated sculpture.
Villareal, 46, whose previous installations have included an underground walkway at the National Gallery of Art and the Bleecker Street subway station in Manhattan, is scheduled to flip the switch on "The Bay Lights" with a click of his laptop computer on Tuesday at 9 p.m. Donors attending a private waterfront reception will see it set to music, but the work, which uses sequences of shifting light to produce an almost-infinite array of abstract patterns, will be visible to anyone with a view of the western half of the bridge for at least the next two years.
"People are attracted to light and they will respond in a variety of ways, even if they don't know anything about art, programming or technology," he said one evening late last month while fine-tuning the shimmering display from a pier next to San Francisco's Ferry Building. "It's really a wonderful piece of public art."
For Ben Davis, a San Francisco public relations and communications professional who conceived of the idea of turning the busy Bay Bridge into a 1.8-mile-long canvas, the $8 million project represents a long-overdue celebration of a conduit that has been eclipsed by the Golden Gate Bridge almost from the time its concrete set. It opened to great acclaim in November 1936 — at the time it was the world's longest and most expensive bridge — but lost the limelight with the opening of the majestic Golden Gate five months later.