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10 Permanent Art Installations In San Francisco
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10 Permanent Art Installations In San Francisco

Picture of Ro Joshi
Updated: 11 December 2015
San Francisco is considered one of the cultural capitals of the world. Teeming with great eats, incredible music, and a vibrant art scene, the city is home to countless wonderful sites to visit and admire. Some of the world’s most well-known creators have left their mark on San Francisco, littering the city with amazing art installations.

Yoda Statue

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens just around the corner, a trip to San Francisco simply wouldn’t be complete without stopping by Lucasfilm’s headquarters to see the Yoda Statue. Set atop a flowing fountain in front of the office entrance, the majestic Yoda installation is only one of many statues displayed around the campus for visitors to check out. If you’re a fan of the Star Wars franchise, be sure to stop by and explore the 17 acres of beautifully manicured property available to the public.

Lucasfilm HQ, 1 Letterman Dr, San Francisco, CA, USA

Hearts in SF

The Hearts in SF program has lead to the creation of perhaps San Francisco’s most well-known art installation. Ornamenting the city’s streets and plazas, the intricately designed hearts have become a favorite for tourists and locals alike. Started in 2004 by San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, Hearts In SF provides local Bay Area artists the opportunity annually to create unique pieces that are displayed around the city. Having raised millions for the foundation and becoming an iconic part of San Francisco, some hearts are displayed as permanent fixtures for you to visit and enjoy.

Union Square, 323 Geary St #203, San Francisco, CA, USA

The Life of Christ Altarpiece

Art that engages, touches, and inspires leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. Such art is often a product of personal strife, as is the case with Keith Haring’s ‘The Life of Christ‘ altarpiece. Completed just weeks before the artist succumbed to AIDS, the piece is a beautiful representation of the universality of HIV/AIDS, and is also an endearing homage to the passionate caregivers that work tirelessly to give comfort to sufferers. One of San Francisco’s most important permanent art pieces, it is a must-visit for anyone traveling to the city.

The Interfaith AIDS Memorial Chapel at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California St, San Francisco, CA, USA

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Language of the Birds

A mesmerizing overhead installation, Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn’s ‘Language of the Birds‘ is a series of 23 illuminated books that float above a busy San Francisco plaza. Inspired by mythology that holds that birds have a divine language used to communicate with the initiated, the eccentric display is especially profound at night. The books flutter overhead like a flock of birds rising into the sky. Just below the installation, words can be seen etched into the plaza. A treat for the eyes, ‘Language of the Birds’ is a wonderful permanent installation to enjoy while strolling the city at night.

Corner of Broadway and Columbus, 308 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA, USA

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SFO Art Displays

When arriving in the city, travelers are greeted with beautiful and entrancing art installations at the San Francisco International Airport itself. The airport hosts permanent art pieces from world-renowned artists, which hang high overhead and stretch across the walls of its terminals. The wide collection of artwork boasts sculptures from the likes of Larry Kirkland and Rufino Tamayo, intricate mosaics from Joyce Kozloff, vibrant tapestries from Mark Adams and countless other pieces. Spending some time to take in the sights at the San Francisco International Airport, whether you’re arriving or departing, makes for an unexpectedly fulfilling experience. A directory of the art displayed in each area can be found here.

San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, CA, USA

Balmy Alley Murals

The embodiment of San Francisco’s rich cultural and ideological identity, the block-long parade of murals in Balmy Alley is a colorful and evocative public display. Located in the Mission District, the alley is constantly alive and evolving as new murals are regularly painted. Touching on various subjects from human rights in America to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the murals are a permanent fixture in one of San Francisco’s most charismatic neighborhoods. Whether you choose to join a guided tour or simply wish to stroll through the alley yourself, the artwork that is displayed here is a must-see.

Balmy St, San Francisco, CA, USA

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Cupid’s Span

Anyone that has visited Rincon Park since the 2002 installation of Cupid’s Span is sure to have been enamored of the immense ode to affection. Rising high against the bay, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Cupid’s Span is yet another iconic structure in the San Francisco skyline. Rincon Park in itself is a wonderful place to visit, and the sight of this installation, its arching silhouette reminiscent of a ship, is a welcome treat. Be sure to stop by Cupid’s Span while taking in the wonderful bay views.

The Embarcadero at Folsom St, Rincon Park, San Francisco, CA, USA

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Vaillancourt Fountain

An entwining, geometric mass of cubic tubes manages to produce a profound and somewhat elegant installation in Justin Herman Plaza. The Vaillancourt Fountain has been a mainstay in San Francisco’s public art sphere since 1971. As controversial as it is beloved, Québécois artist Armand Vaillancourt’s piece has become one of the city’s most well known monuments. Several motions have sought to destroy the piece, although none have been successful thus far.

Justin Herman Plz, 1 Market St, San Francisco, CA, USA

Henry Moore’s Large Four-Piece Reclining Figure

Work from the prolific English sculptor Henry Moore is on display worldwide. San Francisco boasts its very own piece from the artist – a hulking, bronze, four-piece installation seated before the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall. Unlike Vaillancourt Fountain, Moore’s piece trades rigidity for loose abstraction. Modeled after the human form, the sculpture is another beautiful piece worth checking out.

Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall on Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA, USA

Keith Haring’s Three Dancing Figures

Another piece from beloved visual artist Keith Haring, Three Dancing Figures sits right at home in the city. Reflecting Haring’s eclectic, street art influence, this colorful installation showcases the late artist’s upbeat style and features his iconic silhouettes. Along with the many other installations San Francisco offers, Three Dancing Figures is a reminder that the city boasts a world-class collection of public art that is definitely worth exploring.

Corner of 3rd and Howard Street, San Francisco, CA, USA

By Ro Joshi

Twenty-something. Lover of food, film, and all things art.