Light Source

Art & Design

San Francisco’s Bay Bridge—which has long played ugly sister to the Golden Gate Bridge’s Cinderella—got a glamorous makeover for its 75th birthday last night, thanks to the New York-based light artist, Leo Villareal

The Bay Lights, said to be the largest privately-funded art project in the world (it cost $8 million, amassed from donations as small as $50) was officially lit up last night in a shimmering display involving 25,000 undulating, individually programmed LED lights attached to the bridge’s vertical suspension cables. It’s slated to dazzle San Franciscans from dusk until 2:00 a.m. for the next two years (but will not, thankfully, be a visible distraction to the drivers who make the 1.8 mile journey across the once-drab bridge that connects San Francisco with Oakland).

Two years in the making, The Bay Lights is the grandest of Villareals’s recent site-specific work (his 2012 New York City installations, including Hive and Buckyball, are considerably more modest), and it seems only fitting that San Francisco provide the backdrop for his showiest work yet. Though based in New York now, Villareal, whose work is as much technology as art, began his career in Silicon Valley.

Says Villareal, “Light has the ability to communicate in a really powerful way; it’s like looking at a campfire; there’s a hypnotic quality to it.” Indeed—and for two years, lucky San Francisco will be cast under its dazzling spell.

Video: Thomas Hawk

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