Art is perennial in San Francisco

BY KAREN KENYON Modified: October 22, 2012 at 1:28 pm •  Published: October 22, 2012
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Art is ever-present in San Francisco — on street corners and in cathedrals as well as in galleries and museums. I recently spent a long weekend in the city, filling my need for art, color and design, but this time I focused not just on temporary exhibits, but also on ongoing, permanent art.

The first evening I walked around Union Square and couldn't help but note the large fat heart titled "All Day, All Night" by Marianne Bland that was on display. One side was red, one blue, with a San Francisco theme.

This heart, in fact, has been part of a citywide exhibit of hearts designed by various artists to benefit the San Francisco General Hospital Fund. What a great welcome for visitors!

My hotel was across from Moscone Center, so the next morning as I walked out in search of coffee I had a great view of Keith Haring's recently restored red, yellow and blue "Three Dancing Figures" — a cheery way to begin the day, for sure.

At the top of my list of places to go and things to see was to revisit the Ghiberti Doors at Grace Cathedral. That first morning I took a taxi to the Nob Hill area to see what is an exact replica of the doors in Florence, Italy, installed in 1452 at the beginning of the Renaissance and called by Michelangelo "The Gates of Paradise."

The 10 bronze panels depict scenes from the Old Testament, including Adam and Eve and the sacrifice of Isaac.

The original doors were created by the great sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti and installed at the Baptistry of the Duomo in Florence. The doors at Grace Cathedral are an exact copy. A mold (now destroyed) created during World War II was used to construct them, and they were put on the Baptistry when the originals were removed in order to hide and preserve them.

After the war San Francisco philanthropist Charles D. Field purchased the replicas, and they were officially dedicated at Grace Cathedral in 1964.

During earlier visits I had not entered the cathedral, but this time I did. Not only is it a good example of a Gothic cathedral, with is high arches and brilliant leaded glass, but to the right of the entrance is the Keith Haring AIDS chapel. His triptych altar has the Christ child in the center panel cradled by numerous arms. Visitors can meditate and light a candle for a lost or beloved friend or relative here.

The labyrinth (one inside the cathedral and another out in front) is another form of design with ancient roots. Whether or not it is art, it is most definitely design. Labyrinths have appeared as designs on pottery and basketry and as body art, as well as having been etched on walls of caves and on the floors of some churches.

The Romans created many primarily decorative labyrinth designs on walls and floors in tile or mosaic. The inside labyrinth design here is based on the famous medieval labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France.

One day I made a trip to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. I loved seeing the Andy Goldsworthy site-specific work "Drawn Stone," which lures visitors into the museum with a winding fissure on the paving stone floor surface. This appropriate "quake city" crack continues across boulders where people can sit.

On exhibit until Dec. 30 is the William S. Paley collection, featuring such painters as Paul Cezanne ("Milk Carton With Apples"), Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Edgar Degas and Pierre Bonnard.