Leo Villareal’s Epic Light Sculpture Enjoins and Delights San Francisco

Leo Villareal’s Epic Light Sculpture Enjoins and Delights San Francisco

By Max Eternity

Villareal's 'The Bay LIghts' (graphic)

It’s my goal “to get out of the way, and allow the work to flow through me” said Leo Villareal to me in a brief conversation we had at a “by invitation only” press event last night at the Ferry Building—an architectural gem that highlights San Francisco’s portfolio of grand old buildings.


Along with Mayor Ed Lee and artist-visionary, Ben Davis, who is described as the “Catalyst” for the project, Villareal was there speaking about his monumental light sculpture designed for the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland.

'There's so much generosity for this project' say's Villareal (Image: Max Eternity)
‘There’s so much generosity for this project’ say’s Villareal (Image: Max Eternity)

Villareal, who is one of the world’s most successful living artists, has a background in sculpture, and says that he considers himself “an artist” first—that even though he uses digital-age technology he does not define himself by the technology used.

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and the Bay Bridge.  Villareal’s sculpture traverses 1.8 miles of the Bay Bridge, and is entitled “The Bay Lights.”

'The Bay Lights' by Leo Villareal (Image: Wendy Norris Communication)
‘The Bay Lights’ by Leo Villareal (Image: Wendy Norris Communication)

The art piece, which is entirely funded through private donations, is a work of art heavily reliant on digital technologies.  Notwithstanding, “The Bay Lights” is not “a light show” Villareal emphatically pointed out in his talk.  Instead, he said, it’s a work of art which deliberately uses “monochromatic lights,” being closer to abstract, artistic semeotics, and is not to be confused with entertainment.


Tom DeCaigny, Director of Cultural Affairs, was also on hand to champion the project, and what follows a breakdown of “The Bay Lights” impact—a brief balance sheet.

  • 25,000 White LED Lights
  • Slated for 2013 – 2015
  • 1.8 Miles Wide x 500 Fr. High
  • 7X Scale of Eiffel Tower
  • Projected to Add $97 Million to Local Economy
  • Privately Funded
  • Solar Credits Energy Offset
  • Over 50 Million Visitors
  • Billions of Media Impressions
  • ZERO 1 Fiscal Sponsor

In a recent interview uploaded by “RebeccaGuardian” on Youtube, Villareal says his work is “almost like tuning a musical instrument, cause you want to get it just right,” adding that his epic sculptural light “project could have been killed a thousand times, but here it is against all odds.”

On February 7th, Villareal gave a talk at SF MoMA.  Video link found here.

Fiscal sponsor for “The Bay Lights” is ZERO 1: The Art and Technology Network, and one of the most striking aspects to “The Bay Lights” is in the way San Francisco’s leadership and Villareal’s team unified their vision to manifest a historic and iconic visual art project that is projected to generate $97 million dollars in tourist related revenue, at less than 10% of up-front costs.


During the Q &A of yesterday’s press event, as seen towards the end of the video below, I had the opportunity to ask an open question to Villareal, Mayor Lee and Davis about connecting the dots between art and economics.

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Explore more about Villareal and “The Bay Lights” here.



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