Serra Sculpture Arrives at UCSF Mission Bay Campus

By Lisa Cisneros on April 01, 2005
Amid unrelenting rain, sculptor Richard Serra's latest public artwork -- titled "Ballast" - was anchored into place in the puddle-filled future plaza at UCSF Mission Bay on March 22. (See video in either QuickTime, Real format or Windows Media). Despite the cold temperatures and steady downpour, more than a dozen observers, including several camera crews and photographers, watched and recorded the installation. Serra, a native of San Francisco, supervised the installation of the two rectangular plates on the blustery spring day. "The rain is not a factor, although it's really muddy and there are puddles everywhere," said Lisa Henderson, UCSF project manager for the installation. The Serra sculpture consists of two enormous plates of Cor-Ten steel, measuring 50 feet tall and 14 feet wide. Each piece is five and a half inches thick and weighs 80 tons. Over several years, the steel surface - drenched in rain for its debut -- will change from a red iron oxide to a dark violet-brown color. The 15-man crew from Sheedy Drayage placed the first plate at 9:15 a.m., and it took another several hours before the second plate was carefully carried by crane and guided by crews into place. Once put into position, crews bolted each piece onto their foundations 133 feet apart. Placement was tricky because Serra's design calls for each piece to tilt sideways - 18 inches in opposite directions.

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The Serra sculpture will engage the entire space of the plaza between Third and Fourth streets. Construction of the plaza can begin in earnest now that the piece has been installed. The plaza will eventually be bustling with activity when food and retail outlets open and the Third Street light rail begins service. "If we built the plaza first and then placed the plates with these large trucks, we would have destroyed the pavement," Henderson explained. And because of the muddy ground, crews had to place huge wooden planks to serve as level tracks for the crane to maneuver without sinking into the earth. "This would have been a great summer job," quipped a Sheedy supervisor. The Serra sculpture was delivered from a mill in France via ship to San Francisco shores at Pier 80 in the Mission District on Dec. 26, 2004. After being transferred to a large truck, the plates were driven to a Sheedy yard not too far from the Mission Bay campus and then into a fabrication facility at Mare Island, where welders attached each plate to a base made of the same material. The sculpture is the latest and largest public artwork at UCSF Mission Bay, which is becoming a showcase for both commissioned and purchased artwork by acclaimed artists. Considered one of the most influential artists of his generation, Serra is known for his large-scale minimalist sculptures in metal, concrete and other materials, usually designed for specific outdoor sites. His work is found in most major museum collections around the world. The steel plates of the sculpture are designed "to hold the vastness of the space, emphasizing its horizontality and holding space and volume between the two pieces," Serra said at the time he was commissioned. UCSF launched the public art program at the new Mission Bay campus with the goal of creating a visually stimulating environment and a permanent legacy to the city. "The sculpture by Richard Serra is the centerpiece of our program for public art at UCSF Mission Bay," UCSF Chancellor Mike Bishop said. "We are proud to have this extraordinary work by a distinguished native son of San Francisco. It should play a major role in making our Mission Bay campus a memorable place to work and visit." Photo by Majed Source: Lisa Cisneros

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Serra Sculpture Commissioned for UCSF Mission Bay Campus