Art Nerd City Guides: New York · Los Angeles

The Embarcadero Public Art Collection

Did you know the Embarcadero Center — four square blocks of commercial property in the heart of the Financial District — houses nearly twenty pieces of public art? Because I surely didn’t. Situated among the, well, skyscrapers and industry of downtown SF, walking around the Embarcadero Center is quite the escape from the surrounding monotony of suits and ties. In just a few blocks, anyone can walk around and see works from Jean Dubuffet, Louise Nevelson, Arnaldo Pomodoro, and countless others.

In the lobby of the Le Meridien San Francisco sits a composition of gold-painted hand-woven linen tiles from Olga de Amaral, and Arnaldo Pomodoro’s cast bronze sculpture Colonna sits reminiscently of a Florentine column surrounded by the hotel’s spiral staircase.


Fritz Koenig’s untitled bronze sphere lay underneath the staircase connecting the Le Meridien and the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building; a few steps away is Dimitri Hadzi’s Creazione — a bronze sculpture supposedly inspired by the music of Mozart.

And the list goes on and on: Jules Guerin’s Traders of the Adriatic outside of the Old Federal Reserve Bank Building, paying homage to banking’s Venetian roots. Two sculptures by Arman, Hermes and Dyonisis (A Monument to Analysis) and The University of Wisdom, occupy opposite sides of the Old Fed Building.


Above is Stephen De Staebler’s Torso With Arm Raised II, which is across from the Bentley Reserve. It’s impossible to traverse the Embarcadero Center without seeing a few more remarkable pieces: William Gutmann’s 17-ton stainless steel sculpture emanating from a reflective pool, Nicholas Schoffer’s Chronos XIV, a steel sculpture with 49 light projectors reflecting onto 65 movable discs. Speaking from experience, I suggest not staring directly at the sculpture for extended periods of time.

Oh right. That’s still just the first two buildings.

At Three Embarcadero Center, Louise Nevelson’s Sky Tree looks like it may actually in the clouds. Well, it’s at least three stories tall and made of black steel, which all the better.

Then there’s The Tulip — a concrete tulip-shaped sculpture outlined with lights that spans three levels.

Exiting the Embarcadero Center — all four blocks of it — leaves one in Justin Herman Plaza, home to the controversial Villancourt Fountain. The piece is comprised of 101 precast aggregate concrete boxes. Anyone can walk over, under, and through its waterfalls.

And of course, across the plaza is Jean Dubuffet’s La Chiffonniere, a stainless steel structure with black epoxy; it is mildly reminiscent of a cartoon-like ragged female figure. If you want to stretch your imagination.


Across the street from Justin Herman Plaza, in the lobby Hyatt Regency San Francisco, sits Charles O. Perry’s 40-foot geodesic sphere Eclipse. Over 1,400 pieces of curved metal tubing are joined together in pentagons.

I wandered around for about an hour, in complete awe of the beauty and accessibility of this art. I had walked around the area plenty before. I had even attended a conference at the Old Fed Building, and barely registered the importance and magnificence of all this art. And to think, I even left a few pieces out!

If you want to take yourself on a tour of the Embarcadero Center’s public art,there’s a nifty map available here.

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