By Sam Whiting
When Christine Corday was named a finalist in the public art competition for the Moscone Center expansion, she did not have the six months that the other two finalists were given, and she did not even have the opportunity to visit the site, near the corner of Fourth and Howard streets.
What she had was two weeks to come up with a final design, and she was glad to have it, because she had finished fourth out of 400 applicants and was moved up to the final three only when another finalist dropped out.
The timing worked to Corday’s favor because she did not have the luxury of overthinking it. In her studio, in the Hudson River Valley of New York, she assembled a team of engineers and fabricators, and just ahead of the contest deadline she flew west with a 30-pound stainless steel prototype as her carry-on luggage.
That 1-foot prototype won the competition, and the ensuing 30-foot-tall, 8- ton crescent moon of stainless steel is now the largest freestanding sculpture in the Moscone Center compound. Titled “Geneses,” the $1.45 million arc is the focal point of the $551 million Moscone Center expansion that opens Thursday, Jan. 3.
“It was un-fussed and direct to my initial idea,” says Corday, 48, who was to be here for Thursday morning’s opening ceremony to be presided over by Mayor London Breed.
“Geneses” is the San Francisco premiere for Corday, but she did not win the competition out of the blue. She put a similar sheet of steel under the High Line in Manhattan, in 2008, and had a solo exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015. She has also spent several stints in San Francisco, going back to when she was an undergrad studying astrophysics and scored an internship at NASA, at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale.
Art finally won her over, but there is plenty of science and engineering in it.
“I think of art as cultural infrastructure,” she says. “Science is what I read, but the result is art.”
With its Thursday unwrapping, “Geneses” now anchors the west end of a Howard Street public art corridor put together by the San Francisco Arts Commission. At the corner of Fourth Street is “Geneses.” At the corner of Third Street is Keith Haring’s sculpture of frolicking stick figures from 1989. Mid-block is a pedestrian overcrossing that will soon feature a light sculpture by Leo Villareal, who conceptualized the ever-shifting LED show on the western span of the Bay Bridge in 2013.
A wall mural by Brendan Monroe of Los Angeles is coming in January or February, as is “Double Horizon,” a sculpture of boulders by Sarah Sze of New York City. The four commissions cost $4 million, paid for by a “2-percent-for-art” tax placed on the developer of the Moscone Center expansion.
“Geneses” means “many beginnings,” and Corday sees her sculpture as begun but never finished. The finish will be continuously applied by the weather and the hand prints of passersby.
“From a conceptual point of view, touch is incredibly important,” she says. “The surface of the piece will tell the story of every single person who touches it and, over time, will represent the surface of San Francisco.”