The proposed "Serpentine Wave" sculpture for Mission Creek Park in Mission Bay. Sculpture design by Adrien Segal. Courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission.

Waves, spinal columns and grizzly bears, oh my!  

Mission Creek Park, at the north end of Mission Bay, will welcome a new sculpture at the park extension’s entrance, and now it’s currently down from 135 submissions to these three. 

The three artists include Windy Chien, who created the spinal columns; Rigo 23, who devised the grizzly bears; and Adrien Segal, who envisioned waves. They shared their proposals Thursday evening with the Mission Bay Citizens’ Advisory Committee.

The San Francisco Arts Commission asked artists to come up with a design that builds upon Mission Bay’s environment, and takes up enough space to “make a visual impact from a distance.” 

All three will be lit at night for parkgoers to enjoy. The final decision will be made at a public meeting on Jan. 18, which will be informed by public comments and the Advisory Committee’s feedback.

Mission Creek Spinal Columns

The proposed “Mission Creek Spinal Columns” sculpture for Mission Creek Park in Mission Bay. Sculpture design by Windy Chien. Courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission.

Chien’s columns represent the different types of people who wandered Mission Bay before it became a park. Her spinal columns are open circles, stacked on top of each other. Standing more than 18 feet tall, the columns conjure spinal images of “giant guardians and totemic beings,” according to her project’s description.  

Chien plans to distinguish each of the five columns with specific knots, acknowledging the people who once lived there. The first two knots call forth sailors who traveled to the Bay. The Ohlone tribe often used coiling as a knotting technique for basket weaving. A spinal hitch knot most closely resembles a spine, and is a nod toward the biomedical community nearby. 

Chien could probably give a Boy Scout a run for their money with knot-tying. Her previous artistic projects led her to learn a new knot every day, many of which were featured in previous exhibitions and a book. 

Unflagging Presence: the California Grizzlies of Mission Creek

“Unflagging Presence: The California Grizzlies of Mission Creek” sculpture proposal for Mission Creek Park in Mission Bay. Design by Rigo 23. Courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission.

Rigo 23, one of the Clarion Alley Mural Project’s founders, represents the Mission in this competition. He plans to build on his expertise with detailed sculptures to create a mama and baby bear. 

Rigo 23 wanted to connect the park to its wildlife history, and chose the bear — the grizzly bear, state’s animal — to do so. The fur texture will incorporate bronze and terracotta tiles. The mama bear will tower at 13 feet, and her cub at six feet. 

The sculptures can also educate viewers about people’s impact on our four-legged neighbors. Grizzlies are extinct in California.

 “I also aim to remind our contemporaries that the survival of even such a majestic and powerful animal as the grizzly, is dependent foremost on the actions of us humans. The tender love and fierce protection of the mother bear alone is not sufficient to guarantee the survival of her cubs,” Rigo 23 wrote in a statement. 

Serpentine Wave

The proposed “Serpentine Wave” sculpture for Mission Creek Park in Mission Bay. Sculpture design by Adrien Segal. Courtesy of San Francisco Arts Commission.

Riding the wave, baby! Oakland-based artist Adrien Segal’s proposal falls in line with her other internationally-recognized work, which often combines science and statistics with creative expression. In her sculpture, which will stand at five feet tall and extend between 30 and 40 feet long, mimics the “sinuous” shape that you may recall from precalculus class. 

The sine shape, however, represents several symbols that Segal connects to the Mission Bay landscape. It’s the shape left in the sand after the tide goes out, as when Mission Bay was a salt marsh lagoon; it mimics the form of a serpent; it evokes the graph following seismic activity. 

On top of this sinuous shape, Segal plans to recreate a topographical look with reused materials to call attention to the area’s geology. 

Decisions, decisions 

Jackie von Treskow, a member of the arts commission, presented the proposals to the 10-person Mission Bay Citizens’ Advisory Committee, and said she would take the committee’s comments into account. 

So, how did these ideas come across?

One member loved all three. “They’re all great. It’s difficult for me to decide what I want the most,” said committee Vice Chair Donna Dell’Era. 

Others vehemently disagreed. 

“I’m struggling. I’m not crazy about any of them,” said member Catherine Sharpe. 

Member Alfonso Felder suggested that at least Rigo 23’s bear idea was immediately accessible “to multiple generations and a diverse population,” but hoped the bear’s pose could be “refined” later on. Sharpe agreed, but added that a sign needed to be added to explain the piece, otherwise people would view it as just a random bear. 

Von Treskow assured her that the artwork would have signage. 

The committee harped  on the fact that the sinuous creation of Segal’s sinuous sculpture would encourage climbing. 

“I can just see it becoming a constant problem,” Terezia Nemeth, the committee chair remarked, adding that if kids at the nearby school came, they’d definitely wish to climb over it. Dell’Era agreed, noting “I know some other public art that looks like it’s welcoming to walk on, and we seem to keep people away from that.” 

Von Treskow noted that the commission was aware, and if Segal’s proposal was chosen, they would create barriers or other distractions to ensure people do not touch the art. 

A public commenter outside of the committee, Bettina Cohen, went so far to call the second and third proposals (Chien and Segal’s) as “yawners.” 

She far preferred the artwork in nearby Daggett Plaza. “I heard there was going to be art in [Mission Creek Park]; I was really excited and looking forward to seeing something that would really put me in Mission Bay as soon as I saw it. None of those do it,” Cohen said.  “What they got to do with Mission Bay, I don’t know.” 

Hardly a comment passed on Chien’s, except a question about how the knots would appear in real life. 

Want to see if your favorite wins?

The final review panel will vote at a public meeting where the individual artists will present their ideas once more. Tune in Tuesday, Jan. 18, through the San Francisco Art Commission’s website

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REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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    1. Yeah . . . I see thirteen foot mama bears featuring bronze and terra cotta tiles for fur everywhere I look.