Saturday, July 1, 2017

Corporate goddesses

I've developed a habit of taking long walks around downtown San Francisco at lunchtime. I don't have a particular set route; often I just let my feet take me where they will.

There's always a lot to see when walking around downtown San Francisco. I haven't yet had the opportunity to see flying cars, but I suspect that's not long away.

Often, when I'm walking along, I find I'm mostly looking down at the street or around me at the various shop windows and displays, or out at the vistas over the Bay.

But, sometimes, I happen to look up, as I did the other day while walking back from North Beach.

I had no idea what I was looking at, but later I remembered to track it down, and it turned out that I had seen the famous corporate goddesses of 580 California.

If you have ever wondered about the sculptures on top of this building, the sculptures were created by Muriel Castanis, an American sculptor best known for her public art installments involving fluidly draped figures. Muriel described the 12 statue on top of this building as Corporate Goddesses. In 1983, Philip Johnson commissioned her to create sculpture for the top story of 580 California. Three different heroic-size figures are repeated on each side of the building.

It's hard to describe just how peculiar these statues are, but one wonderful essay about them is JW Ocker's Grim Roofers: Muriel Castanis’s Corporate Goddesses:

There are three individual wraiths, each one 12 feet tall, and the pattern of three is repeated on each side of the building for a total of twelve wraiths. One lifts an arm like she’s a Fate and her sash is a life-string to be cut. The second has her arms thrown back like she’s about to jump into oblivion. The third is holding her sash in front of her like one of those airport car drivers looking for his passenger. That’s the most terrifying one if you think about it.

The artist who created them was Muriel Castanis, who made a career out of empty robed figures before dying in 2006. She designed them by covering models in epoxy-soaked cloths. The models then wriggled out as the clothes hardened, and Castanis used those forms as a basis for the 12-foot-tall skyscraper specters San Francisco has today.

For some more pictures, including a few which give a better feel for what it's like to see these sculptures from ground level, try this short photo-essay on SFGate.

Apparently the phrase "Corporate Goddesses" may have come from Castanis herself, at least according to this old article on SFGate:

Price is gazing out over the city as an eerie sight emerges across the way, on the rooftop of 580 California. Ghostly, faceless figures surround the building's crown, spooky women in hooded white robes. From street level, the 12-foot-tall statues are all but unseen.

They're the creation of New York artist Muriel Castanis, who was specially commissioned to create the figures for the 23-story building. She has described her work as "corporate goddesses."

"The view is best from here," Price says, gazing down on the statues. "They used to put Santa Claus hats on them at Christmastime. They don't do it anymore."

I think it's just fine to leave the Santa Claus hats off; still, the statues do apparently need some attention from time to time. A few years back, a specialty art restoration company gave the statues a much-needed freshening up:

The figure was cleaned with detergents, biocides, and denatured alcohol to remove dirt, debris, and biological growth. Deteriorated paint was removed and cracks, losses, and impact sites were repaired with Paraloid B-72 and glass fiber bulked resins. Caulk was removed from the base of the figure and pedestal. Corrosion was removed from the aluminum-clad pedestal, and the metal prepared for repainting. Embedded iron was removed from the leg of a second figure, and the material replaced with fiberglass patching material. All of the treated materials were repainted with a color-matched, industrial paint system.

I hadn't heard of Castanis before, but I have to say, I find the sculptures pretty nice, overall. I have no idea what they mean, but I think it's nice that the building included this artwork, even if it's rather unusual.

Who knows, maybe one day I'll make it up to the rooftop garden at 343 Sansome and see how the Goddesses look from that perspective.

But one thing's for sure: as I walk around the streets of the city, I'll remind myself to make more frequent glances skyward.

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