Constellation is a site-specific work by artist Nayland Blake, commissioned for the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. It’s an integral element of the central atrium, rising five stories with the grand staircase. From a distance it gives visual contrast of color and shape to the atrium’s architecture. Up close you realize the elements each have an author’s name inscribed on them, and they are illuminated with fiber optic light beams.
The back of the sculpture is open, allowing you to see the lighting – the man behind the curtain as it were. For such a large work it is surprisingly intimate. I really enjoyed how it worked and unfolded to me at the different distances and angles. It’s really neat how the stairs wrap around it, letting you see it from top to bottom.
from the Library’s page on the Art Works of the Main Library:
The artist’s work is inspired by a Beaux Arts tradition with origins in the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève in Paris (a model for the old Main Library). On that building, authors’ names were inscribed on the facade according to the location of their works inside.
To select the first 160 names, the artist formed a guidance committee of local scholars and community members to develop a list of recommendations. Blake then held a series of public meetings in the branch libraries to solicit community response, as well as suggestions.