Artist Barry McGee collaborated with the 509 Cultural Center to create a site-specific permanent public artwork on four inset walls of a building located in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. McGee, well-known as “Twist”—the creator of many temporary, ephemeral public pieces—proposed this as his first permanent mural. McGee created images that were closely tied to the site and its characters.
The piece consisted of four 64 foot by 8 foot metal trays fitted to and bolted on the inset walls. Large portraits along with smaller, more intimate renderings were enameled and spray painted over the metal surfaces. McGee completed and installed the panels by May 1998.
The panels’ installation was celebrated with a party with the neighbors surrounding the building. A few days later, one of the panels was stolen. McGee re-painted and replaced it and reinforced the bolts on the entire piece. In November 1999, the entire project was stolen. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Eric Brazil claimed “For sheer heft and volume, the great South of Market mural theft is a candidate for The Guinness Book of World Records.” The work has not been recovered.
At the time of undertaking this project, Barry McGee had produced a large body of temporary and ephemeral work in spray enamel. He also had been part of several exhibitions (at Center for the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens and the San Jose Museum of Art in Northern California; Museu Lasar Segall in São Paulo, Brazil; and other venues).
The 509 Cultural Center is a Tenderloin/Sixth Street-based arts and cultural organization that seeks to enrich and empower the cultural lives of the ethnically diverse, predominantly low-income residents of its neighborhood.