Will Glitch-Plagued $1.5 Million Public Art Piece Get Scrapped?

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Facsimile (2003).
Photo: Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

A very expensive piece of public art in San Francisco is on the fritz, and may wind up going the way of the VCR.

Facsimile, a 2003, $1.5 million work strapped to a mobile armature on the exterior of the Moscone West, was created by High Line designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It boasts a 15-foot-tall, 25-foot-wide LED screen and was designed to serve as a digital window into the building whose facade it scrolls over. But the artwork, which also features inward-facing LED screens that display news headlines from around the world in real time to people inside the glass-walled building, has rarely worked properly since the day it was installed.

“Unfortunately, Facsimile suffered from technical problems from the outset and has never been operational for more than a few weeks at a time,” Tom DeCaigny, director of cultural affairs for San Francisco’s Arts Commission, tells the San Francisco Chronicle. “After years of effort to correct the artwork’s operational problems, Facsimile is still not functional…We have determined that it would require a substantial investment of time and money to continue to try to resolve its problems.”

DeCaigny has recommended that the piece be removed, a motion the Arts Commission will vote on soon.

Facsimile was commissioned under the auspices of San Francisco’s Percent for Art program, and took seven years of work and precisely $1,537,000 to create. Things got off to a rocky start, though, when the high-tech rig was dropped during installation, which jumbled the screen’s colors.

“In the future, the Arts Commission will be very cautious when considering large public art installations that rely on advanced technology,” DeCaigny said. “Especially technology that is rapidly evolving, such as the mechanical, LED and video innovations involved with this piece.”

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