He's a Pinball Wizard

Olafur Eliasson unveils larger-than-life spheres in San Francisco

Seeing spheres, 2019, by renowned artist Olafur Eliasson was revealed in early September. (Matthew Millman)

Olafur Eliasson’s latest installation, Seeing spheres, 2019, is the Danish-Icelandic artist’s first permanent public piece on the West Coast. Each of the five ultra-polished steel balls stands over 15-feet tall and now populate the corner of San Francisco’s bayside basketball arena, the Chase Center.

According to Studio Olafur Eliasson, the artwork was realized using a fabrication process known as hydroforming, which is a cost-effective way to shape metals using highly pressurized fluid. The design team unveiled through the company’s Instagram account that Netherlands-based Central Industry Group (CIG) helped them turn what were once polyhedral pieces of steel with many planar faces into smooth spheres. Viewers can watch as the individual structures are dipped into high-pressure water below and then lifted to reveal a perfectly round shape. 

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Revealed to the public this week, the finished spheres now sit arranged in a circle within the 25,000-square-foot triangular plaza of the Chase Center—home of the Golden State Warriors. Flat mirrors carved into the inward-facing side of each structure allow visitors to see their reflection, as well as the other spheres, from various angles. Whether viewing up close or from the center of the installation, the pieces appear and disappear, layer on top of one another, and distort the surrounding landscape. The circular, oversized frames are also rimmed with LED lights that glow at night. 

“Seeing spheres is a public space that contains you and contains multitudes,” said Eliasson in a comment on Instagram. “We often think of public space as empty, negative space in the city, viewed from a car or crossed on the way to somewhere else. Seeing spheres offers a place to pause, where you see yourself from outside, as a participant in society.”

Photo of glass-clad arena building with silver spheres arranged on plaza in front

Located at the Chase Center in downtown San Francisco, the silver orbs make a big statement against the backdrop of the major arena. (Matthew Millman)

This isn’t Eliasson’s first foray into spheres. Known for a longtime career of crafting super shapely, light-filled artwork, most of it somewhat trippy, his most recent projects featuring spherical forms include In real life, 2019 and Renaissance echoes, 2019, both currently on view at his Tate Modern retrospective in London, as well as Rainbow bridge, 2017, shown at the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, among many others. 

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