SAN FRANCISCO – Sculptor Sarah Sze has withdrawn her proposal for a work commissioned by San Francisco’s Chinese Culture Center. The internationally known Chinese-American artist (profiled in our recent cover story on MacArthur “genius” award winners) acted in response to a dispute over the site.
The San Francisco Examiner reports that the kerfuffle centers on a real-estate development in the city’s iconic Chinatown. As part of civic approval for the construction of two new office buildings at Pine and Kearney streets, the developer agreed to expand St. Mary’s Square, which the buildings abut. The expansion included plans for additional park amenities and public art.
The Chinese Culture Center then put out a request for proposals, and Sze’s entry, dubbed, Book of Rocks, won out over 99 others from a field of international artists.
But a request for proposals then went out for another public artwork intended for the site: the first memorial in a major America’s city to the “comfort women,” young Korean, Chinese, Filipina, and other Asian women forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II. The memorial has the backing of two influential San Franciscans, former judges Lillian Sing and Julie Tang, co-chairs of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition.
When Sze learned of these plans, she withdrew her proposal.
Jenny Leung, spokesperson for the Chinese Culture Center, told the Examiner that the Center had not been consulted on the siting of the memorial.
In a conference call with the newspaper, Tang and Sing claimed that both the developer and Recreation and Park Commissioner Allan Low had discussed the idea of the two artworks sharing the site. They added that the proposed memorial has a very small footprint, that the two pieces could work together, and that the Culture Center should have been aware of the shared-space concept.
But Center Director Abby Chen told the newspaper that her organization had selected Sze in May, but didn’t hear about the memorial potentially sharing the St. Mary’s Square site until July, via a notice from the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC).
“Sarah Sze is a world-renowned artist. We’re definitely saddened she has withdrawn. It is a loss to not just Chinatown but to San Francisco,” Leung said in a statement.
Though Sze did not respond to the Examiner’s request for comment on her decision, Evelyne Jouanno, founder of the Bay Area–based nonprofit Ars Citizen and Sze’s representative for the project, sent a statement to the paper: “Unfortunately, after the selection and before entering into contract, we’ve been informed about significant changes in the original conditions of the project as set by the developers.
“This information was not given during the process of the competition. After discussing with SFAC and the developer, we were unable to restate the original conditions. Sarah Sze and Ars Citizen regretfully decided to withdraw the winning proposal from the commission process.”
The Center has chosen the first-runner-up proposal as a replacement for Sze’s, and is going ahead with the site-sharing plan. But the proposal, and many others that the RFP produced, elicited little enthusiasm when they came in in early November, according to the Examiner.