"Constellation" (1996) 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.
Constellation is inspired by the Beaux Arts tradition, with origins in the Bibliothèque Saint-Genevieve in Paris (a model for San Francisco’s former Main Library), on which authors' names were inscribed on the facade according to the location of their works inside. Blake revisits this idea with an index of authors’ names etched into mirrored glass shades and individually installed with fiber optic lighting to create the illusion of floating stars.
This impressive artwork is 54 feet high and weighs 5.5 tons. To select the first 160 names, the artist formed a guidance committee of local scholars and community members to develop a list of recommendations. The wall is designed to hold more names as patrons endow the shades and lights.