San Francisco’s Market Street meets me, on most occasions, with pandemonium. Swarmed by aggressive shoppers and lackadaisical tourists, every inch of greasy pavement is vied for by street vendors hawking wares that no one needs; the entire experience would not be complete without the occasional eccentric, laden with tattered shopping bags, yelling at no one in particular, a friendly reminder to San Franciscans that we’re home. A few weeks ago however, while braving the cacophony of the downtown core, I chanced upon a quiet ghost of the city’s past—a poster by San Francisco’s own Elisheva Biernoff tucked behind glass in a bus shelter.
Commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, six posters of Biernoff’s design grace the Muni stops that dot Market Street between the Embarcadero and 8th. Like Biernoff’s other works, which come across through small, delicate movements that abandon the volume of the grand gesture, the posters are intricately and beautifully rendered in pastel hues that cast a nostalgic tinge. They are visual and textual manifestations of a backward glance: each of the six designs tells the story of some forgotten landmark of the city’s past. Tigers and battleships, activists and bears, collapsed buildings and railroaders in Chinese chapeaus, the posters in their flat graphic color have a certain sweetness, the joy of forgotten things remembered. These posters are the first of a series of commissions by the SFAC to bring art to public spaces on Market Street. Only up for another week or so—Biernoff’s Once Upon a Time posters come down on July 29th after nearly a three-month run—this work will be replaced by other posters by Ian Huebert. Both artists, one expects in these works especially, use a graphic style that lends itself to narrative and has a generosity to an audience caught in the tumultuous fray of the boulevard. —Liz Glass
To see the whole set of posters, click here.