Giant Buddha may be displayed in Civic Center 

A 15-ton Buddha sculpture could reside in The City’s Civic Center Plaza if the area’s infrastructure proves strong enough to support the six-armed behemoth.

Officials are investigating whether the rooftop of the parking garage that’s buried beneath the plaza can safely support Chinese artist Zhang Huan’s “Three-Headed, Six-Armed Buddha.”

There’s no guarantee that The City’s Arts Commission will raise the $100,000 that’s expected to be needed to ship the work from Shanghai to San Francisco.

But if sufficient funds can be secured and  the parking garage’s roof is found to be strong enough, the Buddha could board a cargo ship bound for The City and sprawl across 60 feet of public space between City Hall and the Asian Art Museum.

The piece would be installed to help celebrate the sister-city relationship between San Francisco and Shanghai.

“It would be a spectacular piece,” Arts Commission Programs Director Jill Manton said. “It’s never been exhibited outside of China. It will be fantastic if we can pull it together.”

A structural engineer will determine whether the parking lot’s roof is strong enough to hold the massive artwork, according to Manton.
Discussions are under way between Zhang’s studio and San Francisco officials regarding the proposal to display the sculpture at the Civic Center, his studio said in a statement.

“It will be our honor to show this work there,” an assistant to Zhang said in an e-mail.

The sculpture’s theme is based on the story of the three-headed, six-armed prodigy Nezha, according to an artist’s statement.

“Its figure implies surpassing spirit of the challenge to self-limit, the challenge to the human limits,” Zhang wrote.

If the piece is installed at Civic Center, police patrols will help protect it from vandalism, according to Police Department spokesman Officer Samson Chan.

In 2006, a 6-foot-tall Christmas tree at the same site that had been decorated with the help of 400 schoolchildren was stolen.

“Our officers are always in and around that area patrolling,” Chan said.

Arts Commission President P.J. Johnston characterized discussions regarding the potential installation of the piece at the Civic Center as being very preliminary.

“We’re a long way off from bringing the various participants together to making it happen,” Johnston said in an e-mail.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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