By Hannah Bennett
One positive result of San Francisco’s 2021 Lunar New Year celebration — in which a free art installation has replaced the historic parade due to pandemic-related health concerns — is that members of the public can take an up-close look at the show’s colorful ox sculptures gracing The City.
“A lot of the work that you see on these ox is by people who have anonymously been building the floats for this parade for many years,” says Stephanie Mufson, creative director of the project and owner of The Parade Guys, the float company that partners with organizers of San Francisco Chinese New Year celebrations every year.
Presented by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Southwest Airlines, the “Year of the Ox on Parade” is inspired by San Francisco General Hospital Foundation’s annual “Hearts in San Francisco” installation in which heart-themed art works are put on public view.
“Year of the Ox on Parade” – which continues through March 14 with sculptures placed in Chinatown, Stonestown, on the Embarcadero, at San Francisco and Oakland airports and more— nicely puts underappreciated local artists in the limelight.
“The parade is usually such a big thing with big sponsors like Bank of America, and no one thinks about the individuals that are actually working on it. This was a really great way to highlight the talent that goes into all these bigger things,” adds Mufson, who admits that the journey of moving from a parade to an art show involved a “huge learning curve.”
Each ox was hand-carved out of Styrofoam by artist Lacey Bryant and covered with layers of paint and a fiberglass hard coat to protect from the elements.
The 11 art works had different corporate sponsors, who didn’t have creative control, but selected themes complementary to Lunar New Year traditions. For example, the red ox of “Tea Time,” sponsored by Southwest Airlines and at Gate 24 at the Oakland International Airport, touches on themes of hospitality and family.
Seven designers, mostly employees of the parade float team, were joined by creative consultants who chose and painted the designs inspired by sponsors’ themes.
On “New Hope,” an ox in Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square sponsored by Comcast, Deyi (Robin) Zhao painted a traditional Chinese plum blossom, representing perseverance, strength and bravery, next to red fire symbolizing flames of success in business and life, against Chinese clouds signifying luck and peace.
These detailed COVID-era art works provide a contrast to the floats usually on parade, which can only be seen from a distance. Large and arresting, with bright, contrasting colors and themes, the sculptures are definitely worth visiting as part of Lunar Year 4719’s atypical observances necessitated by the pandemic.
IF YOU GO
Year of the Ox on Parade
When: Through March 14
1. Tea Time: Oakland International Airport, Terminal 2, Gate 24
2. Unity: Union Square, S.F.
3. Happy Year of the xOXo: Civic Center, S.F.
4. Homage to Chinatown: Sacramento Plaza, Embarcadero 4, S.F.
5. Lucky Feast: Lucky Supermarket, 1515 Sloat Blvd., S.F.
6. Celebrate Diversity: Chinese Hospital, 845 Jackson St., S.F.
7. New Hope: Portsmouth Square, Chinatown, S.F.
8. Modern Tech Bull: Stonestown Galleria, S.F.
9. Auspicious Ox: International Terminal, Departures–Level 3, SFO
10. Ancient Technology: Salesforce Plaza, S.F.
11. Golden Ox: Pier 39, The Embarcadero, S.F.