Yvette Mattern, a New York- and Berlin-based visual artist, created a rainbow laser installation over a decade ago in New York City, and she has brought it to over a dozen cities since then. She says that Illuminate the Arts plagiarized her work in creating their similar Market Street installation for Pride last year.
It's called WELCOME, and as far as San Francisco was concerned, this was a first-of-its-kind piece of public art that went up for just three nights over Pride Weekend in 2022. The rainbow laser beams originated down by the Ferry Building and hovered over Market Street for miles, aimed at the pink triangle installation on Twin Peaks — though through the fog last year you couldn't necessarily see the beams all the way up Market.
The rainbow lasers are back this year, and House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi is scheduled to flip the switch to turn them on again Friday night, as part of a free gathering celebrating the piece's re-installation for Pride.
But Mattern says this is just a copy of her work, a piece called Global Rainbow that she created following the first inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. Mattern's website is full of images of Global Rainbow installed in multiple U.S. and European cities, and she tells KPIX this week that she was hoping to bring it to San Francisco at some point.
"I just wanted to do a work that had nothing to do with division," Mattern tells KPIX. "I wanted to do a work that had everything to do with inclusion and togetherness."
When she was told about the 2022 installation titled WELCOME in San Francisco, Mattern says, "I was very upset, because I was like, my god, this is my work!"
Ben Davis, the founder of Illuminate the Arts, tells KPIX that WELCOME has a "power and a potency, a context of San Francisco" and he says Mattern is "wrong" to call this plagiarism.
"Does someone own the right to take a laser beam, turn it into color, and say that's mine and no one else can do it? I don't think so," Davis tells KPIX.
Illuminate's web page about the installation lists Mattern after Pride Flag creator Gilbert Baker as an "artist who came before." (Baker is also credited with a 2003 installation in Key West called "Sea-to-Sea Rainbow.")
"We stand on the shoulders of all the artists who came before us – to share the message of inclusion and celebrate the rainbow flag which belongs to everyone!" the page says.
But Mattern has reportedly "lawyered up" and she says that unless she gets full credit for the San Francisco installation, she will be taking Illuminate to court.
WELCOME will be switched on tonight after sundown at 9 p.m., and a pre-lighting gathering begins at 7 p.m.