The building implores Haight Street passers-by to “Listen to this wall,” but it's not meant literally. And the sea of nearby photos — of smiling people young and old — is part of the art project, but the images' disintegration (from tagging, fraying from birds, and the weather) is a planned feature. On a corridor where strange things are expected, Listen to this wall still plays with people's expectations.
“The project was developed as a minimal conceptual art piece,” says Rich Hansen, who has lived close to the work for two decades and originated it after speaking to the building's landlord. “There is no place to listen. It was a conceptual idea. You have to define within yourself what 'Listen to the Wall' means to you. It's like what Marcel Duchamp said about art. Anything is art.”
The internationally known street artist JR provided the photos, which went up last summer. Listen to this wall first appeared around 2012, and it featured different art before JR’s. “The point of (his photos) is that they’re supposed to tear off over time,” Hansen says. “They’re temporal. It’s all part of his conceptual work.”
Hansen is the CEO and chief creative officer of a design group that does logos and branding (it did the Uber logo). “I saw this wall that was disgusting and gross, with wood popping off, and I talked to the landlord and said, ‘Look, I want to do a minimalist art piece to counter what I consider to be the crappy, overdone graffiti-style walls that tend to litter the Haight,’” Hansen says. “The landlord is quite amenable. He’s like, ‘Whatever you want to do, I don’t really care — as long as it’s not porn.’ Actually, he doesn’t care what I do on that wall. And I was like, ‘That’s cool.’”
“We will update it” after the JR photos disappear, Hansen adds, “but I’m not exactly sure how and when. It could be sculptural. It could actually be a sound. It could be a digital component.“