published October 2002
For better or worse, the dot boom and bust was a veritable spring
cleaning for the commercial and alternative gallery scene of San Francisco.
Sky-rocketing rents forced old standbys like New Langton and Cameraworks
to consolidate while "new blood" gallery stars like Julie Deamer of
Four Walls and Matt Palowski of ESP packed up and moved to Los Angeles.
Some venues fought hard to retain their original character and leases
(Balazo Gallery/Mission Badlands), while others went on long vacations
or were forced to get day jobs (69A Duboce Street). However in place
of the three-ringed circus of youth, opportunity and lots of cash,
the now empty circles of dirt provide fertile ground for an entire
new crop, like mushrooms after the autumn rain. These galleries are
a bit different than the last: more savvy, more international and
more commercially aware. They seem less about representing the underground
for the sake of itself and more about making connections: between
artists and collectors, between San Francisco and the international
art scene, between their work and the press, between this discipline
and that. A few things have happened to initiate these changes. One
is that San Francisco has decidedly more international visibility
than it did even a few years ago. (Did you see the article in Art
in America? We have arrived!) Dot bust or no, a lot of money was made
and has been spent here increasing collections (SFMOMA) and establishing
venues (CCAC Wattis). Some people have some left over from the rush
and now want to relax a little and see some quality art. We are still
feeling the after shocks of that influx of playful and often superfluous
cash. Meanwhile, the schools are developing new media departments
in a mad dash to keep up with demand and these departments are cranking
out students hungry for venues and forums of discussion of their work.
New curatorial departments at CCAC and the San Francisco Art Institute
will similarly crank up the volume of discourse in a city where discourse
is long overdue.
Each of the spaces below opened within the last few years. Interestingly,
they are not all in the Mission District as I might have expected,
but are spread throughout the city and even over the bridge (but never
in Marin). They are in Hayes Valley, Noe Valley, Oakland, South of
Market, Potrero Hill and beyond. Their owners are collectors, arts
professionals, artists and designers. They are part studios, part
residences, part businesses, part performance venues, part X-rated
theatres and sometimes just plain old galleries. But one way or another,
they all are working hard to contribute to the Bay Area arts scene
and have exceptionally well designed websites to boot (or if they
don't now, they are coming soon!).
Tangent Art (355 Bryant ST. Studio 307) is a labor of love. Co-owner,
Alina Sandhu (with Scott Richards), offers the walls of her spacious
lifestyle loft for the exhibition of underrepresented artists in the
hopes of making the connections to arts professionals and the commercial
art market. By providing a proper exhibition space and gala opening,
(complete with Kenneth Baker at the last) Tangent Art offers visibility
(if not representation) in a setting that is warm and inviting especially
to potential collectors and gallery owners. Artists are encouraged
to invite interested parties over by appointment after the opening.
A collector herself, Sanhu actively pursues the connections to the
professional community. For example, Tangent will be hosting the next
Marketing Association meeting in the hopes of stimulating interest
between the people who buy and the people who make. Access is limited
by buzzing not one but two entry doors, so this is clearly for the
chosen few. But that is OK because the space isn't really meant for
the drive-by art crowd. Sandhu's preference is toward minimalist,
abstract and reductive works but she also plans for future exhibitions
to include video installation and site specific work as well as outside
Parlor Projects (1311 Church Street: parlorprojects.com) creates a
similar atmosphere of warmth and accessibility to quality artwork
with a great deal more foot traffic (in a large storefront on Church
Street) and gallery representation. The space is so deliciously small
(300 square feet) that you can pretty much see most everything from
the street but this isn't necessary as the gallery has regular hours.
While this is a one hundred percent commercial gallery, owner Melissa
Peline, simultaneously works to contribute to the art community as
a whole. With programs like Parlor Projects Flat Files (a rotating
selection of fifty artists for viewing) and Parlor Retreats
(an invitation for a week stay at a retreat house up North in exchange
for a small piece of art), she is extending herself personally beyond
the confines of the traditional gallery owner/artist relationship.
This adds to the personal touch befitting its Noe Valley location.
Down the street and around the corner, Zedd Fine Art and Design (493
Sanchez Street), is more of a novelty objects store than what I might
at first consider a fine art gallery. It does sell art however, tucked
there between the velvet pillows and quirky antiques. This reminds
me of stores in New York, where second hand/antiques are sold mostly
for their nostalgic glamour rather than their functionalism. The owner
Durwood Zedd sells his own work among the others, photographs of some
of the unusual objects for sale. This is art which has no pretensions
regarding its role as adornment or its need to match the couch. It
caters to the interior design crowd, (rumored to have clients like
Sharon Stone and Robin Williams), and is a thriving business which
conflates the discourse (ala Charles Linder) between appropriation
On Hayes Street, Kris Timken found a similar location for her 364
Hayes Street Gallery (364hayesstreet.com) in that the space is one
of a row of shops and stores selling objects to enhance the home.
While Zedd embraces this association, Timkin expands upon it by serving
simultaneously as a conduit for exposure (like Tangent Art) and as
vehicle for commercial advancement. The creation of the gallery is
an interesting story indicative of the silver lining of the dotbust.
After tiring of the SOMA scene, Timken went looking for new studio
space and found the property at Hayes. The space was formerly an 8000
square foot gym and had stayed vacant for more than a year. In an
effort to move the leases, the owner subdivided it into smaller spaces,
but this was still a bit too large for Timken's needs. With the rents
reasonable, she thought to subdivide the space into two with a gallery
on one side and her portraiture photography business on the other.
Hayes Street has the plus side of regular foot traffic particularly
among the Civic Center activities crowd (how I discovered it) and
the affiliation with other galleries both past (Catharine Clark) and
present (Bucheon: www.bucheon.com). An artist herself and former graduate
of CCAC, Timken knows well the difficulties of gaining visibility
in the city and has access to plenty of talented un-represented artists.
A special added feature, Timken offers the artists a solo show.
AOV, at 3328 22nd Street, shares space with a publication (Tribal
Arts) and like 364 Hayes is funded by the affiliation. In this case,
however, the space does not have the luxury of separation (only 500
square feet for both) which means viewing by appointment only. Interestingly,
I noticed that Hayes and AOV share an "it must be in the air" sensibility
since they have a few artists in common. (Amy Rathbone recently exhibited
with AOV in September and was signed up six months ago for an upcoming
installation at 364 Hayes. A similar situation exists with Libby Black).
AOV offers a respected track record as they are not the newest of
the newcomers and have already established a positive relationship
with the media. The focus here is the presentation of edgy, conceptual
contemporary works by emerging artists with an eye toward expanding
the scope of viable work in the Bay Area. Their audience is primarily
arts professionals and artists with a goal not so much selling art
as getting it out there. It seems to be working in that many of their
artists have gone on to achieve greater success and visibility: Kara
Maria, Amanda Hughen, Chris Corals, Juilio Morales, Christopher Garret,
Karen Kirsten, Tony Treadway.
Peres Projects (peresprojects.com: 1800 Bryant street, suite 210)
is one buzzer in and one flight up to reach a live work space which
in this case is used solely as a gallery. This space is a for-profit
highbrow gallery with an emphasis on connecting San Francisco to the
international art scene. By presenting the works of artists from beyond
the Bay Area, Peres wants to take San Francisco to the next level
of recognition. He also hopes to make the connection in the reverse
order, taking work by Bay Area artists he represents (for example
upcoming artist, Chris Ballantine) into the international arena. The
work exhibited is directly linked to an often in-your-face content
which can not be escaped. This work does not step back and apologize
and certainly may not match your chairs. The last show incorporated
a X-rated theater upstairs which exhibited other facets of the artists
work. A former lawyer and long time collector, Peres wants to expand
the San Francisco art dialogue into a more intellectual vein.
Ampersand International Arts (1001 Tennessee Street: ampersandintlarts.com)
is similarly situated within easy distance of CCAC and the Wattis
Institute. Open for three years, the space is generous and appealing
with 2000 square feet and hard wood floors. Like Peres, owner Bruno
Mauro is interested in establishing an international presence but
this is less about putting San Francisco on the art map, and more
about the cultural exchange of ideas. Mauro's specific goal is to
stimulate a dialogue between people through the vehicle of art. Hosting
artists from around the globe, and advocating an exchange with other
international spaces for his Bay Area artists, Ampersand wants to
initiate connections between the artists themselves. Often Ampersand
pairs someone from the Bay Area with an artist from abroad to encourage
these comparisons and understandings.
Another former lawyer, (well just trained as one) John Brooman of
66 Balmy (66balmy.com, not that far from Peres projects at 24th and
Harrison) has almost the opposite agenda with a down home, approachable,
and absolutely non pretentious relaxed atmosphere. His gallery of
900 square feet inside and 900 square feet outside is used to host
and encourage the "very new and the very refreshing". It is a casual
gallery that strives to combine a relaxed atmosphere with professional
integrity. This works features 70% emerging artists, 20% pop art,
and 10% more established which tells a lot right there in the percentages.
It doesn1t take an art degree to figure out what this work is about,
most of it is figurative and full of youthful underground energy.
To foster good relations with his neighbors and stimulate interest
in the gallery, Brooman hosts a block party once a year to raise money
to beautify the sidewalks and streets. Brooman shares his love of
art with those outside of the sometimes rather tiring and exclusive
art only circles.
Spanganga (spanganga.org) has a similar homegrown free spirit which
is self-reportedly (see website) about having fun. The 600 square
feet of space is a part of a larger complex including two separate
performance spaces for theater, performance, comedy and dance. This
multiplicity draws crowds from both sides of the art fence and cross
fertilizes the energy between them. Opportunity and experimentation
are welcome here, and sometimes, solid curatorial events occur such
as Natasha Garcia Lomas's recent project, I hate being a girl.
Artists or curators are given space to mount their exhibition and
are left pretty much on their own after that. This gives them curatorial
independence but also tends to make the opening the main event. Located
directly on ground level in the Mission District, it has a distinctly
young experimental crowd feel, traditional to the Mission.
Not far away, the Blue Room (blueroomgallery.org: 2331 Mission Street)
is located along an active commercial strip, a trend we have seen
in many of these newer galleries. The Blue Room is a curious juxtaposition
of a location right in the heart of the trendy Latino Mission and
downtown art values (traditional, figurative and commercially viable).
An impressive thirty five hundred square feet, the gallery hosts a
plethora of activities: children's outreach programs, jazz concerts,
performances, etc. Therefore it is more about creating a grass roots
arts presence in the community and less about providing a vehicle
for the artists to connect to arts professionals who can advance their
careers. The space was renovated before opening its doors by real
estate developer, Louise Zeben, who wanted to support a non-profit
arts organization in her project. She found and hired Paul Mahder
as director, who orchestrates the actual programmatic elements of
the space with an eye toward the surrounding community .
Finally Balazo Gallery: Mission Badlands (493 Sanchez) is related
to the other Mission Gallery friends (66 Balmy and Spanganga) in that
the primary goal is to offer a place to see art in a relaxed atmosphere.
Balazo is one of the oldest of this group, being a full four years
in operation and having survived the pressures (five threatened evictions)
of the dotboom and a few battle scars (a pile of legal fees). The
exhibition I viewed was perhaps some mutation of pop art (another
connection to Balmy) with Bay Area music posters. Like Spanganga,
the space is open to the public but not staffed with regular hours.
Primary visibility once again occurs during the openings/parties where
music has become an element of equal stature to the art. To finance
the shows and enable the gallery to give a small stipend to the artist,
Balazo charges an entrance fee based on the philosophy that the arts
community should support the artists. The work exhibited is primarily
emerging artists, the underground and undiscovered.
In Oakland, there was an influx of artists who could not afford the
escalating living expenses of San Francisco and therefore opted for
the greener or shall we say slightly more industrial pastures of West
Oakland. Liminal Gallery (liminaloakland.com) at 1919 Market, Unit
#2, is primarily a shared studio space with nine different artists
in all, each contributing to the collective curatorial voice. With
so many artists involved and needing to relinquish their space for
each show, the openings are the primary viewing time with performances
and good food is shared by all (according to the co-owner who answered
the phone). Like self-proclaimed kindred spirits Door Seven and 21
Grand (21grand.org, "We want people to come for one thing and get
exposed to another") Liminal is about offering an experience of art
and music in a festive atmosphere. The work featured reflects the
rich and dense population of Oakland. The shows tend to be group shows
to foster the sense of art community.
Lucky Tackle is taking a more commercial uptown
route. Located ironically on San Pablo Avenue (not known for its uptown
appeal) owner Adam Rompel used the space as his own studio for four
years before converting it into a gallery. A New Genre graduate of
UC Berkeley, Rompel is interested in conceptual work which ranges
in media, from installations, new media and the show I saw, which
was large drawing/paintings sorts of things. Lucky Tackle works to
connect the artist to collectors and business people and encourages
young collectors to participate. Future openings will feature a video
mix tape night, and Rompel hopes to add lectures to his event roster.
Ego Park (492 23rd Street) is a space with high funky ceilings, white
walls, wood columns and a ton of energy. Partners, Aisha Burns and
Kevin Slagle converted part of their studio into the place for exhibition.
Shagle ran a similar venue for fours years in Maryland and is experienced
with work that is slightly edgy and unique. Burns houses her graphics
arts business in a curtained off section of the gallery, and creates
collector's-style invitations to the shows. Each invitation is one
of a kind, (hand dipping for one, squares of sheet metal for another)
which gives Ego Park the look and feel of solid professionalism. The
gallery backs onto a courtyard and from here Burns points out neighbor
Papa Buzz, a coffee shop that formerly hosted arts event (it is now
in the process of changing hands), and Door Seven Gallery (door7gallery.com).
This collection of arts activities within such close proximity creates
a fertile enclave within the otherwise industrial no man's land. There
is potential here for a design/art crossover which would be an exciting
addition to the Bay Area arts scene. November 16 Ego Park will host
the kick off party for a new independent arts, politics and cultural
magazine, Kitchen sink (www.kitchensinkmag.com), "the magazine for
people who think too much".
Shumacher is an artist, writer and founder of X: Architecture/Art,
an architectural practice in San Francisco.