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 curatorial projects.
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 and art.
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”.