San Francisco's fine arts scene continues to thrive. Here are the artists, leaders, venues and events bringing beauty into our lives.
“The Future Is Present” by Jeffrey Gibson
Ali Gass: ICA San Francisco
Much to the delight of the region’s arts community, the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (icasf.org) opened this fall. Its director, Ali Gass, says the new space in Dogpatch allows artists to push the boundaries of their practice, as ICA plays a role in expanding the canon of the future. “We’re really trying to think about what kinds of opportunities we might give artists that might be different from those they would have at the other excellent institutions in our city. Like allowing Jeffrey Gibson to dig a hole in our floor, for example.” Gass refers to ICA’s inaugural show, Gibson’s This Burning World (through March 26), which speaks to the urgency and importance of our collective relationship to the planet.
Gass also is excited about the launch of ICA’s 901 Club, which she says is one way to keep the museum free to the public and engage people socially. “We’ve started a series of chef pop-ups that offer emerging chefs without brick-and-mortar restaurants a chance to use our space to test new food concepts,” she says. “And 901 Club members can eat great food, socialize at the ICA and see the exhibitions. We also host artist talks and other fun programs through the 901 Club.” Another ICA initiative, the Meantime program, will provide free space to Bay Area artists, performers, activists and creatives who are looking to expand their practices.
This winter, look for the opening of Resting Our Eyes (Jan. 21 to June 25, 2023), guest curated by Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon, which focuses on the theme of leisure and adornment around Black women’s bodies. A Weed By Any Other Name (Jan. 21 to June 25, 2023), from Bay Area artists Liz Hernández and Ryan Whelan, addresses the resiliency required to be an artist.
It’s hard not to admire ICA’s mission. “We will position contemporary art as something that helps us navigate the critical issues happening in the world around us, certainly, but also as a potential respite for humans weary and exhausted from the world and as a place for anyone and everyone,” says Gass.
Fog Art Design returns Jan. 19 to 22.
Fog Design + Art
The city’s hottest art fair returns, Jan. 19 to 22, at Fort Mason. Fog Design + Art (fogfair.com) celebrates its ninth year with an exciting roster of 48 worldwide galleries. “We’re bringing together a suite of returning favorites and first-time exhibitors from around the world,” says Douglas Durkin, a member of Fog’s steering committee. “Each year, our list of exhibitors somehow manages to top the year before. With carefully curated exhibitions and thoughtful presentations of truly outstanding works for art and design, we couldn’t be more thrilled with this year’s presentation.” First-time vendors include Gió Marconi (giomarconi.com) and Nilufar Gallery (nilufar.com), both from Milan; Marc Selwyn Fine Art (marcselwynfineart.com), Night Gallery (nightgallery.ca) and Nonaka-Hill (nonaka-hill.com), from Los Angeles; and local photography studio Casemore Kirkeby (casemoregallery.com). Linda Ronstadt will be honored at the Innovators Luncheon on Thursday, and the preview gala benefits SFMOMA (sfmoma.org).
“All the Flowers Are for Me” by Anila Quayyum Agha at the Exploratorium
This scientific house of thrills is also a space to see mind-blowing art. This winter at the Exploratorium (exploratorium.edu), witness “All the Flowers Are for Me” (through Jan. 29) in the Black Box. Pakistani American artist Anila Quayyum Agha creates a digital space using Islamic textiles, architecture and floral motifs inspired by the patterns he produced using light and shadow. A single beacon of light glows from within a suspended steel cube, producing immersive patterns that ripple and change as visitors move through the Black Box. The exhibit is part of Glow: Discover the Art of Light, where six artists, including Craig Newswanger, Sally Weber, Luke Jerram and Burt Libe, illuminate Pier 15 with light sculptures of all sizes. In Bechtel Gallery 3, splash in waves of light with Jen Lewin’s luminescent landscape known as The Last Ocean.
Cult, a recent show from fnnch, explores pop art sensibilities.
Bay Area pop artist fnnch (fnnch.com) has spent the past several years thrilling San Francisco with his honey bears; the murals deliver color and joy from vantage points looming over the city. “I’m going to try something new in 2023 that I’m calling Bear of the Month. As the name suggests, I’m going to release a new Honey Bear painting every month for the whole year. My Honey Bear series is still much beloved, and I’m excited to continue it in this more structured way,” he says. His most recent show explored cult foods like Diet Coke and Spam—items, says the artist, “where we have emotional attachments, perhaps beyond what is reasonable. Pop art is many things, but I believe one of them is an artist pointing at something in everyday life and asking you to look at it as art. To appreciate the beauty of it.”
Fnnch says one interesting consequence of the pandemic is that it relaxed the need for formal art shows. “Instead of working on pieces for months and releasing a bunch all at once, I would release just one or two at a time online,” he notes. “The art show isn’t dead—it can be great to put together a body of work—but I’m excited to experiment with this new system, and I anticipate that it will let me explore more diverse imagery in my formal shows.”
Potter Erin Hupp creates exceptional work for local restaurants and businesses, including these pieces for The Caviar Company.
When design-savvy chefs are looking for custom ceramics, Erin Hupp (erinhuppceramics.com) is often the one local artist they turn to for great design. The Oakland-based potter collaborates with chefs, like Val Cantu of Californios (californiossf.com), to create functional art. “I see restaurants as a gallery that’s ever-evolving, tactile and interactive,” says Hupp. “The diners are interacting with my art in a very hands-on way. Fine dining restaurants are gathering places where we celebrate with loved ones on special celebrations. The intentionality of my art and the chef’s plating are a part of that experience.” Although most of her pieces are for specific eateries, a collection of Champagne and wine chillers is available on Hupp’s website. She also designed a bespoke caviar server for The Caviar Company (thecaviarco.com). “My goal was to create a unique, completely handmade yet luxurious form,” she says of the chic black dish set. “Although the server was created specifically for caviar, the possibilities are endless.”
Bay Area artist Jake Messing
Hotel Art Galleries
Increasingly, remarkable pieces are found at local hotels. The St. Regis San Francisco (marriott.com/stregis) has a partnership with Aerena Galleries (aerenagalleries.com). Walk by the hotel and see “Folding Planes,” a sculpture by artist Kevin Box (outsidetheboxstudio.com). It’s a part of the rotating collection that the gallery exhibits at the hotel. The gallery also has a partnership with Sonoma’s MacArthur Place (macarthurplace.com), where guests can see sculptures throughout the 6-acre property. Over in Healdsburg, Circe Sher invites artists to display work at her hotel, the Harmon Guest House (harmonguesthouse.com). “The installations are impermanent, which gives the artist more freedom to experiment,” says Sher. “Painting lends itself to the large white walls of Harmon, but I’m also looking at video art, sculpture and commissioned craft pieces that would be available for purchase.” Jake Messing (jakemessing.com), Alice Sutro (alicesutro.com) and Leigh Merrill (leighmerrill.com) are a few of the artists who have participated in Harmon’s innovative program.
Rare Device features the work of local artists
It’s not easy to find an all-encompassing mom-and-pop shop that sells an assortment of gifts. However, look to Divisadero Street and discover Rare Device (raredevice.net), an exceptional boutique and gallery. Owner Giselle Gyalzen celebrates 10 years at her current location and is known for her commitment to promoting local artists. Whether looking for an extraordinary print by an up-and-coming illustrator or a unique piece of jewelry made from stunning cut stones, Rare Device has something for everyone. For the holiday season, Gyalzen says to look for a gallery show called Bright Spots, featuring products from Lisa Congdon, Baby Cats of CA and Mur by Ayca. Shop for botanical-inspired paintings, handmade ceramics, one-of-a-kind lamps, handmade mugs and more. The carefully curated selection of goods is dynamic and varied, but almost everything exudes a youthful, whimsical quality that is light and fun.
Tiffany Shlain and “Dendrofemonology” from her new show, Human Nature
Creativity isn’t limited to fine art for Tiffany Shlain (tiffanyshlain.com). The artist-in-residence at the Ferry Building’s new Shack15 (shack15.com) is an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, founder of the Webby Awards and author of the national bestseller and winner of the Marshall McLuhan Outstanding Book Award, 24/6: Giving Up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity and Connection. The artist says her latest show, Human Nature, which runs through Dec. 15 at Shack15, is the result of what happens when we step back to view ourselves within the expansiveness of nature and time. “Using large-scale sculptures, photography and mixedmedia lightboxes, I consider how this scale realignment can change our perspective, offer context, reveal absurdities and evoke humility, insights and awe,” she says.
During COVID, the artist spent a lot of time on Mount Tam thinking about nature and history. “I’ve always been fascinated by the tree ring timeline at the entrance of Muir Woods. However, that timeline tells such a colonialistic and patriarchal story. The tree rings in Human Nature imagine what other histories these trees and nature could tell. This led me to create this new body of work of sculpture, large-scale photography, lightboxes and giant tree rings, including ‘Dendrofemonology,’ a feminist history tree ring.” Next stop for Human Nature: the National Women’s History Museum (womenshistory.org) in Washington, D.C. “In terms of future artwork, I have so many ideas—suddenly I’m seeing the world in tree rings,” she says.
Healdsburg-based artist Jessica Martin
Jessica Martin’s work is not defined by one medium. The Healdsburg-based artist does it all—paintings, murals, sculptures, light installations—and she’s created pieces for everyone from the St. Joseph’s Arts Foundation to Google HQ. (Currently, her work is exhibited at Little Saint in Healdsburg.) She’s also a curator who produces shows through Roving Voices (roving-venue.format.com), her traveling gallery, and an art teacher at West Side Union Elementary School. The thread that unites her work is a connection to nature, memory and time. One recent piece, “Peptoc,” went viral and gained national attention. With her young students, Martin created a hotline where callers receive positive advice from grade schoolers. “I’m so amazed at their wisdom, creativity and optimism,” Martin says of the kids. “I said it would be so great if I could create something where people could hear what these kids have to say, their life advice and their words of encouragement. I think it would help everyone.”
Photography by: IMPART PHOTOGRAPHY; DREW ALTIZER; COURTESY OF THE EXPLORATORIUM, DREW BARON, COURTESY OF THE COLUMBIA MUSEUM OF ART; COURTESY OF THE ARTIST; COURTESY OF THE ARTIST; COURTESY OF JAKE MESSING; DAVE MEDAL; ELAINE MELLIS; JESSICA MARTIN