Monday, September 22, 2008

San Francisco’s Art Scene

San Francisco’s (SF) art scene is exciting and surprising, lives up to every promise, and raises the bar for 21st-century ‘creation’ cities. SF offers art lovers of every budget and nearly every taste and medium a delightful slice of imagination pie. What might I contend are some highlights?

San Francisco Art Institute

The SF Art Institute is my hidden gem. The Institute houses one of only four murals painted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) in the SF Bay Area, features exciting new pieces by students who study at the Institute, houses an incredibly eclectic collection of art texts and magazines within a 70-year-old wood-panelled library, and offers breathtaking and unobstructed views of the financial district, the piers, and the entire Bay Area (pictured to the right). Admission: free!
de Young Museum
The de Young Museum, which resides amongst the gorgeous palm trees and botanical wonders of Golden Gate Park, is an architectural marvel. Constructed with beautifully treated, stamped, and patterned copper panels, the Museum offers unique spaces inside, outside, and in and around the facility, with magical organic alcoves that connect the building’s harsh materials to the soft and lush natural settings outside. The Museum seems to feature several travelling exhibitions. I visited de Young most specifically to view the glass works of Dale Chihuly (which I will speak about in another posting).
One most memorable installation was Cornelia Parker’s (b. 1956) Anti-Mass (2005), in which charcoal remains from a church that burned down in the South of the United States are suspended in air with wire. The artist’s equivocal use of the term Mass, referencing the material substance of charcoal and the congregation of Christian peoples in a Church, unite science and religion on this common basis of being connected to (or at least attempting to be connected to) the elemental universe. I am tempted to suggest that Parker’s Anti-Mass is as priceless as her materials are worthless.
Mission District Murals
The influence of Mexican and Spanish-American style murals in SF is felt most predominantly in the Latino neighbourhood of the Mission District. Local colour takes off with splashes of cobalt blue, saffron, and blistering shades of yellow. Price of admission: free. Opening hours: they never close! I cannot imagine an art-form that could be more democratic for both artist and audience.
Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts
The Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts is situated at the heart of the city and, most appropriately, was exhibiting works by artists who comprise the artistic heart of the surrounding Bay Area, entitled Bay Area Now 5. Three favourite pieces:
i) Joshua Churchill’s untitled sound and light installation transports visitors to (what I might presume to be) a fortunately hard-to-reach space of conflict, insecurity, and possibly warfare. Spectators are invited to step into a poorly-lit square room with dark corners and flashes of light that whisper through the beams that construct the floor. The walls are terrorized with post-conflict spatterings and for a most brief moment, one might actually imagine the near-daily traumas of persons living in the war-torn regions of, for example, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Georgia;
ii) Installed by an artist whose name I cannot recall, a second piece pokes fun at sexual taboos. Three parts of the male and female forms (including a pair of breasts and a penis) formed out of seemingly-rubber moulds protrude out from a white wall. As spectators approach the wall, the three body parts are automated to gyrate to the tackiest of disco tunes audible from an equally tacky boom box. The installation attempts to reclaim negative stereotypes that conventionally ostracize sexual minorities by owning and showcasing them with little apology.
iii) Painted by an artist whose name I cannot recall, a series of watercolours portray Northern California’s breathtaking mountainous landscapes opposite their less-than perfect reflections as they appear in water. The non-identical reflections suggest a city that is not necessarily flourishing as many might assume would be the case for one of America’s most progressive regions. Economic and political minorities continue to slip between the cracks of an increasingly gentrified and subsequently divided city. The rising costs of living soar past the average income-earner as the Bay Area rapidly transforms to pleasure the refined tastes of an affluent class; or, at least, the distorted reflections of Northern California’s majestic mountains suggest such a narrative.
*image of Cornelia Parker's Anti-Mass courtesy of
*image of buttocks, penis, and breasts courtesy of

*images have been captured by myself


Anonymous said...

You describe these places beautifully. I wish I was able to see them.

Global citizen said...

Many parts of San Francisco were beautiful, while others parts were less than pretty, and several parts were terribly deprived and equally as depressing. Nevertheless, SF is a beautiful town with plenty to offer.

Although you might not be able to reach SF and the surrounding Bay Area, there might be some interesting attractions to visit in your hometown. Whereabouts are you? I might have some recommendations.

Joanne said...

'winston' (wink wink) your posting on cornelia parker is ridiculous. i saw her installation at the tate modern and it's crap hanging from the celing. it was like a toilet bowl frozen in time. imagine a whole wave of artists suspending shit in air. she's one of a few so i can care a little less.

otherwise nice thoughts. i wish london galleries would open their doors more to art from the surrounding community.

Global citizen said...

Hey Joanne,

At first glance, I also felt that the shards of coal were randomly placed and, as such, I was also tempted to suggest that Parker's installation was, as you suggest, 'crap hanging from the ceiling'.

Further, I felt that had the shards been ordered with larger pieces hanging closer to the ground and smaller pieces dangling higher up nearer to the ceiling, the pull of gravity would have appeared more realistically; almost like a Matrixy' moment frozen in time (because we might assume that smaller, thinner, and lighter pieces of coal would take longer to reach the ground as they floated atop moving air).

However, once I read the artist's description of her work as natural elements that defy natural law, it became obvious to me that the seemingly randomness of her hangings of coal were, in fact, rather non-random. This intended placement (at least I contend) disassociates Parker's work from what might otherwise resemble a 'toilet bowl frozen in time'.