Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
The name “San Francisco” is synonymous with selfreinvention. In the 1840s, this tiny port drew immigrants from round the world as the boomtown servicing the Gold Rush, then won respect for its speedy reconstruction after the catastrophic earthquake and fire of 1906. In the 1950s, its free-thinking and diverse residents made room for the Beat generation, soon followed by hippies and homosexuals. After an abortive attempt in the 1990s, San Francisco
is now the undisputed epicenter of the “tech” boom, sharing with nearby Silicon Valley some of the world’s rightest minds. These remarkably young talents are spending their newfound billions throughout the region, a shift that is pricing some old-timers out, even as it polishes up the city’s buildings and streets. Art Museums in San Francisco.
Though spoiled with beautiful scenery in every direction, San Franciscans have also cherished the visual arts, thanks initially to the European immigrants who flocked there. This sector’s most prestigious institution is the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), which actually comprises the California Palace of the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum. Founded by Francophiles a century ago, the Legion is a replica of a Parisian neoclassical mansion, perched on a cliff overlooking the Golden Gate.
It contains a superb collection of historical European fine and decorative arts, and mounts important exhibitions drawn from sister museums worldwide. FAMSF’s funkier half, the De Young, stands across town in another park, filled with American artworks of all periods and media, photography, textiles, and non-Western art forms, including an outstanding Oceanic collection. In yet another part of town, the magnificent Beaux-Arts palace that once served as the central library is now the Asian Art Museum, ffering major historical and modern works from throughout Asia.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
In the 1920s and 1930s, San Francisco was the first city on the West Coast to collect modern art seriously, though it’s revealing that its native children — Gertrude, Leo, and Michael Stein — could make their names in that field only by moving to Paris. Founded in 1935, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) is closed for a major expansion of its 1995 building, but is lending highlights from its collection widely. For example, on view at the Asian Art Museum through September 14 is the exhibition Gorgeous, which uses masterworks from both institutions to
consider the matter of beauty.
In the 1990s, SFMoMA’s relocation to the decrepit South of Market (SoMa) district revitalized that area, which is now graced by an array of intriguing visual arts institutions. Cutting-edge exhibitions are presented at the non-collecting Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and nearby are the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Museum of the African Diaspora, and Cartoon Art Museum. Moving to this area in a few years’ time is the Mexican Museum, currently housed in the Marina District’s Fort Mason Center near the Museo Italo Americano, which will stay put. A whole world opened up in the 1990s, when the huge Presidio military post was turned over to the National Park Service. A key attraction there now is the Walt Disney Family Museum, which offers unexpectedly rigorous exhibitions about the arts of animation practiced by Disney’s gifted staff and peers.
Renowned for its hotels and shopping, Union Square is the area where dozens of San Francisco’s art galleries had gathered by the 1980s. Today they are gradually being driven out by higher rents, yet plenty remain in easy walking distance of the square. For almost 40 years, the city’s leader in contemporary realism has been John Pence Gallery,
which represents such talents as Juliette Aristides, Jacob Collins, Greg Gandy, Robert Liberace, Dean Larson, and Patricia Watwood. Pence also shows some historical works in his gigantic space, and was profiled in the December 2011 issue of Fine Art Connoisseur.
There is still more contemporary realism in easy walking distance. Caldwell Snyder handles the artists Deladier Almeida and Gilles Marrey, and has opened a satellite branch in the wine-rowing Napa Valley to the north. Dolby Chadwick Gallery represents the hugely gifted painter Alex Kanevsky, and will soon mount a show of boldly handled oils by Kai Samuels-Davis (September 4-27). That same month, Hashimoto Contemporary is planning the debut show of Joel Daniel Phillips, who makes massive black-and-white portraits. Also on view then at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art will be a show of Ryan Martin’s surrealistic portraits.
Hespe Gallery is exhibiting the animal images of Amberlee Rosolowich (through July 26), and can also show visitors works by Eric Zener, Alyssa Monks, Duncan Hannah, and Kevin Moore. Jenkins Johnson Gallery represents such talents as Nicolas Africano, Ben Aronson, and Scott Fraser, while Sandra Lee Gallery does well with the meticulously studied male nudes that Douglas Malone paints in oils. Scott Richards Contemporary Art handles a range of work, including hyper-realism by Carole Feuerman, Bertrand Meniel, and Cheryl Kelley. Well worth a visit are Christopher-Clark Fine Art, which has historical prints, drawings, and posters, Adler & Co., and Cohen Abee Gallery.
Christian Daniels Gallery
Perched on Nob Hill not far from Union Square is Christian Daniels Gallery, which is showing superb landscapes by Christin Coy and Richard Lindenberg through July 5 and will then transition to the ethereal cityscapes of James Kroner (July 11-August 9). Kroner’s pictures are a reminder of just how irresistible artists find San Francisco’s hilly streets, rolling fog, and stirring views across the bay; a scene does not even require a cable car to quickly identify itself as San Franciscan.
Union Square also features a range of galleries handling blue-chip 20th-century art, among them John Berggruen Gallery, Meyerovich Gallery, Weinstein Gallery, Serge Sorokko Gallery (especially Russian), and Gallery Paule Anglim (particularly Californian). Hackett/Mill has closed its walk-in gallery in order to focus on the estates of such mid-century masters as David Park and Robert Schwartz, as well as living ones like Manuel Neri and Raimonds Staprans. To experience a classic Union Square mansion (somewhat in need of renovation), duck into the nonprofit Meridian Gallery, which hosts exhibitions and performances. If you happen to be in the area on the first Thursday evening of the month, check the website of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association to learn which of its member
galleries are staying open late; ditto for the first Saturday of the month, when some offer opportunities to meet their artists.
Some visitors are surprised to discover a downtown neighborhood that survived the 1906 earthquake relatively intact. Sandwiched between the financial district’s skyscrapers and Little Italy, Jackson Square is home to a mix
of art galleries and antique shops. North Point Gallery handles superb 19thand early-20th-century American paintings, with special strength in early California art: for every renowned master working in California (like Albert Bierstadt), it seems there are five more not so familiar outside the Golden State (e.g., William Keith). North Point’s Alfred C. Harrison, Jr., has published widely in this field and is now working on both a history of 19th-century California painting and a monograph for John Ross Key (1837-1920).
Located across the street is Montgomery Gallery, headed by Peter Fairbanks. It also handles historical American and California masterworks, and has somewhat deeper holdings of European art. Montgomery has an active publications program, too; readers may want to order its catalogue for Jamie Wyeth, who is discussed on page 70. Half a block away is Joel B. Garzoli Fine Art, which presents early and contemporary American art, mid-20th-century surrealism, and photography. While there, seek out the paintings of Laurie Curran, who has mastered the depiction of white tablecloths, aprons, etc.
Still in this neighborhood, be sure to see Arader Galleries, with its outstanding selection of ornithological mages by John James Audubon, plus an array of prints, watercolors, globes, maps, and furniture, with emphasis on the merican West and Hawaii. Le Trianon Gallery offers antiques and historical European and American paintings, while Sarah Stocking Gallery has eye-catching vintage posters.
As mentioned above, the “South of Market” area has become a hotbed for art. Around the corner from SFMoMA is Crown Point Press, founded in 1962 by Kathan Brown. Renowned artists come from around the world to collaborate with master printers, the results of which visitors can see and buy, along with an array of books. When printmaking is not underway, ask for a guided walk through the facility.
Located nearby is Andrea Schwartz Gallery, which handles such contemporary talents as Andrew Burgess and Seamus Conley, and Modernism, which mixes historical pieces with ones by such living artists as Duncan Hannah and Woody Gwyn. Gallery Wendi Norris shows more cutting-edge art, including figurative paintings by Ana Teresa Fernandez.
POTRERO HILL AND BEYOND
Several of the galleries departing Union Square have made their way to cheaper, hipper Potrero Hill, where the Design District already draws decorators and their clients, and where factories are being converted into galleries,
shops, and cafes. (Key magnets here are the California College of the Arts and its Wattis Institute for ontemporary Arts.) Catharine Clark Gallery will soon present a show of the surrealist painter Timothy Cummings (July
26-September 6), and located nearby are Brian Gross Fine Art and George Lawson Gallery.
Another groovy destination for cutting-edge dealers is the Mission District, where Modernism (see above) has established a branch. Heading in a different direction (north of Japantown), collectors will find Thomas Reynolds Gallery, which represents the California landscapist Ken Auster. On view there this summer is a group show celebrating the California coast, including Peter Loftus’s meticulously realistic scenes, and in September come Sandy Ostrau’s more abstracted landscapes. An easy walk from here is Anthony Meier Fine Arts, which handles cutting-edge material.
And in North Beach is Paul Thiebaud Gallery, which has remained in business since its namesake died, far too young, in 2010. The most famous name on its impressive roster is the proprietor’s father, Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920), but flying the flag this season (through July 19) is a show of paintings by Stephen Coyle. Located nearby is Modern Eden, which handles contemporary art ranging from realism to surrealism, with emphasis on such illustrative painters as Brianna Angelakis. Closer to Fisherman’s Wharf is Franklin Bowles Galleries, where the bright landscape watercolors of Larry Horowitz are worth admiring.
FAIRS, AUCTIONS & SCHOOLS
If you are in town this autumn, be sure to hit the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show (October 23-26), which features more than 60 exhibitors from around the world. This past May, visitors enjoyed the more contemporary fair artMRKT, and the San Francisco Tribal & Textile Arts Show (held every February) is widely perceived as one of the best of its kind in the world.
San Francisco is well served by the walk-in spaces of three leading auctioneers: Bonhams & Butterfields, Heritage, and PBA Galleries (which hosts auctions of rare books every two weeks). With its natural scenery and cool vibe, San Francisco is an obvious destination for art students, so collectors should keep an eye on the lively schedule of rotating exhibitions mounted by the Academy of Art University, San Francisco Art Institute, California College of the Arts, and San Francisco Studio School. Also thriving here, though without regular gallery programming, are several schools devoted to classical training: Bay Area Classical Artist Atelier, Sadie Valeri Atelier, and Golden Gate Atelier (just across the bay in Oakland). Art Museums in San Francisco.