San Francisco’s art gallery scene is filled with exciting works by talented painters, sculptors, photographers and multimedia artists from the city, region and around the world. Thanks to its world-class art schools and cosmopolitan tastes, SF has played a role in shaping some of the greatest artists of all time, from the pioneering camera work of Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz to the revolutionary brushstrokes by Diego Rivera and Wayne Thiebaud.
This tradition continues to this day and can be seen in spaces large and small across the city. Here are just three local galleries to visit this week.
Cushion Works, 3320 18th St.
Until October 29 | Free
During his decades-long career in underground comics and commercial illustration, Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012) carried the spirit of the San Francisco mission. “Mission Nites”, a small but overflowing exhibition at Cushion Works, featuring posters, sketchbooks, original comic book pages and paintings by Rodriguez from the 1980s to the 2010s. It also chronicles the artist’s relationship with the neighborhood it called home and reveals a romantic sentimentality toward a changing San Francisco that many viewers will still identify with.
In the two-page comic “Wandering Home to the Mission”, 2000, a man laments recent changes in the neighborhood while jostling through a crowd of Mission residents. The character equates the Mission with other bastions of art and literature – Montmartre and Greenwich Village – blaming the yuppies for the high cost of living. Here, at the height of the first dot-com boom, Rodriguez admits weariness, though his character promises not to give up without a fight. It is in his first street scenes that we see the vibrant Mission that he fears to lose.
An example is a series of ink drawings that Rodriguez illustrated for an editorial published in the San Francisco Examiner and the Chronicle in 1982, with a text by John Levin, entitled “Observing Women of the Mission”. Here, Rodriguez’s uncanny ability for caricature shines (he’s never used a camera), perfectly capturing the expression and attitude of every passerby. There’s an exhausted mother with a sleeping baby, a besieged waitress behind a restaurant counter, a lively daughter leaning out of a car window, and more.
A note scribbled at the bottom of a sheet of illustrations reads: “The unique beauty of the women of the Mission compels the incurable romantic to fall in love several times a day.”
Rodriguez’s romanticism also shines through elsewhere. His detailed ink renderings of storefronts and street corners show a keen affinity for the neighborhood the artist has called home for decades. They have the diffuse quality of a precious memory. Here, Rodriguez shows us the changing neighborhood exactly as he wanted to remember it.
SOMArts, 934 Brannan St.
Until October 7 | Free
This showcase of 13 up-and-coming Bay Area artists, all winners of the Murphy Prize or the Cadogan Prize, showcases a wide range of work with an emphasis on large-scale installations. It’s certainly tempting to see a show like this as a litmus test for the future of Bay Area designers – and applying that framework to this collection, the future looks bright.
Standout pieces include Thad Higa’s ‘Table with Books’, 2019-2020; the titular table contains several hidden compartments containing small poetry books, scrolls and zines, giving viewers the feeling of peering into the mind of the writer. Irma Yuliana Barbosa’s 2022 “Counting Sheep” is also meticulously crafted. It features a bed frame with stretched goatskin at its center, surrounded by dozens of snail shells and ceramic tongues. “Embrace: Wall of Gericault” by Gericault De La Rose, 2022, perhaps the most ambitious of all, is a wall-sized installation with pink curtains and a large pink wardrobe, filled with clothes and wigs .
There are also more traditional entries: Rachel Hester’s ink and left-hand paintings of classic male figures; The calm photographs of interior spaces by Charles H. Lee. But these too follow a trend visible throughout the exhibition: scale. Young artists in the Bay Area want to be seen, and making physically large works of art is one way they’ve found to do that. Hester’s paintings are approximately 7’x8′; Photographs by Lee 3’x4′.
All of the projects featured feel deeply personal, while tackling complex societal issues that go beyond the individual, from politics to cultural tradition, gender and sexuality, to consumer culture, reminding viewers that the personal and politics are always connected. With their go big or go home approach to their subjects and materials, Fellows Murphy and Cadogan demonstrate the ambition to have a major impact on Bay Area arts and the abilities to do so.
Jack Fischer Gallery, 1275 Minnesota St.
Until October 15 | Free
“Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust” by photographer Gay Block, first exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1992, is coming to San Francisco for its 30th anniversary at the Jack Fischer Gallery. The show features 28 color portraits of rescuers, the men and women who risked their lives to help Jews escape the Holocaust. Each large photo print is accompanied by a text written by the illustrated rescuer, telling his story.
The photos, taken in the 1980s, show the rescuers well beyond their old age, but their age belies their underlying integrity. Their stories contrast with their almost unassuming appearances; these are people who distributed false papers, who hosted refugees, who risked their lives. But the text on the walls only scratches the surface of these stories. Block’s short documentary ‘They Risked Their Lives’ is also screened at the gallery, and the recently released monograph ‘Rescuers’ (Radius Books) expands on the rescuer’s first-hand accounts.
Who are these paragons of virtue? All kinds of people – diplomats, musicians, intellectuals, housewives – all united by their inability to sit idly by. Why? A surprising number of rescuers cite their Catholic faith as the impetus for helping Jews escape or survive the Holocaust. Others speak of personal ties to Jews who were their friends or spouses. Others simply say it was the right thing to do.
The lifeguards exemplify a kind of alliance that anyone could seek: they are not particularly exceptional people. In fact, it is their banality that gives so much weight to their actions. They’re just people, like you and me.
The Jack Fischer Gallery will hold a signing session with Block on September 24 from 3-5 p.m.
For more on exciting local galleries and other cultural happenings, be sure to visit The Standard’s online calendar, what’s new sf.
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