San Francisco galleries look to the post-pandemic future –

Last year when the the pandemic has struck, Closed arts institutions around the world were forced to turn to the internet – it was the only way to maintain connection with their audiences. Museums held online lectures and tours with curators, while auction houses broadcast live sales. Art fairs have set up exhibition halls, as have their clients, galleries, in some cases collectively. Today, as the pandemic fades in some places and persists in others, questions remain about how shopping malls will survive, especially small and medium-sized businesses that struggled to remain viable before the global health crisis. and its closure. The answer to the long-term support of galleries and their local art scenes may, in fact, lie in these collective digital initiatives.

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A first effort to keep galleries in business during Covid was born in May 2020, in Los Angeles: Gallery Platform LA, organized by a group of local dealers, highlights exhibitions in online viewing rooms every week and also offers editorial content, including video tours of artists, gallery owners and collectors in LA. This initiative served as inspiration for key members of an arts scene located more than 300 miles to the north, a smaller scene that arguably needed such a project even more. Last October, a group of art professionals in San Francisco launched 8 bridges, named after the eight structures that connect the land masses of the Bay Area. “The hope,” said merchant Jessica Silverman, one of the founders, “was to really expand what people know and understand about the Bay Area, both locally and outside of it.”

With less than a quarter of the number of galleries in Los Angeles, San Francisco’s commercial scene has never had the same volume as its neighbor to the south, nor has it attracted quite the same level of attention. The goals of 8 Bridges, said co-founder Kelly Huang, artistic advisor and former co-director of the Gagosian Gallery in San Francisco, were not just to “find a way to support our community during an incredibly difficult time filled with uncertainty.” . but also to find “a way to support each other more formally and to support the wider network of galleries in the Bay Area”. To this end, the site has started offering a rotation of eight different galleries each month, hosting exhibitions from the Fraenkel Gallery, Anthony Meier Fine Arts, Robert Koch Gallery and others.

A dense and colorful design with various layered elements including a clock, vases, chair, a person's hands, a bowl of fruit, glasses and a floor lamp that shines from the upper left to the lower right.

Bay Area artist Woody De Othello’s Steppin through the night (2021).
Courtesy of Paulson Fontaine Press, Berkeley

“There was something about the pandemic that led to a lot of collaboration, and nothing like this has ever really happened before,” said gallery owner Claudia Altman-Siegel, another co-founder. “I’m friends with all the other founding members, but we’ve never joined forces like this. It’s a really positive thing that came out of the pandemic – that kind of urgent need to collaborate
for the greater good. “

The group is also committed to supporting local nonprofits such as the African Diaspora Museum and the Headlands Center for the Arts, and is highlighting a different one each month. Alison Gass, director of ICA San José, said her institution saw “a huge stretch within reach” by sharing details about her ongoing Ebony G. Patterson exhibit, which was covered by the fashion website. of Bay Area life and culture. 7 × 7 following a promotion on social networks at 8 Bridges. Arts nonprofit Root Division was able to attract “a huge audience that we generally wouldn’t have had, in terms of a higher and more established collector base, or perhaps a higher price interest” for its event. Spring 2021 fundraiser and its coincident exhibition, “Fate of the Senses,” said Michelle Mansour, executive director of the Root division.

“The space between the for-profit and non-profit art worlds is not that far away,” Gass said. “We all work together, showing each other’s artists and working with collectors, whether they buy the work or are philanthropic. This is really something the art world needs to think about more.

A color photograph of a large mountain island.  The skyline is almost indistinguishable, and the overall color is a pale, hazy yellow-orange.  Two figures and an animal are slightly visible at the bottom left.

1987 photograph by Bay Area artist Richard Misrach Swimmers, Pyramid Lake was presented at the January 2021 “4 × 8 Bridges” online exhibition, held in lieu of this year’s FOG Art Fair.
Courtesy of the Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The members of 8-bridges also thought about how to present the art world of the Bay Area to an international audience who, even in ordinary and non-pandemic times, could make it to San Francisco at most once. per year, for the FOG Art Fair or a major museum exhibition. (Last February, 8 bridges stepped in to fill the void left by the cancellation of FOG by hosting a digital presentation, “4 × 8-bridges”, which included 36 galleries from northern California, with lectures, webinars and Zoom tours.) Since its launch, the platform has developed a series of podcasts that featured prominent figures such as Gass, art advisor Mary Zlot and collector Pamela Hornik. He also curated a panel series titled “Bridging the Bay Area Art World,” which in one iteration brought Neal Benezra, former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, into a conversation; Lori Fogarty, director of the Oakland Museum of California; and Mari Robles, Executive Director of the Headlands Center for the Arts.

There’s another reason people walk through the digital door: A website can be more welcoming and less intimidating than an IRL art gallery, and therefore can attract more young people. It can be read in the numbers: Millennials represent the largest segment of users of 8 bridges. “I think platforms like this make entering the arts community a little more democratic,” Huang said. It helps that many of the works of art for sale on the site are priced under $ 20,000, a range in which emerging and more seasoned collectors are comfortable shopping without seeing the art in person.

The platform is also starting to experiment with organized formats. In May, to mark Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, it featured an exhibition of works by historical, mid-career and emerging artists from the Asian Diaspora. This exhibition was curated by Huang and Aleesa Pitchamarn Alexander, Assistant Curator of American Art and Co-Director of the Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) at the Cantor Arts Center.

Installation view of a gallery exhibition with, from left to right, a blue glass sculpture on a pedestal, a grid of 16 works and two colored wall sculptures.

Installation view of the 2021 exhibition “Spell of the Senses” at the Root Division association, whose work has been highlighted on 8 bridges.
Photo Zhang Mengjiao / Courtesy of Root Division, San Francisco;

Like the cities of the world are starting to open up and ease restrictions related to the pandemic, the 8 Bridges team envisioned new ways to reach their growing audience. Current projects include resource pages for local artists looking for scholarships or grants, and local merchants looking for art managers, framers, photographers or other services. to support their businesses.

“I am just very excited to guide the platform in this new phase of life,” said Silverman, adding that the other gallery owners among the founding members are “excited about how the platform can support this reopening. It’s going to be very collaborative and the way we organize ourselves right now is so much stronger than when we started. ”

Gass believes that the platform and its underlying ethics are already helping to cultivate a greater spirit of camaraderie. “This is starting to minimize the possibility of intense competition between institutions,” she said. “8-bridges helps us realize that we are all talking to each other and to the same people. As for the programming highlights in the Bay Area arts community, she said, “high tide really lifts all ships.”

A version of this article appears in the August / September 2021 issue of ARTnews, under the title “Site by the Bay”.
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About Margaret L. Portillo

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