In the predawn hours of May 2, at an undisclosed location somewhere between Fort Mason and the Marina District, more than 100 artists will gather to display their works. The exact location won’t be announced until midnight May 1 via social media. That is because the Parking Lot Art Fair is a guerilla action, and, I'm guessing, an illegal one judging from the secrecy surrounding it. Thus, early morning joggers, dog walkers, insomniacs and other unsuspecting onlookers will witness what promises to be a well-choreographed flash mob, hastily erecting white-cube walls, mounting works of art, and building whatever set-ups are required for performances and panel discussions. The show officially opens at 8 a.m. By 1 p.m., all of it will be torn down and hauled away, timed to coincide with the opening of two other art fairs taking place nearby over the same weekend. Whether this one goes as planned or is busted before it even begins hardly matters; the participants, led by artist and curator, Jenny Sharaf, will have achieved a victory of sorts by demonstrating that Bay Area artists — a diverse, chronically underrepresented, economically stressed group — will do whatever it takes to be seen and heard. Most of those on view at the Parking Lot Art Fair have already garnered some level of attention – in artist-run spaces, nonprofits, museums and commercial galleries. Still, the gulf between the demand for exhibitions and the supply of affordable space continues to widen as real estate costs skyrocket and galleries continue to struggle.
Sharaf’s response is but the latest, boldest variant of a longstanding strategy among SF artists and dealers: grow the collector base by showing in non-gallery venues. Over the upcoming three-day weekend, May 1-3, many will attempt to do just that. Art Market San Francisco, now in its fifth year, continues as a showcase for established galleries. Sixty-five of them will set up shop at fort Mason’s Festival Pavilion. The fair, which began in 2010, was among the first to revive art fairs in SF after a decade-long hiatus, and has, at this point, become somewhat predictable – but in good way. Turnover among exhibitors has been remarkably low, an indication that those involved are doing something right. This year, for example, 41 of the 68 exhibitors who showed last year will return. Among them you’ll find Brian Gross, Rena Bransten, Catharine Clark, Gregory Lind, Patricia Sweetow and other local dealers whose galleries can be counted on to show memorable work. While continuity can equate to predictability, what it mostly affords here is the opportunity to see great works of art from shows you may have missed or bodies of work that have yet to be exhibited.
showing his photos at Rena Bransten Projects along with another high-profile photographer, the enviornmal documentarian Edward Burtynsky. Christian Maychack, with epoxy clay jammed into off-kilter frames, creates what look to be fantastical simulations of geologic events, skewering the notion that boundaries exist between painting and sculpture. You’ll find his work at Gregory Lind. Markus Linnenbrink, another innovator, will be at Patricia Sweetow/Spun Smoke. Linnenbrink pours candy-colored paint into molds, then drills holes into them to expose the built-up layers, resulting in Pop relief sculptures. Brian Gross will show Robert Hudson, Roy de Forest, Robert Arenson, Peter Alexander and Amy Trachtenberg. One of the most stunning works from Trachtenberg is a photocopier-generated collage that transforms a front-page New York Times story about the Iraq war into something resembling a curry-stained Arabic-inscribed a prayer rug. Likewise, you’ll find works from many well-respected out-of-town galleries (like Nancy Hoffman of New York, Walter
Maciel of LA and Greg Kucera of Seattle), along with newcomers to the fair like the German dealer Walter Bishoff. His gallery represents Gerhard Richter and Thomas Ruff; both will have work on display.
Last year and in 2013, Art Market attracted more than 20,000 visitors. With that kind of traffic one wonders why blue-chip dealers like Anthony Meier, John Berggruen and Jeffrey Fraenkel continue to withhold their support. I didn’t put that question directly to Max Fishko, Art Market’s co-founder and managing director; but in general remarks about the market he made clear the dimensions of the challenge. It’s the same one SF galleries have struggled with for years: how to tap the region’s newly found tech wealth and attract existing collectors who shop in New York, LA and Miami.
“San Francisco is a very different kind of art market than the ones we find elsewhere,” says Fishko, whose company, Art Market Productions, operates fairs in New York, Houston, Miami, Seattle and Bridgehampton, N.Y. He praised SF’s educational institutions, museums and tight-knit art community, but stressed that it will take time and continued investment to build the market. He and the 65 galleries that will join him and his partner, Jeffrey Wainhause, this year seem willing. “The galleries that have done it year after year,” he notes, “have something to show for it.” Brian Gross, whose self-named gallery has supported Art Market from the beginning, is one of them. The fair, he says “presents a fresh hit of contemporary art and makes it accessible in a great venue. It re-energizes art in the city and gives new collectors a way to see a lot of work all in one place. For dealers and their clients, it’s a chance to reconnect.”
artists who are judged worthy, everyone wins. Some, however, balk at paying to participate in a juried show. SAF’s partners, who’ve risked their own money to start the venture, and who’ve worked “for something less than minimum wage” for the past six months to bring it off, point to the composition of the jury as a key benefit. It includes: Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture, SFMOMA; Cathy Kimball, executive director and chief curator, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art; the Culver City dealer Walter Maciel; Paul Mullins, artist and professor of art, SF State; the New York photographer and conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas; and Heather Marx, the art consultant, who with Zavattero, ran their
eponymous Geary St. gallery from 2001 to 2013. The hope: If artists can put their work before several thousand potential collectors, grab the attention of curators and make enough sales to cover their costs, it will be worthwhile. In the end, the quality of the fair, like that of any other fair, depends on the applicants; there were exactly 100. They form a diverse group, ranging in age from artists still in grad school to well-established practitioners like Joy Broom, who’s been on the scene for more than 40 years, and who, in 2012, was an artist-in-residence at the de Young. Though most of these artists live in the Bay Area, a majority of them are new to me.
Clive McCarthy, who I first encountered last year, tops the list of those who deserve wide recognition. The first thing to know about McCarthy is that before earning an MFA at SFAI, he spent 17 years as the lead engineer at Altera, a Silicon Valley chipmaker. His digital “paintings” – portraits and landscapes — may, at a
quick glance, remind you of Post Impressionism. If so, that is because the algorithms he devises to execute electronic brush strokes do a superb job of simulating the facture and tactility of paint, but without pretending to deceive. Rather, it’s the behavior of the “paint” that astonishes. His compositions, based on digitized photos and displayed on flat-panel monitors, slowly and endlessly dissolve and reconstitute into fresh compositions, moving as if Hans Hofmann were wielding a slo-mo version Ken Burns’ screen “wipe” effect. Each painting, says McCarthy, will eventually repeat itself, but not in anyone’s lifetime. That, by itself, makes the work mind-bending. What makes it revolutionary is that it unites aspects of two media that have
historically stood in opposition, those aspects being the long-look demand of painting and the can’t-help-but-look imperative of video.
I'm also impressed by the San Jose sculptor Mitra Fabian. She fashions strange objects out of manufactured materials of every sort, which, I realize, is not a unique trait these days. What sets her apart is how she treats those materials. They’ve included medical paraphenalia, film stock, paper and, most recently, electronic resistors, which in Fabian's hands end up looking like animate things that could self-propagate. Other artists who I’m not familiar with, but whose work looks promising, include: Chris Thorson, a trompe l'oeil sculptor; am Stöhr and Kimberly Rowe, both highly inventive abstract painters; Lindsay Evans Montgomery, a multi-media artist who brings a faux-outsider sensibility to an examination of her own obsession with celebrity; Brian Singer, a conceptualist who wages semiotic war against hypocrisy and doublespeak; and Kathy Aoki, a “sneaky feminist” who appropriates and recontextualizes historical styles to comment on beauty and fashion.
Lace-up your walking shoes. This promises to be an exciting weekend.
–DAVID M. ROTH