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Tony Bravo: What I learned about art during a week of parties at SF's unofficial art week

January 22, 2019

Venus Over Manhattan at Saint Joseph's Arts Society

Saint Joseph’s Arts Society founder Ken Fulk (left) and Venus Over Manhattan gallerist Adam Lindemann at Lindemann’s showing at Saint Joseph’s during art week. Photo: Tony Bravo / The Chronicle

Tony Bravo: What I learned about art during a week of parties at SF's unofficial art week

by Tony Bravo

San Francisco’s unofficial art week — the third week of January, when the Fog Art + Design and Untitled, Art fairs are held — has become one of the most socially competitive times of the year. Besides the fairs themselves, there’s a merry-go-round of gallery openings, cocktail receptions, luncheons, tours of private collections and VIP experiences that are must-attend happenings for the art and social sets that flock to San Francisco as much for the parties as the paintings (and sculptures, design and video art).

With Fog now in its sixth year and Untitled its third, the week is beginning to feel like a local tradition for both the art fair-going public and the party crowd. While some only visit the fairs with a cocktail in one hand and a selfie-ready smartphone in the other, there’s also a melange of local and international artists, gallerists and collectors all too eager to discuss the finer points of mixed-media presentations, collecting trends and why they love a certain work.

From the Minnesota Street Projects and Fort Mason to SoMa and Chinatown, here are the highlights from my decidedly outsider perspective.

Saturday: Spider-Man’s Peter Parker exposed

My art week begins at the opening of “Gold Standard,” the Ever Gold Projects gallery’s 10-year anniversary exhibition at the Minnesota Street Projects in Dogpatch on Jan. 12. Ever Gold gallerist Andrew McClintock, a San Francisco native, is well known in the city’s art scene as the former editor-publisher of San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and for founding his gallery at the age of 24.

“It’s going to be an epic week,” he tells me as we compare our schedules for the next few nights. Pieces by Guy Overfelt, Ed Ruscha and Barry McGee are spread over the three rooms Ever Gold occupies in Minnesota Street. Ruscha’s “Made in California” and Sadie Barnette’s photograph of African American pageant contestants “Untitled (Queen and Court)” are among my favorites. (“Am I allowed to have favorites?” I ask McClintock. He assures me this is fine.)

Mark Flood’s acrylic-and-ink “Spiderman” provokes the strongest reaction: The image of the Marvel hero with “I hate you” and “want kill you” scrawled over it is a little jarring, as is the fact that Spidey is letting his Peter Parker hang out the fly of his costume. I post it with an adult content warning in an Instagram slideshow and it is later tagged as violating community standards by the company.

It feels like an appropriate start to the week.

Tuesday: Bowling with Barry McGee

New York gallerist Adam Lindemann of Venus Over Manhattan gallery is presenting his first San Francisco show in the vestry of Ken Fulk’s Saint Joseph’s Arts Society, the decorator/event maestro’s new arts space in a converted Catholic Church in SoMa. Lindemann’s sister, San Francisco philanthropist Sloan Barnett, attends on Jan. 15 along with jet-setter Denise Hale, chef Daniel de la Falaise, photographer Ryan McGinley and gallerist Ralph Pucci. The show includes midcentury furniture (so hot right now) designed by Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Guariche, paintings by Alberto Burri and Maryan, and an Alexander Calder 1961 tabletop sculpture, “The Mountain.”

“People always look for the part that moves on a Calder, even if it’s not a mobile,” says Lindemann. He picks up a 2-inch piece of metal off the top of the sculpture and jokes about how easy it would be for someone to steal that one small piece and make the sculpture worth significantly less.

Second stop: Altman Siegel gallery in Dogpatch. But before I can see any of K.r.m. Mooney’s first solo exhibition at Altman Siegel, “Näcre,” I almost run into a tripping hazard: two large pieces of aluminium on the gallery floor that I learn are in fact, a sculpture (?) by the artist, titled “Accretion I.” I ask the arts philanthropist next to me if she can explain it to me — she graciously declines — as do two gallerists and Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais. I later learn from the gallery website that Mooney’s work “tests the surfaces of meaning to locate where intimacy lies; reminding us of place and the inevitability of our relationship to it.” But does it match the drapes?

Final stop of the night: Mission Bowling Club for the annual Fraenkel Gallery pre-fairs bowling night, hosted this year with New York’s David Zwirner Gallery in honor of its Diane Arbus photography collaboration. This is a party I’ve read about for years in Catherine Bigelow’s column in The Chronicle and have always wanted to attend for the allure of seeing artists and collectors wearing rented shoes. I immediately see filmmaker John Waters and philanthropist Nancy Bechtle, two people I never thought I’d get to include in the same sentence. The scoreboard has artists’ names for each player; I bowl a couple balls with the Lanier family, the children and grandchildren of San Francisco sculptor Ruth Asawa. I meet artist Barry McGee and am proud I don’t blurt out that I bought three of his striped T-shirts at Uniqlo last year. Waiting for my Lyft with Thomas Campbell, the new director of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, we talk about museums’ future fashion exhibitions, something I understand far better than the K.r.m. Mooney sculpture still plaguing my thoughts.

Wednesday: Rain, Fog and Ai Weiwei’s bikes

It storms Wednesday night, Jan. 16, as Team Style heads to the Fog opening-night gala (benefiting SFMOMA) at Fort Mason. A mandatory party for many in the social scene (chaired by collectors Norah and Norman Stone this year), you can travel only a few inches before falling into a conversation with Christine Suppes, Joel Goodrich, Komal Shah, Vanessa Getty, Karen Caldwell, Betsy Linder or Fog co-founder Stanlee GattiAi Weiwei’s gilt-covered stainless steel bicycle sculpture “Forever” in the Haines Gallery booth strikes me as an obvious candidate for most Instagramable installation of the fair. I see it many times on social media the next few days.

I feel a drop hit the top of my head, then another. The roof of Fort Mason is leaking rain — no big deal —into a space filled with millions of dollars worth of art and design. I joke that if the rain hits any abstract expressionist art, no one will be able to tell since it’s all drips anyway.

No one laughs.

Thursday: Video games and power purses

Back at Saint Joseph’s Arts Society on Jan. 17 to interview Italian sculptor Vincenzo De Cotiis, whose new show, “En Plein Air” is opening upstairs in the Carpenters Workshop Gallery Space. I’m wearing a metallic, patina green track jacket by Walter Van Beirendonck; De Cotiis jokes I match his stone, metal and gilt sculptures. There’s a mix of brutalism in the hard surfaces of the pieces and impressionism in the water lily green color of the stone and fluidity in the shapes that makes the pieces seem almost delicate in spite of their massive materials and size.

That night, it’s Untitled, Art fair at Pier 35. I’m immediately swept up by a group including Matthew Kimball, Rafael Davis and Luke Willis to Nunu Fine Art’s space to view gallerist-artist Keb Cerda’s “Super Nardo” painting series that is a playable video game once you download an app to view the paintings through. Artist Michele Pred’s “Power of the Purse” series in the Nancy Hoffman Gallery’s space looked to feminist themes prior to Saturday’s women’s march (along with Masaki Miki’s eye Risograph prints meant to be carried at the march), which is fitting.

A fairgoer tells me later that a gallerist told her that the latest art investment craze is buying “from marginalized artists.” “They just come in and say, ‘What do you have by an African American, or a woman, or another kind of person of color,” she says. I end the night at the Catharine Clark Gallery booth, where I watch Lenka Clayton’s 2002 video work, “Qaeda, Quality, Question, Quickly, Quickly, Quiet,” where the artist rearranged President George W. Bush’s 2002 “Axis of Evil” speech with the words in alphabetical order.

Friday: Shabbat and Staying Ever Gold-en

Friday, Jan. 18, is Ever Gold Projects’ official 10th anniversary party at Chinatown dive bar EZ5, co-hosted with McClintock by DJ Eug (Eugene Whang) and Adam Swig. The evening begins with a traditional Jewish Shabbat breaking of the challah, which has “Ever Gold” baked into it.

“Shabbat is supposed to be a sundown thing, but it’s San Francisco,” jokes Swig. “We do what we want.”

Swig continues, comparing the light of the Shabbat candles to the light that art shines on a community. McClintock originally started Ever Gold in a space in the Tenderloin before moving to Minnesota Street Project two years ago. It’s been quite the ride, he says, from publishing SFAQ and the Tenderloin to being a gallery that straddles the line between catering to traditional collectors and attracting the younger tech generation (Ever Gold even accepts cryptocurrency). Once the old-school hip-hop bumps up on the speakers, it becomes less an art week party and more a night at the club. McClintock later reports he was out until 5 a.m. celebrating.

“I think we need to have one of these every year, at art week,” he says.

Saturday: Trash meets F—-facef

I finish the week on Jan. 19 where it all began: back at the Minnesota Street Project for the Untitled closing party. Immediately I’m in my natural habitat: A fashion show, presented by the Oakland collective Bonanza (Conrad Guevara, Lindsay Tully and Lana Williams) for their clothing label BNNZA. The clothes are somewhere between party dress and party decor, made from shimmering Mylar, strips of plastic, Ikea bags (very Demna Gvasalia for Balenciaga) and bike locks. The looks were created during the artists’ residency at Recology San Francisco, so calling them “trashy” isn’t an insult, it’s just accurate.

My final art viewing of the week takes me to Casemore Kirkeby gallery for John Gossage’s photography/graffiti show “Hey F— face,” which marries photos of toxic Superfund sites with obscene scrawl along the matting of the photos. Even as I’m writing down the titles of the work I’m already contemplating whether I’ll get any of them in full into The Chronicle, since most are as obscene as the show title.

“But is it art?” I ask multiple showgoers.

“They’re all very well-framed,” artist Hailey Gaiser says, politely deflecting the question. “It’s like they’re trying to be overthought but they’re actually, they’re quite under-thought.”

To date, Instagram has had no objections to my post from this show.

Tony Bravo is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:


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