Another one bites the dust, a requiem to San Francisco art galleries

For a while, the economic realities facing the world have been blamed for the decline of the contemporary art market. A surprising outcome of the decline is newfound collaborations among galleries and a fresh willingness from galleries for price transparency. In some cases, the downturn brought misfortune to San Francisco with multiple losses of one fine art gallery after another. Some say this is a natural expectation, and an opportunity for the best to rise resulting from attrition, but the list is surprising. It includes prominent art dealers who have the diminished and seriously downsized their exhibition spaces, or have closed their doors and are lost to the gallery world ether. In alpha, not chron order, some of them are:

ArtWorksSF – Contemporary fine art, mixed media, photograph and performance space moved out of 49 Geary digs to 2861 California Street from which they manage a roster of local café exhibitions as well a portraiture business.

Bucheon – Always edgy and avant garde, the two ladies who ran the scene from the obscure upper Hayes Street in late 1990s, to hip lower Hayes in early 2000s, and final posh space on Grove Street last, are gone. It’s quiet where they were, as their last exhibition announced narrative works by artists Eckhard Etzold, Michael Frerris Jr., Mars-1, Sarah Ratchye, Gordon Henderson, Lordan Bunch, Laurel Connell, Olive Ayhens, Danny Keith, Alex Luke, Megan Wolfe, David Choong Lee, Lucho Pozo, Dan Nicoletta and Christina Empedocles, in a large show for such a small space. The show was extended, and some gallery alumnae have been redistributed, and welcomed with alacrity, by Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art, for example.

Cain SchulteCain Schulte Gallery – With a consistently critical schedule of exhibitions, the gallery that morphed in 2006 out of Michael Martin’s space on Townsend and 3d Street by it’s two partners, Marina Cain and Kit Schulte, has moved to 714 Guerrero Street. Continuing to support its artists and clients with a full schedule of privately run home-based exhibitions and events, Cain Schulte representing contemporary artists from the United States and Europe with a focus in painting, the gallery promises to consistently participate in national and international art fairs. The word is that Kit’s established a gallery in Berlin, as Marina continues the business privately while seeking better digs. Go, Cain Schulte! You give galleries a good name.

Don SokerDon Soker Contemporary Art bode farewell to the 49 Geary community with a small reception hosted by Claire Carlevaro of Art Exchange Gallery this March. A beloved gentleman gallerist, the word is that he’s gone to private consulting while his website states an upcoming inaugural exhibition at an immense new space somewhere in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district. A standout presenter with a good eye for solid relevant artworks, this will be something to look forward to.

Oakland’s Esteban Sabar closed his gallery last August, another casualty. Just two years after its opening, and one year after its initial foray into Art Miami|Basel scene, the gallery is gone. The initial controversy generaged by the new rush of 20 something hipsters that 'invaded' and discovered Oakland’s downtown overnight wasn’t enough to support an established ‘art scene.’ Its owner, Esteban Sabar, earned respect with disarming charm and the sort of unabashed honesty one rarely encounters regularly in the art world, whatever corner of it you find yourself in. Flamboyant, garrulous, friendly, and possessed with unique talents, Sabar is silent these days. I hope it won’t be for long as his program was so far out it was fun and refreshing.

Gallery 415’s focus on Latin American artists moved out of its 49 Geary home to the heart of the Mission District. While this seems apropos given the large Hispanic community that considers the Mission its home, the rest of us are probably envious of the unique opportunity to present from the growing importance of the newest group of artists: the San Francisco Mission School. While the gallery’s owner, Claudine intends to focus on private art consulting at her new location, it’s probable that she will continue to champion artwork by emerging and mid career Latin American artists, in step with the recent focus on Latin America, as well as the growth of affluence and desire to invest by the American-born Hispanic community. Luckily, growth in Latin American art, artists and collectors, is not just a blip on the radar anymore, as Art Basel at Miami has certainly made things much more accessible! New address: 622 - 27th Street, San Francisco.

Hacket-Freedman, another Hayes Valley alum, closed its doors as of May 1. Founded in 1986, by Michael Hackett and Tracy Freedman, the gallery offered a select inventory of 20th-century and contemporary painting and sculpture, with a particular focus on postwar American and Californian art; the established partnership specialized in represented contemporary realism, including the estate of David Park. One partner is off to the wilds of private consulting, while the other will manage the rest of the collection, I’ve heard.

Hang Art introduced a novel approach to buying art in the late 1990s with its clear and published business structure. Using a happy formula for emerging artists with non-wavering price formulas that are client-friendly too (their website states they show artwork under $200!). The gallery showcases works by emerging artists and features a list of ‘staff picks’ and actively promotes affordable artworks to a broad collector base. On May 1, Hang Art downsized to one exhibition space at 567 Sutter Street. Smart move.

Octavia’s Haze – Sometime in 2008, painter James Michalopoulos began to show his work exclusively at the space developed by Michael Melampy. The cleverly-named gallery showed glass objects and vessels on the corner of, ahem, Octavia and Hayes Streets from about 1999 to 2008. Now co-mingled on lower Hayes Street with another shop, and while the name doesn’t seem as apt or clever as it was at its old space, they seem to be continue a brisk trade in hand blown glass vessels with their new partners.

Reaves Gallery – Sharon Reaves, artist mentor turned art dealer, took her emerging artist business from the Castro to a beautiful space on Gough Street. A year later (actually just a week or so ago) and according to its website, the gallery is gone for rebranding, and its website now features the Reaves Collection. Sharon tells me she’s gone for the opportunity of a lifetime in NYC. Lifetime opportunities are good. Loud applause.

871 Fine Arts – Fine art book, posters, artists books and other ephemera moved out of 49 Geary next to Crown Point Press on Hawthorne Lane. Quiet move, not much fanfare, in fact hardly any, as former clients still come by looking for it.

Weinstein Gallery – This powerhouse gallery showing modern works by Chagall, Miro, and Picasso, as well as uber-pricey glass sculptures by Christopher Reis, closed its Grant Street space to consolidate with its posh mega space on the corner of Powell and Geary Streets last week.

Wow. That’s quite a list. Oh, I forgot, there’s another casualty - what about the quiet-made-quite-public-furor over the tenured staff slash and burn at SF’s venerable San Francisco Art Institute... in the name of the economy, etc. Oh well, so much for San Francisco’s fame as an art vanguard.Micaela Gallery

We San Franciscans are fortunate to still have a couple of galleries left, and hope to benefit from a couple of surprising moves. Altman|Siegel’s directors came west as they grew out of gallery experiences in NYC and moved in to 49 Geary, Jack Fischer moved out of his exciting mini gallery into Don Soker’s window-lit space and is rockin’ San Francisco. Micaela moved her glass sculpture and media arts out of Hayes Valley (and hopes the move was not jinxed by the Hayes Valley kiss of death) and into ArtWorkSF’s space, also at 49 Geary, and painter-turned-gallerist George Lawson opened up Room for Painting Room for Paper next door to Micaela.

For those that are gone, we hope it’s farewell but not goodbye. For those that reduced their efforts and await the economy to rebound, and for the rest of us, long live contemporary fine art in San Francisco!
Micaëla1 Comment