Author Archives: denisebennett

About denisebennett

During her childhood, Denise aspired to be a mermaid and an archeologist, and she is still actively pursuing both careers.

Venue Spotlight: The Compound Gallery & Studios, Oakland

The Compound Gallery

The Compound Gallery. Photo courtesy of Lena and Matt Reynoso.

I moved to Oakland about a month ago, and I’ve been doing my due diligence to find what the art scene in the East Bay has to offer. One particular trend I’ve observed is the flourishing presence of collaborative artist studio spaces. The Compound Gallery & Studios takes that a step further by creating a hybrid artist studio and exhibition space, and you would be remiss to pass up a visit. It’s  a welcoming space that is home to some of the most robust programing I’ve seen in the Bay Area.

Lena and Matt Reynoso founded The Compound Gallery in 2008, and the space is comfortably nestled in North Oakland near the intersection of 65th and San Pablo. The Compound Gallery nearly bursts at the seams with everything it has to offer. Here are some of highlights:

In their efforts to provide high quality exhibitions, Matt and Lena review submissions, visit studios, and actively seek out emerging artists with strong points-of-view to feature at the gallery. The latest show, He-Charmers: Katherine Sherwood, opened October 15th and runs through December 4th. He-Charmers is a continuation of Sherwood’s mixed media Healers from the Yelling Clinic series in which she uses images of neural-anatomy from the 16th century to the present.
Additionally, The Compound Gallery reserves a portion of the space to feature works by artists working on-site. Alison O.K. Frost curated the current show in the Artists Gallery, Ex-Corpse, which features work by 18 Compound Gallery artists.
Artists Studios
Matt and Lana have always been interested in creating an interdisciplinary workspace. They strongly believe “that having high caliber artists working at The Compound helps enliven the space and keeps the energy alive.” During exhibition openings, the artists’ studios are open to guests, and you can see a variety of intricate works in-progress.
Art in a Box subscriber package

Art in a Box subscriber package

Art in a Box
Art in a Box was born about three years ago from the seedling of an idea inspired by Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs.  You can purchase a CSA membership in exchange for (often times weekly) deliveries of local organic food. Art-on-a-Box reworked this framework and applied it to art. Art-in-a-Box subscribers pay a monthly fee in exchange for  the delivery of an art work crafted by a local artist.
In essence, Art in a Box gives individuals the opportunity to own original artworks in an accessible way that not only speaks to your tastes, but supports local artists and this local business. Additionally, it’s another outlet for new or seasoned collections to introduce new artists to their collections.
Art in a Box continues to evolve and expand with the introduction of a new campaign called “The Art in a Box Great Trans-American Art Campaign,” which will focus on obtaining a subscriber in each of the 50 states. Posters, stickers, promotional cards, pins, and shirts currently being disseminated to art centers all over the nation.
Special Collections and Print Lounge
The newest addition to the Compound is a Special Collection & Print Lounge. The special collection lounge is dedicated to works by resident Compound artists and frequent contributors, and the collection is open to the public to browse during gallery hours. Matt and Lena agree that it’s enjoyable to have a more casual space at The Compound to showcase work outside of formal exhibitions.

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Improvisation: It’s not all about jazz

I recently went to Thee Parkside to see Judgment Day with a group of friends; we were all stoked because we had each seen them a handful of times before and knew we were in for a great show. We always know what to expect when they play tracks from “Peacocks/Pink Monsters” or “Dark Opus,” but this time was different.

Judgement Day. Left to right: Anton Patzner, Jon Bush, and Lewis Patzner. Photo by Riki Feldmann (

At the end of their set, Anton and Lewis Patzner initiated an improvised violin vs. cello battle. My friends and I exchanged glance, shrugs, and smiles as if to say, “What is this?! I’m not sure… but I like it… a lot.” When their set ended, we burst out laughing, shared an obligatory exchange high fives, and repeated variations on “That. Was. Amazing.” There was something so exhilarating about having your expectations demolished and collectively experiencing an anomalous moment with your friends and fellow audience members.

This got me thinking: As a Bay Area native who has attended local shows for going on ten years, I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands more than once. Well versed with their studio albums and live performances, I come to a show more-or-less knowing what to expect. I know when to sing along and nod my head to the beat, I know when to anticipate a potential mosh pit, I can feel when there is going to be one of those pregnant pauses where people who don’t know better will think a song is over… but it isn’t.

However, improvisation changes all of that. This particular Judgment Day show couldn’t have been the only time I had ever attended a partially improvised performance—where has my head been?

I investigated this further by asking Lewis more about this show in particular. He explained that in his experience, improvisation is something that the audience innately picks up on regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with the a band’s discography. Lewis mentioned that from both the musician and audience’s point-of-view, when it’s done well it “seems right…[successful] improvisation make something unpredictable seem inevitable.” It’s nearly seamless, and if, as an audience member, you aren’t present with this progression in the performance, perhaps you could miss it. However, the energy exuded by a performer at the moment of conception of something knew is “hard to fake.”

Robin Landy and Eric Kuhn of Silian Rail

Silian Rail, a Bay Area-based band and long-time favorite of mine, recently posted an improvised piece on their Facebook page. I asked Eric Kuhn, Silian’s drummer, to share some of his experience with improvisation with me. Much to my surprise, Eric’s insights on the subject were compatible with my own initial thoughts. Without wandering too far the realm of cheesy kumbaya talk about feelings, I would be remiss not mentioning the essence of the matter: Art and music in particular are mediums by which we can express ourselves and our emotions, often times from an unconscious place. Improvisation is as much a feeling as it is an action, for both the performer and the audience. In regard to live improvisation, Eric articulated some of the finer points of the overall experience:

I would say improvisation in a live setting can be particularly powerful because it acknowledges that that one context for the sharing of music is completely unique– the physical setting, the particular place and time, the particular group of people there to witness it and the energy they bring, the equipment being used– all of these things, which you can multiply out to infinity, are variables which shape the music in to the one distinct thing that it will be in that moment and no other moment. So, improvisation is a nice acknowledgment and celebration of that fact, and it also gives the artist a chance to create something which is intentionally born of that unique moment, rather than taking something pre-existing and fitting it in to that context.

In the handful of conversations I had with diverse groups of people on this subject, they repeatedly returned to the idea that improvisation operates within a conventional context, then goes on to break away from our expectations and rational thought.

Perhaps needless to say at this point, but these conversations got me really stoked. So much so, that I had to explore how other people, specifically non-musicians, integrate improvisation in to their work.

Lauren Baines

Lauren Baines.

Lauren Baines, a contemporary dancer based in the South Bay, expanded on the implications of improvisation on modern dance. I have to admit, I had never thought of dance in those terms. Before speaking with Lauren, my knowledge of modern dance was laughable and my personal experience with dance non-existent. Lauren explained that modern dance, like modern visual art, is about “setting yourself free from tradition, expectations, and structure and instead allowing the personal voice of the choreographer and the dancers to have free reign.”

Lauren recently performed with ahdanco (Abigail Hosein Dance Company) in Ernest Jolly’s installation at the SF Arts Commission’s window front gallery space.

A trio of dancers

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery Ernest Jolly - Natural Reaction. ahdanco performance

performed a partially improvisational dance. The structural foundation was a “follow the leader” format where Abgail would do a movement and the other two would copy her. None of the dancers knew what movements Abigail would do, it was completely spontaneous. The other catch? They were all facing different directions in the space.  This added layer of complexity challenged them as dancers to try and see what movement she did, then repeat in our own space. Did I mention they were also in several inches of water? This is another instance where I can’t speak to what the audience’s expectations were going in to this performance, or if they could tell it was improvised, however, Lauren images “there was a certain spontaneity to that section…to see the movement echo through the dancers in slightly different forms… as if the three dancers were all going through similar thoughts and emotions, but not connecting with one another.”

Brian Chu, editor and director with The Werehaus, had encountered improvisational elements in film making. A lot of time and thought goes into pre-production and planning what type of shots and lightening to use, but Brian said it really all comes down to the subject (and as we all know, people are unpredictable). With Brian’s documentary film making, “unplanned shoots have come out feeling so natural and real…more so that I could ever imagine.” As a visual medium, films with a documentary point-of-view purposefully capture genuine unscripted moments and present them to an audience with the expectation of sincerity and authenticity without leaving too much on the proverbial cutting room floor. It’s a delicate balancing act between improvising when the subject of a film takes the conversation or action in an unexpected direction, and responding by crafting the narrative around a moment of spontaneous inspiration.

What are the implications of all of these ideas to us? Here is my charge to you: Put yourself out there, attend a performance that you are interested in but know little about, and go without holding tightly to your expectations. I think you may surprise yourself when you tune in, listen and watch carefully. It wasn’t until after I finished writing this blog that I realize how Artlarking-centric this idea truly is; I first thing I always tell people about Artlarking is that the heart of the mission and vision revolves around collaboration. Improvisation is a quintessential form of collaboration on a number of levels, but keep a sharp eye, otherwise you may miss it.

Controversy in local and regional art

Artlarking readers, I have something a little bit more personal to write about this week. I’ll preface this post with this brief disclaimer: Some of you will not agree with my point-of-view in this post, and that’s great! Please continue the dialogue with by commenting, discussing these issues with friends/family members/significant others/the guy you always see on Muni, etc. There will never be a full-stop neatly concluding any subject within the contemporary art world. Diverse opinions that challenge my own are part of the reason I fell in love with studying art, and this blog will share of few of those points-of-view with you.

Staircase, 2010 by Verese Lazyers

I feel as though the artwork has gone topsy-turvy in recent weeks, and I sincerely wish I could attribute it to a lunar alignment. SF’s own Ritual Roasters on Valencia removed Verese Layzers photographs because they was perceived by the owner to be “too serious.” The SFist quoted an e-mail from the owner to Layzers saying art in cafes should be “fluffier stuff, stuff that doesn’t make people think about the tough questions in life.” Layzers photographic series deals with losing a loved one, and isn’t that something we can all universally relate to? It’s unclear if the owner objected to the work itself or the artist’s statement, regardless, I think Ritual Roasters patrons missed out on seeing a high quality exhibition.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in a coffee shop, casually enjoying an iced coffee, I usually take note of how incredibly mundane or tacky coffee shop art can be (not unlike paintings and photos in hotel rooms, woof!). I would enjoy seeing more works of art that challenge me, and draw me in by a greater theme. In fact, I think it would make for fabulous conversation over coffee. This particularly irks me because I recently mentioned Ritual Roasters in a previous blog post, complementing them on bring art to the general public. My opinion of Ritual Roasters still stands, but heavy sigh.

I recently finished reading Marcia Tucker’s memoir, and as the founding director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, she had seen a lot of ground-breaking, unconventional contemporary art works in her career. I agree completely with her sentiment on works of art that challenge its viewers:

The work I like most is always the art that I don’t understand—the stuff that sticks in my mind but eludes me in every other way. It nags at me, making sure that when I least expect it, it’ll interrupt my dinner or my sleep with stupid questions like, “Why do I make you uncomfortable? Why can’t you just accept me as I am? (Marcia Tucker, A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World, Prologue, page 1)

Moving on to another art world scuffle on the opposite end of the spectrum: An artist I worked with last year presented a public art installation so well-received that the idea is being stolen. Literally. I coordinated a public art program for the 2010 01SJ Biennial titled “Play Me, I’m Yours” by UK-based artist, Luke Jerram in which upright pianos are placed around cities, decorated by the community, and made available for the public to play and enjoy. The installation has traveled around the world, and shortly before the San Jose iteration of the installation, “Play Me, I’m Yours” had a brief stint in NYC. This year, New York has brought back the project, bigger and grander than ever… and dropped Luke in the process. The New York Times recently covered the issue, and I have to admit I read the article more than once because I was in such shock. Sing for Hope, a performing arts non-profit, will host another iteration of “Play Me, I’m Yours” without giving Luke any credit or consulting him on the project. There isn’t even a thinly veiled public relations campaign to convince the people that they are modifying the idea and making it their own. Same city, same project.

Removal of the mural by the Italian street artist known as Blu. Commissioned by MOCA as part of the "Art in the Streets" exhibition.

Finally, and in my opinion the most controversial event featured in this post, the censorship of art in LA. The MOCA commissioned a piece by Blu, a notable street artist, for the “Art in the Streets” show that has garnered a flurry of media attention. The LA Times reported that the anti-war mural was painted over by the very institution that commissioned it. It’s no secret to anyone that Blu has an anti-capitalistic bent to his work, and this particular work certainly sparks further investigation and reflection. At the very least, I think the MOCA could have moderated a discuss on the work even if they were committed to removing it. Maybe the fleeting existence of the physical work only goes to serve Blu’s agenda on the relationship between money, power and influence.

Art is inherently emotional, and when it comes to expressing our feelings about a work of art, there is no wrong answer. I’ve always been of the opinion that the greatest works of art the take ideas you’re uncomfortable with and shove them underneath your noise so you can’t help by confront them. Similarly, I find value in works of art that I don’t find immediately aesthetically pleasing (the phrase “aesthetically pleasing” also opens up a whole new can of worms when it comes to debates about art and its function). I’ll wrap up this post with a quote from Leo Steinberg, “If a work of art disturbs you, it probably a good work. If you hate it, it’s probably great.”

I’ll turn it over to you Artlarking readers, what do you think?

Featured Artist: Kristen “Bug Lady” Rieke

Kristen Rieke

Kristen Rieke is undoubtedly an artist to watch. Her series on the role of the bumble bee in our environment has earned her the affectionate nickname, “The Bug Lady.” Her work is technically masterful and beautiful, we can’t wait to share it with you at the upcoming “Neon Nature and New Currency” show on June 4th at the Box Factory. Until then, w invite you to get getter acquainted with Kristen. If you’re an artist who would like to collaborate with her in the future, look her up at

When did you realize your artistic talent? What that the same time you realized you wanted to be an artist?

I am pretty certain I tapped into my artistic talent at the age of 6. My sister, my best friend, and I would spend hours in my forest-clearing-like backyard constructing intricate and functional houses for fairies. We would turn flowers, sticks, leaves, and grasses into tiny furniture, lamps, and structures. It was awesome. We never took any pictures of them, though–what a mistake! However, we did document them and the fairies that would inhabit them using drawings in consecrated composition notebooks. I didn’t decide to be an artist at the time (I decided to become one during my sophomore year of college), but come on, my parents probably saw that coming every since the miniature-house-building obsession. (of note: my best friend who was involved, Cassidy, has also become an artist, and my sister has become a woodworker. Coincidence?)

"Honeybee, Preserved." Oil on panel with cast resin, 19"x19," 2011.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Well, the fairy houses are a great source of inspiration. I still carry out similar activities each time I go hiking or exploring. I also find inspiration in old National Geographic magazines, the woods of the Northwest and Northern California, and at the Farmer’s Market.

Are there any artists in particular who have inspired you?

Yes. My fellow Santa Clara University Art Majors are one hundred percent inspiring. So is my friend and mentor, Aleksandra Zee; she creates amazing mixed media installations, and continually inspires and pushes me to become a better and more adventurous artist!

What do you want people to take away from seeing your work at the Box Factory?
I would like to prompt people to walk outside with no purpose other than to explore, look down and around, and experience the rewarding task of loving the intricate creations made by our friends, the insects! I also would like to inspire them to find some beekeepers to hang out with.

What is your preferred medium: paining, mix media or installation?

I love painting on wood panel. It is so great how the raw wood sucks in the oil, and then you can sand things away  that you messed up on, and later act like it was on purpose.

Untitled collaborative piece using Katie's photograph, rice paper/wire honeycombs, and actual wasp's nest, beeswax, and a found shadowbox (thanks to Renee Billingslea!)

Has collaboration ever played a role in your work?
Yes. Most of the mixed media pieces I have created have involved collaboration with other artists and friends, especially those who just enjoy making things. My boyfriend, Christian, deserves one hundred pats on the head for being willing to help me do things like cast giant pieces of resin and dragging huge branches into small indoor spaces.

If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would like to somehow collaborate with Jo Whaley; she embodies a lost art with her Cabinets of Curiosity, and makes these into beautiful dioramas and photographs. I also know that she, too, is a finder and collector, which would be a fun activity to do together.

Do you have any works in progress you’re excited about?
I am in the middle of creating some great vandyke prints on used coffee filters. I really love the way they look; I have been either sewing them together or putting them inside 3-dimensional wooden frames shaped like honeycombs that I build.

Thanks, Kristen!

Featured Artist: Cole Willsea, Connoisseur of Collage

Cole Willsea

Cole Willsea is a visual artist featured in Artlarking’s upcoming show “Neon Nature and New Currency.” Here’s a sneak peak of his work and what he’s all about.

When did you realize your artistic talent? What that the same time you realized you wanted to be an artist?

When I was a kid and we had to write about what we wanted to be when we grew up I always picked graphic designer even though I didn’t really know what that meant and it ended up sticking with me in some form.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Inspiration comes and goes, I tend to work in quick bursts of activity amid long periods of idleness. Art blogs and Flickr are both good places to discover new techniques and styles, but the direct inspiration for any work usually comes from the images being manipulated.

Are there any artists in particular who have inspired you?

Marcel Duchamp and Kanye West.

What do you want people to take away from seeing your work at the Box Factory?

The distinction between nature and culture is cultural, not natural, and is thus subject to change.

Would you say you’re more of a visual artist or a musician these days?

I’m definitely more of a visual artist at the moment. About a year ago I felt like I hit a wall with music where all I could do was repeat myself, and around the same time the music scene in Santa Cruz was falling apart due to everyone moving to Oakland. It’s nice to be able to switch between creative pursuits, and what I learn from one often teaches me something about the other.

Has collaboration ever played a role in your work?

Only in the sense that I’m basically collaborating with the people who created the books and magazines I’m using, though I’d like to work more directly with photographers.

If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

I would have Werner Herzog narrate a series of collages with an absurd amount of the Ken Burns effect applied.

Dodge, collage 2011

Do you have any works in progress you’re excited about?

I’m working on collages of beer cans and whiskey bottles for an eventual party-themed art show.

Why collage? How did you get in to that and where do you find your best materials?

To be perfectly honest, I’m terrible at drawing and painting.  I’ve been making collages for as long as I can remember, but it probably started in grade school art classes. Santa Cruz has a large “free-pile” culture going on and I’ve been lucky enough to find multiple collections of magazines on the street. My most recent works come from a box of National Geographic magazines that were inexplicably found in my recycling bin.

Intrigued by Cole’s work? Come see it in person and have a chat with him yourself at Artlarking’s “Neon Nature and New Currency” show Saturday, June 4 at the Box Factory.

artMRKT: Connecting with Expansive Art Communities

artMRKT, San Francisco Concourse Center. May 21, 2011.

I spent part of my weekend representing ZER01 at artMRKT, a large scale fine air fair at the Concourse Center in San Francisco. I only attended one of the three days, but would have needed the entire weekend to see everything artMRKT had to offer.

There were many recognizable Bay Area fine art galleries representing equally notable artists. In addition, there were a handful of galleries from New York, Miami, and even one from London exhibiting their world class artists.

However, what struck me about artMRKT just as much as the notable artworks were the people!

The people in attendance were not just collectors, curators and gallerists. On the contrary, I observed people of all ages, backgrounds and interests flooding in to the Concourse Center.

The common denominator was that most people came to spend a day being surrounded by artworks they wouldn’t normally have access to while spending time with friends and fellow art lovers. A few people I chatted with at the ZER01 table expressed a desire to be more connected in the San Francisco art scene. I spoke with a number of people who had come up from Los Angeles for the weekend, and even a few who were transplants from LA trying in search of SF’s artistic communities.

We’ve all felt the same way at some point in time. We know San Francisco has a lot of offer, but where are the answers? Artlarking is getting at the heart of that matter, and hopes to connect more and more people who have a shared love of the arts and collaboration.

The cure for feeling disconnected from your SF art scene? I was happy to give out the prescription this weekend: Get connected with Artlarking and make it to artMRKT next year. There are plenty of people there just like you.

Ode to the Flashmob

The media started covering the flashmob craze in the early 00’s, and has since exploded as a pop culture phenomenon. Flashmobs could be inspired acts of random fun created with the intention of bringing a moment of enjoyment to those passer-by’s. Flashmobs are public performances choreographed in advance and executed at random in a prominent public place.

If you haven’t participated in one yourself, odds are you’ve seen one or know someone who has. A seemingly spontaneous large scale performance unexpectedly erupts and it is over just as quickly as it began,df leaving both the participants and the audience to return to life as usual. Thanks to the Internet, these once-in-a-lifetime performances are captured on film and archived for out viewing pleasure. Flashmobs have become so commonplace that they were featured on recent episodes of ABC’s Modern Family and Fox’s Glee.

As any art historian knows, the evolution of the flashmob arguably starts with the Guerrilla Girls. Established in 1985 in New York City, a group of anonymous females took to the streets to exposed discrimination and sexism in a blunt and clever manner. They brought awareness to the public via posters, billboards, stickers, appearances (outfitted in gorilla masks) and more. They used provocative images and humor to encourage discussion on serious issues, and their success was due largely by their approach: reaching out to people in their every day lives where they’d least expect it. They cornered the market on memorable and meaningful public messages.

"Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" Copyright © 1989, 1995 by Guerrilla Girls

Perhaps the Guerrilla Girls are responsive for inspiring the term guerrilla marketing. In recent years, flashmobs have been appropriated as a form of viral marketing. Large groups of people get together, do a little dance, sing a universally know song, and BAM! You come to find out this flashmob was brought to you courtesy of a corporate sponsorship. I don’t think this is at all what the Guerilla Girls had in mind, and I’m sure wherever they are they’re reveling in the poetic irony.

T-mobile took advantage of the flashmob craze by sponsoring a performance in the Liverpool Street tube station in London:

Regardless of the intent behind them, Flashmob videos quickly go viral, as evidenced by the number of hits on Improv Everywhere videos. Frozen in Grand Central Station is one of my favorites (currently bosts nearly 29 million views!):

San Francisco gets in on the action with it’s annual Valentine’s Day Pillowfight:

Use Artlarking’s Creative Classifieds or to organize your own flashmob.

Update: Just can’t wait to be part of a flash mob, you SF folks are in luck! Friday, April 22 at noon in Union Square: Join in and be part of the flashmob kick-off event for Bay Area National Dance Week. (Thank you to Maureen for writing in about this!)

Event on the horizon: artMRKT

The inaguaral artMRKT art fair is just around the corner on May 19 – 22 at the Concourse Center in San Francisco. Art Daily raves that the event will be a premier international art fair features work from both Bay Area and international artists and galleries.

The opening preview on May 19 from 5:30-7:30pm benefits the Art Program of UCSF Mission Bay.

I’ll be there volunteering with ZER01, an arts non-profit behind the 01SJ Biennial. The folks at ZER01 are curating an installation that includes pieces from Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao’s “Dress Tents: Nomadic Wearable Architecture” project.


The "Ice Queen: Glacier Retreat Dress Tent" will be present at artMRKT. This piece is part of Robin Lasser and Adrienne Pao's "Dress Tents: Nomadic Wearable Architecture" project. Image © Robin Lasser.

Don’t miss out! Get your tickets here!

ATTN ARTISTS!: They’re still taking submissions. Get your application in today.

The many manifestations of public art in San Francisco.

Clarion Alley Mural, between Mission and Valencia and between 17th and 18th. Mission District. Photo © Ingrid Taylar.

When it comes to public art in San Francisco, it’s difficult to find a place to start—public art surrounds us. Although this post will focus on public art in San Francisco, it’s important to note that the Bay Area at large is home to hundreds to public art initiatives; we are incredibly lucky to live in such a culturally and artistically rich region.

I discussed galleries and alternative exhibition spaces and the implications for artists and their audiences in my previous blog post, but this post will dig a little deeper at these relationships once art is presented in the public sphere.

The concept of public art may be one dimensional at first glance, but in fact, it is rife with inter-connected dialogues. Many people assert that public art serves a decorative purpose, whereas other insist public art is defined by engagement at the local level. In a recent SF Examiner article, Susan Kennedy, South City’s interim recreation manager, insisted, public art promotes a “feeling of a well-rounded community,” and it “enhance parks, open space and buildings.”

Is it intrinsically valuable? Should it be subsidized, protected, and/or initiated by the city government? The spectrum of opinions on public art is as varied as the artworks themselves.

Not everything about public art work is lovely and unwaveringly optimistic. There is the dark side of the public art force: vandalism. Living in an urban environment, we’re no stranger to graffiti, but I can’t help but take offense when I see a beautiful work of art riddled with illegible tags.

I doubt many people would disagree with that sentiment. However, my inner devil’s advocate has to ask: Is it detrimental to public art or is it an alternative artistic expression?

Regardless of what you’d call it, there is always a cost.

This SFGate article speaks to the cost of these acts of vandalism, “alternative forms of artistic expression,” or whatever you want to call it: “It’s a growing concern because the commission has a mere $15,000 of its $11 million yearly budget to clean up the tags, carvings and other unwanted artistic contributions to the 3,500-piece, $90 million collection.” I’m all for personal expression, but caving your initials into a sculpture or tagging a mural just down right costs too much. The funds the city uses to repair public art works could be better spent elsewhere, in my opinion.

Lets transition away from the issues at hand and look at some art.  Here are a few of my favorite and notable public art works in SF (both present and future):

Tim Hawkinson, "Untitled" - Courtesy of the artist and Pelli Clarke Pellie Architects

The San Francisco Art Commission champions a number of arts initiatives around the city including public art. Recently the SFAC commissioned a mosaic to be installed in the maternity ward at San Francisco General Hospital (project for 2015).  Most recently, the SFAC announced the commissioning a 41-foot figural sculpture by Tim Hawkinson at the new Transbay Transit Center made from pieces of the demolished Transbay Terminal. Tim Hawkinson describes it as, “a guardian figure marking the intersection or transition of a journey.”

Artlarking centers around collaboration, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a collaborative public art work by the SFAC. Take a look at this video discussing the “Valencia Street Posts” installation by Michael Arcega:

While walking to the starting line of Bay to Breakers or riding Muni to Pac Bell Park, we’ve all seen Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s “Cupid’s Span” at Rincon Park. It was commissioned by D&DF Foundation and installed in November 2002.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s "Cupid's Span" at Rincon Park. Stainless steel, structural carbon steel, fiber-reinforced plastic, cast epoxy, polyvinyl chloride foam; painted with polyester gelcoat 64 ft. x 143 ft. 9 in. x 17 ft. 3/8 in.

Get out and take a self-guided tour of public art works in SOMA with a friend or a date.

Grace Cathedral indoor and outdoor labyrinths are an interactive artwork that visitors might overlook. The outdoor labyrinth is available 24 hours a day. The design is ornate, hypontic even. I love decorative, interactive and meditative qualities.

There is a wealth of public art all around the city, get out and enjoy it!

The Politics of the White Cube: A Call for Alternative Exhibition Spaces in SF

The New Saatchi Gallery. London, UK.

Have you ever walked into an art gallery and had the feeling that you’d crossed the threshold of a tomb? The sterile white walls and the hushed whispers demarcate a sacred space. This territory is known only as “the white cube.”

We all know the formula: white walls + appropriately spaced framed artwork + title cards = reserved artistic space that inherently warrants out respect. We slowly and reverently walk from piece-to-piece, our hands clasped, pausing only briefly to tilt our heads contemplatively. We mutter in agreement about the use of color to the companion(s) we brought along with us. We observe cultural rules and etiquette surrounding gallery spaces, but why?

The answer is as complex as the question, but what I want to highlight is the counter-movement that has challenged the conventions and expectations of the white cube.

I am a proponent of democratization of art. Put simply, I think a diverse artworks should be readily available to the public with all pretense left behind.

Alternative exhibition spaces allow people to interact with art on a more personal level without feeling self-conscious about their opinion; my experience with many commercial galleries is that if you don’t have a certain look (read: don’t look like you have money to spend on art), then you’re readily dismissed.

Our comrades in arms in Chicago have flourishing do-it-yourself communities who have crafted a brilliant and accessible alternative: apartment galleries. People exhibit art in their living spaces, post hours when they’ll be at home, and open their doors to the public.

San Francisco, I love you, but you’re bringing me down. If there are unconventional exhibition spaces out there, they aren’t making nearly enough noise! San Francisco is seven square miles of artistic potential that has only been partially tapped.

Bottom line: Exhibition spaces around the city have to make a choice: they either exhibit cutting-edge pieces or they create a revolutionary space. It’s my observation that they gravitate towards the former, and thereby leaving the realm on unconventional exhibition space wide open for anyone brave enough to take a chance.

There are plenty of galleries who showcase emerging artists working with experimental materials and ideas, however many of these venues still align themselves with white cube conventions. Why aren’t more venues and individuals taking risks?

The following spaces and others like them arguably have a corner on the market for accessible alternative exhibitions:

– The Shooting Gallery and White Walls, both owned by Justin Giarla, that are committed to showcasing emerging artists and a variety of mediums. The name White Walls critiques the notion of a conventional art space… but does this space do much to subvert the norm? Sure, the art that has been exhibited is far from mainstream, but do the bones of the structure support the reform that its name suggests?

The SUB: The SUB has been a great friend to Artlarking in the past, and has opened its doors to a number of collaborative efforts.
Incline Gallery: Home of the San Pancho Art Collective. This architecturally quirky space also strives to nurture Bay Area artists.


I would particularly like to point out the burgeoning culture in cafes that exhibit art. Places like Ritual Roasters, Four Barrel, and The Summit SF showcase local artists, and when it comes to democratization of art, this is a great jumping off point. There are people out there who do not actively search for the next hip art opening, but they do enjoy their morning cup of coffee. These caffeine-hungry individuals should have access to art without having to search near and far. Additionally, a number of salons around the city have begun exhibiting artwork. I’d also like to mention the success of the Lower Haight art walks; hundreds of people attend and enjoy the casual spaces where they can see the work of emerging artists, socialize, and have a great time.

The point is, there is an audience that is ready and eager for spaces that diverge from the cold, formulaic, and exclusive white cube aesthetic.

If you know of any unconventional exhibition spaces around the Bay Area, please leave a comment. Let’s get this conversation started.