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.

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.