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Moving and Shaking: Potrero Art Walk

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It was a gloriously warm day, the kind usually spent in Dolores Park or out at the beach with friends and a playful dog. By the time I arrived at 248 Utah Street in the late afternoon, the inaugural Potrero Art Walk was in full swing. White wine and water flowed heavily as visitors moved between the new digs for Catharine Clark and Brian Gross — both of which moved into the building a year after Todd Hosfelt Gallery successfully transitioned into the space — or to visit Jack Fischer or George Lawson nearby at 311 Potrero. The overall mood was joyous, giddy almost, with the recognition that the arrival of these galleries in the neighborhood represents a page turning in San Francisco’s cultural history book.

Excitement was also stirred by the work on view. Catharine Clark tapped Anthony Discenza, one of many notable artists on her roster, to organize the new space’s inaugural exhibition. The artist has stated that this adventure may be his last, but I’m hoping that he nurtures his nascent curatorial chops. As This Is the Sound of Someone Losing the Plot demonstrates, Discenza capably balances content and concept. The work of nine alumni and faculty members at California College of the Arts (CCA) was selected to address notions of slippage or (mis)translation between working and understanding.

Arash Fayez and Maya Pasternak at Catharine Clark Gallery

Of the numerous pieces displayed, those that stand out include Horizon (2011), in which Arash Fayez and Maya Pasternak attempt to communicate with one another in Farsi and Hebrew, their respective native languages, and Stephanie Syjuco’s The Precariat (2013). The two monitors on which Fayez’s video feed plays are positioned too close to one another, which makes seeing or hearing what the actors say nearly impossible, and drives home the metaphoric difficulty inherent to communication. Fayez and Pasternak seem to speak beyond, not with one other, each laboring to remain civil when frustration sets in. It’s a powerful statement about relationships, be that between countries or individuals, and the centrality of clear communication.

Stephanie Syjuco at Catharine Clark Gallery

Syjuco’s installation, created in part with material that accumulated as the gallery prepared to open in its new space, notes the often fitful, failure-laden evolution of an artist’s work. This strong group exhibition, rounded out by Kate Bonner, Lauren Marsden, Bruno Fazzolari, Josh Greene, Patricia Esquivias, and collaborators Gareth Spor and Piero Passacantando celebrates the contributions made by CCA graduates and staff and further strengthens Clark’s ties to the neighborhood.


Erin Lawlor at George Lawson Gallery

Stefan Kúrten at Hosfelt Gallery

Brian Gross, Todd Hosfelt, George Lawson, and Jack Fischer all opted to present the work of solo artists, a more traditional offering for an early fall exhibition. George Lawson, who now has three galleries between San Francisco and Los Angeles, features the work of English painter Erin Lawlor. Representing a series of recent works, Those Hats reveals Lawlor’s interest in mark making and the canvas as subject. Todd Hosfelt, celebrating one year in the Potrero location, offers the work of Stefan Kúrten. Tonight and the Beautiful Future includes numerous large and small canvases, which fill out the near-cavernous space without crowding any single painting, and portray our obsession with “the perfect life.” Luxurious homes complemented by swimming pools and verdant grounds betray our material desires, as much as Kúrten’s dark palette colors our fears of loss and failure.

Ed Moses at Brian Gross Fine Art

Brian Gross displays the crackle paintings of Ed Moses in Yesterday’s Tomorrow. Moses, a long time fixture in the southern California art scene and an original member of the famed Ferus Art Gallery, identifies immediacy and technical and material experimentation as central to both his painting practice and professional longevity. Presently, that experimentation includes crackle painting, where primary layers of paint appear to shatter the surface, creating subtle variances in the canvas’ face. Broadly interpreted, Moses’ faith in what is revealed through trial and error syncs well with the relocation of Brian Gross Fine Art and other galleries to a mostly untested neighborhood.

Amid the party atmosphere, there was a secondary conversation taking place, one that draws attention to long-term implications of this gallery relocation. Is gentrification of another San Francisco neighborhood a concern? Possibly, given that the galleries profiled here are joined by the newly relocated Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts and the Museum of Craft and Design. The shift away from downtown will bring long overdue attention to those institutions and others, and with that could come another segment of the city gobbled up by commercial developers.

More pressing, though, is the diversity of the region’s arts community. Many of the gallerists I corresponded with noted that with SFMOMA shuttered until 2016, the likelihood of audiences spending time in the downtown arts district diminishes. This is a telling sentiment, specifically because it acknowledges what I think we’ve all known for a long time: San Francisco is a monoculture, in terms of institutional presence. While the responsibility of sustaining audience interest during SFMOMA’s absence is not the only task taken on by institutions including YBCA, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and Museum of the African Diaspora, it is a primary concern. Though it is too soon to tell what museums will make use of this opportunity, the programs and exhibitions so far offered leave much to be desired. Grumbling aside, this moment belongs to the gallerists who took the initiative in shaking up the San Francisco art scene. Congratulations and best wishes to all!

Exhibitions at 248-260 Utah Street and 311 Potrero are on view through the end of October, 2013. For more information, visit Brian Gross Fine Art, Catharine Clark Gallery, George Lawson Gallery, Hosfelt Gallery, and Jack Fischer Gallery.

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