I have few predictions to make about the coming year in Bay Area visual arts, which is actually a good thing. Exhibitions and spaces that were backlogged due to the pandemic seem to have cleared their schedules, so there will be less phrases like “long-awaited” and “much-delayed” in my 2023 introductory paragraphs.
Looking ahead a few months into the future, there’s plenty of excitement to be had: new spaces, new commissions from local artists and large-scale attention given to pivotal, yet lesser-known figures in visual art. This is a mere sampling of all that’s in store — if you put “see more art” on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you’re in luck.
Edge on the Square, 800 Grant Ave., San Francisco
Jan. 13–May 31
Following up on last year’s Neon Was Never Brighter, a daylong contemporary arts festival that filled the streets and venues of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative presents its first exhibition at Edge on the Square (so named for being just up the street from Portsmouth Square). Learning to Land, organized by Edge on the Square’s head curator Candace Huey, features work from Benjamen Chinn, Gao Ling, Lenore Chinn, Sasinun Kladpetch and Sherwin Rio. In the spirit of crossing paths and meaningful exchange, the show includes a conceptual shop that invites visitors to share their personal experiences of Chinatown in “tangible or intangible forms” (say, a story), which can then be swapped for an item from the shop.
Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, San Francisco
Jan. 13–March 12
Fort Mason’s Gallery 308 will once again fill with an ambitious installation, this time courtesy of local artist Sunny A. Smith, who utilizes their own family history and the objects passed down through generations to create a new material legacy. The Compass Rose combines several major new pieces alongside work from the past two decades, highlighting objects made through apprenticeships and collaborations with traditional crafts practitioners. For Smith, the process of learning and making in these old, slower ways becomes an act of repair — directly addressing the trauma their ancestors experienced and their family’s role in this country’s colonial history. But there’s a magical element here as well, with heirlooms recast as instruments of spiritual communication and time travel.
When Cloaca Projects closed last April, it left a shed-sized hole in our Bay Area visual art scene, one that was both welcoming and experimental, a rare combination in a field that can be as alienating as it is beautiful. Great news: the team behind Cloaca (marcella faustini and Charlie Leese) is curating the first show of the year for / (aka Slash), featuring works by Mathew Kneebone, Most Dismal Swamp and local radio stations. The show’s title comes from a book by the artist Derek Jarman, a narrative about the “power and shortcomings of infrastructures” and their effect on cultural communities. As a bonus, a small accompanying show will open the same day with paintings by Mark T. Duffy, alongside an exhibition and reading room curated by PJ Gubatina Policarpio in /’s library.
For nearly 50 years, San Francisco artist Beth Van Hoesen lived and worked in the Castro neighborhood, where she hosted a drawing circle for local artists (many now household names) to work from a live model. Today, Van Hoesen, who died in 2010, is primarily known as a printmaker, but she continued her practice of portraiture throughout her career, turning her attention in the ’80s and ’90s to the people of the Castro, including the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and the emerging punk scene. These drawings are delicate and precise — almost scientific — renderings of piercings, bold makeup and, sometimes, individual strands of vibrant pink hair.
To mark Anthony Meier’s move from Pacific Heights to Mill Valley, the gallery’s first exhibition in its new location looks to Marin County’s rich artistic history. Spanning the 1940s to the 1970s, the show includes Bay Area favorite Etel Adnan, for whom Mount Tamalpais was a frequent subject and muse. Other artists in the group show include JB Blunk, Jess Collins, Jay DeFeo, Luchita Hurtado, David Ireland and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. The move doubles the gallery’s square footage, which should yield even more ambitious installations from contemporary artists in the years to come.
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
Feb. 4–July 23
Fresh on the heels of their Alison Knowles retrospective, BAMPFA honors yet another worthy living artist with an Amalia Mesa-Bains retrospective, tracing over three decades of the 79-year-old artist’s career as a leading figure of Chicanx art. Featuring several of her well-known “altar-installations,” the show will also include multimedia work, prints and books, along with the premiere of a new short documentary directed by Ray Telles. Throughout her career, Mesa-Bains has made tangible and visible the contributions of women, immigrants and people of color to our collective histories. It’s beyond time that work was gathered in one place for concentrated, well-deserved attention.
Los Angeles artist Anna Sew Hoy brings her recent multimedia work to SFMOMA for the museum’s “New Work” series, showing sculptural installations made from clay arches, found metal cages and everyday objects (like keys, denim scraps, device charging cables). The resulting artworks look like beautifully chaotic enrichment environments for animals in dire need of stimulation, which is perhaps a fitting description for the state of humanity these days.
Care about what’s happening in Bay Area arts? Stay informed with one email every other week—right to your inbox.