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SF’s Hardest-Partying Gallery Turns 30, Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

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Two photos side by side. The one on the right shows a large gallery space full of people mingling. The one on the left shows a smiling Black man with bald head and grey beard, holding up three fingers on both hands. Art hangs on the wall behind him.
(L) 111 Minna co-owner David Scott Mabry curated the gallery's 30th anniversary exhibition, (R) A typical 111 Minna opening party. (Courtesy of 111 Minna/ Instagram @111minnagallery)

The first time I set foot in 111 Minna was the first time I realized there were galleries that catered to delinquents. That night in downtown San Francisco 21 years ago, the venue was packed wall-to-wall with skaters, bike messengers, punks, hip-hoppers and graffiti crews. Huddled outside in the alley were small groups of twenty-somethings, smoking weed and brown-bagging tall cans. It was the very first time I’d ever been in a gallery where I felt at home, where I actually had fun, and where I responded with visceral enthusiasm to the art. Like so many other people I met that night, I have been going back to 111 Minna ever since.

Against a lot of odds, 111 Minna is turning 30 this month and, in honor of the anniversary, a new group exhibit is on display at the spacious, two-bar gallery. The new show reflects exactly the kind of work that Minna has always embraced: Art that appreciates and elevates street culture, and art that reflects San Francisco’s diverse array of underground communities. Appropriately, the collection features works by many of the artists who have faithfully shown — and grown their audiences — at Minna over the years: Jeremy Fish, Sam Flores, Lady Mags, Mike Giant, Alec Huxley, Amandalynn, Winston Smith, Henry Lewis, Dave Schubert and many more.

(L) White artwork on a black background featuring a cocktail with a man's face on it, backed by a pencil and paintbrush crossed behind it. There is a drawing hand coming out of the top of the glass with wings spread out either side. Atop the hand is a hat with a fish face emerging from the top of it. A banner at the bottom of the painting says '111 Minna.' (R) A black and white diagram of a black skateboard featuring a skull and a rose.
(L) A Jeremy Fish piece designed to celebrate 111 Minna’s 30th anniversary, (R) A skateboard diagram drawn by Mike Giant at the gallery 13 years ago. (Courtesy of 111 Minna/ Rae Alexandra)

Michelle Delaney, Minna’s events manager, has been working at the gallery since starting as a bartender in 2000. She thinks the trust that Minna’s roster of regular artists places in the gallery is rooted in the principles laid out by its founder, Eiming Jung. Delaney says that Jung — an artist and UC Berkeley graduate who opened Minna in 1993 — succeeded early because he “never tried to hold on to artists and represent them. All he tried to do was support them and lift them up [and] give them the freedom to fly. He wanted them to be able to be successful.”

Delaney says the “original culture” set by Jung — who departed 111 Minna five years ago to live in Cambodia — “is what still makes this place strong.” She points to the fact that a great many of Minna’s patrons, many of whom first heard about the place by word of mouth, have been hanging around the venue for years now.

Four photos arranged in a square. They show (1) a man with his pants around his ankles standing in a doorway, showing off a speedo while a friend gestures wildly next to him. (2) A white man with a grey beard stands in a busy gallery with a shorter Asian man at his side. They both look very happy. (3) Three men in very colorful jackets lined up against a wall, as if they're being arrested. (4) A heavily tattooed white woman sits and paints, smiling for the camera.
(Top, L): Artists Nate Geare and Carlile Ralph Browne horsing around in the 111 Minna doorway, (R) Artists Jeremy Fish and Kim Cogan at 111 Minna’s 30th anniversary opening. (Bottom, L): Artists at one of 111 Minna’s ‘Sketch Tuesday’ events line up to show off their hand-painted jackets, (R) Artist Denise T. Pinto hard at work in the gallery. (Courtesy of 111 Minna/ Instagram @111minnagallery)

“This was always a place for people to find their community and their friends and their home,” Delaney explains. “It was always a place for all of us weirdos to find each other. We still live by the inclusivity that Eiming encouraged. We want to celebrate all of the artists too — musicians, poets, dancers, comedians. Having a gathering place for all of these alternative communities is amazing.”

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Delaney is not exaggerating. The first night I went to 111 Minna, I was only there because the art opening doubled as a hip-hop show. In the years since, the venue has held a plethora of live music during exhibits, warrior dance classes during happy hour and even yoga classes during lunch — some of which were taught by Delaney herself.

“With all of the dance parties we’ve had here and all of the fun we’ve had,” Delaney notes, “it’s amazing to me that people always protect the art. Regardless of what’s going on in here, the art never gets hurt. People are totally respectful. The art has been really cared for by everyone who comes here because people feel like [111 Minna is] their home — because it is.”

A panoramic realistic painting of a downtown San Francisco alleyway. A small child dressed as an astronaut stands across the street from a building with red doors.
The setting for ‘Past Life Experience’ by Alec Huxley is the alley outside 111 Minna and the gallery’s signature red doors. (Courtesy of 111 Minna)

Staying open for three decades is an especially extraordinary feat for a gallery that, in its earliest days, was looked down upon by other art spaces for being too hedonistic, too much of a wildcard and, frankly, too lowbrow. Pre-pandemic, Minna served as a popular coffee spot for surrounding office workers, but the cafe has not reopened post-shutdown because of the dwindling foot traffic downtown. These days, the reason 111 Minna is still able to put on events with a more underground flavor is because it’s also willing to host one-off corporate gatherings and parties.

Delaney is thrilled that 111 Minna hasn’t just managed to survive all of this time, but to thrive too.

“I would like 111 Minna to go on forever,” she says. “San Francisco needs these staples, these jewels, these beacons of community. They’re the reason people come to San Francisco in the first place. I want to be buried here.” Delaney pauses then smiles. “We drank a lot, we partied hard, but we loved life and we made it through.”

111 Minna’s ‘30 Anniversary Show,’ curated by David Scott Mabry, is on display through Jan. 12, 2024.

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