You may not have noticed the storefront at the intersection of 20th and Folsom. No signage announces its presence. Press your face against the window and look in on a well-designed space that is both spare and elegant: polished concrete floors and pristine white walls. Fancy.
This is the San Francisco branch of the Paris-based Kadist Art Foundation. Run by program director Joseph del Pesco and program manager Devon Bella, Kadist SF is a remarkably unpretentious gathering place, given its outward austerity.
Since it opened in March, Wednesday nights here have seen everything from screenings and book readings to ping pong matches and performances. In contrast to these lively events, on Saturdays between 11am and 5pm, the space morphs into a reading room. With two tables flanked by benches and magazine racks leaning casually against the walls, the Kadist Reading Room is a mecca for those interested in perusing hard-to-find English-language arts magazines from around the world.
Bella and del Pesco, who formulated the idea for the Reading Room during Southern Exposure's October 2010 Art Publishing Now summit, maintain a narrow curatorial focus rather than stock every arts publication under the sun. The resulting inventory ranges from slick quarterlies to hand-folded zines, most sourced from the Vancouver branch of Motto, a like-minded publications distributor. What they demonstrate in combination, however, is the possibility of tapping into the interests and opinions of local art communities at a different level than that provided by, say, Artforum.
The Reading Room's offerings include, among many others, Bidoun, covering arts and culture from the Middle East, Average, a local effort produced by San Francisco artist Kate Pocrass, and Mousse, a bimonthly Italian tabloid. These three magazines have little in common, except for the fact that I chanced on them all during visits to the Reading Room and will continue to read them there.
The Kadist Reading Room provides an uncluttered space for quiet discovery, encouraging visitors to browse, read and, most importantly, linger. "I meant to stop in for 15 minutes and the next thing I knew, an hour had gone by," said first-time visitor Carey Lin. The significance of lingering is twofold. Firstly, it facilitates accidental exposure to unexpected images and ideas -- exactly what is lost when information comes from all too familiar sources. Secondly, as you linger within the public reading space, you become part of a community of your own making. Stay long enough and you will strike up a conversation with a stranger or run into someone you know, I guarantee it.
Moving forward, Bella says, "Our goals are to increase readership and promote the printed page in the sphere of contemporary art as a primary medium of engagement." You need not abandon San Francisco, the Reading Room demonstrates, to participate in a wider field of contemporary art.
While it may seem difficult to stop by the Kadist Reading Room with so many other demands on your precious weekend hours, it's well worth a visit. Hours pass leisurely, yet you will leave inspired and excited, urging friends to join you next week. Complimentary coffee, homemade cake and the sound of turning pages await you.
The Kadist Reading Room will continue every Saturday through the end of July, resuming Saturday, September 10, 2011. For more information visit kadist-sf.org.