Curating the city

CAREERS + ED ISSUE: Gallery evictions signal a major shift in the art world, with the technology boom serving as the problem and its potential solution

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Trish and Rena Bransten at the Rena Bransten Gallery on Market Street
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MIKE KOOZMIN

art@sfbg.com

Geary Boulevard runs almost the entire length of San Francisco, beginning in the middle of the Financial District, at the historic Lotta's Fountain. Along the first few blocks of one of the city's longest streets — amid a bustling community of corporate offices, luxury boutiques, and specialty coffee houses — the city oldest established art galleries have thrived. But that's changing.

Three art galleries used to share the second floor of 77 Geary. Now, it is headquarters of a technology firm. Rena Bransten Gallery, George Krevsky Gallery, and Accession Gallery were sent eviction notices in January, forced out by the expansion of the building's fourth floor tenants, MuleSoft. The software and consulting company offered to pay double the art galleries' rent. When a counter-offer was too costly for the gallery owners, the art spaces were forced to relocate or close indefinitely.

News of the eviction of these three galleries broke in January, inciting an outcry about affordability and displacement caused by the tech industry, an all-too-common San Francisco narrative these days. These galleries were forced out of a space they had occupied for decades, a space where they had cultivated a community of artists and art-lovers alike, a place where the two could easily connect.

The affordability and displacement crisis is not news to San Francisco. With stores closing and opening daily and eviction notices sent out left and right, the fodder for concern about the changing face of the city is inexhaustible.

>>READ OUR FULL CAREERS AND ED ISSUE: HOW TO SURVIVE AS AN ARTIST HERE

What's worrisome about the 77 Geary gallery evictions is not so much the evictions themselves, but rather what it means for the future of art in San Francisco. Galleries serve as a gathering space for artists to sell art and for the community to appreciate it. Without the walls of a gallery, where will artists sell their work? How do we continue the thriving community of artists and art lovers? And most importantly, what will become of the art world as we move towards an increasingly digital world?

 

GALLERIES AS INCUBATORS

Public art museums, or art galleries, have been around since the late 1700s. For centuries, they've functioned as hubs of culture where art is not simply sold, but appreciated. Over time, commercialization has plagued the art world, artists and art galleries alike have had to focus on sales over building a culture and a community. In the past few years, gallerists have seen the landscape of the art world shift so dramatically that they've been unable to keep up.

"Local galleries are under assault," Trish Bransten, director of Rena Bransten Gallery, tells the Guardian. This 27-year-old gallery on Geary was run by a mother and daughter team. They recently relocated to 1639 Market St, a townhouse-like space that recently the public. The white walls stretch up two floors, with a loft in the back. There's potential here, Trish says, despite the 1,100- square-foot gallery being a quarter the size of its previous location. The five-woman staff sits in a circle, comfortably discussing the changing art scene over martinis.

What they describe as an "assault" comes from different angles. The Mulesoft eviction was an easy target for pinning the blame on technology companies, but the problem lies deeper that. It's been 20 years since the World Wide Web was introduced to the public and some industries are seeing consequences only now.

The digitization of our lives has had a profound effect on the art world. Similar to when the Internet upturned the journalism and publishing industries, the art industry is struggling to move forward in the digital world — all these content providers forced to find new ways to reach their audiences.

Comments

Which is pretty much the crux of it. There was an article last year in the East Bay Express about "The Bacon-Wrapped Economy" wherein young tech workers weren't interested in philanthropy because they wanted to party with their money now and seemed only interested in investing in things that would benefit them directly and immediately. In the old days we referred to that as "New Money." Old money donates, New Money doesn't.

That said, art is just not valued anymore. Anyone can go online and find a painting of Super Mario sitting on the Game of Thrones throne, send it to a print shop and get it hung in their living room. YouTube has had a similar downward shift on the quality of video that people consume - the standards are simply far lower because most people don't care very much.

The value in art galleries was in curating - you'd see the best of the best, and owning a piece of that which would appreciate in value was something of a competition and a point of pride amongst art collectors. That doesn't exist anymore, especially because people aren't interested in art that challenges them as much as they're interested in art that reflects specifically what they want to see on a wall.

People have choices online. And in the end, most people simply don't care enough to value what curated art collections, music collections, video collections or whatever else have to offer. Film festivals are suffering the same way, because people are content to consume the media that's most convenient to them, rather than go out of their way to find something curated and challenging.

Posted by bassguitarhero on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 11:06 am

Galleries are among the best commercial tenants to help accelerate gentrification.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 11:11 am

We should like make rules about art and stuff. Because it's like, important and stuff. Diversity.

Posted by Eunice on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 11:41 am

"There's a lot of heat coming down on the tech industry, but the anger against it can be a distraction. It's really up to us to curate this city." blah blah blah

Platiatues and privilege aplenty. I will tell the latin mom she need to get back to curating this city and stop whining.

Posted by GuestMax on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 9:58 pm

The landscape is certainly changing, adapting hopefully. There are others galleries and art models that are greatly successful presently however. I'd love to see a follow-on piece tracking some of those that were evicted, as we'll hear more of what made ones like Jeremy Sutton successful (I know he's embraced technology to push what he does in and around the art world for at least a decade and I'm sure he's not alone.) As we'll is there a new price point being driven for motivated and talented individual artists who understand the need to blend their time between both their craft and the promotion of it. I've seen smaller one person shows commanding higher dollars from the pins in the wall than in the past, does a city full of people paying $3500 for studios bat an eye when smaller works are priced 10 times higher than they were 5 years ago? Is that a bad thing? Maybe it's good the conversation has started (at the expense of some surprising evictions), is this what it takes for the industry of art to fully evolve and adapt?

Posted by SomeguyNamedTim on Apr. 09, 2014 @ 10:49 pm

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