Room for ex­pres­sion amid virus, tur­moil

De Young ex­hi­bi­tion gives 763 Bay Area artists op­por­tu­nity to show their works

San Francisco Chronicle - - DATEBOOK - By Tony Bravo

When art ther­a­pist Evri Kwong got the call that not one, but two of his drawings would be on dis­play at the de Young Mu­seum as part of a new open­sub­mis­sion ex­hi­bi­tion, he was elated.

“I’m thrilled to show at the de Young. I’m bounc­ing off the walls,” Kwong says. “It’s im­por­tant peo­ple re­spond to the world with art, es­pe­cially now that it’s such a crit­i­cal time for our na­tion.”

Kwong’s “Amer­ica, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” and “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land” are both em­blem­atic of cur­rent events. The first draw­ing de­picts ex­tremely topi­cal sub­jects — cli­mate change, protests at Stand­ing Rock, the sup­pres­sion of vot­ing rights — and jux­ta­poses them against sym­bols of Amer­i­can cul­ture, like ice cream and hot dogs. The sec­ond com­pares con­tem­po­rary im­ages of chil­dren in cages at the U.s.­mex­ico bor­der with de­pic­tions of Amer­i­can camps that in­terned Ja­panese Amer­i­cans in the 1940s.

“When the virus hap­pened I thought, ‘Do I add this?’ ” says the 58­year­old artist, a na­tive of San Fran­cisco’s Chi­na­town.

Even­tu­ally, he did de­cide to ex­pand “Land of the Free” to in­clude im­ages of re­frig­er­a­tion trucks used for stor­ing dead bod­ies as a nod to the climb­ing death rates dur­ing the cur­rent pan­demic. At a time when his own liveli­hood is be­ing im­pacted by coro­n­avirus­re­lated shut­downs, he says it felt right to sub­mit work to the mu­seum that re­flects “where we are now and who we want to be as a na­tion.”

Judg­ing by the ac­cep­tance of both Kwong works, the mu­seum agrees.

When the de Young Open sub­mis­sion process was an­nounced in March as part of the Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Fran­cisco’s 125th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion, mu­seum of­fi­cials ex­pected a siz­able re­sponse from Bay Area artists. What they got far ex­ceeded that, re­ports FAMSF ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and CEO Thomas Camp­bell.

Some 6,190 artists from the nine Bay Area coun­ties ap­plied to be part of the ex­hi­bi­tion and sent im­ages of 11,518 art­works span­ning paint­ing, draw­ing, print­mak­ing, dig­i­tal art, pho­tog­ra­phy, sculpture, fiber art and video. Af­ter be­ing eval­u­ated by cu­ra­tors and artist judges Hung Liu, Mil­dred Howard and En­rique Chagoya, 881 works cre­ated by 763 artists were se­lected.

The ex­hi­bi­tion had pre­vi­ously been sched­uled for next spring, but was moved up when the coro­n­avirus pan­demic upended the mu­seum’s sched­ule.

“I thought it was a great way to show­case talent in this area and also offer a sense of hope to the many artists here,” Howard says.

Ti­mothy Anglin Bur­gard, the FAMSF cu­ra­tor­in­charge of Amer­i­can art, says the sub­mis­sions to the de Young Open showed “the breadth and depth of artis­tic cre­ation in the Bay Area.” Dur­ing a pe­riod where many gal­leries and arts venues re­main closed, Bur­gard says it feels like an im­por­tant mo­ment to give back to artists in the re­gion.

“We wouldn’t ex­ist for 125 years with­out them and the art cre­ated by Bay Area artists,” Bur­gard says. “This ex­hi­bi­tion calls on the past and pre­sent by em­brac­ing these artists to show their work in the great­est time of need.”

The work, which will be ex­hib­ited online in ad­di­tion to the de Young’s large Herbst gal­leries on the lower level, will also be avail­able for sale with 100% of pro­ceeds go­ing di­rectly to the artists.

Even be­fore the coro­n­avirus, many artists in the Bay Area were strug­gling with the re­gion’s high cost of liv­ing and shrink­ing gallery scene. In­come from the ex­hi­bi­tion “makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween pay­ing rent and putting food on ta­ble,” for some artists, Bur­gard says.

To ac­com­mo­date the large num­ber of works, the mu­seum plans to hang the show in a sa­lon or academy style, where nu­mer­ous pieces are grouped to­gether in the nine gal­leries to best use wall space. The grouped works will then be sep­a­rated into dif­fer­ent the­matic sec­tions. The first gallery

will fea­ture works in­spired by re­cent events sur­round­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment; the sec­ond will explore art that ad­dresses the im­pact of the coro­n­avirus. Other de­lin­eat­ing themes in­clude na­ture, ab­strac­tion, fig­ures and por­traits, as well as works in­spired by sur­re­al­ism.

The ex­hi­bi­tion’s over­all theme, “On the Edge,” comes from a phrase in a tra­di­tional Ohlone song: “I am danc­ing. On the edge of the world I am danc­ing.” The theme had al­ready been cho­sen be­fore the pan­demic and the year’s so­cial ac­tivism, but evolved to fo­cus around the Bay Area’s geo­graphic lo­ca­tion on the Pa­cific Rim and the re­gion’s his­tor­i­cal rep­u­ta­tion for cutting­edge cre­ativ­ity.

“Never was a theme or idea more rel­e­vant or true,” Bur­gard says.

San Fran­cisco artist Ch­eryl Der­ri­cotte’s piece “2017 Year­at­a­glance: 214 Dead Black Men” will be in the gallery ex­plor­ing Black Lives Mat­ter. The work takes a per­sonal cal­en­dar and marks with bul­let sym­bols the days where Black men were slain. Der­ri­cotte says that although she has ex­hib­ited her work at other mu­se­ums, the de Young is among the most pres­ti­gious show­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties she’s had in her ca­reer.

“I hope it’s a partnershi­p that con­tin­ues and grows go­ing for­ward,” says Der­ri­cotte, 55.

The de Young Open will be the first time Samira Ak­bari Hozmahi presents her work in a mu­seum. The 37­year­old Academy of Art grad­u­ate’s piece “Quar­an­tine Di­ary on tea bag paper” uses 90 in­di­vid­ual tea bags com­piled as a sin­gle work to de­pict events she ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the first three months of shel­ter­ing in place. She com­pleted draw­ing on her 90th tea bag shortly be­fore the fi­nal day to sub­mit her entry.

As mu­se­ums con­tinue to be dis­rupted by the chang­ing re­al­i­ties of pan­demic life, Camp­bell and Bur­gard ac­knowl­edge that look­ing lo­cally and re­ly­ing less on trav­el­ing exhibition­s of in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous artists may be a key part of how FAMSF will move for­ward.

“Mu­se­ums have been de­pen­dent on the block­buster ex­hi­bi­tion sched­ule,” Bur­gard says. “Here we are re­lin­quish­ing that role for a more pop­ulist model that en­gages com­mu­nity.”

“There’s not ex­pected to be a big tourist au­di­ence in San Fran­cisco for two to three years,” Camp­bell adds. “In light of COVID, it’s more nec­es­sary that we reach out to peo­ple in the Bay Area and build on those re­la­tion­ships.”

Chagoya says the Bay Area is overdue for an open sub­mis­sion ex­hi­bi­tion and he hopes it can be­come a new tra­di­tion well beyond the de Young Mu­seum.

“Shows like this keep the arts ex­cit­ing and mov­ing,” Chagoya says. “Lo­cal mu­se­ums should think of do­ing some­thing beyond the walls and typ­i­cal main­stream exhibition­s try­ing to com­pete with New York. We have a lot of in­ter­est­ing artists emerg­ing from Bay Area all the time. The free­doms artists ex­pe­ri­ence here are un­like any other place.”

Camille Palmer

Evri Kwong’s “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land” will be part of the ex­hi­bi­tion. “It’s im­por­tant peo­ple re­spond to the world with art, es­pe­cially now that it’s such a crit­i­cal time for our na­tion,” Kwong says.

Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Fran­cisco

Thomas Camp­bell, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and CEO of Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Fran­cisco, said it’s nec­es­sary to “reach out to peo­ple in the Bay Area.”

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