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The Panama Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco, 1915

Just nine short years after the devastatingly destructive 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, the citizens of San Francisco transformed the marshy wetlands of what is now the city’s prestigious Marina district, which had then been serving as a post-earthquake refugee camp, into the spectacular 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), a world’s fair to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. The feat was nothing short of miraculous.

The event featured 11 exhibition palaces over 635 acres, with 21 countries represented (in addition to national and more local representation). Central to the efforts of the fair was the showcasing of art. PPIE boasted one of the largest art exhibitions ever assembled in the United States: on show in the Bernard Maybeck–designed Palace of Fine Arts and an accompanying Annex were over 11,000 works of art (11,403, to be exact)—paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs, all beautifully presented, as was discovered by the curatorial staff at the de Young when researching their upcoming exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the PPIE. “We were excited to discover several previously unknown installation views of the Palace of Fine Arts,” says James A. Ganz, the de Young show’s curator. “There has always been an assumption that the Palace was a jumbled mess, but these photographs by Gabriel Moulin reveal beautifully installed galleries.”

Additionally, there were numerous murals and 1,500 sculptures commissioned by artists from around the world, as well as artwork that was part of other exhibitions in the fair. The total number of artworks at PPIE is estimated to be around 20,000. To help make sense of this overwhelming display, there was a strong art educational component, complete with docent tours. Unsurprisingly, there was a strong emphasis on American art, but also ample offerings from Europe, which was a major accomplishment given that, during the art acquisition phase, WWI broke out, making selection and shipping of the works enormously difficult. (Although in at least one case, the fair benefitted: 39 German paintings that had been shown in Pennsylvania and were scheduled to be returned didn’t make it back, due to the international turmoil, and ended up at the fair).

There was an emphasis in the show on Impressionism, but also examples of Austrian Expressionism, Hungarian modernism, and Italian Futurism; artists from Finland, France, and Italy, among other countries, were represented, some well-known, other not. For a majority of Bay Area residents (and those on the West Coast in general), it was their first time seeing not just what was happening artistically in Europe, but elsewhere in the United States.

In all, nearly 19 million people passed through the fair and roughly half of them visited the Palace of Fine Arts, which still stands today (the other structures were destroyed). From an art and culture perspective, PPIE had such impact that Ganz has dubbed it the “Great Artquake of San Francisco.” Tremors from this quake were felt long after the fair—and are still reverberating. The French Pavilion was the inspiration behind Alma Speckels’ museum, the Legion of Honor. The Palace of Fine Arts was turned into a museum. While that museum did close in 1924, the momentum of it (albeit not continuous) would eventually result in SFMOMA. The fine art component of what would become the Oakland Museum of California (a merger of three previously independent institutions) was launched. Many pieces from the fair found their way to Memorial Museum (now the de Young), which, prior to 1915, had been the only significant art museum in the city.

PPIE had an effect on artists as well, impacting the “Society of Six,” a group of innovative Oakland-based painters that emerged in 1917. Their works can be traced to the beginning of modernism in Northern California and would go on to influence, directly or indirectly, such artists as Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and other members of the Bay Area figurative movement. Art buyers took advantage of the offerings as well: almost 1,600 pieces found homes outside the fair, with roughly 1,000 works staying in California, many of them ending up in public institutions.

To celebrate the centennial of the PPIE, numerous events and exhibitions are and will be taking place in the Bay Area throughout 2015, into 2016 (see ppie100.org), serving to demonstrate the monumentality of the fair and its enormous effect on the city. The California Historical Society is offering two exhibitions—at its downtown headquarters and at the Palace of Fine Arts—that provide an in-depth look into all aspects of the fair, including architecture and design.

Highlighting the fair’s fine art component is the highly anticipated de Young show “Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition” (opening October 17 and running through January 10, 2016). The show will feature over 200 works, most of which were shown at PPIE. Of particular note is the massive amount of research that went into creating the exhibition, the fruits of which are laid out in a thorough, copiously illustrated 400-page catalogue. “Until now, a clear understanding of the art historical significance of the PPIE has been obscured by its unwieldy scale… as well as the relative dearth of visual evidence of what was exhibited,” Ganz notes. “The contemporary catalogues and guidebooks of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs were sparsely illustrated, and few gallery interiors were photographed. The curatorial team spent several years scouring archival sources and the primary and secondary literature, as well as reaching out to auction houses, museums, and private collectors with the goal of identifying a critical mass of the works shown in 1915 to arrive at a considered and coherent selection for this restaging.”

By design, the selection of art will mirror the eclectic gathering featured at PPIE: “From the beginning I felt it was important that we should not merely assemble a group of masterpieces that have clearly stood the test of time,” Ganz states, “but that we ought to represent some of the prevailing artistic currents that include works of art by many figures who will be unfamiliar to today’s museumgoers. The curatorial challenge is to create a lucid and balanced exhibition that is true to the original experience of fairgoers in 1915. To that end, two-thirds of our show is devoted to American art, and one-third to the French Section and to the International Section.”

Of the many exceptional works that will be on show, Ganz points to a few highlights, including Umberto Boccioni’s Matter (1912), which, he states, “is a milestone of Italian Futurism.” Ganz also singles out Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Symposium (The Problem) and Mäntykoski Waterfall: “I am especially pleased to be bringing these seminal works by this important Finnish painter back to San Francisco,” Ganz says. Among other artists whose work will be on view are American artists Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler, and Thomas Eakins, and Europeans Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Oskar Kokoschka.

“Jewel City” will also show two large murals; these are of particular note because, “as original commissions for the PPIE,” says Ganz, “they are especially evocative of the exposition and the experience of fairgoers in 1915.” And finally, there will be documentation of the fair, including paintings and photographs. Among them is a photograph of the Palace of Fine Arts by then 13-year-old Ansel Adams (who skipped school for a year to regularly attend the fair). Together, these shows offer a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the tremendous impact this one (albeit sprawling) event had on the San Francisco of 100 years ago, and today.

Exterior of Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Where the old warehouses, high-tech lofts, and chic eateries of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill rub up against the gritty streets, ecstatic murals, and colorful Latino and hipster cultures of the Mission District, a burgeoning art scene is coalescing. (Notably, the Mission is also namesake to one of the city’s most recent art movements: the graffiti-/street art-driven Mission School.) Featuring both commercial galleries and new alternative spaces, this emerging arts nexus promises to bring greater visibility to the rich network of San Francisco’s more experimental visual arts talent, as well as to draw in national and international artists and projects.

The Mission/Potrero scene started to simmer visibly in 2006. That year, Eleanor Harwood–who’d been involved in the Bay Area art scene through her work curating the Adobe Books Backroom Gallery–opened her eponymous gallery at Alabama and 25th Streets. Just a few blocks away on 24th Street, Dina Pugh and Joyce Grimm took over operations at Triple Base Gallery, turning it from an organically organized artist space into a community-engaging commercial gallery. Both venues have focused on supporting emerging, often local, artists, many of whom now have strong art careers. (Zoe Crosher, who shows with Hardwood, was invited this fall to participate in the 2010 California Biennial). Also, just down from Triple Base is the forty-year-old Galeria de la Raza, a nonprofit art space focused on supporting Chicano/Latino visual, literary, and media artists. Within just over the last year, these outliers from the San Francisco’s more established downtown scene got a lot more company.

In October 2009, the thirty-six-year-old highly respected and progressive artist-run nonprofit Southern Exposure settled into its new home, a large, open, brick building, on 20th Street. It was followed in the spring of 2010 by Guerrero Gallery and then Gallery Hijinks, both just blocks away. Steven Wolf Fine Arts, which opened in September 2010 across the street from Guerrero, is the most recent addition to the neighborhood. They are all only a short jaunt from the earlier established trio (and all fairly accessible via the city’s BART train).

Guerrero Gallery interior

Each of the galleries offers a little something different. Hijinks focuses exclusively on emerging artists. “We’re only representing artists who are on their way to getting or have never had shows or just need exposure in San Francisco,” explains co-owner Jillian Mackintosh, formerly of the Tenderloin-based White Walls Gallery and then Gallery 6. “This gallery is focused on being a stepping stone into the bigger galleries.” Guerrero–run by Andres Guerrero, founder of White Walls–is also focused on emerging talent, but represents some more established artists as well. Wolf, who relocated from his spot in the premier downtown gallery building, 49 Geary, (his is the only commercial gallery to move to the area from elsewhere in the city) primarily exhibits experimental contemporary work that, as he puts it, “feels original and is hard to pin down, and even when you get a sense of what it’s about, you still marvel that someone thought of it.”

Additionally, he sees the potential to collaborate across disciplines. “Dave Eggers is in the neighborhood, and this is where Litquake [an annual literary festival] is based,” Wolf notes. “There’s this potential for there to be more of a dialogue between the literary world and the visual culture world. That’s another reason why I found this neighborhood so interesting.”

To further enhance the situation, come early March, a trio of art entities will make their home in a space at 20th and Folsom. It will house the object-based art publication The Thing, the People’s Gallery, and Kadist SF. The Thing is moving from a studio to a more public space. Co-creator Jonn Herschend, who runs the project with Will Rogan, notes that, while this new location will primarily serve as the publication’s office space, it will also be open to the public, and events will be hosted there. The People’s Gallery is an associate project of the Independent Curators International–supported People’s Biennial, a two-year traveling exhibition curated by Jens Hoffmann–who is also director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts–and artist Harrell Fletcher. The focus of the gallery and biennial is on giving exposure to outsider or underexposed artists from across the country. The People’s Gallery will feature bi-monthly solo exhibitions of work by artists featured in the biennial.

And then there’s the multifaceted Kadist, a nonprofit that originated in Paris. This space–run by independent curator and art journalist Joseph del Pesco and Devon Bella, a curator at Adobe Books backroom gallery and curatorial assistant for the 01SJ Biennial–will establish Kadist’s San Francisco presence. This local incarnation will feature a residency for curators, artists, and art publications; art collections, such as its “101 Collection,” a group of contemporary works created by artists who live within close proximity to the West Coast’s Highway 101; and twice-weekly presentations, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Wednesday offerings will include screenings, readings, performances, and the like. On Saturdays, the space will be an art magazine reading room stocked with English-language publications from all over the world.

To kick off its establishment, this 20th and Folsom crew plans to host an event on March 9, 2011; details are pending. Meanwhile, the Mission/Potrero art spaces are also coordinating an event for March featuring one-night-only happenings in each location, marking an auspicious beginning for a uniquely inventive–and truly San Francisco–art scene.

"Color & Color" Winter 2010 issue

Going the DIY route and traveling in the well-tread Bay Area tradition of  artist book production—a la Hot & Cold and One Artist One Book, among many others—artists Amanda Curreri and Erik Scollon (both represented by SF–based Ping Pong Gallery) recently began co-curating and co-producing the seasonal publication Color & Color. The second/Winter (CC#1) issue has just been released; it’s forty-six pages feature work by Luke Butler, Audrey Hynes, Lindsay Jesse, Cybele Lyle, Ali Naschke-Messing, Nyeema Morgan, Paul Morgan, and Marci Washington. The common theme that runs between issues is (not surprisingly) color; specifically, each issue is “guided by the duality of two thematic colors.” This issue’s colors are yellow and purple. The first issue (CC#0), released last Fall, was based on orange and blue. 
Color & Color, as Curreri and Scollon explain online, “was conceived as a mobile venue in which to present new work of artists we respect and with whom we want to work. We hope that with each issue the publication can connect artists with new audiences and expanded dialogue.”  
The publication is available in print and digitally. More information and links to acquiring one or both issues can be found at the Color & Color site.

Grace McCann Morley

If you haven’t gotten swept up in the exuberance of celebratory zeal emanating from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), it’s time. The museum is utilizing the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary to look back on itself. In doing so, it provides us the opportunity to get a better sense of how rich and influential this art institution is, and has been since its inception in 1935.
The umbrella tagline for all events associated with the anniversary, “75 Years of Looking Forward,” couldn’t be more appropriate when describing SFMOMA, beginning from day one with the appointment of Grace L. McCann Morley as the first director. She set a tone for the museum that resonates to this day.
Born in 1900, Morley was raised in the Bay Area. Her early academic training was in language. She earned a master’s degree in French from Cal Berkeley and went on to become a teacher—one of the primary professions educated women pursued at that time. As fortuitous opportunity would have it, she was asked to also teach art history, which led to Morley studying Museumology at Harvard University for a summer. Out of this influential department—it was then a new field of study—came a whole generation of museum curators and administrators. Morley went on to become a curator at the Cincinnati Museum of Art and then director of what was then the San Francisco Museum of Art. 
Morley’s forward-looking museum philosophy positioned the institution as a community and educational venue. At the time, most museums were aimed at scholars, serving more as research institutes to the already initiated and repositories of precious objects. And typically those objects were old, already indoctrinated into the cannon of art history. Opportunities to see contemporary work were few. SFMOMA was only the second museum in the country to focus on art of the time; MOMA New York was the first having opened just six years previous, in 1929.
Morley’s populist view led her to offer a huge variety of exhibitions; she interspersed traditional art with more challenging work. Her belief was that she would offer something for everyone and entice people to stretch their art-appreciation boundaries. She also began to offer educational lectures and classes.
Reactions to her efforts varied to the extreme. While researching the current exhibitions, the curatorial staff unearthed a stash of hate mail, which spoke out against her showing unconventional and nontraditional styles, such as Surrealism, Dada, and Cubism. At the other end of the spectrum, on the final day of the hugely popular Pablo Picasso retrospective in 1940, an adamant crowd of over 1,300 visitors refused to leave when the museum was closing; they stayed until they were done absorbing the magnificent show. Morley inspired passions that no doubt matched her own; something everyone would agree on is that she was unwaveringly dedicated. For example, working with a very limited budget and a tiny staff, the museum presented 75 to 100 exhibitions per year for the first five years (in comparison, the museum today puts on 30 to 35, in a larger space, with a larger budget and much larger staff).
Over time it would become increasingly evident that the strong-willed and determined Morley was keyed in to the pulse of the rapidly changing art world. During Morley’s tenure, many artists who would become seminal figures received their first solo exhibitions at SFMOMA, including Arshile Gorky, Clyfford Still, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Robert Motherwell. That eye for emerging talent continues today; SFMOMA has also been the first museum venue to show Edward Ruscha, Matthew Barney, Jeff Koons, and Olafur Eliasson. Under Morley, the museum became the first to create a television show; run in the 1950s, it was the first television programming to focus on art. This was just one more creative and innovative way she brought art to the masses.
The museum has ever since been on the forefront of utilizing and embracing media and technology. It was, in 1987, the first to establish a media arts department, and with the creation in 1994 of the Interactive Educational Technologies program, SFMOMA has remained a leader in developing computer based, interactive educational features on art.  
Grace Morley led the museum until 1958. She earned the deep respect of the art world and general public the world over. On the occasion of the museum’s twentieth anniversary, she was featured in Time magazine. She also worked as a consultant for UNESCO.  From SFMOMA, she moved to India to help set up the National Museum there; Morley remained in India until her death in 1985.
Her legacy lives on in San Francisco. In addition to the many influential initiatives already mentioned, Morley is responsible for starting the museum’s permanent collection (it had no holdings when she began, which makes her ambitious and prolific exhibition programming all the more impressive), and making a commitment to supporting and showing the work of regional artists.
The current exhibitions, featuring in large part selections from SFMOMA’s outstanding permanent collection, give us all a unique glimpse at the history of the museum as well as an opportunity to understand, through experience, the innovative and progressive vision that began with Morley and continues to the present. The vibrant and inspiring dialog continues, and it’s open to us all.

Special thanks to Kara Kirk whose research and thesis project provided many of the facts and information on Grace McCann Morley included here.

This story appeared in the May issue of the Nob Hill Gazette.

The SF Center for the Book (SFCB) will host its annual fundraiser/silent auction/cocktail party April 27. Early bidding on unique book art works by over fifty established and emerging artists will run 6 to 7; open bidding takes place 7 to 8:30 p.m. Works include artists’ books, letterpress editions, posters, and related objects by such artists as Charles Hobson, Peter and Donna Thomas, Macy Chadwick, Prudy Kohler, Peter Linenthal, Linda Connor, Sas Colby, Carl Dern, Rory Golden, and Sevilla Granger, among many others.
SFCB fosters the art of books and bookmaking through hands-on workshops, exhibitions, education, and residencies.
Tickets $75 (preview hour); $20 (advance general admission)/$25 (general admission at the door); buy online at Brown Paper Tickets.

The FOR-SITE Foundation, partnering with the Presidio Trust, will present “Presidio Habitats,” a site-based art exhibition featuring work by eleven artists from around the world. It is the first of its kind at a National Park. The exhibition opens to the public May 16, 2010, and will be on view through May 15, 2011.
The common concept each artist worked with was to create a habitat for a specific animal that lives in the Presidio. Featured projects, which vary widely, are as follows:

Ai Weiwei’s Western Screech Owl Habitats
CEBRA’s Sculpture Habitat for the Gray Fox
Chadwick Studio’s Habitat for Anna’s Hummingbird
Fritz Haeg’s Snag Tower
Jensen Architects’s Patience
Amy Lambert’s Pollen Balls Project
Nathan Lynch’s Where is the Hare?
Mark Dion with Nitin Jayaswal’s Winged Defense
Philippe Becker Design’s Winged Wisdom
Surface Design’s A Habitat of Flight
Taalman Koch Architecture’s Owl Dome
Many educational and informational programs and displays accompany the exhibition including a 1,300-square-foot exhibition space by Ogrydziak / Prillinger Architects, which features all twenty-five proposals originally submitted (from which the eleven were chosen), interpretive materials, and artist models. This will be located across from the Presidio’s Log Cabin. Additional in-depth information is provided by signage at each site, as well as audio narrative that is accessible via cell phone. Also available is a free exhibition brochure featuring a map and summary information on the works and selected animals.. Finally, there will be a series of  lectures  featuring participating artists, natural resource specialists, and other professionals involved with art and the environment. The exhibition and related programs are free and open to the public.
To launch this unique undertaking, a full-day celebration will be held May 16. Complete information will be available at the FOR-SITE Foundation Website.


Robert Hudson installation at One Hawthorne

An enormous commission by renown Bay Area artist Robert Hudson was recently unveiled at One Hawthorne ( Hawthorne Lane and Howard Street in San Francisco). Measuring 145 feet tall by 12 feet wide, this exterior vertical mural comprises numerous porcelain enamel panels, on which is reproduced a series of 30-by-23-inch pen-and-ink drawings. The work spans sixteen floors.
In coordination with the unveiling, a solo exhibition of Hudson’s most recent drawings and sculpture is on show at Patricia Sweetow Gallery through May 15. Additionally, several of Hudson’s prints are currently on view at Crown Point Press as part of the group exhibition “California Impressions” (through May 1).

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