Leaving aside venerable things like the Coit Tower murals, or for that matter the Rivera mural at the SFAI, what interesting, current art phenomena do you point to as specific to the Bay Area that you really like? A few of mine, inspired by the video of the Giant Pillow Fight at the Embarcadero and the Southern Exposure Alternative Exposure grants recently announced (that I had the good fortune to jury along with Weston Teruya and Margaret Tedesco):
1. The Prelinger Library. Rick and Megan started a library with the sweepings of other libraries. Now it is an epic poem disguised as a library. An homage to skewed priorities and the logic of aesthetic inebriation. An archive of the real world by folks who cherish racks of tourist brochures. The next time I’m asked to nominate someone for a MacArthur it’ll be these two.
2. The Long Now Foundation. The best thinkers of San Francisco’s 60’s movement didn’t all burn out or move to Humboldt County. Stewart Brand, of The Whole Earth Catalog, is the prime example, and Long Now is largely his idea, encouraging us to have faith in the future.
3. Futurefarmers. Amy Franceschini and her collaborators (full disclosure: including even me, once) have defined the nexus of art, design, ecology, political activism and the global internet for all the world to share.
4. The Thing. Brainchild of ace artists Will Rogan and Jonn Herschend, this is a quarterly subscription magazine where the magazine is a sculpture with text by a different artist each time. It’s so wildly successful you better sign up before they cut off subscriptions. There are also a few strong parallel subscription groups, like TBW books.
5. Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. A musty bookstore in the heart of the bohemian center of the Mission has been home to a tiny gallery–now enlarged–that has had the smarts to preside over the first surfacing over the last decade of many of the best artists of the era, from Simon Evans on down the list.
6. Art Practical. An on-line critical journal (full disclosure: I write for it) that has ambitious and highly rigorous leadership. Also, frequently good are stretcher and artslant/san francisco.
7. Del Pesco Industries. In just a few short years this startup company has brought us such landmark insurgencies as the Collective Foundation at Yerba Buena, the Pickpocket Almanac at SFMOMA, Fog Food at the De Young, POD Press, and much more. Already a regional treasure.
8. Critter. Salon-style events on the relationship between culture and ecology organized by always interesting-artist Phil Ross.
9. Smiths. Bay Area newcomer Allison Smith’s new East Bay meeting room/studio/salon/workshop. Looking serially at the nature of making (ie smithing) “from tinsmiths to tunesmiths.”
10. Mundane Journeys and Average Magazine. These productions by artist Kate Pocrass celebrate the humble, accidental and quotidian wonders of the world.
11. Weed Walks. Tours of abject city flora and fauna by artist Michael Swaine and gardener/artist Archie Wessels. Also Swaine’s periodic sidewalk free sewing service/art performance for Tenderloin residents.
12. Oakland First Friday. Hundreds of folks take over the streets around Grand and Telegraph/Broadway, far, far from 49 Geary…
13. Cohen Alley. Next door to the 509 Cultural Center, which took possession of this Tenderloin syringe-and-condom dead-end alley and turned it into a showplace park, public art center and performance space.
14. Recology. Artist in resident program at the San Francisco dump.
15. Art on Market Street Kiosk Poster Series. For twenty years the SF Arts Commission has been commissioning new work from local artists to be placed in the advertising kiosks from Van Ness to the Embarcadero (full disclosure: my wife is the current curator).
16. The films at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, curated by genius programmer Joel Shepherd.
17. The Kronos Quartet. Rare that you can say “the best there is,” but there’s virtually no argument that they’re the best string quartet in the world that incorporates world music and experimental music into the repertoire.