Artists Who’ve Left Town
How many times have you had an out-of-town art world visitor look you right in the eye and insult you with a sentence like, “San Francisco of course is an irrelevant art scene.” Which always translates to my ear as, “I’m from a first rate art scene and I have the authority to inform you that you are not.” It’s as though this were an objective fact, like, “Oh look, there’s a bird flying by.” And then following it up with, “Of course all the important birds are in New York.” This is not meant to be a whiny complaint blog however; I’m too old to care that much about such things, but I am interested in thinking about clarifying exactly what people mean when they talk like that. A friend of mine was interviewing for the position of chief preparator at a major LA museum in the late 90s and when he mentioned how much he loved being a part of the Bay Area art scene, was informed by the chief curator there that “San Francisco hasn’t produced an important artist in forty years.” Setting aside the ignorance, and the naivete and narrowness of vision, what use can we make of such presumption? How can the things we say to each other professionally be backed by more than arrogance and conventional wisdom?
For many years I have greedily read everything that Bill James has published. James is probably unknown outside of the realm of his subject area, which is baseball. However, he has been responsible for a revolution in the understanding of that game. James has taken the position that conventional wisdom should be tested by research. Baseball managers, radio and tv broadcasters, sportswriters and the like have a long list of assumptions about the proper way to play and understand the game. James’s genius has been to ask: “On what facts are these opinions based?” Over some 25 years he has used statistical records to disprove almost every codified belief offered by erstwhile experts. (Examples for those of you who care: the sacrifice bunt is almost never justifiable; the stolen base is only justifiable if you succeed 75% of the time or more; pitchers should be evaluated by things they can control, like strikeouts, rather than wins; and most famously, on-base percentage (hits plus walks) is vastly more valuable information than batting average.)
I often think about how this attitude can carry over to other fields where opinions are likely to be put forward as facts, especially, of course, in the arts. I’ve written elsewhere about what goes into making an art scene, which was reprinted here in Open Space as a chart by Julian Myers. Now I’m thinking about how those criteria could be objectively compared and contrasted from city to city—somehow—for anyone to be able to evaluate a culture authoritatively. And so I thought I’d look at my own internalized truisms.
As a long-time curator in the Bay Area, I have had the experience of artists coming up to me at their openings and thanking me for the opportunity, “especially as I’m moving to _____ tomorrow.” An assumption that I (and many of my colleagues) have shared for decades is that the number of artists who have abandoned the Bay Area is huge, and has had a negative impact on the quality of the scene here. So I thought, inspired by Bill James, that I would try to compile a list of artists who went to school here, or lived and showed here for a substantial period of time (3 to 5 years) and then moved away, either for a teaching position or to just try their luck in New York or Los Angeles or elsewhere. I’m only including living artists. To be perfect Jamesian raw material for analysis we would need a comprehensive list but I can make no claims to this being an encyclopedic or all-inclusive list, just a list of people I can think of who lived here and now don’t, as a first step. And a parallel list of those who have stayed here long term.
While the database is probably not large enough nor complete enough for a thorough scientific analysis, it’s fun to think of how we might look at it. The essential question that comes to mind is: why do people stay or leave, and what objective information can we glean from the facts we have? For example, do people tend to leave in their 20’s and 30’s, but if they’re still around at 40, do they tend to stay? Are teaching opportunities a key factor in staying or going? Is having, not having, or losing, a gallery affiliation a factor? Are personal or professional interests a key determining factor (e.g. an ardent Sierra skier or camper, a high-tech artist scrounger, a member of a particular ethnic or sexual community centered here, a spouse with a good job, the climatic advantages)? Do these lists in any way shed light on whether the Bay Area is a vital art center? I’d love to hear what insights readers glean when comparing the two lists. Is there a qualitative difference in the lists? Any patterns or themes? (I know that there are many worthy artists who could be added to both lists…this is just a way to get the conversation going.)
Sixty Who Left:
Anne Appleby, Darryl Alvarez, Anthony Aziz, Lewis Baltz, Richard Barnes, Jim Barseness, Nayland Blake, Brad Brown, Ione Rozeal Brown, Bette Burgoyne, Sarah Cain, Carolyn Castaño,
Jim Christensen, Chris Cobb, Chris Daubert, Didi Dunphy, Peter Edlund, Simon Evans, Karen Finley, Harrell Fletcher, Jona Frank, Christopher French, Trinh Minh Ha, Frank Haines,
Jonathan Hammer, Midori Harima, Paul Hasagawa-Overacker, Fred Hayes, Lisa Hein, Miranda July, Arnold Kemp, Elizabeth King, Steve Lambert, Stephen Laub, Annie Leibovitz, Bob Linder,
Judith Linhares, Mads Lynnerup, Chico MacMurtrie, Mike Mandel, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Leah Modigliani, Ruby Neri, Aaron Noble, Rachel Neubauer, Sono Osato, Ed Osborn, Melissa Pokorny,
Armando Rascon, Jock Reynolds, Michelle Rollman, Jon Rubin, Nancy Rubins, Sheri Simons, Hank Willis Thomas, Lew Thomas, Lee Walton, Jo Whaley, Jon Winet, John Woodall.
Sixty Who Stayed:
Michael Arcega, Lutz Bacher, John Bankston, Robert Bechtle, Rebeca Bollinger, Jim Campbell, Squeak Carnwath, Enrique Chagoya, Dewey Crumpler, Paul De Marinis, Judy Dater, Lewis DeSoto,
Kota Ezawa, Vince Fecteau, Amy Franceschini, Rupert Garcia, Carmen Lomas Garza, Jim Goldberg, Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Doug Hall, Diane Andrews Hall, Mike Henderson, Todd Hido, Desiree Holman, Mildred Howard, David Huffman, Isabella Kirkland, Paul Kos, Tony Labat, Michael Light, Hung Liu, Chip Lord, Bernie Lubell, Tom Marioni, Barry McGee, Richard Misrach, Jim Melchert,
Manuel Neri, Deborah Oropollo, Gay Outlaw, Mark Pauline, Nigel Poor, Lucy Puls, Alan Rath, Clare Rojas, Joe Sam, Raymond Saunders, Katherine Sherwood, Leslie Shows, Kathryn Spence, Louise Stanley, Michael Swaine, Stephanie Syjuco, Weston Teruya, Bruce Tomb, Camille Utterback, Catherine Wagner, Anne Walsh, William T. Wiley, Scott Williams.