Making space: New exhibition documents role of artist spaces in Bay Area culture
The iconic Mexican muralist Diego Rivera once said, “revolution doesn’t need art, nor art need revolution, but rather that the world needs revolutionary art in order to ensure societal revolution.”
Though uttered decades ago and in reference to no particular city, those words ring especially true in the Bay Area, whose residents, intellectuals and decision makers have witnessed the important role of the artist and the artist’s space as coterie of progress and public expression.
A new exhibition titled “Making a Scene: 50 years of Bay Area Alternative Spaces” is highlighting the roll artist-run, independent, alternative artistic spaces have played in enriching the culture of the Bay Area over the past 50 years. Making a Scene features archival material from approximately 20 individuals/spaces and art installations from more than 30 Bay Area artists.
The exhibit, which has received support with a grant from The National Endowmentfor the Arts, focuses on the diverse artist movements housed in the Bay Area throughout various neighborhoods, and how several of them overlap—despite appearing separate—because they express the unfiltered and unrestrained views of underrepresented minority groups in art.
The display includes art from the Black Panther movement, the feminist movement, the queer rights movement of the 80s, and the active Chicano art initiatives from Galería de la Raza, among others.
Sandra M. Ramirez, a co-curator of the show, attests that the art speaks to current-day Bay Area residents in conjunction with educating audiences.
“This wall space is of a community involved and this art should be moving you and teaching you something about our current reality, of where we’ve been, and ultimately, of where we are going,” Ramirez said.
Melorra Green, main curator of Making a Scene, says she felt the need to gather all of these artistic histories in one gallery space because the shifting demographics of San Francisco are altering the very regions and streets these artistic spaces represented and helped to enrich with diversity.
“San Francisco and the Bay Area is changing so much—almost where it’s like a plan to erase all of these [alternative spaces],” Green said. “You go to the Mission now, and you don’t know what happened there. There is no evidence of the rich history that defines various diverse neighborhoods and that is why this exhibition is so important to everyone.”
Nicole Lucero, a recent college graduate and filmmaker in attendance, said she felt the art presentation was cohesive throughout its plethora of artists and movements.
“I’m amazed by the similarities in all the pieces and how they all had the same purpose of creating change,” Lucero said. “Remembering and learning our past history is something all of us have to be consciously seeking and makes us better people in the now.”
René Yañez, a co-founder of Galería de la Raza who is often credited for popularizing Día de Los Muertos festivities in the United States, is one of the featured collaborators in Making a Scene.
His contribution to the alternative spaces installation includes historic photographs from the early founding days of the Galería de la Raza, the founding members of the comedy act Culture Clash and the lowrider parade days. Also featured prominently is a death mask of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
“Up until the 70s and second wave feminism, Kahlo’s art didn’t have the fame and global recognition they have now,” Yañez said. “When I was with Galería back then, we did a small show featuring her paintings and also other homages to her from the community. It was one of the first times she was given the tribute not granted from mainstream art institutions and it was possible because of our alternative space.”
Yañez said that more than displaying art and creating a communal area of cultural pride, alternative spaces are meant to create dialogue and grapple with reality.
“Alternative spaces are about dealing with identity, gender issues and creating dialogue with different classes and groups,” Yañez said. “It’s great for the Mission and the city to have a frank discussion of what has happened and where to go from here.”
The exhibition runs through Aug. 20. Entry is free during regular gallery hours. SOMArts is located at 934 Brannan St., San Francisco. For more information, call SOMArts at (415) 863-1414