2.23 / Best Of: Year Two

Best Of: Matthew Harrison Tedford

By Matthew Harrison Tedford August 16, 2011

Image: Kadist Art Foundation Reading Room. Photo: Matthew Harrison Tedford.

So here I am, a lifelong admonisher of superlatives and rankings, writing a “best of” article. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not rankings (noun) that I have a problem with, it’s ranking (verb). There’s a responsibility that comes with dubbing something the “best.” Primarily, it suggests that I know what I’m talking about. I fear this.

I thought of a couple of potential categories for this piece: Best Gertrude Stein–Inspired Exhibit on the Corner of Mission and Third. Sure, it’s a cute category, but there’s a problem: it was not until far too long into the publication schedule that I was able to see both exhibitions, and by that time I had already written about one of them. I also fear redundancy. “Best Art Fair on the Weekend of May 19 to 22” was also dashed by the fact that I only attended one of the three. What I’m trying to say is that it would be prudent not to view this so much as a “best of” but rather as a suspiciously categorized list of things I like.

Best New Art-Foundation-Lecture-Series-Reading-Room-Free-Cake-and-Coffee-Dispensary

This spring, the Paris-based Kadist Art Foundation opened a new branch in San Francisco’s Mission district. In its present state, the local Kadist serves three primary functions. Every Saturday, it exists as a reading room.1 The organization carries English-language (or nonlingual) art and design print periodicals that are not in regular circulation in San Francisco. My favorite has been Inaesthetik, published by the Institut für Gegenwartskunst, in Zurich. If I imagine my ideal Saturday afternoon, it’s quite likely that I am imagining reading Jacques Rancière’s or Slavoj Žižek’s musings on contemporary art in an obscure and irregularly published Swiss journal. The only two things that could make the experience better are a cup of coffee and some fantastic pinch cake (note: Kadist provides both of these free of charge).

On Wednesday nights during season Kadist hosts a series of lectures by visiting or Skyped-in artists and writers or presentations of others not in attendance. In its first year, Kadist hosted or presented Shahzia Sikander, Jan Peter Hammer, Matthew Stadler, the staff of NERO magazine, and Igor Grubić, among others. Finally, from March of this year to February of next year, Kadist is hosting the People’s Gallery. The People’s Gallery is a microcosm of curators Harrell Fletcher and Jens Hoffmann’s People's Biennial and focuses on six of the biennial’s participating artists.

The large number of diacritics and accents in this entry speaks to the international flavor of Kadist. Though there is a common perception that San Francisco is small and insular, the reality is that it is a transnational and international hub with a constant influx of new people. Kadist creates a face for this integral quality of the city and highlights its importance to the arts community here.

Best Arts-Related Gentrification
Gentrification and the reduction of crime are inextricably linked. This has advantages and disadvantages. Gentrification often (and sadly) serves as a primary impetus to humanely combat crime in low-income (and often high-minority) neighborhoods. Yet, a problem arises when poor tenant’s rights and low wages fail to keep residents in the community.

On July 1, the Lower 24th Street Merchants & Neighbors Association inaugurated its "First Fridays on 24th" program. One might cynically view this as an attempt turn the stretch of 24th Street between Mission and Potrero into a trendy haven of boutiques and galleries, thus paving the way for Twitter and Zynga execs to move in and build day schools for their smug, cardigan-wearing, Godard-watching children. Alternatively, one could view this new initiative as a means for creating a cohesive community to combat the rampant crime that plagues the neighborhood. In a city notorious for its inability to keep business doors open past dusk, the inaugural "First Fridays on 24th" kept the street busy and presumably safe for several hours longer than normal. To be sure, this was a commercial event hosted by a commercial organization. But an ability to keep money in a community and bring more in from the outside is key to creating a sustainable neighborhood.

While it wasn’t a traditional art walk, the arts had a heavy and important presence, with Precita Eyes, Wonderland SF Gallery, Galeria Paloma, and Galería de la Raza all opening their doors to revelers. Mission Neighborhood Centers held puppet and marionette shows, and GG Tukuy Indigenous Arts and Crafts demonstrated silk-screening techniques. The event itself was aesthetic. The street was crowded like I’ve never seen it: live jazz, salsa, and hip-hop blared from nearly a dozen doors; giant skeletons walked the street; and, possibly most importantly, lowriders cruised the corridor. Amidst a gang war, they helped put community authorship in the hands of nonviolent residents rather than in those of the Norteños, the Sureños, the Bernal Dwellings gang, or the San Francisco Police Department. Whether intentionally or not, organizers highlighted the important role that the arts and an aesthetic environment play in fomenting a vigorous and peaceful neighborhood.

ArtPad SF at the Phoenix Hotel, San Francisco, May 19-22, 2011. Photo: Matthew Harrison Tedford.

Best Art Fair on the Weekend of May 19 to 22 (That I Attended)
The competition here is slim. In fact, there is none. The weekend saw three major art fairs descend on the city. The San Francisco Fine Art Fair was at Fort Mason; the artMRKT was at the Concourse Exhibition Center; and my fair of attendance, ArtPad SF, was at the Phoenix Hotel. I should stress that I had nothing against the other fairs, save the Fine Arts Fair’s location and ArtMrkt’s inability or unwillingness to schedule its opening around a very important concert I needed to attend. So it was merely the luck of the draw that led me to ArtPad. But it was a pleasant turn of fate.

Held at the (apparently) formerly infamous Phoenix Hotel, ArtPad was certainly different than other art fairs and commercial conventions I’ve attended. Each of the several dozen galleries was given a hotel room as its own exhibition booth. The two floors of rooms encircled the hotel pool and patio, which lent well to loitering and casual conversation. ArtPad lacked the common austere and corporate aura of conventions. The fair seemed more likely to attract lapsed punks than big-time art collectors. Was that true? I don’t know. Would that be good for the art economy? I don’t know. But I had fun.

As a poor man who can’t even begin to consider the possibility of collecting art, what I look for in an art fair is a place where I can sneak in for free, drink some vodka, look at some good art, talk to some old friends, and make some new ones. I’ll revaluate this strategy when I get my MacArthur.




1. Kadist Art Foundation is in hibernation for the month of August.

Comments ShowHide