Half Century: A History of Bay Area Contemporary Art through Eleven Exhibitions

Half Century: A History of Bay Area Contemporary Art through Eleven Exhibitions

By Renny Pritikin September 11, 2013

I saw an ad the other day for a history of America traced through the introduction of ten iconic guns. I thought, “Oh my, I’m either onto something very much of the times, or I’m terribly banal,” seeing the local art history through an extremely individual lens. This issue of Art Practical is intended to be a highly personal selection of eleven exhibitions that cumulatively form a history of contemporary art in the Bay Area over the past half-century. I have commissioned essays by writers who themelves form a portrait of the increasingly rigorous, local critical community, as of 2013, to reexamine these shows with the benefit of hindsight.

In her wonderful contribution to this project, Leigh Markopoulos calls for a rigorous consideration of the nature of the Bay Area’s role in American contemporary art. This is at the heart of my interest in organizing this project. A couple of years ago, my first published post for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Open Space blog generated a great deal of discussion about why some artists stay in the Bay Area over a lifetime and why others leave. Markopoulos poses a better question. She asks (to put words in her mouth) if the Bay Area is a wolf in sheep’s clothing—if being somewhat marginalized has allowed us to absorb the state of the art world, or art in general, and to develop a slightly hidden regional style that is much more influential than is usually acknowledged. What have we done here, over the decades, to nurture acclaimed art world figures like Bruce Nauman, Jock Reynolds, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Barry McGee, Natalie Jeremijenko, Margaret Kilgallen, and many others? We offer these eleven exhibitions as case studies to address such questions, with the hunch that there is an unnamed, unidentified aesthetic treasure in Northern California that is anything but trendy or trivial.

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