Bay Area Now 7

Shotgun Review

Bay Area Now 7

By Patricia Maloney September 25, 2014

The seventh iteration of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ (YBCA) triennial exhibition, Bay Area Now, astutely highlights the importance of the region’s small- to mid-scale alternative nonprofit organizations in shaping the visual-art community’s identity. The experimental, performative, and non-object-based visual-art practices that characterize the scene have frequently found their first point of public expression and primary base of support in these venues.

BAN7 also implicitly acknowledges the precariousness of art making in a city among the highest in national cost of living and with an outrageous housing market.1 The decision to feature community gathering places rather than individuals clearly demonstrates the value of these contributors to the city’s cultural ecosystem.

Recognizing the trickiness of a situation in which one exhibiting institution represents others, particularly in a show meant to present the most relevant current practices in the region, curators Betti-Sue Hertz and Ceci Moss took several smart steps to diminish the sanctifying aspects of curatorial selection.2 Most notably, each venue curated its own installation, allowing for self-representation. But the curators went too far in abstaining, as they failed to literally and conceptually situate these venues within the Bay Area.

2nd Floor Projects. EROS/ON; installation view, Bay Area Now 7, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, June 27–October 26, 2014. Courtesy of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Photo: Phocasso/John Wilson White.

This exhibition concept needed to be told from two approaches: through the work on view and through the rhetorical material. The latter approach fell short, and YBCA lost the opportunity to illuminate how the participating organizations catalyze the local art scene.

The most obvious oversight is the absence of a map or infographic that could provide both geographic and contextual coordinates, especially as the art-fair-style presentation neuters the organizations’ physical attributes. Where are these places in relation to each other? What are the social, political, and economic demographics of the neighborhoods in which they are located? Is this venue’s presence anomalous to its location, or does it signal some emergent activity in the place? None of these vital questions are answered, and while BAN7 does not profess to be an exhaustive or historical survey, site is overlooked as an essential component of these organizations’ identity.

And by not acknowledging site, there’s no tension in displacing them from their physical spaces. For example, it would be impossible and undesirable to replicate the domestic scale or attributes of 2nd Floor Projects with its long hallway, bay windows, and the magical trove that is Margaret Tedesco’s archive. But only those already familiar with the venue can attribute conceptual weight to the comparative vastness of her gallery in YBCA, which resembles what she calls the “growing phantom void” in which the artists included in her installation EROS/ON seek to intervene.3 Imagine how the inclusion of floor plans or photos in the wall text might have enabled such readings. But time and again, insufficient effort was made to articulate how our experience of any of these venues is really our experience of the relationship between site and activity. It is urgent in this culturally transitional moment to render each of these places as tangibly as possible, both individually as points of congregation and constellated within the region’s infrastructure. They are consequential places due to where they are as much as what they do.

Bay Area Now 7 is on view at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in

San Francisco

, through October 5, 2014.

Notes

  1.  Each of the participating organizations could speak to the impact of the recent economic downturn and current wave of gentrification on personal as well as systemic levels: cuts in funding, rising rents, evictions, and the displacement or dilution of neighborhood audiences.
  2. Other steps included hosting an open call for entries and inviting a jury of non-YBCA curators to select the fifteen participating venues. This approach is reflected in the range of chosen organizations, which include artist-run, educational, community-driven, and residency programs in addition to exhibition venues. Some of the participating organizations have been around longer than YBCA; others emerged only after the last BAN show was on view in 2011.
  3. From Tedesco’s curatorial statement in the exhibition brochure.

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