Artistic San Francisco Looks Good on Paper

Traditionally, exhibitions come with an associated publication, the requisite exhibition catalog. But in the case of Artistic San Francisco (on view at the Legion of Honor through January 22, 2012) this relationship was inverted, and in a surprising twist of fate, a book inspired an exhibition.

So how did this unusual chain of events come about? In early 2010, the Museums’ publications department approached Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts curator Jim Ganz and asked him to make a selection of Bay Area views for a small volume to be co-published with Pomegranate in the fall of 2011. Drawing from the vast holdings of the Legion of Honor and the de Young Museum, Ganz carefully chose a wide variety of artworks ranging in style, medium and time period to feature in the publication.

This past spring, the exhibition schedule changed and the Legion of Honor’s Wattis Gallery became available coincidental with the book’s forthcoming publication. Ganz immediately seized the opportunity and set about to select works from the book for a gallery installation. In this way, Artistic San Francisco the book morphed into Artistic San Francisco the exhibition.

A relative newcomer to the Bay Area, Ganz (who moved here from Massachusetts in 2008) relished the opportunity to immerse himself in the incredibly rich history of the San Francisco art world as represented in the Museums' holdings. He spent many long hours scouring the collection database, flagging potential candidates for the book (and ultimately the exhibition), and finally tracking them down on the walls and in the storage rooms of the de Young and the Legion of Honor.

The page count of the book as well as the square footage of the gallery meant that many difficult decisions had to be made to narrow down the final selections. But, Ganz says, “I am thrilled that our visitors are able to see so many of these special treasures, including our spectacular Sutro Baths poster that has been unrolled for the first time in many years.”

Anonymous (American). Sutro Baths, ca. 1896. Color lithograph poster mounted to linen with wood roller at each end. Gift of George Hopper Fitch. 1974.13.367

Other highlights include this little-known stencil print by Harold John Brothers. Never before exhibited, this colorful gem went on to be chosen for the publication’s cover.

Harold John Brothers (American, 1888–1947). Russian Hill, San Francisco, ca. 1945. Color stencil print. Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. 1963.30.25584

Dong Kingman’s The Raised Bridge is particularly relevant today as contemporary artists continue to draw inspiration from the engineering feat of the Bay Bridge construction.

Dong Kingman (American, 1911–2000). The Raised Bridge, ca. 1934. Watercolor over graphite on wove paper. Bequest of James D. Hart. 1991.74.5. Image courtesy of the Estate of Dong Kingman

And how could we resist including Joseph Raphael’s Golden Gate Park, in light of the park’s newest residents?

Joseph Raphael (American, 1869–1950). Golden Gate Park, 1939. Woodcut. Gift of Albert M. Bender. 1939.10

San Francisco has always been deemed one of the country’s most beautiful cities, but now it claims its rightful place as a work of art! Artistic San Francisco is currently on view at the Legion of Honor.