Contemporary Bay Area Artists Featured in Upcoming Exhibition About Place: Bay Area Artists from the Svane Gift

Jun 11, 2024

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Contemporary Bay Area Artists Explore Impact of Climate Change, Perception of Heritage, and Importance of Belonging

Artworks From Generous Gift Are Inspiring New Musical Compositions and Arrangements in Collaboration with SFJAZZ

de Young museum

August 10, 2024–September 28, 2025

SAN FRANCISCO, June 11 – About Place: Bay Area Artists from the Svane Gift presents contemporary works by Bay Area artists from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s collection. The ten Bay Area artists featured in About Place, Guillermo Galindo, Postcommodity, Chris Johanson, Clare Rojas, Chelsea Ryoko Wong, Miguel Arzabe, Saif Azzuz, Katy Grannan, Wesaam Al-Badry and Rupy C. Tut explore themes related to their physical and imagined environments, as well as their heritage and sense of belonging. The exhibition opens with Going to Water (2021), a multi-channel video and sound installation by the Indigenous artist collective Postcommodity in the de Young museum’s central atrium Wilsey Court, and continues in the contemporary art galleries, where visitors will experience more than a dozen additional works - including a diverse collection of paintings, photographs and a sonic sculpture.

Works from the Svane gift are also featured in an upcoming collaboration with SFJAZZ Collective's October 24-27, 2024 SFJAZZ Center residency, as part of their 2024-25 season. The Collective’s seven-person musical group will be compose new material and arrange familiar songs inspired by select works from the acquisition, and then perform the compositions at the Center’s Miner Auditorium later this year. Each composition fully utilizes the auditorium's immersive media system and video of the artworks will be displayed as accompanying visuals. 

In 2022, the Fine Arts Museums acquired 42 artworks by 30 emerging and mid-career Bay Area artists as part of the Svane initiative. Funded with the generous support of the Svane Family Foundation, the initiative champions artists whose works encapsulate concerns and approaches at the forefront of artistic practice throughout the region over the past decade. The second in a series of exhibitions drawn from the initiative, About Place touches on the illusion of real and imagined boundaries of place, and how we relate to where we are and where we come from. This mutually informed identity combines the practice of self-care and ecological stewardship and highlights the importance of belonging.

About Place illustrates how contemporary, local artists are addressing some of the most complex issues of our time with careful consideration,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “As a city museum, it is central to our mission to uplift and provide a platform to our local art community. The Bay Area arts community is known for its bold expression and creative output and we are deeply grateful to the Svane Family Foundation for investing in the community through their generous gift.”

The pressing issue of climate change, the local and global impact of ecological disasters and the erosion of our environment are recurrent themes throughout the exhibition. In their works, both Saif Azzuz and Postcommodity insist upon a future in which we draw upon Indigenous traditions to inform ecological stewardship. Reframing man-made disasters, such as the 2021 California wildfires and the 1926 evaporation of Owens Lake, Postcommodity and Azzuz each challenge the notion that nature can be molded to suit our needs as humans, pointing to the fragility of nature and reminding us of how dependent we are on the health of our land. The color palette Azzuz uses for painting Lo’op’ (It burns) (2021) is inspired by maps of the 2021 droughts and fires. Similarly in Rupy C. Tut’s painting New Normal (2022), natural elements are integrated into symbols that both praise and lament the state of our planet.

Other works in the exhibition confront the tangible aspects of place by incorporating found materials in their work. Chris Johanson and Miguel Arzabe use discarded materials as the foundation of their compositions - Johanson through discarded drop clothes and Arzabe in weaving patterns inspired by Andean textiles from discarded everyday items and strips of painted canvas. The reuse of found or discarded materials not only speaks to larger concerns of ecology but also adds additional layers of meaning to the works, such as in Guillermo Galindo’s Ready to Go (2015), which reuses a broken bicycle and chair that he found along the US-Mexico border.

About Place interrogates the ways in which our environment and our identities are mutually and reciprocally informed,” shared Janna Keegan, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming. “Artists within this group explore their own histories to demonstrate the plurality of approaches in nurturing our relationships to the land we walk on.”

Finally, a group of works experiment with the relationship between figure and ground as they relate to place. In Unknow Know with What Is 12 (2021), Chris Johanson combines swirling shapes with floating heads and bodies, ants, rats, and other animals into energetic yet muted compositions that evoke feelings of impermanence and fluidity. Likewise, Claire Rojas’s painting Walking in Rainbow Rain (2021), which flattens the figure against the background, alludes to unconsciously becoming a reflection of or disappearing into one’s environment. The rain’s rainbow palette brightens the initially drab urban environment, relating the figure to San Francisco and the city’s history of LGBTQ+ liberation and social justice.

About Place is curated by Janna Keegan, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Led by Claudia Schmuckli, Curator in Charge of Contemporary Art and Programming, the Svane Family Foundation acquisition reflects the abundant artistic energy and creative scope of contemporary Bay Area artists. 

Established in 2019 by Zendesk founder and CEO Mikkel Svane, the Svane Family Foundation earmarked $1 million in 2021 to support the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s acquisition of contemporary works by Bay Area artists. Through the generosity of the Foundation, the Fine Arts Museums was able to acquire work by Stephanie Syjuco; Allison Smith; Chris Johanson; Clare Rojas; Katy Grannan; Chelsea Wong; Koak; Ruby Neri; Maria A. Guzman Capron; Daisy May Sheff; Christiane Lyons; Wesaam Al-Badry; Guillermo Galindo; Sahar Khoury; Muzae Sesay; Woody De Othello; David Huffman; Postcommodity; Miguel Arzabe; Saif Azzuz; Rupy C. Tut; Sydney Cain; Rashaad Newsome; Ramekon O’Arwisters; Angela Hennessy; Ana Teresa Fernández; Liz Hernández; Demetri Broxton; Kota Ezawa; and Sadie Barnette to its collection of contemporary art.

Exhibition Organization

About Place: Bay Area Artists from the Svane Gift organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and made possible by the Svane Family Foundation.

Contemporary Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Established in the fall of 2016, the Department of Contemporary Art and Programming (CAP) focuses on acquiring newly commissioned or recent artworks in conjunction with an innovative and dynamic program of exhibitions, installations, and interventions in dialogue with the historical sites, architecture, and collections presented at the de Young and Legion of Honor. The department collects works in all media and across geographies to reflect the global reach and diversity of both the contemporary art landscape and the Fine Arts Museums’ collections.

The Fine Arts Museums’ current holdings within contemporary art expand on or redefine the identities of the de Young and the Legion of Honor in view of a self-critical reassessment of the institutions’ histories and trajectories. CAP actively collaborates with other curatorial departments to identify and acquire artworks that incite dialogues, embrace a multiplicity of perspectives, and shed new light on both the past and the present. Reflecting the department’s commitment to fostering an inclusive, diverse, and forward-looking dialogue around pressing societal issues and concerns, acquisitions include works by Wangechi Mutu, Pierre Huyghe, Hito Steyerl, Lisa Reihana, and Carrie Mae Weems, among many others. 

About the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, comprising the de Young in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco.

The de Young museum originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in 2005. Reflecting an active conversation among cultures, perspectives, and time periods, the collections on view include American painting, sculpture, and decorative arts from the 17th to the 21st centuries; arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas; costume and textile arts; and international modern and contemporary art. 

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are located on land unceded by the Ramaytush Ohlone, who are the original inhabitants of what is now the San Francisco Peninsula. The greater Bay Area is also the ancestral territory of other Ohlone peoples, as well as the Miwok, Yokuts, and Patwin. We acknowledge, recognize, and honor the Indigenous ancestors, elders, and descendants whose nations and communities have lived in the Bay Area over many generations and continue to do so today. We respect the enduring relationships that exist between Indigenous peoples and their homelands. We are committed to partnering with Indigenous communities to raise awareness of their legacy and engage with the history of the region, the impacts of genocide, and the dynamics of settler colonialism that persist today.

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