de Young Launches New Series of Exhibitions of Contemporary Bay Area Artists

Jun 20, 2023

Ramekon O'Arwisters

Ramekon O’Arwisters. Flowered Thorns #3, 2020-2021. Fabric, ceramics, beads, pins. 16 x 21 x 16 in. (40.64 x 53.34 x40.64 cm). Museum purchase, a gift of The Svane Family Foundation. Photograph by Randy Dodson, courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Crafting Radicality is the first in a series of three exhibitions drawn from the Svane Family Foundation acquisition 

July 22 – December 31, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO – Opening July 22, 2023 at the de Young, Crafting Radicality: Bay Area Artists from the Svane Gift launches a series of exhibitions drawn from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s unprecedented Svane Family Foundation acquisition. In 2022, the Svane acquisition brought 42 artworks by 30 emerging and mid-career Bay Area artists and collectives into the Museums’ permanent collection. Representing a broad range of media, the foundation’s generous gift encapsulates the concerns and approaches at the forefront of artistic practice throughout the region over the past decade. Crafting Radicality unites 12 of those artists who reconfigure the hierarchies of the past and the material processes of art-making. Creating their own aesthetic language to reframe and upend personal and political histories, and the media and methodologies traditionally used to render them, the artists in Crafting Radicality approach art-making as a form of resistance.

“Probing some of the most complex social issues of our time, the 12 works on display in Crafting Radicality speak to the region’s enduring legacy as an activist nexus,” noted Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “We are delighted to present this important work at the de Young as the first in a series of three exhibitions culled from the transformative Svane Family Foundation acquisition, and in a year in which Bay Area creativity is a running thread in the de Young program. Coinciding from September 30, Crafting Radicality and The de Young Open will serve as testaments to the vitality of the Bay Area arts community.” 

Helmed 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. Crafting Radicality is curated by Janna Keegan, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art and Programming, and Hannah Waiters, Curatorial Collections Fellow, presenting works from the acquisition that address intersectionality—a conceptual framework for understanding how social identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege—through new liberatory craft techniques. Together, these artists spark a dialogue with the museum’s ongoing exhibition Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence over the critical importance of artistic reclamation of both materiality and meaning.

The works of Demetri Broxton, Kota Ezawa, and Sadie Barnette are grounded in, but transcend, subjugated lived realities. Meshing materials and meanings, Broxton is engaged in an ongoing investigation of the cultural flow of the Black Atlantic, tracing ancient symbols of power as they resurface in contemporary popular culture. Transforming a pair of Everlast boxing gloves with embroidery, cowrie shells–symbols of colonial exchange–beads, and mirrors, Save Me, Joe Louis (2019-2020) invokes the legendary story referred to by Martin Luther King Jr. in his book Why We Can’t Wait (1963) of a Black adolescent on death row during the Jim Crow era who called out to the famous Black boxer from the gas chamber. Ezawa subverts moments from current events and pop culture in glossy, animated films and drawings, alluding to legacies of erasure and declarations of emancipation. For the animation National Anthem (2019), he deconstructs archival footage of professional football teams taking a knee–a Black Atlantic ritual acknowledging the globally subjugated–into more than 200 individual watercolors. Working with the archive, Barnette uses her own family history as a mirror for the collective history of repression and resistance in the United States. Barnette’s FBI Drawings, Legal Ritual (2021) transforms her Black Panther father’s 500-page FBI file into a personalized record of reclamation and redress.

Still other artists subvert traditional narratives of universal human experience grounded in a worldview that centers whiteness and patriarchy. In abstract sculptures such as Body for a Black Moon (2019), Angela Hennessy works with synthetic and human hair, including her own, to counter traditional aesthetic presentations of such supposed universal experience. Koak confounds tropes of desirability and motherhood in a rendition of mother and child in June (2021), pushing back against societal expectations for women’s roles and contested boundaries of self and other. Muzae Sesay plumbs the relationship among community, space, place, and memory in Charades (2021), flattening urban infrastructure into a two-dimensional plane to reflect on the collective sense of isolation and oppression during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using dye, graphite, powdered metals, and chalk, Sydney Cain creates otherworldly images of the physical and spiritual displacement of her ancestors, imagining the possibility of an afterlife. Her mixed-media piece The Child Opens Its Eyes to the Earth (2022) conjures a timeless copresence of figures and spirits. 

In her painting Mi permiso secreto (2022), Liz Hernández explores the politics of intersectionality through the ritualistic painting of the body in gold. Rashaad Newsome and Ramekon O’Arwisters use assemblage and collage to create new conceptual frameworks for marginalized materials and Black and queer cultures. Conveying counter-hegemonic narratives, Newsome combines photographs of West African masks and sculpture with those of male nudes in Thirst Trap (2020), while O’Arwisters uses repurposed fabrics and ceramics in tightly constructed sculptures such as Flowered Thorns #3 (2020–2021). Creating monumental works on paper, David Huffman explores sociopolitical themes through a combination of abstraction and surrealist mark-making, as in his most recent “hoop net” series. In Untitled (Water Fall) (2017), Huffman employs basketball nets as stencils to create lyrical patterns in spray paint as a form of “social abstraction” that alludes to the sport’s exploitation of Black players. With more than a billion people around the world without access to clean, safe drinking water, Woody De Othello’s Fountain (2021), newly installed in the de Young’s sculpture garden, reflects on the role of public fountains as anchors of life and community.

“Through profuse materiality and a framework of craft and popular culture, the artists in Crafting Radicality speak to the power of reclamation,” remarked curator Janna Keegan. “Theirs is a reclamation of experiences and materials to tell subversive stories that question traditional narratives of art, history and identity.”

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. Contributing artists are: Wesaam Al-Badry; Miguel Arzabe; Saif Azzuz; Sadie Barnette; Demetri Broxton; Sydney Cain; Maria A Guzmán Capron; Woody De Othello; Kota Ezawa; Ana Teresa Fernández; Guillermo Galindo; Katy Grannan; Angela Hennessey; Liz Hernández; David Huffman; Chris Johanson; Koak; Sahar Khoury; Christiane Lyons; Ruby Neri; Rashaad Newsome; Ramekon O’Arwisters; Postcommodity; Clare Rojas; Muzae Sesay; Daisy May Sheff; Allison Smith; Stephanie Syjuco; Rupy C. Tut; and Chelsea Ryoko Wong.

Exhibition Organization

Crafting Radicality: Bay Area Artists from the Svane Gift is 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) is the youngest curatorial department of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Since its founding, the department has focused on acquiring newly commissioned or recent artworks in conjunction with an innovative and dynamic program of exhibitions, installations, and interventions in dialogue with the Museums historical sites, architecture, and collections. 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 Museums’ collections.

The Fine Arts Museums’ current holdings within contemporary art are modest in number but significant in scope, as each new acquisition expands on or redefines 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, notable 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 oversee the de Young museum, located in Golden Gate Park, and the Legion of Honor, in Lincoln Park. It is the largest public arts institution in San Francisco and one of the most visited arts institutions in the United States.

The de Young originated from the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition in Golden Gate Park and was established as the Memorial Museum in 1895. It was later renamed in honor of Michael H. de Young, who spearheaded its creation. The present copper-clad landmark building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in October 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 respectfully acknowledge the Ramaytush Ohlone, the original inhabitants of what is now the San Francisco Peninsula, and acknowledge that the greater Bay Area is the ancestral territory of the Miwok, Yokuts, Patwin, and other Ohlone. Indigenous communities have lived in and moved through this place over hundreds of generations, and Indigenous peoples from many nations make their home in this region today. Please join us in recognizing and honoring their ancestors, descendants, elders, and their communities.

Media Inquiries

Press Office \