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Conditions of contemporary existence: New acquisitions from the de Young Museum highlight work from Bay Area artists

Chris Johanson. “Unknow Know With What Is 12,” 2021. Acrylic and house paint on recycled and stretched canvas. Museum purchase, a gift from the Svane Family Foundation. Courtesy of Chris Johanson / Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. Photograph by Randy Dodson

From probing the intimate corners of womanhood to tackling global themes of climate change, the de Young Museum’s latest acquisition of contemporary artworks not only showcases some of the best and brightest artistic talents in the Bay Area, but also their takes on some of our society’s most urgent issues. 

Today, the de Young announced that 42 artworks by 30 emerging and mid-career Bay Area artists would enter its collection, among them works by San Francisco social sculptor Ana Teresa Fernandez, recent Artadia grant recipient Miguel Arzabe, Oakland artist Woody De Othello and “Traumanauts” creator David Huffman, whose body of Afro-futurist work is currently on display at MoAD. The acquired works explore themes of gentrification, shifting gender roles, environmental crises, and continued fights against social and racial injustice.  

“They reflect the pressing issues and concerns that inform the practice of many artists—in the Bay Area and beyond—who grapple with the conditions of contemporary existence,” wrote Claudia Schmuckli, curator of the de Young’s contemporary art collection and programming, in an email to The Standard.

Of the more than two dozen artists, over half are women, and the majority are people of color. Funding for the acquisition was underwritten by the Svane Family Foundation, which was created in 2019 by Zendesk founder and CEO Mikkel Svane, and in 2021 earmarked $1 million to support the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s acquisitions. (The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco run the de Young and the Legion of Honor.)  

“Both the Svane Family Foundation and the Fine Arts Museums share a commitment to uplifting historically underrepresented artists, including women and people of color, as well as highlighting the pressing societal concerns of our time,” said Schmuckli. “The acquisition reflects the intersection of these thought processes, values and ideals.”

The artworks include stark critiques of immigration policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, quiet meditations on Covid, bold expressions of Black queer sexuality,  powerful statements against racial injustice, colorful explorations of feminine power and kaleidoscopic images responding to Californian wildfires and drought. 

The suite of newly acquired works is slated for exhibition in 2023, but you can check out a preview of selected works in our photo gallery.