San Francisco’s art gallery scene is brimming with exciting works by talented painters, sculptors, photographers and multimedia artists from the city, the region and around the world. Thanks to its world-class art schools and cosmopolitan tastes, SF has played a role in cultivating some of the greatest artists of all time—from the pioneering camerawork of Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz to the pathbreaking brush strokes of Diego Rivera and Wayne Thiebaud.
That tradition continues to this day and can be observed in spaces both large and small throughout the city. Here are just three local galleries worth visiting this week.
Cushion Works, 3320 18th St.
Through Oct. 29 | Free
During his decades-long career in underground comics and commercial illustration, Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012) conveyed the spirit of San Francisco’s Mission. “Mission Nites,” a small yet brimming exhibition at Cushion Works, featuring posters, sketchbooks, original comic book pages and paintings by Rodriguez from the 1980s to the 2010s. It also chronicles the artist’s relationship to the neighborhood he called home and reveals a romantic sentimentality toward a changing San Francisco many viewers will still relate to.
In the two-page comic “Wandering Home to the Mission,” 2000, a man laments recent changes to the neighborhood while jostling through a crowd of Mission locals. The character equates the Mission to other bastions of art and literature—Montmartre and Greenwich Village—blaming yuppies for the high cost of living. Here, at the apex of the first dot-com boom, Rodriguez admits a weariness, though his character promises not to give up without a fight. It’s in his earlier street scenes that we see the vibrant Mission he’s worried about losing.
One example is a series of ink drawings Rodriguez illustrated for an editorial published in the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle in 1982, with text by John Levin, titled “Observing Women of the Mission.” Here, Rodriguez’s uncanny ability for caricature shines (he never used a camera), capturing each passerby’s expression and attitude perfectly. There’s an exhausted mother with a sleeping baby, a beleaguered waitress behind a diner counter, a vivacious girl leaning out a car window, and more.
A note scribbled at the bottom of one sheet of illustrations reads: “The unique beauty of the women of the Mission compels the incurable romantic to fall in love many times a day.”
Rodriguez’s romanticism shines through elsewhere, too. His detailed ink renderings of storefronts and street corners, show an attentive affinity for the neighborhood the artist called home for decades. They have the diffuse quality of a treasured memory. Here, Rodriguez shows us the changing neighborhood exactly how he wanted to remember it.
SOMArts, 934 Brannan St.
Through Oct. 7 | Free
This showcase of 13 promising up-and-coming Bay Area artists—all of them recipients of either the Murphy Award or Cadogan Award—presents a wide range of work with an emphasis on large-scale installations. It’s certainly tempting to view a show like this as a litmus test for the future of the Bay Area creatives—and in applying that framework to this collection, the future looks bright.
Standout pieces include Thad Higa’s “Table with Books,” 2019-2020; the titular table contains several hidden compartments holding small poetry books, scrolls and zines, giving viewers a feeling of peering inside the writer’s mind. Irma Yuliana Barbosa’s “Counting Sheep,” 2022, is meticulously crafted, too. It includes a bedframe with a goat hide stretched at its center, surrounded by dozens of snail shells and ceramic tongues. Gericault De La Rose’s “Embrace: Wall of Gericault,” 2022, perhaps the most ambitious of all, is a wall-sized installation featuring pink drapes and a large, pink armoire, stuffed with garments and wigs.
There are also more traditional entries: Rachel Hester’s ink-and-gauche paintings of Classical male figures; Charles H. Lee’s quiet photographs of interior spaces. But these, too, follow a trend visible across the exhibition: scale. The Bay Area’s young artists want to be seen, and making physically large artwork is one way they’ve found to do it. Hester’s paintings are around 7’x8’; Lee’s photographs 3’x4’.
All of the projects on view feel deeply personal, while tackling complex societal issues that outsize the individual, from politics, to cultural tradition, to gender and sexuality, to consumer culture—reminding viewers that the personal and political are ever-connected. With their go big or go home approach to their subjects and materials, the Murphy and Cadogan awardees exhibit an ambition to make a major impact on the Bay Area arts and the abilities to do so.
Jack Fischer Gallery, 1275 Minnesota St.
Through Oct. 15 | Free
Photographer Gay Block’s “Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust,” first exhibited at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1992, comes to San Francisco for a 30th anniversary viewing at Jack Fischer Gallery. The show features 28 color portraits of rescuers—men and women who risked their lives to help Jews escape the holocaust. Each large photo print is accompanied by a text written by the pictured rescuer, telling their story.
The pictures, taken in the 1980s, show the rescuers well into their senior years, but their age belies their underlying integrity. Their stories contrast their almost unassuming appearances; these are people who distributed fake documents, who harbored refugees, who risked their lives. But the text on the walls only scratches the surface of these stories. Block’s short documentary film, “They Risked Their Lives,” is also screening at the gallery, and the recently published monograph “Rescuers” (Radius Books) expands on the rescuer’s first-hand accounts.
Who are these paragons of virtue? All kinds of people—diplomats, musicians, intellectuals, housewives—all united by their inability to stand idly by. Why? A surprising number of rescuers cite their Catholic faith as the impetus for helping Jews escape or survive the holocaust. Others tell of personal connections to Jews who were their friends or spouses. Others simply say it was the right thing to do.
The rescuers exemplify a kind of allyship that anyone might strive for: They are not particularly exceptional people. In fact, it is their ordinariness that lends such weight to their actions. They’re just people, like you and me.
Jack Fischer Gallery will host a book signing with Block on September 24, 3-5 p.m.
To learn about more exciting local galleries and other cultural happenings, be sure to visit The Standard’s online calendar, What’s On SF.