For more than 200 years, the Paris Salon was the only exhibition that mattered in the Western world.
Then in 1863, a group of Salon rejects—including future masters such as Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro—revolted. The result was a show that challenged the standards of the day and changed the course of contemporary art.
Even now, a “Salon des Refusés,” or “exhibition of rejects,” remains a term of pride, signifying independence and boundary-pushing among artists whose work hasn’t been accepted by the establishment.
San Francisco artists and galleries are embracing this rebellious tradition by mounting their own Salons des Refusés in response to the de Young Museum’s rejection of some 6,000 artworks from its 2023 open-call exhibition, the "de Young Open."
The triennial show began in 2020 as a way for one of San Francisco’s premier fine art museums to connect with Bay Area residents at a time when tourism had evaporated. It was billed as a chance for local artists—established or not—to to be judged solely on merit. Earlier this year, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco put out its annual call for Bay Area artists to submit work for “the only exhibition of its kind at a major American Museum.”
Of 7,766 submissions, fewer than 900 were selected this year to hang at the de Young Open starting in September.
After rejection letters went out last Monday, local artists took to social media to vent their disappointment or proudly proclaim their status as rejects.
Among the reactionary exhibitions is a show at Four Chicken Gallery in Bernal Heights. Founder Todd Hanson and local artist Bianca Levan organized the flash art exhibition for fellow rejects after learning that the de Young Open had turned them both down. Any work that’s been rejected by the de Young Open is eligible, as long as it’s no larger than 24-by-24 inches in order to fit into the 450-square-foot gallery on Cortland Avenue.
“We’re basically accepting pieces until the walls are full,” Levan said.
She said Four Chicken will accept work up until an opening reception for artists and friends scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday. A closing reception will follow on Sept. 2 from 4 to 6 p.m. The exhibition concludes the following day.
“There's a little cheekiness in it,” said Hanson. “But it's all in good humor. There's no ill feelings for the de Young.”
Since Hanson and Levan put out a call on Instagram for rejected artwork about a week ago, the pair said they had fielded hundreds of queries and so far had accepted around 90 works for display.
On Tuesday, a handful of local artists stopped in to drop off their work or help with the show, among them Bernal Heights resident Dianne Platner, who turns found objects into art. In the spirit of the occasion, she had dressed up as a de Young art judge, donning hoop earrings, flowy white pants and a homemade beaded necklace.
Platner said she was grateful for the opportunity to showcase her work with other rejected, like-minded artists. “The community is more important than the exposure,” she said.
San Jose-based ceramicist and creativity coach Car Nazzal’s piece, “Dinnerware with an Eating Disorder,” consists of a warped clay cup, a melted bowl and a wavy plate. It underscores the difficulties of fighting an eating disorder and paying for treatment, said Nazzal.
The blistered ceramics are a nod to the thirst they felt and cracked lips they developed due to dehydration from their disorder. The piece is priced at $250,000, the cost of about two years of recovery and preventative treatments.
Another exhibition titled “Refusés of the Bay” is being planned by Ashley Voss of Voss Gallery in the Mission District and Dani Arrecis, an artist who works under the mononym Sicerra and runs the experimental SoMa art space Metal Haus. Voss admitted to feeling a bit surprised and offended on behalf of some of the artists who show at her gallery who were rejected by the de Young.
“I'm a little protective,” Voss said.
More than 200 submissions have poured in since Voss and Arrecis announced the show, and the pair said they will consider prospective work through Sunday. Voss Gallery and Metal Haus plan to host the display Sept. 29, the day before the de Young Open begins. Voss aims to exhibit a diverse range of artists. She said they will show about 200 works that best match the style of the exhibition spaces, and any works that don’t make it in will be displayed online.
As for the remainder of the rejects, Voss hopes that other local galleries will follow suit and offer additional space for artists to display their turned-down works.
The de Young, for its part, said in a statement that it’s “thrilled” about the shows and publicized Four Chicken’s gallery exhibition on social media.
“These additional community-based exhibitions are a testament to the impact of The de Young Open in the Bay Area's cultural landscape,” said Timothy Anglin Burgard, distinguished senior curator and Ednah Root curator in charge of American art, in an emailed statement to The Standard. He added that they “reaffirm the Bay Area's strong counterculture roots, which have always embraced alternate venues and visions."
🗓Through Sept. 3
🕐Opening Reception: Aug. 25, 6-9 p.m.
📍Four Chicken Gallery | 432 Cortland Ave., SF
🗓Sept. 29-Oct. 28
🕐 Opening Reception: 6-9 p.m., Sept. 29
📍Voss Gallery | 3344 24th St., SF
🕐 After-party at 9 p.m., Sept. 29
📍Metal Haus | 2 Mint Plaza, SF
Christina Campodonico can be reached at email@example.com