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Conditions Of Contemporary Existence: New Acquisitions From the de Young Museum Highlight Work From Bay Area Artists

Written by Christina CampodonicoPublished Jul. 11, 2022 • 6:46pm
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

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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.”

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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.

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Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]

Christiane Lyons’ ‘Leonora: Arrangement in Radiant Magenta and Californian Red Light’ challenges the objectification of women by reframing a classic Matissean window scene with a powerful female figure. | Courtesy of Christiane Lyons and Meliksetian Briggs, Los Angeles.

The subtle rainbow palette of Clare Rojas’ ‘Walking in rainbow rain,’ revealed in thin strips beneath a gray foreground, refers to San Francisco’s history of social liberation. | Courtesy of Clare Rojas / Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photograph by Randy Dodson.

Demetri Broxton’s ‘Save Me, Joe Louis’ embellishes Everlast boxing gloves with cowrie shells, referring to the legendary Jim Crow-era story of a Black man on death row who, during his execution, invoked the power of the legendary boxer. | Courtesy of Demetri Broxton / Patricia Sweetow Gallery. Photo by Randy Dodson.

Saif Azzuz’s ‘Lo’op’ (It burns)’ layers of red, orange, yellow and pink paints, dyes, and inks draws its vibrant color palette from recent wildfires and 2021 Californian drought and fire maps. | Courtesy of the Saif Azzuz / Anthony Meier Fine Arts. Photograph by Randy Dodson.

Daisy May Sheff’s ‘Hid it Well in a Walnut Shell’ is populated with folkloric references and animals in a surreal dreamscape. | Courtesy of Daisy May Sheff / Ratio 3, San Francisco. Photograph by Randy Dodson.

‘Flowered Thorns #3’ builds on a practice of quilting and crocheting, harkening to Ramekon O’Arwisters’ work as the founder of SF’s Crochet Jam, a community arts project that uses folk-art traditions to foster creativity and cooperative culture. | Courtesy of Ramekon O’Arwisters / Patricia Sweetow Gallery. Photograph by Randy Dodson.

Koak’s painting ‘June’ of a mother nursing a baby challenges the viewer to see the subject as both a sensuous woman and caretaker with bold, manga-inspired strokes.
| Courtesy of Koak /Altman Siegel, San Francisco. Photograph by Randy Dodson.

Rashaad Newsome’s ‘Thirst Trap’ collage on paper merges images of West African masks with male nudes on a 19th-century Dutch-style frame to recontextualize Black queer sexuality. | Courtesy of Rashaad Newsome / Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photograph by Randy Dodson.

Made of animal cages, ceramic, cement and steel, Sahar Khoury’s ‘Untitled (Cage Topiary with Accessories)’ (2019) was created when U.S. Border Patrol drew widespread criticism for incarcerating immigrant children attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. | Courtesy of Sahar Khoury and Rebecca Camacho Presents, San Francisco.

Christiane Lyons’ ‘Leonora: Arrangement in Radiant Magenta and Californian Red Light’ challenges the objectification of women by reframing a classic Matissean window scene with a powerful female figure. | Courtesy of Christiane Lyons and Meliksetian Briggs, Los Angeles.

The subtle rainbow palette of Clare Rojas’ ‘Walking in rainbow rain,’ revealed in thin strips beneath a gray foreground, refers to San Francisco’s history of social liberation. | Courtesy of Clare Rojas / Jessica Silverman, San Francisco. Photograph by Randy Dodson.


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