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The San Francisco Standard

Know Your Neighbors

Sam Claude Carmel 

Centers the Trans Experience With New Art Gallery, Liminal Space SF
Published Jul. 10, 2022 • 9:49am

Conventional wisdom may question the value of a specialized arts degree—especially in the tech-centric city of San Francisco. But conceptual artist Sam Claude Carmel has parlayed their studies of queer artists at Mills College in Oakland into Liminal Space SF, which has been billed as the city’s first trans-centering art gallery.  

Opened in April, the gallery sits on the second level of a former fabric factory in SoMa and displays a rotating mix of avant-garde work by trans and queer artists. At Liminal, a sex swing can sit opposite a projection of video erotica or a lovingly crafted AIDS death mask can have an artistic dialogue with a sheet of blue PrEP pill dust—intermingling flirtatious musings on sexual expression with deeper contemplations on safe sex. When Liminal throws an opening, the gallery purposefully eschews serving alcohol to create an “open” space for sober folks, and the space also features a small 35-seat theater for film and video screenings, a dark room and adjacent art studios. 

Carmel opened the gallery on a raft of grants and with some of their own money after noticing a decline in queer-focused venues in the city and a dearth of trans-centered spaces despite San Francisco “being one of the trans capitals of the world.”

“We’ve lost the center for sex and culture. We’ve lost other queer cultural icons here in San Francisco. And I kind of realized we need something for our trans community,” Carmel said. They hope to increase trans representation in the art world, foster intergenerational dialogue between trans creatives of the past and present, and support the careers of emerging trans artists through the gallery.   

“I want people to be able to take from their experience here and be able to move further in their careers,” Carmel said.

On their to-do list to keep the space alive: writing more grants, knocking on doors and welcoming the community in to contemplate trans and queer art without having to get a degree in the study. 

“It’s just a space that people can come and talk about art and just experience art,” Carmel said.

Photos by Juliana Yamada / The Standard

Sam Claude Carmel - portrait

Special powers

Finding valuable objects in plain sight.

Arch enemies

Those in power who try to limit personal freedoms, transitioning and civil rights.

Weaknesses

Raving for days.

Lineage

Queer and trans artists in San Francisco and the Bay Area at large.

Current mission

To empower trans people inside and outside the arts and trans representation in healthcare.

'We need something for our trans community.'
Sam Claude Carmel - portrait