Valencia Street, ground zero of the burgeoning Mission District in San Francisco, bustles with a cacophony of sights, sounds and interactions: the streets swarm with creatively tattooed twenty-somethings, local Latinos exchanging stories in Spanish, shopping cart-equipped street people and young professionals returning to their refurbished Victorian condos after a day at their jobs in the Financial District. Gourmets from other areas of San Francisco dodge the sidewalk action as they hunt for the storefront of the latest, cutting edge restaurant or check addresses for yet another new clothing or furniture boutique.
Now, one can add art galleries to the Mission’s vibrant mix. Artists themselves have lived in the area for years, drawn by the lower rents and the cultural diversity. Artistic outposts, like Intersection for the Arts, a 40 year old non-profit that nurtures literary, performance and visual arts, has been located on Valencia Street for 22 years. Jack Hanley Gallery, which shows emerging artists at its locations in New York and San Francisco, moved from North Beach to Valencia Street ten years ago. Ratio 3, specializing in American and international contemporary artists, opened in the vicinity in 2004. But now, like SOMA a dozen years ago, the Valencia Street area between 14th and 17th Streets, is becoming an affordable alternative to a variety of art galleries, transforming the Mission into a San Francisco art destination.
ArtZone 461 Gallery, owned by Eric Koehler and Steven Lopez, who was formerly a partner in the historic Charles Campbell Gallery, opened in June at 461 Valencia Street in a cavernous space with 14 foot ceilings, a 100 foot red brick wall, and 3500 square feet of exhibition area. In mid-September, McCaig-Welles & Rosenthal is moving to the same area from Redwood City in the Peninsula.
ArtZone 461 knows well the importance of a gallery’s place in a city. The Charles Campbell Gallery, a highly-respected showplace for Bay Area figurative artists, was located at the same address in North Beach for more than four decades. When that partnership dissolved amid business differences, Lopez, a native of Chicago, joined with Koehler, his long-time partner, to launch ArtZone 461. “Charles Campbell Gallery was very much about its tradition and being in that one spot” Lopez says. “ArtZone 461 is about the art experience, without the intimidation factor that can scare off so many undeveloped art buyers and potential art collectors. We want to create a New York Gallery with a West Coast aesthetic and Midwest friendliness.”
Like Charles Campbell Gallery, ArtZone 461 maintains an emphasis on figurative works and Bay Area painters, including Gage Opdenbrouw, Kevin Bean and many others. But it also is broadening its artist roster to include international talents such as Korean painter Jeong-Im Yi, Serbian painter Nenad Kostic and some abstract artists.
“Promoting Bay Area artists has already been a part of my mission. The light is different here. We have a different kind of painting,” Lopez says. “But I also want to reach out to collectors of international art. Too many people feel that they have to go to New York or London to buy art. They aren’t looking in San Francisco for quality work and it is right under their noses. We are essentially a highbrow gallery that could easily fit into the 49 or 77 Geary scene. But ...” Lopez says, “We chose the vitality of the Mission.”
For Michael Rosenthal and Melissa McCaig-Welles, owners of McCaig-Welles & Rosenthal, the decision to open their new gallery in the Mission derived from their broader sense of identity. “We strive to be different. We have very cutting edge art, including a lot of Pop Surrealism” says McCaig-Welles. Because McCaig-Welles & Rosenthal has two locations, including one in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, the gallery works with artists from New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.
McCaig-Welles opened the Williamsburg gallery eight years ago on a whim. When she moved to the Bay Area (her husband got a great job at Apple), she met Rosenthal, who was looking for a stronger direction to his gallery in Redwood City, and the two joined forces on both coasts. They moved the gallery to the Mission because they found the accessibility and funkiness of the neighborhood reflective of their goals. Says McCaig-Welles, “We want to offer art that is refreshing, in an open and friendly environment. We are definitely not your typical white walls gallery. That makes the Mission a great location for us.”
Gary Brewer and his painting, 'Intimate Space,' at the opening of ArtZone 461 Gallery, June 22, 2008.
Photo: DeWitt Cheng