Critics’ Picks

View of “Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces,” 2015

San Francisco

“Making a Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Area Spaces”

934 Brannan Street
July 9–August 20, 2015

Community-focused SOMArts Cultural Center’s comprehensive, museum-quality group show brings together installations and work from dozens of Bay Area artists and artist-run spaces, with archival material and ephemera from historical alternative art spaces past and present. Focused on the legacy of politically oriented independent spaces, with an emphasis on the social-justice movements that underpin and activate the work, curators Melorra Green, Sandra Ramirez, and Roula Seikaly strike a balance between activism and institutional histories, and between theoretical underpinnings and material artifacts.

Highlights from individual artists include Marlon Ingram’s conceptual marketplace of alternatives to technology in the installation Indigenous Tips for a Modern Now. 2009, Ant Farm’s satirical video piece Media Burn, 1975, with its iconic burning televisions; Emory Douglas’s 1970s-era mass-produced graphics for the Black Panther Party; and an altar installation by curator René Yañez, one of the early introducers of Dia de los Muertos into gallery settings. But the show is especially charged where the concept of an art space itself is challenged or negotiated, as in Kathleen McDonald’s Museum of the West Indies, 2015, in which the artist presents the rift between the indigenous culture of her ancestors and her own contemporary practice through the form of an imaginary museum, with didactic text stitching together histories lost because of colonialism. These tensions are intensified by the glaring presence of the 2015 South of Market neighborhood—ground zero for San Francisco startups—just outside the walls; at a time of impossibly high rents and ever-solidifying tech monoculture, what can an alternative space be now?