San Francisco has long been a haven for creative expression—as the Mission murals so colorfully illustrate—and gallery-hopping ranks among our favorite free things to do, but high rents and opportunistic landlords have taken their toll. One venerable art address, 77 Geary Street, housed three respected galleries for over two decades, yet all were evicted in 2014 to make way for the expansion of software company MuleSoft. On the flipside, the only thing that rivals the spike in San Francisco real estate is the spike in the valuation of high-end art. Many of the established galleries catering to more well-heeled collectors have survived, notably the spaces clustered around Union Square downtown, while in 2013, the flatlands at the base of Potrero Hill saw a flurry of openings in what is fast becoming the latest San Francisco art district.
San Francisco art galleries
Founded in the mid '70s, Berggruen, with its smooth white walls and sleek blond floors, has played host to some of the biggest names in contemporary art, including Ellsworth Kelly, Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg, Brice Marden, Georgia O'Keefe, Wayne Thiebaud, Willem de Kooning, Frank Stella and Henri Matisse.
Long dedicated to remaining "the most accessible space for visual artists to produce and present new work, learn, and connect," SoEx, has endured as one of the top non-profit's dedicated to visual arts in the city. A goldmine of emerging talent, the group exhibitions and parties are legendary, while the juried art shows draw respected curators.
The cultural equivalent of a superhero, 111 Minna has a dual identity: art gallery by day, dance club by night. It draws an unusual hybrid clientele. Tech workers rub elbows with the Burning Man set, and art collectors butt up against a hip party crowd in the bar. The gallery consistently features local and international artists, and during the frequent Friday and Saturday events, when the place stays open until 2am, the music skews toward dub, techno and hip-hop. The bar itself is a work of art: a 25-foot-long rolled steel and copper creation by local sculptor Jud Bergeron.
In the heart of a neighborhood renowned for its spectacular murals, this storefront gallery run by a community-based non-profit arts organization has celebrated contemporary Chicano/Latino culture since 1970 with bi-monthly exhibitions and the ongoing (Re)Generation project, designed to support young Latino artists.
The world's leading publisher of etchings, Crown Point Press invites domestic and international artists to use its studios to explore etching and printmaking, assisted by master printmakers. The results are then displayed in the gallery. Since 1962, artists including Richard Tuttle, Laura Owen, Chuck Close, Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Olivera and other internationally recognized names have worked in its on-premise print studios.
There is a stately air to the Fraenkel, a photography gallery established in 1979. The warm space, inspires quiet contemplation and the gallery's impressive roster of photographers, including Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Nan Goldin and Robert Frank, elicits respect and reverence.
Devoted to the work of outsider and self-taught artists, Fischer relocated to a much larger space in 2013 and continues to exhibit work he characterizes as "from the heart and the gut." Prepare to be surprised by the intelligently curated selection full of raw energy and passion.
Representing contemporary giants like Edward Burtynsky, Sally Mann, David Parker and Bill Owens, Robert Koch's gallery has a bit of a museum feel. Specializing in modernist and experimental photography from the early to mid 20th century, Koch's shows can feel revelatory.
Art galleries, along with fashion, furniture and design houses, are increasingly occupying the former industrial buildings in the flatlands at the base of Potrero Hill. Hosfelt, an established art space that relocated from neighboring SoMa to this sprawling, light-filled converted door factory in 2012, has acted as an anchor for art in the area—four other large galleries, and several smaller ones, have joined the immediate neighborhood. With a focus on contemporary art—not just painting and sculpture but also installations and new media such as Jim Campbell's LED light creations—Hosfelt is the perfect gateway to start exploring this emerging art enclave.
Mere blocks from the establishment galleries around Union Square, Shooting Gallery is in one of the seedier-seeming sections of town. But along with the artisanal cocktail bars and restaurants that have been popping up nearby, it's been a catalyst in the lower Geary Street revival. Owner and curator Justin Giarla grew up a fan of pop, street and outsider art and his gallery reflects his dedication to "the neccessity of providing lowbrow artists with a platform." Housed in a former industrial bakery, the airy, high-ceilinged space has original timber beams and skylights.
This collective comprises more than 200 member-artists whose goal is to make their work more accessible to a wider audience. The offerings can be hit or miss and the place often feels more like a shop than a "gallery," but that's the point. Photography, paintings, jewelry, furniture, pottery and sculpture are all on display, and many pieces cost between $100 and $500. If you're looking to graduate from dorm room-style posters and add some affordable, locally made art to your walls, stop here first.
The nondescript facade of Gallery Paule Anglim gives no indication of its airy, light-filled interior, which generally houses one large and one smaller show at any given time. With a reputation for highlighting the California Beat artists and Bay Area Conceptualists, the gallery showcases everything from local innovators such as David Ireland and Barry McGee to international superstars like Louise Bourgeois and Robert Bechtle.