Bayside City Blooms with Artistic Affinity

Article excerpt

SAN FRANCISCO--The moment visitors to San Francisco land at SFO, they are introduced to the city's strong affinity for art. For 20 years, the San Francisco International Airport has produced upwards of 40 art exhibitions each year, seen by nearly 35 million people who pass through the airport annually. And this month, Artexpo California makes its way to the city Nov. 2-5 at the Concourse Exhibition Center. More than 130 exhibitors and thousands of attendees are expected.

Indeed, art abounds around the Golden Gate and has for years. "San Francisco's art scene varies from other cities in its variety, its constant interest in `outsider' art and new art forms, and the longevity and strength of its galleries, many of which are well into their second and third decades of existence," said Tract Freedman, president of the 30-year-old San Francisco Art Dealers' Association (SFDA) and co-owner and co-director of the 14-year-old Hackett-Freedman Gallery. "For a city that seems to thrive on the latest trends, there is much longevity and stability in the art scene."

Thirty Bay Area art dealers comprise the SFDA, which presents shows of new and emerging artists and sponsors fund-raising events and scholarships for many local groups, among them the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the California College of Arts and Crafts. Hackett-Freedman Gallery shows emerging and mid-career contemporary artists. This month, it will show the work of two young figurative artists, Costa Vavagiakis and local artist David Tomb.

Freedman, like many San Francisco gallery owners, cites the dot-com boom as a boon to the art market locally. "I think many local dealers are seeing new business developing from younger people in the Bay Area, fueled in part by the incredible growth of the Internet and related businesses and the wealth that has been created," she said. "Those buyers are all over the map in terms of their interests and purchases, but in particular, I suspect many are starting their collections with contemporary photography and mid-priced contemporary works, although those who are comfortable with art have few qualms about spending more to get what they want."

Michelle Townsend, director of the two-year-old Hang Gallery, agreed. "There is quite a hum of people excited about emerging artists," she said. "We opened our gallery with the expectation that our clientele would be younger, first-time collectors. But many established collectors are coming in to buy the work of living artists who are not over-marketed. …