Streets of San Francisco: Mission meets de Young in a street-art whirl of hype and promise
"You mention Basquiat, and what happened there is that collectors started recognizing his work and showing it. This is different — we're not bringing in the art," de Young director of public programs Renee Baldocchi. Her museum's First Fridays Mission Muralismo events, part of its Friday night "Cultural Encounters" series, are more than opportunistic book tie-ins. They aim to focus on the culture of the artists themselves. Key figures in the mural movement featured in the book like Juana Alicia, the Billboard Liberation Front, and Jet Martinez (muralist and artistic director of the Clarion Alley Mural Project), come in to lecture — street artists, lecturing? — to packed crowds on what they do, why it's important, and how you can do it too. "We're hoping that by inviting them in to talk about their art, it makes more people aware of them in the world," Baldocchi says.
"The [de Young] events, I see them attracting a lot of young people," says Jaime Cortez, an artist who coordinated the Galeria de la Raza digital billboard campaign in the 1990s and AIDS awareness mural projects. "I think that's because of the big name graffiti artists the events draw." Perhaps these functions are less about changing the meaning of the murals they celebrate than the high art venue they're being celebrated in.
"It's not like they're having a show of muralists [at the de Young]," says Martinez, who has feet in both the street and gallery art worlds. Jet spoke at the Mission Muralismo event highlighting Clarion Alley. "They're providing a forum where we can speak about this art," he said.
Hopefully there are some lifted conversations going on, because the color and uniqueness of the Mission's public art is pretty dope. "You're dealing with a monumental subject," Jacoby acknowledges. "You have to find a container that reflects the contradictions and surprises of the street."
Debates don't get much weirder than ones about where art "belongs." But what's certain is that with all the attention — the de Young events, the Banksy histrionics — more people are seeing the writing on the wall. "Oftentimes we're in a hurry; we don't stop to look at the murals," Baldocchi says. "This is providing a forum so that when we do go down into the Mission, we can look at them and think about what's being said — especially the social justice side." *
First Fridays, 5 p.m., free
de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., SF.