The Wattis Institute Helps Invigorate the Hill’s Art Scene
Potrero Hill has emerged as an important node in San Francisco’s vibrant art scene. As noted in “Potrero Emerges as Art Hub” in this issue, over the past year the Catherine Clark, Todd Hosfelt, and Brian Gross galleries have relocated to a renovated building at 260 Utah Street, and Jack Fisher and George Lawson have opened new galleries on Potrero Avenue. In addition, the San Francisco Center for the Book—located on De Haro Street for seventeen years—recently moved to a newly designed, expanded space around the corner on Rhode Island Street.
Adding to the vitality of the arts on the Hill has been the relocation of the California College of the Arts’ Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, Kent and Vicki Logan Galleries, to 360 Kansas Street. This new gallery space, which was redesigned and completed in 2013, is walking distance from Eighth Street, where CCA built its San Francisco campus in the mid-1990s. The Wattis Institute hosts exhibitions and discussions focusing on contemporary art, and provides training opportunities for CCA students involved in the curatorial practice program.
The Wattis Institute’s new location has improved its potential to connect with the neighborhood’s lively street life. According to Rita Souther, Wattis Institute programs coordinator, in addition to students, working artists, and art professionals, a great number of the Institute’s visitors are people who walk in off the street. With its large street front windows that permit viewing of the gallery, the new Wattis naturally attracts attention during open hours. This encouraged local residents to explore the space during its first year. Attendance has grown with awareness of the gallery’s exhibitions and accompanying programs, all of which are free to the public.
The Institute’s current curatorial vision is a continuation of the programming that was planned for the gallery while it was still on the CCA campus, where it was created in 1998. This included establishing a relationship with the Mission District-based Kadist Art Foundation. In 2013, Kadist created a fellowship program for a CCA student, who will work with the Kadist Foundation, Paris, to create programming that will take place at the Wattis Institute.
Heidi Rabben, the current Kadist Curatorial Fellow, chose an artist from the Kadist collection for the current Wattis exhibition and publication, titled Provisional Realities. She selected Daria Martin, a London-based artist originally from San Francisco, who has been exploring the intensive relationship between objects, subjects, and reality in film. In considering how something—such as an object or film — becomes part of and is absorbed into a collection, Martin became interested in showing her work with artist Susan Hiller, an American-born artist who is also a longtime London resident. Like Martin, Hiller’s films address questions concerning reality, phenomena such as automatic writing, and levels of consciousness, and the body, all of which work to shift viewers’ ideas about dreams, memory, and perception. Both artists’ works operate in conceptual and perceptual spaces between conscious, unconscious, and paranormal planes, suggesting some of the ways art can change our perceptions of the real.
Also on view in the Wattis’ main gallery is the exhibition Codex, which is visible from the street during open hours. This show was curated by artist and book collector Pierre Leguillon as a result of a residency at the Kadist Art Foundation in 2011. Leguillon became fascinated with the way the Prelinger Archive in San Francisco classifies subjects, both spatially and conceptually. The photographs and digital images of books, which are hung salon-style, raise questions about why the traditional book form—or codex—remains the primary format with which we engage in the era of on-line libraries and the development of new digital media. Why do the Kindle, Nook, Ipad, and other digital book forms imitate physical books, going so far as to simulate turning pages, despite the fact that the book has been effectively “flattened”? These questions are especially relevant in a neighborhood that has become San Francisco’s technology center.
Last summer Anthony Huberman was named the new director of the Wattis, and is now overseeing programming. His plans include a solo show, which will be in the main gallery. An artist-in-residence will curate an exhibition in the smaller gallery. In addition, a research project will be ongoing throughout the year, focused on a single artist. The research team will include CCA faculty, Wattis Institute staff, and select outside participants, and will result in a publication.
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