Catherine Clark Brings Art to Potrero Hill

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Catharine Clark, a native San Franciscan and art gallery owner, has worked with visual artists from across the globe for more than two decades.  Her Utah Street-based Catherine Clark Gallery offers an elegant, multi-room exhibition space for artists to present various themes. Every six weeks the gallery changes its exhibits.  Clark represents more than 20 artists.

Clark studied art history at the University of Pennsylvania, not because she wanted to make a living from art, but rather to understand how art offers a symbolic expression of what can’t be put into spoken word.

“You don’t have to be a football player to love the game of football,” Clark explained, when asked why she doesn’t create her own art. “I grew up in San Francisco, and my exposure to art came from my parents. I was exposed to music and played the cello; I also took art classes at the fine arts museums.  I worked for a contemporary gallery when I was in college, living in Pennsylvania. It was the mid-80s, so it was a very vibrant and dynamic time in the contemporary art world. The gallery worked with artists; some artists which are now household names for people that follow the contemporary art world.”

Clark’s experiences enabled her to nurture insights into art’s place in communities.  Clark is aware that art-based enterprises can’t financially compete with technology companies for real estate; it’s necessary to find innovative ways for galleries to remain open in the City.  “It’s a gold rush mentality,” she said, of San Francisco’s current property market.  Still, Clark believes that galleries should offer free entrance and public accessibility, providing an educational experience in visual art for peoples’ benefit.

Clark opened her first gallery in 1991, a period in which San Francisco was experiencing a recession.  She paid $300 a month to rent a space in Hayes Valley.  The gallery was robbed almost daily; even the toilet paper was stolen from the restrooms.

She moved her primary gallery to Utah Street in 2013.  The building in which she rents is located in a production, design, and repair zone, making it difficult to lease to tech companies.  “It’s no question that galleries and artist are often on the front line of gentrification,” Clark explained. 

According to Clark, since the decline of the hour-long lunch and nine to five jobs, gallery attendance has plummeted. People once had enough time to leave their office or industry jobs for a meal and a chance to wander into someone else’s creative mind.  San Francisco’s has also undergone significant social and economic mutations, she said, which are contributing to the decline of the City’s art communities. San Francisco has a long history of being an art hub, which is slowly shrinking to just a few corners of the City.

“I feel lucky because I’m one of the few people that majored in art history and gets to practice in the field,” Clark said.  She attributed her “luck” to not being risk averse. She cares deeply about art, whether people like a specific piece or not.

Catharine Clark Gallery exhibition of Sandow Birk will premiere October 24.