CAREERS + ED ISSUE: Gallery evictions signal a major shift in the art world, with the technology boom serving as the problem and its potential solution
Geary Boulevard runs almost the entire length of San Francisco, beginning in the middle of the Financial District, at the historic Lotta's Fountain. Along the first few blocks of one of the city's longest streets — amid a bustling community of corporate offices, luxury boutiques, and specialty coffee houses — the city oldest established art galleries have thrived. But that's changing.
Three art galleries used to share the second floor of 77 Geary. Now, it is headquarters of a technology firm. Rena Bransten Gallery, George Krevsky Gallery, and Accession Gallery were sent eviction notices in January, forced out by the expansion of the building's fourth floor tenants, MuleSoft. The software and consulting company offered to pay double the art galleries' rent. When a counter-offer was too costly for the gallery owners, the art spaces were forced to relocate or close indefinitely.
News of the eviction of these three galleries broke in January, inciting an outcry about affordability and displacement caused by the tech industry, an all-too-common San Francisco narrative these days. These galleries were forced out of a space they had occupied for decades, a space where they had cultivated a community of artists and art-lovers alike, a place where the two could easily connect.
The affordability and displacement crisis is not news to San Francisco. With stores closing and opening daily and eviction notices sent out left and right, the fodder for concern about the changing face of the city is inexhaustible.
What's worrisome about the 77 Geary gallery evictions is not so much the evictions themselves, but rather what it means for the future of art in San Francisco. Galleries serve as a gathering space for artists to sell art and for the community to appreciate it. Without the walls of a gallery, where will artists sell their work? How do we continue the thriving community of artists and art lovers? And most importantly, what will become of the art world as we move towards an increasingly digital world?
GALLERIES AS INCUBATORS
Public art museums, or art galleries, have been around since the late 1700s. For centuries, they've functioned as hubs of culture where art is not simply sold, but appreciated. Over time, commercialization has plagued the art world, artists and art galleries alike have had to focus on sales over building a culture and a community. In the past few years, gallerists have seen the landscape of the art world shift so dramatically that they've been unable to keep up.
"Local galleries are under assault," Trish Bransten, director of Rena Bransten Gallery, tells the Guardian. This 27-year-old gallery on Geary was run by a mother and daughter team. They recently relocated to 1639 Market St, a townhouse-like space that recently the public. The white walls stretch up two floors, with a loft in the back. There's potential here, Trish says, despite the 1,100- square-foot gallery being a quarter the size of its previous location. The five-woman staff sits in a circle, comfortably discussing the changing art scene over martinis.
What they describe as an "assault" comes from different angles. The Mulesoft eviction was an easy target for pinning the blame on technology companies, but the problem lies deeper that. It's been 20 years since the World Wide Web was introduced to the public and some industries are seeing consequences only now.
The digitization of our lives has had a profound effect on the art world. Similar to when the Internet upturned the journalism and publishing industries, the art industry is struggling to move forward in the digital world — all these content providers forced to find new ways to reach their audiences.