Walking through the Fog Design + Art fair at Fort Mason’s Festival Pavilion things felt … back to normal.
The gala on Wednesday, Jan. 18, benefiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was sold out, boasting more than 2,000 in attendance and nearly four dozen booths representing 48 local and international galleries bustling with VIPs.
And after three years of the coronavirus pandemic impacting the art world, normal felt pretty good.
“This is my first Fog,” said SFMOMA director Christopher Bedford. “It’s a small, warm city with a small, warm art community. It feels highly mutually constitutive. … It’s unlike any other fair I’ve been to.”
The best thing about the city’s “unofficial art week,” centered around Fog but celebrated in venues from the Chinatown to the Mission through Sunday, Jan. 22, is spending time with artists and this year was no different.
And yet, “normal” hadn’t fully returned for everyone. Following the massive rainstorms that began on New Year’s Eve, many local artists are still dealing with damage to their studios caused by leaks and flooding. In response, the Minnesota Street Project Foundation established an emergency grant program to help artists with the sudden expenses in hopes they can get back to work.
“We knew right away as the rain was falling that artists would have unique needs as far as recovery and the impact on their work,” said Rachel Sample, director of the MSP Foundation. “Minnesota Street Project itself and the Foundation were founded on the vitality of the contemporary arts here in Dogpatch. These are our people.”
From an initial $20,000 in seed money, the foundation has awarded 15 grants of up to $1,000 so far to Bay Area artists impacted by the storms. They’ve had more than 100 applicants, including painter and sculptor Summer Lee.
Lee has had her studio in outer Bayview for over a decade and during the historic storm, water both rose through the toilet and leaked through her ceiling, destroying an art book she’s been working on for more than 15 years.
“Normally I don’t apply to these because usually I think there’s someone who needs it more than I do,” she said of the grant program, “but I couldn’t be in my studio because of the mold and mildew.”
Lee was granted $275, which she’s used to buy a propane forced-air heater to dry her studio.
Photo artist Elizabeth Opalenik also dealt with flooding and leaking in her Rockridge studio behind her Oakland home. She received $1,000 to replace damaged materials for an upcoming exhibition.
And Sample said that the foundation isn’t done with grants yet.
“We are still looking for additional support from the community so we can continue to grow the fund and help more artists,” she said, noting grant applications as well as a way to donate to the grant program can be found on the Minnesota Street Project Foundation website.
As the rain returned the night of the Fog gala, visitors were met with San Francisco artist Jenny Sharaf’s drip painted furniture installation “In Conversation” featuring a series of large ottomans surrounded by hanging canvas works.
“I wanted to use the tropes of both a VIP lounge and museum design experience,” said Sharaf of the project. “It’s my first foray into furniture, and my friend Cat from Denmark is providing caviar bumps since I also thought it was funny to use tropes of Michelin-star dining.”
In stark contrast to the Sharaf’s playful installation, the Jenkins Johnson Gallery booth featured Dewey Crumpler. The San Francisco artist — who has been back in the news since 2019 because of his mural “Multi-Ethnic Heritage,” a response to Victor Arnautoff’s controversial frescoes “Life of George Washington” at George Washington High School — showcased his work from the 1990s, inspired by an experience visiting the Keukenhof Gardens in Amsterdam and seeing an overwhelming display of tulips.
“I immediately saw them not as flowers but as memory,” said Crumpler. “They were related to the history of capitalism and commerce and used all over the Western world as currency. I saw that as similar to what happens when you use human bodies as currency and you create a capitalism structure around the movement of those bodies.”
Seen on their own, the works feel like exuberant bursts of abstraction, beautiful like the tulips and yet, more complicated. With Crumpler’s explanation they took on an altogether different meaning. It was an interaction that underscored the importance of seeing and experiencing art in the company of artists — and why San Francisco must continue to support them all year, not just in times of crisis.