San Francisco’s New Contemporary Art Center Reveals Latest Hires, Inaugural Programs


Conceived in the wake of the pandemic and the racial calculations that shed light on inequalities within museum practices, the new San Francisco Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA SF) builds its staff and program with a set of values ​​reflecting this moment. In January, on the occasion of the city’s Fog Design + Art Fair, the ICA SF will be launched smoothly in a converted industrial building in the Dogpatch district of the city with three months of pop-ups by the creatives of the Bay Area will then officially open next September with a large-scale exhibition by Jeffrey Gibson, the internationally renowned multidisciplinary Choctaw-Cherokee artist.

“To do it the right way, we need to sit around tables with a group of people who are very diverse in terms of heritage, socio-economic backgrounds, expertise and mastery of museums and the language of anti-racism.” , says the SF of the ICA. founding director Alison Gass, who previously headed the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, a similar collectible museum with a social justice orientation. “We have started to build a team of employees and artists who will help us keep checkpoints over our intentions. “

Recognizing that low salaries and expectations for graduate degrees have been barriers in the museum profession, “we have specifically removed educational requirements and specific years of museum experience from our job descriptions,” explains Gass. She also pledged to pay above the average established by the Association of Art Museum Directors’ Association Salary Survey for the ICA SF region and an operating budget of 2.75 millions of dollars.

Liz Hernandez, El templo sumergido en el aroma secreto de Urania (The Temple immersed in the secret fragrance of Urania) (2020) Courtesy of Brock Brake for Gallery Pt.2

Gass chose Christine Koppes, with whom she worked in San José, as the new curator and director of curatorial affairs for ICA SF. “Christine doesn’t have a masters degree, but has the most amazing eye and ear to the ground in the Bay Area and all of California,” says Gass. Renee Cyla Villasenor joined Koppes as Curatorial and Programming Associate. “We made the decision to help Villasenor develop her curatorial skills knowing that she could manage our gradual launch program and engage a diverse audience,” says Gass.

A member of the Rosenberg Foundation, which advances justice for communities of color in California, Jonathan Carver Moore is the director of donor relations, partnerships and programming at ICA SF. “He has established himself as someone who will help us reinvent what membership means and train the next generation of museum supporters,” said Gass. Also coming from outside the museum world is new Creative Director Suzette Lee, experienced in digital storytelling working with Postmates food delivery service and creative management with multimedia artist and tattoo artist Christopher Martin.

Christophe Martin, An eye for an eye (2020) Courtesy of the artist

For the gradual launch program titled “Meantime,” Martin is the first in a rotation of local artists, co-ops, activists and small businesses to take over the ICA SF each week from January 19 to April 16 (date of closure of the museum to complete its final renovations by Jensen Architects). Martin, who designed the ICA SF logo, plans to activate the raw space with a pop-up tattoo shop, bespoke clothing center, and art installation.

For the curatorial program starting in September, Gass envisions a roughly even split between providing a platform for emerging artists in the Bay Area and regional artists. This will include Liz Hernández and Ryan Whelan doing a Gentrification Project in Oakland, a group show of Bay Area artists curated by See Black Womxn (the duo of Tahirah Rasheed and Angela Hennessy) and bringing in established global artists expanding cannon like Gibson, who’s never had a big show on the West Coast before.

Erica Deeman, Asaba (2015) Courtesy of the artist and Anthony Meier Fine Arts

The list of artists lined up for 2023 includes painter Hayv Kahraman, born in Baghdad and based in Los Angeles; Los Angeles-based artist Patrick Martinez from Latinx, who works in the language of street art and neon; Natani Notah, who lives in Tulsa and explores her Navajo (Diné) identity through her interdisciplinary practice; Bay Area photographer Erica Deeman, who focuses on the black portrait; and the top five winners of the Gold Art Prize recognizing Asian-American and Pacific Islander artists or from the Asian Diaspora.

Gass believes his new social and political institution based on visual arts exhibitions will add to San Francisco’s rich ecosystem of large collectable institutions, small nonprofits, and comparable mid-sized spaces like the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the more academic CCA. Wattis Institute of Contemporary Arts.

“We know what makes a city a great arts destination and fosters a healthy artist community,” says Gass. “The answer is, more is more.”

  • On December 1, Alison Gass will join Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art director Johanna Burton and New Museum deputy director Isolde Brielmaier in a conversation hosted at Art Basel in Miami Beach titled “Re-inventing the Institution? New museum managers”.


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