As we continue to celebrate the history of the San Francisco Art Institute and its alumni, one of the school’s most enduring (and important) legacies has been the fostering of communities that extend beyond the classroom. Particularly in the post-war years, as the school gained recognition outside of the Bay Area, many of the students who attended came via word of mouth. Those friendships would lead to collaborative endeavors of all sorts, among them films, performances and galleries.
As San Francisco lacked a robust gallery scene in the 1950s, many young artists found it easier (and more desirable) to open their own spaces. A string of artist-run galleries opened over the course of the decade, most intended as venues to show the work of CSFA artists and faculty. The idea was not entirely new - in 1926 a group of former students had opened the Modern Gallery on Montgomery Street with a similar intent. In 1949, twelve of Clyfford Still's students, including Jeremy Anderson, Ernest Briggs, Edward Dugmore, Jack Jefferson, Jorge Goya and others, started Metart Gallery, a co-op designed to feature each member for a month at a time. In their opening ‘manifesto’ the group declared the gallery “was formed in direct response to the problem of bringing the work of the creative artist to public attention under conditions which leave the artist freest from outside control.”
The venues that followed, though often short-lived, included the King Ubu Gallery (1952-53) founded by former student Jess Collins with Robert Duncan and Harry Jacobus; the 6 Gallery (1954-57) founded as a co-op by students Deborah Remington, Wally Hedrick and Hayward King, with painter David Simpson and poets Jack Spicer and John Allen Ryan; East/West Galllery (1955-58) run by painter Sonia Gechtoff’s mother Ethel; Spatsa Gallery (1958-61) founded by CSFA student Dimitri Grachis; and Batman Gallery (60-65) founded by Billy Jahrmarkt. As an example of the experimental nature of these spaces, Batman’s opening announcement (written by poet Michael McClure) said: "The BATMAN GALLERY is a new gallery of collage, sculpture and painting. All imitators and "cocktail" painters are banned from showings. Batman Gallery will show only new spirits and the old real spirits themselves.”
Indeed, these galleries were the first to show many of the young artists coming out of CSFA at the time (their artist-founders included), giving others such as Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Alvin Light, Bernice Bing, Robert Hudson, Manuel Neri, Hedrick, and Roy De Forest their first exhibitions and in no small way defining the Beat Generation.
3 & 5, courtesy the Deborah Remington Charitable Trust for the Visual Arts; 2,4,6 courtesy the SFAI Archives.