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The San Francisco Art Institute community in the 1970s.



1. Cover of SFAI College Catalog 1979-81 with drawing by Robert Hudson, 1979.

2. “Kuchar on Kuchar,” a profile on film faculty member George Kuchar from the 1979-81 SFAI Collage Catalog.

3. Excerpt from 1975-76 SFAI Annual invitation letter.

4. 1973-74 Christo, detail of "Running Fence (Project for Marin Sonoma County - California)" Collage on photograph by Harry Shunk.

5. Cover of catalog for "Other Sources: An American Essay" featuring a woodcut designed by the collaborative Wilfred Owen Poster Brigade, depicting multiethnic people pulling apart a barbed wire fence, 1976.

6. Florence Allen at the San Francisco Artists' Soap Box Derby, 1975 / unidentified photographer.

As SFAI passed its first centennial in 1971, the experimentation and innovation of years prior was increasingly a defining characteristic of the school. Howard Fried founded the New Genre Department in 1970, then the Performance/Video department, "to recognize art that left no physical remnants" institutionalizing conceptual art in the Bay Area. Along with Fried, many of the artists who defined the movement were affiliated with the school in some way, either as students, such as David Ireland, Tony Labat and Karen Finely or faculty such as Paul Kos, Barbara Smith and Chris Burden. The SFAI annual was one such showcase for experimentation, the 1974-75 edition, organized by Fried, was simply a display of the budget and prize money described "as a protest against the inadequate support the school was offering for new and difficult art forms." The following year however, the Annual was conceived as a venue within an empty storefront where each of the seven committee members invited seven artists in turn, for a year's worth of weekly events.


In other areas of the school, existing frameworks were also being re-visited, none so radically as with the exhibition curated by faculty member Carlos Villa in the fall of 1976. "Other Sources" was conceived as "ONE community expression," pulling together a multi-faceted and multi-cultural array of artworks, performances, readings, screenings and food. The participants included many influential artists of the region, some of whom were also faculty or alumni of the school, such as Bernice Bing, Robert Colescott, Mike Henderson, Manuel Neri and Al Wong. Such globalism extended to the humanities department, which was restructured to focus on World Studies with forward-thinking faculty like the activist Angela Davis and artist Rupert Garcia. Echoing this diversity was the range of visiting lectures who included artists such as Judy Chicago, Hans Haacke, David Hockney, Allan Kaprow, Yvonne Rainer, and others. In 1975 Christo lectured at the school while working on his public art work "Running Fence" on which a number of students assisted in the installation.


Perhaps the best (and most entertaining) of the era's public projects was the Soap Box Derby, held in 1975 and again in 1978. While organized by the San Francisco Museum of Art, it showcased the community of artists who made up SFAI's past and future, besides the irreverent and "kind of dangerous" ethos the school espoused. Participants were given a budget to submit either a car or trophy, and though non-competitive, a race was held, presided over by the long-time artists' model, Flo Allen.

A short documentary of the Soap Box Derby was produced by Amanda Pope, and is well worth the watch.


Image credits:

2. Photos: Nancy Fink; 4. © 1973, Christo.

1,2,4 courtesy the George Adams Gallery Archives.

3,5 via Art Practical, issue 5.1, 2013.

6 from the Florence Allen papers, 1920-1997. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.