Months before his death in 2011, Steve Jobs told a crowd gathered for the unveiling of the iPad 2: “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
But that sentiment has not succeeded in saving San Francisco’s downtown art galleries, which have thrived in the Union Square area on Geary Street for the past 50 years but are now being replaced by technology companies.
This past Valentine’s Day, three prominent gallery owners at 77 Geary Street — the George Krevsky Gallery, the Rena Bransten Gallery, and Patricia Sweetow Gallery— received eviction notices, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. They’re being cleared out for MuleSoft, an Internet services company already in the building that purportedly wants to expand its footprint.
“We live in a tough neighborhood at the intersection of tech and greed,” said Krevsky, who’s been in business for 22 years and is now moving his gallery to a suburb across the bay. Gallery director Trish Bransten told KQED that MuleSoft offered her landlord double her rent for the space she’s occupied for the past 27 years, but she doesn’t think of it as “an evil landlord, evil tech company problem.” Instead, she’s more worried about what will happen to San Francisco’s artistic landscape after the small community galleries scatter:
I think what’s being lost is a center. […] It’s a place for artists and audiences to go and look at work and see what’s happening now. Not necessarily what’s made it to SFMOMA, but sort of what is either in the Bay Area or a particular slice of a program that a gallery champions. The fact that these galleries are being atomized across the city removes that kind of nexus.
Few Geary Street galleries have evaded the reach of the Silicon Valley’s real estate boom. The Togonon, opened in 1994, and Marx & Zavattero, established in 2001, were both squeezed out of the building at 77 Geary earlier this year. Eli Ridgway Contemporary Art moved to Wyoming and Don Soker Contemporary Art — open for more than 40 years — closed permanently.
It may be, however, that the diaspora isn’t simply the end of an era but also the beginning of a new renaissance for the city. In recent years, the industrial area near Potrero Hill, just south and west of the Design District, has drawn gallery owners hungry for high ceilings and massive wall space.
Gallerist Steven Wolf left his downtown space for the Potrero Flats neighborhood in 2010. “I knew that the 49 Geary building was an outdated paradigm,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle. “The giant grouping in a single building seemed less useful with the rise of art fairs.”
Mere blocks from Wolf’s new space include the newly opened Catharine Clark Gallery, the Jack Fischer Gallery, Brian Gross Fine Art and the George Lawson Gallery. “I think there are people in this art community who are starved for something to shake it up, and this could be it,” Gross said.