San Francisco Art Scene Rallies In Support of Curator Laid Off from 500 Capp Street

The decision to lay off Bob Linder outraged many members of the Bay Area arts community, sparking a petition encouraging 500 Capp Street to rehire the curator and leading two artists to withdraw work from exhibitions.

500 Capp Street Foundation (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The San Francisco art scene has rallied in response to a layoff of the head curator at San Francisco’s 500 Capp Street, Bob Linder. Two artists have pulled out of shows at the organization — Matt Connors of a forthcoming exhibit, and Liz Magor, whose show TIMESHARE opened last month and was scheduled to close on October 12. A petition to reinstate Linder and replace the board has also been circulating.

500 Capp Street is the David Ireland House, home of the late conceptual artist, which art funder Carlie Wilmans bought in 2008 to preserve it. Wilmans is on the board of the Capp Street Foundation, which runs the art space. Recently, she and other board members received negative attention due to Wilmans’s attempts to evict a family of tenants in the building next to 500 Capp Street, which she also owns.

On June 29, the foundation released a statement announcing the layoff, saying that it will continue “with rotating exhibitions to match the Foundation’s original vision and its annual financial resources. The organization will soon introduce an enhanced education program that will enable Bay Area art students, emerging artists, curators, and art historians opportunities to engage their creative inquiries and practice.”

The decision to lay off Linder has outraged a lot of members of the Bay Area arts community. Linder, an artist himself, had a close relationship with Ireland.

“What I needed was an acknowledgment of the importance of the artist/curator relationship and some assurance that curatorial oversight would be maintained through a comprehensive plan of action. But nothing,” Magor wrote to ARTnews in an email. Connors told the same publication, “Artists always have this problem where there are administrative people who are so far out of touch from actual artists. I just can’t imagine that someone would think I would continue to do the show.”

After hearing about it from a post on Connors’s Instagram, Alicia McCarthy, a member of San Francisco’s Mission School, started a petition to replace the board, calling it “shockingly disrespectful to let the head curator go two days after opening new exhibitions.”

The petition explains:

The entire community treasures the work that has been taking place at 500 Capp Street. There have been different reasons offered to the press for your decision—most of them are vague, and frankly, confusing. The only concern that rings true is financial:

“We’ve been very happy with the quality of these exhibitions,” [Jock] Reynolds [500 Capp Street’s board chair] says, “but the amount of money that was not coming in, in terms of anticipated revenue—there was a limit to what Carlie Wilmans was willing to do.”

If this in fact is the reason for laying off the head curator and ending the exhibitions programming, please fundraise! No one expects Wilmans to fund the project alone. Everyone understands the stresses of finances, especially those of us in the arts. The undersigned have never been approached to fundraise, either by way of donating artwork to auction, or by being asked to donate money. We believe that the Foundation can support itself if given the opportunity.

The best possible solution, the petition concludes, is to rehire Linder, “[r]einstate the exhibition program, and hire a Director tasked with fundraising!”

Jackie Im, co-founder and co-director of San Francisco’s Et Al Gallery, signed that petition, telling Hyperallergic, “For this to come so quickly on the heels of opening an exhibition seemed shocking. It’s sad in the face of a lot of art institutions in the Bay Area who have let go of some curatorial staff.” Im attended the opening for Magor’s exhibition’s, jointly with Nina Canell’s Drag-Out.

Kate Rhoades, co-host with Maysoun Wazwaz of the Bay Area art and culture podcast, Congratulations Pine Tree, agreed that curator positions disappearing in the Bay Area is scary, and she thinks it’s odd to have a program to train curators while cutting full-time positions.

“It seems like we’re going to get rid of this salaried position so we can pay people less or nothing to curate shows,” she said. “That may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’ve got to take a stand now or they’ll be no more jobs.”

Rhoades tells Hyperallergic that there might have been sympathy for the foundation struggling with money, but following news of the attempted eviction by Wilmans, people have less goodwill. “When you have something that’s such an egregious violation people feel a little more license to go on the offensive,” Rhoades said.

When he was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), Mads Lynnerup studied with Ireland, and Linder was his friend and fellow student. Now the head of the New Genres program at SFAI, Lynnerup agrees with Rhoades that training curators while eliminating jobs is questionable. He thinks Linder created exciting shows as a curator

“What’s so great about Bob is he had a great relationship with David and had so much understating of his personality,” he told Hyperallergic “It was beautiful what was going on at Capp Street.”

Julio Morales, now a curator at the Arizona State University Art Museum, worked with Linder at the Queens Nail Annex, a now defunct gallery in San Francisco, which hosted one of Ireland’s last shows. Linder curated a show Morales and Eamon Ore-Giron exhibited at 500 Capp Street, Los Jaichackers (Spanglish for “hijackers”), last year.

“When I first heard that Bob was a curator working at Capp Street, I thought it was phenomenal,” Morales told Hyperallergic “His work was really in line with David Ireland’s – profound with some humor. He treated artists incredibly well, and he always collaborated with artists.”

Like Lynnerup, Rhoades, and Im, Morales has signed the petition. McCarthy tells Hyperallergic that hundreds have signed in support since it went online. She tells Hyperallergic that as of Monday, July 1, it was at 700 after having launched on Saturday, June 29. The Oakland artist says she felt compelled to do something about the direction 500 Capp Street was taking. McCarthy says this decision is terrible for the artists showing at 500 Capp Street, as well as Linder and curator Diego Villalobos, who will remain in his role.

“It’s about visibility and numbers, and I plan this weekend to hand write all the names and personally hand them over,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to get Bob and the programming reinstated.”

Lynnerup says he’s been thinking a lot about Ireland since he heard about this.

“When you would go to exhibitions and openings, you would see David Ireland. You would see him on the dance floor at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and he was in his late 70s,” Lynnerup said. “In my experience of him as a teacher, he was a great soul and an awesome spirit.”

The director of the foundation, Cait Molloy, told Hyperallergic that Ireland is one of the most influential and least known West Coast artists and a beloved teacher, and the board wanted to both show more of his work and have a program for student artists in his honor. She said the board made the changes to align more closely with the foundation’s mission.

“It’s important to keep in mind is the history of the foundation and how it was created by Carlie Wilmans to honor David Ireland, who lived in this house and turned this house into a sculpture,” she told Hyperallergic.

Molloy added they are committed to the exhibitions scheduled to February 2020, and the board respects Connors’s and Magor’s decision to pull out of their exhibitions.

However, both McCarthy and Morales think Ireland would have wanted artists exhibits in his house, not an “empty fish tank,” as McCarthy said.

“Bob put together shows you wouldn’t see anywhere else, and he was bringing super interesting artists you wouldn’t see anywhere else to have a dialogue with David Ireland,” Morales said. “You can’t have the David Ireland house as just a stale house – you need artists to activate it.”

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