Bigelow’s Babble-On: Fundraising, Fog and Frida (Finally!)

By Catherine Bigelow

San Francisco is slowly emerging from its COVID-19 cocoon. But we’re not out of the woods yet. Last month, FOG Design + Art announced, alas, that its annual and beloved January contemporary art fair is postponed until 2022. “We held off pulling the plug for as long as possible,” sighs FOG co-founder Stanlee Gatti. “It’s a painful decision. But with so many health and logistical unknowns still in play, we wanted to protect the safety of our artists, collectors and gallerists.”

Finding Frida: But, hallelujah, the work of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was finally freed mid-September from the shackles of the City’s large-scale health shutdowns. With museums allowed to reopen for timed appointments and masked visits, a virtual queue quickly filled the de Young’s email inbox as fans clamored to reserve a spot to experience Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, a long-planned exhibition that was scheduled to open in March.

“That didn’t work out so well,” notes Fine Arts Museums ex-officio trustee Dede Wilsey. “So we kept renegotiating loans of Frida’s works from private lenders and the Mexican government. Everyone has been very generous with extensions,” says Wilsey. “The most frustrating thing was knowing Frida and her amazing works and personal objects were hanging in the de Young all alone.”

New palette: In 2013, gallerist Jessica Silverman was a cultural pioneer when she moved her Nob Hill gallery to the Tenderloin, back when that ’hood was edgy, not deadly.

Now she’s on the move again, decamping to a historic 1906 building at 621 Grant Avenue in Chinatown, across from Old St. Mary’s Cathedral.

“When we moved to the Tenderloin, the neighbors welcomed us with open arms. And Chinatown is equally supportive,” notes Silverman. “Grant is a historic, vital thoroughfare: From its crest, you can see across to SFMOMA. It’s a wonderful blend of old and new San Francisco, filled with lovely teashops and great food like Mister Jiu’s.”

Due to COVID-19 permit delays, Silverman’s gallery, being reimagined by architect Abby Turin, has yet to open. When it does, the larger revamped space with private viewing rooms affords more real estate for two additional artists Silverman now represents: Oakland native Sadie Barnette, whose work was highlighted in the book Young, Gifted and Black, and painter, musician and Mission School member Clare Rojas, who will star at the gallery’s reopening with a solo exhibition.

Art span: 8-bridges, a new virtual arts platform launching this month, link the Bay Area gallery scene — from San Francisco to Silicon Valley.

Named for the eight bridges connecting the Bay, the founding committee is composed of cutting-edge galleries: Altman Siegel, Fraenkel Gallery, Friends Indeed, Gagosian, Pace Palo Alto, Ratio 3 and the Jessica Silverman Gallery, along with Phillips representative Sophia Kinell and Lobus co-founder Sarah Wendell Sherrill.

On the first Thursday of every month, each gallery launches anew show that includes virtual programming. Additionally, guest galleries will be invited to curate shows, and a cultural nonprofit will be highlighted as the platform’s beneficiary — this month is MoAD.

V is for virtual: Nimbly organizing a virtual Biden for President Victory Fund reception last month supporting former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris, the expectations of Nob Hill Gazette owners Clint Reilly and his wife, Janet Reilly, a University of California regent, were modest.

The result — $3 million — was not. The event, co-hosted by LGBTQ activists and spouses Joyce Newstat and Susan Lowenberg and introduced by Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, featured an interview with Harris by Padma Lakshmi, chef, author and host of Taste the Nation. And Broadway star Billy Porter sang two show tunes for 400 delighted viewers who purchased “tickets” to the online event.

“If it wasn’t for COVID-19, we would’ve hosted an in-person fundraiser at the Julia Morgan Ballroom,” said Reilly of the historic and popular event venue that crowns his Merchants Exchange building. “While the fundraiser wasn’t great for the Julia Morgan space, it sure was great for Kamala and Joe.”

Zoom’tails: Though interest in Zoom extra innings is on the wane, the swell set discovered that raising a glass together on the social media platform provides a virtual bridge across the chasm created by a dearth of in-person philanthropic soirees. Yet, for some, the timing is disconcerting. “Friends invited me for a 5 p.m. Zoom cocktail. That’s a bit early to start drinking. But I missed this couple so I joined, raising a glass of water,” says a bold-faced doyenne, with a laugh. “The husband wondered where my wine was. Then advised me not worry: ‘Since the shutdown, we start the cocktail hour early because it makes the evenings shorter.’”

Join Catherine Bigelow each month for a roundup of newsy nuggets and juicy tidbits. Gotta item? E-mail: [email protected]

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