The San Francisco Art Institute: Celebrating the Spirit of Innovation for One Hundred and Forty Years

The San Francisco Art Institute: Celebrating the Spirit of Innovation for One Hundred and Forty Years

Terminal 3

July 2012 - October 2012

"Although now only provincial in point of locality, California contains resources peculiar to herself which render possible almost any degree of excellence in the domain of art. The population, cosmopolitan in character, imaginative, and susceptible to impressions of the grand and beautiful in nature…[the] inspiring scenery and an unequalled climate, seem to be concentrated for the development of a distinct school."

— Notes from an 1873 meeting of the San Francisco Art Association
(now the San Francisco Art Institute)

The San Francisco Art Institute: Celebrating the Spirit of Innovation for One Hundred and Forty Years

Founded in 1871 by artists, writers, and community leaders who possessed a cultural vision for the West, the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) has been a magnet for adventurous artists for more than 140 years, and central to the cultural development of the Bay Area.

This exhibition presents photographs of artists who have studied or taught at the San Francisco Art Institute and whose works are in the public collection at the San Francisco International Airport. Focusing on artists at the nexus of these institutions, a picture emerges that links history, geography, and culture. Each of these photographs is specific to its time and place—some were taken at the school's iconic campus on Russian Hill—but at the same time, these images speak more broadly to the spirit of innovation for which the San Francisco Bay Area is known.

The history of the San Francisco Art Institute encompasses some of the most important art movements of the last century: fine-art photography, the Beat movement, Abstract Expressionism, Bay Area Figuration, Funk art, avant-garde film, Conceptualism, and video and performance art. The work of artists from the school also transcends the "art world," becoming a lens onto civic, social, and political contexts. Featured among these photographs is painter Richard Diebenkorn with one of his famous landscapes, taken when California artists were navigating the space between abstraction and figuration, as well as between nature and the developing cityscape. Photographer Larry Sultan, pictured in SFAI's photography studio, is best known for the 1977 book Evidence, which consists of photographs culled from industrial and government archives and had a timely anti-authoritarian edge. Enrique Chagoya is shown in front of a second version of a vandalized drawing made to protest U.S. intervention in Central America, highlighting the ties to Latin America that continue to deeply impact California.

Exhibiting these photographs in the San Francisco International Airport, where travelers are constantly arriving, convening, and embarking, literalizes the idea of the San Francisco Art Institute as both a remarkable hub of creativity and a portal through which art and ideas make their way into the Bay Area and beyond. The artists in these photographs, and their works on view throughout the airport, offer both residents and visitors a compelling tour of this cultural landscape.

©2012 by San Francisco Airport Commission. All rights reserved