SFCG — City Guide 2011
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San Francisco Art
Mackenzie Wagoner

Jan Casey Bertrand lifts the fog on San Francisco art.

While staying in one of the nation’s largest cultural hubs, you may have the inkling to take something more than a book from City Lights home. We tracked down one of the city’s most sought-after art advisors, Jan Casey Bertrand, who has curated the collections of local heavyweights like Microsoft and AT&T Park, to give us an insider’s guide to buying art in the city that launched the careers of trailblazing artists from Richard Diebenkorn to Tauba Auerbach.

In-room City guide: How should a buyer know what to look for?Jan Casey Bertrand: Do some research about what you like, figure out what styles you like. And go online and do research on galleries so you’re equipped.

City guide: Galleries can be intimidating. What’s the best way to approach them?

Casey Bertrand: Going to galleries on First Thursdays (a casual city-wide open house on the first Thursday of every month) is great because the galleries are open, there are a lot of other people around, and you can look at the art without anyone pressuring you. There are also open studios a few times a year in San Francisco, and in Marin twice a year. That’s a fantastic opportunity to get to know the artists whose work you’re interested in. There’s neighborhood art walks in the city; The SoMa art walk is a good one.

City guide: There are so many galleries in San Francisco. Where should a visitor start?

Casey Bertrand: Most of the galleries that I would recommend are at 49 Geary Street. Every single floor is full of galleries, and each has a different focus. The same goes for 251 Post St. Scott Richards Comtemporary Art is there and is very contemporary. But in the same building you’ll find Meyerovich Gallery, which tends to sell more well known blue-chip artists like John Baldessari and Helen Frankenthaler. A lot of people feel more comfortable buying blue-chip art (recognizable art that is considered a reliable investment).

City guide: What if a buyer needs more guidance?

Casey Bertrand: There are art consultants that deal with individuals.For that you can just go online for research or you can even ask galleries.

Cityguide: These days the art scene is so international, what makes San Francisco distinctive?

Casey Bertrand: San Francisco has always been known as an art center. There is a unique style of Bay Area figurative painters that included David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, and Nathan Olivera, and there’s still a great sense of their influence, stretching from as early as the 1950s, in so many artists working today. Dolby Chadwick Gallery represents a great group of contemporary artists working with the figurative painters in mind.

City guide: What about shopping for local sculpture and ceramics?

Casey Bertrand: There are a lot of artists in the Bay Area who work in glass, sculpture, and ceramic. For example, gallerist Ruth Braunstein was the first person to bring ceramics to the fine art realm with Peter Voulkos. He was one of the first artists collected by the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and is now part of the permanent collection in major institutions like the Berkeley Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and SFMOMA.

Cityguide: Is it worth looking at student work?

Casey Bertrand: Absolutely. There are a number of different art schools in the area—the San Francisco Art Institute is one of the leading schools of fine art in the country. The graduate student Exhibits in June are a great way to see up and coming artists.California College of the Arts in Oakland, UC Berkeley, and Stanford have great programs. Whitney Biennial participant and recent SFMOMA SECA Art Award winner Tauba Auerbach graduated from Stanford’s program just a few years ago.

Cityguide: Okay, so you’ve found something that you like, now what?

Casey Bertrand: When you walk into the gallery, ask for the current exhibition’s price sheet. With the current economic situation, the galleries are more available and interested in discussing the work.They have more time; this isn’t the art rush of the 1980s.

Cityguide: Are prices set in stone?

Casey Bertrand: Not always, sometimes galleries will negotiate but it depends on the artist.

City guide: When is it time to buy?

Casey Bertrand: I always recommend that people buy things that peak their interests. Often people buy things because its trendy and really cutting edge and that can be a mistake. It might not be everyone’s taste. I always recommend going for something because you just love it.