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Art Casual

When your home is also an exhibition space.



Photo: Phillip Maisel

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Photo: Phillip Maisel

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Photo: Brian Flaherty

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Photo: Andy Wright

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Michael Kershnar, house manager at the Growlery.

Photo: Brian Flaherty

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Photo: Brian Flaherty

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Most people will never clean a skin of dust off the top of a vat of mineral oil. Especially not in their own home. But that’s exactly what Jean Chadbourne found herself responsible for recently inside her Queen Anne–style Victorian in the Haight. The reason: The vat was part of an exhibit being staged inside her house, which she transformed into an artists’ residency and art gallery in 2015.

Chadbourne is one of a group of guerrilla gallerists who have turned over their living spaces to artists—a DIY counterpoint to San Francisco’s gallery scene, which in its insularity can be both a boon and a bother, according to Anna Nearburg, who runs Some. Time.Salon out of her Duboce Triangle home. Sometimes a cozy community serves artists, she says. Other times it “becomes really iterative and exclusive.” Kirk Stoller, who has run a gallery out of his apartment since 2013 and watched many lower- and mid-level galleries shutter over the years, thinks operating from homes can fill the gap. “There has to be a new model,” he says. “A much more casual way to display people’s work.”

It doesn’t get much more casual than looking at art in close proximity to the curator’s toothbrush. Each of the four gallerists featured here has made some concessions within his or her home, from giving over floor space for installations to learning how to patch walls very, very well—all for the sake of art.

Evan Reiser’s 100%
Evan Reiser has sacrificed his bedroom to art. He empties it for shows, stashing his mattress by day and lugging it back out at night. Once, an artist painted his walls yellow. Another set up a fog machine that could be remotely turned on when no one was home. His windows were blacked out for video screenings. “It was really dark, but it had this kind of syrupy, ambery light. It was very odd to wake up to,” Reiser says. The Mission district apartment gallery, which he started in 2015, is his second. His first, City Limits, graduated to a brick-and-mortar space in Oakland that he still runs. But he felt the urge to start a new domicile space. “There is something a little more interesting to me about running an apartment gallery,” he says. He named his gallery 100%—like the emoji (a joke, since the space is clearly not 100 percent a gallery). He likes to provide a home for experimental artists, and also to make people work a little harder to see the art: He provides scant information on his website, and interested parties must email him for the location. “In one way, that may close it off to foot traffic who would casually go to galleries,” he says. “But it’s more about people who really want to see the show and are willing to put up with my hijinks.” A recent opening attracted about 70 people, and curators of traditional spaces have filtered through as well. They are “entranced by the mystique of this weird emoji gallery on Instagram,” Reiser says. 

Kirk Stoller’s c2c
Sculptor Kirk Stoller says that the inspiration for showing art in his small loft apartment in a Potrero Hill artists’ colony came from bubbles. Not the physical kind—the conceptual ones embodied by the claustrophobic San Francisco and New York art worlds. Frustrated by what he identified as a lack of communication between the coasts, he began pairing artists from those cities with one another to assemble shows in his apartment and dubbed the project c2c, as in “coast to coast.” His aim is to expand everyone’s artistic network, and thus opportunities. “That’s my curatorial process, making friendships,” he says. Stoller runs his gallery like a mini-residency: Artists who arrive from out of town stay in his apartment while he crashes at a friend’s. He pays for everything (from shipping costs for artworks to wine for the opening reception) except the plane ticket. So far he has hosted 12 “projects,” and he’s now operating his bathroom as an annex, the c2c/WC, for solo shows. The format is intentionally informal. He doesn’t publish handouts, and there are no title cards or prices for the artwork, which encourages visitors to talk to him about the art and ratchets down the pressure of traditional gallery-going. “How many times have you gone into a space and the gallerist jumps right on you?” he asks. Sometimes pieces do sell, although often to Stoller himself. “A lot of the work, I love it,” he says. “After living with it for a month, I haven’t finished with it yet.” 

Anna Nearburg’s Some.Time.Salon
Donald Trump’s inauguration day was maybe not the ideal time to host a dinner for several strangers whose political leanings were unknown. But as the day drew nearer, Anna Nearburg decided to forge ahead regardless. Luckily, a gregarious attendee posed a question that broke the ice: What would make you take up arms? This “led to a pretty interesting conversation,” Nearburg says.

Nearburg, an artist, art dealer, and jewelry maker, started her Duboce Triangle apartment gallery, Some.Time.Salon, as a way to encourage people who might not otherwise buy art to consider the possibilities. An enthusiastic host, she also organizes dinners with the artists. Attendees eat around a table in the very room where their art is staged. “It’s a little different to see art in this wood-paneled room or in my hallway than it is to see it in a square cube,” she says. Nearburg has hosted five or six shows a year since 2015, featuring mostly local artists as well as a smattering from Los Angeles and New York. Most recently, she curated a show about “the lyric quality of line” featuring four artists. Colorful sculptures colonized her living room shelves, and bright assemblages hung on its walls; the wall bordering her entryway bristled with steel works. Nearburg’s roommate, a college friend who works in the tech industry, joked that that exhibit was the most likely to impale him. Possible injury aside, Nearburg says that for the first time, that friend is interested in buying art. “He’s my one-person case study in how living with art transforms your ideas about it,” she says. 

Jean Chadbourne’s the Growlery
Around the same time that math teacher Jean Chadbourne became the owner of a large and recently renovated home in the Haight, she started attending a lot of art openings and mourned the fact that artists were leaving San Francisco. “I was ranting, and then I was like, wait a second— I have this giant house,” she says. It was clear: Artists would live in it, free. The Growlery was born, and has now been operating for nearly two years.

Following her epiphany, Chadbourne sent a flurry of Facebook messages to artist friends, attended conferences, and connected with local arts organizations. A fortuitous meeting at a summer camp in the Sierras introduced her to Michael Kershnar, an artist who had decamped from the city after getting priced out. He now manages the house. Residencies are awarded via a panel, and artists stay for between one and three months. A full house is typically four, but Chadbourne, who lives in the house part-time, has squeezed in six. The Growlery is also a gallery for residents and nonresidents. A June retrospective of skateboard artist Todd Francis’s work drew around 400 visitors. The artists have already left an indelible imprint on the house, which, coincidentally, was once offered up for raffle in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ annual fundraiser. (YBCA is now one of the Growlery’s collaborators.) In addition to soaring ceilings and a marble soaker tub, the Growlery features a couple gum ball machines, a (nonworking) phone booth, and myriad oddball collections. Chadbourne’s philosophy toward an ever-changing mural wall could be applied to many facets of life in a gallery: “I’ve learned not to get attached to it.” 


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco 

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