New galleries bring buzz to San Francisco, but no gold rush—yet

Art scene is expanding into other parts of the city after high rents forced an exodus from downtown


After new spaces opened on the coattails of the dramatically expanded San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) last year—most notably Gagosian opening a branch within a few blocks—the city’s gallery scene continues to grow.

In January, the blue-chip Berggruen Gallery unveiled a three-floor, 10,000-sq. ft space South of Market, next door to Gagosian. The same week, former Matthew Marks director Adrian Rosenfeld opened a new space in the Minnesota Street Project in the scruffy Dogpatch neighborhood, joining Rena Bransten, Anglim Gilbert, and Altman Siegel, which ­relocated there in November.

The downtown exodus has been fueled by sky-high real estate prices. Claudia Altman Siegel, Catharine Clark and Stephen Wirtz all mentioned rent rises as a factor in leaving the 49 Geary building in recent years. Gretchen Berggruen said the gallery’s move, after 46 years on Grant Avenue, was prompted by a desire for more space and “amenities” that collectors expect, like parking. In effect, the city’s gallery scene is once again expanding after a contraction. But is the collector base that underlies it also keeping pace?

Rosenfeld, who plans to partner with existing galleries for the first two years of his programme (his inaugural show, Eau de Cologne, on view until 11 February, came from Sprüth Magers), says the “expansion is subtle, but I can definitely feel the difference from when I first began travelling here to see clients” more than a decade ago. He credits trusted curators from institutions such as SFMoMA, Stanford and the Berkeley Art Museum and the “extremely influential” art consultants Mary Zlot and Sabrina Buell—who have advised collectors Charles Schwab, Mike and Kaitlyn Krieger, and Alison and Mark Pincus—with helping to broaden the base.

John Berggruen has also seen new generations buying art, even if they are not exactly the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs everyone is chasing. “The founders of these companies are workaholics devoted to building their companies,” he says. “They are creative people but art is not part of their DNA—they often didn’t go to liberal arts colleges but have engineering degrees.” Rather, he says, it is the venture capital community that has supported the gallery from early on and mentored younger collectors along the way. Gretchen Berggruen says, “We now have three generations of collectors.” But, she adds, “People from outside think gold is flowing in the streets here, and that’s not the case.”

Rosenfeld stresses the collaborative feel of the Minnesota Street Project, founded by the collectors Andy and Deborah Rappaport to help support the local community. It’s not all about commerce, he says: “This is not a gallery mecca. This is not a new Chelsea.”

Art fairs reach critical mass  Now in its fourth year, the FOG Design+Art fair, which was held at the Fort Mason Center in January, has been successful enough to inspire a classic phenomenon: piggybacking, with the Miami-originated Untitled fair joining the fray this year. 

“Early on, [FOG] was like a toddler trying to find its way. Then it became a gangly teenager. Now it’s all grown up and sophisticated and chic,” the SFMoMA curator Gary Garrels says. Anchored by local trailblazers such as Jessica Silverman and Ratio 3, the fair welcomed newcomers such as Mexico City’s Kurimanzutto and New York’s Lévy Gorvy. Los Angeles dealers, too, headed north, with Blum & Poe returning to FOG after a hiatus, and ten LA galleries having taken part in Untitled, just one fewer than the Bay Area contingent. According to the Los Angeles dealer Luis De Jesus, this fair was “generally viewed as a success”; of the ten Chris Engman photographs he placed, nine went to new collectors. 

The new Photo San Francisco fair (27-29 January), organised by the international company Photofairs, already had one knock against it: Fraenkel, the city’s leading photography gallery and a mainstay of FOG, declined to participate.