Murphy & Cadogan Fellowship: “Skull & Bones” of the Bay Area Art Schools? (pssst… bring your checkbook)

September 15 - October 26, 2007, San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, 401 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102, P: 415.554.6080, F: 415.252.2595,

Better than the students who are tapped by their peers for membership in the Yale secret society Skull & Bones and then go on to be "bold faced names," these second-year grad students have been recognized for their great potential by their teachers. This year’s twenty-four 2007 winners of the San Francisco Foundation’s Murphy & Cadogan Fellowship in the Fine Arts are students from the best MFA programs in the Bay Area: Academy of Art University, California College of the Arts, Mills College, San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco State University and Stanford University.

Be sure to bring your checkbook. Prices are double-take reasonable (many pieces below $1000) and this work will appreciate as these artists hone their skills and acquire gallery representation.
This also may be the only chance to buy pieces from these series; the work is so new that students are not even sure if they will include it in their MFA grad shows next Spring, the rite of passion every art student goes through as they complete their two year program.

Don’t be startled if the person behind the counter says “hello” when you walk in the door of the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, and then a minute later “would you like to see a pricelist?” Because this space is a non-profit funded with your tax dollars, there is a distinctive friendly feeling. Not only is the staff charged with the responsibility of ensuring that you feel welcomed in the gallery, they invite your questions and have the time to give detailed answers. If you are interested you can even ask for a guided tour of the show.

Dana Hemenway, recently promoted to Gallery Manager, has participated in producing the show for years, and shared her insights on this year's show. According to Dana there are two overlapping themes. The first is a theme of copying or representation, though in an indirect way. The second theme is the information age. The side effect of the combination is that the show is extremely accessible to someone who may be new to seeing contemporary art. However in this case accessible also means thought-provoking and entertaining.

Here are descriptions of just a few of the pieces that evoked lively conversation between artists, collectors, Arts Commission board members and art journalists at the special collector’s reception last Friday night.

Matthew Jones' (Stanford) undulating sculpture “The Shape of Something Always Moving” is mesmerizing. The small cherry wood joints were hand carved by the artist and delicately wired together like a multi-celled organism or a Tactile Dome on Miracle Grow. The piece sits on a motorized base that moves up and down and pushes the sculpture around on the pedestal like an amoeba.

If you are one of those people who wonders what the draw is to those video games that allow you to create an avatar (or recreation) of yourself in the virtual world, Marque Cornblatt’s piece is a must-see. The artist created this 40 minute video piece, “Self-Portrait, Corleone Enforcer” using the Godfather video game. Marque’s avatar wanders the streets of 1940’s Manhattan in a menacing trance, ignoring innocent bystanders and threatening gangsters alike, confusing the game which is designed for interaction and violence. (Probably not a coincidence that Marque attends San Francisco State University, alma mater of Godfather Director Francis Ford Coppola.)

“My Memory of George W Bush as Described to and Drawn by Various Police Officers Certified in Drawing For Law” by another SF State student, Lizabeth Rossof, gets a chuckle at first because residents of the Left Coast already think of “Dubya” as a crook. But there is a second layer here relating to the reliability of witnesses, the subjective art of drawing from a third party description, and innocent people going to jail based on well-intentioned yet inaccurate recovered memories. The nine portraits look nothing alike other than their buck teeth and expressionistic wide forehead. One portrait even turned out African American.

And finally, plan your visit for a Saturday and call ahead to ensure that Sara Thacher of the Vacation Surrogate Travel Agency is open for business. Ms. Thacker has carefully typecast herself as an anachronistic travel agent down to the gelled spiky hair and mismatched khaki separates. Sara is the only M&C Fellow who is not enrolled in a traditional practice of art program. Sara is a student in the California College of the Arts Field of Social Practice, which trains its students to intervene within existing social systems to inspire debate or catalyze social exchange. The Surrogate Travel Agency pairs people who want to travel to San Francisco but cannot with San Franciscans who take the dream vacation on their behalf. The art here is the act of creating a connection between people who would otherwise never meet and forcing an inured San Franciscan to see his hometown in a new light. Buy film.