Steven Wolf Fine Arts: Journalist’s Sensibility Pervades Artistic Choices

October 4-29: Derek Boshier, Magazine / Colleen Asper, The Trial;

Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 49 Geary St., Suite 411, San Francisco, CA 94108, 415-263-3677

Steven Wolf has a well respected reputation in the San Francisco art community as someone who features intellectually rigorous work and takes risks with his programming choices. Steven Wolf’s aesthetic is informed by his undergraduate degree in philosophy, growing up surrounded by his parents’ collection of Americana, and his first career as a newspaper reporter covering politics, crime, business and theater in New York and Los Angeles.

He is also universally liked and considered to be friendly and approachable, especially to young artists and gallery directors. He makes a point to keep track of what’s happening in the smaller and newer galleries. Svea Lin Vezzone of nascent Swarm Gallery + Studios in Oakland agrees: “I really like visiting his gallery because it's a guarantee I'll see something I've never seen before. The work he shows is experimental and often humorous. We have the type of relationship that I can call him with a question or idea and he is generous with his perspective and knowledge.”

Wolf chooses the work he shows using the filter of a futuristic/historical perspective. If he thinks that the work will still resonate with an audience thirty years from now, then it’s a candidate for a gallery show. Quirky, droll and thought provoking are all adjectives that Wolf uses to describe his choices. “If it really looks like art, it makes me uncomfortable.”

The current show is no exception. The work of New York based Colleen Asper features blank courtroom scenes that are chilling in their anonymity and lack of narrative detail. The three untitled triptychs of witness, judge, and prosecuting attorney each flanked by two flags are viewed by you, the impotent defendant. Characters bear a resemblance to players in famous televised trials. The installation in fact mimics a courtroom set up and is well worth the trip to the gallery to see in person. ($3800-$4200 per triptych.)

Established British artist Derek Boshier’s cartoony and vibrantly colored magazine covers parody celebrity and sports star worship, the new religion of modern science, and fake geo-political boundaries that were arbitrarily imposed by jingoistic Western nations. The $18,000+ pricepoints for the enormous 80"x60" works reflect the great size and Boshier’s station. The smaller pieces are highly collectible at $2000 each.

Click here to see pictures of this show:

The painting featured on the splash page on the gallery website is a fitting icon for Steven Wolf Fine Arts. The irreverent piece by 60’s pop artist John Clem Clarke (“Stuart-George Washington”) is a paint-by-numbers copy of a 1806 piece by then portraitist-to-the-stars Gilbert Stuart, featuring our first president and his trusty steed’s large rear end.

Wolf and his wife relocated to San Francisco from New York in the early nineties. While covering his new Bay Area reporter's beat he came in frequent contact with the rich legacy of 1930’s and 40’s Works Project Administration (WPA) left-wing propaganda artwork which blankets our public buildings.

He also found himself in strange corners of the city and took the time to explore the underground network of thrift stores and flea markets. After discovering a Nathan Oliveira collage in a second-hand shop for $10, he actively enlisted the junkmen to keep on the lookout and put aside found artwork for him. Butterfield & Butterfield’s estate sale auctions were a wealth of forgotten treasures. After reading Carolyn Jones' seminal text, Bay Area Figurative Art, and learning about the California School of Fine Arts’ (now San Francisco Art Institute) influential post-war GI Bill scholarship students, he was hooked on collecting Bay Area art.

When he opened his first art gallery a few doors down from Zuni CafĂ© on Market Street in 1995, he shared space and customers with a business that sold second hand architectural furniture from the same 30’s and 40’s period that interested him. A few years later Wolf’s second gallery space at Jones and Sutter focused on “eccentric, under appreciated California artists.”

In 2003 he “got bored with the traditional notion of commercial galleries” and decided he “didn’t want to revive dead artists anymore.” He moved downtown to prestigious 49 Geary and modified his programming to feature emerging artists of the Bay Area and beyond, one of just a few of that ilk in the building at the time (including Stephen Wirtz and since relocated Catharine Clark).

Noteworthy artists represented by SWFA include Molly Springfield (MFA U.C. Berkeley) who creates conceptual work and drawings that comment on the place of books in our lives, Kaz Oshiro who recreates nostalgic suburban icons with verisimilitude such as dorm refrigerators, electric guitar amplifiers, and shopping mall trash cans and Hamburger Eyes, a San Francisco envelope pushing photo studio collective that offers darkroom classes and nurtures young talent.

Wolf is always on the lookout for new talent. He finds his artists through referrals from other artists and at the international art fairs, collaborating with galleries in other cities in order to give an artist national exposure. In fact he is just back from the Pulse London art fair this week so be sure to ask him about it when you stop by.