This must be a sign, I thought to myself, as I turned my ticker on and parallel parked into the spot that I had come across on Pine St. Only one block away. This is definitely a sign.
After a full afternoon that consisted of visiting a friend over in Berkeley, sitting in (less severe but still, sufficiently annoying) East-to-West Bay Bridge traffic, then conducting an interview in the Dogpatch, I was struggling to follow through on what was next on my schedule: an art gallery opening. The press release that I received confused me, but I was relatively certain it was a fault of my own. Descriptions of art, whether it be a film review or an introduction in a gallery, have never managed to stick in my head long enough to make any real impact in my mind—on their own, at least. No matter what I’ve read beforehand, I go into experiencing the art as if I hadn’t even read the description in the first place.
I re-read my notes and the cryptic press blast to remind myself of that fact that brought me here in the first place: the pieces were about climate change, and the exhibit as a whole was atypical; the art would be shown in someone’s home. Fresh in my mind again, these two facts piqued my curiosity. At the very least, I would hang out a bit—find out more about the art, do a bit of people watching—and then go home. That was enough to get me out of the car and down the street to the address that I had plugged in to my GPS.
I didn’t know what the actual space the word “home” invoked. I imagined that I would either be entering some boxy metal townhouse or some stately old Victorian. The house would be filled, wall to wall, with chic ladies possessing art history degrees and deep bank accounts. The thought of the space I was about to broach was slightly frightening. But the address didn’t reveal itself to be a house. Instead, I walked into a pristine lobby awash in clean white tones and filled with plush modern seating. The front desk directed me to the apartment I was looking for. One elevator ride later, I was standing face to face with the door.
After a moment of deliberation (to doorbell or not to doorbell?), I simply let myself in. The setting of this exhibit was not the airy, high-ceilinged Victorian I imagined; it was modern, homey, one-bedroom-apartment San Francisco. The back of the room was crowded with people, with a few standing around the kitchen counter in the center of the room. I was pulled out of my observatory reverie and reminded of my own presence in the space when some turned towards me, looks of curious unfamiliarity on their faces. I was suddenly aware of how strange it felt, and how it must have seemed, to be alone at a gallery opening. A few offered kind smiles. While I acclimated to the unspoken patterns and manners of the room, I busied myself on reading up about the exhibit with the pile of resources laid out on the table beside me.
It wasn’t long before one of the kind faces wandered over. She introduced herself as Shira, the person who actually lived here. She was kept busy welcoming her guests, but she managed to flag over a woman in clear glasses and groovy pants. A quick introduction to Kathy Sirico ensued. Kathy’s was a kind, smiling face, and she talked softly, sometimes too softly to hear her over the chatter of the room. She was the artist behind the colorful creations hanging on the walls, draped over the TV, and sitting on the couch and the bed. Together, we walked through the apartment, moving from piece to piece. As we made our way around, Kathy drew my attention to several components that were salvaged and redyed. On one of the wall hangings, she singled out a few strips of fabric, explaining how she cut them from her old dresses. The opposite wall was home to a piece comprised of layers upon layers of different fabrics, as well as acrylic paint, yarn, and faux fur.
Moving across the room entailed dodging people as well as Shira’s pug, Ollie. Arriving at the couch, where strangers lounged with old and new friends over drinks and cupcakes, Kathy handed me a soft sculpture that was nestled between several throw pillows. Titled “Knot,” the mass of tangled fabric tentacles were patched with bits of colorful netting and small bits of fabric. Climate change was on my mind; while evoking human damage to our oceans, the creation had an air of the whimsical to it. Playful and organic, it reminded me of walking on the beach as a young child and picking up the debris, detritus and sea life the ocean spat out. There was no unnamed curator assigning deep meaning to the art, no DO NOT TOUCH sign. “Knot” was, on the contrary, something to be squeezed, something to be held in your lap during conversation. Understanding it was optional and ultimately at your own pace.
Before she went back to chatting with friends both new and old, Kathy pointed me to an adjacent room. The bedroom—more specifically the bed itself, she explained, was host to a sprawling sculpture titled “Mother.” To me, it had a perplexingly human presence. While it lounged like a living being and was just a little larger than an average person, it was also definitely not human: largely flat, shaped like a mirror of Venus, devoid of animated features. Kathy encouraged the audience to hold the piece, touch it, take photos of and with it for Instagram as if posing playfully with a friend.
This piece was also, in a way, a subtle tribute to the friendships that brought “Ours” to life. Shira Blatt currently works in tech, but has a keen appreciation for art (and an art history degree). She’s always wanted to support artists—especially in a place like this city, where rising costs of living make the profession difficult to navigate. When Kathy and Shira were introduced to each other early this year, things came to fruition. They bonded quickly over similar personal experiences; both had recently lost parents, and an art gallery oriented towards community also became a way to remember these family members. “Both of us talked a lot about being able to create connection with other people because of the lessons we learned from our parents who are no longer with us,” said Shira.
The idea only solidified when Shira rediscovered Gertrude Stein’s memoir on a trip to Berlin. Inspired by Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas’ salon shows, the gallery name also invokes personal connections: on that same trip, Shira also learned that she had ancestors named Gertrude and Alice who had perished in the Holocaust. Hence Gertrude and Alice came to life: an old-world salon style show, right in the heart of modern San Francisco—one that brings art to everyday people in a meaningful, personal way. From there, it made perfect sense to bring Cecilia Chia and Glass Rice Gallery on board. As the parent gallery of Gertrude and Alice, Glass Rice shares a similar spirit of creating community and unconventional experiences with art.
Later in the evening, Kathy gathered the four of us together. We did the usual meeting-for-the-first-time small talk thing. What do you do? Where are you from? All this condensed into a discussion of why San Francisco? Cecilia was born and raised here and thought she had left for good when she relocated to New York for college, but ended up returning home anyway. Kathy went to art school here in the city. “I don’t think I would be the artist I am today without San Francisco,” she said. “Students always call the San Francisco Art Institute the ‘punk rock school of the arts’ because it has this DIY legacy and encourages you to push outside your boundaries.” All three agreed that our city still retains its creative spirit; San Francisco is up for anything if you can make it happen.
Shira offered us all cupcakes and drinks again, while laughing over how the cake shop assumed she had bought the entire tray of cupcakes for herself. I tried to imagine what it was like to be on the other end, to be the everyday orchestrator of this welcoming environment—to come home from work and make your home into the Gertrude and Alice Gallery. I, for one, wouldn’t be completely enthusiastic about the idea of having strangers in my home on a regular basis. But Shira isn’t like everyone else when it comes to this matter. She embraces the idea of bringing people into her home. “Having this assemblance of kindred spirits looking to build love of the arts in one place is something that incredibly motivates me. I wish I could walk into my house every night after work and have a group of people with that commonality waiting for me.”
And this has been her reality for the past few weeks with “Ours.” Although the gallery is accessible by appointment only, Shira will continue to welcome new people to her home. Whether you’re a friend of a friend, an artist, a collector, or simply a stranger with a curiosity about art, all are welcome at “Ours.”
// Don’t miss your chance to experience the Gertrude and Alice gallery. While “Ours” is only up until August 17th, keep your eyes peeled for future salon-style installations, workshops, and events at Glass Rice’s Gertrude and Alice gallery. If you want to check out “Ours,” make an appointment by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; photography by Kathy Sirico