Man looks up at a crowd of paintings on a gallery wall.
The de Young Open exhibits features 883 pieces of artwork from Bay Area artists. Photo by Kelly Waldron.

The de Young Open, the triennial exhibit showcasing submissions from hundreds of Bay Area artists, returns to the museum of San Francisco this weekend — and the Mission is heavily represented. 

Forty-three of the 883 artists selected for the exhibit this year, which opens on Saturday, come from the Mission. The museum received more than 7,700 applications, which were reviewed by curators and a panel of local artists.

The chance to display their artwork in such a prestigious institution is unusual. Typically, artists seeking to exhibit in similar museums go through a rigorous process that includes being nominated and having their studio toured, said Andrea Nicolette Gonzales, an artist at 1890 Bryant Street Studios and photography teacher at Mission High School. 

But for the de Young Open, applications were free to enter — and the selection process was blind. “Some of those exhibiting have only been painting for three years,” said Gonzalez, one of the artists on display. For them — and anyone else — to be exhibiting in the museum, “that’s a big deal,” she said. 

The show, first held in 2020, is designed to illustrate the diversity and creativity of local artists from all nine Bay Area counties. 

“I feel that it’s the most meaningful exhibition that I’ve worked on in my career,” said Timothy Anglin Burgard, the exhibition’s curator, who has been at the museum since 1996. 

And, for the artists involved, equally meaningful.

“Everybody that I have talked to is pretty blown away that they got in,” said Paul Morin, a professional portrait artist who has been based at 1890 Bryant for 15 years. “Then, when you see the caliber of work that you are among, it’s quite an honor to be there.” 

Harry Williams, a fine art photographer, submitted a black-and-white photograph taken at Mission and 16th streets — of a woman named Lupe’s tattooed hands that read, “Fuck you.” He often encounters his street photography subjects at Mission BART stations. “There’s always something going on there,” he said. 

Anna Sidana, a painter who is also based at 1890 Bryant, is exhibiting at the de Young Open for the second time. “It was a little bit of a pinch-me moment,” she said, about the moment she learned her piece was accepted. She had only just finished her Master’s in Fine Art at the San Francisco Art Institute, after a 30-year-long career in tech. 

Last Saturday, Sidana delivered a commissioned painting to a client, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had first come across her work at the previous de Young Open. “It kind of came full-circle,” she said. 

The exhibit is partly meant to support artists financially: All pieces are available for purchase, and artists keep the entirety of the proceeds. 

Prices range widely: Some paintings go for $400, and others for $18,000. 

Burgard said the museum aims to support artists financially to steer away from the assumption that museums are “gatekeepers” to fine art. He said that, after the last de Young Open, the museum purchased a handful of the pieces and added them to its permanent collection. 

Many of the artworks represent political and social issues: Climate change, Black Lives Matter, Covid-19, even Barbie. Others mark significant personal journeys, including chemotherapy, mental health battles and loneliness, to name a few. 

While more than half of the artworks are paintings, the exhibit also includes photographs, drawings, textile pieces, sculptural pieces, videos and digital art. 

John Hayes, another artist exhibiting — his submission is a painting of a storefront, titled “Chinatown Red” — is a retired art teacher. He said he was most excited about the prospect of running into former students and, during a recent press event at the museum, eyed the lists of participants on the wall, looking for familiar names.

Even if artists were passed over for the de Young, the exhibit has gained such a reputation since 2020 that a number of self-proclaimed rejects are displaying their art at galleries across the city — so-called “Salons des Refusés.” These include venues such as Voss Gallery and Metal Haus. 

Jack Parnell-Wolfe said he initially did not plan on submitting his art — an acrylic painting — but his grandmother sent him the link and he gave it a shot. He said he did not expect his piece — “Rush Hour”, which depicts a dark overpass — to be selected, but was thrilled it hung next to artwork by artists he admires: Brett Amory, Jon Stich, and Esteban Samayoa

Parnell-Wolfe said he created this painting to find beauty in a place that has brought him frustration and pain: He has spent countless hours in traffic on the 42nd Street overpass in Oakland, and recently had his catalytic converter stolen in the same spot. 

He was pleasantly surprised to see other depictions of roadways like his in the collection. “That was also my commute to work,” he said, pointing at another painting showing another highway. 

Other artists were pleased to find that their pieces, which may be considered too unconventional for typical fine-art exhibits, found a place at the de Young Open, too. 

Sheila H. Cain, 74, is an artist from Berkeley who painted a watercolor piece depicting school girls standing in uniforms on a street corner in Sydney, Australia. She said watercolors were frowned upon in many artistic circles: She has often been pushed to use other materials. But not here. 

“It’s really an honor to be included,” Cain said. “Don’t you think it’s pretty great?” 

And Gonzalez, the Mission High teacher, said the exhibition was also important in showing the younger generation that they, too, can make art and see it displayed.

“I’m going to bring all of my students here,” she said. 

Installation Photography of “The de Young Open 2023” at the de Young Museum, September 2023. Photo by Gary Sexton. Image provided courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The de Young Open returns to the Fine Arts Museum this Saturday, Sept. 30, until Jan. 4, 2024. 

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Kelly is Irish and French and grew up in Dublin and Luxembourg. She studied Geography at McGill University and worked at a remote sensing company in Montreal, making maps and analyzing methane data, before turning to journalism. She recently graduated from the Data Journalism program at Columbia Journalism School.

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  1. To all who put together the glorious De
    Young Open 2023, I say thank you. I had the privilege to participate and was so pleased to be. My many friends enjoyed themselves in all of the activities. Again thank you and BRAVO!

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  2. I’m another Mission artist who was fortunate enough to be included in the deYoung Open. As a self taught photographer and a forty plus year resident of the Mission, I’m delighted to be a part of this community based event!

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  3. Kelly, thank you very much for writing an article pertaining to this year’s deYoung museum open. My work is also in this show. I’m a street & documentary photographer. The exhibition shows the wide quality of artists in the Bay Area & SF. But equally important is the fact that the museum created this breakthrough space for not just local artists, but includes women artists, but especially for women of color who often face professional discrimination. We are artists & leaders with influential voices & skills to cover important issues affecting our world today!

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