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Sonoma County artists to exhibit at de Young Museum in San Francisco

For an artist living and working in Northern California, showing work at San Francisco’s esteemed de Young Museum is an achievement akin to qualifying for the Olympics or climbing Mount Everest.

Now, with a rare open call exhibit at the museum slated for this fall, hundreds of artists will get that chance, including nearly 60 from Sonoma County, many of them active in the arts for decades.

In an open call show, a museum invites any artist who might want to participate to apply for inclusion, unlike with standard exhibitions in which a museum invites specific artists. The de Young Museum held open calls in 1915, 1916 and 1932, but they were much smaller in scale than this fall’s show, titled “On the Edge,” which will celebrate the de Young’s 125th anniversary.

Some 6,190 artists from the nine Bay Area counties applied to be part of the exhibition and sent images of 11,518 artworks spanning painting, drawing, print-making, digital art, photography, sculpture, fiber art and video.

“I was elated when the de Young chose my work,” said Santa Rosa landscape painter Brooks Anderson, 62, who has produced some 40 paintings a year for the past 3½ decades but never has had a work shown at the de Young Museum. He’ll have two of his contemporary landscape paintings in the show.

“Finally there are some artists, who have worked hard for years, who are getting this recognition,” Anderson said.

More often, the public’s attention is drawn to visiting exhibitions of work by some of biggest names in the art world, such as the de Young’s recently extended Frida Kahlo exhibit.

“Our names aren’t Frida Kahlo,” Anderson observed wryly.

Evri Kwong, 57, a San Francisco artist of American Asian descent, spent part of his childhood in Sonoma County and moved back to the area five years ago. He’ll have two pieces in the de Young show: “America, Land of the Free and Home of the Brave” and “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land,” both composed of multiple images addressing contemporary events and issues.

The artist’s father is Jakusho Kwong, a Zen Buddhist teacher and head abbot of Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, which he founded.

“That background informs the work I’m doing,” the artist said. “I’m asking who do we want to be as a country right now. Who do we want to be as a people? We need to face these questions head on.

“The is a big deal. I have been doing this work for years, and this is my first time showing work in the de Young,” Kwong said.

“An overwhelming majority of the artists are new exhibitors. It’s exciting,” said Shaquille Heath, communications manager at the de Young Museum.

The de Young show is a first for Sally Baker, 71, a former Healdsburg High School art teacher and arts department head. One of her detailed and distinctive watercolors will be included in the exhibition.

“When I got in, I felt very excited,” she said. “I haven’t made a big effort to get noticed outside of Sonoma County. People have a preconceived notion of watercolors, because of their own experience with the form. It can be used very precisely, but you have to go very slow.”

The de Young show could conceivably lead to less dependence on traveling exhibits in the future, said Timothy Anglin Burgard, de Young’s Distinguished Senior Curator.

“We always have supported local artists, but we could balance the blockbuster traveling shows with more local exhibitions,” Burgard said.

Mixed media artist Cat Kaufman, 56, has maintained a studio at a couple of different addresses in Santa Rosa’s A Street arts district over the past decade. Her assemblage accepted for the de Young open show is made from a section of a keyboard from an old-fashioned organ discarded by the side of a road.

“I consider myself a small-time operation,” Kaufman said. “I don’t go out and buy things. People just bring me things. I’m enjoying myself. I’m not rushing to be a big star, but I am just truly honored (to be chosen for the de Young show). I’ve heard there are 20,000 artists in Sonoma County alone.”

The open call entries were curated by a jury led by Burgard and Ednah Root, curator in charge of American art, which included artist judges Hung Liu, Mildred Howard and Enrique Chagoya. The team ultimately selected 881 works created by 763 artists.

The de Young open exhibit will offer artists more than just wider recognition. Artists showing work will be able to offer their pieces for sale and keep all of the proceeds.

“Historically, museums have let exhibiting artists sell their work but kept part of the proceeds. This time the artists will keep 100%,” Burgard said. “Artists are always living on the edge but especially now, with museums, galleries and arts events canceled during the pandemic. A sale from the exhibition could make the difference in paying the rent or possibly even putting food on the table. We want to support the artists.”

The exhibit also aims to give broader exposure to artists who rarely get a chance to show their work at a major museum.

“Artists didn’t need any special connection, education or experience to get in,” Burgard said. “We wanted to cast our net as widely as possible.”

The museum currently is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But staff hope to open the doors to socially distanced visitors wearing masks, possibly as early as September or October.

To see a full list of Sonoma County artists participating in the show, see below:

Sonoma Artists.pdf

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

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