Hidden in the gritty streets of San Francisco's Tenderloin District is a burgeoning urban art scene. While it may be difficult to spot at first glance, if you look for it, you'll find creativity flourishing in the innovative galleries that dot the neighborhood. In these places, the Tenderloin reveals itself as a fantastic destination for people who are seeking to find what's at the fringes and the forefront of the art world.
The pieces that these galleries present range from inventive art displayed in traditional settings to provocative creations curated in a way that reflects both the art and the neighborhood. While gallery hopping in the Tenderloin, you'll find a rawness that's unique to the local art scene -- a great (and free) alternative to the big museums nearby.
The Shooting Gallery is run by Justin Giarla, a man with a love for lowbrow art. He opened this gallery in 2003 as a way to share his passion for pop art and pop surrealism, and to provide a platform for artists who think far outside the box. A recent exhibition, "Bedtime Stories," showcased compelling recycled art pieces by Santa Cruz assemblage artist Jack Howe. Past exhibitions have featured vibrant paintings that approach challenging topics in a clever and thoughtful way. This is an inviting gallery for anyone who appreciates unconventional art, from art connoisseurs to casual art appreciators.
Adjacent to the Shooting Gallery, White Walls has earned a positive reputation for consistently sharing crowd pleasing collections of urban art since its doors opened in 2005. This side has a definitive street art aesthetic and many of the collections here could easily look at home on a wall in a nearby alley. Through the pieces it displays, White Walls' aim is to present street art as a genre that is as valuable as fine art, in a way makes it approachable to all.
The Popular Workshop
Just a year old, The Popular Workshop does not latch onto a specific medium or genre of art. Instead, it gravitates towards showcasing innovative artists who share the gallery's vision of challenging the way audiences view and interpret the things they see in an image-heavy world. At this gallery, you can expect to find art that invites you to look closer, think, and try to discern the artist's message.
This spacious gallery is more than just a place to hang art --- the space itself can be transformed into art. In a recent exhibition of typographic paintings by Dutch artist Niels Shoe Meulman, the gallery floor and entrance way were painted with designs that mimicked the collection's pieces. 941Geary was opened by the same owner of the Shooting Gallery and White Walls in 2010. The aesthetic here is a combination of the other two galleries with a focus on large installations and murals. This gallery goes beyond simply providing a place to view art and gives you the opportunity to experience art interactively.
Other Tenderloin Galleries
816 Sutter Street
Open Wednesday - Sunday, 12 - 7 p.m.
679 Geary Street
Open Wednesday - Saturday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Ever Gold Gallery
441 O'Farrell Street
Open Wednesday - Saturday, 1 - 6 p.m.
The Lower Polk Art Walk
On the first Thursday of the month, several Tenderloin art galleries stay open late for art viewing and socializing as part of the Lower Polk Art Walk. This recently launched event now takes place monthly for the rest of 2012. There are plans to incorporate food trucks into the event for a well-rounded night of art and food. Visit the art walk's website for updates and a handy map of participating galleries.