Art Silicon Valley Tries, Once More, to Crack the Techie Code
At the San Mateo Convention Center, a valiant effort to make nerds love art.
San Mateo is a homely little burg, characterized mainly by boxy office parks and chain restaurants. It is blessed, however, with a geographic position between money-clotted San Francisco and the boomtown outlands of Silicon Valley, and so it is here that the inaugural Art Silicon Valley/San Francisco touched down Thursday night, at the San Mateo Event Center.
It is the second fair to land in the area this year, after Silicon Valley Contemporary in April. Can the coveted wunderkind demographic be coaxed to spend a tiny fraction of its new riches on old-fashioned high-end wall decorations? Can the relatively low-key decadence of the art fair scene compete with the start-up scene’s more conventional diversions of mechanical bulls and live tigers? Can techies be coaxed by the promise of $20 glasses of Ruinart away from the Googleplex, where they get free snacks? These are the question everyone is asking.
In truth, they are questions not likely to be answered this weekend, or even soon. The very nature of the new Silicon Valley fairs—planting a flag on the tech millionaire’s doorstep rather than waiting around for said tech millionaire to seek out art—indicates that a new taste has to be cultivated, which will take time (though there is a small core of serious collectors in San Francisco; and rumors swirled Thursday night that George Lucas had passed through). Nick Korniloff, of the Art Miami fairs franchise, has gathered an admirably diverse roster of galleries for his new endeavor. “It’s the international program that’s key,” he stressed to me in the hangar-like convention center space on opening night, adding, “We bring the best of the world to them.”
Still, international contemporary art galleries in the top tier are notably sitting out the “Silicon Valley Challenge,” waiting, maybe, for someone else to figure out the formula.
There are already some nebulous stereotypes developing. Perhaps “street art”—media-savvy, unpretentious, with a rebellious pose—might be a thing for Silicon Valley types: Keszler Gallery has a booth full of luscious Banksys, actual framed hunks of walls ripped from his NYC “residency” last year. (As a parallel, back in April, Silicon Valley Contemporary featured KATSU’s drone-powered street art experiments at The Hole.)
And of course everyone thinks riffs on tech culture are a good idea, though I have my doubts about this: On Thursday night, San Jose-based John Slepian was doing a performance (presented by ZER01), for which he sat on a mechanical platform wearing a “hacked brainwave sensor,” his thoughts raising and lowering him in the air. (Another parallel: Silicon Valley Contemporary had the Marina Abramović Institute’s “interactive neurofeedback installation”).
But for now, really, the Art Silicon Valley formula looks a lot like a normal art fair. There are a few more Apple logos and tech references in the art—but these are omnipresent symbols in the culture right now, and you’d probably find them anywhere. There is a lot of comic book imagery—the best of which, for me, is Icelandic artist Erró’s cool Peter, how did it go? at Galerie Ernst Hilger, from Austria—but that is almost a contemporary art cliché. As with most fairs, there’s at least one grabby interactive installation, in this case Oakland-based “socio-commodity engineer” Nick Dong’s En-lightening, a chamber, lined with handmade ceramic tiles, that lights up and immerses a visitor in billowing sound when he sits within. And, surrounding all this, there’s a smattering of art by bold-faced names, which summons an aura of sobriety. Of those that caught my eye: the black zigzags of a smallish, early Pierre Soulages; a rainbow-hued, recent-ish Mel Bochner text painting; and some Picasso ceramics, including a plate that appears to offer a meal of eggs and penis.
Also, as with most fairs, there are at least some genuine moments of discovery that make it worth the trip. My favorite booth is that of Peter Fetterman Gallery, a photography specialist from Santa Monica, which features, among other things, giant, vivid, aggressively black-and-white images from Sebastião Salgado’s “Genesis” series, dramatic scenes of the effects of climate change throughout the world. But what pulled me in here were the more understated photo prints of Laszlo Layton, which recreate the form of natural history illustrations in dreamy cyanotype, with delicate hand-colored details and hand-written captions: an emu egg, looking like a ripe, otherworldly avocado; the grimacing skull of an ibex; a serene, preening flamingo. Check them out if you get the chance, lest some tech billionaire discover their subtle enchantments and spirit them away this Columbus Day weekend.
Art Silicon Valley/San Francisco, at the San Mateo Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo, continues through October 12.
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