An upcoming opening at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YCBA) combines several things that people in San Francisco really like: serious modern art, diversity, heavy themes, Diego Rivera, and the input of hip young people. Interested? Thought so.
Through Future Eyes: The Endurance of Humanity runs April 24-July 5 and features pieces by renowned local and international artists. This show has been organized and executed entirely by a group of six high school girls as part of the YBCA’s Young Artists at Work Program (YAAW). For the last year these young women received a crash course in life in the art lane. They became immersed in the art culture of the Bay Area, attending over 80 galleries and museums, speaking with professional curators, and visiting artists in their studios.
The staff at YBCA makes it a point to select participants from schools where there is limited art education, and this program marks the first time many of the girls have been exposed to the art world. Monica Guerra, a senior, tells how she had wanted to include paintings by Frida Kahlo in the show, but was told by the staff that it would be financially impossible. The group dissolves into laughter as they recall the day that one of the staff informed them that Kahlo had a husband who was also an artist, some guy they had never heard of named Diego Rivera. In the end, the exhibit features several of his paintings.
They admit to having felt some initial trepidation toward art discussion and analysis. However, as they were exposed to more and more art, they learned to trust their instincts, asserting that, “art is there to be interpreted. There’s no wrong answer.”
Despite this populist view of art appreciation, the girls speak with the eloquence of art majors when describing why they were attracted to say, the sensual sculptures of San Jose artist Chukes or Michael Namkung‘s video of swinging chalk art. The art represents an array of subject matter ranging from paintings inspired by bodies exhumed from mass graves by artist Claudia Bernardi to the political posters of Shepard Fairey, the man responsible for the now iconic Obama “Hope” design. Each was chosen for its ability to illustrate what the girls have decided on as three important forms of endurance: mental, physical and political.
When asked if they think they might pursue a curatorial career the girls are a little more reticent. Only one girl, Khristine Manalang, said she hoped to pursue a career in art. She may be well on her way; during the group’s visit to an opening at Queen’s Nails Annex, one of her drawings was seen by the gallery’s curator, who immediately asked if it could be included in the show. Apparently, it pays to bring your portfolio with you when you travel.
As for the rest of the show’s curators, they’re understandably uncertain about how their YAAW experience might play a role in their future. They seem more focused on next week’s opening and the opportunity to see the final product of a year of a particular kind of endurance that they now understand: that of the art curator preparing for her first show.