In Search of the Perfect POP-UP

San Francisco – Soaring commercial real estate rates have San Francisco gallerists running for cover, seeking creative alternatives to keep art alive and well in the city.  Amidst the closings, the relocations and brick and mortar transitions to online presence only, the resurgence of POP-UP galleries and art events appear to be a stylish refuge for maintaining some sort of physical presence.

The original concept behind POP-UP art shows suggested alternative, often makeshift, venues offering one night stands to limited runs opposed to the exhibition schedules of conventional galleries.  As temporary as it set out to be, the opening of Keith Haring’s POP SHOP on Lafayette Street in New York City in 1986 proved to be the model breaking POP-UP of all time.  His goal to make art affordable and accessible to everyone was realized. He redefined the longevity factor of POP-UPS.  Nineteen years later, the POP-UP, POP SHOP closed.  Haring’s extension POP-UP in Tokyo had a shorter shelf life. 

On the West Coast in 1994, San Francisco artist Brian Goggin’s chair raising, temporary DEFENESTRATION Installation at the Old Hugo Hotel, on the corner of Howard and 6th Streets, took the POP-UP to new heights.  This proposed short term, indoor/outdoor exhibit engaged the public for nearly twenty years.  

Artist Brian Goggin posing in front of "Defenestration" 2010 Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle

Artist Brian Goggin posing in front of "Defenestration" 2010
Photo: Lance Iversen, The Chronicle

Today, curators, gallerists and artists continue their search for blank walls, adequate lighting and an enthusiastic audience for artists and their work.  Companies such as STOREFRONT, an online platform used specifically to locate POP-UP retail opportunities, offers to eliminate some of the leg work.

Even more established galleries, including Andrea Schwartz, John Berggruen and Dolby Chadwick, are making guest, POP-UP appearances as a means of gaining further exposure for their brand and represented artists.  According to Gallerist Annette Schutz, “ArtHaus currently has three POP UPS running in the city. Our latest, ArtHaus – POPS- UP at THE BEACON, co-curated by San Francisco designer Lizette Bruckstein, will premiere in December.  These temporary exhibitions create even greater visibility for our artists while driving new collectors to the gallery.”

Most recently, San Francisco curator Philip Bewley has unveiled a true POP-UP exhibition space, aka the Oliver Hawke Gallery.  The gallery is located within The Artillery, a film and visual graphics studio, 1545 Mission Street in SOMA. “There is a feeling of a start-up about it all – something that reminds me of New York in the 70’s…more downtown than uptown”, says Bewley.

Bewley’s mission is to provide a dynamic alternative art space where artists can exhibit and sell their art, where the public can be exposed to new artists and ideas in art, and to encourage the creative arts community in San Francisco.  His focus is presenting the work of artists living and working in San Francisco.  “The advantage to POP-UP gallery space is not being locked in to a particular genre, or representing particular artists.  This keeps it all unexpected, impromptu and relevant.”

His current offering, ELEMENTI – A POP-UP Group Show - opened on Thursday.  The exhibition includes the work of five Bay-Area Artists; Sharon Kyle Kuhn, Carrie Ann Plank, Linda Colnett, Kerry Laitala and Gina Jacupke, presenting the five elements in various media.  Visually, this is a thoughtful and engaging exhibition. The only downside is that the gallery revolves around the Artillery’s day-to-day business.  Aside from openings and special events, shows can be viewed by appointment only.  As POP- UPS come and go, curators continue to overcome the obstacles often associated with them.

Installation:  ELEMENTI at Oliver Hawke Gallery

Installation:  ELEMENTI at Oliver Hawke Gallery

In 2012, San Francisco played host to three contemporary art fairs running simultaneously throughout the city.  At last, San Francisco was taken seriously as a player in the art world. 

Opening night, artMRKT San Francisco 

Opening night, artMRKT San Francisco 

Granted the cost of participating as an exhibitor can be prohibitive, these fairs clearly reflect and embellish the original concept of the POP-UP.  Offering ample lead time and full scale advertising campaigns, they attract massive crowds of art enthusiasts and collectors to a temporary location for a short lived period of time. Most importantly, they present legitimacy and the opportunity for everyone involved to generate business and earn notoriety long after the event itself. 

My quest for the perfect POP-UP leaves me at the entrance to the fair, clutching my Complimentary VIP Pass, as I anticipate all that contemporary art has to offer under one roof to be seen in a matter of hours.  This is POP-UP at its best.



James Bacchi is a writer, gallerist and co-owner of San Francisco-based ArtHaus with Annette Schutz.  He has been collecting, representing and exhibiting contemporary fine art in New York and San Francisco since 1986.