By Max Blue
Special to The San Francisco Examiner
The FOG Design + Art fair opens at the Fort Mason Festival Pavilion this week, running Thursday through Sunday, with a preview gala in support of SFMOMA’s exhibitions and education programs kicking off the festivities Wednesday night. The fair, which launched in 2014, saw record attendance in 2020, then took a hiatus in 2021 due to COVID-19, before returning this year for its eighth edition.
The 50,000-square-foot cornucopia of contemporary art and design is never less than mind-boggling, complemented by a slate of panel discussions, artist talks and tie-in shows at galleries all over town. It’s perhaps the most exhilarating and exhausting long weekend of my and other art and design lovers’ lives, every time.
This year’s fair will feature 45 fine art galleries, dealers and design firms from around the globe. Most of the exhibitors are returning, while a handful of local galleries are first-timers, including Friends Indeed Gallery from San Francisco and pt.2 Gallery from Oakland.
Highlights include Altman Siegel’s (San Francisco) presentation of surreal sculptural furniture by local artist Koak; paintings by East Bay–based titans Dewey Crumpler and Mary Lovelace O’Neal from Jenkins Johnson Gallery (San Francisco/Brooklyn); and Nathalie Karg Gallery’s (New York) selection of oils by the Pasadena-born, Paris-based painter Nina Childress and industrial-Cubist sculptures by the London-based Paul Hosking. If all the work on view reveals one trend in contemporary art and design, it’s a diversity of aesthetics. A regular lack of cohesion around a single emergent style is among FOG’s strengths, a welcome reminder that art can’t be pigeonholed by any singular zeitgeist.
This year’s schedule of on-site events is scaled back from previous years’, but there’s still plenty to fill out the weekend.
Martine Gutierrez — whose outstanding solo exhibition of fashion photography riffs, “Half-Breed,” is on view at Fraenkel Gallery through Jan. 29 — will kick off the scheduled talks with a presentation and performance on Thursday afternoon. Friday’s lineup includes two panel discussions addressing the effect on the art market of the recently rolled-out metaverse and the rise of NFT collectibles. Saturday’s lectures begin with a screening of the 2018 documentary film “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” which examines the impact of gentrification in Berkeley through the intergenerational story of artist Mildred Howard and her mother, the activist Mable Howard, with a discussion with Mildred Howard and film director Pam Uzzell to follow.
Ancillary exhibitions around The City include “Three Fates,” an exhibition by Gallery Wendi Norris staged next door to FOG at Pier 2, which examines the role of fate in a historical moment marked by a sense of helplessness; FORE-SITE Foundation’s climate change–focused exhibition “Lands End,” which brings together an international roster of 26 artists in the old Cliff House building at Ocean Beach; and the soft launch of the new Institute of Contemporary Art in the Dogpatch, with Oakland-based Chris Martin’s sculptural installation “Ancient as Time.”
Coming off almost two years of social isolation, I can’t think of a better thing to congregate around than art, a medium of social engagement that hinges on connection. My anticipation feels summed up by one photograph on display in the Gallerie Chantal Crousel (Paris) booth: German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ 6-by-4.5-foot “Nor’easter” 2016, which shows a solitary nude figure leaping from a sand bank into oncoming ocean surf. It’s a playful photograph that captures a sense of anticipation and wonderment: The jumper, frozen mid-flight, almost appears to be walking on water; then I hold my breath for the submersion I know came moments after the shutter clicked.
As art shows and events get up and running again, FOG feels like the perfect chance to jump back in, a welcome kind of overwhelm, similar to a dunk in the ocean on a hot day. Whether you choose to wade in or dive headfirst, anyone who visits the fair will be swimming in some of the best work by emerging and established artists and designers of the moment.
IF YOU GO
Where: Fort Mason Festival Pavilion, 2 Marina Blvd., S.F.
When: Thursday–Saturday, 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.
Tickets: $25. Proof of vaccination and masking required.