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Press Release: Ruth Braunstein Brings Collection to Richmond Art Center

The Richmond Art Center’s exhibition Ruth Braunstein: Focus on Clay, curated by Anthony Torres, honors and celebrates the life of Ruth Braunstein and her role in advancing the cultural history of art in the San Francisco Bay Area as a long-time gallerist, art advocate and collector.

“For nearly six decades, Ruth Braunstein has expanded and redefined the parameters of what may constitute legitimate ‘art’ forms,” says Anthony Torres, the Richmond Art Center’s Exhibitions Director and Curator of Art, “and she was thus instrumental in undermining long-standing hierarchies of art through her advocacy of the significance of clay as an artistic medium.”

Ruth Braunstein: Focus on Clay is anchored in the union of Braunstein’s personal life story with the histories represented through the objects on display, and the diverse interests, tastes, and values that informed her collection choices, all of which are integral to the history of San Francisco Bay Area art, its artists and galleries.

Art Critical: Exhibition at Richmond Art Center Toasts Bay Area Institution

The Breakfast Group: Exhibition at Richmond Art Center Toasts Bay Area Institution

by Hearne Pardee

The Breakfast Group: Jive and Java at Richmond Art Center

March 22 to May 30, 2014
2540 Barrett Avenue
Richmond, California, 510-620-6772

Jan Wurm, Nocturne: Camping, 2012. Triptych, oil on canvas, 48 x 108 inches. Courtesy of the Artist

We value connections to the past, and the Breakfast Group, a loose affiliation of Berkeley-based artists, sustains a conversation that extends back more than fifty years – a living connection to ancestral figures of the Bay Area movement. There’s a certain look to that art, exemplified most prominently by David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and Richard Diebenkorn, but its specific program is hard to define; perhaps that’s why the conversations have continued so long. This show brings together thirty-one artists currently affiliated with the group, and the works themselves, diverse as they are, engage in dialogue, suggesting that enough common ground persists to merit examination.

The Breakfast Group officially traces its origin to regular Friday lunches that painter Elmer Bischoff arranged with his Berkeley colleague Sid Gordin in the 1960s. These, however, merely extended the weekly drawing sessions and conversations that Bischoff held with Diebenkorn and others, before Diebenkorn left the area, when Fridays were a day off from teaching, and life centered around the campus and their nearby studios. When lunch took too much time out of the workday, meetings shifted to breakfast, at 7 am, and the group expanded to include William Theophilus Brown, Erle Loran, Hassel Smith and other artists teaching at Berkeley.

The group developed spontaneously, with no particular artistic agenda beyond a mutual interest in what people had to say.  As it enlarged, eventually to include women, the group moved from one restaurant to another, as establishments closed or their proprietors grew impatient with people sitting so long over coffee.

Bischoff and Loran were cosmopolitan, commenting on art in New York and Europe, but also discussing teaching, new art materials or local politics. Boundaries were fluid – artists like Sid Gordin made both painting and sculpture; gestural forms coexisted with Cubist geometry, along with an undercurrent of Surrealist improvisation. Distinctions between abstraction and representation, while vigorously debated, were not enforced with the same theoretical rigor that Clement Greenberg established back East, and Bischoff’s own work moved from the figure into abstraction during the 1970s.

For Bischoff, breakfast discussions didn’t extend to studio visits; he encouraged debate but kept a more general focus.  When group exhibitions inevitably took place – most notably at the Weigand Gallery in Belmont (1987) and at Holy Names College in Oakland (1991) – they offered a chance to celebrate the group’s diversity, and to examine the networks of artistic affiliations that emerged, like the submerged root system of a tree. So it is with the current show: more diverse than ever, the group can consider how it’s grown and how its present configuration reflects the passage of time. Members seem mildly surprised at how big it’s become and how long it’s been going, fueled simply by interest in one another’s conversation; aware of the history of artists’ groups in Paris cafes and New York automats, they wonder if something significant may have transpired.

Shows have also become reminders of artists no longer with the group – the 1990s were marked by Bischoff’s death in 1991 and Loran’s in 1999, and Jerry Carlin, the member with longest standing in the current group, passed away shortly before this exhibition was installed. Appropriately enough, his two works from the 1980s featured here are transcriptions in oils of old family photographs, which he endows with touches of color and personal inflections that bring their subjects back to life. They exemplify the mixing of media and interest in painterly depiction that inspired both the Bay Area Figurative Movement and other Bay Area artists such as Jess.

For many members, affiliation with the Breakfast Group involves allegiance to the Bay Area tradition that mixes figuration and abstraction. Terry St. John, now perhaps the senior member of the group, continues to create densely worked landscapes and figures, extending the legacy of Bischoff and Diebenkorn. His somber landscapes here suggest the depth of experience that informs his immediate response to a site. Lin Fischer goes further in her response to underlying impulses in her landscape-based abstractions, while Donna Fenstermaker creates more succinct plein-air studies that focus on shadows and reflections.

Interchanges with Europe and New York are integral to Bay Area art, dating back to Erle Loran’s inviting Hans Hofmann to teach at Berkeley in the 1930s. The German artist subsequently settled in New York, where his fusion of color with Cubism informed the rise of Abstract Expressionism. His visits to Berkeley, followed by a donation of money and paintings in the 1960s, enhanced ongoing interactions with New York. Here, Tom Schultz’s restlessly shifting rectangles evoke Hofmann’s grid-like compositions, while Arthur Monroe, another New York transplant, brings the gestural energy of Kline and de Kooning to his overall abstractions. A similar tension animates the drawing of Katie Hawkinson’s tightly compressed ellipses.

Abstract Expressionist impulses also emerge in sculpture, in the bronzes and stacked stones of Patricia Bengston-Jones. Her hand-worked slabs with their markings and suggestions of archaic structures hark back to an era before Minimalism and the “death of the object” upstaged such traditional forms. Joe Slusky’s animated armatures of painted steel and the assemblages of Stan Huncilman also exude a playful, improvisatory energy. Kati Casida abstracts gestural forces into origami-like shapes of aluminum, and that expressionist energy carries over into Marvin Lipovsky’s free-flowing sculptures in seductively colored glass.

Dialogues with New York can be complicated; Sandy Walker’s hybrids of figure and landscape, spare and edgy, speak directly to Bay Area art but originate in his exposure to Hans Hofmann’s legacy at the Studio School in New York. And Foad Satterfield owes the inspiration for his dense, overall landscapes, which amplify the scale and ambition of his Bay Area predecessors’, to his study in Louisiana with New York painter Paul Georges; Georges rejected Abstract Expressionism in favor of work from nature, but instilled in students the energy and ambition of the New York School.

Some women in the group have developed more individualized approaches. Nancy Genn and Edythe Bresnahan, who absorbed Berkeley’s varied influences as students, take them in more contemplative directions, composing with architectural structures on richly layered material surfaces. They share a concern for planar luminosity with Carol Ladewig’s color calendars, whose gridded panels chart the phases of the moon, and with Carl Worth’s hard-edge abstractions.

New technology has filtered into some works, but they remain grounded in individual sensibility. Jeanette Bokhour’s digital prints transform and enhance photos of Marvin Lipovsky’s colored glass sculptures, while those of P.G. Meier dissect and reconfigure everyday objects like pens or forks. Kim Thoman goes a step further by digitally “applying” her abstract paintings onto virtual vessels; she presents them here as large prints, although she is prepared to build them with a 3d printer. In more traditional engagements with high-resolution images, John Friedman photographs Nevada’s arid wastes in the manner of New Topographics, while British artist Anthony Holdsworth paints landscapes on site with a detailed realism reminiscent of his countryman, Rackstraw Downes.

Other works take a post-modern stance, but with personal inflections. Byron Spicer links older Bay Area art to the contemporary media era with his appropriated photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger, rendered in dense mosaics of one-inch square paintings. Genn Toffey’s portraits of historic women overlaid with transparent candy wrappers share in the subtle luminosity of Loren Rehbock’s delicate watercolor renderings of models on patterned backgrounds, which reflect his experience in poster design. The cut metal sculptures of Bruce Chaban recall Frank Stella’s compositions, albeit on a more intimate and playful scale, while Guillermo Pulido’s mixed-media constructions with chairs combine playful formal composition with graphic images of political conflict, reminding us of this important component of Berkeley’s culture.

Organization of this show was spearheaded by Jan Wurm, whose paintings blend Bay Area figuration with simplified renderings of men and women against flat backgrounds, which highlight social interactions, with details of clothing and mannerisms that lend them an ethnographic dimension. Difficult to categorize, they exemplify the combination of high sophistication and improvisatory play that characterizes the Bay Area scene, as do Robert Simons’ hand-painted prints, evocative of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat, or Barbara Hazard’s idiosyncratic self-portraits from a mirror cube, which feature animals and multiple self-images in a contemporary version of folk art.

Such is a snapshot of the Breakfast Group today – or Groups, since it is currently split in a dispute between members who prefer Cafe Leila and those faithful to the Vault, a longstanding hang-out, where they maintain an earlier meeting time. The value of conversation and shared information still sustains the expanded group, even as other forces conspire against it. Cuts in education and higher rents have fostered dispersion (Terry St. John offered me comments via Skype from Thailand, where he now maintains a studio for much of the year); artists now commute to teach all over the Bay Area, and few can afford studios close to Berkeley. This has made it more difficult to recruit younger members. A sense of changing demographics and new trends in art lends this event a particularly retrospective and reflective character.

Given the richness of the show, there’s a sense that the gallery system should offer more opportunities for these artists to exhibit; there too, however, rising rents and the invasion of high-tech corporations have created an unfavorable climate. At least for now, weekly breakfasts continue, enacting a cultural form that can be transported and recreated in new locations. Celebration of the Breakfast Group at the Richmond Art Center continues through May, featuring weekly spotlights on selected members accompanied by potluck breakfasts, artist’s talks and workshops.

Top image: Terry St. John, China Camp, 2002. Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the Artist/ Dolby Chadwick Gallery

East Bay Express: Tattoos of Memory

Tattoos of Memory

Victor Cartagena’s installation at Richmond Art Center speaks to issues of displacement through personal memories.

By Sarah Burke

Apr 23, 2014

Victor Cartagena likens the act of remembering to that of crossing a bridge. In his artist’s talk at the Richmond Art Center, he described how he was forced to leave his home country of El Salvador in 1985 due to civil war, and sought refuge in California. Since being displaced, he has relied on this imagined bridge as recourse to a sense of identity and belonging. But it has been decades since he left his home, and much of what he wishes to return to no longer exists. Such tensions around identity and politics are the subject of the Bay Area artist’s installation Sites/Sights of Intervention, which is now on view at the Richmond Art Center.

The installation consists of various pieces that are meant to be experienced as a visual and spatial dialogue within which the viewer is centered. The gallery is dimly lit, and entering it is like wandering into Cartagena’s memory — a negative space of placelessness. “I heard the other day that memory is such a place that those who have memory leave the present …. and that makes me feel that I am not alone because being part of this group of immigrants, who live all over the world, we don’t belong anywhere,” said Cartagena. “We have our own territory, our own country — the immigrant country.”

Victor Cartagena’s “Bang, Bang Toy Gun.”

One of the most affecting pieces in the show is the series “Tattoos of Memory,” for which Cartagena superimposed faces onto diagrams from American-made manuals describing how to torture El Salvadorian prisoners. Although he was never tortured, Cartagena speaks of this historical episode as a tattoo upon his cultural memory. In his artist’s talk, he related these tattoos of memory to the actual tattoos on El Salvadorians who were born to refugee parents in the US and then deported back to El Salvador after the war. These people often became homeless and, as a result, got involved in violent gangs, whose members covered their bodies in tattoos. “We all have las maras [gang tattoos], because we’re immigrants,” said Cartagena. “I have my own tattoos on me and I call them tattoos of memory, and they’re all over my face, and I can’t erase those tattoos.”

Cartagena’s immersive and almost surrealist installation also incorporates passport photos from the Eighties that he collected from the photographer who took his own passport photo when he emigrated from El Salvador. Although he doesn’t know for sure whether the subjects emigrated, he knows at least that they hoped to.

While many of the symbols Cartagena works with are pulled from personal experience, they speak to broader issues of violence, alienation, and ignorance. In this way the artist opens up both collective and personal wounds with the understanding that the first step in healing is acknowledgement.

Sites/Sights of Intervention runs through May 30 at Richmond Art Center (2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond). 510-620-6772 or


San Francisco Chronicle: Victor Cartagena’s subtle political wake-up call

Victor Cartagena’s subtle political wake-up call

Kenneth Baker

April 11, 2014

The more topical political art gets, the sooner it starts to look dated. Victor Cartagena has averted this risk by not tying his “Sites/Sights of Intervention” at the Richmond Art Center too closely to events in his native El Salvador.

Works in his complex ensemble evoke the tragedy of Latin American elites’ corruption, civil war and American anticommunist imperialism, but not too specifically.

In this context, an ostensibly simple object such as “Ante-Ojos/Anti-Eyes” (2014) – a framed pair of crushed glasses – summons thoughts of violent reprisal, the punishment of conscientious witness and the blindness of media complicity.

The work even suggests itself as a distant, underprivileged relation of Jasper Johns‘ satirical relief sculpture of lensless glasses, “The Critic Sees” (1961), in which mouths stand in for eyes, and as symbolic windows to a disfigured soul.

Cartagena’s “La Silla y Identidad Rota/The Chair and Broken Identity” (2014) consists of an overturned, busted-up wooden chair spotlighted on the floor, surrounded with tiny torn photographs of nameless people.

An American flag binds what remains of the chair seat and its unbroken leg, suggestive of both a bandanna and a tourniquet. Cartagena’s background and the work’s bilingual title link it to the use of torture in Central American conflicts and imperialist interventions. The moral nosedive in American interrogation practice and foreign policy since Sept. 11, 2001, gives Cartagena’s piece even wider relevance.

Similarly, revelations about targeted assassinations and “extraordinary rendition” in the so-called war on terror have expanded the reference of Cartagena’s “Materia Prima” and “Transparencias/Transparencies” (2004/2012).

The former consists of a light table crowded with jars of tinted fluid, each holding a small photo portrait. A projection of larger, fainter human images washes over the wall-mounted light box. The box’s form recalls – perhaps derisively – elements of Donald Judd‘s studiedly nonreferential “stack” wall sculptures.

Cartagena’s “Transparencias” and his other uses of anonymous portrait photos may borrow from French artist Christian Boltanski, who has long used such images to evoke the nameless, unnumbered casualties of war and the Holocaust.

Cartagena’s “Sights/Sites” surprises by its emotionally stirring quality. It taps into our sense of guilty fecklessness as citizens of an empire that has reacted with vicious interventions for decades out of panic at losing its grip on world power.

Victor Cartagena: Sites/Sights of Intervention: Mixed media installation works. Through May 30. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave. (510) 620-6772.


San Francisco Chronicle: Kids Learn How to Turn Trash into Art in Richmond

This Saturday’s Upcycle event is featured in the SF Chronicle’s 96 Hours section. We sure hope to see you for an afternoon of making, upcycling and music!

Landfills will be a little emptier this weekend, thanks to a fun, kid-friendly program at the Richmond Art Center.

The program, the second annual Upcycle, is a maker festival where families can create, see and learn about the art of “upcycling,” creatively reusing materials otherwise headed for the garbage.

Over the course of the day, visitors will be able to sew bags and quilts from old pieces of clothing, weave small rugs from old T-shirts, use broken plates and tiles to create a colorful mosaic trash can, turn use bicycle inner tubes into jewelry, and experience the magic of fire and metal to fold-form 3-D objects. In many cases, participating families will be able to engage in these activities with the help of local artists, too, taking direction from creative minds who work with upcycled materials every day.

Read the full story:  Upcycle: Kids Learn How to Turn Trash into Art in Richmond, SF Chronicle 96 Hours · April 9, 2014

Art in the Community at Eight Locations This Spring

“We learned how to use metal the right way, how to form it, but in a safe way.”

That’s how a middle school student described what he learned in the Metal Arts class at our newest site, DeJean Middle School. Our traveling Art in the Community program continues to expand and we are now at eight unique sites.

This spring, we are set to bring a variety of art-making programs all across Richmond. Instructor Rachel Schaffran will teach two STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) classes at Lincoln Elementary and Helms Middle School.

Students at DeJean Middle School will paint a mural with artists Suzanne Czerny and Nichole Talbott and at Portola Middle School, teens will screen- print with teaching artist Monica Gyulai. Students at Grant Elementary will be making beautiful metal objects with Holly Carter.

At Nevin Community Center, students will learn ceramics from Kiki Rostad, and at Shields-Reid Community Center, they will create mosaic embellishments with instructor Daud Abdullah. At the Richmond Main Public Library kids will listen to works of children’s literature and make art with Irma Vega Bijou.

Constructing a city with recyclable materials at the Richmond Public Library main branch.

Constructing a city with recyclable materials at the Richmond Public Library main branch.

This amazing season will conclude with Jessica Regalado leading families through several art-making experiences at two Youth Enrichment Strategies (YES) camps.

If you are interested in bringing our Art in the Community programs to your group or school?

Learn more here or contact Rebeca García-González at or call 510.620.6772.

Fine Art Connoisseur: The Language of Realism

Why Not Just Photograph it? That’s the question that Jeffrey Carlson, Contributing Editor at Fine Art Connoisseur asked John Wehrle the curator for our exhibition The Language of Realism and a California artist best known for his site-specific public artworks. This exhibition features four West Coast realist painters — Michael Beck, Christine Hanlon, Anthony Holdsworth and John Rampley.

I have often been asked the question, ‘Why not just photograph it?’ I have never had a simple answer, either for myself or for others. So, one of the goals of this exhibition was to provide examples of realist painting that, if not providing a definitive solution, at least presented a variety of reasons.” – John Wehrle. 

Read the full interview here: Honoring the Language of Realism, Fine Art Connoisseur.

Image: Michael Beck, American Roots, Oil on canvas, 46 x 40 inches, 2009. Featured artist in “The Language of Realism” Exhibition

Oakland Art Enthsiast: Victor Cartagena, “Sites/Sights of Intervention” at Richmond Art Center


Victor Cartagena, “Sites/Sights of Intervention” at Richmond Art Center

MARCH 28, 2014

Installations and artworks by local artist Victor Cartagena on view at Richmond Art Center in “Sites/Sights of Intervention” act almost as the artist’s autobiography. Appropriating imagery which reflect his own experiences and responses to world events to explore broader socio-political issues, Cartagena in many ways surrenders his private experiences and personal, difficult memories to public view to not only provide healing, but to facilitate meaningful conversation and perpetuate lasting change to the troubling issues and attitudes he has faced and witnessed.

At 19 Cartagena left his native El Salvador in 1985 and came alone to San Francisco to flee his country’s civil war. His early work drew upon these experiences, boldly exploring memories of that difficult time. Some of the most pressing themes his work expresses are the challenges and discriminations immigrants like himself endure in America. Since the beginning of the civil war, between 500,000 and one million El Salvadorans have come to America. Thus in many ways the artist tells their story while also making a powerful statement about all immigrant experience through his work. Passport portraits, strung together hanging from the ceiling and projected in grand scale in installations like “Transparencias” at the Center act as a combined symbol of travel and identity, but stripped from original intention, these floating and dislocated images of now anonymous persons are often interpreted with ominous undertones and solemn connotations.

Now living in San Francisco, Cartagena and his artwork are also influenced and informed by local struggles, and community concerns. Many of the artist’s works interpret and respond to pervasive issues in the region, like gang warfare. “Bang Bang Toy Gun,” an installation composed of several toy guns suspended from the ceiling, while a video image of one in a white hoodie that masks his face makes a panorama of the gallery space with a gun clutched tightly in his hands and pointed directly at the camera. It creates a foreboding and intimidating environment that speaks to a culture of violence and suspicion in America that has now seemed to trickle down even to the very young. Drawing parallels between “play” violence and real violence, Cartagena may be questioning how or whether one contributes to the other, or indeed simply if perpetrators of violence are able to comprehend the reality and severity of the situation.

“I go into a place of frustration ” says Cartagena, “and the only way I can do something, is just doing my art.” His work thus is both a kind of catharsis to heal and relinquish the affectations of the memory and also to relive in order to learn from it. Cartagena’s artwork has much to reveal about the world, and audiences have much to experience, and learn.

“Victor Cartagena: Sites/Sights of Intervention” will be at Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue through May 30, 2014

KQED Arts: Collaborating with “The American Teenager”

Kristin Farr from KQED stopped by to view our latest exhibition, The American Teenager Project, a collection of photographs and audio recordings completed by 20 local teenagers.

Robin Bowman is a photojournalist who traveled the country interviewing teenagers about their lives in the early 2000s. She took their portraits to illustrate the interviews, and later published them in a book. Bowman’s portraits prove that a picture is worth many words. She skillfully captures moments and complex stories in single, black-and-white images. The project grew when Bowman began working with teens on another level, training them to conduct their own interviews and shoot portraits of their peers. The group of students currently working on the project are in Richmond where many of the portraits are on view in the bustling back hallway of the Richmond Art Center.

Read the full review here

Collaborating with ‘The American Teenager,” KQED Arts, January 31, 2014

San Francisco Chronicle: The Art of Living Black

The SF Chronicle 96 Hours cover story featured our exhibition The Art of Living Black. Writer Kimberly Chun stopped by the Richmond Art Center for a preview of the exhibition and spoke to some of the 50 artists who will be showing their work. We’re thrilled that our work hosting this long-running exhibition of established and emerging artists has received this major coverage!

It’s unique — there’s nothing else like this in Northern California. There’s no other place you can go every year and see a cross section of the area’s black artists.” 
— Oakland artist Ajuan Mance. 

Read the full story online.


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