My first photo exhibit was in 1996, at a dessert shop on Fillmore. I recently came across my preparation notes for it, which included the exact mat dimensions for each, almost identically sized, print: an extra 8th inch here, a 16th less there…. I took no shortcuts! I had two very handy people help me hang that show, and it took FOREVER. I bought them lunch and dinner while we set up. It was complicated because we couldn’t put any nails in the wall, so we tied fishline to eyescrews in the frames, and hooked it over the molding. (If you’ve ever tried to level something attached to two pieces of fishline, you might understand where the 19+ man-hours of installation time came from.) Sadly, the pieces flopped around, because they were now hanging away from the wall, so we drilled tiny holes in the bottom corners, and stuck carefully trimmed toothpicks in as braces. The result was quite magical, with the pieces floating about 2 inches off the wall (except for that one that crashed to the ground the first night). It remains one of my favorite shows.
It was the first time that my work had been in front of strangers, and I sometimes sat at a table watching people enter the shop. I would track their eyes to see if they were looking at the pictures. Would they smile? Would they look closer? Or would they head straight for the cake selections? At the time, of course, every interaction was hugely significant. My feelings were hanging on the wall, and whether someone laughed or gave a bland look could make my day or break my heart.
This week I hung a show at Dolores Park Cafe, which includes a few images that were in that very first show. I first exhibited here in 2000, when the cafe was a newish, risky addition to the quiet, old school neighborhood, and I was just transitioning to making my artwork my full-time business. Now almost 15 years later, I have exhibited all over the country, and Dolores Park Cafe is a long-established center of a bustling corridor.
When Rachel, the owner, asked if I was still interested in showing in a cafe, now that I was more “established”, I was surprised. Of course! Exhibiting in a great cafe is an honor and a big responsibility! I get to be part of people’s lives in a special way. In a gallery or a museum people enter the space with the specific intention of spending time looking at what’s on the wall. In a place where the art is not the primary draw, there is a different challenge. People are going about their day – getting their coffee, meeting their friends – and if I want my work to get their attention, I have to earn it. If they look up from their latte or their laptop or their OKCupid date, I don’t want them to be radically distracted, but I want to invite them to let their mind and conversation wander a bit in a new direction. If they’ve had a crappy day, I want to offer a mood shift, or engage their imagination and break up nasty ruminations. Dolores Park Cafe has regulars, and I love that. It means there are people who will see my work dozens of times during the show. Will there be one day when they stop and look closely? Will it be the first time they see it? The fifth? The fifteenth? Will they like it more as the weeks go by, or will they get numb to it? Will they miss it when it’s gone?
Showing in cafes and other semi-public spaces is rarely a big money making proposition, but it’s part of building community and connections in a way that is important to me. I have shown in shop windows and furniture stores, in spas, salons, hospitals and office lobbies. Almost every one of those shows has resulted in unique connections, either with business owners, fellow artists, or patrons. Sometimes those connections don’t appear for years, and when I discover them, it is a delight. It is fitting that “What You Sow” sits in the middle of my current show. I love planting seeds, even when I don’t know when they will sprout , or what they will grow into.
Have you ever had a special experience with art in a semi-public place? Do tell!
Do you remember any of these spots?