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A Unique Metropolis: Ten Art Galleries in San Francisco
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A Unique Metropolis: Ten Art Galleries in San Francisco

Picture of Eleanor Cunningham
Updated: 11 December 2015
Alive with art, San Francisco is widely known as the leading financial and cultural centre of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Starting from the famous icon of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city takes pride in its unrivalled attractions, renowned museums and its distinct neighbourhoods including Chinatown, Union Square and Fisherman’s Wharf, which reflect the city’s great ethnic and cultural diversity. We have picked out ten art galleries that showcase the best contemporary art in the city.

Downtown San Francisco is practically a village of museums and galleries. Just West of Union Square is the small but impressive theatre district. Across town, in windswept Golden Gate Park, is the newly refurbished De Young Museum, a temple to the arts. In Lincoln Park stands the Legion of Honor, built in 1924 as a World War One memorial, where most of the city’s old masters and ancient art is kept. The city is well known for its arts and culture festivals such as the Bay to Breakers, the celebrated Pride Parade, the Latin American Carnival in the Mission, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo.

Museum of Craft and Design

This gallery is an international centre for arts and culture, and features a dedicated educational workshop and programming space. A ‘non-collecting institution’, the Museum of Craft and Design is one of North America’s few institutions dedicated to contemporary practices in craft and design. Exploring the active roles craft and design play in everyday life, the museum holds a range of exhibitions, including travelling and pop-up shows, and also collaborates with museums from around the world.

Fraenkel Gallery

Since its opening back in 1979, Fraenkel Gallery has presented almost 300 exhibitions exploring photography. Dedicated to presenting diverse artists that standout in photography’s complicated and short history, the gallery exhibits both the early masters and contemporary practitioners. Its earliest exhibitions showcased the work of Carleton Watkins and Lee Friedlander, as well as NASA’s lunar photographs. In exhibitions such as Open Secrets, Dust Breeding, Not Exactly Photographs, and Nothing and Everything, Fraenkel Gallery has brought together work across different media, juxtaposing photographs with paintings, drawings and sculpture.


Founded in 1935, SFMOMA was the very first museum on the West Coast devoted to modern and contemporary art. Its sole aim is to embrace the challenging and unexpected, and to encourage fresh ways of seeing. The museum has showcased the most innovative and challenging art of its time, and continues to exhibit and collect works by both modern icons and younger, less established artists. With its dedication to promote Northern California art, SFMOMA presents eight exhibitions each year in its main gallery. Focusing on both new and established artists, the exhibition programme consists of solo, group and thematic shows, and represents a diverse range of art practices.

The McLoughlin Gallery

Located in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, a short distance from Union Square, The McLoughlin Gallery aims to educate and work alongside mid-career and emerging contemporary artists. Exhibiting bold, fresh works, the gallery focuses on colour within a large, unique gallery space. Its artists include Pia Maria Martin, Laura Kimpton and MoE Thomas. Working with charities, a portion of the gallery’s proceeds will benefit Glide and Stanford Breast Cancer Research.

Catharine Clark Gallery

Established in 1991, Catharine Clark Gallery was the first San Francisco gallery to create a dedicated media room, presenting new genres and experimental video art. Housed in a former 1920s farming equipment warehouse, it was later redesigned by Los Angeles based architectural designer Tim Campbell. In September 2013, Catharine Clark Gallery moved to a newly renovated space at 248 Utah Street between 15th and 16th Streets in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood. The gallery’s new location is a former door factory that was redesigned by Los Angeles-based architect Tim Campbell. This new location is within the neighborhood of the San Francisco Design Center and Showplace Square. Catharine Clark Gallery is suited among venues such as California College of the Arts (CCA), CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, and the Museum of Craft and Design in addition to several contemporary fine art galleries.

Modern Book Gallery

The Modern Book Gallery showcases artists working with photography, exploring traditional darkroom practices, using alternative or mixed media and also digital technology. In addition to the gallery space in San Francisco, Modernbook Editions, has published photographic monographs for artists such as Tom Chambers, Fan Ho, Brigitte Carnochan, Fred Lyon, Geir Jordahl. The gallery also participates in numerous art fairs throughout the United States and Canada.

Intersection for the Arts

Intersection for the Arts is an arts space that explores the limitless possibilities in art to test and transcend boundaries. Working with the community, its projects aim to bring people together to instigate breakthrough change. Intersection works with hundreds of artists through residencies, commissions, fellowships, fiscal sponsorship and incubation, performances, exhibitions, workshops and public art projects. Established in 1965, it is the oldest alternative non-profit art space in San Francisco.

Haines Gallery

Haines Gallery, established in 1987, is dedicated to contemporary art. It was the first in the West Coast to exhibit Ai Weiwei (2010) and the first in the US to exhibit Andy Goldsworthy (1992), Liza Lou (1996), Kota Ezawa (2003) and Zhan Wang (2008). Cheryl Haines established a non-profit artist-in-residency and education programme, with past residencies including Richard Serra at SFMOMA, Cornelia Parker at Yerba Buena Centre for the Arts, Pae White at New Langton Arts and Mark Dion at the Oakland Museum. The gallery has also developed a focus on public art projects.

Shooting Gallery

Shooting Gallery is situated in the historic Tenderloin District of San Francisco, known for its diverse culture and history. Owner and curator Justin Giarla founded the space in 2003. Starting his art collection at the young age of 23, Giarla has since amassed over 500 pieces in his own collection. Shooting Gallery aims to provide a platform for young emerging artists who need that extra support. In addition to the exhibition of leading shows in pop surrealism, figurative realism and colour abstraction, Shooting Gallery is combined with sister gallery White Walls at 886 Geary. Giarla has gone on to start his own publishing company, and has expanded White Walls and Shooting Gallery into a 5,000 sq ft state of the art gallery space, making it one of the largest galleries on the west coast.

Andrea Schwartz

Owner Andrea Schwartz graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1977. She believes that her background as an artist has assisted in her understanding both sides of the art world. The gallery focuses on contemporary painting of mid-career artists, representing a select group from the Bay Area and throughout the country whose works challenge viewers and are at the forefront of contemporary practice. Andrea Schwartz Gallery is a member of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association and Art Table.

By Eleanor Cunningham