The Five Best Art Galleries in San Francisco

Go behind the doors in the artistic hub of San Francisco.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

San Francisco is known for being hip and politically active, mainly because local artists continue to redefine the status quo of what both mean to the global population. As such, contemporary art that pushes the boundaries is widely available in art galleries throughout the city. Everything from taxidermy to Victorian-era collages to video and audio segments can be portrayed as art, and locals and visitors alike love it, or at least have an opinion of it. So, whether you’re exploring the city’s Tenderloin District or up-and-coming, artsy Potrero Hill neighborhood, stop in for a tour of one of these five contemporary art galleries. They may just open your mind to a contemporary topic — or at least get you thinking about how bizarre life can be, especially when seen through a Darth Vader mask.

Art that's Loved To Death

Like its name implies, Loved to Death showcases all things dead in a very artistic way. The Haight Street store started as an art endeavor that involved making Victorian-themed anthropomorphic taxidermy dioramas. "Antonio The Tortured Artist," for instance, is made using a professionally preserved pigeon head and feet. The pigeon is then dressed up in a miniature suit and is holding a cello. Visitors loved these strange-but-cool dioramas so much that the owners now produce a line of taxidermy jewelry and accessories such as shark tooth earrings.

Contemporary art gets edgy at the Shooting Gallery

Located in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, the Shooting Gallery showcases everything including pop art, street art and outsider art. Owner and Curator Justin Giarla started collecting art when he was 23 and now has more than 500 pieces in his own collection. The 5,000-square-foot space features rotating contemporary art that has an edgy theme. Photos in the latest Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow exhibit feature a woman wearing a Darth Vader mask seated on a disco ball with a golden gun in her g-string. It doesn’t get much more expressive than that.

Fraenkel Gallery's photography meets other art

Fraenkel Gallery has been exploring photography and its relations to other arts since 1979. Some of its early exhibitions, for instance, showcased NASA’s lunar photographs, while more recent ones showcase artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto. His latest exhibition at Fraenkel is the first U.S. presentation of his piece "The Last Supper: Acts of Gold," a five-panel photograph of a life-size wax reproduction of Leonardo’s famous masterpiece. Apart from the exhibitions on display, the gallery also has a publishing program that includes monographs and exhibition catalogues.

New Media that bushes boundaries at Catharine Clark Gallery

Catharine Clark Gallery showcases new media art on a 6-week exhibit cycle in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood, and it was the first commercial gallery in the city with a dedicated media room. The media room hosts various video or sound art exhibitions that often push the boundary of traditional art. Stacey Steers’ "Night Hunter," for instance, used fragments of 18th and 19th century illustrations to provide dream-like narratives mixing together collages, video and sculptural work into one art medium.

The McLoughlin Gallery makes visitors think

The McLoughlin Gallery showcases art that makes you think and usually conveys some kind of political stance. Past exhibits include Iconoclasm by Arnix and Max Papeschi. Their use of sculpture and digital collage explores how power and exploitation is happening in contemporary global culture. Arnix’s pieces, for instance, combines religious artifacts with lifelike silicon faces, genitals and animal heads to address issues such as abuse, conformism and dogmatism. While the exhibits are well worth the visit, guests will also be pleased that a portion of the gallery proceeds go to benefiting Glide and Stanford Breast Cancer Research.

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