Fine Arts Museums Of San Francisco’s ‘de Young Open’ Returns With 800+ Invited Artists

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s de Young museum in Golden Gate Park celebrates contemporary art in the Bay Area with a guest list numbering 883. That’s just the artists.

The de Young Open returned September 30, 2023, as a newly established triennial, building on the success of the inaugural iteration in 2020. Designed for local artists and free to enter, The de Young Open is the only exhibition of its kind at a major American museum.

Instead of gatekeeping, the de Young has thrown its doors open. Instead of featuring two or three major name national or international artists for “blockbuster” fall exhibitions, the de Young placed its emphasis on local artists–and did they ever respond!

An application period lasting less than two weeks and open to any and all visual artists over the age of 18 across the Bay Area’s nine counties resulted in 7,766 submissions. Entrants were only allowed to submit one artwork for consideration.

Anonymously juried by Bay Area artists and curators from the Museums, the 883 items selected–paintings, photography, drawing, prints, fiber, sculpture, video, film, and digital art–have been hung “salon style”–nearly floor to ceiling–in the de Young’s largest galleries.

It seems whacky, but there’s a method to the madness.

“Unlike most museum exhibitions that take years of planning, The de Young Open is organized in four months and thus takes the pulse of Bay Area arts with a sense of immediacy and urgency,” Timothy Anglin Burgard, Distinguished Senior Curator and Curator-in-Charge of American Art for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, and the triennial’s originator and curator, told “This is particularly apparent in the first gallery which is devoted to artworks that address contemporary political and social issues including the January 6th insurrection, political polarization, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global warming, women’s rights, and school shootings.”

Disposing of the ponderous preciousness most museum exhibitions operate under, the de Young went in the other direction, the modus operandi seeming to be, “let ‘er rip.” Faster. More. Erring on the side additional access.

“The scale and salon-style installation of the exhibition, which aim for maximum representation, more accurately reflect the broad spectrum of art being created in the Bay Area and empowers viewers to make their own judgments regarding the content and quality of these artworks,” Burgard said.

There’s a novel concept.

With 883 artworks on view, all visitors are sure to find something–many things–they like, and something–many things–they don’t. Good.

An Exhibition for Audiences and Artists

Participating artists not only receive the prestige of showing work in one of the nation’s finest museums, they are again able to sell what’s on view, retaining 100% of the proceeds. Those sale prices are bolstered by the pieces having been on view in the exhibition.

“One-third of the 2020 de Young Open artists who responded to a survey stated that they sold artworks during the exhibition,” Burgard notes. “Several artists secured representation with art galleries. The Fine Arts Museums acquired sixteen objects from the 2020 exhibition and plan to acquire a comparable number in 2023.”

Its ability to do so comes in part from the Svane Family Foundation which made a $1,000,000 gift to the Fine Arts Museums after being inspired to do so by the 2020 The de Young Open. The Museums subsequently used more of that money to acquire 42 additional artworks by contemporary Bay Area artists for the permanent collection.

“Less tangible, but equally important, is the opportunity for the artists, who typically work in isolation for much of their careers with little or no recognition, to have their artworks viewed and appreciated in their hometown museum, which is also a top-ten American art museum,” Burgard said. “One 2020 de Young Open artist described the exhibition as ‘a giant love letter to the artists of the Bay Area.’”

No wonder the de Young Museum has the reputation as the Bay Area’s community museum.

The de Young Open 2023 runs through January 7, 2024; admission is free to all on Saturdays.

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