Review: Second de Young Open a bountiful celebration of local talent

Installation of “The de Young Open 2023” at the de Young Museum in September.

Photo: Gary Sexton

Remember that snarky New York Times story back in August 2022 that claimed San Francisco’s art scene was “struggling?” 

Neither do I. But if I did, I would point to the ongoing de Young Open as a huge raspberry blown in the face of out-of-town critics. 

The juried exhibition featuring work by artists who live in the nine Bay Area counties is a bountiful celebration of the region’s talent. Featuring 883 works by the same number of artists across media including painting, photography, drawing, fiber, sculpture, video, film and digital art, the show is overwhelming in the best way. Being surrounded by the abundant, nearly floor-to-ceiling, salon-style installation in the de Young’s Herbst Exhibition Galleries is the kind of “immersive art experience” even people who loathe the term “immersive art experience” can appreciate. 

The exhibition was culled this year from 7,766 submissions of work made in the last three years. Bay Area artists Clare Rojas, Stephanie Syjuco, Sunny A. Smith and Xiaoze Xie juried this year’s submissions while Timothy Anglin Burgard, distinguished senior curator and Ednah Root curator in charge of American art, headed the museum’s curatorial jury. The triennial’s first showing was in 2020; this year is again arranged by themes like politics and social issues, urban environments, nature, abstraction, surrealism and the human figure.

If I could review every one of the 883 works on view, I would. Instead, I’ll focus on five pieces that have stayed with me after seeing the show. I encourage you to visit the exhibition and see which works linger in your mind, or which you might return to on subsequent visits. 

James Shefik, “Hollow,” 2021.

Photo: James Shefik

‘Hollow,’ James Shefik, sculpture

This sculpture is one of the first works you see entering the galleries, and I laughed out loud at the visual humor. The work is a life-size version of a child’s puppet that stands or slumps based on the pressure your thumb puts on the base. The figure is the cartoonish form of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, one of the many Civil War figures to be removed from public monuments in recent years. Seeing Lee deflated on his mount was comedy, but when I realized that it’s human pressure on the base that could make him stand again I had a chilling realization about what a great metaphor the work was for all the years of societal support that kept these monuments standing.   

Julie Carcione, “Property of the U.S. Govt.,” 2022.

Photo: Julie Carcione

‘Property of the U.S. Govt.,’ Julie Carcione, textile

The delicate lace work representing a woman’s uterus immediately summoned associations of how fine crafts and textiles have often been degraded as “women’s work” in the art world. The piece seems to reclaim that distinction and celebrate cultures of lace making that span the globe. When I saw the title with its reference to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, that central motif of claiming space for women became even more urgent. It’s a work of beauty engaging in the ugly reality of our times. 

Judi Iranyi, “Self Portrait,” 2022.

Photo: Judi Iranyi

‘Self Portrait,’ Judi Iranyi, photograph

More Information

“The de Young Open”: Mixed media. 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Sept. 30-Jan. 7. $15-$30. De Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F. 415-750-3600. www.famsf.org

Iranyi began her self-portrait series “Who I Am” during the coronavirus pandemic, having never previously turned the lens on herself. The black-and-white image showing her on a bed wearing a bathrobe and a towel wrapped around her hair brings lots of cultural associations. Often, robes and hair wraps are images of pampering, but the steely gaze of the artist communicates both strength and vulnerability, as well as the isolation many of us felt during the early months of the pandemic. Eventually, the composition of the photo communicates a kind of tranquility found in time alone. 

Margaret Jo Feldman,”Incoming Calls,” 2023.

Photo: Margaret Jo Feldman

‘Incoming Calls,’ Margaret Jo Feldman, mixed-media drawing

The words on the three blackboard-like panels of “Incoming Calls” immediately told me they were in reference to school shootings. The phrases “Keep everybody down keep everybody calm,” “Ok you stay on the line with me do not disconnect” and “Get down get in your room,” laser cut into the panels, were spoken by either a student, a teacher or 911 operator during the mass shootings that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The pieces are chilling and urgent, and expressed in a simple, clear way. Feldman began her career as a teacher in 1999, the year of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo. The work continues to haunt me.

Sita Rupe, “Santa Claus is Real,” 2023.

Photo: Sita Rupe

‘Santa Claus is Real,’ Sita Rupe, photograph

There’s an immediate, ridiculous humor to this photograph showing the artist and her children posed in front of a retro-kitsch silver trailer surrounded by Santa-costumed revelers. If you’ve ever lived through “Santa Con” in San Francisco, you’ll either smile or shudder; either way, Rupe’s take has a beauty amid the intentional tackiness of the scene. Rupe was born on Christmas Day, and her husband was killed near New Year’s Day, giving the holidays a different meaning for her. She decided to keep the family tradition of posing for over-the-top holiday cards after her husband’s death, a backstory that makes the work surprisingly poignant. 

Reach Tony Bravo: tbravo@sfchronicle.com




  • Tony Bravo


    Tony Bravo

    Tony Bravo is The San Francisco Chronicle’s Arts and Culture writer. Bravo joined The Chronicle staff in 2015 as a reporter for the former Style section, where he covered New York Fashion Week for the Hearst newspapers and served as the section’s editorial stylist, in addition to writing the relationship column “Connectivity.” He primarily covers visual arts and the LGBTQ community as well as specializing in stories about the intersections between arts, culture and lifestyle. His column appears in print every Monday in Datebook. Bravo is also an adjunct instructor at the City College of San Francisco Fashion Department and is the fourth generation of his family born in San Francisco, where he lives with his husband.

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