a 14 year span

By Morgan de Lorenzo

Morgan de LorenzoI was 18 years old when I first attended a show at the Luggage Store Gallery on Market Street near the Tenderloin in San Francisco. The Gallery is a S.F. landmark, established in 1987 by Daryl Smith and Laurie Lazer. From the beginning they have been relentless in their passion to support emerging artists from the Bay Area as well as international ones. You can easily trace the paths of many contemporary artists back to the Luggage Store. New to the Bay Area I made fast friends through skateboarding and graffiti. On a rainy day my friends and I set out from Oakland as a pack of wild and reckless youths to view the infamous Brazilian twins, Os Gemeos exhibit at the Luggage Store.

This was my first trip to San Francisco. I was newly transplanted from Baltimore, Maryland and experiencing the City for the first time. It was wild. I felt sense of overwhelming culture shock from the Market street/Civic Center anything goes attitude. The area was a frenzy of shouting Tweakers, sharply dressed commuters, broken bottles, and marijuana smoke drifting through the air. I had never seen anything like it for a downtown in a major city.

That Boy is like the Sun
Walking down Market from the train station, we were immediately confronted by a giant, twenty- foot, vibrant, Sun-Yellow Os Gemeos character being painted on the roof. It was one of the twins painting, while standing in the rain, precariously perched on the 3rd to the top rung of his ladder. It was a moment of awe for us kids. As hyperactive trouble-seeking youth, moments of pause and contemplation were not something that happened often. We watched, while standing in the rain, another artist getting soaked and working dangerously to realize his vision.

It was our first lesson in what dedication to craft meant, a lesson I still hold close to my heart. This trip cemented in my mind what SF is and should remain: a wild, free city, supportive of its creative and diverse inhabitants—an idea that is now under threat by the incredible amount of economic disruption in San Francisco.

14 years later,I found myself back at the Luggage Store. I saw on Instagram that the Luggage Store was exhibiting a group show titled Gentrified. 6 artists from the Bay Area were exhibiting a range of works, from installations to work on paper. The subject matter was gentrification of neighborhoods, predominantly lower middle class and working class neighborhoods of color.

Still going at it
I opened the door to the gallery and found myself instantly reluctant to take on the two flights of stairs. I’m no longer the wild, skateboarding youth I once was. I slowly climbed up. The staircase walls were covered in graffiti scrawls, stickers and flyers, leftover markings from visitors who came before me. The atmosphere created in the staircase is one I find welcoming and comfortable, much different than the upscale galleries of Union Square. At the top of the first flight was a new room, or at least new since my last visit to the Luggage store. The gallery had built a second exhibition space and office overlooking Market Street.

In this new space was the work by the artist Don’t Fret. Don’t Fret built a newsstand installation within the space. On the shelves are cardboard pieces presented as “news paper” that were for sale. On the backside of the stand was the word “Juicy” spray-painted over a painted cartoon rendering of two kids spraying the word “Juicy.” On the two gallery walls was an over abundance of painted signs of cartoon-like imagery of characters with thought bubbles; all done on found materials such as Muni bus signs and “don’t park” signs. The work covered the walls in a salon style. It teetered on the side of I’m a psychotic hoarder. It was an overwhelming feeling that caught the energy of the Tenderloin.

This is where you go
Don’t Fret’s painted cartoons characters engage in a dialogue with the city and us. One young white and annoyingly hip looking character runs across a busy street, looks straight at the viewer, and says, “I run a popular instagram account.” He does this while what seems like SF native looks on from his doorway and says, “All my friends from high school are either in real estate or selling prescription drugs…" These are funny statements that are also sharp commentary about what’s happening in the city.

After taking in the first floor I made my way up to the original gallery floor. The curation of works on this floor was cleaner and more gallery like. Artists Spencer Keeton Cunningham, Robin Birdd, Daisy Ortiz, Jaque Fragua, and Erlin Geffard displayed a range of works from paintings on canvas, soft sculpture pieces, hand painted signs on found materials, to an installation of a cardboard shack representing a displaced SF resident. On the opposite end of the room was Robin Birdd’s ten-foot tall boob blanket made of individual soft sculptural boobs sewn together. Soft sculpture boob piles on the floor accompanied the blanket. The work maintained a strong balance of seriousness and humor that allowed for a entry point for the viewer and the artist’s feelings around what is happening in S.F. This is an amazing show that should not to be missed by Bay Area natives and open minded folks concerned for the future of San Francisco’s most impacted communities.

©Morgan de Lorenzo and the CCA Arts Review

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