San Francisco – Castro Street Fair & Artspan Open Studios

We did a lot of homework when last we visited San Francisco. Our goal was to spend a little over 3 weeks exploring Artspan, which is the largest open art studios event in the US and spreads throughout the districts of San Francisco with a concentration of co-ops in the Mission and SoMa areas. We wanted to be based in an area that was handy to downtown but far enough away to afford a little chill. Castro seemed a perfect fit but outside of a basic appreciate for the life and times of Harvey Milk, we knew very little about the area and despite all of our research we somehow missed that our visit would coincide with the Castro Street Fair. This one Sunday of celebration, love and laughter turned out to be as much fun as 3 weeks of open studios… ahh the things straight people miss hey.

SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco is only just behind New York on a our favourite cities to visit in the US. We love it. The architecture and geography is wonderful, you can get lost in the streets and districts day after day and continue to make new discoveries. We have a bit of an aversion to the mainstream. Chugging out to Alcatraz or strolling Pier 39 holds little interest for us. We’d rather be riding buses to the end of the line, admiring Mission’s street art or woofing down a chimichanga in Castro. Ok, maybe the Golden Gate or a trolley ride might sneak in there but the point is we wanted to see the cultural side of San Francisco through it’s art and diversity.

CASTRO

Castro is no more picturesque than a dozen other SF areas. However, San Francisco does have high standards and with Castro’s colourful history, comprehensive selection of cafes and eateries and being just a 10 minute trolley ride along Market Street to downtown, it makes for a solid base to explore. On top of all that it is easy access along 18th Street to Mission and SoMa without necessarily having to head too deep into the city and you’re a couple of minutes over the hill to lovely Noe Valley.

Perry has always been fascinated by Harvey Milk and I suppose it has rubbed off on me. It’s an intriguing part of the cities history not least for the tragic and somewhat bizarre events that surrounded his final years, which reflect the harrowing times that this community faced during the 80’s. Have a look at Rob Epstein’s award winning documentary and also the Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk”, if you fancy a little enlightening.

CASTRO STREET FAIR

On a lovely Saturday morning we left our Airbnb apartment and wandered down the road to a very pleasant surprise, the Castro Street Fair was in full swing. It’s a wonderful celebration of pride, joy and acceptance which was started by the late Harvey Milk and this year marks its 45th anniversary (Sunday, October 7, 2018). Market stalls, dancing and cheer leaders fill Castro Street from Market Street down and into 18th. The best way I can describe it is that of a feeling of warmth toward each other, as a couple of straight foreigners we never for one moment felt unwelcome, people enjoying each others company regardless of who you were… bring a smile and you’re in. Just wandering the streets back and fourth from our rental was a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the mood of the celebration as many locals have garage sales in the surrounding streets (a gay man selling off his immaculate wardrobe is worth a browse ?).

MISSION

Just below the SoMa district is Mission. Named after the Alta California mission (San Francisco’s oldest standing building) Mission was traditionally an area mostly of Mexican immigrants but has seen many communities come and go and now with the gentrification of anywhere remotely close to downtown it continues to evolve into a prized piece of San Francisco real estate. We came across Mission really by accident as we explored the Artspan Open Studios event. It’s home to several large art co-ops and is an area well worth a visit purely for the street art and cafe scene. For a little more detail, here’s a great article we found that might help push you over the edge.

ARTSPAN – SAN FRANCISCO OPEN STUDIOS

The Artspan event is a terrific way to explore San Francisco and gain an insight and authentic connection with another of San Francisco’s important communities. The once run down areas South of Market Street (SoMa) have sprung back to life since the turn of the century and are made all the more interesting by the presence of hundreds of art co-ops that via for the remaining spaces that aren’t spoken for by developers.

Artspan – San Francisco Open Studios is the oldest and largest open art studios program in the US. It runs annually throughout the weekends of October and showcases over 800 emerging and established San Francisco artists in their studios. The list of studios and spaces is huge, from painters, photographers, sculptors it’s all there. The thing we really enjoyed was arriving at a little known area (to us) and stepping inside beautiful old warehouses, having no idea what was to come. The San Francisco Open Studios event is free for visitors and endless if you have the stamina. We covered an insane number of studios, saw many inspiring studios and initiatives and ticked off quite few “firsts”, by far the best city experience we have had… this is where I plead for you to change that ticket to October!

BnA Koenji – Contemporary Art Finds A Home

Japan is real handy. As far as international travel goes it’s pretty close to our home in the tropics of far northern Australia. Problem is, contemporary art is hard to come by. It’s certainly there, but you have to push past the anime and samurai swords to find it. So once we had taken our swig of iconic Japan we found it a challenge to explore our real passion – contemporary art. Enter BnA Koenji. It would make sense at this point to just plagiarise paraphrase their own marketing… nothing to do with laziness –

Based out of Tokyo, Japan, BnA (Bed and Art) is a social x art hotel project that aims to support Japanese artists while providing travelers with the unique and unforgettable experience of “staying in an art piece”.

BnA was born out of 2 simple realizations.

1. Many talented contemporary artists in Japan are unable to make a living through their art.

2. Visiting art enthusiasts are unable to find small independent art galleries that showcase up and coming Japanese artists.

In an effort to ease these burdens, we designed a mutually beneficial ecosystem within which both artist and traveller can benefit. The system is simple yet effective; Create independent art hotel rooms with talented local artists and share the profits from room bookings, while guests get the chance to live inside a functional work of art and are immersed in the local art scene.

BNA HOTEL

BnA consists of 5 members, all business people that bring a range of industry skills from areas including design and architecture.
There are 4 Co-founders (pictured above – not in order of appearance… necessarily… oh god, I don’t know): Keigo Fukugaki, Yu Tazawa, Yuto Maeda, Kenji Daikoku and the fifth member is Ikue Nomura.

BnA were kind enough to let us have an inside peek at the hotel and rooms. There is a reception/bar and basement/backroom gallery and two guest suites that were assigned an art director, Daikoku Kenji who is also chief Art director at BnA, alongside the artists. The attention to detail is fantastic, custom carpets, bedside tables and serious structural work have complimented some inspiring artwork. Considering Airbnb’s current predicament in Japan, the BnA Hotel Koenji is the alternative for interesting and rewarding accommodation for Tokyo in my opinion and the rates are very competitive.

MURAL CITY PROJECT

The Mural City Project is a terrific initiative that BnA has produced for the Koenji area. We spent a morning wandering around Koenji. It’s a very funky area and being fans of Shimokitazawa as our preference for the alternative take on urban Tokyo it seems Koenji is making a play for the title. Koenji is known for its underground music scene, there is the usual Tokyo myriad of dining options and of course…. there’s coffee. But the art is what has us excited. The passion and support behind it is to be admired and should be experienced. Following or better still, finding the mural sights is a great way to explore Koenji.

Q & A – BNA’S SABRINA SULJEVIC

😐

We caught up with BnA’s Pr/Marketing Manager, Sabrina Suljevic. Off the record I said. Just a few questions to paint a picture I said. We couldn’t ask for more, thanks Sabrina! BnA is a terrific model created by some passionate people and we thought our conversation deserved and needed to be spread and read (with regard to liability Sabrina… he made me do it).

Q : It’s hard to find urban/street artists and art in Japan, can you tell us why?
A : There are a few factors that make street art hard to find in Japan the two main being
1. Street art is still seen as “graffiti” and defacing of public-private property by residents and government alike.
2. Lack of government funding for street art projects (both financially and helping to secure walls).
However, it is by no means impossible to find street art and every neighborhood has its own iconic street art piece, be that an electric box covered in awesome stickers and stencils or, like here in Koenji, murals. Their longevity main not be long-lasting, but they are around.

Projects like MCP (Mural City Project), TOKYO MURAL PROJECT (BnA as producer) POW WOW#BICTION and Legal Shutter Tokyo are slowly helping to change both the peoples and governments opinions of what street art actually means/looks like.

Q : Can you explain how the BnA concept came about and how it works?
A : BnA was born out of a need for a platform that supports up and coming, underrated Japanese artists by providing exposure and income.
How it works is simple: we work with local artists to create one of a kind art installations that guest can stay in.
Part of the profit earned from each room booking goes back to the room creator (artist), meaning the artists receives continual income while being able to exhibit their work to an engaged audience.
Guest get to stay somewhere interesting, be plugged into local art communities and can feel great about actively contributing to the art and the local community.
Win Win we think.

Q : What’s next for BnA & the Mural City Project?
A : For BnA we have a number of hotels in the pipeline, with the next opening in Kyoto. Title BnA Alter Museum, this is our biggest hotel yet 31 rooms, 16 artists and 8 art directors all from the greater Kansai area.

As for MCP (Mural City Project), we are currently at 6 murals in Koenji and are pitching to secure walls for future murals while also looking to expand the concept into the rest of Japan.

BNA HOTEL KOENJI CREDITS

You can find out more and book accommodation at BnA Hotel Koenji here. The hotel currently has two rooms done by artists –

ROOM 1: “Into the foreign”
by Yohei Takahashi

ROOM 2: “Ten”
by Ryuichi Ogino (“Ogi”)

MONA… what the?

Opening of MONA 2011 – Groupe F (French Pyro-musicians) by Mark Huber

MONA… what the? For some time l had been hearing positive yet vague comments about this quirky art space, MONA Museum Tasmania – the Museum of Old and New Art. So, call me cynical, but having grown up in Australia and been fortunate enough though our travels to have experienced some of the worlds headlining galleries such as the Louvre, all of the Tate’s, Uffizi, the Guggenheim’s, Getty and New York’s MOMA, was this gallery with the rip-off acronym just a sorry attempt at surfing coat tails? Being in the middle of nowhere, a closer investigation was put on the back burner until recently and… I must dip my head in shame. Perhaps I could put it down to presumption, after all, Tassie does food, Tassie does wine and whisky and Tasmania does devils but is Tassie also a beacon for the art experience? Errr… yes, I was oh so wrong! Of all the aforementioned galleries, MONA Museum Tasmania, for me, is the World’s Best Art Museum Experience.

Image by Rob Taylor

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – THE HISTORY

Tasmanian millionaire David Walsh, is the founder of MONA. The Moorilla Museum of Antiquities was founded in 2001 but then given the mother of all facelifts in 2007 – $75 million worth of botox evolved into the Museum of Old and New Art – MONA. The new version was officially opened in January 2011 and coincided with the third MOFO festival of which MONA hosts annually (music and arts festivals showcasing public art and performances).

MONA houses 1,900 works from David Walsh’s private collection. Of his themes, sex & death are high on the agenda, his attitude toward collecting is probably best described by Richard Dorment, art critic for The Daily Telegraph –

…doesn’t collect famous names; his indifference to fashion is one of the strengths of the collection. He likes art that is fun and grabs your attention, that packs a sting in the tail or a punch in the solar plexus.

2 images above Rob Taylor, image below Cheryl.

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – TO GO OR NOT GO

To set the scene I’ll need to digress for a moment to give you a sense of my mindset on approaching this venue. The positive comments I mentioned were always followed up with –

Have you been to MONA Yet?

My “No” was met with silence and a widening of the eyes then –

I won’t say to much but it’s interesting!

That was all anyone would say and in hindsight my experience was better for it, so if you’re planning a visit let me just say –

Do it!

And to follow a baffling marketing move, let me add –

Look away now.

😉

You’re still with me, so thankfully the complexity of my “Wet Paint” strategy is sticking (and the rest of this post wasn’t for nothing).

2 images above Michael Coghlan images below by Cheryl.

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – THE ARRIVAL

On approach you feel like you’re up for a nice morning in a vineyard (it is set in the Moorilla winery on the Berriedale peninsula). Having barely parked the car the first installation that you will stumble across hints at what is to come (assuming you drove, if you caught the ferry you’ll be too preoccupied with climbing the 99 steps to notice much else). Two large concrete walls form a funnel, running parallel. “Does my bum to big in this” comes to mind… the rear of a car sandwiched between the walls. Right from the start, your mind is on art alert, a bit like the scary fun house at Disney, you don’t know what’s coming, but you know it’s coming. There was loads of cool stuff to check out around the grounds, there’s a market day on Sunday which has local wares, good food and ordinary coffee, the views across the Derwent River are fantastic. But if you were like us you’ll be gagging to see behind the curtain, or more accurately, the fun-house crazy mirrored entrance.

Image by Sahra Martin

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – ON THE INSIDE

My first surprise was that you descend into the mountain side… very cool. You’re job is to find your way back to the surface. The whole museum is all about the crafting of a cavernous space and then reminding you of it where ever you turn – lots of metaphors at play here for you to ponder. I was also surprised at the amount of permanent installations and the lengths that they have gone to to incorporate and accommodate them within what is already an impressive engineering feat.

Now I don’t want to go into too much detail on the installations themselves. So many of them rely on the element of surprise and I’m sure to get you excited about something that may not be on show when you arrive. What I will say is that you are never too sure what is around the corner, or what an inanimate object is capable of. There is at least 2/3 hours of jaw dropping exhibits. No labels, just a groovy little iPod, or ‘O’ device with an in-built GPS that senses where you are and displays information about the nearby artworks in ‘Art Wank’ (their words, not mine).

We are usually impatient with art exhibits, if it doesn’t grab us we move on quickly. Not here, we are already planning a return trip.

2 images above Rob Taylor, image below Cheryl.

MONA MUSEUM TASMANIA – THE VERDICT

MONA was the most fulfilling public art experience we have had. I pocketed a piece of plastic chain as a memento and it now hangs in pride of place with our art collection at home. It’s a reminder, not only of a fantastic experience but as a kick up the bum, don’t prejudge!

Image by Cheryl
Image by Fraser Mummery

Meeting Yukio Takahashi – Cat Artist

I first came across Yukio Takahashi and his work whilst researching a trip to Tokyo. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting artists and gallery spaces – I struck gold on both accounts this time. As luck would have it our trip coincided with Mr.Takahashi’s exhibition in the ultra cool Tokyo neighbourhood of Shimokitazawa. No brainer… we set out to make contact and organise a possible ‘sit-down’ with the man himself  to learn more about him and his work.

A TIME AND PLACE WITH YUKIO TAKAHASHI

Sounds easy right? Our Japanese is non-existent and with the very little we knew of Takahashi and his work we pushed on through social media and eventually made first contact. With some very welcome assistance from Yukinori Motoya at Gallery Hana Shimokitazawa we managed to set a date and time to rendezvous in Tokyo at the Gallery Hana.In just over 48 hours and beyond a bumpy flight, a deceptively long airport transfer and a chance encounter with a pair of extremely ambitious and persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses we finally stumbled into Gallery Hana to meet Yukio, his wife Maggie and Yukinori. Lovely people and awesome work by a superbly talented artist.Now it’s time to go back and watch the video…. off you go.