(By Margaret Seelie)

Riding the 49 down Mission Street, I realized that the cityscape was very similar to what the Mission School artists saw twenty years ago. The Energy That Is All Around exhibit at the San Francisco Art Institute features artists Barry McGee, Margaret Kigallen, Alicia McCarty, Rubi Neri, and Chris Johanson; artists who took San Francisco as their muse in the nineties.

At first the exhibit appeared to be a traditional show with paintings and drawings hung on static white walls. Then I noticed that the edge of Chris Johanson’s painting read, “This energy explosion is conceptual abstract art about positive energy and how it is important to stay with love and freely give it away to the world.” I knelt in corners of the gallery to examine what appeared to be tiny shrines with feathers, bottles, a broken baseball, a painted rock, and rotting fruit. Numbers next to hidden artwork had me searching under stairs, and wedging myself into awkward places. Exquisite hand lettering was rendered on rotting wood, paintings with ripped corners looked out of place behind glass, and there were about two canvases in the whole show.

By the time I got to the second floor to find a horse spray-painted on a fabric sheet mounted near the ceiling, it was clear that this exhibit was far from traditional. Cases of ephemera from their time as students at SFAI told a devious and hilarious story. Letters from the dean pleaded with Alicia McCarthy and Ruby Neri to stop being so loud and putting graffiti on buildings in the neighborhood. A nude girl smoking a cigarette saying, "I wish I was a unicorn," was propped up next to photos of the smiling artists in their twenties. Chris Johanson’s sarcastic paintings and drawings claimed things like, "Welcome to San Francisco […] there plenty of room […] I hope you enjoy it here,” and, “I deserve to spend $700,000 for this 2 unit building."

Leaving the gallery I noticed colorful graffiti along the exterior of the building, as if the show had overflown onto the walls outside, evidence of an energy that is truly all around.

In loving memory of Margaret Kilgallen ~ Happy birthday.

Walter and McBean Galleries
San Francisco Art Institute
800 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
Hours: Tuesday 11am-7pm,
Wednesday-Saturday 11am-6pm
Closing: December 14, 2013