Upper Market Gallery has opened virtually, with a real grand opening still in the works, and with a view toward tearing down barriers in the local art world creating new spaces that invite conversation and community.
Upper Market Gallery, or UMG, is a multidisciplinary fine art and design space founded and directed by Olivia Robertson, in collaboration with her mother, Ann V Capitan, and co-director, Nora Boyd. UMG aims to break down the barriers of the art world by focusing on community and artists, and “to connect under-represented and emerging artists with collectors in the Bay Area and beyond,” per their website.
Robertson, with a background in real estate brokerage and development, was always fascinated with how and why people occupy physical spaces. Privy to the glut of high-end housing she witnessed in NYC, she was constantly questioning how vacant and underutilized real estate can be repositioned and made useful by creative communities in need. By partnering with Boyd and establishing UMG, the two hope to fill that void and give their shared love of art a bigger voice.
“We want to make art personal, make it less intimidating,” Boyd told SFist in a Zoom interview. “We want to make art a social activity and not an intellectual one.”
Boyd got her BA at NYU and MA at Hunter college in New York City and has worked as an art advisor and educator for 7 years, specializing in non traditional artists and non traditional audiences.
“I just think there’s so much to be said for that type of art education, getting really deep into the theory and rhetoric around art,” Boyd says. “But most people, even most creative people, have no idea how to get into that world because it’s prohibitive, and the barriers to entry are huge.”
Both natives of the Bay Area, they grew up inspired by and bound to the creative talent overflowing around them, and were determined to work strictly with Bay Area creatives, specifically under represented and emerging.
In addition to showing indigenous artists and artists of color, who are left out of the story all too often, the two directors plan to use the physical gallery space to feature another demographic of Bay Area artists who are repeatedly omitted: our seniors. “Western culture is very into young people,” Boyd explains. “It’s not as focused on artists of an older generation.”
While originally slated to open in late March with their inaugural exhibition featuring sculptures by Robertson's mom, Ann V. Capitan, alongside paintings from SF artist vets Laurie and James Heron, the original shelter-in-place order forced the gallery to postpone and pivot.
Seeing an opportunity, Robertson and Boyd tapped their artist network to produce a curated online show and create limited-edition prints exclusively available through the gallery website, allowing young collectors to invest in a rare work at an affordable price and support the artist’s career long-term.
Through offering prints, which are much less expensive than original works, they can help young artists pay their bills and at the same time give collectors access, allowing the artists as well as the gallery to open up to a larger market and expand.
“We’ve expanded to the print drops because we want to be a hub in the bay area but also want to be connected to the larger art world,” Boyd explains. “We want to combine our networks and work directly with artists on accessible topics and a format that people can engage with and enjoy.”
Kimmy Quillin, Elliot Bamberger, and Anamaria Morris are the three artists being featured in the first curated online "drop." 15 percent of all sales proceeds will be donated to Destiny Arts Center in Oakland, CA, a 32 year-old organization committed to inspiring social change through the arts, serving thousands of youth.
“We care about the art in this city and we want to focus on it and support it,” Robertson shares. “Every charity we work with will be a bay area based org, whether it’s art or social activism or environmental activism, what’s important to us is pushing the envelope in the art world in a positive direction and directly benefitting the people and the land that raised us.”
Boyd draws on her large artist network from places all over the globe, especially New York, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and China. Years of friendship with Robertson in NYC led to myriad discussions about art, in the presentation sense, how it’s accessed, what they would like to see in the art world going forward, and what barriers needed to be broken down. There was a shared vision of what an art gallery could be.
“There’s a ton of cool, super creative people here and for a lot of them, it’s really hard to know how to take part in the art world in the Bay Area because they don’t know where to look,” says Boyd. “We’re not making any assumptions about how an art space should be, what the art world is or is not, or how people want to engage it. We’re asking ourselves: What does it mean to provide space to artists? What does it mean to try and be a community hub? To engage young art collectors and enthusiasts? What it is they want to see and how do they want to engage with it?”
“Art doesn’t have to be this hoity-toity thing where you stand in front of each piece stroking your chin,” Boyd continues. “We would love to make UMG a place that hosts all sorts of creatives in the Bay Area -- we know that these creatives exist here in so many different fields, and if we take away those boundaries between those spaces, there would be real conversations. If you bring everyone into the fold.”
With such a long history of art, activism, counterculture, and food and wine in this city, Robertson and Boyd feel like theirs should be a space where creativity and conversation are brought together to become something more interesting, all the while supporting the artists and their communities simultaneously.
At the moment, UMG is not yet taking any appointments in their physical space, and exists as an online-only platform, but plans to host virtual events in the near future.
Follow them on Instagram here for updates.