Since its 1993 opening, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts has rejuvenated the city's traditional art establishment. It has all the trappings of your typical respected city landmark. Gorgeous gardens? Check. Innovative architecture? Check. Diamond-laden docents? Check. But we like to think of Yerba Buena as the Guggenheim's upstart sister. You know, the tattooed, pierced brainiac who followed her deadbeat boyfriend to San Francisco, ditched him, and became a raging success. The downtown center's provocative programming, celebrating both high- and lowbrow culture, draws everyone from media-savvy scenesters to upper-crust art snobs.
And though we're undeniably fascinated by nearly every event we attend at this extreme-art epicenter -- and we never miss the happening parties -- it's the visual arts exhibitions that keep us coming back. Luckily for us, the curators are currently unveiling their latest finds at the Opening Night Party. Three unconnected exhibits and a newly commissioned interactive sculpture explore a wide range of expressions and media: They look set to please everyone from the above-mentioned scenester to the above-mentioned snob.
Visually, the supersized "Big Deal," with large-scale works from a quintet of artists, dwarfs viewers with its sheer mass. And while we perked up our ears at the Yerba Buena Web site's mere mention of Johnston Foster's "coterie of sculptural critters and home furnishings" and photographs of Jim Denevan's crop circle- like sand drawings (done on Northern California beaches), what we're really dying to see is Michael Arcega's Spanish galleon made entirely from manila folders. Though we initially chuckled at the sheer nerve of creating high art from humble office supplies, our jaw dropped down, way down, when we learned that El Conquistadork actually embarked on a short voyage (with the artist onboard) across Tomales Bay.
Admission is free-$12
In addition to these monster-sized works, the extraordinary playbill collection of sideshow scholar Ricky Jay is on view. Though at first these broadsides may look like mere advertisements for Barnum-era circuses and freak shows, in fact they're vibrant works of art in their own right. Among the highlights are colorful depictions of typical entertainers from the time, such as a cannon ball juggler, a flea circus, and a female magician. Less politically correct subjects have also made it into the show, like the pieces titled Rabbi With Prodigious Memory and African Hermaphrodite. The party's visual extravaganza continues with Leon Borensztein's photographic portraits of developmentally disabled artists from Oakland's Creative Growth Art Center standing next to their own work.
The pièce de résistance, however, is sure to be Yerba Buena's latest commission, Blow Up by local hero Scott Snibbe, an interactive piece that transforms patrons' breath into what press materials describe as a "gallery-sized field of wind."