‘On the Edge’: ‘The de Young Open’ exhibition calls for submissions from Bay Area artists

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de Young Museum/Courtesy

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The de Young Museum is requesting submissions from artists across the Bay Area for an exhibition that will display up to 1,000 pieces of art from the local community.

In an interview with The Daily Californian, Timothy Burgard, the de Young Museum’s curator in charge of American art, discussed how the de Young Museum’s plan to celebrate its 125th anniversary has coalesced with the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis.

The vision of “The de Young Open” combines two phrases that are not often heard together: “local community” and “the fine arts.” Artists from across the nine counties of the Bay Area — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano and Sonoma — are eligible to submit their work to be juried and put on display in the museum.

“I think it’s very important to be a community-based museum,” Burgard said. “We are a city museum, but we function for the Bay Area and we would not exist without the community. And to make that more than words, … to embrace it as facts on the ground, we have to really manifest that in our mission. So, ‘The de Young Open’ is a wonderful way to embrace these ideals, but they’re ideal made reality.”

Burgard anticipates 1,000 pieces of art will be displayed in a 19th-century salon style — edge to edge in the prominent, 12,000-square-foot Herbst Exhibition Galleries.

Artists have the option to offer their work for sale and retain 100% of the profit. The museum will facilitate a way for a buyer to contact the artist and then leave it up to the two parties to conduct a private transaction. Historically, museums would have taken a commission from the sale, but the de Young staff agreed that it is important for artists to retain the full value of their work.

“It was one of our first thoughts that we would allow artists to sell their work because of how the negative impacts of the current crisis have affected the nonprofit art world,” Burgard explained. “That romantic trope of the starving artists is still with us for better or for worse — I think largely for worse — and every artist should have the right to be compensated for their hard work and their vision. And this does provide that opportunity.”

This not only gives artists the opportunity to set their own prices, but also allows the public to interact with living artists.

Artists also have the option of addressing the exhibition’s theme: “On the Edge.” 

Burgard explained that the theme works on two levels. On one hand, it acknowledges that this is a Bay Area exhibition culminating in San Francisco, a city “on the edge” of the Pacific Rim. On the other, it is tied to the implication that the Bay Area has always been on the “cutting edge” of culture and creativity.

“Artists have always historically functioned as the canaries in the coal mine,” Burgard said. “(They) have always been cutting-edge cultural leaders. They often pick up issues and give them shape and form and make them comprehensive to the general public before we ourselves have fully absorbed these issues.”

Burgard anticipates that another of the gallery’s “edges” will be shaped by artists’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“ ‘On the Edge’ is a theme that artists may choose to embrace,” Burgard reiterated. “Certainly, the concept is especially poignant during the current crisis.”

Burgard sees this exhibition as a hopeful gesture in a dark time.

“When the de Young reopens to the public, the first existing exhibition will be the beautiful Frida Kahlo exhibition and (the) first new exhibition will be ‘The de Young Open,’ ” Burgard said. The Frida Kahlo exhibition was installed just before the pandemic began and has remained unseen by the public through months of closure.

“I hope that people will take this as the sign of hope that it’s intended to be,” Burgard said. “We really want to declare publicly that the fine arts museums are here, and the fine arts museums will be here in the future.”

Not only will the fine arts museums be here, but in the wake of the coronavirus, the de Young will also be more open to the public than ever, with 1,000 works of community art on display.

“We treasure our audiences and the artists who make up the cultural landscape,” Burgard said. “They’ve always been there for us, and we want to be there for them. And we want ‘The de Young Open’ to be a celebration of that kind of resilience, character and inspiration (and of) the fact that we could all come together and have a celebration in the midst of this crisis.”

The de Young Museum will be looking to review up to 6,000 submissions between June 1 and June 14. Artists 18 or older who are interested in participating should direct their attention to the museum’s website.

Contact Blue Fay at [email protected].