The Art of Art
August 14 through September 1, 2021
Curated by Michael Cuffe
By VITTORIA BENZINE, August 2021
San Francisco is a place particularly prone to flux. Throughout the city’s dynamic history, it’s maintained at least one consistent thread—a deep relationship with artists ranging from Richard Serra to Barry McGee. Modern Eden, a streetwise contemporary gallery with coy taste, has helped anchor San Francisco’s art scene since 2010, fostering community and careers alike. Their latest exhibition, The Art of Art, celebrates this history by declaring a new post-pandemic creative era in the Bay Area.
Curated by photographer Michael Cuffe of Warholian, The Art of Art surveys work from 100 artists, all centered around the creative process. Oxford Languages defines “survey” as “a general view, examination, or description of someone or something.” Survey can connote research, a method of collecting data. It can also evoke a spread of different perspectives, as embodied by The Art of Art.
Just like data organizes itself into a normal distribution, like fractal patterns emerge from chaotic systems, archetypal experiences arise from the intricacies of every artist’s unique story. The Art of Art achieves a striking sample size across its vast array of contributing voices. I spoke with a comparatively small cross-section of five artists from the show, and was impressed by the dual presence of disparity and similarity across their stories.
John Walker got his start in Chicago’s product design industry during the 1980s, perfecting his craft through a constant barrage of airbrushed hardball designs. Searching for more, he returned to pursue his original spark. Walker tried writing a fantasy novel and quickly learned he was more suited to painting fantasy portraits. His work for The Art of Art, titled The Gift, riffs upon this direction by imagining a post-apocalyptic world without art. The gift of creativity glows like an enticing, enchanted orb hovering above his protagonist’s disembodied hand.
Oregon-based Aunia Kahn began her career in 2005 with digital paintings—the only medium she could work with due to a decades-long illness that left her bedridden, and also spurred allergies to art materials like paint and pencils. Encouraged by the exhibition’s adventurous spirit, The Art of Art marks Kahn’s first time showing a watercolor work, a glowing monument to the recent, incredibly meaningful ground she’s gained in recovering from her condition. Kahn’s subject brandishes a paintbrush in homage to personal power and liberation—to healing.
Sylvia Ji made her name in LA’s art scene with a popular body of work exploring historical costumes, particularly from Mexican culture. Over the past year, she’s sought to take her love for research and textiles in new directions. Her contribution to The Art of Art focuses less on the human form and more on floral flows of color. “I want to create a sense of serenity," Ji told me over Zoom. “A lot of my work in the past has been very macabre and dark in some elements. I wanted to create a sense of joy with color.”
Chicago-based Czr Prz works in murals, canvas, and fine art fabrication, but a common drive unites his matrix of mediums. Prz told me, “I want people to recognize in my work the dreams they’ve forgotten while sleeping.” Usually, Prz’s art favors birds and foliage for symbolism, but his contribution to the show, Color Conduit, also harnesses the iconic paintbrush to portray pure potential. Prz adds literal and conceptual depth to his bouquet with an interplay of materials including actual canvas wrapped around the arrangement, transcending mere visual representation—the object itself makes a bouquet out of the creative process.
Meanwhile, Santa Cruz-based Caia Koopman focuses her pop surrealist style on portraiture. “As a kid my parents dragged me to all sorts of museums and art shows,” Koopman wrote over email. “I was especially inspired by the portraits. Most times I sat down to draw I’d start with a face, so for The Art of Art I thought it would be fun to go back to my favorite subject, and in this case my portrait is a young artist herself, full of ideas, energy, and inspiration—so many ideas that they have manifested and are floating around her head in the form of bubbles!”
While each artist’s path to their process takes a distinct shape, conflict proves the constant—a necessary component of growth. Prz likened conceptualization to the honeymoon phase in a romantic relationship, where execution is the actual, sometimes harrowing work. “Artist” is automatically equated with a loaded, entire identity, but the creative process is truly just a process—a means to an end. As Aunia Kahn noted, whether planting a garden or fixing a car, everyone deals in the creative process somehow. Its machinations are more than mystical, they’re mechanical—entirely grounded in reality. “Artisthood” is rife with stereotypes of esoteric suffering, but Walker added that oftentimes the best way out of a creative tangle is self-care, as simple as getting some rest to return with fresh eyes.
Perhaps this new moment in art history marked by The Art of Art will free artists from the trope of suffering. When artists evolve without expectations, viewers generally benefit. Contrary to another popular belief, artists at work today aren’t out for self-satisfaction alone. “Many artists are told they shouldn’t care what the audience thinks,” Koopman mused. “My art has always had a strong relationship with the viewer.” In reality, an all-consuming drive to share occupies the creative process’s epicenter. It is an act of outward love, more than anything else, to make an idea real for others to experience.
Accounting for an excess of 100 artistic perspectives, there’s something to love for everyone across The Art of Art. The short-term shifts caused by the pandemic have proven immediate and palpable, but the long-term psychological impacts need more time to take shape. They will take creativity to quantify and contemplate. The creatives process does, after all, encompasses our entire human experience. Enjoy the many faces this process takes at Modern Eden Gallery, online or in San Francisco, that monument to change, through September 1st. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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