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Taking It from the Street

Sheryl Nonnenberg | May 9, 2017 | Story Galleries and Performance

When Katharina Powers decided to open an art gallery in Menlo Park, she found the perfect downtown location on Santa Cruz Avenue, in what had been a high-end jewelry store. Realizing that the interior of the shop had been left in a less-than-pristine condition, she invited a group of artists to paint directly onto the walls, taking the opportunity to stage an art happening and giving the artists, who normally create outdoors, an indoor venue. The exhibition, entitled Provoke!, took place over a weekend in January, with seven artists participating, and officially marked the launch of Art Ventures.

According to Powers, she was inspired by driving through San Francisco and seeing murals and public art. To kick-start things, she enlisted artist Spencer Keeton Cunningham, who introduced her to the other artists. In addition to the work done on the gallery walls, each artist was asked to create a piece on canvas for a future exhibition. That show, Street Art: SF O vs LA, will be on view May 13 to June 9, with a public reception on May 13 (3 to 6pm). Powers is hopeful that, by presenting the works in a gallery setting, “it will open your eyes to what you see out on the street,” she says.

Most of the paintings are large-scale and produced by San Francisco and Oakland artists using spray paint or acrylic on canvas. They range from Chor Boogie’s psychedelic portraits to the whimsical creatures imagined by Bud Snow to Brett Flanigan’s colorful abstractions. For contrast, Powers invited well-known Los Angeles street artist Retna, whose striking graffiti art is influenced by Egyptian hieroglyphics and Arabic and Hebrew calligraphy.

Along with the Menlo Park gallery, Powers oversees an artist residency program in St. Helena, where artists from Europe are invited to live and work for 80 days in a fully furnished house and studio. Work created during the residency will be shown in solo exhibitions at Art Ventures. Powers also plans to show new and emerging Bay Area artists, such as Cunningham, who is a muralist.

Powers—a former attorney who worked in finance—acknowledges that opening an art gallery is a risky endeavor. “I’m patient,” she says, adding, “I know it’s going to take a long time to get established.” But leaving her previous career at a Sand Hill Road venture capital firm was not a difficult decision. “Art is something you feel passionate about,” she continues. “It’s not just about decoration.”

Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley

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