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Anglim-philia: SF's Art World Remembers Paule Anglim 

Wednesday, May 6 2015

In April 2014, when SF Weekly was interviewing gallery owners about San Francisco's skyrocketing rents and the evictions of longtime downtown art spaces, we spoke with Paule Anglim, whose Geary Street gallery has been a San Francisco fixture for decades. Anglim said four words to us that said everything about her determination, even in her 90s, to keep exhibiting her artists' work in new and profound ways: "I'm not going anywhere." And she didn't — not until April 2, 2015, when Anglim passed away at age 92.

With her death, San Francisco has lost an art-world matriarch with an international reputation. From every new generation, Anglim championed art work that was formidable, arresting, challenging, and often fun, like the sculpture of Ruby Neri, who was the gallery's featured artist at the time of Anglim's passing. The art world, like the film world and other creative spheres, can be an indulgent place that rewards pomp, glitz, pretentiousness, and commercialism. The Paule Anglim Gallery was none of that, even as some of its artists began commanding high prices.

One example: Anglim worked with Deborah Butterfield, who specializes in horse sculptures of found wood and metal, decades before Butterfield's work started selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction. Another: Lynn Hershman Leeson, a celebrated Bay Area artist who is regularly lauded by major art critics and has exhibited at the Anglim Gallery since the early 1970s.

"She stayed with artists whether they sold or not — and I'm the prime example," says Hershman Leeson, laughing. "I didn't sell anything for 30 years, and she never brought it up. She continued to show my work and champion it regardless."

The gallery itself reflects Anglim's tastes. Located at Geary near Kearny, it's an unpretentious space that abuts a phone store and a check-cashing business, and fronts a Muni stop where 38-Geary buses make noise at all hours. Inside the gallery, the carpeted main area feels more like a large living room without couches. Inches from that space is Anglim's office, where she surrounded herself with the art of artists she represented and adored, including the Bay Area painters Joan Brown and John Zurier. The books on her shelves testify to Anglim's wide-ranging interests, including poetry (The Selected Letters of Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder and Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book); sociology (historian Mike Davis' Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster); war and art (Alan Riding's The Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris); and language (The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary).

Of course, Anglim stocked her shelves with tomes about her favorite artists, too, like Louise Bourgeois, the brilliant French sculptor whose work Anglim regularly spotlighted at the gallery (and who lived into her 90s as well). One month you'd find Bourgeois' multimedia works at 14 Geary St., another month you'd find Barry McGee's.

The gallery's retrospective tribute to Anglim, which begins May 7 and runs through June 27, features about 100 pieces from all five decades of Anglim's gallery stewardship. Among the standout works that are slated for display:

• Hershman Leeson's Shutter, a 1995 photograph of a woman wearing an enlarged camera that's a commentary on society's portrayal of women.

• Joan Brown's Dark Pink Nude, an acrylic, ink, and graphite work from 1974 that uses contrasting black and flesh tones to outline a semi-abstract figure.

• Canan Tolon's Time after Time from 2012, a giant multipaneled jumble of rectangles, shadows, and other shapes that stretch out and overlap.

• An untitled mixed-media work by Barry McGee, from 2013, that's both a collage of street art and a guide to making it.

"She liked unusual things," says Hershman Leeson. "She liked my wild pieces — not as much my paintings and sculptures, but liked the sculptures that breathed, or these video projections of babies that swam in water."

"We'd show things often that were very difficult to sell," says gallery director Ed Gilbert, who has been with Paule Anglim Gallery for 27 years. "It was a trust in the artist that what they were producing was worth sharing with the public and entering into the historical record."

Once a year, in January, Anglim invited her artists to her North Beach home near the San Francisco Art Institute to celebrate their art and their lives. She also oversaw a regular photo collaboration that evolved a year ago as a tribute to Anglim. "Except for this year, she'd get all the artists who were in town and take photographs together," Hershman Leeson says. "They did it last year as a surprise gift to her. They gave her the photographs."

A memorial for Anglim will be held at the San Francisco Art Institute on Sunday, May 31, 2-5 p.m., but in many ways, the art retrospective at Paule Anglim Gallery — simply titled "RETROSPECTIVE" — will be a seven-week-long memorial, where visitors can see firsthand the kind of art that Anglim esteemed. In turn, artists revered Anglim because of her tastes and for the way she treated the artists: not just as artists but as people with multifaceted lives.

"She was quite quick-witted, but she was always focused on who she was talking to, and made them feel important, and knew about their entire lives," says Hershman Leeson, who saw Anglim just days before her death at the Geary Street gallery. "She always asked about my kids. She liked art and artists, but she got to know the artist first."

Anglim never formally studied art, majoring in sociology in college.

"She was trained to be a social worker, which — tongue-in-cheek — many people would say is essential training for working with artists," Gilbert says. "It was a passion for her as a young woman, and it turned into something she loved."

Anglim opened her gallery in North Beach in the 1970s, after moving here years earlier from Quebec, the French-speaking Canadian province. She regularly traveled to Paris, including a few months ago, and other locations.

Till her last days, she remained engaged with the world, and interested in current affairs. One of her favorite TV shows was Meet the Press, the NBC interview program that has been on the air since 1947. Until very late in life, Anglim also practiced tai chi.

"Her drive and her intuition," Gilbert says, "never wavered."

Gilbert says Anglim's gallery will continue operating — though the real estate market continues its surreal spiral. The brick building that houses the gallery on the second floor is advertising its ground-floor space, which is being rebuilt, to major commercial tenants. As rents and leases in the area continued to skyrocket, the same defiance that so suited Anglim in the art world served her well.

As noted by Hershman Leeson, "You couldn't really tell her anything — she had her own mind. She could be very stubborn about doing things. She knew what she wanted, and she was a passionate champion of artists of all kinds. She didn't favor Minimalism over Abstraction over New Realism."

For many who knew Anglim, the lasting image of her won't be of her stubbornness but of the utter joy she got from art. In an undated black-and-white photograph that the gallery is handing out, Anglim is sitting in a chair, hands folded and tipped toward the ceiling, a smile on her face as she poses before the camera. Female artists were particularly important for Anglim, who was a role model for young female gallery owners around the United States.

"She was one of the early pioneers in this business," Hershman Leeson says. "She had such a high standing. People revered her so much all over the world. She had a remarkable reputation, not just for instincts and tastes but her intellect and the ethical practice that she had. There was nothing underhanded. She was completely honest. You'd be shocked at how many gallery owners are not. She never said anything negative about anyone's work. She was just so thrilled to be working with art. She liked to be around it. It gave her life to have it around her."


About The Author

Jonathan Curiel


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