San Francisco Museums Acquire Works by 30 Bay Area Artists

Emily Wilson, Hyperallergic, July 20, 2022

Wesaam Al-Badry calls it an “institutional stamp of approval.” For Chelsea Ryoko Wong, it’s “monumental.” And Rupy C. Tut says she will now be able to walk into the de Young Museum and feel a sense of belonging.  


These are three of 30 artists whose work was acquired by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco with a grant of $1 million from the Svane Family Foundation.


“It feels very fresh and new,” Wong told Hyperallergic. “At the same time, I wish this were more the norm, for living artists to be shown in great museums.”


In 2023, an exhibition of the 42 new works is slated for the de Young, one of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the Legion of Honor is the other). The works include Wong’s “Mint Tea in the Sauna During Sunset” (2022), Al-Badry’s Al-Kouture (2018) and Migrant Workers (2020) series, and “A New Normal” (2022) by Tut.


After the De Young Open in 2020, in which artists from the nine Bay Area counties showed their work on the museum’s walls, the Svane Foundation got in touch, seeing its mission of supporting local artists in the region as aligned with the museum’s goals.


Claudia Schmuckli, curator of contemporary art and programming at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, spent the past year visiting galleries and artists’ studios to select the works. A few themes emerged, Schmuckli says, including responses to environmental issues, historical depictions of women in art, and migration. 


Al-Badry’s work falls into two of those categories — womanhood and immigration — with his Al Kouture photos showing women wearing luxury scarves as niqabs (part of a 2018 show at the de Young, Contemporary Muslim Fashions) and his Migrant Workers Series, captured in 2020 in the California cities of Salinas, Fresno, and Bakersfield.


Wesaam Al-Badry, “Tangerines #XI (Migrant Workers Series)” (2020), archival pigment print (image courtesy the artist and Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco and New York)

The artist, who was born in Iraq and spent time in a refugee camp in Saudi Arabia before moving to Nebraska with his family, says he’s thrilled his photos of workers harvesting tangerines and pomegranates during the pandemic will be on the walls of the de Young.