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Madrone Art Bar: Integrating art and everyday life  

Artwork by Andy Pitts from Madrone’s current front window exhibition, What Happens to You Here is Forever. Photo: Naomi Rose

I love Madrone Art Bar because it is more than a bar: It is a constantly changing alternative art space where two- and three-dimensional works, multimedia, and musical performances form an interior space that blurs boundaries and bends distinctions between art and everyday life.

In this environment, the patron is an integral participant, both viewer and viewed, where the gathering of people at any given time forms an essential part of the shifting nightly scenes within the transitory universe that is Madrone Art Bar.

VISUAL ART EXHIBITIONS

I was first introduced to Madrone and its proprietor Michael Krouse by artist and attorney Matt Gonzalez. I was introduced as a curator and art writer and subsequently, while I was interested in writing about Madrone as a legitimate art venue, Krouse decided we should collaborate on an art exhibition. We initiated a program for rotating exhibitions that opened with an in-your-face and little-known body of work by Bay Area Figurative legend William Theophilus Brown, entitled Encounters. The works depicted sexually explicit images of men with women, men with men, and women with women, which were on loan from private collectors and galleries and necessitated that the work be insured while on exhibit.

To his credit, Krouse unhesitatingly committed to presenting legitimate artists and serving as custodian of their work by insuring it, as well as risking the possible repercussions and critical fallout from the content of this highly charged work.

Brown’s work was supplemented by a life-sized frontal nude painting by Jeffrey Beauchamp, and large 19th-century cross-dressing portraits by Linda Wallgren. This inauguration project included a one-night performance festival featuring noted Bay Area performance artists Daniel Blomquist, Terrance Graven, Justin Hoover, Geraldine Lozano, Honey McMoney, Crystal Nelson, Kathryn Williamson, and many others.

Since then Madrone has presented a wide variety of exhibitions, including photographs by Dan Dion, The Fillmore’s ex-house photographer; early images of stellar punk rock icons such as Jonny Rotten, Deborah Harry, and Patti Smith by Larry Schorr; photographs from the Diego Rivera Mural Project at City College of San Francisco; San Francisco architectural streetscapes by Paul Madonna, as well as historical exhibitions and children’s art from local school programs.

Additionally, Madrone’s commitment to art for the masses is evidenced by its ongoing public window installation program in which street-front presentations function as a one-venue public art program that, according to Krouse, displays work “to all ages, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, free of charge. It’s our way of giving back to the community.”

That said, to me, what sets Madrone apart as an alternative art venue is this: Unlike most nonprofit and for-profit exhibition spaces, which take as a commission 30–50 percent of the sale of art, at Madrone 100 percent of the sale of art goes to the artists.

As further evidence of Madrone’s support of the arts community in general, Madrone will host an ArtSpan-related exhibition of artists participating in the S.F. Open Studios hub: Silvi Alcivar, Shane Izykowski, Sonia Leticia, and Maureen Shields. The exhibition opens Sept. 7 and runs through Oct. 15, with a reception for the artists on Thursday, Oct. 4, 6–9 p.m.

LIVE MUSIC

In this context, live music is critical and central to what makes Madrone great. Music is alive and well in the form of Howard Wiley & Extra Nappy, who hold court Wednesday nights throwing down real-deal down-and-dirty soulful jazz; the Sunday jam sessions with Hammond B-3 organ star Will Blades, who has performed with legendary artists such as John Lee Hooker, Idris Muhammad, Scott Amendola, and many others; the music of soulful multi-instrumentalist Jenny Kerr, who lays down blues-infused country-folk that provides wonderful interpretation of classics and original tunes on Wednesdays; Macy Blackman’s unique brand of New Orleans R&B on solo piano on Thursdays; and last but not least, the music of the one and only DJ Lebowitz, the rocking solo piano wizard, who has at least 2,000 tunes in his head and many more on the song lists he keeps atop the piano, an early Friday evening institution that should rightly be considered a musical audience love fest.

FULL CIRCLE: DANCE PARTIES AS SOCIAL PERFORMANCE

Madrone might be best known for its Motown on Mondays, and other weekend dance parties such as The Prince and Michael Experience, and I Heart the 90’s, to name a few, which leave no doubt that San Francisco has a lion heart when it comes to sheer unadulterated full-blown fun.

These events are integral to exhibitions and musical performances at Madrone. Dissolving distinctions between art and everyday life is fundamental to the Madrone experience, where the works, performers, and audience are anchored in affirming our shared humanity.

Madrone Art Bar: 500 Divisadero St., 415-241-0202, madroneartbar.com; Mon.–Sat. 4 p.m.–2 a.m., Sunday 3 p.m.–1:30 a.m.

 

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Anthony Torres is an independent scholar, curator, and art writer.

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