Last month, San Francisco’s De Young Museum opened its triennial showcase for local artists, DeYoung Open. This year the museum received 7,766 submissions; of which 884 were chosen for the show, which runs through Jan. 7, 2024.
So far, this sounds like a pretty typical art show.
But it’s far from typical, says Timothy Anglin Burgard, American Art Curator-in-Charge at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
“Arguably the most important thing about it, other than the works of art themselves and the artists, is that the DeYoung Open represents a very significant paradigm shift, he said, “from historical perceptions of museums as gatekeepers and guardians of culture and art to a more democratic model.
“An ordinary exhibition at a big ‘Top 10” American art museum might take two to three to four years of planning in advance,” he continued. “Whereas [in the Open show] you’re seeing what these artists were thinking in their studios, just in the past year, 2023.”
The artists, he said, “are working locally, but they’re thinking globally, “For example, there is work is devoted to the January 6 insurrection, to women’s rights around the globe, to global warming.”
Of the artists chosen, 11 were from Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. One of the show’s unique qualities is that all the work is juried digitally and anonymously, based solely on the work the merits of the work of art itself, according to curator Burgard.
Nina Ulett: Reaching Through Ambiguity for Beauty
Nina Ulett is a native Santa Clara painter, working in oil, watercolor and gouache*, whose painting Photomorphogenesis was chosen for the show. Although the Covid pandemic isn’t the direct subject of the work, the uncertainty of that time informs the piece.
“I was really delighted to find out that I had been chosen, especially knowing the number of people that entered,” Ulett said. Photomorphogenesis “was pretty special to me, so I was very happy that I someone else saw that.”
The word ‘photomorphogenesis’ describes “how an organism grows in response to the light in its environment,” said Ulett. “The piece itself depicts like the legs and feet of a figure surrounded by very lush foliage and almost hidden by it. There’s ambiguity: Is the figure at rest or in need of help? The piece is part of the series that I started during the pandemic that has to do with feeling stuck [in] ambiguous emotional states.”
Ulett credits her art teacher at Santa Clara High School, Neil Woodman, for igniting her interest in art. “He really made it a point to show all of us a lot of different types of art and expose us to different styles,” she said.
Ulett’s interest in plants is no surprise: She works for a nursery, and during the pandemic she helped her mother — who still lives in the same Santa Clara house Ulett grew up in — replace her yard with a drought-tolerant garden.
“Plants are so well suited to their particular environment,” Ulett said. Even in extreme environments, there are “completely different plants for each of those environments and they’re so well adapted to those places. Plants have visual beauty to them, but they also beautiful in their own super-well adapted way.”
Qingzhu Lin: From Sign Painting to Fine Art
Qingzhu Lin has come a long way in his life, both literally and figuratively. Born in Qingdao Shandong Province, China, Lin was forced out of school at 17 by the Cultural Revolution and sent to work in a factory making agricultural equipment. Aside from childhood drawing on the walls, Lin’s only artistic activity prior to his retirement in 2006 was painting signs.
“During the Cultural Revolution, you couldn’t make paintings,” he said. “So I turned slogans into art. A leader of the village liked my work and just wanted me to do my art. We had no newspaper. These wall signs were the newspaper.”
From that small start, Lin went on to be chosen for the De Young Open 2023 show for his painting, “Exquisite and Nature,” a portrait from a photograph he saw on Pinterest. It was the first competition Lin ever entered, and it was only because his son saw advertising about the contest.
“I didn’t recognize that I could paint,” Lin said, but his interest in art grew over the years and when he traveled for an import/export business, he took every opportunity to visit art museums and galleries. He and his wife moved to Sunnyvale in 2023 to be with their son, who is a computer scientist, and the Lins share their time between Qingdao and California.
When Lin retired in 2006, “I thought about myself and what I would do with the next part of my life. I started painting every day.” Lin’s subject is often the ocean and other water scenes, but portraiture is his other principal subject. Many of Lin’s paintings recall the style of classical Chinese paintings.
He works in both water and oil paint, but prefers watercolor, “Water is transparent, but people should be shown in richer [oil] colors,” he said.
Other Sunnyvale and Santa Clara artists featured in the show include: From Santa Clara: Donna Orme, Amelia Wilson, Ni Zhu, Denise J Howard, Ron Dell’Aquila, Lisa Teng, Chieko Shimizu Fujioka. From Sunnyvale: Lotte Van De Walle, Gina Bae (Sunnyvale.
De Young Open 2023 runs through January 7, 2024, and is free to all who visit on Saturdays. Tickets for the exhibition are available to the public on August 30. Buy tickets at tickets.famsf.org.
*Gouache is a water-based paint that allows more opacity that water color and more transparency and delicacy than acrylic paint.