4 Must-See Art Exhibitions in San Francisco This Fall

Whether your style is Downtown Abbey or graffiti-inspired; the de Young or Alcatraz Island, the San Francisco art scene has something for you this fall. Visitors and residents alike will delight in the works on display throughout these four exhibits you won’t want to miss:

Alcatraz— @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz
Through April 26, 2015



Alcatraz Island has been a haute tourist destinations for years. Now, for the first time ever, this famous 22-acre spot that is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and was once home to Al Capone, is hosting a major exhibition. How apropos that the works are by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who knows all about incarceration.

He’s internationally renowned for work that defies the distinction between art and activism. In this exhibition of new works created specifically for Alcatraz, Ai responds to the island’s layered legacy as a 19th-century military fortress, a notorious federal penitentiary, a site of Native American heritage and protest, and now one of America’s most visited national parks. Revealing new perspectives on Alcatraz, the exhibition raises questions about freedom of expression and human rights that resonate far beyond this particular place.

A vocal critic of his nation’s government, Ai was secretly detained by Chinese authorities for 81 days in 2011, and is still not permitted to travel outside China. As a result, the artist was unable to visit Alcatraz during the planning of this exhibition; he developed the artwork at his studio in Beijing, with the help of the FOR-SITE Foundation. Tickets are available through Alcatraz Cruises.

de Young—Keith Haring: The Political Line

Through Feb. 16, 2015

Keith Haring Untitled (Self-Portrait), February 2, 1985 Acrylic on canvas
Keith Haring Untitled (Self-Portrait), February 2, 1985
Acrylic on canvas

Photo Credit: Private collection © 2014, Keith Haring Foundation


Keith Haring: The Political Line, on display at the de Young, is the first American exhibition to assess the political dimension and scope of Keith Haring’s artistic concerns. The exhibit features more than 130 works of art including large scale paintings (on tarpaulins and canvases), sculptures and a number of the artist’s subway drawings, among other works. The exhibition will create a narrative that explores the artist’s responses to nuclear disarmament, racial inequality, the excesses of capitalism, environmental degradation and others issues of deep personal concern to the artist.

This marks the first major Haring show on the West Coast in nearly two decades. Many of the works are on loan from The Keith Haring Foundation, New York, with supplemental loans from public and private collections. Several pieces have not been published or on public view since the artist’s death in 1990. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s director Colin B. Bailey notes, “We are particularly pleased to profile Keith Haring’s artwork in San Francisco; we sense that it will appeal to a younger generation who will appreciate his honest and passionate commitment to addressing contemporary issues through art.”

The Political Line is based on guest curator Dieter Buchhart’s exhibition of the same title, which was presented at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris in the summer of 2013. The de Young exhibition is curated by Dieter Buchhart in collaboration with Julian Cox, founding curator of photography and chief administrative curator at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Asian Art Museum—Tetsuya Ishida

Through Feb. 22, 2015

art exhibitions in san francisco
Maze, 2001, by Tetsuya Ishida (Japanese, 1973–2005). Acrylic on canvas.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of private collection. © Estate of Tetsuya Ishida

For the first time in the United States, visitors can view paintings by the acclaimed Japanese painter Tetsuya Ishida, in an intimate museum exhibition at the Asian Art Museum. Tetsuya Ishida: Saving the World with a Brushstroke is on view in the museum’s Tateuchi Gallery through Feb. 22, 2015.

The life of Ishida, who was born in 1973, spanned a period of rapid social change in Japan: the soaring rise of its “bubble economy” in the 1980s; its crash from 1990 to 1991; and a time when such grim events as the sarin gas incident of 1995 unsettled the nation. Ishida’s paintings offer a unique approach to the tensions of his generation, which came of age amid rising social and academic expectations and uncertain future prospects.

In 2005 Ishida’s death at age 31 ended a brief but significant career as a painter. While touches of bleak humor temper his work, Ishida’s darkly powerful imagery poses universal questions about the nature of identity and the meaning of life in the modern, post-industrial world. The eight paintings shown in Saving the World with a Brushstroke cross the spectrum of the artist’s major themes: workplace and academic pressures, the search for identity, and social dislocation.

Legion of Honor—Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House

Through Jan. 18, 2015

Gibbs - Houghton Hall - exterior 1
Exterior view of Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England.

Photo Credit: Nick McCann


At the Legion of Honor through Jan. 18, you can step into the history and grandeur of Houghton Hall, the English country house reminiscent of Highclere Castle as seen on the popular PBS television drama Downton Abbey. Discover the history and elegance of Houghton Hall, one of England’s grandest country houses, built in the 1720s by Sir Robert Walpole (1676–1745), Britain’s first prime minister. Constructed in the Palladian style by architects James Gibbs and Colen Campbell and decorated by the influential designer William Kent, it has survived through the centuries in a remarkably well-preserved state.

Tucked away in Norfolk, England, Houghton Hall was built as a setting for Walpole’s spectacular collection of old-master and 18th-century paintings, tapestries, and Roman antiquities. His strong tradition of artistic patronage and collecting was continued by members of the Cholmondeley family when they inherited the estate in 1797.

This exhibition captures an intimate look inside Houghton Hall amid a re-creation of some of its spectacular interiors. Rarely exhibited treasures and exquisite furniture that has been passed down through the centuries evoke the sophistication of aristocratic entertainment in the 18th century.