Exhibitions & Public Events

Will Brown: Ether
Thursday, Sep 13, 2018 - Saturday, Nov 10, 2018
Walter and McBean Galleries

Walter & McBean Galleries 
SFAI—Chestnut Street Campus

On view: September 13–November 10, 2018
Opening reception: Thursday, September 13 | 6–9pm

In the late 1970s, San Francisco Art Institute rediscovered a long-lost collection of Eadweard Muybridge photographs hidden within its institutional archive. More than a century before, the English artist had presented the first ever public showing of moving pictures on campus and apparently left something behind. The decision was made to auction the materials to finance the creation of a department focused on the nascent fields of video and performance art, now known as New Genres. The Muybridge sale boldly wagered the future of new media against the history of the moving image, a speculative maneuver establishing the material conditions for faculty and students to test the limits of contemporary art. The sale also served to affirm the school’s quixotic belief that experimentation would somehow, even accidentally, provide.

While the story confirms art education’s inherently precarious footing with regards to the marketplace, New Genres has produced some of the most important artists in recent memory. In other words, it worked. Despite this success, four decades later SFAI faces low enrollment, increasing costs of deferred maintenance, and attendant budget cuts as one of the last exclusively “fine arts” colleges remaining in the United States. Will Brown—a collaborative group that includes SFAI alumni and current faculty—and this developing project were affected by these conditions, including the dismemberment of an ambitious Exhibitions and Public Programs department that has provided a vital forum for art and artists across the last half-century. Cast against the backdrop of a tech-fueled Bay Area, where the cost of living has skyrocketed in step with emergent technologies, one fears the new “creative class” alone will set the terms of creativity’s valuation and professionalization.

This project complicates the relationship between vision and capital by questioning how notions of value are substantiated via fantasy, risk, and failure. It is essential that we address the complex debt-driven code that underwrites all education, not just arts education, and work to stabilize the price of the ticket before access becomes increasingly rarefied.

For these reasons, we have invested the remainder of our allotted exhibition budget in Ether, a cryptocurrency that acts as fuel for operating the distributed application platform Ethereum. Digital currencies like Ether use complex encryption techniques to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, circulating independently of a central bank. The philosophy behind cryptocurrency is arguably both utopian and dystopian; it exists based on a distrust of centralized government and financial systems, predicting their eventual collapse, while simultaneously representing a collective effort to survive such a collapse by creating a financially sustainable economy in the hands of citizens.

At irregular intervals and in unfixed amounts, any profits over the initial investment will be redirected into SFAI student, staff, or faculty projects — an unmediated re-investment in the artistic mission of the school. That said, the crypto-marketplace is such that gain is often preamble to loss. The value of our buy will be monitored by an accompanying mobile application that doubles as a grant application portal. With concern, we have responded in real time by creating a kind of perverted and complicit artistic autonomy; we do and don’t hope it pays off.

-Will Brown


Track and apply: www.etherbrown.com



Will Brown is an experiment whose main objective is to manipulate the structures of exhibition-making as a critical practice. Will Brown recently mounted a solo MATRIX exhibition at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and authored Bruce Conner: Brass Handles, published by J&L Books. Will Brown has realized projects with KADIST, the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, and the Ulrich Museum of Art, and related press has appeared in The New York Times, Frieze, KQED, and Artforum. Will Brown received a Creative Work Fund Grant in 2015, an Alternative Exposure Award from Southern Exposure in 2012, and in 2013 was an artist-in-residence at Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County, California.



Will Brown: Ether at San Francisco Art Institute is curated by Katie Hood Morgan, Curator of Special Projects, and organized with Christopher Squier, Manager of Exhibitions, Events, and Partnerships. The exhibition is made possible in part by a grant award from the Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund that also is supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The organizers would like to thank the artists; Gordon Knox, SFAI President; Hesse McGraw, Principal, el dorado inc; and Elisa Isaacson, SFAI Grants Manager for their dedication to the success of this project.

SFAI’s Exhibitions and Public Programs are made possible by the generosity of donors and sponsors, including the Harker Fund of The San Francisco Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Grants for the Arts, the Koret Foundation, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, The Robert Lehman Foundation, Meyer Sound, and Fort Point Beer Company. Ongoing support is provided by the McBean Distinguished Lecture and Residency Fund, The Buck Fund, and the Visiting Artist Fund of the SFAI Endowment.


Walter and McBean Galleries, SFAI—Chestnut Street Campus
Tuesday 11am–7pm; Wednesday–Saturday 11am–6pm 
Closed Sundays and Mondays

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