san francisco art magazine

In a City of Rising Rents, New Galleries Trend Tiny

Iceberger and Little Tree Gallery

San Francisco, California

by Dale Tegman
Erica Freyberger photo by Tony Foster

Erica Freyberger finds inspiration beyond the gallery's four walls.

photo: Tony Foster © 2008

     Ever escalating rents in San Francisco continue to test the resourcefulness of gallery owners attempting to present fine art. "It's really hard to afford a large space," says Erica Freyberger, "and then we'd just have to compromise what we show ... just trying to pay the rent." When Freyberger and her business partner Ginelle Hustrulid first investigated a brick-and-mortar space for their online gallery, listed prices exceeded $3000 per month.

     In order to make their three-dimensional dream come true, they took on a sunny, 9' by 14' cinderblock venue on Treat Street in the Mission. "We had to put up the drywall ourselves," Hustrulid remembers. "We did quite a bit of labor ... ." Ultimately, men resident to the neighborhood decided to help, "So we basically watched them and bought them beer while they built this up."

     The finished gallery, Iceberger, demonstrates how a small, adventurous venue can contribute nationally and internationally. Iceberger opened in February of this year, with the photography of Mark McKnight. Recent exhibits include an oil on canvas show from Boston's Apenest Collective and this month's video installation by Londoner Richard T. Walker, currently in residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, California.

Ginelle Hustrulid photo by Tony Foster

Ginelle Hustrulid stands tall in Iceberger's gallery.

photo: Tony Foster © 2008

     "He's trying to do a four-channel sound piece that will go with the two videos, so that you'd come in there and it's this whole environment," Hustrulid explains. "He saw there's a tree next door so he's trying to use a telescope to see the tree--extending the gallery through the windows ... ."

     Freyberger suggests that Walker's site specific ingenuity is unusual and notes, "Sometimes the artists have more problems with the space because they have to think a different way. Either they are going to hang salon style and fill the space or they are only going to put a couple things up. I think they have more problems with the space than we do."

     Trends in photography, a first love for both curators, present unusual challenges. "A lot of photographers like to go bigger now because it creates more emphasis," Hustrulid points out. "You want to see the work in there, but it's not working. It's looking like a high school kid's bedroom with posters."

     Just off the corner of Guerrero and 22nd, J. Brent Large and his wife Forest S. Large put a similar amount of sweat equity into what is now Little Tree Gallery. "It was a pot club, Green Cross. There were blacked out windows and red everywhere," J. Brent Large recalls. "One thing about this space is that it's an older building and has its peculiarities."

J Brent Large photo by Tony Foster

J. Brent Large is happy to work with artists he feels strongly about.

photo: Tony Foster © 2008

     The Larges retrieved a clean storefront look from these raw materials by fixing a leaky ceiling, taking out a cracked window seat, and installing space conserving birch flat files. J. Brent Large cheerfully shows off this innovation, pulling out drawer after drawer of playful, intelligent work consistent with the gallery's emerging reputation.

     A recent show featured Lacey Jane Roberts who installed "The Master's Tools", a tattered razor wire fence made of silver crank knit yarn. Thinkers Audre Lorde and Paul Butler receive citation in the artist's statement. James Tantum's comic 20 year analysis of his own life and habits filled the gallery earlier in 2008.

     "It's a unique funky space," explains Large, "and this is San Francisco, so people are very friendly, nice, and open minded." Large doesn't feel the size of the 9 ½' by 18 ½' space is limiting. "During installation many of our artists are surprised by how much bigger the gallery acts. It can be just as challenging to fill this space as any other."

     Displaying Chad Moore's 2007 show proved to be a puzzle itself. One big painting, two charcoal drawings, and three sculptures filled the gallery's three-dimensional space. To include all the pieces, Large and Moore strung a sculpture along the ceiling of the gallery. "Instead of being bunched up on a wall, the piece revealed a huge wingspan," recounts Large. "It worked out great. The sculpture really shined being spread out."

     "We don't try to limit our curatorial view on the size of an artist's work," Large continues. "If we feel strongly about an artist's work, we'll work with that artist." He insists, "You have to have a professional operation, but if the work is good, size doesn't matter too much."

-- Dale Tegman

Dale Tegman is an online journalist living in San Francisco. Follow his popular blog at

Photos courtesy of Tony Foster.

3150 18th Street
Number 109
San Francisco, CA 94110

Little Tree Gallery
3412 22nd Street
San Francisco, CA 94110