Creative Growth Art Center celebrates 50th anniversary with SFMOMA

Fifty years ago, against a backdrop of political activism and the rising visibility of the disability rights movement, Creative Growth Art Center was founded in Oakland as the first U.S. organization dedicated to supporting artists with developmental disabilities. Today, Creative Growth continues to serve as an international and national model in the field of art and disability.

In honor of Creative Growth’s milestone 50th anniversary and in celebration of SFMOMA’s unprecedented partnership with the organization announced last fall, the museum will present Creative Growth: The House That Art Built. On view from April 6 through October 6, 2024, the exhibition will feature a vibrant selection of recent acquisitions from Creative Growth artists. 

SFMOMA will concurrently present a major commission by Creative Growth artist William Scott as part of its free art-filled space on the museum’s second floor.

“These extraordinary artists and artworks express a limitless imagination and vision that we hope expands visitors’ understanding of the art that is being made in the Bay Area,” Jenny Gheith, Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture at SFMOMA, said.

“This was a long time coming, given what an important role they have played in art conversations in the Bay Area, and we look forward to continuing this important work,” Nancy Lim, Associate Curator of Painting and Sculpture of SFMOMA, added.

Creative Growth was founded by Elias Katz and Florence Ludins-Katz and has grown to serve more than 140 artists each week in its studios and present artists’ work in galleries and exhibition venues around the globe. Bay Area organizations Creativity Explored and NIAD (Nurturing Independence through Artistic Development) were also founded by the Katzes–in 1983 and 1984 respectively—and are similarly devoted to artists with developmental disabilities.

After announcing acquisitions from all three organizations this fall, SFMOMA became home to one of the largest holdings of art by artists with disabilities in the world. Creative Growth: The House That Art Built celebrates the oldest of the three organizations on its landmark anniversary and unveils more than 80 recently acquired works spanning acrylic painting, oil pastel drawing, ceramics, sculpture and film, dating from 1981 to 2021.

“By amplifying the artistic voices of individuals with developmental disabilities, this collaboration breaks down barriers within an often-overlooked community and offers an exciting opportunity for museum visitors to experience these visually captivating and deeply personal works,” Tom di Maria, Director Emeritus at Creative Growth Art Center, said.

The exhibition will also include archival material, highlighting the organization’s history and ongoing impact on the arts and disability movement, and the art world more broadly.

“We are both honored and humbled to partner with Creative Growth Art Center in this historic moment and present an exhibition that displays the staggering breadth of skill, vibrancy and imagination emerging from Creative Growth artists,” Christopher Bedford, Helen and Charles Schwab Director of SFMOMA, said. “This effort closely aligns with SFMOMA’s vision to engage a more diverse range of artists and audiences, and our ongoing work to make the museum more accessible. There is much work ahead and we could not be more grateful for Creative Growth for taking this monumental step with us.”

CREATIVE GROWTH: THE HOUSE THAT ART BUILT ARTISTS

Joseph Alef (b. 1981, Berkeley, California), who has practiced at Creative Growth 2001–2008 and 2013 to the present, creates abstract paintings that burst with energy. Their rhythmic compositions are filled with an expressive vocabulary of layered marks.

Before moving to Creativity Explored in 2001, Camille Holvoet (b. 1952, San Francisco) practiced at Creative Growth from 1988 to 2001. Holvoet creates psychologically rich drawings reflecting her memories, fascinations and daily life, exploring subjects ranging from the prescribed medicine she takes to her disorienting move to a new home.

A Creative Growth artist since 2003, Susan Janow (b. 1980, San Francisco, California) creates work across a range of media, including drawing, ceramics and video. Her best-known work, Questions (2018), is a 10-minute single-channel video that shifts between standard interview-like questions and personal inquiries.

Dwight Mackintosh (b. Hayward, California, 1906–1999) was 72 years old when he began working at Creative Growth in 1979. Over his 20 years at the organization, he developed a singular style of looped, radiating figures that blur the boundaries between internal and external body structures, inspired in part by his experiences with X-rays and a tonsillectomy at age 12. Other subjects include buses, musical instruments, self-portraits and an invented text that he transformed into flowing graphic imagery.

John Martin (b. 1963, Marks, Mississippi) has practiced at Creative Growth since 1986. Using vividly colored drawings, ceramics and woodwork, Martin combines memories of his childhood on a farm in Mississippi with his present life in Oakland.

Featured in the 2017 Venice Biennale, Dan Miller (b. 1961, Castro Valley, California) is one of Creative Growth’s most widely known artists. A Creative Growth artist since 1992, Miller works ambidextrously, using both hands to create densely layered paintings and works on paper. Words, numbers and punctuation populate the compositions, along with building materials and electrical objects. His clusters of drawn or typed words skate fluidly between elements to see and elements to read.

Donald Mitchell (b. 1951, San Francisco, California) Donald Mitchell’s drawings and sculptures explore the human figure, which he portrays as block-like bodies in dense crowds. His compositions often feature smears of color, while others are rendered in black and white, with a starkness that suggests anonymity and an air of loneliness. He has been a Creative Growth artist since 1986.

Judith Scott (b. 1943, Columbus, Ohio; died 2005, Dutch Flat, California) was an internationally known Creative Growth artist. Her work was featured in a retrospective organized by the Brooklyn Museum in 2014 and included in the 2017 Venice Biennale. Scott started working at Creative Growth when she was 43 years old and created art there for the next 18 years, until her death in 2005.

Her intricate, layered sculptures use yarn, twine and strips of fabric to wrap and knot around an array of mundane everyday objects.

William Scott (b. 1964, San Francisco, California) has worked at Creative Growth for over 30 years and his work was previously acquired by SFMOMA in 2017. Scott’s portraits feature personal heroes, celebrities, politicians and church and family members. He often depicts them as alternate or future versions of themselves.

Scott also re-creates the San Francisco cityscape in drawings and paintings that are meticulous and map-like, yet still engage in fantasy, for instance through characters like Godzilla or UFOs boarded by citizens of “Praise Frisco,” Scott’s name for his hopeful, gospel-filled vision of a future San Francisco.

Ron Veasey (b. 1957, Las Vegas, Nevada) Ron Veasey’s brilliantly colored portraits are inspired by a wide range of source material, including fashion magazines, photography books and National Geographic. Veasey isolates figures on the page, outlining them in black marker and filling the flattened forms with bold colors and patterns. By capturing subtle details, direct gazes and strong poses, Veasey highlights confident and intense personas that he has honed over more than forty years at Creative Growth.

Alice Wong (b. 1980, Hong Kong) For the past decade, Alice Wong has used vintage photographic portraits donated to Creative Growth as the foundation for her paintings. She obscures the forms and faces with acrylic markers and enamel to reimagine them in bright, artificial colors. In revitalizing decades-old imagery of anonymous people, she renews their relevance in ways that are both disorienting and humorous.

Wong has worked at Creative Growth since 2003.

WILLIAM SCOTT COMMISSION

On the occasion of Creative Growth’s 50th anniversary, SFMOMA will also present a major commission by Creative Growth artist William Scott. On view from April 6 through October 6, 2024, the commission is part of the museum’s ongoing Bay Area Walls initiative, a series of site-responsive wall projects by local artists that actively engage with pressing issues of our time.

Scott’s largest painting to date, the expansive commission merges two of his abiding interests: map-like renderings of San Francisco and portraits of the people who populate his life and dreams. Scott and his mother, for example, appear as youthful versions of themselves, smiling alongside members of their church and the musician Diana Ross. The background of the painting reveals the Alice Griffith public housing development near the city’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, where the artist was raised.

Scott’s realism expresses hopefulness and fantasy, culminating in a monumental celebration of “Praise Frisco,” his name for the new San Francisco he envisions for the future. The commission will be on view in the entryway to SFMOMA’s second floor galleries, located within the museum’s free art-filled public space.

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

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