Incline Gallery reopens in San Francisco and celebrates 11 years

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Visitors know something special is going on as soon as they drive down a narrow hallway of Valencia and through the front door of the Incline. This gallery is different from any other art space in San Francisco, even in a city with unusually landscaped parcels, pop-up spaces, and apartment galleries. Because Incline was once a morgue, one of many in the neighborhood, a reminder of another cultural and economic moment in the city’s history. In its previous use, the gallery’s three offset ramps made it easier to transport human remains on stretchers to and from the embalming room on the second floor.

Sean Quigley, the building’s main tenant and co-founder of eclectic gift shop Paxton’s Gate, posted a Craigslist ad in 2009 announcing the ramps would be available as gallery space. When asked by email why he rented to gallery founders Brian Perrin and Christo Oropeza, Quigley, who met as an art student at San Francisco State University, was impressed with her artwork and her willingness to renovate the building’s dated interior. The gallery officially opened in 2010 and eventually received funding from sources including Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure grant program.

Brian Perrin hangs work for the Incline Gallery’s 11th anniversary exhibition, which opens on November 6th. (Graham Holoch)

Architecture that drives artistic experiments

The ramps represent a unique installation challenge for curators and artists, but also offer opportunities for experimentation. Incline Gallery’s final exhibition before the pandemic outbreak, Kimberley Acebo Arteche’s solo show The curved body of a pixel, used the distance (and speed) of the ramps to create a sense of anticipation. Curator Lian Ladia and Arteche staged large, framed photographs isolated on the gallery’s pedestals and guided the audience along a fixed viewing path.

The exhibition, which explored the impact of technology on identity and family relationships, included a triptych of woven photographic objects hung on the wall above the last ramp. When approaching, the viewer had to look up to see the objects, and only on the topmost landing were the images fully visible. This curatorial strategy effectively forced the viewer to look up to the trio of tiny Pinay matriarchs on the photographic objects, giving the subjects seldom seen in Western art contexts a regal stature.

A view of the shop window with a guarded hallway in the middle.
The view of the half-hidden door of the Incline Gallery in a long hallway on Valencia Street. (Graham Holoch)

The Incline Gallery crew all have memories of the creative way artists dealt with the lack of right angles. “An exhibition that comes to mind,” notes co-founder Brian Perrin, “is every rock a course love“, A 2018 show that included four handcrafted rakes, three custom-made pedestals, and six tons of gravel. Artists Melissa Wyman and Michael Namkung filled the gallery with about two inches of gravel and placed irregularly shaped plinths on each landing to mimic the rocks in a Japanese rock garden; The rakes enabled visitors to draw winding paths through the loose stones.


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