Seven years ago, Justin Giarla cut the ribbon on The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco. He has since witnessed a transformation of the neighborhood and even of the contemporary art market, keeping pace with the most cutting edge artists of our times. In the last seven years he has curated an exhibition for the 2009 Grammy Awards, co-curated Shepard Fairey’s ICA Boston exhibition, and even contributed works from his personal collection to Through Future Eyes at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
If there’s one thing you need to know about Justin: he tells it how it is. From nightclubs to Gucci to Shepard Fairey, he has stories to boot. Our owner and curator offered a few words of wisdom on this special occasion, so listen up.
Q: Why did you open The Shooting Gallery?
I opened The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco back in 2003 because there weren’t really any galleries that showed the art I liked. Back then it was really only The Luggage Store and 111 Minna and a couple of small start up spaces that never lasted. It always frustrated me that there were so many talented artists in SF that weren’t really getting any shows in San Francisco and I really felt that we were missing out on something special. And to make matters worse, a lot of the galleries in downtown SF were really stuffy and uninviting. I always felt like I was being sized up at the door and it bummed me out. I never understood why art galleries were always so stuffy and unwelcoming. It was something I wasn’t accustomed to and it was uncomfortable to say the least. So I decided I would open my own art gallery in SF and showcase the kind of artwork I loved and appreciated, and to provide a comfortable un-intimidating space for people to see art.
Billy Shire, Kirsten Skipper and Justin Giarla at 1 Yr Anniversary
Q: Talk about the meaning behind your gallery’s name.
Well there was never any real true meaning behind the name of the gallery however it is pretty catchy. But there are 2 reasons for the name that are real easy to define: 1) when I first opened, I displayed a fair amount of Photography hence The Shooting Gallery, 2) it’s located in the Tenderloin area of SF which at the time was pretty dodgy with crack dealers, tranny hookers, shootings, stabbings and junkies. So it was kind of a wild neighborhood. That’s all changed now and things have mellowed out quite a bit. I guess I’m the only dealer (art) left on the block now.
Q: What was the hardest part about starting your own gallery?
Really it was just the courage to do it. I had raised the money easy enough, I had an idea of what needed to be done and I found a space I could afford right off the bat. But it really was hard just to make the decision to do it. Once I did, it was easy from there.
Shepard Fairey and Justin Giarla in 2003
Q: Who were the first artists you showed, and why did you choose them?
Most of the artists I showed in the beginning were some fairly well known LOW BROW artists: David Perry, Anthony Ausgang, Eric Kroll, Yumiko Kayukawa, Shepard Fairey, Marco Almera and Niagara to name a few. Of course some of those artists have become bigger than any art label and have transcended any sort of classification. Honestly I chose to show them because I loved their work, it was as simple as that. It was much simpler back then.
Q: Worst experience you’ve had with an artist?
Damien Hirst and I got into a fight and he won’t return my phone calls anymore…
Exhibit by Erotic Photographer, Eric Knoll, 2003
Q: How has your taste in art changed over the last 7 years?
My taste in art has changed at all as much as expanded and broadened into new directions. I still love the artists and art I showed 7 years ago but now I love so much more. I think that has a lot to do with how many amazing artists that are out there today.
Q: How many pieces are in your personal collection, and which are your favs?
Over 500 pieces now. And again, I love them all equally.
Sas Christian 2004 Exhibition
Q: Over time, what did you learn about curating and how to select artists?
Well one thing I learned is, just because I like it doesn’t mean anyone else is going to. I obviously have to like the art I show in my galleries otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this but I do have bills to pay and financial responsibilities. That makes a big part of my decision making when curating. I have to like it and have to think I can sell it. I also think about an artist’s commitment and how serious they are. Are they in this for 4 years or 40 years? It’s also important to me that I’m friends with everyone I work with. I also look at an artist’s work and imagine where it’s going before it gets there and how much more it will develop and grow.
Q: If you could send a message to Justin Giarla 2003, what would you say?
Oh man… don’t catch any felony charges, don’t bring on any business partners and always follow my gut feeling.
Will.i.am (Black Eyed Peas) with Justin at Worlds on Fire Grammy Exhibition
Q: What’s the closest you came to throwing in the towel?
Q: Do you draw any parallels between running nightclubs and art galleries?
Well I did run nightclubs for 10 years before I opened The Shooting Gallery and I see a couple parallels between the two. Visual art and musical art are both forms of creative expression, and nightclubs and art galleries are essentially big, open, and empty rooms. Each focuses on what’s hanging in the space or what music is filling the space. And it’s funny how one is really bright and one is really dark. One is generally really quiet and the other is really loud. But the focus is the same for both… the art. All of the advertising, marketing and promotion are basically the same. Your goal is to get as many people to come to the event as possible to see or hear the art. And if you’re good at what you do, you know what people wanna see or hear. Running nightclubs for 10 years really taught me how to run a business in general.
Julio Benevides, Michael Deeb, Justin Giarla at ICA Boston
Q: What does the world of “Gucci” mean to you.
Only the raddest shoes on the planet!
Q: In your opinion, what’s the next big thing in art?
If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, so for now let’s just say the next big thing is the next show at The Shooting Gallery.
Shawn Barber and Justin at Worlds on Fire
Q: What can we expect to see from The Shooting Gallery in years to come?
We can expect to see more amazing and edgy art from The Shooting Gallery. We’re going to see more sculpture and definitely more color then before, and some new artists we haven’t worked with before. As far as goals are concerned, I’ve never really been that much of a goal oriented person. I tend to kinda do things spontaneously and out of the blue sometimes. Like deciding to open a gallery in the first place. But my goal is to always be happy and work with artists I like as people. I really would like to open a museum some day though.
“Wood Walls” 2010 – Never a Dull Moment Exhibition
Q: Most memorable moment at The Shooting Gallery?
When I sold a piece of art for $150,000.
ESPO Installation at White Walls 2009
Q: Why are your openings so crowded?
Most galleries do their openings from 5-7pm or 6-9pm which I always thought was weird. But ours are 7-11pm so it’s a long event and very fun. The gallery is well known in SF, having been open for 7 years, and don’t forget I ran night clubs for 10 years so I know how to get down.
Q: Party with one artist, dead or alive, who would it be?
Hemingway. He knew how to get down.
Justin and Jonathan Levine
Justin and Mike Giant
Justin in his punk skater days
Thank you to Justin Giarla and Happy Anniversary to The Shooting Gallery! Come by this Saturday, March 6 from 7-11pm to celebrate with us.