SFAI showcases 2014 master’s students 

San Francisco Art Institute President Charles Desmarais is really looking forward to the school’s big annual fund-raising bash, “Gala Vernissage,” on Wednesday at the Old Mint in The City.

“It’s a great, fun party, and people will have the first opporunity to see works by students,” says Desmarais, describing “Principal,” the 2014 master of fine arts exhibition featuring contributions by nearly 80 MFA candidates, which also will be on public view this weekend.

“This is the second year we’ve done it at the mint,” says Desmarais, who says gala proceeds go to student scholarships and describes “Principal” participants as “conceptual artists who think a lot about the context of the work.”

Noting that the mint housed a third of all the gold in America when the 1906 earthquake stuck, he predicts many of the pieces will address contrasts between those with enormous wealth and those facing economic struggles.

Desmarais, who is finishing his third year at SFAI and has a long background in museum administration including posts at the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, calls SFAI students “highly skilled” even before they enter the school’s competitive, prestigious master’s program.

“This is the place where the art world shops for interesting artists,” says Desmarais, adding that many graduate students already have been invited to show at museums or earned grants.

Desmarais also points to SFAI’s impressive history. Founded in 1871 by the San Francisco Art Association — “the whole history of art in the West revolves around it, and that terrific history is embroidered by our faculty,” he says — the community-minded organization also is known for its Diego Rivera murals and distinctive Chestnut Street campus: “It’s in all the guidebooks,” he says.

The nonprofit SFAI also differs wildly from the for-profit Academy of Art University with its extensive property holdings, and the nonprofit California College of the Arts, which Desmarais calls very fine, but more design, and possibly commercially-oriented, than SFAI.

As they work in media including painting, photography, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture, film and new genres, Desmarias says, “Our people pull out all the stops.”

IF YOU GO

Principal: 2014 Masters of Fine Arts Exhibition

Presented by San Francisco Art Institute

Where: Old Mint, 88 Fifth St. (at Mission Street), S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday

Admission: Free

Contact: www.sfai.edu/principal

Note: Tickets to the “Gala Vernissage” dessert party at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday are $200, and a public reception runs from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday. For details, visit www.sfai.edu/events-by-category/public

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Leslie Katz

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