What is Its Future?by Jordan Stein
Do you know the San Francisco Oracle? It’s been around lately, on display all over town as part of several “Summer of Love” anniversary exhibitions. It was a trippy countercultural newspaper published out of Haight-Ashbury from September 1966 to February 1968, bookending the infamous season when thousands of young people arrived on San Francisco’s doorstep. In a dozen issues weaving poetry, spirituality, and politics with revolutionary rainbow inking effects, the Oracle reached well beyond the Bay Area, charging up hippies from coast to coast.
I took a good, hard look through it the other week. I’m researching the ancient Delphic Oracle for an exhibition project and figured I should start at home, so to speak—see how my immediate ancestors were visioning their futures in real time. Needless to say, it’s a tough read—hard to get through Timothy Leary now, you know? But it’s printed really beautifully, obviously loved and labored over, and carries a great sense of optimism with it through the decades.
Toward the end of an early issue, I noticed a teeny tiny corner of endearing classifieds: a carpenter seeking work; a lead singer broadcasting her “totally stoned sound;” macrobiotic meet-ups; draft resistance workshops. The entries are fresh and colorful, their goals admirable and pretentions sweet. Several more issues into the run, however, the ads take a sober turn. There, surrounded by multi-colored, mind-expanding possibilities, are the desperate pleas of parents seeking wayward children.
“HARRY MURPHY please come home.”
“Terri Williams: Please call home. We are worried about you. We miss you. We love you. Call collect.”
“Debbi, please contact us collect. We love and miss you very much and want you to come home. Love, Mother and Dad.”
Gosh, it’s moving—like they were filed yesterday.
It’s October now, the 50th anniversary not of 1967’s summer, but of its fall. All these years later, San Francisco is a tough city to get lost in. And yet the streets are lousy with young people. Art school enrollment is way down and rent is way up, so who are they? Where did they come from, and what are they looking for? Technology and the center of its related industry in the Bay Area is a major draw. The promise of success, disruption, and fulfillment is visible in each new upscale eatery. Unlike the lost souls of that “totally stoned” generation, one suspects this new, better-groomed constituency is deeply accounted for.
The future of this place—and the art and artists it has historically nurtured—isn’t looking good. Most artist friends without rent control or steady teaching jobs have decamped to Los Angeles (or worse). It’s weird, now, to identify more with the sorrowful Oracle parents than their quixotic children.
While I’m not exactly arguing that disconsolate parents are a fundamental ingredient in rich and rousing culture-construction, I do think there’s an important quality of rupture embedded in those classifieds that’s presently hard to come by. If that was too lost, now we’re too found.
Missing persons aside, I wonder if you’re familiar with a painter called Brett Goodroad. He’s an amazing young-ish artist who lives by the ocean and remains under-known—I hope not for long. We made a show together a couple months ago at my funny little space in the cushion factory. He’s very, very good, fully committed, a misfit, the real deal. He paints in the backyard—big canvases somewhere between figuration and abstraction, informed by Goya and Watteau—strange, singular allegories about growth, survival, and sexuality. He’s behind the wheel when not behind the easel, driving a truck through the Southwest for a vegetable company owned by his girlfriend’s aunt. His work is a good reason to be here, and I sincerely hope he stays. I hope I can, too.
JORDAN STEIN is a curator based in San Francisco.