Wendi Norris, owner of the gallery of the same name. (Photo by Steven Brandsetter)

11 Most Influential Women in the San Francisco Art World

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This is a woman's world.

Well, maybe not yet. But if the pussy-hat-wearers and #metoo whistleblowers and #timesup advocates and Hollywood starlets and badass female chefs have anything to say about it (and you know they do!), it will be soon. But did you know that the art world is already at the cutting edge?


According to a study by The National Center for Arts Research, women are already conquering the art world. Ladies have leading roles at 48 percent of American museums, and 54 percent of our small and midsize galleries are female-owned. In fact, some of the country's most prestigious art institutions are directed by women—including Lisa Phillips, of New Museum in New York; Anne Pasternak, of Brooklyn Museum, and Martha Tedeschi, of Harvard Art Museums—who pioneer innovative new programs and promote up-and-coming artists and burgeoning communities.

The Bay Area, unsurprisingly, is in step with this revolution, with fearless women of power at every major museum and dominating our gallery scene. Meet the local ladies who are changing the rules and shaping a supportive environment to bolster both local artists and our city's reputation as an international leader in art.

(Gary Sexton Photography)

Lori Starr, executive director of The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM)

The beginning. "I grew up in a mid-century modern, glass apartment building, which started my interest in architecture, design, and the visual arts. From the moment I entered a museum I knew I wanted to work in one when I grew up. My parents let me go to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC by myself. When I walked in there and saw Jackson Pollock's Number 1, 1948 drip painting, which at the time hung next to the coat check—that was it. I was in love with abstract art. I had a wonderful math teacher in high school named Ms. Lilian Cave who saw my passion for art. She let me do all my math assignments based on abstract works of art at MoMA (maybe that's why I'm not that great at math but good at art!). There was one other early formative experience—visiting The Jewish Museum as a child with my Hebrew school class, walking into a totally dark gallery with only one sculpture in it: a huge, soaring, bird-like sculpture by Jacques Lipchitz. It had a tiny spotlight on it, and it loomed large and powerful in the space. The experience was visceral, almost primitive. It took my breath away."

Works in progress. "I am excited to be focusing on the CJM's 10-year anniversary in its mighty Daniel Libeskind-designed building. I love our building, a former power station that gave light to all of San Francisco. Celebrating this milestone are a year of wonderful shows: Contraption: Rediscovering California Jewish Artists and The Art of Rube Goldberg. (Rube is a San Francisco native.) There is tremendous humor and fun in all the works of art. Also part of the line-up is Lew the Jew and the Art of the Tattoo and Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress. As someone always into fashion, I am so excited about the clothes from all over the world that we will be presenting in a dramatic, breathtaking setting. I feel that my work makes a contribution to society and am always striving to make exhibitions relevant to people of all ages and experiences."

The Bay Area can do better. "The city must direct more funding toward the arts as they are a common language and engage people in mutual respect and understanding. The arts provide constructive ways of making sense of the world. They develop the skills of dialogue, critical thinking, cooperation, and compassion—something we need more desperately than ever. The city also needs to find ways for artists, teachers, and others to afford to live and prosper in San Francisco. And, of course, the city cannot do it alone."

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