Park Life, San Francisco

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By Jaime Gillin
I was in San Francisco's Inner Richmond neighborhood a few days ago, and stopped by one of my favorite shops: Park Life, a cool and highly unconventional gallery and shop. It opened in 2006, the brainchild of two friends and art collectors, Jamie Alexander and Derek Song. Alexander calls the space "like a museum store, but without the fluff."
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That's selling it short, though. The shop has 1,400 square feet of retail and gallery space, packed with a colorful, curated collection of books, modern design objects, edgy artist-designed t-shirts and jewelry, and artist multiples. Work by established and emerging artists from the Bay Area and beyond cover the walls, salon-style; an adjacent gallery space is dedicated to monthly solo and group exhibitions. They also publish books and catalogs under the imprint Paper Museum Press.

It's a cool art-meets-commerce model: Having the retail component means the gallery isn't dependent on art sales alone—which frees them up to be more creative and less commercial (they often exhibit "non-sellable" art, as Alexander puts it), and also to sell work at really affordable prices. A couple years ago I checked out a show featuring a gigantic wall mural and three small paintings by artist Chris Ballantyne; they also sold limited-edition prints of his work for $350 each, and 50 post-it notes of his rough sketches for $50 each. They ask artists to take risks and do things they wouldn't get to do at a 'normal' gallery.

Because they're not a full-service gallery, they give their artists a higher percentage of sales, usually 60%. Other galleries don't see them as a threat, and allow their artists to work with Park Life on special projects; for example, Glasgow-based artist David Shrigley has created skateboard decks and t-shirts for the shop, plus a set of salt-and-pepper shakers inscribed with the words 'cocaine' and 'heroin' (yours for $125!).

On October 22, they'll open 'Unnatural Plans,' an exhibition of colorful abstract paintings by Masako Mike and Steven Lopez. Come November 4 through 7, they'll be at the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA's PS1, releasing a new Tucker Nichols' limited edition print and displaying a selection of products and artworks from the San Francisco shop. Check them out if you're in New York!

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