Blog » An Interview with the Girls of HungryMan Gallery
Meet Robin and Kirsten, the brave and brilliant ladies behind the Mission district’s HungryMan Gallery. When I first met the two, I’m pretty sure I gasped “Really? You two run an art gallery? In San Francisco??” (disclaimer: I might have had a couple cocktails). The point is, San Francisco is not a city where young people with limited funds can just set up art spaces. While it’s more common in other major cities like LA or Chicago, the tiny size of our city and the insane rent prices that ensue really don’t bode well for young artists and entrepreneurs. I was immediately impressed with these two and wanted to learn more.
I recently caught up with Robin and Kirsten at their space, which is sadly closing this weekend. In our interview, the girls discuss the challenges and joys of running an independent gallery in San Francisco and look forward to the next phase of their ongoing contributions to the art world.
If you’re located in the Bay Area, don’t miss the chance to check out HungryMan Gallery and party with Robin and Kirsten as they close this chapter and open a new one. A closing party is scheduled for Saturday, May 19th (more info below). And don’t be shy, say hello—they are total sweethearts!
Tell us a little bit about the HungryMan Gallery story. How did you get started / how is setting up in SF different than Chicago?
Robin Juan: I started HungryMan in 2008 with a group of girls in two converted storefronts in the Logan Square/Bucktown area while I was an undergrad at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We existed there until this past March; it was much more of an alternative space than our current location. We initially started as a year-long project to experiment with programming—Chicago is a great city for art students to achieve projects like this and there’s a rich alternative space history there. I moved to San Francisco after graduation, but the space in Chicago continued to thrive due to a lot of support from the people living in the space, and I stayed on to help them with the programming as much as possible. Keeping the space in Chicago going was always in question, so when I moved back West I was looking to start another space. It all worked out that we kept them linked. Our San Francisco space is really different because it’s strictly commercial. In Chicago we lived in one of two storefronts and operated in the other, so naturally the overhead costs were vastly different. We also had to learn how to run a real business, so it has always been a pretty steep learning curve for someone who went to art school. Kirsten’s way better with the business backend than I am, I think that’s why we’re such a good team.
Where did you two first meet? Did you ever imagine you'd be running an art gallery together? Who does what?
KH: We go way back. We met in the 3rd grade when I transferred to our elementary school and our parents lived just a few blocks away from each other. I never imagined we would be running a gallery, especially at this point in our lives but at the time it just made sense.
RJ: Kirsten and I have done a lot together now that I think about it! We played on the same basketball team in elementary school. I practically lived at her house in high school. I don’t know, it’s not that surprising that we are working together in some capacity. Though, I also didn’t imagine this.Carly and I have been working together for so long that sometimes I feel like we can read each other's minds. How has running the gallery together affected your relationship / friendship?
KH: We already knew each really well so it wasn’t difficult for me to start working on a business with Robin. We have similar styles and are comfortable sharing what’s on our minds. I think running the gallery together has brought us closer but we are always talking about business (which I’m sure bugs our other friends when we are out getting drinks on a Friday night).
RJ: Yeah we’re always talking business, but sometimes it’s hard to see each other in person during our crazy work schedules and stuff. We definitely communicate well and we’re generally on the same page. I think we just know how the other thinks so it’s all really natural.
What are some things you guys learned along the way? Would you recommend this DIY approach to other people who are interested in art and curation?
RJ: I don’t know if I would recommend this approach to others. I think we got really lucky with timing and finances and each of our background experience. San Francisco is a really tough city for a project like this to be realized. I am definitely excited to be working on independent projects from now on. I think that’s the way to go. It is hard being tied down to a physical space. Also having a large network really helps. Having people who believe in you is priceless. Knowing that your curatorial practice and vision will change over time is really important. I’d say looking at as much art as possible is an invaluable education.
KH: It’s definitely not something to rush into and takes planning. Support is really key, especially from friends and family. They keep you sane during the ups and downs. I learned to do what makes you happy and to not sacrifice a business or curatorial decision. Change is also really exciting - just because the physical space is closing does not mean we going to stop putting on exhibitions and showing work. Being open to new possibilities and opportunities is important.
Who are your favorite local artists or other galleries/museums/spaces you want people to know about?
KH: There are a lot of great spaces in the Bay Area: Important Projects out in Oakland, Fraenkel Gallery and Ratio 3 has some interesting photography and videos shows. Jancar Jones is always on my radar—they started in San Francisco and recently moved down to LA.
What can people look forward to at the gallery's closing party?
KH: We are having a few bands play, including The Flails and Bilinda Butchers with a surprise special guest! The party is Saturday, May 19 from 7pm-10pm.
Any shout outs to those who helped along the way?
RJ: Geez, the list is so long at this point. The Chicago superstars– Olivia Swider (now New York superstar), Mia Billetdeaux, and Pari Karim. The Chicago space would not have existed for so long without all of them. Nick Nold, who has done so much construction work for us over the last year and a half out here in SF, he’s the best. Lauren Loprete of Loglady Records, did all our re-branding and design when we expanded to the west coast. I’d like to give a shout out to all my coworkers and bosses at Wells Fargo for giving me the flexibility to disappear and work on art projects. Oh and my parents, duh.
KH: We are curating a survey of California video work at ArtPad San Francisco this weekend! It opens Thursday, May 17th and runs through Sunday, May 20th. I am also focusing on my art practice and have a photograph in an upcoming group show in Boston at Small Works. We are both excited to take a breather and explore a variety of other projects, it’s very exciting!