Joyce Gordon has long been hailed as the heart of Oakland's vibrant arts community.
And not just for the symbolic reasons of presenting cultural and ethnic diversity, innovative exhibits and works by prestigious local and international artists in her namesake gallery -- but for geographic reasons, too.
Her Joyce Gordon Gallery is a small storefront on a busy downtown block -- City Hall one way and a tattoo parlor the other -- where buses growl by, protesters march, and folks down on their luck sometimes slump in doorways. It might seem like a difficult place to maintain a fine-arts establishment, but Gordon is all about making art accessible to everyone, from the New York collector flying in for a $25,000 piece to the curious teenager peeking in the front door.
"Being here in downtown can be hard in terms of getting people who want to buy art to feel good and safe coming to Oakland," Gordon said last week from her loft office that overlooks the crisp white walls of her 2,500-square-foot main gallery space.
"At the same time, this is such a great location because a lot of people who walk by here have never been in a gallery before, never been in a museum in their lives. They're welcome here, too. So I say to myself, 'Joyce, maybe you're here for more than one reason.'"
In September, Gordon will celebrate 10 years as one of the longest-running high-end galleries in this city and one of the original members of Oakland's thriving Art Murmur gallery walks.
A special show titled "ThEN is Now" will mark the occasion, running Sept. 6 through Oct. 26 and featuring 10 major Oakland artists such as Mel Ramos and Hung Liu, "reflecting the gallery's past, present and permanence in today's art market," said Eric Murphy, curator of the show.
Some of those artists participated in Gordon's inaugural exhibition in 2003, a star-studded event with actor Robert Redford, a longtime friend of Gordon's, kicking off the festivities.
Since then, the gallery has been the scene of international photo competitions and exhibits by emerging local artists, book signings, poetry readings, music and film events. There's been a tribute to Michelle Obama, giant trampoline sculptures that took up the whole gallery floor and a look back at the Occupy movement.
Gordon has hosted displays from local fourth-grade art classes, and welcomed celebrities and politicians. Just this month, she gave an Oakland tour to Ernest Hemingway's grandson, master painter Raul Villarreal, who is part of the current show through Aug. 31, featuring Latin artists.
"(Gordon) literally put Oakland on the map" in the art world, said Samee Roberts, cultural arts and marketing manager for the city of Oakland. "She invested in downtown Oakland before it was fashionable."
Indeed, the gracious, elegant Gordon -- a chic dresser who has hair that is close-cropped and tinged with silver and glasses with alligator pattern on the edges -- has survived in an industry with an ever-changing market as unpredictable as fashion trends. And it's all based on her deep love of art and creativity.
Gordon was born in Louisiana, but her parents moved the family to Berkeley when she was 6. Growing up with seven brothers, she had no interest in "boy things" like sports, so she spent a lot of time in her room, drawing and writing poetry.
"In Berkeley in the '60s, there was so much going on, so much in the art world, art parties everywhere," she said, seated at her laptop, her office walls covered with mayoral proclamations, photos of her son and daughter and two grandsons. "Art, and being around creative people, it just came naturally," she said.
She attended the California College of the Arts then ran hair salons for many years, often working as a "platform artist," doing demonstrations of hair products at trade shows around the country and in London. In every city, she'd spend her spare time in art galleries, and she dreamed of opening her own.
Maintaining the gallery hasn't always been easy. Gordon admits she's frequently rented out the space for parties and events just to keep going. But with a decade now under her belt, she's looking to the future and refocusing. "I'm trying to tailor it, pull back a little, probably focus a little more on established artists," she said.
Her plan is to stay put, she said, but hinted at another project she hopes to open in October. "It's something in Oakland, to do with art. It's fun, bright, inexpensive, something for old and young. You'll love it."
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Joyce Gordon gallery 10-year exhibit
What: "ThEN is Now: The 10 year Anniversary Exhibit," featuring artists Stevens Jay Carter, Squeak Carnwath, Enrique Chagoya, Chukes, Dewey Crumpler, Mildred Howard, Hung Liu, Richard Mayhew, Mel Ramos and David Ruth
When: Sept. 6 through Oct. 26
Opening Reception: 6 to 9 p.m., First Friday, Sept. 6
Where: Joyce Gordon Gallery, 406 14th St., Oakland
Info: 510-465-8928, www.joycegordongallery.com
Claim to fame: Owner of the Joyce Gordon Art Gallery in Oakland
Where: 406 14th St., Oakland
Quote: "I really believe that art provokes conversation, brings people together to help understand different cultures and open narrow minds."