My San Francisco: Theron Kabrich, San Francisco Art Exchange Founder

The internationally renowned gallery's creative director and co-owner shares his insider knowledge on local pop culture.

A San Francisco art dealer since 1979, Theron Kabrich founded the San Francisco Art Exchange in 1983. Today the gallery is recognized as a global pioneer in the exhibition of pop culture iconography. The biggest dealer of Beatles photographs worldwide, it has showcased original artwork from the Pink Floyd album “Dark Side of the Moon” and the jacket that Paul McCartney wore when recording “Sergeant Pepper.” It hosted the premiere exhibitions of art by Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood and Pattie Boyd “Layla.” Rockers Graham Nash and Brian Wilson have given intimate concerts in the gallery, and Clarence Jones (co-author of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech) spoke for an hour at the opening of a Civil Rights Movement exhibition in 2010.

Inside the San Francisco Art Exchange.  (©SFAE)
Inside San Francisco Art Exchange (©SFAE)

Where would you send someone looking for a taste of San Francisco’s musical legacy?

Haight-Ashbury is where a lot of that legend evolved in the 1960s with the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and Carlos Santana giving free concerts. In those days you could lean on the stage at the feet of Jimi Hendrix to listen to the magic he pulled out of that Fender! And City Lights bookstore in North Beach is where the Beats hung with Dylan.

How do you recommend experiencing the current music scene?

Outside Lands music festival is where it really happens. It’s a good sample of the old and the new for all ages. The festival headliner in 2013 was Paul McCartney, and in 2015 it was Elton John. A lot of bands connected with the festival, like MGMT and Phish, have come in the gallery.

The Beatles (©Shahrokh Hatami)
The Beatles (©Shahrokh Hatami)

What are some of your favorite local pop culture references?

During the filming of “Bullitt” you could see Steve McQueen and Jacqueline Bisset cruising the Marina as well as up the steep hills above Union Square on a motorcycle. They stayed at the Westin St. Francis Hotel during filming. After the Selma to Montgomery March, Martin Luther King Jr. came to San Francisco and gave a speech at Grace Cathedral. And you obviously think of the the Merry Pranksters and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Ken Kesey wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” while working the night shift at the psychiatric ward at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Palo Alto.

Where do you like to eat in the city?

If I’m feeling nostalgic I’ll go to Sam’s Grill. That’s the first place I took my wife when I first met her.  It’s the real McCoy, Humphrey Bogart style.

You're a Bay Area native. What’s kept you here in San Francisco?

As a city, San Francisco has an artist’s personality. It’s small and curious and driven by some sort of muse. You look at a lot of the globally influential innovations and cultural changes that have taken over the world, and they started in the Bay Area. San Francisco’s gravitational pull draws me back because you can pretty much do anything.

What galleries would you recommend visiting besides your own?

I like Christopher-Clark Fine Art down the street from my gallery, and Wendi Norris Gallery is quite good. The Bond Latin Gallery owners know their Latin art, from South America to Mexico, and have great expertise.  In SoMa, 111 Minna Gallery has a good eye and strong curatorial power on cutting edge stuff.  

Where would you send visitors?

Go to Muir Woods if you want to be blown away. Go to Baker Beach and just watch the ships come through.  If you want to get a taste of pop culture, a lot of the cult classic “Harold and Maude” was shot in San Francisco, with scenes in Sutro Heights Park

What’s something interesting visitors might not know about the city’s rock ‘n’ roll past?

As arguably a progenitor of rock, jazz has origins in San Francisco. Many people suggest the word ‘jazz’ or a derivative was born here, probably around the Presidio during 1912-13, maybe even after WWI. The music was part of it, but the jazz experience referred to social gatherings. Jazz had a strong presence in San Francisco moving forward from that time, especially around the Fillmore District.

Selma March (©Stephen Somerstein)
Selma March (©Stephen Somerstein)

What’s going on at the gallery now?

This month I’m doing a civil rights show. I have photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Tutu. I have the photograph of the back of Martin Luther King Jr.’s head that inspired the 'Selma' film marketing imagery. That photo was taken by one of the photographers I work with, Stephen Somerstein.

Where do you go to find inspiration in the Bay Area?

Since I live in Half Moon Bay, my northbound drive to San Francisco takes me up the coast on Highway 1. Sometimes I’ll stop in Montara and get out and walk across the cliffs and bluff tops or down on the beach as a way to just get ready for the day.


My Perfect San Francisco Day


Morningbun at Tartine Bakery. (©Eric Wolfinger)
Morning bun at Tartine Bakery (©Eric Wolfinger)

I’d do breakfast at Tartine Bakery for that awesome latte and that wonderful, fresh-baked good stuff. Or I’d go get breakfast at the Beach Chalet right at the end of Golden Gate Park. It’s in an old building with murals that faces the ocean.


Union Square (©San Francisco Travel Association)
Union Square (©San Francisco Travel Association)

Spend a couple of hours getting into the rhythm of the city. Start in Union Square and go down Grant Street through the Financial District and just meander as it gets into Chinatown. You’ll end up in North Beach. If you want a smorgasbord experience of San Francisco, that’s the way to do it.


(©Starlight Room)
(©Starlight Room)

Get a glass of wine at Eno on Geary Street or drinks at the Starlight Room at top of the Sir Francis Drake hotel. End the day at Biscuits and Blues, where you go down into the basement nightclub for some great blues over drinks and dinner.

San Francisco Art Exchange is free and open to the public. 458 Geary St., San Francisco, 415.441.8840.