A Brief History of the San Francisco Art Exchange
San Francisco Art Exchange LLC (SFAE) has been situated in downtown San Francisco since 1983. Co-owners and founders, Jim Hartley and Theron Kabrich, started the gallery in an effort to offer both popular and collectible works of art from an extensive network of contacts in various genres that fostered a busy brokerage business as well.
Soon after their partnership was formed, the Alberto Vargas Estate chose SFAE to represent their incredible collection of original works by one of America’s five most famous artists of all time. Vargas created the incredibly stunning paintings of American beauties, known as the “Vargas Girls,” throughout his long career for: Florenz Ziegfeld of Ziegfeld Follies fame, major Hollywood studios, Esquire Magazine and Playboy, among many others. This was a remarkable achievement as a number of highly motivated parties had approached the family with various proposals, and they were very protective of the integrity of the collection. Ultimately, SFAE was entrusted with bringing this treasured collection to market for the very first time. Quite an unusual occurrence when one considers that Vargas had been painting productively and in the limelight since 1919.
Since 1985, SFAE has sold in the neighborhood of $25 million of Alberto Vargas artwork. We are acknowledged authorities on the artwork of Vargas and the #1 dealers worldwide. Original paintings, drawings and prints are included in the collection which includes works created during the period 1915 to 1976.
The artwork can be seen at: Vargas Artworks
Due in part to the immediate success of the Vargas collection, and our growing reputation in the Popular Culture genre, in 1987 the gallery was approached by an associate of Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood to become the primary distributor and dealers for his new collection of paintings and limited edition prints. Ronnie had a passion for drawing and painting since childhood and attended art school at Ealing in London.
Thus began a second phase in a new direction for SFAE toward the “Art of Rock & Roll.” Ronnie Wood has since become one of the world’s most collectible living artists, and we have amassed an enormous number of avid collectors worldwide with sales of nearly $10 million.
As the gallery continued on this Pop Culture/Rock & Roll track it became patently clear, that although still in its infancy, this was an immensely popular and important genre that was very likely to grow in the coming years as the historic importance of the impact of Rock and Roll on society became more apparent.
Soon thereafter, SFAE began to represent the artist, Roger Dean, creator of the spectacular paintings which graced the album covers for the groups, YES, Asia, Uriah Heep and many others. Roger is arguably one of the most important of all album cover artists. SFAE continues to be the world’s primary dealer of Dean paintings, drawings and limited editions. See the artwork at: Roger Dean
The growing interest in the genre inevitably led SFAE to begin to look into the virtually untapped Rock original photography market. It was clear that the majority of artworks relative to Rock and Roll were photographs. These iconic images from album covers, promotional pieces, concerts and more, were emblazoned into the memories of tens of millions fans throughout the world.
Our first major show featured the photography of famed photographer, Annie Leibovitz, in 1989; her first-ever San Francisco gallery exhibition. The exhibit was sponsored and co-hosted by American Express and Esquire Magazine. Annie attended and lectured. Soon after we held the first-ever exhibit of the photography of Hollywood legend, Bruno Bernard, famous for the photo shoot on the set of the “Seven Year Itch” with Marilyn Monroe. Bruno shot Marilyn’s (Norma Jean’s) first portfolio when she arrived in LA.
Entry into the world of original photography of Rock and Roll began in earnest in 1999 with the first-ever US exhibition of the work of Robert Freeman. Freeman had created the first five albums for the Beatles. He attended this exhibit in-person; flying in from Spain for the event. The “giants” of his archive include the originals of Meet the Beatles (their first album that contained imagery), Beatles for Sale, Rubber Soul, Hard Days Night and Help.
This began an impressive line of exhibition “firsts” for the gallery within the genre. Among the artists who displayed their work for the first time ever with SFAE are:
; the only photographer to create albums for all three of the 60’s legendary bands: Beatles, Stones and The Who plus many others. After an immensely successful career of more than 30 years, this was Ethan’s first-ever commercial gallery exhibition.
; The Muse of Rock and Roll! Wife to George Harrison of the Beatles and later, to Eric Clapton. SFAE convinced Pattie to review her archive of photographs with these Rock immortals and to display them at exhibitions held at the SF gallery location. Pattie made the trip to SF for the exhibit as did several hundred fans and collectors from around the world. The exhibit garnered press throughout the world.
Bill Wyman, bass guitarist for the Rolling Stones. Bill had been a photographer throughout his tenure with the Stones. It’s said that the first major purchase after receiving his first royalty check from “Satisfaction” was a top-of-the line camera.
Iain Macmillan; photographer of the most famous album of all time: Abbey Road. SFAE is the preeminent dealer worldwide of the originals from the Beatles’ Abbey Road shoot. The originals of the entire Abbey Road shoot were exhibited at SFAE for the first-time ever. Only five complete suites of the Abbey Road photographs exist and all five were sold by SFAE. These photographs have become the most valuable Rock photos in history!
Michael Cooper; photographer of Sgt. Pepper (which ranks with Abbey Road in fame). SFAE is the first gallery in the world to display and sell the entire suite of originals available from the original shoot.
Dozens of other important original Rock photography exhibits have been conducted by SFAE. A few of these are described below:
The Art of the Album Cover (2004):
The largest and most important exhibit ever held on the subject. More than 135 original photographs of Rock album covers. No commercial or museum exhibit prior or since has rivaled this exhibit. Thousands attended this exhibit during the summer of 2004.
1967, 1968, 1969-The Years That Molded A Generation (2007):
This landmark exhibit was anchored by the amazing music and art iconography of the time against a backdrop of photographic images that defined the social, political and cultural landscape of the late ‘60s.
The Last Mile (2007):
An exhibition of rare and previously unseen color photographs of the legendary film actor's final years by his widow Barbara McQueen.
The Beatles at Rishikesh (2002): The first-ever exhibit of the photography of Jazz musician, flautist Paul Horn who is also known as father of New Age Music. The photographs were taken at Rishikesh in India when the Beatles and numerous other music luminaries visited India in 1968 to study and work with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
SFAE was the first gallery to exhibit the original epic photography for Michael Joseph, photographer of the unforgettable Beggars Banquet shoot for the Rolling Stones.
SFAE held the first-ever American exhibit for French photographer, Dominique Tarle of "Exile on Main Street" fame with the Rolling Stones. Dominique lived with and photographed the Stones during their six-month “exile” in the south of France during the recording sessions.
Over a period of nearly ten years, four major exhibitions have been held centering upon various periods of the photography of British photographer, Terry O’Neill, one of the world’s most important and famous celebrity photographers.
Since that time, we have developed relationships and represent nearly 60 major photographers of pop culture, many of whom had extensive personal and professional histories with the major celebrities of the 1960s and 1970s and contributed in a significant way to the art and history of Rock & Roll, Film and many other areas of the world of entertainment.
Today, San Francisco Art Exchange has become the #1 gallery world-wide for the art of Rock and Roll and is actively and rapidly expanding its influence and representation in other important areas of the art of popular culture. The gallery collection is valued in the millions and is acknowledged throughout the world as the best and most extensive collection of its kind.
The gallery's foresight has now become validated as the Brooklyn Museum held the first-ever museum exhition of the art from in 2009: Who Shot Rock & Roll, A Photogrphic History 1955 to the Present. Since that time many others have become participants on an ever increasing level with world tours of their exhibitions.