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Arts & Culture

San Diego's Parisian-Style Salons

Toulouse-Lautrec's "At the Moulin Rouge"
Toulouse-Lautrec's "At the Moulin Rouge"

It may not be the same as discussing politics in the Parisian drawing room of Mme de Stahl, or the intricacies of modern art with Toulouse-Lautrec himself, but if you know where to look, there's intellectual and creative stimulation to be had on San Diego's salon scene.

What do we mean by salon? A salon could be many things: a book discussion group, drinks at a gallery, a dinner party with a structured discussion – but the salon has at its center smart, thoughtful conversation, scintillating company, and, hopefully, a focus on ideas.

The San Diego Museum of Art’s Summer Salon Series, running all summer in honor of the museum's Toulous-Lautrec exhibit, is the most obvious (and conscious) example. The series references Toulous-Lautrec’s involvement in the Independent Artist’s Salon – a group of Parisian artists who petitioned to show (and of course, discuss) modern art that would have been unacceptable to the official French Académie. SDMA's Summer Salon Series features the work of contemporary artists working in San Diego.


Inspired, we started to wonder: are there other salons in America’s finest city?

Books form the center of many San Diego salons. Independent bookshops like D.G. Wills Books host discussion evenings (owner Dennis recalls his fondest memories of the salon atmosphere being over a pint in Oxford’s pubs).

The San Diego Public Library has a loosely organized, ongoing series that tries to “inflict art on people”, according to librarian Marc Chery. The series includes informal and intimate discussions with an expert and has included a “literature talk, a science talk, a mythology talk and a philosophy talk."

For designers and the design-inclined, Pecha Kucha nights – which started in Tokyo in 2003 and quickly went global – have intermittent nights in San Diego and Tijuana.

In a world where we can go and see anything online, the salon is an invaluable curator that takes discussion off the comments thread and into real life. The Haudenschild Garage describes itself as “a cultural search engine” that “hopes to transcend the 19th century salon and the 20th century alternative art space by providing a home away from home to all seeking to engage in cultural experimentation, play and conversation.” They hold events all over the world, including San Diego and Tijuana.


But you don't have to go out to create a salon - it can happen in your own home. Lynx Performance Space's Al Germani and his wife Scooby Rae hold a "World Stage Progressive Arts Think Tank" in their home, which is “an attempt to recreate the informal, provocative, but potentially life-affirming, European cafe (and salon) encounters and debates that influenced Gauguin, Mozart, Van Gogh, Nietzsche etc.”

That's the thing about the salon – you can make it happen anywhere. As Dennis of D.G. Wills Books reminded us, “I think that the salon atmosphere may be created in any number of places: a private residence, a pub or bar, a coffeehouse, a bookstore, a church, a school, a library.”

Do you know of any salons happening in San Diego? Share them with us in the comments section below.