Friday, March 31, 2006

Studio Museum Harlem

When I was in New York, I visited the Studio Museum Harlem (on March 12th) to see the “Frequency” show, a mini-survey of young black artists. This included flat work, sculptures, installations, and about an hour of videos.

One of my favorites in the show was Jeff Sonhouse, who makes eye-popping portraits in which black male faces look out from a variety of mask-like coverings. Unconventional materials are used, such as matchsticks for hair. A dazzling portrait diptych was seen near the entryway, the figures posed as in mug shots. Then came a larger piece in which the pose of Cardinal Francis Arinze (who was shortlisted to succeed John Paul II) recalled the Pope paintings of Velasquez and Francis Bacon. Photographs make these works look flat and hard-edged, but that is not the effect in person. They are electric. (Nevertheless, I am providing an image, above, adapted from Kustera Tilton Gallery.)

Several of Demetrius Oliver’s performative photographs were on view. The most visceral of these is called “Till,” a reference (I assume) to the infamous 1955 murder and mutilation of black teenager Emmett Till in Mississippi. The photo shows the artist’s face covered with chocolate frosting, as if the face had become pulp (photo at right, taken from the net). Oliver has a gift, but his images can come across as an ad campaign for social justice—donate now. Another photographer in the show was Hank Willis Thomas, whose work is often meant to look like ads, but ones that implode. One of his well-known images was here: the profile of a black man’s shaved head with the Nike Inc. “swoosh” across it like a welt.

Nick Cave offered three extraordinary costumes assembled from pieces of sequined cloth. The garments, displayed on mannequins, covered the heads and extended higher, coming to a peak like the Pope’s hat. They looked like something from a sensational ethnographic museum (photo at right, adapted from the Jack Shainman site). I was also intrigued by the sculptural installation by Karyn Olivier (“Doubles”). She gets a striking effect from a pared-down style. The piece is hard to describe, and I was not permitted to make photographs. I look forward to seeing more of her work. Leslie Hewitt’s “riffs on real time,” which layer faded photos, pages from old school notebooks, and other memorabilia on top of carpet rectangles, evoke real feelings with humble means. Kianga Ford’s soundscape installation did not work as well here as it did at the Lisa Dent Gallery in San Francisco.

The video program included a couple of strong pieces that were compromised by poor technical quality. Michael Paul Britto’s “Dirrrty Harriet Tubman” was loose and funny, and then he topped himself with a second video in which women as slaves or maids made housework gestures as they danced like backup singers to Britney Spears’s “I’m a Slave 4U.” Kalup Linzy’s “Conversations” featured gay men in daytime soap situations, with marriage as the big question. Both of these artists should be given some good video equipment and a budget, pronto.

NY Street Art

In Chelsea, there is even art on the streets (photo above). The artist has managed to endow a ravishing formal exercise with an undercurrent of urban pathos.

I offer it at $7,500. Please make the check out to Cash.

Pulse Art Fair NYC

On March 10th, I went to the Pulse Contemporary Art Fair in Manhattan. Several dozen galleries participated. The whole place seemed cramped, and the booths in the Impulse section were closet-sized. The crowded space, plus many encounters with people I know, made it hard to focus on the art.

At Julie Saul Gallery, there was a group of gouache-on-paper portraits by Maira Kalman, the illustrator who created the famous “New Yorkistan” cover for The New Yorker. One of them really popped off the wall (photo above right).

At Heather Marx Gallery, I encountered San Francisco artist Michael Arcega, who posed next to one of his Conquistadork sculptures, made from Manila folders (photo above). Mike has also made—and sailed in—a Manila Galleon, also made of folders. Originally from the Philippines, Arcega is interested in colonialism and other modes of domination. (No, he didn’t seek out this gallery because the owner’s name is Marx.)

The gallery offered much to see—altogether one of the best showings in the fair. On the wall opposite Arcega's sculpture was a group of new graphite drawings by San Francisco artist Libby Black. My sister Jan Burchard, who accompanied me to the fair, purchased one of the best (photo above).

At Catherine Clark Gallery, Reuben Lorch-Miller offered a banner for the times (photo above). Just the thing when you feel history is going in reverse.

At the Brussels gallery Aliceday, I noticed some tiny paintings by Charlotte Beaudry and asked for more information. In many works, she paints objects so inconsequential that they would barely be noticed in real life. One that captured my fancy is a medium-sized painting of a support post in a garage, a work not shown at the fair (photo above).

At Freight + Volume, I loved Michael Scoggins’s huge version of a schoolboy’s notebook doodles, entitled “U.S.A. Jet Fighter.” The piece was 67" x 51", and it was hung with the bottom edge curled under (photo above).
At one of the Impulse booths, Jeff Bailey had new color pencil drawings by Julia Randall. She has gotten interested in rendering the mouth during speech, with elegant but creepy results. The image floats in one corner of the paper (see photo above, which shows just the image area).

There was much more to see at this fair—for example, Gregory Lind Gallery always shows some good work—but I spent too much time chatting and didn’t take enough notes or photos.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

CCA Playspace ("Snap, Crackle, Pop")

For the new show at CCA's graduate gallery, Sarrita Hunn has chosen 11 artists (mostly women) whose conversations about painting have been especially illuminating during her time at CCA. Mitzi Pederson's contribution to the show is pictured above. Below are photos of several other works.

A small work by Laurel Voss (mixed media, including collage):

A work by Sally Elesby, projecting from the wall, with shadows, estimated at 30" wide (oil paint, colored glue, wire):

Detail of the above:

Carol Anne McChrystal (mixed media including what appears to be pink foam insulation):

Detail of the above:

Dan Reneau's "PowerPoint Autoshape (Explosion 2)" made from an acrylic sheet:

Playspace is located on the second floor at CCA, 1111 Eighth St., in the Potrero neighborhood. The exhibition is scheduled to run through April 12th. Gallery hours are not clearly defined; for information, call the main campus number, (415) 703-9500.

A Visit to PS1

On March 9th, I went to PS1 Contemporary Art Center in Long island City. The subway makes it a quick and easy trip from Manhattan, and you can grab lunch in the museum café. There was plenty to see. I caught the last day of the abstract painting exhibit called “The Painted World,” curated by Bob Nickas. Some NY critics gave the show carping reviews, for reasons that seemed obscure, but I had a good time. Every piece seemed to merit some attention. The birth dates of the artists, from almost every decade of the 20th Century up to the Seventies, argue for a continuity that is worth celebrating. Standouts were Myron Stout, Paul Feeley, Chris Martin, Dan Walsh, and the young artist Chuck Webster (photo above of a 12" x 12" work). There were also good works by Mary Heilmann, Yayoi Kusama, Michael Scott, and Cannon Hudson. A round, quasi-sculptural work by the late Steven Parrino lent a subversive note. The paintings by Alan Uglow made me want to see Jo Baer instead. The works by Wayne Gonzalez seemed out of place.

Another large exhibit features the work of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. He has a restless, try-everything personality. In this show, exquisite abstractions are in the same room as a photo of a man’s hairy balls. There are small photos and huge photos. There are plenty of misses along with the hits. I was most attracted to the “Silver” series of monochromes (especially numbers 5, 7, 8, and 41, all delicious). I also liked a shot titled “Inner Sense,” which showed the corner of a room where his shiny monochromes hung and reflected each other. I am not a fan of the “Freischwimmer” series, but I was interested to note that a smaller one (#18) works better than the vacuous larger ones.

Elsewhere in the museum, there were smaller shows of interest. The 26-minute video by Clemens von Wedemeyer is not to be missed. It’s called “Big Business,” and it updates the Laurel & Hardy film of the same name. Portraits of mutual self destruction are always relevant. Elsewhere, a selection of Kon Trubkovich’s graphite drawings depicts the cemetery at Little Big Horn, Montana (see image above). They are based on paused video images that include video noise. There is a mini-boom in young artists making graphite renderings from degraded photographic sources. Jacob Dyrenforth and Molly Springfield are among the best, and Trubkovich joins the list. Filtered reality of another sort is apparent in Yaron Leshem’s large, high-definition, lightboxed photo of a fake village erected for Israeli military training. It’s a movie set for a real war. Australian Ricky Swallow offers some of his carved wood sculptures. They are technically amazing but thematically a bit heavy handed. The bike helmet infested with snakes is the one that will stay with me.

Also on view was an installation by Jessica Stockholder—not her best, but it’s always interesting to see what she’s up to. And there was a sizable group of works on paper by young artist William Cordova. These have personality, but cute little drawings are everywhere nowadays.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Slogging Through the Whitney Biennial 2006

When I visited the new Whitney Biennial on March 8th, I started on the fourth floor and worked my way down. Almost immediately I found it hard to focus because of the crowded display and the crowd of visitors. The problem got worse as the hours wore on. I will comment on the works that caught my attention. The first piece I liked was Nari Ward’s sculpture “Glory Road.” This is a tanning bed (as in a tanning salon) with an exterior crafted from an oil barrel and an interior featuring an image screen that would burn a U.S. flag on the flesh. The piece has been dismissed as “agitprop,” but looking into the florescent lights behind the translucent flag, I had the creepy feeling of looking into a zealot’s mind. Nearby was a huge collage painting by Mark Bradford, which seemed to evoke a city at night as seen from the air. It was well done but it seemed scaled to impress in a 1980s manner. Yuri Masnyj showed an appealing assemblage in a corner that seemed to deconstruct Constructivism. In Deva Graf’s display, I was intrigued by her “mirror photocopy” pieces. A comment on narcissism? (Try making one yourself.) I think Gedi Sibony is talented, but his installation didn’t seem to jell. The torn black plastic bag was elegantly pathetic, though. Peter Doig seemed to be doing Gauguin, not to satisfying effect. Kenneth Anger’s installation was tedious; better to try his films that will be shown later. The Steven Parrino room felt like a memorial (he died last year). It was meditative and cleansing. The Urs Fischer installation was great, with a momento mori sculpture that dripped circles of candle wax, plus large holes roughly cut out of two walls with an effect of liberation rather than violation. The gigantic Rudolf Stingel painting worked well in that room, with its male figure lost in thought.

On the third floor, Dorothy Iannone’s head appeared in a vintage B&W video looking out from a tall painted box. She was masturbating, and her orgasm looked like a soprano's climactic reach in Richard Strauss's Elektra. In a side room, Rodney Graham’s high-definition film of a chandelier that spins was mysteriously compelling. Taylor Mead contributed a crudely drawn but funny fairy tale. Marilyn Minter’s photo-realist (photo-expressionist?) paintings looked smashing, as expected. In the darkened room for Paul Chan’s projection, I was distracted by the bright red EXIT sign in the corner. Carter’s drawings of male heads seemed to cancel themselves out with sameness. He has done better on other occasions. Mark Grotjahn contributed well-made paintings. The elaborate Sturtevant installation left me wondering why she does what she does. A dead-on reproduction of a deadpan Duchamp artwork is about as arid as it gets—and there was a roomful of them. Florian Maier-Aichen’s highly detailed landscape photographs were manipulated to be strange in a good way. Likewise Monica Majoli’s large watercolors of figures in BDSM heaven or hell. Adam McEwen's obituaries of living celebrities are terrific in concept and execution. They use classic obituary style to examine the trajectory of fame and, at least at some level, to pop the celebrity bubble.

On the second floor, I didn’t have time to take in Ryan Trecartin’s 41-minute video. In the part I saw, the psyches of the characters seemed to be fracturing or dissolving. It could be really good, or not. The placement—a monitor next to busy elevators—was an annoying curatorial lapse. The Francesco Vezzoli imitation film trailer turned out to be over-hyped. Parodies work best when done to a T. This one had awkward cutting and an inconsistent photographic look. The acting was bad-bad, not good-bad. (But Adrianna Asti and Helen Mirren knew what to do). I hadn’t expected Ed Paschke to be a highlight, but his three paintings, with their radioactive yellow/green palette, looked authoritative amid so much fuzzy work. The Anthony Burdin room was like a Halloween experience crafted in someone’s garage—actually it would have been better in a garage than in a pristine gallery space. There was a scary video, a scary cabin, and other objects. I liked the video best. Photographs by Angela Strassheim stopped many people in their tracks. They would look uncanny even if you didn’t know the subjects were members of her born-again Christian family in Illinois.

On the lobby floor there is a good Marilyn Minter. In a large room at the back was a Pierre Huyghe video that is superbly made and riveting, but it seemed to evaporate afterwards. After seeing that, I went up to the Mezzanine for the “Down by Law” sub-show. This was another mixed bag, but I liked Ed Ruscha’s gunpowder drawing, Sergej Jensen’s U.S. flag with the stars missing, Karl Haendel’s large drawing of George W. Bush’s head leaning in a corner (as if knocked off its perch), Jules de Balincourt’s painting on panel, Fred Tomaselli’s drug drawing, Robert Mapplethorp’s photo of himself posed with a whip handle in his ass (in a small format that emphasized its, well, classicism), and David Wojnarowicz’s Rimbaud-mask photos. In this room there were several of Jonathan Horowitz’s small portraits of the 9/11 hijacker suspects—nineteen of which are scattered throughout the museum in unlikely places.

I did not photograph the Biennial because I was told that photographs were forbidden. (Grrrrr!) The Whitney itself does not provide good online documentation of the exhibition. (Grrrrr!) The photo above shows my own attempt to photocopy a mirror. I will let it represent all the photographs I am unable to include here.

A Couple of Disappointments

I didn't attend the recent art auction at The LAB, but I stopped by on a preview day to take a look. There was a lot of work available, but little that was compelling. Other people I've talked to have had the same reaction. The show might be seen as a barometer for the The LAB's visual arts program, which has been weak this past year.

Last night I stopped by Adobe Books to look at the current show, and my spirits sank. In the back room are Alison Blickle's paintings of herself and (I believe) her boyfriend, done in a style somewhere between photo-realism and Alex Katz. The matte paint is applied thinly in a fairly literal manner, like putting on makeup. There is undeniable skill—as in the rendering of the chrome tubes in “Event Contender.” The work looks stronger in reproductions and would serve well as magazine illustrations. But as paintings they seem to have no breath.

There was a second show at Adobe, but it was too forlorn for comment.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Add One More Exhibit

Playspace, the graduate gallery at CCA's San Francisco campus, will open its new show with a reception on Thursday, March 30th, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. It is a show about painting—and about what can be considered as a painting. Featured artists include Stacey Beach, Susan Chen, James Chronister, Sally Elesby, Linda Geary, Jennifer Mattson, Carol Ann McCrystal, Mitzi Pederson, Dan Reneau, Laurel Voss, and Liz Walsh. The curator is Sarrita Hunn. The address is 1111 Eighth St., in the Potrero neighborhood. Visitors need to check in at the security desk before proceeding upstairs. If you miss the reception, you can attempt to see the show during Playspace's published hours, but don't be surprised if you lose this gamble. They are notoriously lax about keeping hours.

New Exhibitions in SF

This week brings three new exhibitions of interest in San Francisco. Tomorrow night (March 29th) from 6:00 to 10:00 pm, RX Gallery hosts a reception for a show of Bay Area artists working in New Media. (That term is beginning to sound quaint.) The gallery is located at 132 Eddy St., near Mason St., at the edge of the Tenderloin.

The Patricia Sweetow Gallery, after the color riot of the previous show, takes a more austere turn in solos by German artists Irmel Kamp and Joachim Bandau. Kamp is known for B&W photographs that document the exteriors of International Style buildings in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. Bandau paints exquisite black watercolors that seem to argue for opacity and transparency at the same time. An image of one of them is shown below. Bandau is also a long-time sculptor, and judging from the show announcement, a few of his small, somewhat unnerving sculptures will be shown. The exhibition opens on Wednesday, March 29th, and there is a reception next week on Thursday, April 6th from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. The gallery is on the fourth floor at 49 Geary St.

In a different part of town, the small artist-run space Queen's Nails Annex will open their new show with a reception on Friday, March 31st, from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. The show, curated by Margaret Tedesco, features work by David Hatcher, Mitzi Pederson, and Wayne Smith. Local writer Kevin Killian contributes an essay. Lots of art people will be there, spilling out onto the sidewalk. The address is 3191 Mission St., located several blocks south of Cesar Chavez St.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Quick Visit to SFMOMA

Before and after the Temko memorial, I visited SFMOMA across the street. My goal was to see the 1966 painting by Vija Celmins, “Suspended Plane,” that the museum has just acquired. Neither the members’ desk nor the information desk knew where this was hung—they had zero information about it—so I went looking and found it on the second floor. The collection display on that floor is changed incrementally, a strategy that keeps it fresh.

The painting looks good in the odd manner of Celmins’ 1960s paintings, where an object is isolated on the canvas and painted in realistic style. The foursquare approach brings an interesting aura of thrift store paintings. The Whitney Museum has one of the best of these works, a portrait of the artist’s space heater glowing in a dark space. (By the way, the SFMOMA press release says that “Suspended Plane” is 16" x 20", but 16" x 27" would be closer to the mark.)

Near the elevators on the second floor is a fun video (on loan) by Sam Taylor-Wood, which looks like a still photo for the quarter-second it takes you to notice the cigarette smoke rising, and other movement.

Also tucked away on that floor is a little drawing show with good works by Michaël Borremans, Jay DeFeo, Mondrian, Egon Schiele, and Mark Lombardi (in his sketchy mode). Work by Tim Gardner represents the recent MFA crowd.

On a different floor are two shows delving into Surrealism. One of them gloms onto Alexander Calder. Someday a candid museum will do a show called “Calder the Crowd-Pleaser.” It’s easy to think you’ve seen enough Calder for a lifetime, but actually there are sculptures worth seeing in this show. I liked the following:

• Sphere Pierced by Cylinders (1939)
• Un effet du japonais (1940)
• Bougainvillier (1947)
• The Spider (1940)
• The untitled piece on 3 legs (1938)
• Tightrope (1936).

The other show, called “Beyond Real,” adopts a loose definition of Surrealist practice. In fact, at times I thought I had wandered into a different show. Even if Surrealism isn’t at the top of your list (it isn’t for me), there are many good and/or entertaining works in the exhibition. There was entertainment even in one wall caption: 1974 Warhol Polaroids were described as “dye diffusion transfer prints.” Sounds like Bill Clinton denying sex with Monica. Among the pleasures in this show are works by Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Yasumasa Morimura, and Hiroshi Sugimoto (from the diorama series, plus a Fidel Castro waxwork). Small enough to be lost in the crowd is Dora Maar’s little beauty, a photo of a musical instrument store window.

Temko Memorial

The Allan Temko memorial was held yesterday in the Forum at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. For an architecture critic to be honored this way is unusual to say the least, but Temko was a rare man. The audience was seated facing the array of glass doors that give a view of the East Garden (designed by Omi Lang). This view became a quiet commentary on the proceedings. There was a life-goes-on episode in which a young boy tried to play hide-and-seek with his father. Not finding enough places to hide, he took another tack. He covered his eyes with both hands, then unveiled them with a flourish as if jumping into view. The architectural moment came when I noticed how many people wandered into the garden and then left without taking a seat or showing much interest. It’s that kind of public space.

I was surprised, given Temko’s reputation as a talker, that no recording of his voice was played. But maybe that would have been too much for his family and friends. People told funny stories, and it was comforting to hear him described as a slow writer. One speaker recalled a famous Temko witticism, his description of San Francisco's Villaincourt Fountain as an object “deposited by a concrete dog with square intestines.” (See photo below by Eric/SF.)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

SFAC and Some Oakland Art Spaces

On my way to Oakland this afternoon, I stopped to see the show at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. This was a mashup of Marcel Dzama's little drawings and a slide show by San Francisco artist Alice Shaw. Dzama, an art star from Winnipeg, is famous enough for Eric Doeringer to bootleg him (that's his bootleg shown below).
I enjoy many Dzama drawings, but he produces so many that deja vu creeps in. The selection at SFAC is not particularly interesting, save two or three. And what does Dzama's work have to do with Alice Shaw's, other than a shared quirkiness? The curatorial idea behind the show escapes me. Shaw's photographic work is shown in a darkened gallery, where a slide projector cranks out her selection. Her strength is to capture visual puns and other oddities. But there are other types of photos in the mix, and it's not clear why. Some editing would have helped.

I was heading to Oakland to see shows at several spaces. At the new Swarm Gallery, most of the art did not live up to the spiffy physical space. The familiar artist here was Jonn Herschend, whose has been painting abstract landscapes in small and medium sizes. Several are on view, and for me the most interesting was a 36" x 36" work entitled, “Proposal for a New Flag” (photo above).

Next door to Swarm is Pro Arts, located on the corner or Clay and 2nd Sts., near Jack London Square. An artists' talk was in progress for a new show, so I confined my looking to the “Catch-22” project near the door. This was a collection of 8.5" x 11" artworks by many hands on the subject of war. Lucy Hanna of Alameda contributes a truth blackboard with handy eraser (photo above). And Thomas Frongillo of San Francisco offers a snappy rejoinder (photo below) to America's question, Where's the beef?

In the Temescal area of Oakland, at 4224 Telegraph Ave. (near 42nd St.), the tiny, awkward Boontling Gallery had a show in which scores of mostly small artwork covered every wall. There was even artwork spread out on the floor, preventing a close view of a couple of the walls. It was hard to focus here, but Brian Andrews's photographic "Arachnid Hominid" stood out. (The work was hung too high for me to get a good photo.) Co-proprietor Mike Simpson, though distracted by electrical problems, was on duty with considerable charm.

A sad footnote: 33 Grand, an Oakland gallery that has shown a number of good artists, is closing in the next few days due to a large rent increase.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Reminder: William Kentridge Films (Last Day)

Saturday, March 25th is the final day to see two William Kentridge films at San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). Kentridge is a South African artist (b. 1955) who has gained wide attention for compact films that feature hand-drawn animation and a striking use of music. The animation method, which involves erasure and redrawing on the same sheet of paper, produces fleeting effects that outrace thought. The films are drenched in social concern but are elusive rather than didactic. Kentridge would rather haunt you than instruct you. The two films, each about 8 minutes—but you'll probably want to see them twice—are nicely presented in the Walter and McBean Galleries at SFAI. (But the gallery attendants should keep quiet, as the sound carries.) The address is 800 Chestnut St., between Jones and Leavenworth Sts. The hours are 11:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Adobe Books Art Opening (tomorrow)

The Adobe Books Backroom Gallery is opening a new show on Friday, March 24th. The artists are Alison Blickle (see photo) and Sophia Amoruso. There will be a reception from 7:00 to 10:00 pm, and bands will play starting at 8:00 pm. The address is 3166 16th St., between Guerrero and Valencia Sts., in San Francisco.

Whitney Biennial 2006 (in general)

On March 8th, after nearly five hours of viewing, I exited the new Whitney Biennial thinking, what went wrong? Did the curators run out of time? Was there a shortage of money for travel and planning? Did they have to cover too many bases themselves, for lack of staff support? After selecting the artists, did they fail to provide feedback on the artists’ plans? Did their aesthetic and political biases channel them toward juiceless, schematic, half-baked work?

Most of the exhibition is inert, at least for me. Most of it just sits there, evoking zero molecular exchange. It doesn’t help that the show is so crowded. Or that the layout presents so much work in corridor-like spaces. Or that traffic flow for the video rooms creates a distracting bustle at those doorways.

Or that the show takes place in the Whitney’s Breuer building, which has aged badly. From down the street, the building still looks iconic. Close up, it is a dreary place with a pathetic entrance, a cheesy Sixties lobby, and grim stairwells. The galleries seem to bear no relation to the building’s shell. The place is shabby around the edges, as if the maintenance budget had shrunk due to inflation. (The men’s room on the restaurant level looked like something from a Trailways depot.)

But I digress. The building is a separate issue. I’ve seen better shows in worse buildings. I cannot fathom why the curators came up short. There is no shortage of good artists. There is no shortage of artists willing to work insane hours to put a show together.

Perhaps there were warning signs. For the first time, the Biennial was given a title. The curators chose “Day for Night,” borrowed from the English title for Truffaut’s film “La nuit Americain.” (Day-for-night refers to techniques for shooting night scenes in daylight.) The film is largely a comedy about movie-making, but as used in the Biennial, the title is supposed to register as sinister. And clever — don’t forget clever. It refers to the queasy feel of reality in the Bush era and the dark zeitgeist fostered by the Bush Administration and by American culture in general. But the title doesn’t illuminate the show, or unify it. It's just marketing.

Another warning sign: the fictive 3rd curator created by the two actual curators. The less said, the better.

For irony lovers, the exhibition comes with embedded darkness of its own: the lead sponsor is the Altria Group, formerly known as Philip Morris.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Jessamyn Lovell

If you can make it to Dogpatch Monday through Friday, there is a show of Jessamyn Lovell's photographs that is worth seeking out. On view are a few large prints and dozens of smaller ones — images of her upstate New York family. You won't see this family in ads. The father is long gone, the mother has multiple sclerosis, the women are overweight, and the adopted Korean son was scarred by fire. There is a voyeur element to the photos, but they are family photos in the end. Many young photographers document their lives, but Lovell has captured something specific that she owns. The venue is In Color 2, a photographic printing shop, located at 2475 Third St. (near 22nd St.), San Francisco. The shop is upstairs in Suite 251. The hours are 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, but they may close between 1:00 and 2:00 pm for lunch. The phone is (415) 861-3997.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Allan Temko Memorial

A memorial event for architecture critic Allan Temko will be held on Sunday, March 26th from 2:00 to 5:00 pm at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Mission St. at 3rd St., San Francisco. He died on January 25th at the age of 81.

Among Bay Area arts writers, Mr. Temko set a remarkable standard for passion, clarity, and knowledge. In the days when he wrote regularly for the San Francisco Chronicle, it was a joy to see his byline.

Select Art Events

The excellent show at Steven Wolf Fine Arts closes on March 25th. The artists are Kaz Oshiro and Molly Springfield. This is a don’t-miss. The address is 49 Geary St.

There is a new drawing show, featuring an excellent lineup of talent, on view through April 21st at the College of Marin Art Gallery in Kentfield. I’m eager to see it. Andrea Antonaccio and Amy Charles curated the show. I don’t see any information about it on the college’s website, but you can download a map from the site, and you can call the gallery for information at (415) 485-9494. Gallery hours are 9 to 5, Monday through Friday.

The Oakland Art Gallery is hosting an opening on Thursday, March 23rd, from 5:00 to 8:00 pm, for part two of its “Visual Alchemy” show. This features work from leading Bay Area print shops, including Stephanie Syjuco’s set of retro hi-fi gear (see photo).

If you’re in the market for affordable art, check out The LAB’s “Art Sale 10,” taking place on Friday, March 24th, from 6:30 to 9:00 pm, with a live auction at 7:00 pm. The LAB’s website gives full details. There is always some good work available at this event, and it’s a lot of fun.

New York Trip Stats

I’ve been feeling worn out since returning from New York, and no wonder. My 9-day trip included the following (in sequence):

• Visit to the Whitney Biennial (5 hours)
• Visit to PS1 (3 hours)
• Visit to the Neue Galerie (over 1 hour)
• Evening at the Met Opera
• Visit to the Pulse art fair (3 hours)
• Visit to Pier 92 of the Armory Show (4 hours)
• Evening at the NY Philharmonic
• Visit to the LA Art fair (2 hours)
• Visit to a Chelsea gallery to ask about an artist (1 hour)
• Visit to Pier 90 of the Armory Show (3 hours)
• Visit to the Studio Museum in Harlem (2 hours)
• Visit to the Scope art fair (1.5 hours)
• Return visit to the Scope art fair (1.5 hours)
• Visit to Museum of Modern Art (4.5 hours)
• Visit to Gallery W52 (0.5 hour)
• Visit to 36 Chelsea galleries and the New Museum (over 5 hours)
• Dinner in Brooklyn with a gallery owner and artists
• Visit to another 29 Chelsea galleries (over 5 hours)
• Visit to the Folk Art Museum for the “Obsessive Drawing” show (1 hr)

I will comment on some of the art-viewing, and on being in New York, in the coming days. There will be photos!

Email Link Added

I have added an email address to the blog so that people can send comments directly if they don’t want to post in public. The email link is on my profile page.

Back in the Light

I returned to San Francisco from New York last Thursday night. The next morning, what I noticed was the quality of light. I flashed back to my first day in California —in February 1972 — when I had flown from the East Coast to join a wild urban commune. On the bus from SFO to my new home in Oakland, I kept looking around, amazed by how everything looked in the Bay Area light.

The light is hard to describe. A literary person might describe it as pellucid. The defining quality is somewhat fugitive: as you look around, it’s as if a sprite is moving ahead of your glance, leaving a sparkle behind. The light is soft but not lush. It is too clear, too bracing, to be lush. It’s an animating light that pours forth in abundance. Physically, the quality is hard to pin down, but the feeling is one of promise. (How far that feeling carries you is another matter.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Heading to New York

Tomorrow I fly to New York for a 9-day art frenzy. The Whitney Biennial has opened, and the Armory Show and several other art fairs are happening this weekend. I am super-prepared. Look at this floor map of the Armory Show, which I have marked up so I can focus on the galleries that interest me. Look at these shortlists of preferred galleries at the other fairs. Look at this target list of some 115 other art venues, arranged by neighborhood.

I don't have a suitable mobile device for Internet access during the trip. So I will be scouting for access in New York. I hope that I can arrange to post a few items to the blog. But it's possible that the entire period will be –(sigh) blogus interruptus.

After my return, I'll open a new email account dedicated to the blog. The address will be posted, and I will welcome private comments in addition to the public comments that can be made in the blog.

New Shows This Weekend in SF

I received announcements for three shows that open later this week in SF:

On Friday, March 10th, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm, there is a reception at Southern Exposure for a new show entitled "Smart Ass," curated by Kelsey Nicholson. It has a promising lineup of artists. Two of them, Dustin Fosnot and Ben Riesman, made intriguing contributions to Mission 17's “Truth and Lies” show not long ago. (I was on the jury for that show.) Also that night, SoEx will present the launch of “Invisible-5,” a self-guided audio tour of Interstate-5. The address is 401 Alabama St., near 17th St.

Also on March 10th, from 7:00 to 10:00 pm, is a reception for the new show at Triple Base, presented by curator Joyce Grimm of the curatorial collective No. 4. The lead artist is Chris Cobb, who worked with 30 people to create “dense, luminous drawings,” according to the press release. Cobb is the guy who reorganized the walls of books at Adobe Books according to color. (OK, he had a lot of help, including two people dragooned from a nearby bus stop.) Triple Base is the storefront at 3041 24th St., between Folsom and Harrison Sts.

On Saturday, March 11th, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm, the little Needles and Pens space will hold an opening for “Biophilia,” a show of drawings and letters by C. Ryder Cooley and Lena Wolff. There will be music and, as always, lots of zines for sale. The address is 483 14th St., near Guerrero St.

Painter of Light, Oh My

If you like to curl up with a good novel, but can't find the time, check out the darkly entertaining story about the self-proclaimed “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade that was published yesterday (March 5th, 2006) in the Los Angeles Times. The article appeared on page one of the printed preview edition, and right next to it was an article with the headline “Mental Facility Nearly Empty”—a nice touch.

The story is temporarily available (for free) on the LA Times website.

Intimate Spaces for Art

In the March 6th, 2006 issue of New York magazine, Mark Stevens reviews the new Edvard Munch exhibition at MoMA (New York) and comments: “His pictures look best in the close bourgeois rooms in which he grew up. In a tamped-down space, they have an explosive intensity. The MoMA installation—white galleries, high ceilings, open spaces—does not suit him....It dissipates his force.”

This comment resonates with me, as one who has an obsession about the placement of artwork. Some works do look better in more human-scale environments. One of the reasons that people enjoy the Barnes Foundation near Philadelphia is the relatively intimate atmosphere in which works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and others are displayed. (Here's a photo of a Barnes gallery from James Wagner's site.) A similar intimacy is found at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. And in Victoria Newhouse's recent book, Art and the Power of Placement, there is a mid-20th Century photograph of the Ben Heller apartment in which the art IS the environment. It's sensational—although of course the public was excluded. That's why we need museums. But I wish more of them were scaled to the art rather than to the egos of the architect, the donors, and the trustees.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Reeder Bros. + Needles & Pens

The Scott and Tyson Reeder show at Jack Hanley was entertaining, and more. In one gallery, Scott Reeder created a playspace that included a tall zig-zag sculpture made of two-by-fours painted in rainbow colors, doodly drawings, and several works created by affixing colored (chewed) gum to paper. The gum colors are surprising. There is also a naked light fixture jutting out of a wall, with a bulb that keeps changing color. My guess is that this is a novelty version of an LED bulb. Is it Duchampian (a ready-made)? Is it a riff on Dan Flavin? No, it's just fun.

In the neighboring space, Tyson Reeder has paintings (mostly on paper) that were a pleasure to see. He has a gift for orchestrating color. Close up, the works decompose into patchwork: areas of color pencil, squiggly lines made with pencil and pen, washes and accents of paint of various types (including glitter), and maybe other media. Stand back, and the works come together in a way that's a bit alchemical. There's a painting of a poodle in the rain in which you may see the colors before you see the poodle. There's one called “Bog” that looks a bit like a piece by Hernan Bas, but without teenaged boys in the scene. And my favorite, “The Graduate,” shows a guy with a bedroll on his back, his face invisible behind ski wear (apparently), wearing some sort of tunic, and giving a gloved finger to you, the viewer. He is standing in a landscape and seems to be heading into a storm. It's a striking work that shows a bravura use of color. (An afterthought: the low-grade framing of Tyson's paper works did not do them justice.)

While waiting for the Reeder show to be ready (the Hanley Gallery is a down-to-the-wire place), I walked over to Needles and Pens to catch the last day of their backroom show. Some intriguing small drawings by Julianna Bright were my reward.

Marco Maggi

Yesterday I saw the Margo Maggi show at Hosfelt (SF) and found it dispiriting. Many of the pieces on display were part of his grid series, where stacks of white paper are cut through (by machine, presumably) to create grids that look like sash window frames. A final piece of paper, white on one side and printed with a color image on the other, is inserted in the stack or at the back of the stack, white side forward. This paper contains cuts and foldouts that are framed by the grid; bits of color show on the foldouts. The grid itself sometimes undergoes cutting, as if it has been eaten away. I did not respond to the grid works in an earlier show, and still don't. To my eye, the heavy grid overwhelms the incidents of cutting and folding. This problem is avoided in a few small pieces where the cut in the stack creates a single opening that frames the sheet that has the cuts and foldouts. But the charm of these few pieces tended to get lost in the glut of work.

In another room, there was a grid of small pieces set on the floor. These were more of the grid pieces, but they were encased in acrylic boxes so that the fronts and backs could be seen. They looked like a low-slung graveyard. The floor arrangement, where you would need to lie on the floor to see details, was tried previously in a New York show. A lesson should have been learned. By the way, the floor pieces (and others) use images of works by famous artists as the colored "back" of the paper into which cuts and foldouts are made. The famous names are cited in the titles of the pieces. This seemed more like name dropping than real engagement with those artists.

In yet another room, there were stacks of white paper arranged in (yes!) a grid, like low pedestals, on the tops of which were more sheets featuring cuts and foldouts. The top sheets did not lie flat on the precise stacks, a disconcerting effect. Finally, in a back gallery, there were a few pieces in other styles that seemed unrelated to the main thrust of the show; these included a large fine drawing on Yupo paper. As I walked away from the gallery, I passed first one pair of homeless people and then another, a woman who was trying to help a man put on some shoes. I don't believe that art needs to perform social work, but these sights seemed to emphasize the triviality that has crept into Maggi's work.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Sunday drive

I saw Ben Peterson's show at Ratio 3 and can recommend it. It's a compact show of medium-large drawings, plus a sculptural installation. His palette is bolder now. As before, the depiction of space has a flattened quality even though perspective is indicated. Spatial illusion is less important than the drawing's mini-narrative, it's mordent documentation of defeated expectations. Each drawing takes some time to decode, despite the familiarity of the objects represented in each peopleless landscape. The works sparkle with originality. The show can be viewed during Ratio 3's once-a-week regular hours, which are 12:00 to 5:00 pm on Sundays, through April 9th. The first of these days is this weekend, March 5th. Or you can make an appointment: call Chris Perez at (415) 821-3371. The address is 903 Guerrero (at 21st St.).

Friday, March 03, 2006

Saturday Art Events

Here are a couple of San Francisco art events of interest for Saturday, March 4th:

Downtown at Hosfelt, there is a new show by Marco Maggi. The artist has demonstrated a fascination with paper, especially white paper. He has stacked it, scattered it, and cut shapes into it, folding some of the shapes forward. This can seem like a formalist mode of play, but the artist's statements indicate that he is interested in signs, codes, degrees of visibility, and identity. There will be a reception from 3:00 to 5:00 pm. The address is 430 Clementina St. (between 5th and 6th Sts., and Howard and Folsom Sts.). The gallery website does not have updated information on this show.

In the Mission District, Jack Hanley is showing the Reeder brothers, Scott and Tyson, who hail from Milwaukee. Both have been getting attention in New York for their art and for curatorial gigs. The show is guaranteed to be colorful. There is a reception from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The addresses are 389 and 395 Valencia St., near 15th St. The gallery website does not have updated information on this show.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Friday Art Events

Here are some Bay Area art events for Friday, March 3rd:

San Francisco

In the Mission District, at Ratio 3, new work by Ben Peterson will be shown under the title, “You Build It, We Burn It.” Peterson is a deadpan ninja, deftly eviscerating suburban dreams about how the world should look. His drawings (sometimes large) are in a precise style drawn from architectural renderings, instructional diagrams, and other sources. This time he also includes a sculpture. It will be interesting to see where his mind—and our world—have taken him lately. The Friday reception hours are 6-8 pm. The address is 903 Guerrero (at 21st St.).

Also in the Mission, at Mission 17, there will be an opening reception from 6-9 pm for a new installation by Katherin McInnis. This is described as presenting “the thrift store as a locus of meaning and social interaction.” Using video, McInnis has interviewed local residents about their thrift-store finds. The address is 2111 Mission St., at 17th St.

Over in Dogpatch, Ampersand International Arts will have a reception from 6-8:30 pm Friday for a show featuring two artists, Jennifer Kaufman and Andy Vogt. Some time ago Vogt became fascinated by salvaged wooden lath, and judging from a peek in his studio recently, the lath is spreading across the floor and raising itself up. The address is 1001 Tennessee St. (at 20th St.).


A number of galleries are open for the First Friday art walk. As on previous occasions, this is taking place on a night when there is a lot of art activity in San Francisco. It is also happening on a FRIDAY NIGHT, the worst night of the week for San Franciscans to travel to the East Bay. In a just world, neither of these things would occur, say I. Well, maybe Oakland doesn't care about the SF crowd. Tons of people live over there, after all. But speaking selfishly, if I can't get to First Friday, I find it hard to see the shows at all because the hours of the galleries are such a patchwork.

I'm sure there will be some good work on view. Check it out if you can. The Oakland Art Murmur website provides First Friday information, including gallery addresses and (on the listings page) links to some of the gallery websites .