Thursday, May 18, 2006

Crunch of Bay Area MFA Shows (updated!)

Most of the Bay Area’s art studio MFA programs open or close their graduate exhibitions this month. Tomorrow, May 19th, is the last day to see the exhibit of 8 artists at San Francisco State University. The hours are Noon to 4:00 pm. The location is the Fine Arts Building, which is across a walkway from the Creative Arts Building and close to the Student Center. The campus website has a map. The nearest street parking is likely to be on or near Holloway Ave., off 19th Ave.

Saturday, May 20th, is the final day to see the large exhibit at The California College of the Arts (CCA). I’ve been through it twice and can recommend it. The address is 1111 8th St. at the base of Potrero Hill, in San Francisco. Hours are 10:00 am to 7:00 pm daily. Free street parking is generally available nearby.

The final day for UC Berkeley's MFA exhibit is Sunday, May 21st. The show includes 7 artists and takes place at the Berkeley Art Museum. The hours are 11:00 am to 5:00 pm for the remaining 3 days. The address is 2626 Bancroft Way, and there is another entrance at 2621 Durant Ave. Admission fees are spelled out on the museum website. (This is the only MFA exhibit in this list that requires an admission fee—and the only one, so far as I know, that forbids photography.) There is a city parking lot between Channing Way and Durant Ave., west of Telegraph Ave.

San Francisco Art Institute’s large MFA exhibition opens Friday, May 19th, with a reception from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. (Actually they’re calling it a Vernissage. C'est prétentieux, non?) From May 20th to 27th the show will be open daily from Noon to 6:00 pm. The location is the Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason, San Francisco. Fort Mason has large areas for parking; according to the Fort Mason website, parking fees were initiated this month.

The compact MFA exhibit at Mills College (Oakland) will continue through Sunday, May 28th. There is some good work here, as reported here on April 29th. The exhibit is installed at the campus Art Museum, which has variable hours. Directions for getting to Mills via the freeway are posted on the college website. Free parking passes are available at the entry gate.

Finally, Stanford University’s MFA exhibit opened on May 16th and will run through June 18th. There will be a reception on Thursday, May 25th, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. It’s a small show—only 5 artists—but this program has a reputation for quality. The exhibit is presented in the T.W. Stanford Art Gallery. Stanford is located about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The university has an interactive map to help visitors. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Parking is free after 4:00 pm and all day on weekends.

Alert: New SF Exhibit Opens Tonight

Two solo exhibits open tonight at Ampersand International Arts. “Under Skin” presents new paper cutouts by Chicago-based Tanya Hastings Gill (first image above). The work captures the artist’s response to the children she has seen during a recent year of international travel. The second artist is Laura Heyman, based in Syracuse, New York. In her project, titled “The Photographer’s Wife,” she photographs herself in the manner of male artists taking snapshots of their wives or lovers (second image above). There is a reception from 6:00 to 8:30 pm tonight, and the shows run through June 18th. The location is 1001 Tennessee St. (at 20th St.) in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

Alert: Oakland Exhibit Tonight

The annual Bay Area Currents exhibit opens tonight at the non-profit Oakland Art Gallery. The reception is from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. This is a juried show, and this year the juror was Christopher Miles, a notable in the Los Angeles art scene who operates as an art writer, curator, teacher, and artist. Thirteen artists from the Bay Area are included in the show, which runs through June 30th. Photographs by Ben Riesman and Tabitha Soren are shown above (top and next). A sculpture by Kirk Stoller is pictured below. The gallery is at 199 Kahn’s Alley, across the plaza from Oakland City Hall. The gallery website provides a list of the artists, good maps, and other information.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Art of Conspiracy at Heather Marx

The new show at Heather Marx Gallery is a funhouse of American paranoia, created by Los Angeles artists Davis & Davis. The centerpiece is a mockup of a diner (photo above) where two Men in Black recite threatening snippets of dialog from 1940s films noirs. A copy of the Krill Report (about UFOs) sits on the café table. Two other works occupy the room, and a diagram at the desk attempts to connect all three in the manner of Mark Lombardi’s conspiracy drawings (photo below). Even “Shambhala” as recorded by Three Dog Night gets pulled into the mix.

If you walk into the back room, you’ll encounter a work by another artist, David Hevel, that seems to react to the atmosphere with pure terror (detail below). Actually, Hevel’s piece is meant to represent actor Tom Cruise’s girlfriend Katie Holmes giving birth.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Chinese Art Career

In the New York Times on May 1st, David Barboza wrote an interesting account of art careerism in China. His examplar was artist Zhou Tiehai, 39, who recently had a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum. As a younger artist, Zhou was frustrated by the attention paid to other Chinese artists, so he set out to play the art market. Noting that the talked-about artists in China had signature styles, he developed a style that contained a recognizable element while mocking the whole process. His signature element, borrowed from the American cigarette brand, is Joe Camel. Now he is in demand by Western collectors, who pay up to $100,000 for a painting. Zhou developes the ideas for his paintings but does not actually paint them. He hires other artists to do that.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Camouflage Your Brain (Hirschhorn @ Wattis)

At the CCA Wattis Institute, there is an exhibition by the Swiss born, Paris-based artist Thomas Hirschhorn that will close in two days, on May 13th. I had meant to write about it earlier but kept postponing because I wanted to address the armature of theory on which the exhibit is supposedly based. I’ve concluded that life is too short for that, so here are my on-the-fly impressions.

The show is titled “Utopia, Utopia = One World, One War, One Army, One Dress.” If I were a drag queen, I’d be saying, “One dress? Oh sugar, here take one of mine.” But I digress. The exhibition seems like a parody of the conceptually driven program at the Wattis. At the entry, you can pick up a text-heavy, 51-page booklet. It contains a forward by the curators, an analysis by a Stanford art professor (with 23 footnotes), an artist’s statement, and a 28-page essay (with 112 footnotes) by a young German philosopher, Marcus Steinweg, who is a favorite of the artist. This is the most pretentious show I’ve seen in quite some time.

Visually, the show is a helter-skelter installation of sculptures, models, mannequins, enlarged text fragments from the Steinweg essay (photo above), photographs, drawings, painted blobs in camouflage colors, and miles of camo tape. This material covers every wall and the floors too. And it fills both floors of the Wattis space. The show looks thrown together, even junky (photo below), although not from lack of practice—a version of the show was presented at the Boston ICA last fall. Some of the material is visually interesting: the mannequins, for example, with their disease-like bulges of camo tape.

There are some fun ways to look at the show. First, as noted by the curators, it is “loosely inspired by rural French military museums,” so it can be viewed as a wacky museum. Second, with its run-amok ambiance, the show can be enjoyed as a tantrum. Finally, it could be seen as look inside the brain of someone whose thinking has been hyper-caffeinated by postmodern theory.

Camouflage is the visual theme of the show, and it appears as if Hirschhorn is trying to turn a massive annoyance with camouflage-as-fashion into the fanciful idea that such fashions could lead to world unity if everyone wore them. Well, ah, didn’t China have a go at this during the Cultural Revolution?

The artist’s intellectual rationale for the exhibit could be shredded in a freshman seminar. It would take a graduate seminar to pick apart Marcus Steinweg’s essay. I won’t even attempt it. It includes endless sentences such as “The hyperborean subject is the hyperbolic subject of self-transgression and self-surpassing toward an absolute exterior that is Uninhabitability itself, Chaos, Incommensurability as such.” Dude, I’m sure!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Brooklyn Art Triggers SEDS Outbreak

Over the past week, Brooklyn College’s MFA exhibit has sparked fear and panic among New York officials. Let’s call it Sudden Empowered Dingbat Syndrome (SEDS).

Reports from several sources tell the story. The exhibition—entitled “Plan B”—was installed in a World War II memorial building owned by the city, a roomy venue that the college had used for this purpose in recent years. The day after the last week’s opening, the Borough Commissioner of Parks, Julius Spiegel, observed sexual content in the exhibit and ordered that it be closed immediately. Artists and others were told to leave the building, and the locks were changed. The official reason was that the show violated a verbal agreement covering use of the building, under which anything displayed must be “appropriate for families.” The artists say that they were never told of any restrictions.

Next, the infection spread to the provost of the college, Roberta S. Matthews. She decided not to oppose the Parks Department. Then she ordered a crew from the college to remove the artwork from the city building. In some cases, this meant removing site-specific installations. The artists were not told in advance. The workers assigned to the task were apparently not art handlers. They piled work into an open truck. A student quoted in the New York Times said that the movers damaged a sculpture that had taken her more than a year to create.

Catching the contagion, New York's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, made a statement supporting the actions of the Parks official.

A civil rights attorney plans to file a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of the students. A lawsuit for damage to the work has also been discussed. The Brooklyn College Faculty Council voted overwhelmingly to condemn “this act of censorship.” The college says that it has secured another venue for the show, but it’s not clear if the students will cooperate.

So far in this brouhaha, I don’t see any discussion of the peculiar notion that a war memorial should be “appropriate for families.” That could be a line from Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

Reports about this series of events have appeared in the New York Times, on the AP wire, and on a website, Plan C(ensored), created by the students.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Three Exhibits This Week (SF)

California College of the Arts will open its MFA exhibition with a reception on Thursday, May 11th, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The show runs through Saturday, May 20th. I got a preview by attending an open studio event recently, so I know there will be some good work on view. The address is 1111 8th St. at the base of Potrero Hill, San Francisco.

On a completely different scale will be Colter Jacobsen’s solo show, “Your Future,” in The Attic at Four Star Video. The opening is Thursday, May 11th, at 8:00 pm, with music at 9:00 pm. The show will have a long run, through July 31st. Jacobsen is a good artist whose under-the-radar mode of operating has engendered a cult following. He stepped out a bit last year when he did a project at White Columns in New York and was noticed by Roberta Smith of the New York Times. The address of this art space is 1521 Eighteenth St., at Connecticut St., San Francisco. The hours couldn’t be more convenient: Noon to 10:00 pm daily!

ONSIX Gallery will be opening a large group show on Friday, May 12th, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. The show, curated by Jason McAfee, includes familiar names such as Chris Duncan, Keegan McHargue, and Albert Reyes. It could be interesting. The address is 60 Sixth St., between Market St. and Mission St., San Francisco (a rough neighborhood).

Blogging Slowdown

Recently my blogging pace slowed to a crawl while I went to see 17 films over 2 weeks.

The occasion for the films was the 49th annual San Francisco International Film Festival. I believe my peak attendance was 33 films in 1997. So I was taking it easy this year. Based on my sampling, the 49th edition was a bit humdrum. There were moments when I wondered (as I do with the regular commercial releases) if cinema is simply an art form past its prime. Even alternative cinema tends to be formulaic now.

One film I liked was the French debut feature of Pascale Breton, Illumination. Set in the somewhat bleak landscape of Brittany, it follows an odd young man as he tries to find a path into ordinary happiness. The film is perhaps 10 minutes too long, but it offers an absorbing experience of character and place.

Another favorite was Perpetual Motion by Beijing filmmaker Ning Ying. The setup is like a 1930s film comedy: to celebrate Chinese New Year's Eve, a woman invites three women friends to her house in the hope of discovering which one of them is sleeping with her husband. The characters are middle-aged, traveled, cultured. Instead of professional actors, the director cast prominent Chinese women who are her friends. It was a good choice. The film loses some momentum in the last half hour, but overall it’s lively and fresh. There’s a wonderful dinner scene in which the women enjoy a course of hen’s feet.

The French/Argentine film Northeast, directed by Juan Solanas, is a competent message film that features French actress Carole Boquet. It highlights the very profitable trafficking in children in the poor provinces of northeast Argentina. Children are sold for adoption, sometimes for prostitution, and even for extraction of organs for organ transplants. The story focuses on a French business executive (Boquet) whose eyes are opened as she tries to adopt.

Two major Taiwanese directors had their latest films in the festival. Tsai Ming-liang’s The Wayward Cloud is a bizarre mix of alienation, pornography, and campy musical numbers. The insertion of musical numbers into a downbeat story is reminiscent of Dennis Potter’s film, Pennies from Heaven. In both, there is an effect of psychological dissociation. With Tsai, this is on top of his usual deadpan humor in showing the behavior of lost souls. For this film, Tsai ups the ante with disturbing scenes of degradation that are likely to stick in the mind. Other Tsai films are among my favorites, but the new one seemed to misfire. Even Tsai’s favorite actor and alter ego, Lee Hang-sheng, was less compelling than usual, though still game for anything.

Hou Hsiou-Hsien’s latest film is Three Times, a series of love stories using the same pair of (very good, very attractive) actors. The stories are set in Taiwan in 1966, 1911, and 2005. So much changed over this span that the stories seem to be set in three different worlds. I found the film absorbing even though I felt distanced from the characters and slightly impatient with the pacing. The 1911 section recalls the director's extraordinary film, Flowers of Shanghai.

By far the happiest film in my list was Carlos Saura’s dance performance documentary, Iberia. It went by in a flash. Maybe we should all take lessons: people look 50% more attractive the moment they begin a Spanish dance.

Each time I attend the festival, I look for zeitgeist moments: convergences of motifs or techniques or themes in films from different countries. This year half a dozen films developed complex situations in which, at the end, the characters and the audience were left hanging. Seems right for the times.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

One More Show This Week (SF)

Late item: Stephen Wirtz Gallery has just opened an exhibit of work by Kathryn Spence. At the moment, there is no information about the show on the gallery website, but I recommend stopping by, based on previous work by this artist. Tonight's First Thursday receptions will provide an opportunity. The gallery is located at 49 Geary St., San Francisco.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Two More Shows in SF This Week

Tomorrow night, many downtown San Francisco galleries will be open for First Thursday, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. The show at John Berggruen Gallery looks promising. Sculpture by Donald Judd and John McCracken will be on view. The gallery address is 228 Grant Ave.

Not far away, at 49 Geary St., Steven Wolf Fine Arts is presenting an ambitious multi-generational group show called “International Waters,” which delves into the notion of place. The curators are Soo Kim and Jessica Silverman, who have been inspired by Raymond Roussel’s 1910 novel of imaginary travel, Impressions of Africa. The show includes a reconstructed map of Paris by French thinker Guy Debord and another map by Nam June Paik that creates a personal geography. Torture fans can watch a video in which Alex Hartley puts himself into a state of hypothermia (image at top, from the gallery website) . Altogether, there will be works by more than a dozen artists.

Goldyne Drawing Collection at the Legion (SF)

I finally managed to get to the Legion of Honor to see the show of drawings from the Joseph and Deborah Goldyne collection. The Goldynes, based in San Francisco, have been collecting for nearly 40 years. In 1995, one drawing from their collection was sold to the Getty Museum for a reported $2 million. The new exhibit, called “Judging by Appearance,” includes work from five centuries and occupies three rooms. Photography is not allowed, and only one image is offered on the Legion’s website—which is ridiculous.

The number of excellent works makes this a must-see exhibit. Here are some drawings that I found especially captivating:

First room
• George Romney (England, 1734-1802), “The Fiend Conjured by Bolingbroke.”
• Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (France, 1796-1875), “A Peasant Woman Seen from Behind.”
• Jean Clouet (France, c. 1485?-1540/41), “Portrait of a Young Girl.”
• Edgar Degas (France, 1834-1917), “Laura Bellelli.”
• Gaetano Gandolfi (Italy, 1734-1802), “Five Imaginary Heads.”

Second room
• Adolf von Menzel (Germany, 1815-1905), “Study of an Extended Right Arm.”
• Stefano della Bella (Italy, 1610-1664), “Study of Eight Trees.”
• Pancrace Bessa (France, 1772-1835), “Eleven Insects.”
• Annibale Carracci (Italy, 1560-1609), “Nude Male Seated on a Bank, Seen from Behind.”

Third room
• Camille Pissarro (St. Thomas/France, 1830-1903 ), “The Road to Ennery, near Pointoise.”
• J.M.W. Turner (England, 1775-1851), “View Along the Moselle (?)”
• James McNeill Whistler (U.S./England, 1834-1903), “Study after Nocturne in Black and Gold, the Falling Rocket.”
• Theresa Choy (U.S.?, born 1965), “SAM5.”

To fully enjoy the show, you may need to ignore the way the drawings are framed. Possibly a lot of them have been left in the frames that they occupied at the time the works were purchased by the Goldynes. In most cases the framers made an attempt to tart up the drawings. Most of the frames are too eccentric, too large, too shiny, or whatever. A couple are too skimpy—like the thin frame holding the fabulous Turner. The matting tends toward the fussy, with artistic attempts to match or complement the colors of the work. Maybe the Legion could organize a docent tour about misjudgments in framing. People might as well learn from it!

If you see the show, allow some time to wander the Legion’s permanent collection. Be warned, you will encounter a remarkable amount of Kitsch, some of which can be enjoyed for its over-the-topness. But you will also find some really good works, like the Frans Hals portrait, the Ter Borch portrait, the Degas painting of orchestra musicians, and Cézanne’s “Forest Interior.” Also take note of the formidable lady in black painted by Franz Pourbus the Younger. And don’t miss the Mudéjar ceiling!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Alert: Art Auction Fundraiser

In recent years, Southern Exposure’s annual auction has been one of the best art fundraisers in the SF Bay Area. Today I visited SoEx to preview the latest edition of this event, and I can report that it’s not to be missed. The artists have come through again: about 135 artists have donated work. The quality is high. It’s a fun show to look at even if you’re not planning to bid. SoEx staff and volunteers have been doing a marvelous job of pulling this event together. (Full disclosure: I played a small role as a member of the auction committee.)

The event takes place on Saturday, May 6th. The evening is divided into two parts. From 6:00 to 7:30 pm, there will be a VIP reception that includes food and cocktails, an opportunity to chat with some of the artists, and a chance to place initial bids. The main event, which also includes food and drinks, begins at 7:30 and runs until closing time. There will be a silent auction from 7:30 to 10:30. A live auction will be held from 8:30 to 9:30 pm. The address is 401 Alabama St., San Francisco (near 17th St.).

For the auction alone, single tickets are $30 in advance, or $40 at the door. Single tickets for the VIP reception plus the auction are $150. These combo tickets can be purchased in multiples to receive additional benefits.

Art purchases must be paid for and taken away that night (although special arrangements are made for unwieldy artwork). Payment can be made using cash, checks, Visa, or Mastercard. Each participant should read the auction rules to avoid confusion and hurt feelings. Each piece in the silent auction will have a minimum bid and a minimum increment. Art handlers will remove sold works from the walls and wrap them for the purchasers. All sales are final.

The artwork can be previewed by visiting SoEx this week, and images for most of the pieces are already online. Full information about the event is available on the SoEx website.

The annual auction is Southern Exposure’s most important fundraiser. For almost 32 years, the organization has been one of the important non-profit art centers in the region. Come out, share the love!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Two Upcoming Photographic Shows (SF)

When photos from a thematic set are superimposed on top of each other, the result is a kind of archetype. This procedure has long been used to study the human face. For example, in the 1930s, the magazine Vanity Fair superimposed headshots of then-popular movie stars to yield averaged versions of male and female beauty. (The male ideal came out looking rather feminine. Oh my!)

More recently, facial averaging has been used as a tool for scientific research. For example, it plays a role in the development of face recognition software. And it has been used to study the biological basis of beauty. Judith Langlois at the University of Texas, Austin, has been a leader in this area. Her lab has a website that describes the research. I have borrowed the averaged male face shown at the top from the website of another researcher in this field, Dr. Martin Gruendl of the University of Regensburg (Germany).

What has been done for faces can be done for artworks. The upcoming show at Fraenkel Gallery features the work of Idris Khan, a young British artist who has been making composites of series of artworks. One set, featured on the show card, is “every…William Turner Postcard from the Tate Britain, 2004.” Khan has also done composites of photographic series by Bernd and Hilla Becher. The example shown above (from the gallery website) brings to mind the chalk drawings of Gary Simmons. This should be an interesting show. There is a reception on Thursday, May 4th, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm. The gallery is located at 49 Geary St., San Francisco.

Also this week, Intersection for the Arts is mounting an exhibit by Binh Danh and Elizabeth Moy called “Disrupted: A Photographic Installation About Memory, History, & War.” Binh Danh is noted for his chlorophyll prints—photographic images on leaves. There is a reception on Wednesday, May 3rd, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm.