Monday, October 23, 2006

“Cosmic Wonder” at YBCA (SF)

Alert: This exhibit is scheduled to close on 11/5/06.

If you’d like to watch a person grope for words, just ask me to summarize the visual arts program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Various descriptions come to mind: wobbly, shape-shifting, opportunistic, "multi-cultural," hipster, etc. But in truth I don’t know how to account for the record of visual art choices at this non-profit space. A defining characteristic is the huge variation in quality from show to show, and from artist to artist in group shows.

Currently on view is an exhibit curated by guest curator Betty Nguyen under the title, “Cosmic Wonder.” It’s a sprawling affair that includes video, sculpture, drawing, painting, and installations (some huge). For me, too much of the work is low-impact. Partly this may be due to YBCA’s eternal curse, an awkward architectural space. Partly it is the choice of work. A couple of artists who can be thrilling—Banks Violette and Terence Koh—are lackluster here.

Given the exhibition concept, there is a share of trippy work, and it’s among the best on view. In this show and others elsewhere, a number of young artists have revived the trippy aesthetic while avoiding the scrapbook moldiness of the Sixties. (A few older artists have remained nimble with this aesthetic all the while. Think of Lucas Samaras.)

In this show I like the small black-and-white drawings by the senior participant, Yayoi Kusama (born 1929). However, a better choice would have been some of this artist’s large color work, or an installation.

An effective scale is achieved in Hisham Bharoocha’s exuberant wall drawing, which dominates one side of the main space. I managed to snap a bad photo while the guard wasn’t looking:

The show’s most engaging works are abstracted videos. One is a video kaleidoscope by Ara Peterson, Jim Drain, and Eamon Brown. Installed in a wall at viewer height, you find a triangular shaft lined with mirror surfaces leading to a video screen at the end of the shaft. Shifting patterns on the screen are refracted into a geodesic globe shape. Eyes pop and jaws drop. Viewers experience involuntary physical reactions.

The most memorable work is Takeshi Murata’s video, “Untitled (Silver),” which I have previously viewed at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. This is a projected black-and-white video in which a 10-minute segment from an Italian horror movie has been subjected to massive digital distortion and overlaid with a droning score by Robert Beatty and Ellen Mollé. The longer you watch, the more it gets under your skin. Fleeting bits of it will become lodged in your permanent memory bank. An image of this work (from the Gladstone Gallery website) is provided at the top.

Sadly, the YBCA website offers little information about this exhibit, visual or otherwise. The same is true for prior exhibitions in their so-called archive. This is a disservice to the artists, the curators, and the public.

No comments: