Saturday, May 26, 2007

Ellen Babcock at the San Francisco Dump

ALERT: Saturday, May 26th, is the second and FINAL day of this show. The exhibit will be open from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. The music performance starts at 3:00 pm sharp.

The Artist in Residence program at the San Francisco Dump hit a peak this weekend with an exhibit of sculpture by artist Ellen Babcock and performances of a musical work by composer Nathaniel Stookey. In accord with the recycling premise of the program, Babcock and Stookey created their works using materials that ended up at the dump.

Stookey created a short three-movement composition for a battery of sound-makers including, pipes, the spokes of a bicycle, oil drums, a car bumper, metal trays, and many other objects. This intricate but zesty piece was well performed by the percussion section of the SF Symphony Youth Orchestra, joined by a musician who plays the saw. Even the children in the audience paid rapt attention.

The sculptures in Babcock’s exhibit are the happy result of explorations she began a couple of years ago. What started out as a fairly literal simulation of smallish rock specimens has now evolved into a far more complex game that has an assertive scale. I have not yet decoded the results in much depth, but will report my initial impressions. In addition to her rocks and crystals, Babcock has created simulations, I gather, of artworks from a traditional museum. Many of these objects look destroyed. They seem to have passed through a cataclysm that has given them a new type of expressiveness. Babcock has worked with mundane materials for a long time, but the materials used in this show are a step down. In this abject context, Styrofoam seems like a snooty material. Paradoxically, this plunge has released a surge of creativity. I found the work perversely exhilarating.

See above and below for images of several sculptures in the show.

The SF Dump is a short drive from the center of San Francisco. For directions, consult the SF Dump's Artist in Residence website.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Taraneh Hemami at Intersection (SF)

Note: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 6/30/07.

It was not long after the 9/11 attacks when artist Taraneh Hemami, a native of Iran, came across a U.S. government poster showing headshots of the “most wanted international terrorists.” Or rather, she came across a small, low-resolution image of this poster (see above). The faces were not identifiable although many of the figures appeared to be Middle Eastern. As the artist commented to me, “They could be anybody.”

Hemami has been exploring this material for awhile, and her current exhibition at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco uses it as the kernel for a superb installation. Through a variety of devices, she evokes the climate of ignorance, fear, and depersonalization that now influences how people in the West react to people of Middle Eastern descent. With a sardonic flourish, she calls the show “Most Wanted.”

The exhibit begins in the stairway that leads to the second-floor exhibition space. Visitors encounter a stair carpet imprinted with Middle Eastern names (in English) running down the center in a single column. It looks a bit like a memorial. You can avoid stepping on the names if you widen your gait a bit. Further up, though, you reach a carpet that has two columns of names. Here it’s hard to proceed without treading on the names. At the top, entering the gallery, you see a timeworn wall covered in Farsi script, repeating the names on the stairs. (Images below.)

The blurred headshots are put to several uses. In one, the entire government poster is transformed into a decorative bead curtain, like a cozy adornment in an Iranian home. (Images below.)

Some of the single headshots, reproduced as large copies, are mounted in a lightbox array that has two sides. The outward side is meant to suggest the bars of imprisonment. The inner portion, where floral carpet patterns are added to the images, is meant to recall the photos seen on Iranian gravesites. (Images below.)

On a wall in the rear stairwell, a video projection shows a series of headshots morphing into each other. What's disturbing is that the inability to read these images begins to feel like a defect of mind. (Image below.)


Hemami's imagery addresses a social and psychological condition, but it's interesting to note that there is also a medical condition, called prosopagnosia, which limits the recognition of faces. There is a brief but informative Wikipedia article on this rare condition.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tauba Auerbach at Jack Hanley (SF)

Note: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 4/26/07.

In a solid show at Jack Hanley Gallery, San Francisco artist Tauba Auerbach continues to explore the basic tools of literacy: letters of the alphabet, numerals, and words. In several works, she also explores different ways of representing a surface that is 50% white and 50% black. Images from the show (from the gallery website) are shown above and below.

BFA Exhibit at SFAI

I didn't take a systematic look at the 2007 BFA Exhibiton at San Francisco Art Institute, but several artists caught my attention as I walked through the show. See below.

Above, an array of folded paper sculptures by Mia Liu—origami meets Wall Street.

Above, a close-up of one of the shirts.

Above, one of the product tags attached to Liu's shirts.

Above, Sara Thibault's video installation, “New Heights,” installed at a height of 7 feet.
A hand kept slapping the wall in the video.

Above, the wall-slapping action of Thibault's video.

Above, Jack Decker in an extended wrestling match with a side chair.
This section of his “Actions” video is called “The Futility of Making Art.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Keegan McHargue at Jack Hanley (SF)

How many layers of paint have been slapped on the floor at Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco? Last month, that floor was painted bright yellow for San Francisco artist Keegan McHargue’s exhibit of recent work, entitled “The Yellow Spectrum.” The radiance of the floor created an atmospheric soup for the paintings, which were done in a range of colors that suggested ice creams, sherbets, and bleached carnival posters. The effect was exhilarating.

(There is a painting called “La gamme jaune” [The Yellow Spectrum] by the Czech artist Frantisek Kupka, who was having a Fauvist moment when he painted it in 1907, near Paris, one hundred years ago. I wonder if McHargue is a fan of Kupka.)

McHargue continues to create a dreamtime world in which stylized human figures and objects occupy reductive landscapes or architectural structures. Often there is a repetition, or mirroring, of motifs. Often the space has a theatrical setup, giving a ritualistic appearance to the “action.” There is also a certain gravitas and a sense of timelessness, even as the pictorial elements flirt with the absurd. The meaning of the work remains elusive.

The color palette in the recent show was a shift from previous work. It had a frivolous air, but careful observation revealed it to be highly specific and sophisticated.

McHargue developed his style without attending art school, so it’s interesting to consider what his influences might be. Surrealism is an obvious one, although his temperament side-steps the cheesiness—the wow effects—in that tradition. There are reminders of other visual traditions, but none seem to dominate. My own sense is that McHargue has been imprinted not so much by the styles of particular artists, but by the wealth of imagery afloat in our culture. He has a polymorphous-perverse ability to blend visual memes and deploy them in paintings that have strong formal qualities.

Several images from the show are included above and below. They are salvaged from a camera whose color balance was knocked askew by the flood of yellow light.

Monday, May 21, 2007

SFAI MFA Exhibition (SF)

Note: This exhibition is located at Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, in San Francisco. Viewing hours are 12:00-6:00 daily through 5/26/07.

By my count there are 83 graduates who are presenting their artwork in the 2007 MFA exhibition of the San Francisco Art Institute, not counting the film students. The show is thankfully better than last year's largely dismal showing. Still, there are a number of graduates who have been unable to come up with anything interesting to show. In a few cases, you wonder how the faculty decided the person was qualified for an MFA degree. This is a general problem within MFA programs, not just the program at SFAI.

The best approach to these shows is to enjoy the work that has a spark and forget the rest. Some of the work that caught my attention is show below. The images reflect the variety of work to be seen, but they don't cover every artist of interest, or give a full picture of any artist's presentation.

The sculpture at the upper left was contributed by the safety directorate at Fort Mason Center.

Above, Taylor Vogland Dreiling's sculptural installation, "holder."
A terrific piece.

Above, Taylor Vogland Dreiling's "container."

Above, two large charcoal drawings by HeeKyoung Bae.
Drawings of digital imagery have become a subgenre,
but this artist manages to make her own imprint.
The images look like details from a video by Takeshi Murata, “Untitled (Silver).”

Above, an oil-on-canvas painting in Old Master style by Dan Lydersen.
Strange and memorable.

Above, a detail of another painting by Dan Lydersen.

Above, the crucifixion of Jesus represented in balloons, by Christian [!] Oittinen.
It stopped me in my tracks.
The artist, in clownface, looks on.

A wall drawing by Ryan Jones, made with chalk and string.
The photo shows the lovely chalk dust on the floor before some oaf stepped in it.

Above, another study in blue by Ryan Jones.

Above, a work by Matthew Cella entitled, “fiberspace #1 (floating sinking city).”
The media are pigment print and mixed media on carpet. The size is 48" x 84".

Above, a wall of licorice by Jamaica Fredericks.

Above, a large drawing entitled “12” (along with a detail of same), by Alfonso Aguirre.
The media are ink, colored pencils, and watercolor on paper.
Aguirre's work is quiet and takes a little time to register, but it rewards attention.

Above, one of Jeremiah Jenkins's weapons for the next revolution—
first in a video (melting) and then in a refrigerated case (frozen).

Above, Jeremiah Jenkins's contribution to the tradition of flag art.
This one is made of kitchen matches.

Above, Ben Baumgartner honors his Southern roots by
presenting his selection of smokeless tobacco products.

Above, one of Edmund Wyss's oil-on-canvas paintings of instruments that
point and shoot (cameras and weapons). This one is 34" x 46".
(The orientation of this painting in the show
is different from the image on the artist's website.)

Above, several cropped stills from Brian Balderson's video installation,
“My Life as a Dog (Laika Vision Quest).” That's the artist in the dog suit.
Laughter guaranteed.

Above, one of Rocky McCorkle's large, digitally manipulated photo works.
They have very glossy surfaces and rich colors, like ads in lifestyle magazines,
but an atmosphere of loss and
isolation pervades them.

In an intense performance piece called “Corner,” Nancy Popp made a huge racket by
tearing open the corner of her assigned space. The piece explored physical and
psychological confinement—the experience of being “backed into a corner.”
After breaking open the wall, Popp covered the inside corner with paper.
Later, the outside corner drew the interest of a boy in blue.

Added note: The above artists above are not the only participants whose work I noticed with interest. Joshua Eggleton's large graphite drawings were well done (but hard to photograph). Among the painters, Jisun-soye Bae and Aaron Delehanty looked promising. Ryan Hackett works in several media with interesting results. I enjoyed Carla Fraga's project of photographing books she wanted to get rid of, but nobody would take. Andrew Rottner's image bank project, in which visitors are invited to root through file drawers and select images, is fun. And there were two installations, by Deer Fang and Scott Kiernan, that showed energy, skill, and ambition—althought both projects struck me as unfocused, possibly because the artists had awkward spaces to work with.