“American Dirge”

Pub date September 25, 2007
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW I confess: despite having a disproportionate appetite for ’60s leftovers — from the children of Coca-Cola and Marx to the Mamas and the Papas, I eat it all up — I’ve felt my enthusiasm flagging in the past couple of weeks. Is it Summer of Love indolence? Brightblack ballyhoo? Regardless, what a stirring relief to come upon "American Dirge," a solo show at Tartine Bakery spotlighting the charmed collages of local up-and-comer Ryan Coffey. Using cutouts summoning fashion and the occult — shades of Kenneth Anger — advertising, and rebellion, Coffey isolates the decade’s ephemera against a clean white backdrop. Arranged into mysterious pyramids and ovals, his collages are simultaneous efforts in decontextualization and reanimation. As a whole, the collection emits an unmistakably mystic aura — echoing watercolor drips suffuse the show with a heavy, droning undertow befitting its title.

In his notes to "American Dirge," Coffey draws inspiration from Jimi Hendrix’s version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," itself a primary document of the notion of artist as alchemist. Given our culture’s inclination to neatly package the ’60s, Coffey’s scrambling of the era’s colors, poses, and moods seems almost radical: rather than emphasizing generic catchalls — peace and love, wild in the streets, Vietnam time — he keeps his eye on the more abstract side of the equation, the epoch’s discord and dream life. That "American Dirge" is as much about the incantatory act of looking back as it is about finding a kind of past-present communion is clear from the work’s healthy imperviousness to simplistic interpretations.

AMERICAN DIRGE Through Oct. 3. Mon., 8 a.m.–7 p.m.; Tues.–Wed., 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; Thurs.–Fri., 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sat., 8 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun., 9 a.m.–8 p.m.; free. Tartine Bakery, 600 Guerrero, SF. (415) 487-2600, www.tartinebakery.com