FALL ARTS You better start doing your stretches and invest in a good pair of walking shoes. There’s as much ground to cover as there is art to see this fall, and if you get to every gallery, studio, and museum on this far-from-comprehensive list your eyes will probably be as sore as your feet. But as any seasoned hiker will tell you, the views are well worth any aches incurred along the way.
“Julie Heffernan: Boy Oh Boy II” “Boschian” is an oft-overused adjective in art writing, and Heffernan’s more-is-more paintings, chock-full of twisted allusions to Renaissance art (Bosch included) and all sorts of fantastic razzle-dazzle, will have you scrambling for synonyms. (Sept. 3–Oct. 29, Catharine Clark Gallery; www.cclarkgallery.com)
“Pamela Jorden” I’ll leave the question of whether or not painting’s dead up to more qualified coroners, and simply state that the oil-on-linen works of the young, Los Angeles-based Jorden make a powerful case for the continued relevance of gestural abstraction. There are echoes of Richard Diebenkorn or Clyfford Still in Jorden’s fractured cataracts of color (her blues will make you blush), but compositionally her canvases evince an alchemy that’s entirely her own. (Sept. 16-Oct. 15, Romer Young Gallery; www.romeryounggallery.com).
SF Open Studios Artists, they’re just like us! Seriously, though, one of the many pluses of ArtSpan’s annual city-wide event is that it helps demystify and de-romanticize what it means to be a working artist. Get to know the creative types in your neighborhood, see where the magic happens, and maybe help stimulate the local economy (hint, hint). (Oct. 1-18, various venues; www.artspan.org.)
“Lionel Bawden: The World of the Surface” The title of Badwen’s American debut is a half-truth. His sculptural works, comprised of hexagonal colored pencils grouped together and shorn, topiary-like, into amorphous shapes, suggest a world far below the surface: caves, fatty tissue, cells. Dive in. (Oct. 1–Nov. 26, Frey Norris Gallery; www.freynorris.com.)
“Houdini: Art and Magic” How does a museum escape the confines of the now tired “contemporary artists responding to famous historical figure X” approach to curating? Do like the Contemporary Jewish Museum and put on a show about legendary escape artist Harry Houdini. Come for tributes by Vik Muniz, Jane Hammond, etc. (what, no Matthew Barney?) but stay for a recreation of his famous Water Torture Cell illusion, along with the hundred other bits of Houdiniana. (Oct. 2–Jan. 16., 2012, Contemporary Jewish Museum; www.thecjm.org.)
“Ralph Eugene Meatyard” The very banality of Meatyard’s biography — he was a happily married optician in Lexington, Ken. who did photography as a weekend hobby — only makes his singular and startling body of work that much more so: from children creepily posed with dolls and masks to bold experiments with abstraction and “no focus” imagery, Meatyard’s pictures push into territory far more strange and wondrous than the Gothic South. (Oct. 8- Feb. 26, de Young Museum, www.famsf.org.)
“Geoff Oppenheimer” Oppenheimer makes conceptually smart and visually arresting installation and video work that frequently voices the unspoken dynamics behind public performances of controlled discourse, such as press conferences. Be prepared to be discomfited. (Oct. 28–Dec. 11, Ratio 3; www.ratio3.org).
“The Air We Breathe” I have some serious reservations about the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s decision to organize their first major contemporary group show in a long while around “the cause of marriage equality” (for starters, why not host “Hide/Seek,” the previously censored and now traveling exhibit about same-sex desire and American portraiture currently at the Tacoma Art Museum, instead?). That said, something truly queer, politically risky and aesthetically challenging has gotta happen when you put specially commissioned works by the likes of John Ashbery, Dodie Bellamy, Raymond Pettibon, Ann Hamilton, and Robert Gober (and many others) under one roof, right? For now, consider my tongue held and eyebrow raised. (Nov. 5–Feb. 20, 2012; SFMOMA, www.sfmoma.org.)