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Visual Art

Visual reaction



FALL ARTS From retrospectives and installations tied to big names, to smaller but no less arresting gallery exhibitions, this fall’s visual art offerings will have a lot to say about political bodies, politicized bodies, and the body politic. It’s heartening that the “blockbuster” shows listed here by and large focus on artists whose work doesn’t shy away from politics or political activism. After a summer in which there was a palpable uptick in public conversations about the US’s role in humanitarian injustices — both home and abroad — I hope the following exhibitions encourage people to keep talking.


“Keith Haring: The Political Line”

de Young Museum, Nov. 8, 2014–Feb. 16, 2015

The posthumous ubiquity of Keith Haring’s art (on coffee mugs, T-shirts, postcards) has overshadowed the fact that he made work that was as committedly political as it was populist. His stances on antinuclear proliferation, apartheid, and the survival of sexual communities in the face of the AIDS epidemic were as clear as his trademark figures. This first major West Coast Haring show in over two decades is more importantly the first to explicitly focus on the political dimension of his work. https://deyoung.famsf.org


“@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz Island”

Sept. 27, 2014-April 26, 2015

The Chinese dissident artist’s installation on Alcatraz via the FOR-SITE Foundation has been greeted with equal parts hype and skepticism. Working remotely from his studio with a team that includes collaborators from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Ai has created new sculpture, sound, and mixed media works for four locations on the former federal penitentiary grounds (three of which are usually off-limits to the public). How these pieces will put the artist’s own experiences of detainment and censorship in conversation with the site’s history of discipline and insurrection remains to be seen. Here’s to hoping for as much heat as there is light. www.for-site.org/project/ai-weiwei-alcatraz


“American Wonder: Folk Art from the Collection”

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Oct. 1-Dec. 21

John Zurier/MATRIX 255

Sept. 12-Dec. 21

On paper, “early American folk art” as the subject for an exhibition might sound dry as toast. But a lot happened between the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the onset of the Civil War in 1861, the period during which the portraits, landscapes, commemorative mourning pictures, weather vanes, and decorative sculptures assembled here (and all from the BAM/PFA collection) were made. These artifacts of national self-fashioning reflect that history but also the quotidian aspects of daily life which often get left out of its telling. Also on view will be local Zurier’s first solo show at the museum, which features luminous, abstract paintings and watercolors inspired by his time in Iceland. www.bampfa.berkeley.edu


“Nicolas Lobo: D.O.W.”

Gallery Wendi Norris, Sept. 4-Nov. 1

Transforming chemical elements into contemplative sculptural pieces is the MO of interdisciplinary artist Lobo for his first San Francisco solo show. Previously working with sound in varying capacities, he has now turned to food science, isolating the chemical substrates of consumer goods such as doughnut frosting and cough syrup, and incorporating them into napalm and Play-Doh structures that resemble day-glo colored Song dynasty scholar stones. Toxicity never looked so enticing. www.gallerywendinorris.com


Kota Ezawa

Haines Gallery, Nov. 6-Dec. 20

Throughout his career, Kota Ezawa has rendered iconic images as disparate as Patty Hearst and the SLA robbing the Hibernia Bank and Nan Goldin photographs in a clean, simple style reminiscent of cartoons. The result is at once highly personal and aesthetically flattening, locating Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” outside of the event photographed and in the photograph’s broader circulation across time. This collection of new work should provide another chapter in his ever-evolving history of the medium. www.hainesgallery.com

“Songs and Sorrows: Días de los Muertos 20th Anniversary”  

Oakland Museum of California, Oct. 8, 2014-Jan. 4, 2015

While the popularity of the Mission’s annual Días de los Muertos celebration grows in tandem with the dislocation of the community that originated it, Oakland Museum of California’s 20th anniversary celebration grounds the holiday in some much-needed historical perspective, while showcasing Latino and Latina artists who continue to innovate on the traditions and aesthetics the celebration has inspired. www.museumca.org  

“Something Completely Different”  

City Limits, Aug. 30-Sept. 13

You have to act fast on this one. If you want to see something completely new, head to this group show at one of Oakland’s strongest exhibition spaces. For this salon-style collection, each of the 60 participating artists was asked to go outside his or her comfort zone to create a piece that was truly new. The opening reception Sept. 5 doubles as a gallery fundraiser, so now is you chance to pick up something by one of the Bay Area’s best and brightest. http://citylimitsgallery.com *

ID, please


QUEER ISSUE “One night my wife and I were having a conversation with our friend from Brazil about the bear community, and she had no idea what we were talking about. She said there are no words for identities like bears, cubs, or otters in Brazil — and I realized that the queer community has all of these amazing identities that don’t fall within the traditional LGBT umbrella. I got the idea to photograph my community and share with the world who they are and how they identify. I want to destroy the traditional understanding of what LGBT looks like. The Bay Area is a kick ass place to do just that.”

Since Sarah Deragon launched the Identity Project (www.identityprojectsf.com) in January of this year — using funds she raised on IndieGoGo — she’s captured dozens of community members in vibrant, sharply focused black-and-white protraits. Each portrait is labeled with an “identity,” expressed in the the subject’s own terms. It’s a heady mix of the familiar and the unique, containing lovely twists like “Three Spirit,” “Sober Celibate Daddy-Father Punk,” and “Xicanita y Cubanita.”

A portraitist by trade (www.portraitstothepeople.com), Deragon will be taking the Identity Project on the road this summer to Portland, Chicago, Columbus, New York, Austin — prospective participants can apply at the Identity Project site.

“I am totally inspired by the ways in which folks choose to identify and how they engage with and take care of their communities,” Deragon says. “I am out in my photography business and that means the world to me. I can be my full self in the Bay Area and I know how lucky I am to say that. It is pretty amazing that a portrait photography business can support two people in San Francisco with the rents as crazy as they are.”

As a self-identified queer femme, Deragon says her own community plays a crucial role. “Most of all, I want to give a shout out to the femme community because they have everything to do with the person that I am today!”


Wear no evil




Do you know where your clothes come from: Bangladesh? China? Possibly. Clothes are a commodity whose origins are often taken for granted. Fashion followers glamorize garments as collectible items, while others value comfort above all. In most cases, customers will size up a garment’s price or style first, rather than considering where or how it was manufactured.

But consider this: The production end of the apparel industry impacts the world significantly. The fashion industry employs one-sixth of the world’s population. An estimated 250 million children work in sweatshops. The lack of regulation results in unfair labor and pollution around the world. It is the second most polluting industry, second only to oil. Due to the toxic waste discharge in China, you can tell what colors are in season by looking at the rivers. The deadliest garment-factory accident in history, the Bangladesh factory collapse last year, killed 1,129 workers and injured twice as many.

The fact of the matter is, if you care about where your craft beer came from, whether your apple is organic, or if your latte contains fair-trade coffee, you need to be applying that same consciousness to your clothes. Read on for ways to whip your fashion karma into shape.


Click the image above to see our flowchart, “So you want to shop sustainably…”



Global warming isn’t going anywhere. Why not help save the world (as summers grow hotter) one T-shirt at a time? Many independent (and several mainstream) brands have partnered with nonprofits to support the environment. Eco-friendly SF-based brand Amour Vert (www.amourvert.com) developed the Plant A T(r)EE program, in which a tree is planted in the US with each T-shirt purchase. According to the company, 15,000 have taken root so far, with plans to reach 100,000 by 2015. Other eco-conscious brands, including Alternative Apparel (www.alternativeapparel.com), support the workers behind the products. Though the company sources its materials in Peru, it works to ensure fair labor practices. Both of these brands design fashionable apparel with organic cotton and other natural, sustainable fabrics — which can result in higher prices. But if your clothing budget allows, it pays to focus on quality, not quantity.



Thrift shopping is probably the easiest and cheapest way to reduce your carbon footprint. The average American throws out 68 pounds of textiles every year. By buying secondhand, you’re saving water and energy that would otherwise be used to manufacture new products, not to mention keeping textile waste out of landfills — and curating your own unique style in the process.

When you clean out your closet, donate your duds to a local thrift store instead of discarding them. Somewhere, there’s a vintage shopper who will treasure that sparkly mini-dress you wore one long-ago New Year’s Eve.



Why haunt the mall when San Francisco has a plethora of homegrown makers? Eco-friendly apparel defies stereotypes (it’s not just hemp dresses anymore) thanks to independent, multi-brand shops like the Mission District’s Gravel & Gold (www.gravelandgold.com) and new Hayes Valley spot Gather (www.gathersf.com), both of which thoughtfully select products to create a connection with the craftspeople behind the designs. Progressive street style brands like San Franpsycho (www.sanfranpsycho.com) and Oaklandish (www.oaklandish.com) celebrate local love while keeping their manufacturing nearby. You can also find city blocks packed with locally made goods at craft and street fairs like the roving Urban Air Market (www.urbanairmarket.com).

But be wary. A label reading “Made in the US” does not guarantee the garment was produced under fair labor conditions. Despite labor laws, sweatshops still exist on our shores. Be an informed, aware shopper, and make sure your dollars are supporting an ethical company before you make a purchase. *


Brilliant exodus




Passover ended last week — Bubbe’s back in Florida, gefilte fish leftovers have been composted, and matzoh crumbs no longer spangle your favorite hoodie. But the saga of an oppressed people throwing off its shackles under the auspices of a vengeful yet baffling god remains timeless. Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah, a magical exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (www.thecjm.org) through June 29, displays the story of the Jews’ ancient exodus from Egypt as illustrated in one of the world’s most beautiful books.

Szyk (1894-1951), a Jewish Pole who emigrated first to France in 1927 and then to the UK and US, was an ambitious and popular illustrator and artist whose work became more politically engaged with the rise of National Socialism in Germany. As early as 1933, he equated Hitler with the pharaoh of the Torah in his work. This eventually led to a fully illustrated Haggadah, the Passover dinner ceremony guide that retells the story of the Jews’ flight from Egypt.

Taking what seems like equal influence from illuminated medieval manuscripts, Art Nouveau style, Eastern European folk art, and satirical cartoons, the 48 exquisite illustrations teem with contemporary references — for example, the “wicked son” in the story of the four sons sports a Hitler-like mustache. (Many of the drawings also prominently featured swastikas, until they were painted over upon the book’s release in 1940, perhaps in capitulation to the British publisher.)

Beyond the prescient political bite, though, of this classic book — like many Jewish kids, my husband received a replica as a bar mitzvah present — lies its sheer artfulness. The small pages, Mughal miniature-like, brim with gorgeous calligraphy, eye-popping design elements (Szyk based his layouts on graph paper), touching portraits, and a veritable bestiary of symbolic animals. It’s an epic piece of storytelling, which has become part of the epic story itself.

Saving Yosemite


Long before Teddy Roosevelt and Ansel Adams swooned at the beauty of the place, ex-49er and early photographer Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) captured monumental Yosemite Valley for the public’s eyes. His stunning 1860s wet-plate negative photos — on view at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Gallery April 23-Aug. 17 (328 Lomita Way, Stanford, museum.stanford.edu) — convinced Abraham Lincoln to support the Yosemite Valley Grant Act, the land-preservation precedent for the National Park System. Watkins set up a shop on Montgomery Street in San Francisco, but it and most of his work were destroyed in the Great Quake of 1906.

Yesterday, today, and Tomorrow



VISUAL ART Tom Tomorrow’s real name is Dan Perkins. This is important information if you ever happen to call him up, because you will have to squelch the urge to blurt out “Hi, Tom!” when he answers the phone.

“It happens! That’s what I get for coming up with a pen name,” the editorial cartoonist laughs from his home in Connecticut. “When I was starting out, I was in San Francisco running in a little anti-corporate ‘zine called Processed World. A lot of the contributors used pen names, because there was always a sense that you might get blacklisted or boycotted or something if you were associated with it. So I started using this pen name, which was a misremembered version of an old cartoon character. I didn’t quite realize that I was going to have this 25-year career, and would be stuck with this thing!”

He chuckles before adding, “I would also say, even more than the anonymity in the early days, I thought it would be a mnemonic [device]. The cartoon was called This Modern World. It wasn’t about politics so much in those days, it was riffing on technology and consumerism, and ‘Tom Tomorrow’ seemed appropriate to this kind of retro-futurist thing I was doing.”

Longtime Guardian readers need no introduction to Perkins’ work. This Modern World — which satirizes current events with wry humor and laser-sharp intelligence — has appeared weekly in these pages for nearly 20 years; it’s also syndicated in other papers across America. In addition, he’s authored a children’s book and several cartoon anthologies, including 2012’s The World of Tomorrow, which features an introduction by rocker Eddie Vedder (Perkins drew the album art for Pearl Jam’s 2009 Backspacer, which elevated him to a level of fame he never expected: “There are people who have tattooed [my art] on their flesh!”) Last year, he added the prestigious Herblock Prize to his list of cartooning and journalistic accolades. Though he’s East Coast-based these days, he’ll be heading to California next week for events at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa.

Long before he made his name with This Modern World, Perkins says he was “always drawing little comics and cartoons, as far back as I can remember. I’ve been putting together a new PowerPoint show for this Cartoon Art Museum event, and I’ve actually dug up some of these old cartoons. I have this political cartoon that I drew at the age of 14! It’s terrible [laughs], but it’s kind of funny to show it. It’s about Jimmy Carter! Because when I was 14, Jimmy Carter had just given an interview to Playboy magazine, and was being widely mocked for saying that he had lusted after women in his heart. So here I am at 14, drawing a cartoon about that, which is very funny to me in retrospect.”

As he got older (“like every young cartoonist in the 1980s, I went through a phase of trying to do a Gary Larson rip-off, because The Far Side was at the height of its popularity”), he began combining collage with cartooning “in order to riff on advertising culture and technology and so on,” before circling back to politics.

“I’m just doing this one cartoon — it’s not a comprehensive news source — so each week has to be some mixture of something I’m really interested in; something that maybe, hopefully has a news hook; and something that I have something interesting to say about,” he says. “Something that I can be funny about. It may not always show, but I really don’t want to waste the reader’s time.”

Though he admits George W. Bush was an easier politician to make fun of, the Obama administration has also supplied him with plenty of material. “I have a recurring character named ‘Droney’ — the friendly surveillance drone. I do a lot of stuff on the NSA, and the fact that Guantanamo has not been closed, and so on.”

A veteran of the alt-weekly publishing world, Perkins has a unique perspective on how the industry has changed over the years. “I think the short answer is, alt-weekly cartoonists — and there’s maybe a dozen of us working right now — are truly an endangered species. We came into a certain ecosystem and set our own rhythms around that ecosystem,” he says. “Obviously, between the financial crash in 2008, and the ongoing influence of the Internet, that’s been a more tenuous ground. I’m profoundly grateful to the papers that still run cartoons like mine, but it’s an era of entropy. We’re all kind of just hanging on. I’m not the only content creator ever to point out the fact that it’s tricky to figure out how to make a living online. It’s ironic, because [thanks to the Internet], my reach as a cartoonist has never been greater.” (His semi-joking advice to young cartoonists: “Marry someone with tenure.”)

For his Cartoon Art Museum gig, he’ll be sharing the spotlight with a special guest: one of San Francisco’s famed Doggie Diner heads. “To me, the Doggie Diner heads represent my San Francisco. They represent the San Francisco of artists and pranksters. I have a real affection for them. Sometimes, when I have a dream sequence and I need to convey something strange and surreal, I’ll have a Doggie Diner head say a few words, floating in the background.” *


Tue/11, 7-9pm, $5

Cartoon Art Museum

655 Mission, SF


March 15, 2pm, free with admission ($5-$10)

Charles M. Schulz Museum

2301 Hardies, Santa Rosa




The secret life of Sylvia Fein



VISUAL ART In 2012, I ran down to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for “In Wonderland,” a massive exhibition of women surrealist artists working in the US and Mexico from the 1930s through the ’60s. Among the artists — from big names like Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington to obscure figures like Bridget Tichenor and Julia Thecla — there were only two living participants: Yayoi Kusama and Sylvia Fein. I was familiar with Kusama’s polka dots and happenings, but Sylvia Fein was altogether something else, a figurative painter whose gleaming egg-tempera-on-gesso works from the ’40s and ’50s suggested at once the allegorical portraiture of the Renaissance and the alchemical surrealism of Remedios Varo.

As it happens, Fein lives out near Martinez, and I soon found myself making pilgrimages to her house. Nor was I the only one, and among the people to have sought her out in the wake of “In Wonderland” are curator Travis Wilson and Jasmine Moorhead, owner of Oakland’s Krowswork Gallery. Together Wilson and Moorhead have mounted an ambitious retrospective, “Surreal Nature,” spanning the whole of Fein’s career but particularly emphasizing her output of the last decade, which has never been publicly shown.

Still using egg tempera on gesso, the spry 94-year-old painter continues to create her most astonishing works today, paintings that defy the usual division between abstract and representational; an eye, for example, might float in the middle of an otherwise wholly abstract cosmos, as in Crucial Eye (2011) or Marble Galaxy (2010). And while the catalog to “Surreal Nature” indicates she has rejected such labels as “surrealist” since her mid-20s, Fein has softened her stance somewhat over the ensuing years.

“I really don’t think that’s the word even though we use it all the time,” Fein says. “I think most paintings are surreal because they’re in another dimension. Sur-real, but in the right sense. Because it is above the ordinary.”



Certainly Fein’s career has been anything but ordinary; while studying painting as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in the early ’40s, Fein became part of a six-person group of “magic realists” led by Marshall Glasier and including fellow “In Wonderland” artist Gertrude Abercrombie. Along with group member John Wilde, Fein earned a show at the university’s gallery in 1941, a rare honor for undergrads. World War II brought a period of intense anxiety over the fate of her enlisted husband, Bill Scheuber, expressed in such works as The Lady with the White Knight (1942-43), but it was during a stay in Mexico (1944-46) that her art fully flowered.

“I lived in a place where there was no running water and no flushing toilets,” she laughs, relating such elemental conditions to her artistic maturation. “God, that really fit my personality. And here I grew up in Milwaukee!”

In 1947, after her husband’s return from the war, the couple moved to the Bay Area, where Fein would receive an MFA from the University of California, Berkeley, participating in a pre-Beat bohemia that included the likes of dancer Anna Halprin and composer Harry Partch. But her real education, she maintains, was at the hands of art theorist Henry Schaefer-Simmern.

“He’d been brought to teach at Cal and his ideas were so revolutionary that technically they threw him out and he started his own art institute,” Fein recalls. “I was one of his first students, and he was teaching that there was an evolutionary artistic intelligence, that most art begins with scribbles, then it starts to get formation, it evolves into circles and out of circles children make other lines. Not only that, but if you look at the history of the world and primitive societies, you see the same evolutionary things, whether in caves or rocks, scribbles on hides.

“I worked with him for 20 years. He was writing books; I did research for him, and then I did drawings for his books, in ink, of historical subject matter, so it was like I was studying the history of the world all over again then delineating it for him. That’s like a secret part of my life nobody has ever mentioned.”



At the same time, Fein managed a successful career as a painter. By the mid-’50s, when monumental abstraction was in, she was working nearly in miniature, painting tiny landscapes and seascapes. Nothing could have been less fashionable, but she still sold well on both coasts. Yet in the early ’70s, she began a 30-year hiatus from painting, as she wrote and self-published two books inspired by her work with Schaefer-Simmern, Heidi’s Horse (1976), an analysis of her daughter’s drawings of horses between the ages of 2 and 16, and First Drawings: Genesis of Visual Thinking (1993), a related account exploring the development of visual logic in children, primitive societies, and other artists. Only in the early 2000s did she return to painting, in time for rediscovery by curator Robert Cozzolino, who staged a show of the ’40s magic realist group, “With Friends,” at the University of Wisconsin in 2005. This show led directly to her inclusion in the 2012 LACMA exhibition.

While both “With Friends” and “In Wonderland” focused on the ’40s and ’50s, “Surreal Nature” is the first opportunity to see Fein’s present work, even as the curators have done an excellent job of contextualizing it in terms of her overall development. One need only juxtapose The Lady with the White Knight with her most recent series of memorial “trees” for her husband Bill — who died in 2013 after some 70 years of marriage — to see how her own version of surrealism has transformed from an image-based style to a more directly experiential art of brushwork and materials.

“It sure is flowering in my late age,” Fein remarks. “I’m so lucky that’s happening. You can’t make yourself do this.” *


Jan. 18-Feb. 22

Thu-Sat, noon-6pm and by appt.


480 23rd St (side entrance), Oakl.



Million, schmillion



YEAR IN VISUAL ART One of the art world’s largest trends for 2013 culminated in November, at Christie’s record-breaking contemporary art auctions that saw the most money ever paid for an artwork (Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, $142 million) and the most ever for an artwork by a living artist (Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Orange), $58 million). The general outrage that followed for once united Joe Shmoe and the art blogosphere in reactions that ranged from disdain to histrionics. Hating rich people and their spending, it turns out, is something that we can all really get behind.

It was a bit surprising, really, to read such astonished responses from professed art world insiders, most of which gave voice to disgust and outrage at the amoral caprice and soulless gluttony of various, shameless one percenters plunking down ungodly sums of money on balloon dogs and other decadent, trashy, luxury stuff that clearly anybody’s kid could dream up. Or something like that.

Now that the dust has settled a little, it’s worth revisiting those sales without the preaching, and figure out what they mean for the art world going into 2014. A couple observations follow.

First, and contrary to universal opinion, as far as I can tell these artworks sold on the cheap. My math: the top ten collectors of art in 2013 are worth more than $10 billion each on average. At the November evening session at Christie’s, the average sale price for a work of art was just shy of $11 million. Those numbers make my head spin, so let’s scale down to you-and-me bucks: The wealthiest and most active collectors were paying mere fractions of their net worth, on average, for the artworks. Maybe a tenth of a percent. If you or I put down that much of our net worth, we’d be talking somewhere between, say, a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. In other words, a completely reasonable amount of money — cheap, even. About the pricing you’d expect for an emerging artist’s work.

Looking at the money in scale, there are actually very few buyers at the top willing to splurge heavily on individual works of art. If, as ARTnews reported in its 2013 summer issue, there are 100 collectors in the world willing to throw down more than $50 million on art, it’s a tiny number of people and a very modest amount for a billionaire. The high end of the art market is pretty conservative considering who’s playing in that game. In fact, if rumors are true and Russian billionaire Roman Abromavich is the buyer for Three Studies of Lucian Freud, then he spent about 1.4 percent of his net worth on the paintings, something between the price of a nice sofa and a car, in you-and-me terms.

Second, these purchases weren’t speculative or the result of a bubble. The runaway consolidation of global wealth among the one percent is accelerating. If their spending on luxury items like blue chip art keeps any kind of pace with their expanding wealth, then the prices at the top tier should be racing higher every year. These people are astronomically rich. They should be putting down lots of money on art.

And it’s not all balloon dogs and pill paintings, either. Looking back over the year, you notice record-breaking investments in the work of young and talented artists, among them former Bay Area artist Tauba Auerbach, whose six works sold in June for a combined $1.34 million, as well as Cecily Brown, Mark Grotjahn, Julie Mehretu, Tara Donovan, and others.

And, I’m not even going to get too upset about that orange Jeff Koons dog sale, clearly an act of peer showmanship. Like an episode of Voltron, the other four colored dogs are scattered between billionaires Steven Cohen (Yellow); the Broad Foundation (Blue); Francois Pinault (Magenta); and Dakis Joannou’s DESTE Foundation (Red). In the end, you know what? At a relative scale for us worker bees, $58 million is something like splurging on a Basil Racuk bag. Maybe not entirely necessary, but well worth the dough, and I can totally understand the peer pressure if your friends are all lucky enough to have one.

My most optimistic take on this is that money flooding in at the top end of the market helps not just bluest blue chip artists like Koons, and not even the newly minted blue chips like Grotjahn, but also helps to redefine what a quality work of art ought to cost, and widens the expectations for what wealthier people than you and me ought to be paying. Let’s face it: I’m not in the market for a Francis Bacon painting, nor are you. *

For the curious, I got the top ten list from ARTnews.com; each billionaire’s net worth from Forbes.com; and the auction results from Christies.com. I’m sure the more statistically inclined among you will take issue with my unweighted averages, and I hope you feel free to comment with more elegant calculations than mine.


Art 111



NIGHTLIFE In 1993, before SOMA officially became one of San Francisco’s big art districts, 111 Minna Gallery opened for business on a quiet downtown backstreet. Eiming Jung, a young entrepreneurial student of rhetoric, had ambitious plans, “I had an idea for a rather unconventional gallery,” recalls Jung on the eve of 111 Minna’s 20th anniversary, “I wanted to support local artists but I also wanted to create an environment for the broader art community.”

The original gallery space had a bar serving wine and beer and a monthly schedule of exhibitions which attracted curious scenesters. By night, the gallery transformed into a much needed venue for the underground music scene, with raucous parties that fostered some of SF’s biggest talents. It was a crossover concept that breathed new life into San Francisco’s art agenda, perfect for showcasing more “urban” styles like those of soon-to-be-famous spray paint artists Doze Green and Chor Boogie, and members of the Mission School.

The expense of running an art gallery was daunting but Jung was innovative and diversified further, offering the space for one-off events: film screenings, award ceremonies, book signings, product launches, and even weddings.

In 2000, the next-door retail unit became available and Jung took the plunge, tripling the size of the gallery. The new space was renovated to include a fully licensed bar and a luxurious expanse of pristine white walls. Looking in through the gallery’s large shop windows on Second Street, passersby see the high-ceilinged gallery awash with natural light, patrons comfortably viewing the art, having meetings or working on their laptops while enjoying the gallery’s latest offering: Fourbarrel coffee and Josie of the Mill’s scrumptious hot toast.

“We thrive on creativity and work hard to create new possibilities for the space,” says Michelle Delaney, the gallery’s longtime manager, of 111’s latest rep as a laidback idea incubator for the downtown tech and business crowd.

A close collaboration with Last Gasp, the lauded local publishers of graphic art and comics, has been especially rewarding, bringing recognition and exposure to artforms marginalized in more conventional galleries. Legends were made here: During the first dot.com boom, the Wednesday night mixer, Qoöl, was the essential meeting-place for newcomers who networked and partied from happy hour until closing. Pumping underground techno tunes and attracting scrappy art world figures helped save the place from any dot-com tackiness.

The quintessential 111 Minna event is Sketch Tuesdays, a monthly happening since 2006: Artists come and make art in the gallery, finished pieces are pinned to a board and priced affordably from $5 to $30. Passing by tables cluttered with paints, inks, and brushes on a recent evening, one could hear experimental jazz from the turntablist mingle with the sociable clink of glasses and hum of conversation. On the board a little pen and ink study’s price tag read, “Yours for a whiskey on the rocks.” Perfectly cheeky, and epitomizing 111 Minna’s unpretentious ethos.

111 MINNA 20TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW AND PARTY with DJ Toph One and Hyper D Fri/6, 5pm-late, free. 111 Minna, SF. www.111minnagallery.com


Where the art is



FALL ARTS If advance schedules and press releases are any indication, this fall we’ll see a resurgence of nuanced, informed abstract painting in galleries around the Bay Area. Thoughtful formalist and abstract painting is always percolating somewhere beneath the flashier strata of the art world, and I’m heartened to see the number of galleries prepping shows that allow it some spotlight.

Another welcome development is the migration of four solid programs from downtown locations to within a block of each other in Potrero. Epicenter shift? Maybe not. But the Brian Gross, Catharine Clark, Jack Fischer, and George Lawson galleries — along with Hosfelt gallery — definitely give you a reason to add Potrero to your gallery route.


Christopher Burch, Aggregate Space

Christopher Burch offers darkly skewed takes on Song of the South allegories. His installation puts familiar and invented characters into terse psychological situations, recasting and heightening blues music lyrics in ways familiar to fans of Kara Walker. Through Sept. 21. 801 West Grand, Oakl; www.aggregatespace.com.


Alice Cattaneo, Romer Young

The Milanese sculptor starts with fairly modest materials — cardboard, felt, wire — to make precise, fragile assemblages in precise, contradictory ways that recall both Richard Tuttle and Fred Sandback. She’ll be in residency at Romer Young during September creating site-specific work for the Potrero space. Sept. 5—30, 1240 22nd St, SF; www.romeryounggallery.com.


Sandy Kim, Ever Gold

Sandy Kim’s hot, post-Vice photographs mine the now-familiar tropes of confessional, in-your-face documentary much better than most. Her flashy work communicates an immediacy and offhand confidence along with great attention to color and texture. Sept. 5—Oct. 5, 441 O’Farrell, SF; www.evergoldgallery.com.


Linda Geary, Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Linda Geary’s intuitive formalist paintings strike an assured balance of rigor and looseness, clarity and experimentation. Accompanying her paintings will be the group show “Hotbox Forever,” which she curated to include abstract painters Wendy White, Lecia Del-Rios, Jeffrey Gibson, and Maria Weatherford. Sept. 7—Oct. 19, 2747 19th St, Ste A, SF; www.stevenwolffinearts.com.


Erin Lawlor, George Lawson (Potrero gallery)

Parisian Erin Lawlor’s lush, nuanced abstract oil paintings evoke both Baroque dynamism and a cool, contemporary repose, all within a focused manner of execution and fairly subdued color palette. This show inaugurates George Lawson’s expansion into a second SF gallery in Potrero, a very welcome development for fans of abstract painting, as Lawson has a honed eye and a pretty deep stable. Sept. 7—Oct. 5, 315 Potrero, SF; www.georgelawsongallery.com.


Ward Schumaker, Jack Fischer

Ward Schumaker makes loose, gestural, mixed-media paintings, sculpture, and collage that tend to mix formal and narrative concerns by way of text, brushwork, and color field painting. His moody, ruminative compositions display a sure hand and questioning but unfussy approach. Sept. 7—Oct. 12, 311 Potrero, SF; www.jackfischergallery.com.


2012 SECA Art Award: Zarouhie Abdalian, Josh Faught, Jonn Herschend, David Wilson

With its building under construction, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is setting up four different site-specific projects to highlight its 2012 SECA Art Award winners, bestowed biennially on the Bay Area’s breakout artists. Zarouhie Abdalian will install programmed bells to ring in front of City Hall in Oakland; Josh Faught will create new woven sculptures for the Neptune Society Columbarium; David Wilson will create multidimensional experiences along walking routes at six outdoor locations; and Jonn Herschend will premiere a short film on the museum’s rooftop taking the building’s closure as a point of departure. Sept. 14—Nov. 17, various locations; www.sfmoma.org.  

Edward Burtynsky, Rena Bransten

Burtynsky is famous for his arresting landscape photography which, like Richard Misrach, interrogates the way humans have irrevocably interrupted natural processes. His Rena Bransten show will feature aerials and large format shots related to water consumption and control in nine countries. Oct. 24—Dec. 14, 77 Geary, SF; www.renabranstengallery.com.  

“David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition,” de Young Museum

Hockney is one of those artists that on paper ought to be talked about more: prolific, likable, a pioneer in his day, author of a mildly controversial art history book, and all that. His large-scale landscapes from the last decade get the retrospective treatment here, hopefully reminding us why at one point he was one of the world’s most famous living artists. Oct. 26—Jan. 20, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., SF; deyoung.famsf.org.  

Chris Fraser, Highlight

Chris Fraser uses splintered and filtered beams of light in installations that recast space in terms of mathematical rigor, reworked scale, and pregnant narrative. Nov. 28—Jan. 18, 17 Kearny, SF; www.highlightgallery.com.

Drawn together



CAREERS AND ED Longtime Bay Area comics superhero Justin Hall basically wrote the textbook on LGBT comics-as-artform (No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics, Fantagraphics, 2011) and just came back from a trip to Southeast Asia, where he taught Buddhist monks to express themselves via comic strips.

So when the California College of the Arts launched its new MFA program in comics, Hall was a natural pick to be among the first professors to teach the art, craft, and history of graphic storytelling on a graduate level. The two-year (with summer sessions) 60-student, low-residency program features classes, workshops, talks, and mentorship opportunities designed to immerse students in comics and begin to build an academic base for their study. It looks really cool.

SFBG How do you form a teaching curriculum for something like comics? 

Justin Hall I teach the History and Cultural Impact class during the program’s first summer session. It’s a pretty intense class; for three hours a day I give lectures on the artistic and political history and cultural diversity of the art form, and hold critical discussions on selected readings.

We cover everything from the remarkable rise of the comic strip in the early American newspapers; to the explosion of manga in post-WWII Japan; to the Comics Code Authority and how it wiped out the majority of American romance, horror, and crime comics in the 1950s; to the reimagining of the superhero in the Silver Age; to the development of the competing “clean line” and “comic dynamic” styles in Franco-Belgian comics; to the outrageous work of the underground comix creators, many of them who based here in San Francisco.

I’ve taught some great undergraduate comics classes over the years, but the graduate students are engaged on a different level. I can lecture for hours on the subversive aspects of Wonder Woman, the influences of Japanese woodblocks on Tintin comics, and the artistic legacy of Little Nemo in Slumberland, and their brains don’t melt. They just ask for more. I love it! It’s a slice of geek heaven.

SFBG What’s the homework like? 

JH Over the course of the two years and three Julys, the students will have the majority of work finished on a book-length graphic novel or comics collection, which they can then self-publish on the web or in print, or take to publishers. That’s in addition to individual workshop and online assignments.

SFBG What kind of career opportunities are there for graduates who aren’t immediately contracted to Marvel? 

JH We certainly hope that our graduates find success as creators of comics and graphic novels. There is an exciting expansion of material happening right now in North America, moving beyond the traditional superhero stories and into every genre. While comics are certainly no get-rich-quick scheme, they can allow creators to develop their story ideas with complete control, which can result in a property like The Walking Dead.

Outside of the traditional comic book market, book publishers are now interested in graphic novels, as evinced by the success of works like Alison Bechdel’s bestselling Fun Home. The internet is opening up new territories of creative and professional expansion;

we’re also going to see comics academia snowball, and our graduates will be poised to get those teaching jobs. Comics classes prove extremely popular across the board at high schools, community centers, colleges, and universities, and I have no doubt we’ll see more programs like CCA’s pop up.

Finally, the skills developed at the MFA in Comics don’t just apply to comics themselves; after all, comics require a complex toolbox of writing, illustration, design, calligraphy, color theory, etc. Ultimately, what we’re teaching is how to develop narrative in both verbal and visual ways, and those skills will prove extremely useful in a world that increasingly blends the two. I imagine many of our graduates will wind up in related fields such as animation, advertising, book art, and design, but with a unique perspective on storytelling and communication.

Our plan ends, of course, with comics conquering the world!

For more info, see www.cca.edu/academics/graduate/comics


Fair play



VISUAL ART It’s art fair time again. Last year there were three, this year there are only two, though it looks like artMRKT, which is taking over now defunct SF Fine Art Fair’s slot at Fort Mason, has pretty much absorbed the former’s area galleries. ArtPadSF, the more festive of the two fairs, will again be renting out all the rooms at the Tenderloin’s Phoenix hotel. (Both fairs run Thu/16-Sun/19). I can’t help but wonder, will there be synchronized swimming again in the pool this year?

>>View a slideshow of our fair picks here

Say what you will about whether or not art fairs are a reasonable way to actually engage artworks in a serious way (read: they’re not), they do offer exposure to people that are worth knowing more about. With that in mind, here’s our locals only guide to Bay area artists — some emerging, some established — whose work you can catch at the fairs.



Andrew Benson, Johansson Projects

Benson’s sometimes gooey, sometimes crunkly digital video/experimental software work breathes some ragged, frenetic energy into the standard trope of “relationships between the body and technology.” His piece is scheduled to be projected from the Phoenix onto the six-story building next door at 8pm, Thu/16-Sat/18.

Justine Frischmann, Unspeakable Projects

Frischmann’s paintings look like something that one of those spiders on Benzedrine would make. If it lived inside an Etch A Sketch. And used neon spray paint. During a dust storm. Trust me, these are compliments.

David Hevel, Marx & Zavattero

Hevel makes collaged sculptures and sharp pop abstract paintings, usually riffing on American celebrity. His work at the fair will be very MTV 1983.

Scott Hove, Spoke Art

Will Oaklander Hove be showing one of his intensely drugged up fanged wall cakes, a knotted rope work installation, or a surrealism-on-meth painting? Yeah, it all sounds good to me, too.

Jason Kalogiros, Queen’s Nails Gallery

Kalogiros makes edgy, dense, cerebral, photo-based works, lately by manipulating found commercial images. I’m hoping to see a couple from his series of Cartier and Bvlgari watches.

Ed Loftus, Gregory Lind Gallery

Loftus does photorealism pretty much the right way, by marrying intense attention to detail with an obsessive and neurotic subject matter that crawls under your skin ever deeper the more time you spend with it. While you’re in Gregory Lind’s space, also check out Thomas Campbell and Jovi Schnell.

Matt Momchilov, Unspeakable Projects

Momchilov queers punk and rock fandom in the traditional sense of the word, meaning his paintings and sculpture snatch and redirect standard accoutrements of punk fanboys and girls to point that hardcore laser focus in new directions and at more fey subjects.

Gregg Renfrow, Toomey-Tourell

I won’t blame you one bit if you try to lick Renfrow’s luminous, vibrating color field abstractions. His meticulous, precise, wondrous paintings are like visual everlasting gobstoppers, and I fully expect that by the time I see ’em, they’ll have a layer of saliva all over.

Jonathan Runcio, Queen’s Nails Gallery

Runcio makes incisive 2 and 3D work that takes traditional hardedge abstraction in the art concrete vein, shacks it up with remnants of urban architecture, and has a post-formalist lovechild.




Johnna Arnold, Traywick Contemporary

The fair’s Collector’s Lounge will be showing Arnold’s video created to accompany the richly saturated, haunting landscape photos that will be showing offsite at the gallery.

Carol Inez Charney, Slate Contemporary

Charney’s complex photographs were the single most outstanding thing I saw last year at ArtPad. That’s complex like a personality, not like your taxes. A year later, I’m prepared for the brainfreeze again.

Amanda Curreri, Romer Young

Curreri’s precisely conceived conceptual color and abstract works are subtle in that they tend to yield only small nibbles at first pass, but they’re deceptive that way, and usually end up smacking you around by the time it’s all over.

Lauren DiCioccio, Jack Fischer Gallery

DiCioccio has recently been applying her super-meticulous needlework to fastidiously x-ing out individual letters in pages of books, as an act of both scrutiny and physical redaction of the received, mediated world.

Joshua Hagler, Jack Fischer Gallery

Somewhere in the Hamptons summer home where Glenn Brown and Lucian Freud are renting with Mark Tansey and Matthew Day Jackson, Hagler is stoned on the couch making fart noises with his armpits. That is also a compliment.

Claire Rojas, Gallery Paul Anglim

Sure Gallery Paul Anglim shows Barry McGee, but I’ll be looking at the Rojas paintings, whose hard edge and off-kilter abstractions of interior architectural spaces are spot-on and mesmerizing.

Diane Rosenblum, Slate Contemporary

Rosenblum switches up hyperanalytical and conceptual works that incorporate research, crowdsourced interactions, and photography. I’m hoping to see images from a series of recent photos that work Flickr comments into the image.

Dana Hart Stone, Brian Gross

I can’t wait to examine Hart Stone’s paintings up close, which in the past have been made by repeatedly transferring or printing antique images in rows onto canvas. Also at Brian Gross are Bay Area stalwarts Roy de Forest and Robert Arneson.

Esther Traugot, Chandra Cerrito

Traugot combines found organic objects with crochet. I know what you’re thinking, but this is not a Portlandia skit. She does it the right way, promise.


Let it all out


VISUAL ART Dottie Guy had a difficult time in 2006. In addition to the death of her grandfather, she was recovering from surgery for an injury to her ankle and foot that she had sustained on duty in Iraq. She started taking pictures as motivation to walk around and to reclaim a sense of purpose.

This year, Guy is one of the artists participating in a one-night art exhibition presented by Shout!, an initiative to support female veterans in the Bay Area. Primary organizer Star Lara asked Guy to submit a photo to an event that, in its fifth year, will include several different media — photography, painting, sculpture, drawing, writing, and music — made by 22 vets. As a result of Lara’s outreach efforts, this year’s event has grown so much that she had to turn artists away.

Lara is the Women Veterans Coordinator at Swords to Plowshares, a nonprofit that helps veterans transition back to civilian life. Leaving the military in 2007 after serving on active duty for 12 years, she knows the hardships of adapting, particularly those that affect women. As more women enlist, she explains, the gender-specific problems become increasingly defined. Female veterans now represent the fastest growing homeless population, yet they seek help through Veteran Affairs at far lower rates than men do.

Issues also stem from public perception. People understand what it means when they see a man with a military pin, but Lara often hears the question, “Is your dad in the military?” Society resists the idea of a female veteran.

And when civilians do know about a woman’s military service, another problem arises: the tendency to reduce all aspects of her persona to her veteran identity. For Guy, the exhibition provides an opportunity to showcase another side of herself. Though her life revolves around veterans — she works at the VA — she is also a photographer, and her photography does not directly address military service.

Guy snapped her Shout! photo at Bay to Breakers a couple of years ago when she stumbled across a woman in a top hat and fake moustache shouting into a bullhorn next to a man wearing a polar bear mask. It is a quirky image one could find in few places besides San Francisco. “I embrace the ridiculous stuff,” says Guy. “Being in the military, there’s not much room to celebrate that. You’d never see somebody walking around in a mask like that, unless it meant trouble.”

Another Shout! artist, JoAnn Martinez, has only recently begun to experiment with military subjects. For her second year in the show, she has submitted comics derived from dialogues she has heard within the female veteran community. By undertaking this new comedic mode of art, she hopes she can not only share a creation she’s proud of besides her family and work (she started the nonprofit Women Veterans Connect), but also communicate a digestible message to the non-veteran community. “Instead of complaining, let’s laugh about it,” she says.

Not only do Martinez’s comics convey a therapeutic levity, but they also contain an expressive subtext; they are printed on homemade paper created in response to the Combat Paper Project, in which workshops instruct veterans how to create paper pulp from their shredded military uniforms.

Extending the practice beyond Shout!, Martinez is seeking female veterans to submit stories about their uniforms for a Shotwell Paper Mill limited-edition book created using the same fabric-turned-paper method. So far, the stories range in tone, some reflecting a similar lightness to Martinez’s comics; one woman tells how after she painted her toenails, the Iraqi heat melted the polish and she had trouble removing her socks.

Lara has also participated in the project, an experience she found restorative in part because it involved breaking down and reclaiming an object laden with intense experiences, but primarily because of the work’s collectivity. After talking with fellow female veterans while their hands were busy cutting, she says, “It was no longer about the trauma that brought you to the table — it was about what you took from the table.” (The Combat Paper Project also inspired Lara’s contribution to this year’s Shout!, a piece that involved her “painting the shit out of” her last uniform.)

Though Lara does not consider herself a fine artist, Shout! presents an opportunity to share the voice of her small group within a greater context. In the Women’s Building, a hub of action in the Mission, the event will enact her idea that women veterans comprise a subset of larger existing communities and should be reached as such.

Lara says that without focusing on trauma, without involving policy, services, or outreach, Shout! offers a chance for artists like Guy and Martinez to declare, “I am a woman and a veteran, and here’s how I express myself.”


Wed/8, 6-9pm, free

San Francisco Women’s Building

3543 18th St, SF



Free expression



VISUAL ART Los Angeles painter John Millei is mostly known for muscular abstraction writ large, either because he usually applies his cerebral mark making to wall size paintings, or because he produces works in very large series.

So it’s a bit of a switch to see his suite of six new, small paintings made specifically for George Lawson’s pocket-size Tenderloin gallery. Each of the works in “Recent Paintings” is titled by a prepositional phrase that sets out various ways to begin a journey, and the titles down by the stream, past the gate, out the door, and so on refer as much to Millei trying out responses to the size of the space as framing an interpretation for the images. Whatever it is, the architectural constraint is very good for the work — these are some of Millei’s most offhand and unguarded paintings, and colors press and slide against each other with something approaching intimacy. In most of the suite, marks become indistinct from color fields presented in slim, tightly compressed layers, held together by off-balance, looping gestures.

You can’t help but think that these were lots of fun to paint.

In conversation, Millei remarked on how these new paintings were informed by a long-running dialogue with area painter Mel Davis, who coincidentally has a show, “Start Here,” up now at Eleanor Harwood Gallery. It’s probably a stretch to draw too thick a line between the two bodies of work, but knowing about the interplay between them does tease out a sort of common concern.

Davis’ work, semi-abstracted, and knowingly winking at Matisse and Gauguin — especially the way that those two painters in particular have been filtered and lensed over the last hundred years by weekend painters and amateurs — presents a slowly unfolding narrative about the difference between loving painting and trying to love painting. There’s something both subdued and lovely in these floral abstractions, especially ones like Space Between the Trees which layers flat, flesh-colored light on top of tropical blues and greens. Where Millei’s paintings use a variety of visual devices at the service of fairly direct and aggressive compositions, Davis is more ruminative about the burden of expertise, and the possibility of reclaiming a beginner’s naiveté.

John Millei, “Recent Paintings”
Extended through May 18
George Lawson Gallery
780 Sutter, SF

Mel Davis, “Start Here”
Through April 27
Eleanor Harwood Gallery
1295 Alabama, SF

Spring means open studios in the bay, and the chance to rub elbows (and shoulders, since these things get crowded) with 1000-plus artists in their workspaces. The season kicked off with Art Explosion Open Studios last weekend in the Mission, and continues over the next several weeks throughout the area. If you’re looking to support local artists, or just check in on what ideas are being thrown around by area creatives, there’s no better way. Here’s a rundown of upcoming open studios events.

SOMANIA Open House
Fri/29, 6-10pm
Featuring 30 or so artists at six studio locations between 7th and 9th Avenues south of Civic Center BART. Participants include Arc Studios, Lizland Studio & Gallery, Dickerman Prints, the Oddists, Moss St. Studios, and Misho Gallery. www.somac-sf.org

Mission Artists United
April 20-21, noon-6pm
Approximately 130 artists at two dozen venues peppering the Mission; largest is 1890 Bryant, which houses 38 participating artists. According to the website, you’ll be able to spot open studios by looking for red dots on the sidewalks outside each, including several near the 16th St BART stop. Check the site for a map and guide. www.missionartistsunited.org

Hunters Point Open Studios
May 4-5, 11am-6pm
More than 130 artists work at this Bayview facility. You’ll need a car or the 19 bus to get there, but along the route stop at the separate Islais Creek facility to see the Hunters Point sculpture studios. www.shipyardartists.com

American Steel Studios
May 11, noon-11pm; May 12, noon-5pm
More than 40 participating artists and organizations are in this former West Oakland steel plant. An indoor-outdoor exhibition accompanies the event, which also will include guided studio tours, demonstrations, artist talks, and performances. Oh, and fire: Fire Arts Collective will perform, plus there’ll be fire sculpture and fire-breathing art cars. Check the website for updated schedule. www.americansteelstudios.com

Pro Arts Open Studios
June 1-2 and 8-9, 11am-6pm
More than 400 artists throughout the East Bay make this one of the largest open studios events of the year. Pick up a free Pro Arts guide with map and artist descriptions; you’ll need it to cover the sizable ground. www.proartsgallery.org/ebos

Three for the road



VISUAL ART Traveling juggernaut Christian Marclay: The Clock touches down at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week for the latest stop along its endless summer tour of major world museums.

Marclay’s sprawling, oh-shit-inducing video work collages 24 hours worth of clips taken from both obscure and popular films, during each minute of which the correct time is shown on screen. Nominally, the artwork is about the representation of time in film, but it also manages to address some pretty heady concerns, including both the legacy of sweeping Victorian Age attempts to organize every last thing, and also the postmodern, now-seamless interchangeability of simulacrum with reality, making The Clock possibly the perfectly appropriate artwork for the era of Big Data. For the art wonk set, it caps conceptual investigations about indexes and taxonomies that stretch back at least as far as the 1970s, serving as the new-media, zero-degree equivalent of Ad Reinhardt’s all-black paintings. But more than that, it’s something unnervingly similar to Jorge Luis Borges’ fictional map of the world that is the same size as the world, an eerie herald of the age of Orwellian mindfuck as art.

You’re going to see it. Of course you are; it’s the most talked-about work of art since Damien Hirst dropped a preserved shark into a vitrine. But that said, you’re very unlikely to see all of it, unless you do so in May during one of SFMOMA’s scheduled 24-hour viewings.

And if you should give the entire viewing a go, you’ll be participating in what I suspect is the subversive heart of the The Clock, one that makes the entire concept of real time a kind of flimsy absurdism. Actually sitting in the museum in front of a single piece of work for a full day becomes a kind of performance, observing not just the comings and goings on screen, but also in the theater, engaging and disengaging in real life in equal, contesting proportion.

Marclay’s exhibition completes a crescendo at the museum, peaking just before the building closes for expansion, and the exhibits hit the road for various area temporary sites over the next couple years. Together with the current shows dedicated to photographer Garry Winogrand and architect Lebbeus Woods, The Clock is the third in SFMOMA’s trilogy on prolonged, meticulous fascination executed with utmost competence.

And about that Garry Winogrand retrospective, which in its way is even more overwhelming than the Marclay show: the thing you can’t escape while hopping, transfixed, from image to image, is that not only have half of these 300 photographs — many of them stunning — never been shown before, but that it was assembled from a massive archive including some 250,000 images that have never been seen, promising that Winogrand’s posthumous career will stretch on for quite a while.

And good thing, too, since these photographs, while rooted in the mid-late 20th century, are timelessly contemporary. We immediately recognize in them the same mix of unease, willful optimism, and absurdity that mark the post-9/11 world, realizing that disjointedness to be both a continuous thread and defining characteristic of American social fabric.

On the continuum of photographers, Winogrand is somewhere between Weegee’s operatic flair and Walker Evans’ incisive and empathic eye. There are definitely theatrical liberties taken with composition, but at heart Winogrand is a humanist. His particular knack inverts spectacles and intimacies, and his off-kilter shots deliver their actors amid a slippery, complicated search for the American dream.

His famous quote, that “there is nothing as mysterious as a fact clearly described,” speaks to both the allure and the central lie of his (and indeed all) photography. Although he began his career as a photojournalist, his main contribution was visual poetry over raw documentation. The tone of Winogrand’s later work, during which he focused on taking rather than developing or reviewing his photographs, is shot through with distress and disillusionment, as if the world imploded and dissolved completely somewhere around 1977. That late work, long ignored and incompletely catalogued, is featured here, and feels increasingly familiar and prescient.

On the second floor of the museum, the Lebbeus Woods retrospective offers a tonal break from the intense scrutiny of human interaction exhibited by the Marclay and Winogrand shows, but is no less sweeping or meticulous. Woods was a visionary architect of the possible, and although only one of his large scale projects was ever constructed, his psychologically-charged, intellectually-overloaded vision continues to reverberate throughout architecture and design worlds.

The show of 175 works, including models, drawings, and prints, is framed roughly by the Woods quote, “Maybe I can show what could happen if we lived by a different set of rules.” In the Woods universe, those rules bend physics and gravity for the sake of a complete reimagining of human-built structures. Part sci-fi, part utopian thought-experiment, the carefully and expertly drafted renderings of Woods’ theoretical architectural systems are as dizzyingly hypnotic as they are confounding to normal, run-of-the mill concepts of what a building is or should be.



April 6-June 2



Through June 2

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St, SF www.sfmoma.org

The unheard music



VISUAL ART “Silence,” the large new thematic show at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, might have been titled in the plural, since it approaches silence from various angles phenomenological, political, and cultural. Co-curated by BAM/PFA and the Menil Collection, “Silence” takes its inspiration from one of the most famous 20th-century artworks in any medium, John Cage’s 4’33” (1952).

As you almost certainly already know, Cage’s 4’33” entails having the audience listen to ambient and accidental sounds of the auditorium while a pianist closes and opens a piano keyboard cover three times at set intervals but without touching the keys, both performing the difference between silence and quiet, and demonstrating the omnipresence of music wherever attentiveness is present. Cage’s work anchors the tone and scope of the show, and so from all possible kinds of silences, the exhibition limits to works by some 30 artists wherein silences are productive, pregnant, or impossible. Cage here is represented by scores for the performance as well as by several works that served as inspirations, descendants and tangents of his work.

Most directly, the show includes Robert Rauschenberg’s monochrome White Painting (Two Panel) (1951), which Cage cited as partial inspiration for 4’33” next to Ad Reinhardt’s all-black Abstract Painting (1965). If you know a bit of art history, then you get the curatorial statement here: aside from standing in for all sorts of minimalist silences, the yin and yang of Rauschenberg’s pregnant meditation juxtaposed with Reinhardt’s zero-degree absolutism are the boundaries for the gamut of representational possibilities that Cage and subsequent modernists have been sifting through. Of all Cage’s descendents, nobody gets that as well as Steve Roden, represented here by several conceptual and generative works based on 4’33”. Roden, who lives in Pasadena, crosses freely between sound and visual art in works that map, translate, and draw attention to the structures of sounds and the activity of listening. Alongside paintings and sculptures that take their generative cues from the text that accompanies the Cage piece, Roden is also exhibiting 365 x 433, (2011) three books of text that document and reflect on his daily performance of 4’33” over the course of a year.

Several other artists make explicit reference to silence and its relationship to listening, especially in social context. Brooklyn artist Jennie C. Jones uses materials commonly found in recording studios to make paintings that absorb and quench sounds in the spaces where they hang. Sustained Black with Broken Time and Undertone (2011) wraps around the corner on two walls of the gallery space, drawing attention to silence’s active relationship to architecture. Kurt Mueller’s Cenotaph (2011–13), a 100-CD jukebox filled with recordings of moments of silence called for by public figures, lays bare the thorny absurdity of state-imposed silence as ritual. On one jukebox panel, for example, you can choose between playing the moments of silence called for (from top to bottom) trapped miners, Michael Jackson, Corey Haim, or Ted Kennedy. Represented here by letters and photographs, Tehching Hsieh’s One Year Performance 1978–1979 (1979) casts silence as a form of cultural askesis. In that performance Hsieh locked himself in a cell inside his New York City loft for a year without talking, reading, writing, or entertainment.

Overlapping existential and cultural silences, the first gallery in the exhibition features several of Andy Warhol’s electric chair silkscreens (1965 and 1967), interspersed with Christian Marclay’s Silence paintings (all 2006), which appropriate a cropping from Warhol’s source photographs of the execution chamber and the “Silence” sign above the door that illuminated to alert attendees that the execution was about to take place. Also shown are extensive sketches from Marclay, showing his ongoing interest in these particular Warhols. As a framing device for the show, the pairing of Warhol and Marclay helps illustrate the pregnant potentials within Warhol’s bleak, lovely fascination with death imagery, and inverts the pairing of Rauschenberg and Reinhardt. Warhol’s particular silence, the attenuation and emptying of visual meanings through repetition, is taken up again by Marclay as productive fodder for an entire body of investigations.

Throughout February, film screenings addressing various kinds of cinematic and personal silences accompany the show. February 27, short experimental works that incorporate complications on sound and silence will include Darrin Martin’s Monograph in Stereo (2005), which addresses silence via hearing loss. *


Through April 28

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.



Out of the Batcloset



VISUAL ARTS “When I first saw the 1970s comics version of Batman by Neal Adams, I got a bit weak-kneed — though I was too young to know what that meant at the time,” comics artist Justin Hall (“No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics,” “Glamazonia”) told me over a beer at his Mission apartment. “Here was a more realist Batman, with muscles and chest hair … and he had gotten rid of Robin at that point, which left room for me!”

Venturing into a comic nerds’ den — especially one containing Hall and Rick Worley (“A Waste of Time”), two of SF’s comicus nerdii ne plus ultras — can make for a heady experience, involving intricately detailed discussions on topics as varied as copyright infringement, Tijuana Bibles, Bob Dylan vs. Roy Lichtenstein, Alfred Hitchcock’s lesbian subtexts, the evolution of the muscle daddy in popular culture, and recent scandals like that of Vertigo Comics executive editor Karen Berber’s rather abrupt departure from the DC Comics fold.

In short, in this case, a delectable mental Bat Cave full of Gotham arcana pertaining to the hoariest slash-fic topic this side of Kirk/Spock, the enduring homo subtext of the Dynamic Duo. With “Batman on Robin,” a group art show at Mission: Comics and Art opening Fri/8, Hall and Worley are displaying the works of dozens of comics artists willingly tackling the theme — and finding that beyond the Boom! Pow! Splat! of the men-in-tights 1960s camp TV classic or the suggestively archetypal narrative of brooding, rich, handsome Bruce taking in and mentoring (and, in the ’40s, even sharing a bed with) young orphaned circus hustler Dick, there are innumerable points of entry and intrepretation for queer fans.

Of course, that candy-colored, vaguely existentialist TV show does have a lot to answer for, along with its direct descendants. “I’m pretty sure I first encountered Batman when the Tim Burton movie came out in 1989,” Worley told me. “I saw a table display at a B. Dalton in a mall, and I was intrigued because it was the first time I had ever seen comic books displayed like that in a bookstore. The comics there were Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum and Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, and my mom wouldn’t let me look at them because she said they were too dark. I would have been about seven, and in the case of those comics she was probably right. So obviously, that just made Batman all the more intriguing to me.

“The first time I actually saw something with Batman in it, though, was probably afternoon reruns of the Adam West show, and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it because I really wanted to bang Burt Ward as Robin. The Robin costume has always been hot to me since then.”

But once Worley and Hall put out the call to other artists for their graphic interpretations of Batman-Boy Wonder relations, they were inundated by all sorts of personal takes.

“The pieces we have in our show are amazing,” Worley said. “We have paintings, like a Gustav Klimt homage by Andrew Guiyangco. We have more indie style comics. We have some more Yaoi looking-ones, a cute chibi one, one by Brad Rader in a very classic ’40s Batman illustration style, only with Robin butt-naked. We have a story of a lesbian encounter between Batwoman and Catwoman by Tana Ford, which she did with sort of JH Williams-style layouts. Justin’s doing a Batman Kama Sutra. There’s so much stuff.”

The broader history of interpretations of the Dynamic Duo’s sexuality is full of twists and turns. “I think what has changed most over time is the awareness of gay identity,” Worley said. “If you were gay in the ’40s, there was almost nothing gay available for you to see. It was exciting when you found things [in comics]. I think what’s happened in the meantime is a kind of convergence. As people don’t have to be closeted, figuring out if somebody is or isn’t gay isn’t as much a part of gay life. Now in comics, there are superheroes who are gay, you don’t have to find signs and create your own interpretations of ones who may or may not be. And if you’re a gay writer trying to include that subject matter in a comic you’re writing, you don’t have to encode it, either. But because mainstream superhero comics are dealing with characters who were created decades ago and who have been worked on by hundreds of artists, those characters have now accumulated the baggage of all those interpretations and it’s part of what is always present when they’re being used.”

Hall adds: “In his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, Fredrick Wertham pointed their relationship out as particularly unwholesome, and so I think it’s fair to say that ever since Robin burst onto the scene in his little green Speedo and elfin shoes, there have been suspicions about the goings on in the Bat Cave. The Batman-Robin fantasy has changed some over time, as queer relationships have become more normalized and mainstream. But many readers still have a perverse joy in finding unintended homo subtext in work like the Batman comics.”


Opening reception Fri/8, 7pm, free.

Show run through March 3.

Mission: Comics and Art

3520 20th St., Suite B



Framing devices


VISUAL ART Several recent, notable group exhibitions have me thinking a bit more actively about the roles curators play as artists in the shows they assemble. As much as DJs or editors, curators are present in their shows as artists, sometimes demurely, sometimes not.

As curator of the “Disrupt” two-person show at Highlight Gallery, Kelly Huang has shrewdly assembled a pair of artists whose work reinforces each other. Seen together, the paper-based works of London’s Marine Hugonnier and Cairo’s Taha Belal, create a kind of duet of interrelated working styles. Both artists use silkscreen to recast newspaper and magazine pages with intricate designs and blocks of color. Hugonnier tends to work in series, appropriating several consecutive days worth of front pages from the same newspaper during the course of pivotal political events, then blocking out images with bright primary colors in a way that recalls both Ellsworth Kelly and Piet Mondrian. Belal prefers delicate tiled pattern work overlaid on full color ads, applied in a way that confuses, heightens, and twists the intended message on the page. Through Sat/2, Highlight Gallery, 17 Kearny, SF; www.highlightgallery.com.

When a gallery with considerable reach decides to mount a thematic exhibition, it can be both impressive and almost unruly, as with Fraenkel Gallery’s sprawling “The Unphotographable” show, featuring images by Alfred Stieglitz, Man Ray, Richard Misrach, Glenn Ligon, Wolfgang Tillmans, Diane Arbus, and many others. Truthfully, there’s probably too much here, but there are several gems in the gallery, lightly organized to highlight attempted photographic captures of the sublime, the disembodied, the transcendent, and the elusive. The most potent works in the show — among them Gerhard Richter’s September, an image of his 2005 painting, itself a conceptual model for abstract representation — counteract their own assertions of verisimilitude in favor of something more circumspect and self-aware. Through March 23, Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary, SF; www.fraenkelgallery.com.

For logistical and practical reasons, it’s fairly uncommon to hear of curators commissioning works for a gallery show, but the results can be intoxicating, as with “Remembering is Everything” at Alter Space. Bean Gilsdorf and A. Will Brown got six artists to contribute a work based on his or her own remembering of the same original video, which was destroyed after viewing. Befitting the premise, the works in the show contribute to a general field of reverberating feedback, each one in this context providing you incomplete points of view on an unknown experience.

Themes of recursion, repetition, and fugue recur, as in Stephen Slappe and Kate Nartker’s looped video works that both posit unresolved narrative chords, and Nancy Nowacek’s performance Circuit (As I Caught), in which mysterious packages filled with objects recalled from the video appear at the gallery each day of the exhibition. The effect is like an enacted Haruki Murakami dream sequence, and you’re immediately drawn into the activity of fabricating and assembling the show’s affects and objects into a kind of tenuous, vague, and poignant gestalt. Through Feb. 23, Alter Space, 1158 Howard, SF; www.alterspace.co.

Sometimes, the curatorial conceit is basically an excuse, as with “While We Were Away” at 941 Geary, which the press release says is “composed entirely of artists [curator Tova] Lobatz has become aware of while traveling.” Despite the throwaway premise, some of the work — especially by Sten Lex — is impressive. Sten Lex, the Italian stencil duo, makes arresting op-art flavored stencil portraits usually on grand scale on the sides of buildings; here on panels. What differs from the street-art norm in their work, aside from the precise Ben-Day rendering, is the not-really-offhand way they leave the painted stencil affixed to the substrate to let it peel or erode over time, a swerve that makes the painting’s correlation to the original photo more precise as it ages. Their four untitled works in the gallery demonstrate various points in that progression. Through March 2, 941 Geary, SF; www.941geary.com.


For “Silence,” curators Toby Kamps (Menil Collection) and Steve Seid (BAM/PFA) dig deep to assemble almost everybody you can think of — Beuys, Duchamp, Klein, Magritte, Warhol, Broodthaers, Manders, Marclay, Roden, Salcedo, others — to address the representation of silence using John Cage’s 4’33” as a point of departure. Jan. 30-April 28, UC Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk; bampfa.berkeley.edu.

A new series of muralist group shows launches with work by Apex, Casey Gray, René Garcia Jr., and others. Erotic, anaglyphic 3D glitter wallpaper? Sign me up. Feb. 7-July 1, Project One, 251 Rhode Island, SF; www.p1sf.com.

Kehinde Wiley’s flashy, uber-hip portraits have made him the international go-to darling of both the upmarket and Juxtapoz crowds. Expect high craftsmanship and an eye for drama. “The World Stage: Israel,” Feb. 14-May 27, Jewish Contemporary Museum, 736 Mission, SF; www.thecjm.org.

The word “visionary” is perhaps overused in the world of architecture, but the jarring, psychologically charged work of Lebbeus Woods warrants the use. The recently deceased architect’s work will be represented by 175 drawings, renderings, and models in this career survey. Feb.16-June 2, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., SF; www.sfmoma.org.

I sell a rat


STREET SEEN Like many of his Bay Area art world peers, the beret-wearing rat that Banksy stenciled on the side of Haight Street’s Red Victorian hotel in 2010 was in Miami for Art Basel week.

But sadly, our stenciled friend wasn’t available for air-kisses. The rodent-adorned chunk of wall hung behind a velvet rope and its own security guard in the VIP lounge at Context, a new-this-year contemporary wing of the sprawling Art Miami art fair.

The rodent was one of five reappropriated Banksy walls being shown in an exhibition that was controversial even by the standards of Basel week’s art-star-big-money whirligig. A local weekly newspaper helpfully pointed out that the wheelings-and-dealings in Miami during Basel involve art worth roughly the GDP of Guyana. (Check out the Guardian’s Pixel Vision blog for our full report on the week’s best showings, scenes, stilettos.)

The galleries documented the removal of the West Bank murals with this promotional video (?)

It’s not clear how the rat got there. (SEE OUR UPDATE ON THE HAIGHT STREET RAT HERE) Red Vic owner Sami Sunchild wouldn’t comment when I called her to ask, besides to decry the art as vandalism on her property. But given that I had just seen the Banksy rodent presiding over $15 cocktails and Asian noodle salads in Miami, one imagines that somewhere along the way, she realized that the unauthorized art had its audience. The wall appears to be in the possession of a gallery in the Hamptons that has already run afoul of Banksy, the cheeky-mysterious Bristol-born street artist whose immense popularity has helped explode the street art genre.

“When artists like Picasso traded paintings with his barber for haircuts, or when he gave them as gifts to friends, he did not do so with any intention other than that they enjoy those works and view them as a sign of his appreciation,” Hampton-based gallery owner Stephen Keszler wrote me in a rather irate email when he learned of my intentions to write about his exhibit. “Now Picasso’s works sell at auction for millions of dollars, and not a single collector cares about the original intention.”

In addition to the Bay’s rat-friend, Keszler’s show included “Stop and Search” and “Wet Dog,” two Palestine walls that had been completed during Banksy’s trip to the West Bank to focus international attention on a region that the artist calls “the world’s largest open-air prison.”

Their price tags hovered around $400,000 at Keszler’s Southampton gallery this summer, though now they are said to be off the market. Although the gallerist has insinuated to the media that the walls might be destined for a museum, he may just be waiting until some decidedly negative reactions to their attempted sale die down. “We have no doubt that these works will come back to haunt Mr. Keszler,” Pest Control, Banksy’s representative agency, said in a statement largely credited with scaring off potential buyers for the walls.

Keszler’s camp refused to give me any detail of how the walls were acquired, or who owns them now — though they assured me the process was legal. The online art marketplace Artnet has reported that the pieces were removed by some Bethlehem entrepreneurs who tried to sell them on eBay before Keszler, in a project with London’s Bankrobber gallery, picked them up. The gallerists say they’re preserving the murals, and making them available to a larger audience.

Selling Banksys has become a veritable cottage industry — In Easton, England, a couple attempted to hawk a stencil for hundreds of thousands of dollars, with the house it was painted on thrown in for good measure — complicated by the fact that the artist doesn’t sign or authenticate his illegal street art.

Gallery owners should hardly be surprised when attempts to capitalize off of public art are taken to task, particularly works as site-specific and political as the Bethlehem walls. They should stay away language like that which appeared at the “Banksy Out of Context” exhibit in Miami: “The exhibition aims to provide public access to these walls and create a platform where they can be reevaluated as artworks in themselves.”

Because an event that costs $20 to enter is hardly more public than the streets of Palestine. And maybe separating the walls from their intended audience allow some people to better evaluate their artistic meaning — but only those who need a hefty pricetag to recognize creativity.