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Visual Art

Goldie winner — Lifetime Achievement: Creative Growth


The second I step into Creative Growth one late Friday morning, I feel slightly elated. It may have something to do with the sunlight streaming through the ceiling windows of the wide-open space, a white-walled relative of the equally amazing (in an entirely different manner) Paramount Theatre a few blocks away. It may have something to do with the fact that almost 100 people are making art at the same time and instead of hearing snippy criticisms, I’m meeting a guy named Jorge Gomez, who likes to hug. Whatever it is, it isn’t an accident. A few hours later I read an excellent profile of Creative Growth by Cheryl Dunn in ANP Quarterly, and she describes the same overwhelming and singular sensation that comes with encountering "the ferocious energy of intense art-making and creative energy being mined from the deepest levels of human consciousness."

Since 1974, Creative Growth has served artists with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities. It’s the oldest and largest studio of its kind in the world. It has not only exerted a deep influence on today’s Bay Area visual art (to cite an immediate example, at least two other 2007 Goldie winners have connections to Creative Growth) but also been the home studio of artists such as George Kellogg, Dwight Mackintosh, Donald Mitchell, William Scott, and the late Judith Scott, each one distinctively visionary. Creative Growth and all of its artists, past and present, deserve the Lifetime Achievement Award, though the world has yet to catch up with what’s happening at 355 24th St. in downtown Oakland.

"Working in the midst of 150 living artists making things every day has been an incredible experience," Jennifer O’Neal, Creative Growth’s gallery director, says to me as we sit at a table within the gallery, which is connected to the space’s studio in a manner completely at odds with the sterile insularity of commercial art spots. "It’s art doing something very real. Art can be a privilege, and this place turns privilege on its ear."

In the seven years since Creative Growth’s executive director Tom di Maria arrived from the Berkeley Art Museum — and the five years since O’Neal ventured over from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — the Creative Growth force field has extended across the country and around the world; for example, both the space and William Scott have had shows at New York’s White Columns gallery space, just two of at least a dozen such shows happening in different cities and countries this year. "William’s mother and sister traveled with him," O’Neal says, remembering Scott’s solo exhibition, every piece of which was sold. "Now, at the age of 40, he can start to take care of them."

Scott may or may not be at the studio the day I’m at Creative Growth. After admiring his fantastic paintings of San Francisco and the Bay Area since 2004, when local painter Timothy Buckwalter first told me about them, I’m a bit starstruck — especially when Creative Growth teacher Spike Milliken (after waving hello to fellow practicing artist Tara Tucker) shows me some of Scott’s latest large-scale, increasingly intricate paintings of a penthouse-free Frisco, where sites such as Orlando Towers and Hallelujah Village thrive. "Check out the depth of feeling," Milliken says, pointing to the individually nuanced lights within the windows of a Scott-rendered building that looks uncannily like Fox Plaza. Ten minutes later I marvel at some enormous Frankenstein’s monster heads in the corner of a storage space. It turns out that Scott, who loves Halloween, made them.

Milliken gives me a whirlwind tour of Creative Growth, showing me Stanley Rexwinkle’s narratively complicated yet spare work, Chuck Nagle’s big sculptures, some dessert-themed art by the witty Terri Bowden, a T-shirt featuring John Martin’s drawing of a fly ("It might represent wildlife in his landscape"), and William Tyler’s ’50s-sensibility interiors. All of these people are featured in One Is Adam, One Is Superman: The Outsider Artists of Creative Growth (Chronicle Books), which pairs their pieces with deeply candid photo portraits by Leon Borensztein, but to see their art in person is something else entirely. I’m momentarily hypnotized by stacks and stacks of Mackintosh’s and Mitchell’s drawings. Then Milliken opens a drawer filled with the NECCO-shaded, gender-bending glam dandies of Aurie Ramirez, and I’m wowed once more.

"If we considered alcoholism a disability, there would be no more distinction between artists and artists with disabilities," Milliken says as we once again cross from the gallery back to the studio and check in with Nick Pagan as he works in Creative Growth’s ceramic space. That type of thought is one I’ve entertained often in recent years, after making art with many of the same materials found at Creative Growth played a huge role in digging me out of the depressive side of manic depression. Within the art world and the academy there has been a lot of writing about definitions of and responses to outsider art, but much of it usually makes me want to simply go straight to the source — the art itself — and to early texts such as Roger Cardinal’s sadly out-of-print 1972 book Outsider Art (Praeger), which engages with Jean Dubuffet and art brut while presenting pieces by Adolf Wölfli and others that cry out for color-plate treatment. Who is outside and who is inside, anyway?

Outside Creative Growth, many if not all of the space’s artists are treated like outsiders; inside Creative Growth they’re in touch with their selves in a manner that exposes the ignorance of increasingly automated urban ways of being. "Matthew Higgs has said something [in an article by Buckwalter] that stuck with me," O’Neal relates at the end of our conversation. "Creative Growth serves a 24-mile radius of persons with disabilities around the East Bay. If you were to take a compass and trace a similar circle around any urban center, you’d find that talent."

Get out your compass and start tracing.


Goldie winner — Visual art: Colter Jacobsen


Four years ago this month Colter Jacobsen got his biggest break, his most bruising teardown, and his greatest opportunity in one 24-hour period. He’d been tapped to do a project in a much-talked-about exhibition, "17 Reasons," alongside John Baldessari, Jeremy Deller, Trisha Donnelly, and Chris Johanson, organized by California College of the Arts curator Kate Fowle and Mission gallerist Jack Hanley. Jacobsen worked for weeks on the sort of public art-slash-intervention the curators wanted, "inserting new works into street life," and finally draped the midsize bronze commemorative tablet erected by the state at the corner of Albion and Camp with a sculptural suite of water-stained packing boxes and fruit crates, altered with paint, glue, collage, watercolors, and pencil into a text-laden carousel of raw forms (and, incidentally, a tribute to Kylie Minogue). When the art walk began all was well, but as afternoon wore into evening road workers discovered the desecration, and by morning the piece had been demolished. Luckily, Matthew Higgs, whose work was also in "17 Reasons," had viewed Jacobsen’s project just before dusk and invited him to stage an even grander installation at White Columns in New York City.

And when New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith singled out Jacobsen’s work at the resulting 2005 exhibition, his crew in San Francisco cheered from afar. Since then it’s been one thing after another for our lad. (He appears in and created the titles for The Key of G, Robert Arnold’s 2006 documentary on the struggles of Gannet Hosa-Belonte, who lives with Mowat-Wilson syndrome in the Mission. Jacobsen was one of his caregivers for several years.) Finally, with gallery representation and a growing international fan base, Jacobsen, now 32, can devote himself to his art full-time. In a town rich with brilliant visual and conceptual artists of all stripes, it can be hard to get attention; in some ways Jacobsen’s lucky, and he knows it. You won’t find a humbler guy.

At a recent Jack Hanley Gallery show Jacobsen tried a lot of new things, but you couldn’t get away from the doubling. A found photograph of a baptismal scene in a spooky arts and crafts church hung low on one wall. Across the gallery, just as low, Jacobsen had hung a tiny painting of the same scene — same muddy colors, same dimensions. His delicate drawings seem to be already in ruins, as if commenting on the urban realities of life in the Mission. Many are what he calls memory drawings — each an image taken from life and then matched with an identical one drawn from memory. The work’s sort of scary that way, recalling Mr. Memory in Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, who keeps the terrorists’ secrets locked up in his brain and recites them under compulsion.

Just as impressive as Jacobsen’s draftsmanship is his brilliant infusion of old-school, Mission school, DIY junk assemblage with a sophisticated gay semiotics. When the poet and curator Bill Berkson uncovered a series of texts he’d written 25 years back, he decided, well, Joe Brainard’s no longer around to do the job, so why not ask Jacobsen? (The result, Bill, in 20 panels, was included in the spring exhibit at Hanley.) I wonder if you can judge a person by their artistic heroes; Jacobsen’s wild grab bag includes Brainard, Fran Herndon, Jack Smith, Jess, Kenward Elmslie, Denton Welch, and Jack Spicer — artists and writers with a vision off-kilter and sublime. Just like a burning radio, Jacobsen gives off sparks and a crazy echo of music.



Goldie winner — Visual art: Michael Arcega


Make your way through the twists and turnarounds of Michael Arcega’s visual puns and titular wordplay — exhibit one: El Conquistadork, the 2004 Spanish galleon constructed of Manila folders that he launched in Tomales Bay, a point in the historic trade route between Mexico and the Philippines — and you’ll find yourself connecting the dots to the Manila, Philippines, native’s first artistic incarnation: an elementary school graffiti artist who once went by the tag Design.

"Then I switched it to Sen, then I got turned in and dwindled," Arcega says, recalling his eventual bust at Upland High School in Southern California. Yet school still rules the San Francisco Art Institute graduate’s world. The 34-year-old is currently hiding out in his Stanford studio, buried in first-year course work for an MFA. One can only wonder what the teenage Arcega would have made of the immaculate grounds of the so-called Farm — he remembers thinking when he first made the move from Eagle Rock High in Los Angeles to Upland, "Oh my god, the walls are so clean here!" — though today the artist clearly channels his subversive, pranking tendencies into pointed works executed with a meticulous hand and a puckish wink. Informed by ’90s multiculturalism but intent on moving forward, Arcega’s pieces, primarily sculptures and installations, upend language and probe the hybrids formed by cultural colonizers and the colonized.

Arcega’s exhibition at the de Young Museum, "Homing Pidgin," part of the "Collection Connections" series in which local artists make new art that reinterprets the museum’s objects, seems tailored for the San Francisco resident. He riffs off the Oceanic Art collection with the acuity and seemingly personal perspective found in such previous pieces as Terrorice, in which he conflates the United States’ "aid" supplies of arms and food with the construction of a rice AK-47 and grenade. Lingering in that zone where ha-ha morphs into aha, Arcega’s massive wooden Spork wittily spears the cultural-culinary invasions of fast food and the popular carved or painted salad utensils that populate souvenir shops in the Philippines while referencing the fact that most tribal cultures ate with their hands before the arrival of European explorers. The museum’s clubs, used in war and in ceremonial dances, are made over by Arcega, reenvisioned as intricate warships and barges topping ax handles and dance clubs — one even emits pulsing disco lights — perched on table legs. The artist also revisits mystery meats of the past — and explodes them — with Spam/Maps: Oceania, which replicates every teeny Pacific atoll using the canned luncheon meat and US occupation–era military ration whose name is an anagram of maps.

It’s powerful stuff from a punny guy. "He can move seamlessly between media, with the highest level of creative skill, to create pieces that disseminate his point of view in both political and historical terms," Arcega’s gallerist Heather Marx pinpoints via e-mail. "His brilliant use of humor subtly challenges the traditional notions of art practice, thus veiling the weightiness of his messages."

Arcega has certainly traveled far from the moment he first glimpsed and then imitated the graf art in the basement of his elementary school. He’s since leapfrogged from illustration to painting, sculpture, performance, and installation before, as he says, "discovering text as a medium. Now I just pick from an arsenal of past explorations." But right now the rigors of the academy call. "I wanted to put things on hold while I was at school so I could play without consequence," he says happily. "It’s stepping back to leap forward."



“Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute”


REVIEW Years after Europunk deconstructionists copped a few tears, ties, and folds from Comme des Garçons’ Rei Kawakubo and A-list fashionista Carolyn Bessette Kennedy championed the cutting austerity of Yohji Yamamoto, it’s safe to say that the once-coupled Japanese designers and their slight predecessor Issey Miyake have been firmly ensconced as pillars of avant-garde fashion. But that doesn’t mean their work — and that of Kawakubo acolytes Junya Watanabe and Tao Kurihara — is ready to be filed away without another look. Take another, then another, because the ravishing, ingenious frocks on display at "Stylized Sculpture: Contemporary Japanese Fashion from the Kyoto Costume Institute," presented in conjunction with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s "History of History" and cocurated by the photographer, will likely trigger seething desire in the most adventurous dressers and lance residual snobbery regarding the concept of fashion as art in the most rigid cultural conservatives.

Sugimoto punctuates the exhibition’s two dramatically darkened rooms with four large-scale images selected from a forthcoming series. These foreground the clothing’s architectural alchemy amid his masterful interplay of creamy light and nuanced shadow. But the dresses, shown without the visual noise of notation, are the real stars. Miyake’s 1989 spiny, black, pleated polyester gown simultaneously evokes prickly succulents and sea urchins, intricate origami, and cryptic ninjas — a surreal fusion that the designer continued to rework, refining an innovative pleating technique that allows the garment to lie flat and morph with the wearer. Cuing recollections of papal robes and ship bows, Yamamoto’s 1996 wool dress and underskirt reference the elaborately sashed silhouette of a traditional kimono as well as the modernist lines of Cristóbal Balenciaga. And one can’t help thinking of the Venus of Willendorf — and Jennifer Lopez — while gazing at the down-padded, protruding shoulders and posterior of Kawakubo’s 1997 body-conscious vamp-as-linebacker ensemble.

STYLIZED SCULPTURE: CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE FASHION FROM THE KYOTO COSTUME INSTITUTE Through Jan. 6, 2008. Tues.–Wed. and Fri.–Sun., 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; $6–$10. Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin, SF. (415) 581-3500, www.asianart.org

Boxing day



“You Should Stop Editing”


REVIEW I should stop editing? Well, an unedited issue of the Guardian has sprung to my wild or tired mind more than once, whether it be rated X or composed entirely of photocopied press releases. In the case of Ema Harris-Sintamarian’s show at Jack Fischer Gallery, the phrase "You Should Stop Editing" might function as a creative credo — one that allows the artist to range freely within works and between mediums. To put it bluntly, what the exhibit lacks in posturing, it more than makes up for in intricate intensity. These metalandscapes of ink and gouache on velum bloom from a technique that verges on digital design or ancient lithograph in its exactitude yet maintains a hand-drawn, idiosyncratic charm.

Nostalgia and science-fiction dystopia tangle and tango in idiosyncratic ways within Harris-Sintamarian’s mazes, grids, and matrices. Upside Down: The Story of Air suggests the skeleton of a spacecraft — and are those construction workers suspended above a roller coaster made of city halls? Elsewhere the cellular and the architectural entwine, sometimes in disturbing, dead-end fashion. Spaghetti, intestines, musculature, bridges, canoes, eggbeaters, machine guns, movie projectors, vaulted hallways, and decorated ceilings ricochet elastically through time and space. At times, as in Lullaby on C, the carefully open-ended result suggests a page from a sophisticated coloring book before its spaces have been completely filled. Gertrude Stein seems to peek from the background of one piece, and Eugène Delacroix is invoked in another, but for the most part the artist’s cosmology is her own. As she has hinted in statements about her work, she’s remaking Alice or trying to find her in the wicked wonderlands of a life that has spanned from Romanian Communism to Californian capitalism. Just as filmmakers such as Cristi Puiu herald a new wave of Romanian cinema, Harris-Sintamarian shows that acute dreaming can be born abroad.

YOU SHOULD STOP EDITING Through Oct. 25. Tues.–Sat., 11 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Jack Fischer Gallery, 49 Geary, SF. (415) 956-1178, www.jackfischergallery.com

“American Dirge”


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

How soon is now?


› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW Sixteen minutes with Lars Laumann? Well, I didn’t say no, and discovered that his video Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana is as uncanny as its title is ludicrous. This present-day conspiratorial artifact makes a Smiths devotee feel like Jim Garrison during a virgin viewing of the Zapruder film. Laumann weds a looped melody from the Smiths’ instrumental "Oscillate Wildly" to TV news footage, music-video clips, and visions from the ’60s kitchen sink cinema that have inspired (and provided) Morrissey lyrics, using all of the above as a backdrop to a voice-over lecture that links the 1986 album The Queen Is Dead to the Aug. 31, 1997, death of Princess Diana. Even if you have no interest in (or an aversion toward) the title’s pair of late 20th-century British cult figures, the result casts a comic yet eerie spell.

At this point, it’s fair to say that Smiths-inspired art has become a subgenre, a phenomenon flourishing to the degree that it deserves a book-length essay — ironic, since most of the video and visual art projects responding to Morrissey and company are far superior to the shelf of books that have been written off of his name.

Laumann’s video doesn’t pack the emotional wallop of the Istanbul-set karaoke in Phil Collins’s installation dünya dinlemiyor (The world won’t listen), which did time at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last fall. But the Oslo, Norway, artist is exploring something different than is Collins, whose update of Andy Warhol’s screen tests allows for compassionate views and expressions of fandom. Drawing heavily from David Alice’s site www.dianamystery.com, Laumann’s short work reaches for the extraterrestrial stars in presenting the organic quality of conspiracy theory during the Internet era. As in Lutz Dammbeck’s Unabomber documentary The Net, the final conclusion (if there is such a thing) matters less than the numerous revelatory or ludicrous destinations that are part of the narrative’s crazy maze.

Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana helps kick off a staggered series of videos showcased over the next two months in "There Is Always a Machine Between Us," at SF Camerawork. Curated by Kate Fowle, Karla Milosevich, Chuck Mobley, and Chuck Orendorff, the overall exhibition toys with Skype, mouse-triggered wall projections, and an orange-hued approximation of living-room DVD viewing. Some viewers might find it inherently problematic for lo-res video to receive bigger-screen treatment. Regardless, the varied combos of form and context here aren’t as provocative as the material gleaned by the select group of Web trolls whose research is on display.

Web trolling as gallery fodder — is this just one more ploy to destruct ye olde sacred art space so it can be mistaken for YouTube or an amusement park? If so, I’m happy that the likes of Cliff Hengst, Matthew Hughes Boyko, and Matt Wolf are doing the handiwork. More than one contributor to the exhibition’s DVD library includes the YouTube mainstay CPDRC Inmates Practice Thriller, yet Hengst’s, Boyko’s, and Wolf’s compilation DVDs also showcase distinctively deranged aesthetics. Hengst gives us Anna Nicole Smith outtakes, Barbra Streisand swearing at a heckler, and an industrial clip he aptly titles Clowns vs. Old People: The Final Battle. Beginning with another YouTube hit, Cobra vs. Baby, Boyko’s DVD moves on to revealing moments when onlookers seize control of imagery from stars, such as an unedited version of Tom Cruise getting sprayed in the face at a War of the Worlds premiere and the aftermath of Tara Reid inadvertently flashing a post-op nipple during her zillionth red carpet stroll.

Wolf’s DVD, featuring moments such as Kerri Strug Olympic Vault (singled out for its revealing masochism) and a clip of Ryan Phillippe playing the first gay teen in daytime soap history, offers only a taste of the imitations of Imitation of Life found on his site, mattwolf.info. More than the research DVDs provided by some of the show’s other videomakers, it adds to the richness of his work on display. In Smalltown Boy, Wolf — who is currently working on a documentary about the late musician Arthur Russell — picks up the baton left by Todd Haynes sometime at the cusp of the ’90s, combining TV-documentary motifs such as voice-over and interview to tease out a link between the late David Wojnarowicz and a teenage girl obsessed with My So-Called Life. The conspiratorial thread that runs through "There Is Always a Machine Between Us" resides within Smalltown Boy as well, in a manner that is all the more effective for being muted.

Fifteen minutes with Markus Linnenbrink? Well, I didn’t say no — and didn’t regret spending that amount of time and a bit more with his wall painting, epoxy resin paintings, and sculpture at Patricia Sweetow Gallery. Though slick on the surface, with a lively sense of color that exposes the rote and drab quality of some Bay Area work, on closer examination the German Linnenbrink’s paintings possess candy cane sickliness. The queasy factor is only magnified by the suspended drops of paint that hang from the bottom of some works, or, in the case of ALLESWIRDWEITERGEHNINEEINPAARSEKUNDEN, by hundreds of pockmarks. (Twisting things inside out once again, these pocks are gorgeous on closer examination, resembling the interiors of porcelain saucers or cups.) The muscularity of Linnenbrink’s process — Clement Greenberg and Jackson Pollock would approve — is counterbalanced by his fondness for bits of glitter and his droll flair. Though he’s understated in comparison with Douglas Gordon when it comes to temporal commentary, his titles sometimes question whether it is the paintings or their viewers who are loitering.


Through Nov. 17

Tues.–Sat., noon–5 p.m., free

SF Camerawork

657 Mission, second floor, SF

(415) 512-2020



Through Oct. 20

Tues.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., free

Patricia Sweetow Gallery

77 Geary, mezzanine, SF

(415) 788-5126


Slow art movement


› a&eletters@sfbg.com

PREVIEW If you didn’t experience The Weather Project, Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 installation in London’s Tate Modern, chances are you’ve seen images of it in any number of nonart publications or photo blogs. The piece — a dramatic emulation of an amber sun’s atmosphere, created with such simple elements as a bank of lights and a mirrored ceiling — reportedly attracted two million visitors, many of them repeat customers, who sprawled on the public floor, pondered their reflections on the ceiling, and basked in the glow. It was, to say the least, a popular work of art. But high visibility and big crowds, in art world circles, are usually viewed with skepticism or met with critical intimations of diluted intentions, easy punch lines, or sellouts.

Eliasson’s work — the subject of two concurrent exhibitions, including a midcareer survey and a presentation of a frozen BMW hydrogen-powered race car made as part of the car company’s high-profile art program, that open at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art this week — is that rare animal that manages to appease a broad public as well as art cognoscenti. His experiential and frequently sublime projects are usually created with exceedingly common, immaterial, and noncommodifiable elements, including air, water, light, and water, though in their sophisticated deployment, Eliasson — who operates a studio employing 30 architects, scientists, researchers, and fabricators — makes art that is the antithesis of funky. The artist harnesses natural and perceptual phenomenon, alludes to environmental concerns, acknowledges an artistic connection to the California Light and Space artists of the 1960s and ’70s, and taps into the allure and resources of high-end luxury brands. He rigorously engages in thorny intellectual dialogues on the nature of art in the 21st century. In short, Eliasson is an unlikely candidate as a popular artist.

In his case, approachability is only one component of very layered intentions. "I’ve always been very proud of being a mainstream artist and not trying to be on the outskirts of society," Eliasson confessed to me during a recent visit to the city to supervise the labor-intensive installation of his SFMOMA-originated show. "I have no interest in being avant-garde in the sense that it means I’m not part of society. There’s a great value to be found in feeling a part of society."

In fact, Eliasson’s works are notable for the way the viewer’s participation makes them complete. His installations rely on perception and immersion. It’s not for nothing that his survey exhibition is titled "Take Your Time."

The exhibition entailed a major transformation of the fifth-floor gallery at SFMOMA from an expansive, open room to an elliptical warren of spaces to let visitors experience such self-descriptive pieces as Room for One Color, 360 Degree Room for All Colours, Moss Wall, and One-Way Colour Tunnel, the latter an elaborate new piece in which the museum’s skylight bridge becomes a kaleidoscopic passageway from one direction, a monochromatic one from the other. Eliasson had much to do with the layout of the show, which is designed to slow down the experience, and the word temporality and the idea of its manipulation are invoked frequently in conversation.

"The reason I think the sequence of my installation here is so crucial — and my involvement with it is about implementing temporal ideas into the show — [is] a lot of the pieces are actually slow," he said. "The tunnel [over the bridge] has no central way of looking at it. You have to walk through it one way and then another to experience it. The whole idea of all these long tunnels — the show is really a show of corridors — is another way of mediating temporality."

Eliasson’s work is concerned with the act of engaging in the present moment. His car, Your Mobile Expectations: BMW H2R Project, for instance, is an iced vehicle, presented as the separate exhibition "Your Tempo" in a room-sized freezer that chills to 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

The vehicle is presented by the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, attesting to the latitude of Eliasson’s work, which has been seen through the lenses of art, fashion, architecture, design, and environmentalism. He emphatically stresses the means. "I don’t think art is that fragile," he said. "Art can easily go out and work like a virus."


Sept. 8, 2007 Feb. 24, 2008


Sept. 8, 2007–Jan. 13, 2008

Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

$7–$12.50 (free first Tues.)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000


“Rembrandt to Thiebaud: A Decade of Collecting Works on Paper”


REVIEW Dada artist Kurt Schwitters maintained that formal elements were second only to an art object’s ability to remain in flux — in spite of the static qualities inherent in his own work. No completed artwork could ever be fully finished but rather was kept open for future reinvention. In the current exhibition at the Legion of Honor, "Rembrandt to Thiebaud: A Decade of Collecting Works on Paper," which includes an approximately 5-by-7-inch collage by Schwitters, this constant plasticity of the art object seems to have come to the fore. Not only has the reception of such a variety of works — ranging from Michelangelo to John Baldessari, James Whistler to Richard Misrach — changed drastically since the inception of the art market, around the time of Rembrandt, but what might be considered an artwork and how its production affects this consideration has morphed as well.

The exhibition opens with a few 15th-century engravings by Albrecht Dürer, introducing us to hundreds of pieces from the largest collection of works on paper in the western United States via the golden ratio. This ideal is slowly dismantled throughout the course of the exhibit as it moves toward the contemporary, exemplified along the way by Yves Klein’s postage stamp, painted in his signature International Klein Blue. Matted and framed, this initially functional object has been elevated to the status of original artwork, which at this moment is perhaps more original than the Dürer multiple. Similarly, Edward Kienholz’s 1969 work For $146.00 was initially a direct illustration of the cost of the piece and has come to illustrate what the work is not worth today. Without making any physical changes, the transformative nature of the collection has led to an intrinsic modification of the artworks contained therein. (Ava Jancar)

"REMBRANDT TO THIEBAUD: A DECADE OF COLLECTING WORKS ON PAPER" Through Oct 7. Tues.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, near 34th Ave and Clement, SF. $5–$8, free for 10 and under (free for all Tues.). (415) 863-3330, www.thinker.org/legion

Close up


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REVIEW "One single picture could be the mother of cinema," one of our leading auteurs has observed. Apichatpong Weerasethakul would have said saint, Jean-Luc Godard death, and Quentin Tarantino motherfucker, but only renowned Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami could glimpse in a lone image the maternal nurturing of reel life. With remarkable films such as Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), And Life Goes On (1991), and Through the Olive Trees (1994), Kiarostami has put his country on the world-cinema map in the uneasy decades following the plucking of the feathers from the shah’s Peacock Throne. Faux-vérité documentation, unscripted drama, and deceptively casual construction characterize Kiarostami’s complex narratives, most of which eschew the overt nationalist critique of his more politically trenchant peers (Samira Makhmalbaf, Jafar Panahi) in favor of to-be-or-not-to-be philosophizing and a quasi-spiritual appreciation of fleeting pleasures — the lengthening of late-afternoon shadows across a park bench, confessional conversations with jovial strangers, ditching homework to watch soccer on TV.

Now approaching 70, the creatively restless and keenly observant Kiarostami has recently refocused on photography, with which he has been intermittently engaged since the 1970s. In conjunction with a retrospective of both his widely celebrated and his lesser-known works at the Pacific Film Archive, which runs through Aug. 30, the Berkeley Art Museum has mounted a bracingly stark exhibition of Kiarostami’s photographs, culled from four distinct series. Sporting the disappointingly generic title "Abbas Kiarostami: Image Maker" — one of his film titles, such as The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), would have sufficed — the show fortunately far transcends its unpromising nomenclature and, like a Kiarostami film, slowly and indelibly reveals its aesthetic mastery, meditative rewards, and picturesque wanderlust.

In his introduction to the exhibition — which benefits from handsome, unadorned installation in BAM’s airy upper galleries — Kiarostami notes that still images, unlike films, are not weighed down with viewers’ expectations of narrative progression or conventional entertainment. Stripped of sustained storytelling and freed from the need to posture or pander — not that his films ever stoop to such commercial demands — Kiarostami’s photographs are nonetheless imbued with dramatic arcs, panoramic vistas, hints of intrigue, and a rigorously intellectual yet unrepentantly earthy moviemaker’s sure, sensual approach to framing, sequencing, and characterization, even if the scene-stealers are all blackbirds.

Camera in hand, Kiarostami regularly embarks on long walks across his homeland, frequently crossing hundreds of miles on epic treks on which the journey truly is the destination. Iran’s war-torn topography, haunted by the ghosts of dissidents and withering under the ceaseless gaze of enemies real and imagined, is for the ever-inquisitive Kiarostami a locus of geographic wonder and emotional extremes. Guided only by a moral compass, he traverses desolate roads and loses himself in his country’s seasonal secrets. Kiarostami keeps to himself on these outward- and inward-looking road trips, but as Scottish troubadour Roddy Frame — who for years memorably viewed the world through his Aztec Camera — once noted, loneliness and being alone aren’t always the same. "Not being able to feel the pleasure of seeing a magnificent landscape with someone else is a form of torture," Kiarostami confesses in the exhibition intro. "That is why I started taking photographs. I wanted somehow to eternalize those moments of passion and pain."

Kiarostami fully explores the dichotomy of these heightened instances in a quartet of works unified by the artist’s steady perspective (nothing seems to disturb his calm) and ability to appreciate the hushed prescience of transformation — in mind, body, and physical surroundings — where preoccupied passersby might only see oil slicks and burkas. In the Roads and Trees series, Kiarostami depicts in grainy, high-contrast black-and-white photos the byways and trunks that stretch onward and upward forever, bisecting his country vertically and horizontally into socially segmented fields of ground and sky. Whether smoothly paved or roughly pebbled, the roads are nearly empty, bereft of the comings and going that typically signal industrial progress and limitless options. Stasis defines the stunning Snow White series as well. Absence is palpably present in these bleak yet beautiful images in which anthropomorphized trees are starkly silhouetted against unending fields of pure white snow.

Winter’s monochromatic chill thaws into vibrant color in the Trees and Crows photographs, all taken on the verdant grounds of palaces in Tehran where flocks of birds have taken up residence as the winged heirs apparent to ousted royals. Crows are highly valued in Iran as a special species that lives longer than most and bears witness to national history. Kiarostami reverently views them as birds of pray, pecking and genuflecting on deep green lawns that appear freshly painted.

Kiarostami is back on the road in the Rain series, now behind the wheel of a car and looking through the windshield at patterns of water on glass and raindrops falling on yet more tall trees. ("If I were not a filmmaker, I would have become a truck driver," he told Deborah Solomon in a New York Times interview earlier this year.) Careening across flooded two-lane blacktops, these gorgeous, pictorialist photos drive straight into abstraction.

Many of Kiarostami’s poems begin with the lines "The more I think<\!s>/ The less I understand," an admission of epistemological uncertainty — and unfettered emotional sincerity — that informs every image in this show. Like the archetypal wanderer who quests for a life worth living in his award-winning 1997 film Taste of Cherry, Kiarostami concludes in these photographs that the search for meaning is an affirmation of time well spent on the road to nowhere.<\!s>*


Through Sept. 23, $4–<\d>$8 (free first Thurs.)

Wed. and Fri.–<\d>Sun., 11 a.m.–<\d>5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–<\d>7 p.m.

UC Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-0808


Code unknown


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The CIA maintains a number of "black sites" around the world where suspected terrorists are "disappeared." You can get a recipe for Irish Eyes Chicken Pot Pie or instructions on how to commit suicide on the Internet. Thousands of starlings spontaneously converge in a suburb in Rome where Benito Mussolini once planned on holding an exhibition celebrating Fascism. I love having dreams. There are more than 130 revolving restaurants around the world.

These are all interesting tidbits. But what do they mean? While they may sound like the search results of indiscriminate Web surfing, all are factual elements found in Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ "Dark Matters: Artists See the Impossible," curated by René de Guzman. Although organized around secrecy and the unexpected, this group exhibition deals more with what can be found than what is hidden.

Perhaps surrealist André Breton was predicting the future of curation with his juxtaposition of an umbrella and a sewing machine on an operating table; today randomness rules, and connections are coaxed by the curator and forged by the viewer. This show exemplifies such a process. For example: Sergio Prego’s video Black Monday (2006) is a mesmerizing parallax view of a small explosive going off in the artist’s studio. You get every awesome angle, and the cloud is suspended midboom. (I always wondered if the tests at Bikini Atoll were done so more military personnel would have a chance to glimpse the aesthetic wonder that is the atomic bomb.) Kitty-corner from Black Monday is Heaven Can Wait (2001–ongoing), a video installation by artist team Bull.Miletic showing more parallax views, this time from revolving restaurants around the globe, including the Equinox at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. Was it Steve McQueen who starred in The Parallax View, shot from the revolving restaurant atop the Space Needle? Or was Breton predicting the Internet and how randomness is curated into blogs? What was I blogging? I mean, saying?

It’s well known that the CIA performs secret operations under fancy code names. Trevor Paglen has compiled a list — everything he could find, from Able Ally to Zodiac Beauchamp. "Dark Matters" includes a very tall wall full of them. The piece is called Codename (2001–07). Paglen told me he knows what a handful of the named operations are about, but if he talked to the wrong person, they might mistake him for a crackpot conspiracy theorist. Secret planes where? Extraordinary rendition what? Unmarked airplanes why? But Paglen is not a crackpot. He is an artist, writer, and experimental geographer. Information thus arranged and presented — what do we do with it? At this very moment, the CIA is torturing people at secret facilities in the name of our freedom. But what I want to know is, whatever happened to Bronski Beat? We do not want to think, much less believe, that the US government runs secret prisons. So we don’t.

Robert Oppenheimer once said — or wrote, I forget — "It is a profound and necessary truth that the deep things in science are not found because they are useful; they are found because it was possible to find them." I thought I used that quote in some other art review because I liked it so much. So I Googled "kurtz oppenheimer." What I got instead was a live-sex webcam chat. How many degrees to Internet sex? Not many. Listening Post (2002–06), by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, demonstrates as much. Spinal columns of digital screens climb from floor to ceiling. A suite of seven programmed actions culls live chats from the Internet, which scroll across the screens. One is set to grab anything beginning with "I love" or "I like." It’s harder to determine the organizing principle of the other movements, but the very public exposition of very private conversations is discomfiting. And absorbing — all those desires scrolling by. And you thought you were the only one!

Did you know that there is no alpha leader in a flight of birds? What really occurs is democracy: when just over half of the birds begin to tilt in one direction, the rest follow. I saw that on the Internet somewhere. Richard Barnes, Charles Mason, and Alex Schweder were all in Rome, hanging out and making art. Unbeknownst to the others, each of them became fascinated with the mass starling convergence at Esposizione Universale di Roma. Murmurs (2006) consists of Barnes’s photography, Mason’s sound, and Schweder’s video. Starlings have binocular vision. Who knew?

Left on its own, information will eventually organize itself. What remains is the question of credibility. One of the things I named in the first paragraph is not found in the exhibition. Or maybe two. *


Through Nov. 11

Tues.–Wed. and Fri.–Sun., noon–5 p.m.; Thurs., noon–8 p.m.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

$3–$6 (free first Tues.)

(415) 978-ARTS


Black and white and color


One of the most exciting aspects of being a newspaper editor is recognizing a wave of activity that isn’t connected to government mind control or onslaughts of corporate-sponsored and mass-marketed art. This kind of spontaneous mass energy is happening via photography in San Francisco right now. August is known as a slow month, but the city’s galleries are alive with contemporary photos. Bill Daniel’s latest look at the US landscape is opening at RayKo Photo Center, the Daniel-influenced vagabond spirit Polaroid Kidd has his first Bay Area show at Needles and Pens, Greg Halpern’s moody views of Buffalo and Kelli Connell’s double-minted prints are up at SF Camerawork, and at City Hall — through the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery — the work of 32 local photographers is on view.

Baptized in arguments regarding its viability as an art form, photography remains as contentious as it is expansive. Witness a veteran such as Duane Michals sharpening his claws on the megapopular likes of Cindy Sherman in last year’s rant-monograph Foto Follies: How Photography Lost Its Virginity on the Way to the Bank (Thames and Hudson). We live in an era when the ready availability of portraiture seems to have made its definition even more reductive; via MySpace and more explicit sites, people use cameras to readily package themselves as products. Yet when black-and-white and color and digital and film collide with unpredictable results, photo portraiture can be as varied and lively as the work you’ll find on these pages.

Thanks to fellow Guardian arts editor Kimberly Chun for suggesting, late in the selection process, a focus on portraiture. This decision necessarily narrowed the Bay Area photographers to choose from; there’s a wave of garden- and eco-driven work being done by Bill Basquin and others, while Dusty Lombardo, R.A. McBride, and Jackson Patterson are discovering tremendous depth in interiors. Thanks also to Basquin, Daniel, Glen Helfand, Chuck Mobley, Katie Kurtz, and Dave and Ray Potes for their suggestions.

Twelve years ago I interviewed therapist and author Walt Odets because he was bringing much-needed humanity to discussions of the AIDS crisis; to find out that he’s also a superb photographer whose subjects have included Jean Renoir and his wife, Dido, is a revelation. In distinctive ways, Vic Blue, Robert Gumpert, and Amanda Herman reveal what journalism usually ignores or renders shallow. The intimacy of Vala Cliffton’s photos makes one ponder her presence within the scenes she depicts. Matthias Geiger shows a city you might not have noticed even when it’s been in front of your face. Stan Banos has an eye for the many shades of gray within the multihued and the cuckoo. Job Piston is that rare Bay Area photographer whose work brandishes a sexual edge that isn’t obvious or predictable. Jim Goldberg’s urban work has been canonically influential since the publication of Rich and Poor (Random House, 1985) and Raised by Wolves (Scalo, 1995). Photography is just one aspect of Désirée Arlette Holman’s hand-fashioned fantasy world, a place that looks like a wicked satire of our own.

If you’d like to see more about some of these artists, go to www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision. (Johnny Ray Huston)

Stan Banos

NAME Stan Banos

TITLE The Marine

THE STORY "This photo was taken in San Francisco during Fleet Week in ’04."

INSPIRATION "I’ve always had a vague obsession with time and place, and the camera is the best-suited instrument to record such transient moments (particularly when you can’t draw). I generally try to incorporate whatever signs of irony life can offer within a rectangle."

FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS "I have more favorite photographers as an adult than I had favorite ballplayers as a kid: Bruce Davidson, Josef Koudelka, Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, Carl de Keyzer, James Nachtwey, Cheryl Richards, Henry Wessel, Elliott Erwitt, Martin Parr, Lee Friedlander … the list is endless."

SHOW "Our World," at SF Arts Commission Gallery’s City Hall space, through Sept. 21.

WEB SITE www.reciprocity-failure.com

Victor J. Blue

NAME Victor J. Blue

TITLE Honduran immigrants, Detention Center Tapachula Mexico

THE STORY "I went to the Guatemala-Mexico border to photograph immigration there. These guys had been caught trying to ride the freight train to the United States. We only had a few minutes to take pictures inside. They were on a bus back to Tegucigalpa within a day, probably just to try again."

FAVORITE MONOGRAPHS The Mennonites by Larry Towell (Phaidon, 2000), Exploding into Life by Eugene Richards and Dorothy Lynch (Aperture, 1986), Kosovo 1999–2000: Flight of Reason by Paolo Pellegrin and Tim Judah (Trolley, 2002), Under a Grudging Sun: Photographs from Haiti Libere 1986–1988 by Alex Webb (Thames and Hudson, 1989).

WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING NOW? "The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the people of San Joaquin County."

WEB SITES www.victorjblue.com, online.recordnet.com/projects/iraq/Jose/index.html

Vala Cliffton

NAME Vala Cliffton

TITLE Unicorn

THE STORY "Unicorn is a portrait of my niece and my brother after their trip to Hawaii. My niece is in love with Hawaii and could not seem to detach herself from her scuba gear that afternoon. My brother was trying to catch a nap before dinner. The combination of elements in this unposed portrait captures an essential and intriguing aspect of their father-daughter relationship."

INSPIRATIONS "The Family of Man [Harry N. Abrams] was the first photography book I can remember picking up and being interested in. Photography was always a part of our family life. One of my projects while at the San Francisco Art Institute was to print the black-and-white snapshots taken of the family over the years."

WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING NOW? "I have spent the past couple or years working as a filmmaker and producing music videos, some of which I have put up on YouTube at youtube.com/alavala11."

SHOW "Our World," at SF Arts Commision Gallery’s City Hall space, through Sept. 21.

WEB SITE alavala.com

Matthias Geiger

NAME Matthias Geiger


THE STORY Train is taken from Geiger’s "Tide" series, which he describes as "an examination of human presence" in "places of transit and momentary rest…. The technique of layering still images allows past, present, and future moments to appear simultaneously, reflecting the notion that each moment in time is a construct of our memories, our presence, and our projections."

INSPIRATIONS "Direct physical experience such as being outdoors, dance, and meditation, as well as readings on metaphysics."

WHAT ARE YOU SHOOTING NOW? A series on utopian subcultures.

SHOW "Matthias Geiger: Tide." Sept. 6–Oct. 20. SF Camerawork, 657 Mission, second floor, SF. (415) 512-2020, www.sfcamerawork.org

WEB SITE www.matthiasgeiger.com

Robert Gumpert

NAME Robert Gumpert

TITLE Untitled

THE STORY "For the past 13 years I’ve been doing an off-and-on documentary project called ‘Lost Promise: The Criminal Justice System.’ This image was done in August 2006 while I was documenting the closing of San Francisco County Jail No. 3. Built in 1934 and beset by a number of serious issues and several lawsuits ordering its closure, the jail was finally closed in August 2006, when inmates were moved to County Jail No. 5, built on land adjacent to the old jail."

FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS Don McCullin, Lewis Hine, August Sander, Leonard Freed, Gilles Peres, and Philip Jones Griffith.

WEB SITE www.robertgumpert.com

Amanda Herman

NAME Amanda Herman

TITLE Untitled

THE STORY The image is taken from Herman’s most recent work, the short film Lost Island, which looks at the impact of Hurricane Katrina on one large family two years after the storm forced them from their home in Chalmette, La. Herman met the Morris family in Oakland while doing free family portraits for survivors at a relief day in October 2005, one month after Katrina drove them from their homes, and, she writes, "over time, I became interested in exploring the intricacies of one family’s experience with the disaster." Donations and income from the sale of the Lost Island DVD will go into a family fund to assist the Morrises as they rebuild their lives in Oakland.

FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS Seydou Keita, Allen Sekula, Susan Meiselas, Jeff Wall, Wing Young Huie, Wendy Ewald, Jessica Ingram, Eric Gottesman, and others.

SHOW "Inchoate," through Aug. 11. Patricia Sweetow Gallery, 77 Geary, mezzanine, SF. (415) 788-5126, www.patriciasweetowgallery.com

WEB SITE www.amandaherman.com

Désirée Arlette Holman

NAME Désirée Arlette Holman

TITLE Something Ain’t Right

THE STORY "This image is from a larger series of video and photo work depicting actors wearing crude, handmade (by me) chimp costumes. Something Ain’t Right was inspired by smoking chimps in zoos in South Africa and China. One zookeeper claimed that the chimps were smoking because they are frustrated. Could captivity make a chimp neurotic and lead it to smoke? Others claimed that the chimps were imitating tourists, recalling the cliché ‘Monkey see, monkey do.’ "

INSPIRATION "I am inspired by psychology, popular culture, figurative sculptures (including toys), art, and various types of fantasy and fiction making. I capitalize on the potential to create fantasy from realistic imagery through the use of the camera."

FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS Currently include Tracey Moffatt, Liza May Post, and Suzy Poling.

SHOWS "CCA: 100 Years in the Making," at the Oakland Museum of Art, and a solo show at San Francisco’s Silverman Gallery. Both open in October.

WEB SITE www.desireeholman.com

Job Piston

NAME Job Piston

TITLE A Year Later

THE STORY "I was making portraits of young Hollywood and became interested in deconstructing glamour. This is a good friend of mine who was sent away to a facility for a long while. I took this picture the first time I visited him. Today popular figures openly go to rehab; it too has become glamorous."

INSPIRATION "Complicated personalities, intimacy in public spaces, secrets, the figure, and the fountain of youth."

SHOW "Our World," at SF Arts Commission Gallery’s City Hall space, through Sept. 21; "Evidence of Things Unseen," Peninsula Museum of Art in Belmont, through Oct. 21; solo show at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco in October.

WEB SITES www.jobpiston.com, book-of-job.blogspot.com

Walt Odets

NAME Walt Odets

TITLE Greg Hoffspiegel, Palo Alto, California, 2007

THE STORY "Because it is so instantaneous, there is much chance in photography. This photograph seems to me about the gaze and emotion of the three figures, some combination of attention, reflection, loss, and pathos, as well as the visual organization."

INSPIRATION "I have taken pictures since I was 16. If I can use the camera in a way that forces deconstruction of what we normally see but do not observe, then I feel I have accomplished something."

FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHERS "Henri Cartier-Bresson, of course, and Ed Ruscha and Lee Friedlander, for their elegance and form, intellect, and relentless literal rendering, respectively."

SHOW An October 2007 three-person show at SF Camerawork, devoted to winners of the James D. Phelan Award for photography.

WEB SITE www.waltodets.com/photo

Jim Goldberg

NAME Jim Goldberg

TITLE Untitled


THE STORY The image is drawn from "The New Europeans," a project Goldberg started around the time of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The series focuses on the journeys of refugees and immigrants from war-torn or economically devastated homelands in Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, Afghanistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere to settle in Europe, specifically Greece and Ukraine. In June, Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson in Paris presented Goldberg with the HCB Award so he could travel to his subjects’ countries of origin and tell the complete stories of their migration.

SHOW "Jim Goldberg: New Work." Oct. 3–Nov. 10. Reception Oct. 4, 5:30–7:30 p.m. Stephen Wirtz Gallery, 49 Geary, third floor, SF. (415) 433-6879, wirtzgallery.com

Vanishing points


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REVIEW Like drive-in movie theaters, the white-mantled colobus, and Henry VIII’s wives, the increasingly rarefied qualities of elegance and generosity are most certainly doomed to extinction, rendered worthless in our schlock-culture era of crass and sass. This is not so, thankfully, in the work of Hiroshi Sugimoto, who, in his eponymous, conceptually rigorous, utterly gorgeous midcareer retrospective at the de Young Museum, single-handedly rescues refinement and magnanimity — along with windblown silver screens, leaf-eating African monkeys, and those half dozen Catherines, Janes, and Annes — from the dustbin of history.

Including some 120 black-and-white photographs taken with a large-format camera during the past three decades and glowing with a numinous luminosity, the exhibition is so richly (in all its connotations) conceived and presented, so brimming with the artist’s and curators’ intelligence and desire to simultaneously challenge and enrapture viewers, that it stands not only as the year’s best big local museum show but also as a timely reminder that we must look beyond the horizon ostensibly separating sea from sky, for that is where the truth lies.

Sugimoto’s work is all about true lies. He is fascinated with artifice that yearns for authenticity and with impervious factual data that melts into dream logic. Unlike many Japanese photographers of his generation — he was born in 1948 — who are attracted to either the grisly chic of atomic apocalypse or the fleshy flash of alarmingly nubile Harajuku teens, Sugimoto generally eschews the stereotypical tropes that now largely define, at least from afar, his homeland’s manga-mad visual vocabulary. This is quite likely due to his singular vision as much as to his transcontinental toggling between New York and Tokyo since the early ’70s. Inspired during his childhood by chirping crickets, electronic gadgets, and bedtime stories and later by André Breton’s surrealist manifestos, Giorgio de Chirico’s otherworldly paintings, and the teachings of a Buddhist priest who told him that the only human reality is shit, Sugimoto has coalesced his influences into a clearly unified yet constantly surprising oeuvre at once classical in its formal precision and postmodern in its beguiling content.

Moving fluidly from representation to abstraction to the uncanny, the exhibition beckons viewers into a carefully designed sequence of dimly lit galleries showcasing thematically linked series of large-scale images. Sugimoto also designed the site-specific installation, playfully using the room’s curved sides, dramatic spotlights, and a particularly effective wall of mirrors to supersede spatial certainty.

Nature and culture tussle for authority throughout the show, notably in photos of dioramas taken at the American Museum of Natural History, where Sugimoto spent many afternoons during his first months in Manhattan, staring at taxidermied polar bears and handcrafted manatees posed in ersatz habitats. Equally fake yet lifelike are Henry VIII and his unfortunate beloveds, whom Sugimoto photographed in all their waxen glory at Madame Tussauds, looking as if they were sitting for 16th-century portrait painter Hans Holbein the Younger. (Be sure to take a careful count of Anne Boleyn’s fingers.)

Nature triumphs in Sugimoto’s masterful seascapes — or does it? The longer you gaze at these nearly monochromatic studies, the vanishing point where ocean meets sky recedes ever farther, and soon enough they cease to resemble the sea — see? — and transform but not transfigure into Ad Reinhart or Mark Rothko paintings. The process reverses in the "Mathematical Forms" series, in which abstract, spiraling shapes — physical contours representing specific algorithmic equations like 3.14 and others that never made sense in high school — become pi-in-the-sky architectural structures eerily akin to the de Young’s high-rising tower.

Sugimoto further pushes the potential of architecture both real and imagined in his deliberately blurry images of iconic structures such as Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Batillo, the Schindler House, the Guggenheim museums in New York and Bilbao, Spain, and the Chrysler Building, all viewed as if underwater or under the influence. "Superlative architecture survives the onslaught of blurred photography," Sugimoto concludes of his characteristically rewarding experiment in deconstruction.

Having successfully stared down stuffed mountain lions and head-rolling royals, traversed the Caribbean and Marmara seas, aced his math quiz, and demythologized the Monumento ai Caduti with the quick shift of his camera, Sugimoto finally goes to the movies, where he focuses his lens on the screen and keeps his aperture wide open for the duration of a feature-length film. The resulting images reveal blinding white centers of cinematic possibility far more spellbinding than any summer blockbuster. These shining screens celebrate light as both wave and particle, as the essence of seeing, the illuminator of reality, and the obliterator of dream. Light pierces or occludes the horizon running through all of Sugimoto’s work; it is the dividing line between nature and culture, fact and fiction, wax and skin. Light, like this truly superlative show that reconfirms Sugimoto as one of our great artists, keeps on giving and giving. *


Through Sept. 23

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; $6–$10 (free first Tues.)

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF

(415) 750-3614


Double trouble


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Rosie O’Donnell, in a recent New York Times article about the TV star’s video blog, has been outed as a woman of many personalities. The piece notes the shades of O’Donnell’s various public talk-show personae, from closeted lesbian girl next door to outspoken View-er, and surveys her current makeup-free webcam self. Yet O’Donnell is simply following what legions of the less famous do via MySpace pages and YouTube postings: compose and experiment with low-budget media selves.

Artists, along with actors, have, in theory, a slight advantage in exploring this territory. They must consider the formal constraints of presentation in a gallery, yet plenty have managed quite well by dressing up as new incarnations drawn from their imaginations or obsessively charting personal information. In exhibition spaces, this stuff either hits a universal note or collapses under the weight of vanity.

The current exhibits by Alice Shaw at Gallery 16 and Kelli Connell at Stephen Wirtz Gallery walk that taut psychological tightrope and thankfully keep their balance. Both artists work with photography, a medium conducive to entertainment and realism. Both shows are seductive, witty, and disturbing as they extend dialogues put forth by artists such as Claude Cahun, Cindy Sherman, and Nikki S. Lee, who in different eras effectively confounded ideas of fixed identity by taking on different roles in their photographic projects.

Shaw immediately suggests schizophrenia by titling her solo exhibition "Group Show." It includes three bodies of work, all by Shaw and all addressing the notion of reflected or fractured selves. One of her identities is a photographer, and the first series involves appropriating works by 19th-century photographers Charles Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll, and E.J. Bellocq, whose images of prepubescent girls and New Orleans prostitutes, respectively, employed a nascent medium to indulge visual preoccupations. Using lenticular printing — the plastic layering that creates the postcard illusion of a winking Jesus — Shaw fuses works by each artist to reveal nearly identical poses and create a compact narrative of ripening sexuality. First you see a young girl standing in a nightie; with a slight shift in view, you see a more mature woman doing the same. The juxtapositions of the photographers’ works also recall tales of twins separated at birth who unknowingly go down parallel paths.

The second series follows a previous body of work in which Shaw sought out mirror selves. She developed her own character by photographing herself with a male grocery store clerk, friends, dates, her dad (artist Richard Shaw), and even Matt Gonzalez. The results are collected in a Gallery 16–published book, People Who Look Like Me (2006). For this show, she sought the opposite of herself, a self-described "small, white, middle-aged woman": a leggy young African American tranny named Ryhanna. The pair, in separate shots, strike similar boudoir poses in a sparsely furnished Victorian, subtly mirroring the Dodgson-Bellocq images hanging across the gallery. The two models appear in various states of undress, makeup, and sauciness, though both play on their mixture of male and female traits. The artist sometimes seems most confident posing in a wife beater, while Ryhanna appears equally self-assured showing off lace panties and her penis. Shaw’s artistic demeanor is deadpan, so there’s a comic appeal to these images. Both seem to ham it up for the lens, which also effectively channels discomfiting racial overtones and the way a different personality arises when we stand before the camera.

Connell doesn’t pose for her large, glossy photographs in "Double Life," but the pictures immediately suggest an intimate form of role playing. In each of her photographs, there are two figures seen in the midst of psychologically and sexually charged moments. They are enmeshed in a serious discussion, poised for a kiss or a fuck, or lighting sparklers on a grassy field. As in Sherman’s work, all quickly conjure narratives. Are they a happy couple or about to break up? Straight or gay? Eventually you realize that all the figures are the same woman, a friend who has been the artist’s exclusive model for the past few years.

As the 33-year-old Connell is part of a generation that has few qualms about Photoshop magic, her work is less about seamless digital manipulation than about hefty psychosocial concerns in contemporary life. Connell has said her pictures are an "honest representation of the duality or multiplicity of the self." She does this by literalizing the myth of Narcissus, a tale that involves longing, incest, and the curse of delusion. The convincing reality of the pictures also heats up dialogues about homosexuality, cloning, and, ultimately, the highly constructed nature of identity. Without ever needing to appear on TV. *


Through July 12, free

Mon.–Fri., 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; and by appointment

Gallery 16

501 Third St., SF

(415) 626-7495



Through July 14, free

Tues.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Stephen Wirtz Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 433-6879


Flaming creators


› johnny@sfbg.com

They’ve got passion to burn, whether there’s 100 percent pride or a potent dose or two of critical shame in their game. They’re the dozen-plus-one LGBT artists who constitute this year’s lineup of flaming creators — individuals and groups adding radical perversity, butch dyke glitter, b-boy funk, punkified monkey love, dandified bear flair, and more to the Bay Area. It seems apt to pun off the title of Jack Smith’s still-revelatory 1963 film Flaming Creatures in uniting this wildly varied group: all of them ignore or defy the conformist strains of mainstream gay culture to blaze new trails of truth and fantasy.

NAME Keith Aguiar

WHAT I DO Currently, I am photographing a community of queer artists who continue to resist assimilation and express themselves freely without compromise to both hetero and homo normative values that have imprisoned so many of our generation. I want the viewer to enter my world of rich color, texture, and chaos to find the intricate beauty that comes from reconnecting with more primitive forms of expression. More recently my work has been progressing to include portraits, erotic photography, and even a few landscapes. I’m currently seeking funds for my next show and have started to do commissioned work on the side.

MOTTO Create your own reality. Live your own myth. Be your own God.

MORE KeithAguiarPhotography@gmail.com; www.flickr.com/photos/untamedvessels

NAME Emerson Aquino

WHAT I DO I’m cofounder and executive artistic director of the nonprofit professional dance company Funkanometry San Francisco. In 2005, I helped establish the Funksters Youth Dance Company through summer camps and dance-intensive programs. I’ve trained and danced with groups such as 220, Anarchy, Culture Shock Oakland, and SWC and showcased my choreography with Funkanometry SF in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Diego, and Bogotá, Colombia. My most recent project is an all-male performing group called Project EM, featuring 12 principal dancers.

MOTTO Life’s not about how much money you make; it’s about the number of people you inspire.

MORE emerson@funkanometrysf.com; www.funkanometrysf.com; www.myspace.com/project_em

NAME Dreamboat, Where Are You? (Carrie Baum and Jessica Fudim)

WHAT WE DO We’re a punk pop duo with choreographed vaudevillian antics and a penchant for monkeys, monsters, and Yiddish innuendos. We’ve been described as "the Buzzcocks meet the Muppets." We’ll be leading a Dancers’ Group Rock Theater workshop July 21, and we also have our own projects: Carrie’s Exit Sign: A Rock Opera and Jessica’s dance show Please Feed My Animal will both be previewing at CounterPULSE’s "Rock 4 Art" benefit Aug. 4. (Carrie also runs Big Star Printing; Jessica is a certified Pilates trainer.)

MOTTO Be sure to share your cookies.

MORE www.myspace.com/dreamboatwhereareyou

NAME Edie Fake

WHAT I DO Food fetish zines (Foie Gras), dirty comics (Gaylord Phoenix, Anal Sex for Perverts, Rico McTaco), apprentice tattoos, perv-formance art, rare appearances, desert adventures, and general feminism.

WORDS OF WISDOM Someone was yelling on the bus the other day that anal sex produces no children.

But that is false!

Anal sex produces


and they grow up to become


MORE www.ediefake.com

NAME James Gobel

WHAT I DO Paint, serve as a member of the California College of the Arts faculty, chub 4 chub.

WORDS OF WISDOM I hope my paintings make people want to be big, bearded, and queer. I could be wrong, but I think it was fellow whiskered gay chubby chaser and one-time San Franciscan Alice B. Toklas who said, "I loves ’em tubby, and so should you!"

MORE www.heathermarxgallery.com; jamesgobel@hotmail.com

NAME David King

WHAT I DO I make collages, which often syncretize the camp and the spiritual. Some of my work can be seen at Ritual on Valencia during June.

WORDS OF WISDOM I don’t have words of wisdom. I have dissertations of wisdom, to which I subject only my most tolerant friends, who have other reasons to love me.

MORE www.davidkingcollage.com

NAME Torsten Kretchzmar

WHAT I DO Present good old electropop music with a German twist.

MOTTO My motto is "I know what girls like." I really do! With the hip music of the Men of Sport, I present this old Waitresses song in my three new video clips. The DVD release party will be Aug. 5 at Club Six, and I expect a lot of guys to show up to find out about my secret.

MORE www.kretchzmar.com

NAME Dolissa Medina

WHAT I DO Experimental films mostly, but I plan to move into more multimedia and installation work at UC San Diego, where I’ll be starting an MFA program this fall. I’m interested in San Francisco history, Latino and queer experiences, and mapping urban space through mythologized storytelling. Last year I produced Cartography of Ashes for the 100th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake; we projected the film onto the side of a fire station in the Mission District. My film 19: Victoria, Texas will also be on display at Galería de la Raza this August and September.

MOTTO Viva la caca colectiva!

MORE mercurious3@yahoo.com

NAME Lacey Jane Roberts

WHAT I DO I make large-scale, site-specific knitted installations that often involve guerrilla action. My work, which is knitted by hand and on children’s toy knitting machines, aims to traverse boundaries of art and craft, the handmade and the manufactured, as well as categories of gender and class, through fusing seemingly contradictory materials, methods, and contexts. Additionally, my work seeks to illuminate the connections between craft and queerness and shift this position into one of agency and empowerment.

MOTTO I don’t really have a motto, but I would like to thank my friends for always showing up and helping me install, especially in places where I am not supposed to.

MORE www.laceyjaneroberts.com

NAME Erik Scollon

WHAT I DO I try to queer up our ideas about what art can do by remaking and repurposing functional objects. At the same time, I’m trying to retell new histories in old languages. I want to make objects that exist in between the sculptural and the functional in an effort to insert art back into everyday life.

WORDS OF WISDOM Art objects are useless; craft objects are utilitarian.

MORE www.erikscollon.net

NAME Jonathan Solo

WHAT I DO Draw, eat, sleep, sex, draw, dance, laugh, cry, scream … not in that particular order. I roam the city and its late-night haunts with my beautiful, crazy, talented friends, protected by a black rose on my chest and my custom Jobmaster 14-hole oxbloods. I have a piece in a current group show at Catharine Clark Gallery and a solo show there next year. I also have contributed to the Besser collection at the de Young, opening this October.

WORDS OF WISDOM I observe the beauty and decay of humanity. Aren’t the strange the most interesting, powerful, and telling of who we are? I’m fascinated by the amount of energy we use to oppress our true selves. I say fuck ’em! Own who you are and walk forward boldly — it’s made me a more sensitive artist, lover, friend, son, and brother.

MORE www.cclarkgallery.com; (415) 531-3376

NAME Matt Sussman

WHAT I DO I am a freelance film writer, and I DJ under the moniker Missy Hot Pants. My friends and I run a party in Oakland called Dry Hump. Our sets include everything from Gui Boratto to Baltimore club remixes to Ethel Merman doing disco. We’re playing Juanita More’s Playboy party at the Stud on June 30, so come work off your post-Pride hangovers.

MOTTO "Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen." Robert Bresson.

MORE www.myspace.com/thedryhump

NAME Jamie Vasta

WHAT I DO Working with glitter and glue on stained wood panels, I create "paintings" of figures exploring dark, dazzling landscapes. I am interested in predatory beauty and the balance (or imbalance) between nature and culture. My work is currently on view in the group show "Stop Pause Forward" at the Patricia Sweetow Gallery. I’ll be having a solo show there in mid-October.

WORDS OF WISDOM Glitter connotes an image of cheapness made glamorous — the superficial, the frivolous. But to dazzle is to have power — this is something drag queens have known all along.

MORE www.jamievasta.com; www.patriciasweetowgallery.com *

Speed thrills


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Whither beauty? Withered on the prickly postmodern vine. Sour grapes, you say? Just look around: A chemical haze obscures formerly fragrant, now fallow fields of flowers across which long-legged lovelies strolled arm in arm under pin-striped parasols; poisonous waste washes up on the shores of previously pristine beaches where carefree bathers whiled away their weekends; and corporate conglomerates co-opt every available surface of soccer field and skating rink, once the open-air arenas of athletes for whom sport was merely child’s play dressed up in soft cotton jerseys and sensible shoes. Autumn afternoons no longer linger for a sun-dappled eternity, elegance is a disease of conceit, and Fred Astaire is long gone. With a tip of the woefully unfashionable top hat to Simone Signoret, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

But what good is sitting alone in your room? Slink over to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and spend many a restorative hour among the unknown pleasures of "Martin Munkácsi: Think While You Shoot!," a joyous retrospective that traces the rise and fall of beauty as a panacea, placebo, moral absolute, and vicious myth. The myriad surprises here refute rumors of beauty’s untimely demise, or at least temporarily revive those long-lost days of languorous lounging when everyone was gorgeous and speed meant velocity. Munkácsi’s photographs depict a world — not quite ours, but layered with remnants and reminders of what was and what again could be, when everything’s gone green — ceaselessly in motion. Neither the artist nor his subjects ever slowed down, hence the simultaneity demanded by the exhibition title. (For a guide on how best to experience the show on the first of the many visits it merits, check out the trio of would-be crooks racing through the Louvre in Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders.)

Born in Hungary in 1896 and restlessly embarking on peripatetic journeys around the world, camera in tow, until his 1963 passing, Munkácsi was a modernist master of photography whose remarkable yet often overlooked achievements encompassed the prewar innocence of Budapest and the privileged leisure of Weimar-era Berlin. He shot mining disasters in Alsdorf and the landing of the Graf Zeppelin in Brazil, the pastoral villages of the Lengua tribe and the fabulous glamour of old Hollywood. He was everywhere and always in good company, swimming with the in-too-deep denizens of Copacabana, hobnobbing with the Hearsts at San Simeon, and marching with military troops in Liberia.

Beauty — in form and function, as hallowed intention and blessed happenstance — suited Munkácsi’s joie de vivre. His exuberant images of motorcyclists careening through the countryside, operetta starlets kicking up their heels, naked boys running into the surf at Lake Tanganyika, and Louis Armstrong letting loose with an endless smile seem the very essence of life lived fully, without worry, and with a keen appreciation for surface perfection and the complex mélange of conviviality and yearning beneath. An unapologetic aesthete, Munkácsi — Jewish and in the wrong place at the wrong time — might even have been temporarily blinded by beauty to the ugly truths that eventually sent him packing for the States. How else to explain the eerily graceful compositions of army ranks lined up like statues at the opening of the Reichstag in Potsdam, the portraits of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels tainted with a veneer of Nazi chic, or the startling shots of Triumph of the Will director Leni Riefenstahl expertly traversing tricky ski slopes? These images work as reportage, of course, but crafted with Munkácsi’s customary élan, they are nearly too revealing — and pleasing — for comfort.

Munkácsi’s wanderlust, zest, and brilliant eye — his gift for homing in on kinetic narratives and telling details greatly influenced Henri Cartier-Bresson’s crucial notion of the "decisive moment" in photography — led him to document the oddly parallel ascendancy of fascism and fashion as era-defining movements that shaped the intertwined fates of Europe and America and motivated his own travels to far-flung locales. Whether studying the drape of a Halston headdress on a beachcombing model, observing Fritz Lang at work in his Berlin apartment, or conveying the gory excitement of a bullfight simply by training his camera on the spectators’ wildly expressive faces, Munkácsi applied his groundbreaking aesthetics to epochal scenes of 20th-century life. He shot while he thought, and beauty lies bleeding. *


Through Sept. 16

Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 10 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; $7–$12.50 (free first Tues.)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000


Mission: school


› johnny@sfbg.com

REVIEW When I walked into the Berkeley Art Museum for a first look at Alicia McCarthy’s contribution to "Fer-ma-ta," the 37th annual UC Berkeley MFA graduate exhibition, I was given a small stash of pencils — the kind you use to mark scores in bowling or putt-putt golf. Note-taking is allowed in museum spaces, but pens are a definite no-no. The self-consciousness brought about by such a rule and the gift of the pencils only served to enhance the direct address of McCarthy’s work. The artist has a flair for such modest tools — in fact, her prismatic use of colored pencils counts as one of the most imitated and influential Bay Area art practices of the past decade. Also, she isn’t one to kowtow to the conventions of art-market packaging and presentation.

That trait again became clear the minute I approached McCarthy’s section of the group show. She has 11 works fixed — sometimes nailed directly — to the museum walls, but in addition she’s placed an old wooden chair before them in a manner that presents viewers with the option of sitting on one piece of art to view others. The chair is, like most of McCarthy’s material, a found object, and it isn’t going to be brought to Antiques Roadshow anytime soon. Perhaps it’s a piece of classroom furniture from a bygone era — though, curiously, it’s on rickety, small wheels — and its surface is marked with rings. A collector or consumer would view those marks as water damage, but in McCarthy’s art, such wear and tear only adds texture. Here, as in other shows, her drawings are on already used surfaces: construction or packaging paper and slabs of wood. The use of found material, while welcome in an ecological sense, has become a cliché in Bay Area circles and beyond in the indie pop Found magazine culture. But McCarthy still does it better than others who’ve come in her wake. Even more than the forebears who practiced assemblage in the ’60s, she taps into the expressiveness of an object’s wrinkled history, so the splatter pattern of a coffee stain can function like a splash of watercolor.

What happens when an artist associated with the core of the Mission School — and perhaps the most undersung — goes back to school? Some of McCarthy’s livelier contributions at BAM bounce free from that question’s limitations to play with the very idea of education. Amusingly, I found myself using the little pencils given to me by the museum to take notes on — and even re-create to a degree — a trio of McCarthy pencil and ink drawings that could be categorized as classroom notes and doodles. In McCarthy’s hands, the idea of turning one’s study notes into art isn’t smart-ass or lazy but critical, humorous, and kinetically lively, producing words and scrawls that dance across the page. Andy Warhol’s churchgoing habits, characteristics of fascism and Marxism, and ideas about theories and practice orbit around various forms of the show’s chief motif: a series of snaky lines that almost but don’t quite form a ball shape similar to that of tangled yarn or metal coils, most featuring a depth of field that it’s easy to become lost within.

As Artforum welcomes the return of op art with a pair of cover essays about large survey shows in Columbus, Ohio, and Frankfurt, Germany, it’s worth contemputf8g the op art undertow that’s long been present within some of McCarthy’s (as always) untitled work. While it isn’t as noticeable or dominant as in the drawings and other pieces made by her friend Xylor Jane, it is there, particularly in a black-and-white doors-of-perception piece at the BAM show that might be rendered in Magic Marker. For McCarthy, fine execution isn’t the point so much as dedication to vision. She achieves a lo-fi and distinctly low-key — some might say junior high Trapper Keeper — version of the hallucinatory effect achieved when one gazes too long, and thus long enough, at the waves of lines in Bridget Riley’s famous 1964 polymer–on–composition board piece Current.

The upfront or subliminal presence of Riley-like op art — and color theory — elements within work by some of the main female artists associated with the Mission School is worth noting in light of the enjoyable pair of May Artforum essays that single Riley out for praise while suggesting that op art has been absent, aside from pure kitsch manifestations, since its ’60s heyday. In fact, a case could be made that artists such as McCarthy and Jane have knowingly or unknowingly taken up some of Riley’s practice in modest ways, adapting it as one aspect within their own work. Kitsch has nothing to do with it, but feminism and a shared creative sensibility might.

Among the work by developing artists at the UC Berkeley MFA show (Jenifer K. Wofford’s impressive graphic novel–like wall of paintings; Ali Dadgar’s screen prints on stones), McCarthy’s section doesn’t call out for attention so much as reward those who are present enough to pay it, and in that sense, her closest kin within the exhibition is probably Bill Jenkins, whose contributions confront the blindness of an average seven-seconds-a-piece stroll through a museum. Like McCarthy’s chair, they suggest that the world needs heightened perception more than it needs another dazzling, hi-fi, expensive work of art. *


Through Sun/10

Wed. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–7 p.m.; $4–$8 (free first Thurs.)

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-0808


Mighty morphin’ power ranger


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REVIEW Those of us who got to see the eastbound I-580 freeway connector overpass right after it was charbroiled by that teetering gas tanker truck understand the weirdness of witnessing a thing so hefty and solid transformed into something much like melted cheese sliding off a pizza slice. It was a grave reminder that structures, no matter how fixed their engineering appears to be, can stop holding a given form and make like something entirely else if given the opportunity.

Bay Area sculptor Christian Maychack is a master of creating objects in which materials misbehave in ways that leave their viewers with a sense that the laws of physics are just aching to be broken. For "Christian Maychack: A General Record of Things Breaking Down," the artist’s second solo show at the Gregory Lind Gallery, Maychack has created a site-specific work as well as several wall pieces and other freestanding pieces, all of which are variations on the themes of evolution and transformation.

His site-specific work is installed on both sides of a partial wall. On one side, what looks to be scrap lumber and decorative molding stacked and standing in the corner turns out on closer investigation to be morphing at the bottom — the molding is molding. And the tops of the tallest pieces of lumber appear snakelike and wiggle over the wall. When the top of the wall is viewed from the other side of the divider, the lumber seems to have burst forth from within, as if worms or roots have exploded from soil. Below, the corner of the wall has curled up slightly, separating from the floor, and has started to reconfigure itself as a crystalline, multifaceted form. Farther down, near one’s feet, the gallery wall has started to suck into itself, becoming some sort of mineral that doesn’t allow itself to be defined as animal or vegetable — or drywall.

On the back wall of the gallery, a wonderfully globby Rorschach form oozes like an overly muscled but flayed GI Joe doll. It appears to have time-warped from the baroque era but not quite to have survived the trip. Titled A Thinnest of Betweens, this monochrome gray wall piece hangs with the presence of a regal portrait, but with an air of cartoon malevolence too.

There’s exuberance in much of what Maychack creates, a quality of frozen animation that makes the pieces seem to be holding their breath in order not to be found out. One pedestaled piece in particular has stopped midbounce, like a froth of marshmallow fluff that is either symbiotically sharing space with or being virally infected by volcanic, rocky bits. The chunks subtly taint the plump creaminess with their rusty dust.

Close to the gallery’s reception desk, a sponge-colony form buds from the wall, white and gray with a shiny dark gray cap, as if it were readying itself for even further mushroomy blooming. It grows with an elegant lean, which hints at the essence of Maychack’s objects: they are so well crafted and organically clever that viewers depart feeling like they have been given a convincing presentation of what mysterious life forces are capable of. In these works, stuff has a way of willing itself into existence — even in places where we have assumed there is no life. Maychack gives us another plot twist in the evolutionary story, which in some way, during this uncertain time of teetering environmental stability, seems fantastically hopeful. Lo, the very stuff from which we have built our shelters could bubble forth and mutate its way into our ecosystem. *


Through June 30

Tues.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Gregory Lind Gallery

49 Geary, fourth floor, SF

(415) 296-9662


Prints charming


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PREVIEW If only it were prix fixe. The lamb curry wrapped in crystallized mint leaves sounds delectable, but the butternut squash ravioli catch your eye first. Then you notice that one of the items on the menu is made entirely with ingredients from the chef’s garden. The choice is obvious. As you munch on homegrown multicolored heirloom tomatoes, conversation turns to how much is in our own backyards. Electric Works isn’t a restaurant, but if artists’ creative moods are seasons and we the adventurous diners, then this new incarnation of formerly Brisbane-based Trillium Press is the most seasonal print studio around.

Sitting in a brick-lined meeting room in the historic Buzzell Electric Works building on Eighth Street at Mission, Noah Lang recalls an article on the differences between cooking in New York and California. "In many ways, we’re closer to Chez Panisse than we are to Paulson or Crown Point Press," he says. "We’re more concerned with what we come up with at the end of the day than how we came up with it."

Noah’s father, the visionary printer Richard Lang, who serves as the president of Electric Works, invokes Adam Gopnik’s statement that the last artists in the world who really care about their patrons are the chefs. "I was trained in the art world, where the whole thing is ‘it’s my vision — you’re a loser if you don’t get it.’ That always struck me as dumb, because people have willing hearts if you’ll just step forward," Richard explains, imagining Electric Works as a chef saying, "Taste this! It’s a little funny at first, but it’s really good!"

In 1980, when Proposition 13 lost him his teaching job, Richard started doing lithographs with David Salgado, who had founded Trillium the year before. They eventually forged a 10-year formal partnership that dissolved in 2006. "We were in a boxer relationship, punching and counterpunching, and we really learned a lot about collaboration — that you really push hard and expect somebody to push back," Richard says of those early projects.

Deep collaboration became Trillium’s theme. After originally only doing contract work, the press started running a publishing program around 2000. "It’s a traditional system, headed by the artist, who comes in to collaborate. What we make, however, is totally untraditional," says Noah, who joined the studio in 1996 to spearhead the digital printmaking program. Electric Works’ high-tech scanning and printing devices allow the shop to scan anything, and it’s always eager to explore technology in order to realize and often expand an artist’s vision. Electric Works partner and art collector Anthony Luzi calls this an entrepreneurial practice because the creative process always trumps protocol.

Marcel Dzama’s The Cabin of Count Dracula and Stephanie Syjuco’s Future Shock Nesting Boxes (both 2005) show why the print shop has become known as the Land of Yes. Dzama started by imagining Count Dracula in the artist’s hometown, Winnipeg. His whimsical, bestial lithographs seemed to scream for appropriate housing, so Trillium, with considerable research, helped create a miniature log cabin complete with faux-beaver-fur rugs. The cabin simulates both hypersensitive isolation — remember Richard Barnes’s Unabomber photos? — and a playful sense of rapture. Syjuco’s boxes, slightly blurry folded replicas of stereo equipment, made of archival inks on laminated board, trigger similarly quirky states of mind: Is this touching me? How do you read it? Is it real? Yes.

Or nay? Working in the Land of Yes seems to tap into artists’ capacity for answering questions with questions, allowing them to ask "yes" in their own way. William T. Wiley’s illustrious postmodern hieroglyphics gain new life. Sandow Birk, in his Inferno projects, morphs Dante’s rich anxieties into our own, using urban überconsumer environments. Though those who don’t like these sorts of inquiries might freak out at the inaugural exhibition, which features new work from Tucker Nichols and Katherine Sherwood, their absence will just mean more room for those who want reality’s unreal underpinnings to open their wide eyes wider.

Electric Works weds the powers of curatorship and accessibility. As part of the print shop’s "venture philanthropy" program, artists develop unique editions to support nonprofits, and the new digs will include an alternative museum store with affordable art items, a natural art-for-the-people progression from a successful scholarship program offered through the California College of the Arts.

"The gatekeepers of the art world really want the world to be pyramidal," Richard says. "But the truth is that the world is spherical and everything is talking to everything else."

Is that true? Are you reading this as if it weren’t a dream? I’ll offer one hint: the answer isn’t no. *


May 11–June 23

Opens Fri/11, 5:30–7:30 p.m., free

Runs Tues.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m.;
Sat., 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.

Electric Works

130 Eighth St., SF

(415) 626-5496


Love machine


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REVIEW To look at the formally austere self-portraits made by the American artist Charles Sheeler (1883–1965) at various points throughout his career, you might surmise, from the repeated images of his stiff, unsmiling visage, that he toiled in obscurity for dry, dusty decades as an administrative underling at a low-level law firm, forever obsessed with organizing his paper clips, pausing from his tedious task only long enough to clean his spectacles on a crisply starched pocket handkerchief and tie the laces of his uncomfortable shoes, polished deep black the previous evening while listening to news of the Lindbergh kidnapping on his wooden Philco tube radio. As the crotchety stepfather of modernism, Sheeler cultivated a stern yet slightly mewling look of quotidian routine, as if neither he nor any other mere individual should assume particular importance amid the daunting technological advancements of his era. Like all true-blue men of meager means in the early part of the 20th century, Sheeler was enthralled with industrial progress and glorified all things steel and chrome. If this clerk allowed himself one indulgence, it was basking in the cult of the machine.

If modernism taught us anything, however, it’s that appearances can — no, should — be deceiving. Hat, coat, and desk chair notwithstanding, Sheeler was no paper-pushing nine-to-fiver. Indeed (a word I imagine he uttered frequently, accompanied by a nearly imperceptible tilt of the head), this self-proclaimed precisionist was rather radical in behavior, artistic methodology, and aesthetic philosophizing — though always politely so. Working with deliberate pacing and patience as a filmmaker, photographer, and painter and alarmingly proficient at drawing and printmaking, Sheeler established a unique dichotomy between new and old, rendering the former as oddly antiquated and the latter as the cat’s pajamas. Fittingly, his remarkable body of work remains strikingly contemporary; thus the "Charles Sheeler: Across Media" exhibition, handsomely installed in the upper galleries of the appropriately angular de Young Museum, has not the aged patina of a haphazard retrospective begrudgingly granted to a doddering éminence grise of yesteryear but the luminous sheen of a classy chassis careening into J.G. Ballard’s Crash by way of the icy David Cronenberg adaptation. Sheeler is Vaughan, so turned on by cogs and shafts, bolts and pylons, that he becomes the ghost in his own machine.

Born in Philadelphia, Sheeler studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, then booked passage for Paris, where he looked askance at Pablo Picasso’s and Georges Braque’s cubist conundrums before returning to the States, plonking down a fiver on a Brownie camera and taking up commercial photography with an emphasis on architecture.

In 1920, Sheeler collaborated with photographer Paul Strand on Manhatta, a six-minute city-symphony film ostensibly based on portions of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass yet excising virtually all traces of the bearded bard’s insatiable lust for life in favor of abstractions formed by bridges, skyscrapers, and the sun setting over the Hudson River. Widely considered the first American avant-garde film, Manhatta screens repeatedly in the gallery and is surrounded by related photographs that further reveal Sheeler’s New York state of mind.

Sheeler soon settled in a rented farmhouse in Doylestown, Penn., with fellow artist Morton Shamberg, but it was the home’s 19th-century stove that Sheeler referred to as his "companion," so enamored was he of its utilitarian exactitude and sensuous shape. Comfortably ensconced in the farmhouse, Sheeler spent years deftly rendering his kitchen and bathroom in ink, paint, and the darkroom’s chemical bath.

Having gained a reputation as a fastidious exemplar of precisionism, Sheeler was hired by the Ford Motor Co. to photograph and make paintings of its factories. Soon after, Fortune magazine commissioned Sheeler to produce a half dozen paintings that "reflect life through forms and trace the firm pattern of the human mind." Naturally, Sheeler looked not to living things for inspiration but to objects simultaneously beautiful in their simplicity and threatening in their potential to destroy: waterwheel, railroad, airplane, dam, steam turbine, and hydroelectric turbine (he really loved turbines).

Among many other career and exhibition highlights are the iconic, ironic American Landscape, in which human-made structures — cylinders, silos, smokestacks — have entirely supplanted natural splendor (score one for culture); experimental photographs of the interior of an 18th-century Quaker fieldstone house; and the dazzling The Artist Looks at Nature, from 1943, in which Sheeler paints himself in the process of sketching his 1932 drawing Interior with Stove, which in turn was based on his much earlier photograph The Stove. In this singular work, Sheeler links various media in which he excelled, positions himself in a perfectly logical space-time continuum, and moves into the realm of the uncanny. For an artist who implicitly championed the places, products, and processes of capitalism and whose every invisible brushstroke stoked the fires of the first corporation generation, this tricky bit of derring-do signals a metarebellion against the industry under whose wheels Sheeler’s entire century would soon be crushed. It’s enough to make you fall in love with that old stove all over again. *


Through May 6

Tues.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.–8:45 p.m.

De Young Museum

Golden Gate Park

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, SF

$6–$10 (free first Tuesday)

(415) 750-3614



No hidin’ SECA


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REVIEW Each SECA Art Award exhibition, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s biennial and only official nod to Bay Area artists, is cause to revisit the curious, contested idea of place in contemporary art. In his introduction to the 2006 SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art) Award catalog, SFMOMA director Neal Benezra describes the exhibition as a "lens focusing on the best that the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer." That’s a tough order that the curators, Janet Bishop and Tara McDowell, with input from the SECA group, bestowed on five artists, Sarah Cain, Kota Ezawa, Amy Franceschini, Mitzi Pederson, and Leslie Shows. Do they — should they — illuminate a sense of regionality, what critic Lucy Lippard dubs "a state of mind rather than a place on the map"?

Any way you enter the third floor of SFMOMA, you’re faced with SECA artists. From the stairs you’ll see large collage paintings by Shows, landscapes that appear chemically ravaged. Via the elevator, you immediately encounter Pederson’s 2005 sculpture of gray cinder-block fragments stacked like a low-slung house of cards. On the floor at the entry to the gallery proper, there’s Cain’s small pile of leaves painted black and subdued rainbow shades. These three artists share a similar practice of transforming humble materials into something almost magical and begin to articulate an aesthetic — or state of mind — that, to various degrees, is emphatically handmade and poetic. The inclusion of the more widely exhibited Ezawa, who makes computer-rendered, cartoonlike still and video images, and Franceschini, known for digital graphics and ecoconscious public projects, however, subverts the idea of a thematic thread.

The 2004 SECA exhibition focused on artists who worked primarily in drawing in very different ways, a strategy that gave the show a sense of structure and created a dialogue between works. The current group feels more fractured; the whole seems less than the sum of its parts.

Shows and Pederson complement each other most effectively. With extensive use of meticulously collaged printed matter and paint, Shows creates sweeping, epic images of landscapes that seem to have gone through geologic shifts and been layered with kaleidoscopic chemicals. The show also includes a new series of smaller, text-based works in which she’s carefully shredded texts, unlikely selections such as Edwin Abbott’s mathematical fantasy Flatland, and ripped pieces of canvas bookbinding, fusing them into ambiguous wholes.

Her muted, earthy color schemes merge well with Pederson’s cinder blocks, which are dusted with slate-colored glitter and resemble glam-rock geodes. Her other pieces, positioned near Cain’s, employ featherweight materials, such as wood veneer and fluttering strips of tinted cellophane, to explore physical tension and tentative presence — the work is emphatically fragile and deceptively offhand.

There’s an improvisatory feel to Cain’s work that doesn’t quite flower in this setting. She scores with a wonderful site-specific installation: a tree branch dynamically merges with the wall and architecture, using the floor, shadow, and abstract spray-paint squiggles. Titled We Push Ourselves into the Mountain Until We Explode into the Sky, the piece embraces its earthy-spiritual vibes but seems anything but hokey. Her framed paintings on paper, which also contain natural elements and metallic sequins and threads, are less consistently assured and sometimes overwrought. Next to the tree, these seem trapped under glass.

You could ascribe a similar feeling to the presentation of Franceschini’s off-site project to resurrect San Francisco’s official Victory Garden program of the 1940s. The piece makes real sense in food activist Northern California during wartime. The project also exemplifies a strain of socially based art that’s thriving in SF galleries and art schools. This sort of practice, however, unfolds in streets, gardens, and ephemeral interactions and consistently engenders the challenge to create effective gallery presentations. At SFMOMA, Franceschini presents historical civic documents, spiffy new charts, prototype gardening and seed bank gear, and a video of a planting party. While these communicate the gist of this vital idea, the display feels stranded here: it may have been better served with a component that unfolded more directly in the gallery or in an exhibition with contextualizing, like-minded projects.

Bringing an animated Colorforms effect to the notorious Pamela Anderson–Tommy Lee bootleg sex tape, Ezawa wisely expands his artistic purview. In earlier pieces, including the History of Photography Remix series, examples of which are seen here, iconic images and media events become broad, deadpan cartoons. Instant recognition of the material has been key. In his new double-screen piece, Two Stolen Honeymoons Are Better Than One, a well-known but less widely seen piece of media — the aforementioned home video — pushes Ezawa’s work into more ambiguous territory, that strange zone in which celebrities, albeit naked ones with supersize body parts, seem as banal as the rest of us. Doubled to two screens and tinted in divergent hues, the scenario enters the subconscious with the kind of off-color lens that just might be in the Bay Area atmosphere — or perhaps just in this artist’s eye. *


Through April 22

Mon.–Tues. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5:45 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–8:45 p.m.; $7–$12.50 (free first Tues.)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Scruff trade


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Forty years ago Bruce Nauman made a squat, unpainted block of plaster sculpture titled A Cast of the Space under My Chair. This single work, one of dozens in the Berkeley Art Museum’s absorbing exhibition "A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s," is said to have provided enough inspiration to fuel the career of British artist Rachel Whiteread, who famously cast the interior of a condemned Victorian house. Nauman’s sculpture, here seen as cast exhibition copy, could easily be overlooked. It’s modest in scale and, like much of this show, constructed with the most basic materials. The piece points, as do others, to Nauman’s uncanny and influential ability (Matthew Barney’s use of physical endurance and film are connected to Nauman) to activate negative space, be it a physical zone or the creative void artists face in the studio. As is evidenced here, he exalts, questions, liberates, and gibes the anxiety-ridden act of making art, irrespective of material form. He quite often relies on the one thing always at hand: his body.

The show, curated by BAM’s Constance Lewallen, is limited to works made during five prolific years while Nauman lived in Northern California. There are an impressive number of classics here, including Self-Portrait as a Fountain, a 1966–67 photograph of the artist squirting an arc of water from his mouth, and Wax Impressions of the Knees of Five Famous Artists, a 1966 phlegm-colored, rectangular wall sculpture that subverts the promise of its title (it’s fiberglass, and all the knees are Nauman’s). But the exhibition is less about masterpieces than it is about the spirit of experimentation that’s always been a hallmark of Bay Area art making. In four galleries fitted with drawings, sculpture, photography, film, video, and neon, text, and sound works, the show easily proves its thesis: Nauman established his artistic vocabulary — using whatever means necessary to focus on the physical, playful use of language and that sense of void — while living here. "Rose" also communicates the thrill of seeing the vision, propelled by a sustained, successful run of art production, of an artist who became one of the most important of his generation.

It’s rare to see static and projected works installed together so handsomely, and the spare yet lively exhibition design is a key to the show’s success. Nauman’s promiscuous use of media is in glorious effect throughout. In the first gallery, fiberglass sculptures cast from architecture and forming homely objects sit next to videos that find the artist slowly and sometimes suggestively interacting with a corner of a room or a glowing fluorescent light tube. Nearby, small ceramic works from 1965 depict imploding cups and saucers. Drawings and neon present Nauman’s interest in text and wordplay. Later the exhibition adds Nauman’s quasi-how-to 16mm films, pieces that illustrate his interest in the notion of making. Andy Warhol made dry, deadpan films concurrently, but Nauman’s are more boyishly wry and reveal the artist getting his hands dirty, literally. Challenging the hegemony of minimalism, Nauman channeled the 1960s spirit of political and lifestyle fomentation. His classic studio videos, in which he engaged in repetitive, sometimes strenuous physical acts for the camera (Bouncing in the Corner, No.1 and Stamping in the Studio, both 1968, among them), directly link the artist to his work.

Lewallen’s decision to focus on pieces made in a specific region, one outside the art world mainstream, introduces elements of Bay Area art history and the contested notion of regionalism and place in a contemporary art scene ruled by international biennials and art fairs. Here we see pieces made while Nauman was in the nascent graduate art program at secluded UC Davis, where he studied with William Wiley and Robert Arneson and TA’d for Wayne Thiebaud. That backdrop indirectly surveys the role of graduate schools when they were affordable — and in this case, laid-back and apart from the limelight and marketplace.

Nauman has always seemed to operate as a lone cowboy and has long resided in New Mexico, far from art world centers. He’s notoriously reticent about attending openings, though he surprised everyone by showing up in Berkeley for this one. The exhibit’s catalog pinpoints Nauman’s onetime studio at 144 27th St. in the Mission District, a neighborhood still attractive to artists. But "Rose" doesn’t so much suggest a Bay Area aesthetic as use location as a framing device.

In a 1970 interview Nauman said that his work was initially confused with funk art, a 1950s-born movement that had a strong Bay Area presence in the early work of Bruce Conner and others. "It looked like it in a way," he said, "but really I was just trying to present things in a straightforward way without bothering to shine them and clean them up." Scruffy still works around here, and in that spirit the show generates a frisson of hometown pride that feels anything but sentimental. It’s heartening to see what amazing things emerge from under the radar. *


Through April 15

Wed. and Fri.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–7 p.m., $4–$8 (free first Thurs.)

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.

(510) 642-0808



Fresh hedonism and sound artifacts


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America’s holy trinity — beer, barbecue, and the Bible — forms a belief system of carnivorous consumption and garish glitz in recent photographs by Bill Owens and Christian Patterson, well paired in concurrent exhibitions at Robert Koch Gallery.

Owens’s "Flesh," with its uncomfortable close-ups of pork parts and gnashing teeth, picks through gristly ribs, charred bacon strips, and headless mannequins, revealing an eat-or-be-eaten society starved for gustatory and spiritual succor. Patterson’s "Sound Affects" searches for musical solace in Memphis, Tenn., finding fundamentalist sass and the sick glow of neon lights where Elvis Presley used to reign. Both photographers — old-guard Owens, whose seminal Suburbia study put him and his Livermore neighbors on the map 35 years ago, and up-and-comer Patterson, seen here in his first West Coast show — saturate their semisurreal documentary images with alarmingly bright hues, recalling William Eggleston’s aesthetic approach. Their generous use of color gives these images of flesh and blood, bars and jukeboxes, an added kick, and the shows are energizing even when their subject matter is ugly or forlorn. "Revelations 21:8," scrawled on a dirty kitchen wall in one of Patterson’s photos as if prophesying doom resulting from the kitchen stove’s four burners left unattended, sets a foreboding tone. "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone," this cheery verse promises. That’s bad news for the ravenous consumers in Owens’s images, whose sins of the flesh range from ogling Victoria’s Secret models and worshipping Prada mannequins to sprinkling mystery meat with synthetic seasoning and tearing into jumbo ribs with unsated appetites verging on vengeance.

Heedless hedonism is slathered all over Owens’s pictures like rancid barbecue sauce: his subjects pig out in skimpy underwear and strike a pose or decompose depending on their place in the food chain. Only in Freud at the Met, in which three museumgoers study master painter Lucian Freud’s portrait of legendary performance artist Leigh Bowery in all his corporeal glory, does the contemplation of flesh finally satisfy our appetite for skin, sin, and salvation. Otherwise, "Flesh" inspires a desire for vigorous flossing.

Patterson leads us away from Owens’s designer bulimia and deep into Memphis, where so many have wandered before. Like the Japanese teens in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, Patterson is lured by the promise of musical transcendence and authentic American cool. Void of people but crammed with their stuff — twinkling Christmas lights, a Diary of a Mad Housewife paperback, a jukebox playing Floyd Cramer’s "Last Date," a poster of the classic Jam record that gives Patterson’s show its mod title — these photos testify to Paul Weller’s, Patterson’s, and Presley’s belief in music’s ability to alter its most receptive listeners and their environs, from Tennessee to Woking, forever and for the better.

Imbued with tunes blaring at bars, skating rinks, and house parties, Patterson’s photos are melodious, bluesy, and edged with guitar feedback. The brightly colored fluorescent tubes that illuminate the Cozy Corner Restaurant are like a Dan Flavin installation put to good use, while the neon Alex’s Tavern sign, shot from within the late-night lush lounge, vibrates through creased Venetian blinds. Patterson fills out his compositions with musical filigree: white graffiti clouds on a light blue brick wall, the curves of a vampiric temptress wielding her pet bat in a salacious painting decorating a well-worn watering hole, the striated lines and lies of a tattered American flag. The whoremongers, sorcerers, and idolaters of Revelation 21:8 might be damned, but eternal suffering for doing bad, bad things in run-down Southern towns doesn’t seem so awful when the fire-and-brimstone soundtrack features "That’s Entertainment."

Skateland emerges as the key work in Patterson’s show and also offers an elegiac alternative to the meat eating and meat beating so rampant in Owens’s series. In this nostalgic image, a giant roller skate adorned with wings soars above an abandoned rink, no doubt once the site of Xanadu-like bliss, into a perfect blue sky. All flesh is pure here, all sins are forgiven. Elvis has not left the building. *


Through Feb. 24, free

Tues.–Sat., 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m.

Robert Koch Gallery

49 Geary, fifth floor, SF

(415) 421-0122