“From San Francisco to Silicon Valley”

Pub date February 27, 2008
WriterMax Goldberg
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

REVIEW The camera loves San Francisco. Weather, light, hills, and landmarks all make it primary fodder for photographers, too many of whom hew to the postcard views. Known for his architectural documentation of the industrial outer rings of Europe’s cities, Italian photographer Gabriele Basilico came to the Bay Area to capture its transitional developments: Silicon Valley and the San Francisco of strange buildings and telephone wires. No Victorians or trolley cars here, which means that many viewers may recognize the city as they know it: construction, do-not-enter road signs, and a distant skyline; sunbathers in Dolores Park rather than the Golden Gate’s majesty; Verizon Wireless billboards; and the 76 gas station globe. A conventional picture of the Marin Headlands drifting in fog is interrupted by the foregrounding of high-rise apartments. A stunning landscape photo taken from Twin Peaks revels in the incongruities of our still-beautiful city, with grassy California hills overlaying the low-slung Sunset and Castro, and Market Street forming a V with a long afternoon shadow.

"From San Francisco to Silicon Valley" also includes a plethora of freeway shots, which makes sense, given the show’s title. Basilico shoots both the silent underpasses and the blurred velocity of downtown-bound cars. As we transition to the valley, the highways provide the visual link. Instead of giving way to a rising crowd of buildings, the roads beget alien corporate campuses and manicured exurbia. Basilico the architect gleefully frames the garish structures and sprawling sameness that define much of the Silicon Valley landscape, though his best portraits include counterpoint evocations of California nature. On the same floor of the museum, in "Picturing Modernity," Carleton E. Watkins’s photograph The Golden Gate from Telegraph Hill (circa 1868) presents San Francisco as a hungry upstart. More than 100 years later, Basilico’s shot of roughshod development in the hills outside San Jose tells a similar story.

FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO SILICON VALLEY Through June 15. 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, www.sfmoma.org