Glen Helfand

This is it


VISUAL ART In its opening week, the posthumous Michael Jackson film This Is It topped the international box office. It’s a testament to the enduring ardor of his fans. But one day in the not-so-distant future, the film will likely be core material in a media studies program. Perhaps even a Michael Jackson studies program.

In 2005, Candice Breitz, a Berlin-based, South African-born artist whose works of photography and video installation address the psychosocial power of pop, created King (A Portrait of Michael Jackson). Breitz’s multimedia project efficiently makes the case that the musician and his fans are engaged in a deeply complicated relationship, one with an infectious soundtrack. King is direct — 16 Jackson fans, videotaped singing and dancing to the entire Thriller album, are presented together in the gallery on plasma screens. The result is a dynamic image of the entertainer in which he never appears.

The similarly structured 2006 work Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon) is one of two celebrity-appropriating Breitz works currently on view at SFMOMA. Like a good pop song, it seduces with a hook and takes a complicated foothold in your consciousness. The second piece, 2005’s Mother, isolates scenery-chewing performances by six major Hollywood actresses: Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep.

"I’m turned on by the potential for the work of art to articulate complex ideas and simultaneously engage a broader audience which might not be as invested in the discourse of contemporary art," the highly articulate Breitz explains in a recent conversation. She offers what she terms "the South Park model," suggesting the subversive cartoon is something you can simply be entertained by or write a PhD dissertation on.

Breitz’s projects frequently manage to have it both ways. The Lennon piece beckons with the sound of familiar songs. But encountering 25 video monitors, each one slightly enlarging a passionate fan, is involvingly witty — and frightening, due to the intensity of the performances. These are people who clearly take the music to heart and have made it their own. Being able to look at them so closely in a gallery is an uncomfortably intimate experience — an effect perhaps achieved by the fact that each participant is recorded alone.

"I’m interested in the ping pong, that they’re there both as individuals who have their own subtle or radically different ways of interpreting their challenge, but also as members of what Benedict Anderson refers to as an ‘imagined community,’" Breitz says. "They don’t know each other, but by virtue of their shared interests they belong to an abstract community." This explanation concisely identifies a key component of the media-dependent condition of modern life.

The scenarios in Breitz’s works have been complicated by the popularity of American Idol and YouTube. Breitz views them with characteristic criticality. "In as much as I am flirting with those formats, there are certain elements of those programs I don’t care to embrace," she admits. "One is the way in which participants are humiliated and stripped of dignity."

The Breitz exhibition recalls Phil Collins’ crowd-pleasing 2005 dünya dinlemiyor, a chapter of his Smiths karaoke video project that SFMOMA presented in 2006. Collins’ piece also accesses powerful pop bonds, allowing one to see young Turkish fans deliver versions of Morrissey’s lyrics in flawless English. Coincidentally enough, Collins made a project (2005’s the return of the rea / gercegin geri donusu) about people who felt damaged and exploited by their participation in British reality TV shows. While one might imagine a rivalry between the artists, Breitz acknowledges an appreciation and dialogue.

"Who did it first?" she asks. "I find it fascinating when different people do something similar at the same time. I find it affirming — there’s a relevance [when] other people are thinking about the same things."

Mutual thoughts seem to have been entertained by the screenwriters of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Mommie Dearest (1981), which are among the vintage film sources for Breitz’s Mother. The piece essentially constructs new meanings from elements such as Faye Dunaway’s over-the-top performance as Joan Crawford and Shirley MacLaine’s fictitious Debbie Reynolds portrayal in Postcards from the Edge (1990). In the process, it spotlights the ways in which we embrace and consume maternal archetypes.

"There’s a tug of war for meaning going on, and at the end of the rope there are all of those existing meanings and identifications and desires already invested in that material," Breitz says. "And then there’s me — I’m doing my best to bring a new translation or angle."

She manages the feat, not least because her perspectives on her material and equipment are so spot-on. "I think of those plasma displays as vitrines," she says of the screens in her works. "They’re like glass boxes in the natural history sense. Almost immediately, what you put into them is something of the past — they’re less objects of our present than documents that refer back to something which was." Like the first time we heard that favorite Michael Jackson song.


Through Dec. 20., $9–$15 (free for kids and on first Tues.; half-price Thurs. evenings)

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000

Dead heat



TREND Summer’s not over, but it might not be too soon to identify Michael Jackson’s passing as the touchstone cultural event of season. Icons and paradigms have been crumbling at a remarkable clip: California narrowly avoided a financial abyss, stalwart businesses folded, major pop and art figures died. New Langton Arts, a venerable San Francisco alternative gallery, may not survive the season.

Art museums are inherently rigid institutions. As much as they’ve been loosening up with livelier programs, they exist to present, collect, and protect the ever-fracturing canon. It’s difficult not to survey San Francisco’s big-ticket summer shows without considering recessionary measures. As endowments shrank, it was widely reported that museums would be tightening their belts by concentrating on their collections rather than on creating expensive new shows, and by presenting exhibitions for longer stretches of time. These shifts seem more like retrenchment than exciting revisions.

The de Young Museum’s current "Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs" exhibition is perhaps more interesting as a barometer than as a well-designed (albeit to resemble a deluxe burial chamber) state-of-the-art showcase of ancient artifacts. It is, first and foremost, a return to proven formulas. Tut was the subject of the first museum blockbuster, and it worked like gangbusters for the de Young in 1979. Back then the boy king seemed to compete with a vibrant Farrah Fawcett for poster space on teen walls, but currently, evidence of him outside of banners on SF light poles seems scant. The pharaoh’s not the media darling he once was, but apparently the Fine Arts Museums, of which the de Young is a part, is banking on him. (Ironically, Tut is organized by a subsidiary of AEG Live, which also produced the ill-fated Michael Jackson tour.)

Tut is firmly placed as a multiseason blockbuster, a cash cow to be milked into spring. He’ll be followed by an Impressionism show, another safe bet the de Young has made before. The Legion of Honor’s print retrospective devoted to John Baldessari — an uncharacteristically contemporary artist for the space — will be followed in December by a Cartier jewelry show.

The Tut exhibition’s press preview was bolstered by official optimism and ample refreshments. There was a spread of Middle Eastern nibbles and pyramid-shaped servings of custard, and media reps left with gift bags containing a catalog and chocolates. It seemed like the old days, before endowments took their Madoff hits. There was a panel of speakers in the theater. Fundraiser socialite Dede Wilsey said she wished her sons were as successful as the king. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, spoke of Tut discoveries with entertaining bluster. Gavin Newsom worked the civic booster angle, touting a power trio of summer museum shows: "Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities" at SFMOMA ("Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004" had yet to open), "Chagall and the Artists of the Russian Jewish Theater, 1919-1949" at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and Tut at the de Young. Although each of these exhibitions puts forth a specific viewpoint on its subject — the Chagall show is driven by the fascinating sweep of political and theatrical history while "Natural Affinities" probes an artistic dialog — the list of names sounded emphatically conservative, even for summer blockbuster season. There’s not a living artist in the bunch.

This isn’t so strange — after all, big institutions follow Hollywood models by packing the houses with mainstream fare and saving the more thoughtful offerings for fall. Both SFMOMA and the de Young exceeded audience expectations last summer with their Frida Kahlo and Dale Chihuly shows, respectively. The de Young take was reportedly bumped up by brisk sales of pricey pint-size Chihuly sculptures. And due to the practice of sometimes booking shows years in advance, these offerings were in place before the downturn. How are they faring?

The de Young won’t release attendance figures until a show has closed — in the case of Tut, that means after March 28, 2010. A museum publicist could offer a cagey comment that "response from visitors has been phenomenal." (This despite the steep nonmember ticket price of $27.50.) SFMOMA is more forthcoming. It unofficially stated that Adams/O’Keefe held steady but admissions spiked when Avedon opened, almost recalling Kahlo crowds. (These exhibitions have a $5 surcharge.)

The Avedon show is handsome, with images of the famous in crisp black and white. So many of the subjects, though, are emphatically of another era — iconic celebrities and political figures who have passed. Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe, César Chávez, and various Kennedys, among others, are figures that continue to embody their cultural power in Avedon’s pictures. And Tut more than maintains his royal allure — gold holds its value. But finance gurus also tout making more unusual investments in times like these, and one hopes that our institutions will use this moment to engage in some portfolio diversification. *


Through Sept. 7

Contemporary jewish Museum


Through Sept. 7

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Through March 28, 2010

De Young Museum

Not being boring



There are reasons why John Baldessari has always seemed a little like god. For one, the L.A.-based artist resembles popular visions of the man upstairs. He’s a formidably tall fellow — 6 feet, 7 inches — with white hair and beard, and he exudes an unflappably calm, wise demeanor, characteristics that figure in his role as an influential professor for almost three decades at Calarts and UCLA. In Seven Days in the Art World, the dishy 2008 book-length look at the pre-downturn contemporary art scene, author Sarah Thornton describes Baldessari as "a hippie version of Michelangelo’s representation of the grand old man in the Sistine Chapel." It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that he makes art that you can faith in, if not always completely decipher.

At 78, Baldessari has amassed quite a body of work, even though he pared things down as one of his important early gestures, famously cremating his paintings to start afresh as a conceptualist. "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art" was the ironic mantra that fueled a 1971 video and his first print, in which he wrote the phrase repeatedly as if a punishment. Since that time, he has well managed to steer clear of boredom, his own and that of his viewers, with works that playfully address mediated culture and the making of art.

Baldessari received a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement award at the current Venice Biennale, and he’ll be honored with a retrospective at London’s Tate Modern this fall. In San Francisco, a thorough selection of his prints is on view at the Legion of Honor. While screenprints and lithographs aren’t usually considered primary works, Baldessari’s approach is so connected to mechanical reproduction — he relies on found images, text, and photography — that the exhibition’s 100-plus examples, all from the collection of Jordan Schnitzer, an Oregon-based Baldessari devotee, comprise a very satisfying survey.

Baldessari’s art is seductive, though surprisingly difficult to parse. His works can play like engaging rebuses that are thwarted by his frequent use of bold, primary-colored dots placed over faces and objects, seriously throwing their meaning into question. Just as often, however, a Baldessari can have a succinct visual/conceptual punch line, like his 1973 Throwing Three Balls in the Air to Get a Straight Line (Best of Thirty-Six Attempts), which in classic conceptual art fashion, is just what the title describes. That early work also exemplifies the sense of playfulness and pleasure often present in Baldessari’s art. It shouldn’t seem surprising that his prints can evoke Matisse’s buoyantly colorful Jazz cut-outs.

"I’m glad you saw that, he’s a huge influence on me," Baldessari says when I mention the Matisse connection during a recent interview. At the Venice Biennale award ceremony, he acknowledged his indebtedness to Giotto, Goya, Duchamp, and especially Sol LeWitt, the latter two being similarly playful conceptualists who played with systems to rejigger the way we think about life and art. Baldessari’s mode of operation involves breaking down mass-produced images until they take on new meanings. He has long collected 8 x 10 glossies from forgotten films, advertising campaigns, or various other commercial images that he reconfigures, crops, and/or paints over. Like Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills from the postmodern late 1970s, Baldessari’s sources are coded with meaning and narrative, but are emphatically anonymous. "If I know who it is, it’s ruined for me," he says.

Besides movie stills, Baldessari turns his attention to drab landscapes, mundane table lamps — resulting in a jaunty 1994 series of full-size reproductions with bold patches of color painted over the shades and shadows — and body parts, notably noses and ears (don’t miss the vacuum-formed piece mounted on the ceiling at the entrance of the Legion exhibition).

One room at the Legion is devoted to a 2004 series of prints of men playing guitars. The images are broken into layers, goosing the perspective by having some areas on thicker paper and turning the instruments into solid blocks of color. The story of their making offers a window into Baldessari’s process: "I’ve had these 8 by 10’s of rock and roll musicians for years," he begins. "I collect a lot of stuff because I’m repulsed by it, and that whole rock and roll musician thing does not interest me in the least. I just wonder, why are they popular? I had the photos for years and didn’t know what to do with them, and all of a sudden something clicked — the guitar is an element in art from Cubism, it’s always there with the bottle of wine and newspaper and a loaf of bread. So I thought, how does that work in a more contemporary context?"

He goes on to describe his interest in shapes in photographs, making perspective into a flat plane. "What if I just erase all the gradation and make shapes of color? When the guitars are tilted, they’re pretty interesting shapes, especially in context with gaudy costumes, glitter and bling. It’s an interesting collision."

Perhaps not a lightning bolt from above, but like most of Baldessari’s work, the clash creates subtle sparks. The kind you can believe in.


Through Nov. 8 (Tues.– Sun., 9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m.)


Legion of Honor

Lincoln Park, 34th Ave. and Clement, SF

(415) 750-3600

Don’t look back


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Twelve months ago, as I sat down to write a year-end appraisal of 2007, I was still in awe of "© Murakami," the Takashi Murakami show at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. It brilliantly captured the crass apex of global capitalism, mostly through celebrity-studded receptions and the appropriated — call it sculptural — form of a Louis Vuitton boutique. What a difference a year makes. At the close of 2008, the whole art world is watching as the highly regarded MOCA teeters precariously on a financial abyss, while Vuitton maven Marc Jacobs recently canceled his extravagantly performance-arty holiday party in the name of "recessionista" austerity.

Suddenly, commentaries on luxury goods seem so ’07, as evidenced by the critical response to a Chanel-sponsored, Zaha Hadid-designed quilted handbag exhibition that landed in Central Park this fall. "If devoting so much intellectual effort to such a dubious undertaking might have seemed indulgent a year ago, today it looks delusional," architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff opined in The New York Times. At this particular moment, it’s as difficult to summon up the flush feeling of the recent past as it is to contemplate a belt-tightening future.

To look forward is to confront anxious uncertainty. Optimists, however, anticipate a period in which art is tempered by a sense of hopefulness and focus rather than being driven by auction reports. Contemporary art will become more thoughtful, they predict. A good percentage of San Francisco art dealers jetted off to Miami for the recent spate of fairs, fingers crossed, expectations lowered. Word on the street said the outcome wasn’t as bad as expected, though sales were slow. Collectors actually had time to look and think about the art they were interested in, in contrast to automatically joining the grab-and-go sellers’ market of years past. Like everything else in our culture, the art world appears poised to embrace a more manageable scale. I wonder if this also means that art activities will become more homegrown.

This fall, the Bay Area saw a whole lot of contemporary art from China, with big shows at the Berkeley Art Museum ("Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art From the Sigg Collection") and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art ("Half Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art") providing a welcome crash course in Far East art production. It seems unlikely, though, that either will have a lasting impact on community consciousness. Interest in Chinese art mirrors an American preoccupation with economic miracles. Numerous Western galleries opened Beijing outposts this year, positioning for anticipated new markets, but fantasies of financial success have been exposed as illusion — much like the sounds and images from Zhang Yimou’s over-the-top opening of Beijing Olympics.

The Bay Area museum scene was robust in the summer. Unsurprisingly, "Frida" gave SFMOMA a summer blockbuster, albeit one outsold by "Chihuly at the de Young." The latter presented a problematic expression of the tensions between art, craft, and design — Kenneth Baker’s slam review in the San Francisco Chronicle incited a welcome, if contentious, flurry of public online dialogue. The Contemporary Jewish Museum opened its new building in June with solid shows and events, making that institution a more prominent cultural resource (albeit one that still needs to prove itself through upcoming programming). There were lower budget alternative visions to be found. A plethora of apartment and hallway galleries popped up around town. "Kiki: The Proof is in the Pudding," Ratio 3’s summer show honoring a now-legendary mid-1990s gallery in the Mission, , generated a surprisingly broad buzz, thanks to its range of notable artists with SF roots.

And then there was "Bay Area Now 5," a show that people, unfortunately, weren’t really talking about. Ambitious in intent, this edition of the regional survey hoped to offer a spin on international biennials. It included artists who recently moved to the area from distant countries, some guest-curated shows-within-the-show, and off-site events. But the result felt unfocused. Its off-kilter array of bizarre inclusions — such as Edmundo de Marchena’s jaw-dropper of a sculpture, a jiggling prosthetic genital homage to SF’s history of sexual compulsion — failed to please artists (both in and out of the show), appease local galleries whose artists were not represented, or register with a public looking for the current pulse of San Francisco art. Challenges to the market-based art world and programs that avoid the usual suspects are welcome strategies. But in this case, the quality of individual projects was subsumed by the muddled institutional vision of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. What is the point of "Bay Area Now" again?

Perhaps the misfired attempt would be forgivable if it hadn’t been bracketed by equally undercooked exhibitions ("The Way That We Rhyme," "The Gatherers: Greening Our Urban Spheres," and the cryptic "transPop: Korea Vietnam Remix" — a show in dire need of contextualizing wall labels). YBCA has a new visual arts director, former San Diego Museum of Art curator Betti-Sue Hertz, who will take the helm in early 2009. She has her work cut out for her.

As resources become more precious, frugal ingenuity is likely to take precedence in local art offerings. To cut costs, museums will be having fewer exhibitions with longer runs (some extending beyond six months). These time frames offer opportunities for deeper scrutiny — or heavier bouts of boredom. Something like SFMOMA’s current "The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now," even if it doesn’t live up to its promised scope, reflects an interest in collaborative involvement and the appeal of low-rent materials — rubber bands, anyone? Audiences are enjoying themselves, maybe even making repeat visits.

Perhaps homespun critical fantasy is the order of the day. The Wattis Institute’s "The Wizard of Oz," for example, fused a ragtag collection of contemporary art and historical artifacts into an amber-hued vision of the crumbling American dream. I wish I’d been able to see the Jeff Koons sculpture installed in the Château de Versailles, a more extravagant example of a visually and conceptually pointed spectacle — Koons’ mash-up of European and American relics forms another kind of dreamy Oz. Click your heels three times and repeat after me: there’s no place like home.


1. "Oranges and Sardines," Hammer Museum

Returning SFMOMA curator Gary Garrels’ current "conversations on abstract painting" exhibition in Los Angeles is one of the most satisfying, artist-friendly shows ever.

2. Philippe Vergne, lecture at San Francisco Art Institute

The recently-appointed director of the Dia Art Foundation offered incisive, inspirational, and witty takes on the melancholic state of the arts.

3. Speed Racer: The IMAX Experience (Andy and Larry Wachowski, USA, 2008)

This color-drenched amusement park ride of a movie lacks coherence and features the world’s most irritating child actor, but two-plus hours of nonstop electric rainbow CGI at IMAX scale turns eye-tickling into an endurance sport.

4. Seven Days in the Art World, by Sarah Thornton (Norton, 256 pages, $24.95)

As economies tank everywhere, there is no better time to get Thornton’s insider view of art fairs, auctions, art schools, and the like — it already seems like glam art history. Plus it’s great fodder for art opening chitchat.

5. Brendan Lott, at SF Art Commission Gallery and San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

Lott’s paintings — farmed out to painting towns in China and based on appropriated culturally revealing Flickr images of American teens — provided a remarkably concise picture of globalization.

6. Fritz Haeg, lecture at SFMOMA

Though the notion of garden-as-participatory-eco-artwork is beginning to seem rote, Haeg, a key figure in this movement, convinced skeptics with his self-aware and pleasurable take on social sculpture.

7. You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (Dennis Dugan, USA, 2008)

Adam Sandler’s crude, sure, but in this under-appreciated lark he joyfully takes on Arab-Palestinian conflict, the joys of intergenerational sex, the mall-ization of Manhattan, and vintage Paul Mitchell unisex cuts.

8. Park Life and Electric Works

These two relatively new gallery-bookstore entities, Park Life in the Richmond District and Electric Works in SoMa, have made good art seem accessible — in the collector sense — to everyone. If you can’t afford the originals or prints (Electric Works makes ’em), then you can buy into the highly selective inventory of art books at either place.

9. Love Songs (Christophe Honoré, France 2007)

This down-tempo spin on Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961’s A Woman Is a Woman and Jacques Demy’s 1964 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg restored my faith in French cinema, not to mention musical melancholy.

10. "Josephine Taylor: Bomb Landscape," Catherine Clark Gallery

Taylor first made a splash with delicately rendered, almost wispy epics of extreme family dysfunction and abuse. Her latest show is startling in its visual darkness and more dreamlike but still frightening surrealistic imagery.

“Lutz Bacher: ODO”


PREVIEW A continuous line of images adheres to the spacious walls of Ratio 3. They all seem to be produced on the same roll of sticky-backed paper. Thanks to visual literacy conditioning, we follow them as a narrative. There’s a picture of a weird blue guy standing in a forest, dolls, hunky male mannequins, a bearded guy being nailed to a cross, a smiling woman holding a thrift-store sculpture, a Photoshop view of a bottomless Laura Bush standing with her hubby, and other random sights. Videos of banal superstore interiors, fluffy dogs, landscapes, and more are projected in odd corners above our heads.

Lutz Bacher’s current exhibition is as oddly engaging as it is opaque. Don’t look to the press release for answers — it’s a handy recipe for butterscotch pudding. The show’s title refers to a character, played by René Auberjonois, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And yet reason pulses beneath the surface of this puzzling installation. You don’t really need to fully get it to tap into its strange intimacy. The images have a stream of consciousness quality similar to contents of an e-mailbox, where personal notes commingle with abject spam — a hefty percentage of the material on view made its way to the artist through that electronic media stream, and if the look of the pictures sometimes seems too hi-res to betray that source, all the better.

Bacher, whose work has involved a dry, incisive use of appropriated and self-made material (Vargas paintings, political joke books, a hauntingly glitchy self-made video of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Stadium), offers another clue at the start of the exhibition: an old-school overhead projector enlarges a handwritten thank-you list marking all that follows with a sense of the artist’s community. "ODO" is engrossing for the images alone, some of which depict the artist and her previous works. But ultimately, it offers an intuitive view — one that may not make immediate sense, but that flares in your memory at the most unexpected moments.

LUTZ BACHER: ODO Through Dec. 13. Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m. and by appointment. Ratio 3, 1447 Stevenson, SF. (415) 821-3371,

Margaret Tedesco


Walking down the street the other day, Margaret Tedesco was struck by an oddly inspiring slogan on a slick poster for a Las Vegas spa: Live vicariously through no one.

"I saw that and thought, ‘This is me,’" she says enthusiastically. "I have my own agenda, and the biggest thrill of all is the surprise I find living it myself."

The indie spirit of that comment may sound a bit self-centered, but Tedesco’s approach to that agenda always includes inviting others into the fold. Whatever she puts her mind to, be it performance (often involving film and a persona-altering blonde wig), choreography, photographic works, publications, or, most recently, the cozy, artist-run [ 2nd Floor Projects ] gallery in the Mission, it invariably brings people together in dialogue and shared experience.

Tedesco’s performance and wall-based art are in public circulation — she was included in "Bay Area Now 4" at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, is contributing a live piece to a program at Slaughterhouse Space in Healdsburg this month, and is currently part of a group show of artist-gallerists at Blankspace in Oakland. There, she has raided her archives to present images of her history, including her participation in political activism in the late 1960s.

But it’s [ 2nd Floor Projects ], which Tedesco debuted in April 2007, which has garnered the most consistent attention, both locally and in the international art press. The gallery is very much her space, and it functions as a Sunday afternoon salon, a place where you can count on finding interesting art and conversation. Chances are, Tedesco will tell you about another event that evening — a notable writer, perhaps, giving a reading in a similarly salon-like setting — or she’ll introduce you to another artist who just came in to see the show. She’s lived here two decades, time enough to know hundreds of creative souls, and she’s worked for years as a graphic designer at the San Francisco Art Institute, where she is as much a mentor to students as a support to faculty.

Tedesco, it seems, knows just about everyone, and not only within a single genre box. Her community is truly multimedia. It includes writers, artists, filmmakers, thinkers, activists, eccentrics, and adventurers of all stripes. And she actively brings people together as a component of her work. Combining her keen interests in art and writing, she produces a limited-edition publication for each of the exhibitions in her space, pairing a writer with an artist. For a randy show of rarely seen drawings and paintings by twin brothers and legendary filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar, poet Eileen Myles created a broadside. Novelist Dodie Bellamy wrote an appreciation of British artist Tariq Alvi for his exhibit at the gallery. For an upcoming show of works by the late filmmaker Curt McDowell, Tedesco has tapped filmmaker/writer William E. Jones, who, she learned, is planning a McDowell biography. I know from experience — Tedesco invited me to write for a show by Nao Bustamante — that the goal is to generate writing that exists outside the standard art magazine form.

This type of matchmaking is one example of the kind of vicarious thrill Tedesco thrives on. "The joy of any exchange is watching it perform before my eyes. I get to be surprised," she says. And so do we.

Xbox activism


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REVIEW The day after the last 2008 presidential debate, the stock market rollercoastered, however tenuously, to a high point, and oil prices plummeted. One would think those would be hopeful omens — on NPR, a woman interviewed on the street claimed lower gas prices were akin to a miracle. Yet the current ability to get the news the moment it happens — where would we be without e-alerts regarding daily Wall Street dramas? — has conditioned us to believe tomorrow might offer a radically different story. When OPEC calls an emergency meeting, and the US feds hold a global economic summit, who knows which side of the economic seesaw we’ll occupy at sunset?

Right now, you could say the economy is a form of conceptual art writ large, with real world implications. The numbers are based on shifts in mood and degrees of confidence, rather than anything you could really put your finger on (like cold hard cash). Apparently the idea that the earth’s thermostat is dialed up to a higher temperature is similarly conceptual. A surprising number of Americans — about 50 percent in a Pew Research Center poll taken last summer — believe there’s no such thing as global warming, and if there were, its causes cannot be scientifically determined. (Say bye-bye to the king penguin.)

Volatile situations have a way of generating free-floating cultural anxiety, and perhaps one of art’s jobs is to assuage it, or at least render it in unexpected terms and media. Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung’s Internet-based game project Gas Zappers does both. Using a colorful cast of characters wrested from online news outlets, it maintains a brash, interactive appeal as it tackles the implications of global warning and shifty petroleum economies. An animated digital collage, it takes two forms — a single-channel digital video, and a series of interactive computer games that can be viewed and played on a large flat screen monitor. It’s also accessible online.

The most attractive aspect of Gas Zappers‘ video version is its amped-up lucidity. Hung may be trafficking in environmental activism, but his vision of green takes on the gloriously corrosive hue of antifreeze. The piece is rendered in a color scheme you could describe as a toxic chemical rainbow. Art with social intent is often deemed didactic, but Hung steers clear of such charges with unabashed satire that plays like John Heartfield — the master of Hitler-hating WWII photomontage — meets South Park on YouTube.

Gas Zappers‘ appeal stems partly from the zeal with which Hung tosses cultural and political references. A polar bear, cast from its frozen habitat, navigates through a global landscape of energy issues — and celebrity spokespeople. Leonardo DiCaprio’s there, as is George W. Bush (as a barbecue grillmaster) and Al Gore (in a polar bear costume accessorized with Nobel bling). Al gags the prez on a compact fluorescent bulb and then sits on his face, issuing a forceful invitation: "Try my greenhouse gas, sucker."

Hung, who studied at San Francisco State University and showed an equally brash Internet-critique piece in Bay Area Now 3, is an artist of our moment. With this project, he has devised perhaps the perfect, time-filling, politically astute work for Berkeley tree-sitters — and those of us who wish we had the time and gumption to get up off our asses and make a difference.


Through Feb. 8, 2009

Berkeley Art Museum

2626 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-0808


Sino the times


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If the world-class flash of the Beijing Olympics isn’t enough of an example of China’s rising international cultural power, we’ll have continued reminders at Bay Area museums and galleries in the coming months. It’s perhaps a tipping point: Pace Beijing, a big outlet for a major western gallery, just opened, signaling a market vetting of art currently being made in China. In fact, a wide swath of Asia will the focus of the international art world this fall with a confluence of biennials — and a triennial — that rival the 2007 European "grand tour" of the "Venice Biennale," "Documenta," and "Münster Sculpture Project." This September sees the opening of biennials in Singapore; Taipei, Taiwan; Yokohama, Japan; Guangzhou and Shanghai in China; and Busan and Gwangju in Korea, the latter organized by Okwui Enwezor, dean of the San Francisco Art Institute.

So it does seem fitting, given our Pacific Rim position, that we at least reflect this activity. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art got a jump-start in the Sino-surveys, as "Half-Life of a Dream: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Logan Collection," opened prior to the Olympics and continues through Oct. 5. It’s a lively crash course in its subject, though the museum did give us one in 1999 — the pivotal "Inside Out: New Chinese Art," which included most of the artists on view now. The current show has the opportunity to provide scope — with newer works augmenting some classics — and the mix seems particularly smooth, no doubt because we have become far more familiar with China in general and with at least some of the cultural conditions that fuel the work.

"Half Life" satisfies with 50 pieces of painting, sculpture, and installations, but it seems modest in comparison to "Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection," a show that will fill almost the entire UC Berkeley Art Museum from Sept. 10–Jan. 4, 2009, with 141 works by 96 artists. Both exhibitions provide the opportunity to bring artists here and generate public dialogues, panel discussions, artist talks, and film screenings, which will play out in various venues around town. Berkeley’s show brings Ai Weiwei, a breakout international art star with intellectual buzz, out for a Bay Area residency.

One can’t help but notice that both these shows have "collection" in the title revealing a troubling sense of western ownership — a scenario suggesting that such works wouldn’t come to our attention without patronage. In this case, the collectors take on a passionate, fact-filled advocacy role: Swiss collector Uli Sigg has been supporting art in China for two decades, while Kent Logan, who has acquired works with his wife Vicki, writes extensively on his collection in the SFMOMA show’s catalog. Apparently it takes vision — and packaging — to float this work into a western context.

Other shows continue the focus on Asia, including Chinese sculptor Zhan Wang’s solo turn at Haines Gallery (Sept. 4-Oct. 4). His supershiny metal scholar’s rock is a highlight in the de Young’s sculpture garden, and that museum has organized a historical show with themes that may prove to be an interesting counterpoint: "Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900–1970" (Oct. 25-Jan. 18, 2009), which surveys work by Asian and Asian American artists who worked in the United States — albeit at a time when the art world was less heated and international than it is today. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and Mills College Art Museum expand the geographic scope with, respectively, Manila-Bay Area exchange show "Galleon Trade: Bay Area Now 5 Edition" (Sept. 4–Oct. 19) and "The Offering Table: Women Activist Artists from Korea" (Sept. 6-Dec. 7). The Asian Art Museum opens another can of cultural worms — and dazzling artifacts — with the historical "Arts of the Islamic World from Turkey to Indonesia," Sept. 5–March 1, 2009. One hopes that such exhibits expand on what we ordinarily think of as Asian art, contextualizing the current fascination with the contemporary Chinese art scene.


"Andrew Schoultz: In Gods We Trust," Sept. 4–Oct. 25. Reception Sept. 4. Marx and Zavattero, 77 Geary, SF. (415) 627-9111,

Renzo Piano’s California Academy of Sciences building opens Sept. 27. 55 Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park, SF. (415) 379-8000,

Teddy Cruz and Pedro Reyes, Oct. 17–Dec. 13. Reception Oct. 16. Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute, 800 Chestnut, SF. (415) 749-4563,

"Lutz Bacher: ODO," Oct. 31–Dec. 13. Ratio 3, 1447 Stevenson, SF. (415) 821-3371,

"The Art of Participation: 1950 to Now," Nov. 8–Feb. 8, 2009. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000,

>>More Fall Arts Preview

Hunters and collectors


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REVIEW It wasn’t so long ago that the term "curated" moved from dusty archive territory to popular lexicon. When did curated databases, boutique merchandise, and Netflix queues become commonplace? In the Bay Area, more than one school offers a master’s degree in "curatorial practice" — but who has a concise description of what that really means? The term has become elastic, perhaps because there’s too much material — of all sorts — to deal with in contemporary culture. Someone’s gotta figure out how to marshal and present it coherently.

Two current high-concept group exhibitions are equally about their curatorial premises and respective curators — Henry Urbach and Jens Hoffman — as the objects on display. Both have extended titles — "246 and Counting: Recent Architecture + Design Acquisitions" at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and "Passengers" and "The Exhibition Formerly … ," at the Wattis Institute at California College of the Arts — and will evolve during their runs into 2009. Both are activated by transparent systems that generate their form.

"246 and Counting" includes every object Urbach, SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser curator of architecture and design, acquired during his first two years at the museum. In the wall label, he admits the show "aims to focus our attention on collection building." It’s not a stretch to say it has something to do with shopping: Urbach, who previously ran a commercial gallery in Chelsea, NYC, admits as much in the audio guide: "To shop well is half my job" (the other is to experiment with "curatorial practice"). And the presentation will grow to include each new piece he buys before "246" closes. The exhibition itself is a surprisingly refreshing take on the "collection show," the homely, hometown sibling to the bigger traveling exhibit.

Playing out on low platforms and arranged chronologically based on the date the works were purchased or given, "246"<0x2009>‘s structured format ironically allows for a degree of irreverence. Urbach leans framed photographs by Richard Barnes against the wall, stacks 1986 Beosystem stereo equipment, and splays silkscreen posters by the beloved activist nun, Sister Corita, on the floor under transparent Plexiglas boxes. It’s the same means used to showcase an iPhone, a donation from Apple, credited to Jonathan Ive. The fact that many of us have one makes for an automatic entry point.

The objects are identified on laminated cards, so the display initially resembles a high-end vintage store or the apartment of an aesthete/design guru — the format affords an approachable sense of personality. Urbach’s gesture is one of exposure — of the museum’s hierarchy and of his own sensibility. He uses this to assert a curatorial identity, and the narrowed focus makes for satisfying, authored viewing. If there’s an inclusion you question, you know who’s to blame.

The former director of exhibitions at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art, Hoffman — who just completed his first year of programming at Wattis — expresses a similar tastemaker sensibility. The contemporary art has a more experimental vibe because the gallery doesn’t collect. It feels as if Hoffman selected his picks from international art fairs. As noted on the Wattis Web site, "Passengers" is a "constantly transforming exhibition of emerging international contemporary artists, none of whom have ever had a solo presentation in an American public art institution." It’s structured around 12 artists: 11 with a few pieces, and one with a somewhat larger presentation, in a literal white cube space, before the latter artist leaves the show and another from the 11 remaining cycles into the bigger box.

The eclectic range of works — by artists familiar to Frieze readers but who will probably turn up in biennials down the line — tend to be funky and/or conceptual in bent and include Annette Kelm’s serial photos of a woven baseball cap; Valérie Mréjen’s short films about enacting various identities; and Federico Herrero’s painting project (though Aug. 30), which also involves a mural on a Potrero Hill home.

On Sept. 2 the show morphs into "The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers" — coincidentally with a showcase of works by San Francisco artist Tauba Auerbach, whose Alphabetized Bible (2006) is included, in editioned form, in "246" and "Passengers." The exhibition’s form will shift as well: after each solo presentation, the artist will leave the show, but none will be added. The final artist, Aurelien Froment, gets the entire space in August 2009. This may not be fair to the previous "Passengers," but it does make for a tidy denouement.

Like "246," the "Passengers" structure is perhaps more memorable than any of its works, making both meta-projects: shows about the act of making shows. It’s fitting, then, that Hoffman’s title salutes Prince, who has constantly reinvented himself, the structures of music distribution, and performance platforms. The musical artist has had his share of misfire projects, but you always know he’s going to come up with some convincing new challenge to cultural consumption. *


Through Jan. 4, 2009

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

151 Third St., SF

For hours and prices go to


Through Aug. 30

"The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers" runs Sept. 2–Aug. 29, 2009

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

1111 Eighth St., SF

For hours go to



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Biennials, triennials, and whatever other rotation of years, are place-based exhibitions. They obviously happen somewhere, and the place dictates the context. The "Whitney Biennial 2008," for example, focused on "American art," an increasingly ambiguous term — in recent years the show has included growing numbers of artists with hyphenated identities. "Today there are more artists working in more genres, using more varieties of material, and moving among more geographic locations than ever before," reads the blurb on the Web site for this year’s edition. "By exploring the networks that exist among contemporary artists and the work they create, the Biennial characterizes the state of American art today."

That sense of international movement seems to be informing the shape and scope of biennials everywhere, creating curatorial fashions that are almost predictably inventive — and often place structural concepts ahead of visual appeal. The West is riding a surge of art surveys, and you just have to skim the institutional rhetoric to sense how complicated, or perhaps rote, the idea of location has become.

The current Site Santa Fe biennial in a very identifiable New Mexico location is a salient example. It was created by the curator/organizer, Lance Fung, who contacted curators at alternative spaces around the world and asked each to recommend artists. The 22 selected artists and collectives were commissioned to produce ephemeral "site-inspired" projects. As the release notes, "All the works are created on site, and are informed by this specific locale and the surrounding Santa Fe environs…. Much of the show has actually occurred prior to the opening, on the ground in Santa Fe, and prior to that, in virtual space, as ideas, proposals, and thoughts that have been transmitted around the world." The show contains just one collaborative team that lives in Santa Fe.

According to its Web site, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ fifth triennial "Bay Area Now" exhibition, opening Saturday, July 19, "explores questions around how to re-imagine a regional survey in the midst of globalization." The Bay Area is an interesting case in this regard because it is a fairly self-enclosed, self-defined site — and unlike the Santa Fe show, few people will travel to San Francisco just to see "BAN 5." Curators Kate Eilertsen and Berin Golonu tackle this formidable scenario with a cross-generational, cross-disciplinary gallery exhibition and four guest-curated shows that "will diversify ‘Bay Area Now”s curatorial vision and extend the artwork beyond the walls of our galleries and beyond the confines of our region." It remains to be seen how successfully they meet the challenge.

It’s interesting to compare "BAN 5" rhetoric with that surrounding the "2008 California Biennial," which opens in October at the Orange County Museum of Art. (Full disclosure: I contributed a short interview to the catalog.) "How does one approach a regional biennial?" states the promotional literature on the show’s Web site. "In a climate of globalism and transnationalism, how does a regional biennial serve artists and audiences? What is distinctive and different about cultural production at this point in time, in this context? How does one approach contemporary artistic practices based on locational parameters?"

The "CAB," organized by Lauri Firstenberg, will also stage off-site projects at venues such as Estación Tijuana, an independent exhibition space in Tijuana, Mexico, and SF’s Queens Nails Annex, a space that hosts BAN 5 as well. Extending an exhibition’s geographical reach is admirable and interesting, though those efforts may fracture these shows and make them harder to see — one wonders, if you just make it to Queens Nails, will you really see "BAN 5" or "CAB"?

The parallels are distinct and reflective of the zeitgeist. But as much as we’d like to think these exhibitions are about now, they most directly reflect the years in which they were organized. America will be getting a new president, but it’s shrinking from rising fuel costs and economic woes. In such an environment, regional identity — think locavores — most likely will grow stronger. Here’s hoping "BAN 5" captures some of that energy.

Tech art 2.0


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REVIEW Does anyone still truly abide by the hope that technology is the benevolent force that can deliver a luminous future? Sure, we’ve got biotech, greentech, and Web 2.0 to tackle disease, our environmental sins, social alienation, and economic downturn. But at the same time, who isn’t aware of the corporate capitalist machinery and toxic waste that will accompany the next Apple marvel or Monsanto-engineered miracle crop? Can a Silicon Valley researcher really find a way to reverse global warming?

We all hope for, and perhaps believe in, that miracle cure. It’s a way to generate optimism, however slight. This is the cultural condition that serves as the thematic starting point of "Superlight," the San Jose Museum of Art exhibition component of the second biennial 01SJ Global Festival of Art on the Edge, a technology-focused series of live events, most held June 4-8. The show, curated by Steve Dietz, and the festival are rooted historically in what may be called electronic and digital art, but "Superlight" finds thematic inspiration in the more generally pervasive, free-floating anxieties of our greenhouse gas–warmed psychic atmosphere: environmental and economic meltdowns, food shortages, personal disappointments, and the like. Recognizing that most of these conditions are brought about by the same technological advancements that are looked to for ways of stabilizing if not rectifying those conditions, Dietz presents a couple dozen solo and collaborative artists not as saviors, but as people who can "aerate and illuminate" our contemporary concerns.

It’s no accident that the show presents a range of media, not all of it plugged in, and much of it formed with hybridized materials and approaches. If the digital art genre was not so long ago equated with computer screens and chirping electronic soundtracks — don’t worry, you’ll find some of that here, and in Second Life corollaries to some pieces — the atmosphere of the galleries suggests analog objects and psychological positions that aerate some of that virtual space.

It happens in a delightfully literal manner in Taiwanese artist Shih Chieh Huang’s perversely adorable robotic creatures made from plastic bags, water bottles, and electric fans. The sculptures gracefully appear to breathe as the bags fill and evacuate, and they have light components that glow in the heightened colors of late model car dashboards. The vibe is more troubling in psychologically tinted — and somewhat glitchy — interactive works such as Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Global Mind Radar/Reader (an Emotional Barometer), which takes a cultural pulse as a female figure, projected inside a glass dome "blogosphere," goes through a series of emotional gestures responding to live blog input concerning current events. That position is echoed in Bruce Charlesworth’s installation Love Disorder, which is tartly described in exhibition text: "A huge projected video character has ambivalent feelings about you." And he’s not shy about expressing them. These works use anthropomorphism to generate identification with the machinery, though the latter two tout complex, glitch-friendly technology that dare us to believe, or at least question, if they actually work.

Mixed emotions also infuse Daniel Faust’s elegantly composed and slightly wistful color photographs of now-historic Silicon Valley corporate architecture and outmoded data archives, depicting them as stately yet oddly humble. The images are visually skewed toward a modernist history via research facility. That kind of past idealism is perhaps behind the utopian-themed collaborative projects by Free Soil and Red 76, which tap into a pervasive yearning for utopian endeavors, both on earth and Second Life sediment. These works, however, find their most vital components outside the museum — in tours and social gatherings — and their diagrams and historical artifacts are more confusing than illuminating.

More insistent is the video documentation of projects by HeHe (Helen Evans and Hieko Hansen), a pair of Paris designers who harness carbon-filled industrial pollution, second-hand smoke, and various light sources to urge us to look at the world, and the amazing possibilities in available hardware and software, with an uneasy sense of wonder. From a literal standpoint, their pieces fit this exhibition’s premise best: their use of illumination resembles a technologically fortified nature that manages to inspire as it metaphorically sticks our noses in holes in the ozone. If that’s not superlight, what is?


Through Aug. 30

Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

San Jose Museum of Art

110 S. Market, San Jose

$5–$8, free to members and children under 6

(408) 271-6840,

Faith-based initiative


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REVIEW The Contemporary Jewish Museum was founded in 1984 as the Jewish Museum San Francisco, and "starchitect" Daniel Libeskind’s building design, which seemingly bursts out of an 1881 vintage brick facade opposite Yerba Buena Gardens, began taking shape nearly a decade ago. But for all intents and purposes, the CJM’s opening this week marks the launch of a new art space that must affirm its brand identity on our cultural landscape. The folks behind this identity-based museum aim to instill a sense of belief in the place as a meaningful institution and to lure repeat visitors — Jews and non-Jews alike. With a prominent public location — and what could be a decent café — the odds are in its favor.

Other factors might continue that momentum. The building itself is a bold yet restrained move by an architect whose Jewish Museum in Berlin tends to overshadow its contents. The CJM, however, succeeds in feeling both formidable and intimate. The spaces balance form and function: they look good and seem like they can accommodate and contextualize the works within. Still, the programming itself should be the primary element in attracting viewers.

The opening offerings include a delightful survey of work by the New Yorker cartoonist William Steig, organized by the Jewish Museum, New York, and a sound series selected by John Zorn. But the centerpiece exhibition, "In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis" — an ambitious, CJM-organized conglomeration of newly commissioned installations and historical and contemporary artworks and artifacts — is a clear sign the admin is taking the museum’s challenge seriously and thinking big.

The show is designed to offer entry points to a range of viewers, its biblical foundation rooted in the Old Testament volume of Genesis, which speaks to Christians and Jews and allows the concept of creation to relate to art, religion, and science. The curators — museum director Connie Wolf, deputy director Fred Wasserman, and assistant curator Dara Solomon — abide by an imperative not to restrict exhibited works to pieces by Jewish makers. "In the Beginning" unfolds in a hallway antechamber with a flat-screen monitor displaying a grainy video of images of the Earth and the moon as seen from Apollo 8, television footage widely seen on Christmas Eve 1968, with audio of the astronauts reading the opening verses of Genesis. The inclusion points to a curatorial openness to pop-cultural artifacts as part of a contemporary art dialogue.

The seven commissioned installations are the headliners in the expansive temporary exhibition space, and they’re by a deliberately diverse group of artists. There are pieces by Matthew Ritchie and Trenton Doyle Hancock, artists who set down complex personalized cosmologies that essentially are their own elaborate creation myths, and both manage to create works with visual appeal. For a piece titled Day One, Ritchie uses a couple of gently angled walls for a graphically ornate mural that accommodates orb-shaped projections of roiling, animated landscapes, sun flares, flocks of ambiguous black shapes, and a soundtrack of the artist pondering existence and creation. A more rambunctious spirit pervades Hancock’s In the Beginning There Was the End, in the End There Was the Beginning, which is set against dizzying cartoonlike wallpaper and depicts a mythological narrative involving characters called Mounds and lowly Vegans.

The exhibit’s inspiration is literary, and text appears frequently, as in the somewhat vertigo-inducing animated work by Shirley Shor, an ex-Bay Area resident who swirls projections, in English and Hebrew, of Web-gathered references to Genesis down a wishing-well structure. Ben Rubin contributes God’s Breath Hovering over the Waters (His Master’s Voice), a sound sculpture inspired by an antenna developed by Bell Labs physicists in the 1960s that, according to the artist, led to audible evidence of the Big Bang. A Kabbalistic-inspired work by Mierle Laderman Ukeles is the show’s most spiritual, and involves layered audience participation including forging a personal covenant with the artist, the public, and the self.

Filmmaker Alan Berliner adds a more crowd-pleasing form of participation with Playing God, a satisfying interactive, seven-channel video — one for each day of creation — installation that emulates a slot machine as it generates phrases with words from Genesis. Audio-visual jackpots can be had, and pushing the glowing buttons quickly becomes addictive.

The show’s inclusion of historical and archival material is a riskier gambit. While designed to enrich the exhibition themes, adding objects such as a 15th-century biblical manuscript page, a Tiepolo drawing, Tom Marioni’s shadowbox assemblages, and Barnett Newman’s 1948 painting Onement II starts to seem cluttered, or, as they say in Yiddish, ungehpotchkeyed. Still, the "something for everyone" approach clearly stems from a gracious perspective or brand, not an obfuscating one. And that’s a curatorial position worth a return visit.


Opening exhibits include "In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis," Sun/8–Jan. 4, 2009; opening events include "Dawn 2008," Sat/7, 8 p.m., $10-$15 with Dengue Fever and Jonathan Safran Foer; grand opening Sun/8, 10 a.m. ribbon-cutting, 11 a.m. doors, free.

Contemporary Jewish Museum

736 Mission, SF

(415) 655-7800,

Starry-eyed and stripped


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REVIEW More than one witness has reported that Mayor Gavin Newsom, fiancée in tow, dropped by the jam-packed opening reception for photographer Ryan McGinley’s show at Ratio 3. The civic-minded pair joined the fray of cool kids and art world cognoscenti — I heard John Waters and Todd Oldham were there — and in some ways the appearance was apropos: the artist and politician share a lineage of tall, charismatic Irish Catholics who inspire others to action. Noting celebrity, political, and religious connections is admittedly a little suspect in a review of a contemporary art show; still, the youthful but stately mayor’s presence at a gallery on a somewhat gritty Mission side street has meaning as an expression of the widespread appeal of McGinley’s pictures. Who could resist lush images of nubile white boys and girls cavorting naked amid what seem like national parks and roadside America?

McGinley is a particularly American artist. One of the photographs on view is even a dead ringer for an Andrew Wyeth painting. Rather than Christina crouched in the wheat field, McGinley’s Running Field (2007-08) offers a lithe young woman dashing through golden rolling hills wearing only white sneakers. His choreographed vision is a brand of hipster organic purity, a dream of back-to-the-land naturalism and free love.

McGinley also manages to straddle a number of positions and demographics. Among the 16 pictures in this satisfying exhibition, there’s full frontal male nudity, and a wonderful image of a shirtless blond guy embracing a black bear, both of which unabashedly read as queer. A centrally placed picture of a group of hikers in a rocky canyon plays like a still from an update of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point (1970). McGinley’s photograph exudes cineaste hippie-spiritual vibes, as does the acid trippy image titled Blue Falling (2007-08), in which the silhouette of a male figure — the hair on his legs crisply visible in profile — is seemingly suspended in an intensely hued sky. Dakota’s Crack Up (2007-08), visualizing an ebullient male/female couple caught in an active moment of undressed while roller-skating, brims with both clothing-optional resort appeal and fashion photo bravado.

The youth and nakedness of this universe seems to be related to Larry Clark’s kid obsessions, except McGinley is still young himself — he had a solo show at the Whitney five years ago, when he was 24 — and his surprisingly wholesome pictures are more hooked on fresh air and community than the more troubled eroticism of the wizened though still dreamy-eyed elder artist. A cinematic influence also binds these two figures. Most of the photos in McGinley’s show blur the line between naturalism and studio artifice: the hikers on the rocks are positioned in light in such a way that they appear to have been inserted digitally, the woman in Fireworks Hysteric (2007-8) seems to be floating in a glittering, celestial space, as do other subjects who have been catapulted into thin air. And is that a naked dude embracing a stuffed animal or a real live bear?

According to the artist, the animal is a living thing, albeit a trained one. He also admits the colors in his works are achieved through an intense darkroom practice. That gray area between the real and the imagined works in the artist’s favor, lending his images a sense of the uncanny: the activities captured in his photos did happen, though they come across as otherworldly.

There’s also a performance art backbone to McGinley’s process. His photos depict a team of models, cast for their looks as well as their athletic abilities, who travel together for extended periods. The constant contact promotes intimacy and physical fearlessness, and while they are very believable as an actual pack of marauding, hopeful young people, they are in fact a constructed entity — a family of paid actors directed by an artist with a clear vision of a kind of communal lifestyle. McGinley assuredly realizes these images, but they don’t come off without some suspicion. Where can these photographs go from here? The likeability of the pictures — and models — is tinged with envy and perhaps a resentment of the cool high school kids who seem impervious to social or sexual obstacles. That McGinley’s models reportedly sustain their share of photo-shoot injuries only attests to his winning feats of fiction. It all appears so smooth and dreamy. I don’t know what the mayor thought, but in the end, McGinley’s work won me over, and I want the feeling to last. *


Through June 21

Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371

Karaoke revolution



REVIEW The radio at my neighborhood Laundromat is a source of pop music melancholy. That a-ha song "Take on Me" gets me misty while folding socks — damn it.

Something similar happened when I first saw British artist Phil Collins’s captivating Smiths karaoke video project, dünya dinlemiyor (Turkish for "the world won’t listen") at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2006. The piece documents Turkish Smiths fans performing versions of the band’s classics in front of high-keyed landscape photo backdrops — many depicting sites far more tropical than Istanbul. Throughout the run of the exhibition, the cozy projection room was packed with people who stayed far longer than they would for more blatantly arty video pieces. They laughed with empathy — and perhaps to deflect the mix of emotions roused by their own powerful memory triggers.

Dünya dinlemiyor was just one-third of a recently completed trilogy by Collins: to bracket his shoot in Istanbul, he also conducted karaoke sessions at Bogotá, Colombia, and two Indonesian cities. All three were recently united as a triptych at the Dallas Museum of Art. That Texas metropolis — site of the 1992 concert DVD Morrissey: Live in Dallas — is a long way from here. But the monograph produced for the exhibition, Phil Collins: the world won’t listen (Yale University Press, 132 pages, $45), serves as something akin to an edifying concert brochure. This is particularly true of a historical essay (regarding the Smiths oppositional relationship to Thatcherism and corporate label hegemony) by music critic Simon Reynolds.

In addition to Reynolds’s observations, Phil Collins: the world won’t listen includes still photos from videos, related imagery, two other illuminating essays, and a particularly engaging interview with Collins. "Karaoke is a form of joyful treason in which you quite materially supplant your idol," he tells the book’s editor, Dallas Museum curator Suzanne Weaver. Her conversation with the artist illuminates his interest in mediated subjects, and positions his Smiths project as an anti–American Idol. "Every single season [American Idol] is about complete conformity around the idea of the songbook," he observes. Collins’ Smiths project shatters that conformity, presenting an international range of people swayed by the idiosyncratic, outsider, emo aura of, say, "The Boy with the Thorn in His Side."

Critic Bruce Hainley links American Idol to the George W. Bush administration in a manner that — fittingly, considering that the Smiths are a touchstone of Collins’s project — combines longing with astute social observation. "What does it take to be a celebrity (not a star), circa 2007?" he asks, and then provides the American Idol–inspired answer: "Twelve weeks, and consumers voting with more gusto than they have voted in any recent American presidential election." Just as insistently, Hainley points to the crush-generating erotic lure of pop music collateral, citing a shirtless Joe Dallesandro on the cover of the first Smiths album, as well as the camera’s apparent lust for a Smiths fan in a red T-shirt in Collins’s Bogotá-set video. Next, Liz Kotz provides descriptive insight into Collins’s other works, which subvert standard practices of popular media in their depictions of Kosovo refugees, Iraqi citizens, and people emotionally scarred by their appearance on reality TV.

Because musical performance is so central to Collins’s work, it’s a shame that this slip-cased volume doesn’t include a DVD with a few song snippets and examples of the similarities and differences between each national version of the project. But there are compensations: the book does sport images of the Smiths’ set lists, an unauthenticated 1981 handwritten note from Morrissey, and Hainley’s comic acknowledgment of Collins’s pop music namesake: "Why not Genesis karaoke?"

Double talk


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PREVIEW I approached a meeting with Gilbert and George, the joined-at-the-hip-since-the-late-1960s so-called living sculpture, with some trepidation. How does one interact with such a well-honed identity in a way that resembles a real conversation? How do you talk to a work of art?

Thankfully, the pair are a burnished public entity with manners — and demeanors that may seem a bit canned but not exactly insincere. They wear their trademark suits: Gilbert, 65, the shorter, Italian-born half, in gray tweed, and George, 66, the slightly ruddy-skinned, bespectacled Brit, in beige. Their time-honored uniform sets them apart, though at the same time they could be ordinary insurance salesman: these suits don’t seem like designer artifacts. The only hint at a subversive side are matching ties with splotches suggestive of some body fluid or another. The artists are warm and friendly, like real people, like a pair of eccentric uncles. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that they’re not particularly quirky, theatrical, or difficult to engage. Then again, a 40-year life and art partnership can result in a comfortable public face.

They give me a tour of their in-progress de Young Museum show. Even without much lighting, a magisterial, pop art stained-glass-window effect is apparent. The pieces are huge and colorful and address urban conditions, religious hegemony, and boys, boys, boys. There’s barely a female figure to be seen in these galleries not long ago inhabited by Vivienne Westwood.

"Gilbert and George" is a reduced version of the Gilbert and George retrospective presented at the Tate Modern last year: "It was four times bigger," Gilbert states. (He seems to be the practical sort, frequently pointing to facts while George philosophizes.) Apparently, it was the largest such show the British museum has ever presented. A working model of the gallery is a key part of their process in plotting out their exhibition, and there’s one on a table with tiny, hand-drawn versions of the expansive pieces on the wall. "We do all of this ourselves," Gilbert announces, referring to the layout, although more than once he makes that claim in terms of the production of their work. The tinted photo-collage work used to be done by traditional photographic and hands-on graphic arts techniques, though they shifted to working on the computer in 2001. "But you can’t tell the difference," he boasts.

Among the first things they tell me is that a piece from 2005 titled Was Jesus Heterosexual? was edited out of the show’s United States tour by the Brooklyn Museum for its religious content — not a shock given that was the site of the 1999 "Sensation" controversy that involved another generation of English artists and Christian icons. "All the American journalists in London say, ‘How uptight you British are,’ when it’s really the other way around," George says wryly. I get the impression they enjoy the ruckus, as their work regularly generates lively debate: for example, their big pictures of turds, including a panoramic one on view here.

It comes as no surprise, then, that they’re tickled by double entendres and randy references. Pointing to a typically large-scale work with the term spunk in the lower right corner, George expresses concern that it may not make sense here: "Do Americans even know that word? What is it here, jism?" I wonder if this is a playful, flattering ploy, as he speaks as if these were obscure terms, like I’m in on the secret. In a similar spirit, he asks me to identify a fuzzy gray image, instantly recognizable as a crab. "And not the kind you get at Fisherman’s Wharf," Gilbert giddily interjects. As they make repeated references to a kind of authenticity — "We photograph everything ourselves," they say — I ask where they got the subject. "Same place you would," George lobs back quickly.

That comment is more than a characteristic bon mot. Though Gilbert and George are not exactly ordinary characters, their subjects are as elemental as piss, shit, and blood — not to mention bottles of booze — which inform some of the earlier works seen here. These elements’ associations are hardly rarefied topics. As we’ve worked our way backward, we end up at a wall of small black-and-white photos of the pair posing together beneath trees in 1971. "We were so young and innocent," George confesses, revealing that beneath the bolder proclamations of their work, there’s even some love.


Through May 18

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

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive

Golden Gate Park, SF

(415) 750-3614

J-pop sucker punch


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Visceral reactions are the last thing one might expect from the perversely brilliant "© Murakami," Takashi Murakami’s well-publicized survey exhibition at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art. The telling copyright symbol that precedes the artist’s name in the exhibition title fits the cool, post-Warholian corporate-style control he exerts over his art and his identity. The Japanese but globally recognized artist is the kingpin of tweaked J-pop, a genre associated with plastic Hello Kitty cute, and he’s the CEO of his own brand and studio-factory, Kaikai Kiki Co., from which he produces his paintings, sculptures, products, and films, as well as promotes other Japanese artists who work in the manga-inspired vein he has dubbed Super Flat.

Yet despite the surface gloss in the sprawling exhibition of nearly 100 works — and throngs of viewers — I repeatedly experienced powerful gut reactions to a spectacle that is less interesting for any specific painting, sculpture, or animation than for functioning in totality as a well-burnished plastic mirror of a world driven by glittering global capitalism. The overall picture, not to mention the feeling that accompanies it, is surprisingly haunting.

I first felt the kick in a room wallpapered with Murakami’s densely patterned 2003 Flower (Superflat) and fitted with equally floral paintings and a plastic spherical sculpture. The deceptively cheerful motif is smiley face rams flower power, their collision erupting in fields of multicolored daisies with superwide grins. The room’s bright shades and perky promises are totally alluring — for about 30 seconds. Then it’s apparent these are more carnivorous plants than Todd Oldham–designed FTD bouquets. The sheer force of all of that glee hits you with the psychic equivalent of an ate-all-your-Halloween-candy stomachache. It’s potently repellent in a way that signals effective, not necessarily likable art making. As with the überfriendly, consumerist sculptures of Jeff Koons — an artist Murakami cites as an influence — viewers experience either love or hate and often neglect to note the power of the feeling.

Murakami, though, is more familiar to and apparently adored by a broad audience that doesn’t ordinarily imbibe contemporary art, his popularity perhaps due to the mass production of many of his objects and images, which are available internationally in Louis Vuitton shops, knockoff stalls, and affordable, hip outlets such as Giant Robot. Nearly 16,000 people saw the show in its first week, a record that prompted MOCA to craft a media release touting the stars of film and fashion who attended the opening festivities: Angelica Huston, Casey Affleck, Christina Ricci, Cindy Crawford, Courtney Love, Dita Von Teese, Naomi Campbell, Ellen DeGeneres, and Portia de Rossi. There were artists in the house as well — Ed Ruscha and Robert Graham are the only ones listed in the release — but the celebrity roster does much to tip Murakami’s balance of high and low culture to sea level.

I experienced a second and more powerful gut reaction, a true frisson, inside the show’s infamous, fully operational Louis Vuitton boutique, a project leveraging Murakami’s successful multicolore collaboration with the luxury brand. Perched on a mezzanine above the cartoon mushroom sculptures and a giant metal Murakami self-portrait as a stylized Buddha, the shop is a gleaming white box with projected designs animating its exterior, an object positioned inside the show as a participatory installation. That is, you have to pay museum admission to enter the establishment. And once I did, I felt a sense of the uncanny. Bathed in the fluorescence of display case light, I found myself in an alternate universe where people happily, without a shred of irony, shelled out nearly a grand for handbags of a new Murakami LV design available exclusively at MOCA, inspiring international shoppers to make a trip to an art museum for their label fix. This brilliant gesture makes viewers complicit in the act of fervent consumption. Like it or not, we are the subject, the Duchampian readymades, in this setting, and the conceit works brilliantly.

We may view the consumer frenzy as Western, but according to reporter Dana Thomas’s luxury-brand exposé, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster (Penguin, 2007), nearly 40 percent of Japanese citizens own a Vuitton product, for complex reasons: "By wearing and carrying luxury goods covered with logos, the Japanese are able to identify themselves in socioeconomic terms as well as conform to social mores. It’s as if they are branding themselves." The latter sentiment perfectly pegs the "©" before Murakami’s name in this exhibit’s title, but the former points to the superficial Nipponphilia that has stateside audiences lapping up his art’s toylike qualities without always noting his references to Japan’s cultural context: Murakami’s work has much to do with a postwar condition of defeat and a subsequent sense of infantilism due to the United States military presence. Shopping is a component of that complicated mix, as well as a global phenomenon.

Elsewhere hipsters with various incomes and more manga-fied tastes were equally implicated in shopping as they formed a queue to enter the lower-priced former bookstore heaped with more affordable but equally coveted Murakami brand items. Many of the T-shirts, toys, etc., are also displayed in spotlighted niches in a dimly lit installation in the show, a room that plays like a mausoleum for discontinued tchotchkes. It is a solemn space at odds with the toyness of most of the objects inside.

Murakami cooked up more corporeal pop for yet another space: a screening room carpeted with a characteristic motif where the packed house of adults sat like kids ready for cartoons. Three films were shown, including the animated video for Kanye West’s "Good Morning," off Graduation (Roc-A-Fella, 2007), and an odd clip from an in-production live-action feature about an impotent gangster. Most memorable, though, was the first in a series of animated adventures of the Murakami characters Kai Kai and Kiki in which the screeching childlike creatures zip through a narrative involving watermelons the size of planets and human shit that makes them grow. Everyone poops, Murakami duly notes, and everyone buys. Like it or not, he captures our basic instincts and biological imperatives with surprising truthfulness. Bring your wallet.


Through Feb. 11, $5–$8

Mon. and Fri., 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.

Geffen Contemporary

Museum of Contemporary Art

152 N. Central, Los Angeles

Staying power


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Looking back at the Bay Area art scene in 2007 affirms our perennial difficulty in holding on to ambitious players. It’s an oft-repeated story. Given San Francisco’s commitment to nonprofit and alternative models over commercial ones and the high cost of living, artists find it easier to start off than to build their careers here. Since the art world in general has been buoyed by brisk sales, art fairs, and biennials, the Bay Area’s condition applies as much to high-profile curators, dealers, and administrators as to artists.

Curatorial flux is particularly apparent. Madeleine Grynsztejn, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture since 2000, recently announced her new position as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. René de Guzman left his post as director of visual arts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to become senior curator at the Oakland Museum of California. Daniell Cornell, currently the director of contemporary art projects and curator of American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, will become the deputy director for art and senior curator at the Palm Springs Art Museum, while the Berkeley Art Museum — which is embarking on a capital campaign for a new building — saw senior curator Constance Lewallen and director Kevin Consey leave for various reasons. This means there are a number of key positions that, when filled, will change the directions of these important venues. Or will they? Such turnovers have happened before, and frankly, institutions rarely undergo radical makeovers.

In 2007 new curators began or continued their programs. In May, Liz Thomas, the Matrix curator at BAM, began her first slate of shows with Allison Smith’s participatory, craftsperson-based Notion Nanny project, Rosalind Nashashibi’s film installation, and Tomás Saraceno’s current "suspended environment" (through Feb. 17), revealing a solid and diverse range of emerging international practices. This curator’s strategy is to build slowly rather than open with a bang.

The program moves at a faster and flashier clip at California College of the Arts’ Wattis Institute, where in fall 2007 curator Jens Hoffman began his first season of programming with a sporty graphic identity and high-concept group shows. These include "Pioneers," a nod to Bay Area mavericks from gold rush groundbreakers to conceptualists; "Passengers," a long-term, rotating round-robin show; and "Apocalypse Now" (through Jan. 26), a political "attack" he curated with international biennial-favorite artist duo Allora and Calzadilla. The pair’s works were also highlighted as the main fall exhibition at the San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter and McBean Galleries, which are programmed by curator Hou Hanru. Hou’s exhibits started in fall 2006, and in 2007 they included "World Factory," a two-part group show that boisterously explored conditions of global capitalism in various media while serving as a test ground for the 2007 Istanbul Biennial, which he also organized. Hoffman and Hou are key figures in an international circuit of curators that also includes SFAI dean Okwui Enwezor, and the three simultaneously work on projects here and abroad. (Full disclosure: I teach at both of the aforementioned schools.)

It’s been difficult, though, to gauge these projects’ impact on the doggedly localized Bay Area art scene — or how their curators will take to the regional climate. Such curatorial presence has provided an opportunity for a larger number of artists and other curators to pass through the region, and it’s offered platforms for provocative group shows that are rarely staged in museums around here. The bottom line, though, is that in the present model of international art, change is driven by the marketplace, and these institutional spaces exist outside the commercial gallery arena that makes certain cities more visible art hubs than others.

There was, however, movement in the local commercial realm. Catherine Clark broke from 49 Geary to open a Chelsea-style space in the shadow of SFMOMA. Ratio 3 unveiled a surprisingly large and cannily designed new space near 14th and Valencia streets, not far from Jack Hanley Gallery’s two spots on Valencia (another recently debuted in New York) and Southern Exposure’s just-opened second temporary site. Combined with other galleries nearby — Intersection for the Arts, Needles and Pens, Adobe Books, etc. — the neighborhood could be turning into a destination alternative to the exhibition spaces on the first block of Geary. The Dogpatch neighborhood shows promise of becoming another art zone with the ambitious Silverman, Ping Pong, and Ampersand galleries, which have all been staging interesting shows, though the area is still a bit under the radar.

All said, we’re at a transitional moment, and forward thinking seems in order. The year ahead offers huge potential for new faces, directions, and already scheduled programs at many of the aforementioned venues. I’m anticipating the Gilbert and George show at the de Young Museum, Lee Friedlander at SFMOMA, and a Paul McCarthy project at the Wattis, as well as the 2008 openings of the California Academy of Sciences and the Contemporary Jewish Museum. All provide plenty reason to stick around. *


The following exhibitions, events, and films enthralled me with their winning combinations of joy, originality, and serious subtext.

Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal’s Ten Chi, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley

The Book of Shadows," Fraenkel Gallery

Liz Larner’s lecture, San Francisco Art Institute

"© Murakami," Geffen Contemporary, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Mitzi Pederson’s "Unlet Me Go," Ratio 3

Ratatouille, directed by Brad Bird

"A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s," Berkeley Art Museum

“Rudolf Stingel” Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Unknown Forces installation, REDCAT, Los Angeles, and his film Syndromes and a Century

The reel world


Among the coverage of the horrific San Francisco Bay oil slick, I saw a short video of a fowl gliding through sea glimmering with petroleum. The bird maintained grace in this toxic environment, navigating marbled, paperlike swirls in the blackened water. That image had an indelibly uncomfortable beauty, the sort that occurs in Takeshi Murata’s videos, in which cinema — transferred to digital media — begins to transmogrify into something that slithers like mercury and soaks into our psyches.

His current show at the recently relocated and vastly expanded Ratio 3 gallery is centered on a new six-minute work, Escape Spirit VideoSlime, though the addition of another piece, Untitled (Pink Dot) (2006) creates a satisfying double bill. Both works feature buzzing electronic soundtracks by Robert Beatty, vivid acid-trip color schemes, and not-so-veiled references to environmentalism. Escape, the more narrative of the pair, was created with generic nature footage of chimps in the forest, while Pink Dot appropriates scenes from Rambo: First Blood. In both, Murata deconstructs the imagery. Pixels reveal their capacity to act like paint, then reconfigure into fleeting photographic images of animals, explosions, and consuming, liquefied landscapes. They evoke a morass, an underworld similar to Barbarella’s Matmos, befitting the term VideoSlime and its promise of creaming the virtual.

The pieces are screened in separate stalls, yet if you stand between them they can be viewed simultaneously. Their ominous soundtracks, however, constantly blend together into somewhat overdetermined eeriness. Both are nightmarishly memorable, though the graphic quality and the recognizable but surprisingly earnest use of Stallone make Pink a somewhat stronger work. In totality, Murata’s project fits a contemporary moment in which the digital and the analog are merging in ever more complex and perhaps confusing ways. His work can be seen in context with groups such as PaperRad and a number of young artists who create neopsychedelia from Saturday-morning cartoon detritus and the comforting, rudimentary digital nature of Pac-Man. Murata has mined this territory in earlier works such as Monster Movie (2005), but what set his recent projects apart are the sophistication and complexity of the visions.

His 2006 piece Untitled (Silver) — seen in Murata’s first show at Ratio 3 and in "Cosmic Wonder" at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts — is a knockout, with its metallic gray footage of horror-film star Barbara Steele floating through a well-appointed goth interior that undergoes Murata’s process of liquefaction. Silver may still be the artist’s benchmark, but these new works reveal he’s got plenty of fuel left in the continually tenuous worlds, both actual and media, that we inhabit.


Through Nov. 30

Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.; and by appointment; free

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371

Slow art movement


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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

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

Suburban stasis


Colma is not Daly City. Apparently I’m the only San Franciscan who’s failed to comprehend the pronounced distinctions between these neighboring municipalities, outside the selection of merch at their respective Target stores. Daly City has Serramonte Center and the rows of houses made famous by Malvina Reynolds’s anthem to architectural sameness, "Little Boxes" (the song that opens Showtime’s fabulous stoned-in-suburbia sitcom, Weeds). Colma’s got car lots and a few square blocks of single-family dwellings, enough for the approximately 2,000 residents who live surrounded by a whopping 17 graveyards, most catering to specific ethnicities, if not deceased pets. According to the Colma civic Web site, the price of an average home here is a grounding $280,000. Necropolis is too harsh a word — there’s something truly adorable about a town whose official motto is "It’s great to be alive in Colma."

I learned this on a drive through the town with Richard Wong, the director of the wonderfully assured Colma: The Musical, a film that uses this unlikely and oddly ordinary community as a font of artistic inspiration. For Wong, who grew up in San Francisco, the burg recalls childhood trips to Toys "R" Us after visiting family tombstones at the Chinese cemetery. He brings me to the surprisingly expansive Colma Historical Association, a museum charting the town’s lore with binders on each of the memorial parks. Then we coast through the self-contained pocket of homes and the location where Rodel, one of the three restless, fresh high school grad protagonists of the film, fictionally resided. Wong notices a bit of improvement to the place — new brick-patterned siding spruces up the garage — and a couple of houses under construction at the end of the block. Other than that, nothing’s changed, he says.

"One of the inspirations for the film came from the idea of a small town — one that doesn’t really change much — next to one of the most progressive cities in the world," Wong remarks. "Colma is almost exactly the same as it was when the houses were first built."

Colma is a character in the movie — a collaboration with Wong’s college pal H.P. Mendoza, who wrote the script and songs and capably plays Rodel — whose opening musical number, "Colma Stays," is a peppy celebration of suburban stasis. It takes Wong’s expert use of split screen to enliven the carless boulevards and the encroaching sense of teenage ennui. (Befitting its location, Colma: The Musical does wonders with its garage-sale budget and rumpus-room laptop audio- and video-editing marathons.) Billy, another of the main characters, points to a rare new feature on the landscape: a just-built police station. It’s difficult to imagine the crimes the cops must contend with.

The film, however, vividly illustrates how three Colma youths occupy themselves: crashing generic college parties, working at the mall, and hitting the bars with fake IDs. (Wong had to excise a drug-use reference — another stereotypical suburban teen activity — in order to gain permission to shoot a moody musical number in the Italian cemetery.) The fog that envelopes Colma serves as an almost too-perfect metaphor for the insularity of dead-end streets, which engender the claustrophobia of neighborhood inertia in the characters. "There’s no conflict in their lives, and that’s the problem," Wong explains. "They just don’t have that much going on." With nothing to do, people can get bitter — or they get out. The two guys manage that — Rodel, shunned by his family because he’s queer, heads to New York to pursue his dream of being in the musical theater, while Billy, an aspiring actor, packs his car to move to San Francisco. Their female cohort Maribel, the tart character who holds them together, plans to stay — though her motivations are self-deprecatingly ambiguous.

There is a genre of suburban films that usually involves teen suicide, superdepressed moms, or scary skeletons in the linen closet. If this were a Larry Clark film, the kids would be shooting up or shooting themselves. If it were a John Hughes picture, there’d be prom-related antics in the McMansion. In Colma, they sing their suburban sorrows. Wong suggests his film might be a regional music-theater production of a suburban drama, and it’s a wacky idea that’s far more satisfying than you might expect.

Mendoza, in a phone conversation, admits that he prefers films that have some empathy for tract-house dwellers. He feels that Napoleon Dynamite sneers at its characters. "I did not want that for this. I find Colma endearing," he says. "This is not an indictment — it is a locale. We’re just portraying these kids saying it’s boring." Mendoza lived in Colma during his high school years, moving there after growing up in the Mission. "At that time, all the Filipino families moved to Daly City so their kids could go to Westmoor High."

While it finds comedy in the notion of living in a generically small locale, the film exudes an affably focused sense of place. Mendoza tells me that his best friend in high school cited a particular Colma cul-de-sac as his favorite place because it had a great view of the mall. He reveals his own beloved spot, an underpass at the intersection of an up-and-coming Filipino street and a dicey neighborhood. On the sloped, stagelike hill, Mendoza and his pals would have water-balloon fights and — "This is so gay," he warns — reenact scenes from Little Shop of Horrors. Given his movie, that makes wonderful sense.

The image also fits the satisfying, hometown-boys-make-good narrative of the film’s critical success. Since Colma: The Musical scored on the festival circuit, Wong has hooked up with the more seasoned director Wayne Wang, with whom he’s currently working. Future collaborations with Mendoza are imminent, including a Colma sequel: Serramonte: The Musical. That narrative will follow, in song, Maribel’s future in retail. As a career path, that may seem like a dead end, but for Wong and Mendoza, creating a movie about it affirms that their little town of graveyards is ripe with artistic joie de vivre.

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


Looking up


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In late 2006 several major art-market events — record-breaking auctions and 14 Miami Beach art fairs — provided a bracing contrast to a slew of exhibitions concerned with the immaterial, experiential, mystical, and social. These instances clearly illustrate the exciting, age-old tensions between the thrill of commerce and the quest for artistic integrity.
In November a Christie’s sale of impressionist and modern art yielded nearly half a billion dollars. A good chunk of that auction money was laid down for recovered Nazi art loot, a noble corrective yet one rooted in economic conditions, not necessarily philosophical or penitential ones. Big money seems to obliterate the pure intentions of art, though record price tags do have a way of speaking to a broader audience.
Meanwhile, the fanfare and brisk sales at the recent Miami art fairs — Art Basel Miami and satellite events — attest to a healthy market and, hopefully, the ability for artists to forge self-sustaining careers, not to mention allow San Francisco galleries to expose their wares to international collectors. In her heartening reportage on the Miami fairs, New York Times critic Roberta Smith noted how the events level the field of information and offer a platform for market resistance, pointing out artists who conceptually dare collectors through assaulting video and purposeful repetition of mundane imagery.
Much like the rest of the economy, flush with stock market upticks and the national budget’s creative accounting, art sales are solid, similar to those in the so-called go-go 1980s. Part of the thrill of the boom is the anxiety of a crash lurking in the future. So how does a thriving market — and all the commercialism that goes with it — affect the creation of new art and its reflection of contemporary culture?
In 2006 you didn’t have to look far to find examples of artists aiming to tackle our collective anxieties, either politically or spiritually, through their quest to envision the intangible. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s current Anselm Kiefer show, “Heaven and Earth,” embodies that idea as it surveys a German artist whose paintings are informed by alchemy, mythology, and Jewish mysticism. Kiefer makes large works addressing even bigger themes. He also has firm political convictions — he has consistently refused to enter the United States in protest against George W. Bush’s policies. It’s worth noting that Kiefer’s work hasn’t exactly seemed fashionable in recent years. Is his appearance now coincidence or zeitgeist?
“Heaven” inhabits the same gallery space that hosted “Matthew Barney: Drawing Restraint,” a sprawling exhibition as steeped in the artist’s celebrity and sex appeal as it was in Shinto references and other lofty themes. A hushed, almost religious vibe pervaded the proceedings as viewers looked up at the video monitors in quiet awe — or perhaps disbelief. Both Barney and Kiefer are comfortably blue chip, and their work sells even when they strive for deeper meaning.
A new strain of alternative art is being fostered at Southern Exposure, which this year put an emphasis on social interaction and artwork that unfolds in public places. Packard Jennings’s lottery tickets, available in local corner stores, offer scratch-off prizes to feed the mind, not the bank account, and Neighborhood Public Radio’s broadcasts traffic in community and dialogue. These programs have been driven by a seismic upgrade and the need to work off-site, but the thrust of the gallery’s program also revealed that bias in its actual building.
Taking on a more conventional gallery form was “Ghosts in the Machine,” the inaugural show in SF Camerawork’s impressive new space. Curator David Spalding expanded on the topic of shared history to suggest a sense of cultural haunting by unresolved past actions — those related to the Vietnam War, suicide bombings, and US racial tensions. The range of work was serious — and very much engaged in a yearning for art with staying power.
Mexico City curator Magali Arriola’s “Prophets of Deceit” at CCA Wattis Institute for the Contemporary Arts probed the troubling charisma of cult leaders like Jim Jones, as well as the persuasive qualities of cinema. It was a disturbing counterpoint to the wispy “Cosmic Wonder” at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, which included artists who, according to their press literature, “explore trance, ‘alternative’ realities, and the psyche.” While a major curatorial misfire that raised serious questions about the YBCA’s programming choices, “Cosmic Wonder” nonetheless points to interest in and tension between otherworldly themes and art world trends. The show, organized by neophyte curator Betty Nguyen, included young gallery darlings — a fair number of whom likely partied themselves into altered states in Miami Beach. It all goes to prove: there are multiple roads to artistic, financial, and spiritual enlightenment. SFBG

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan (Penguin)
•Phil Collins, dünya dinlemiyor, SF Museum of Modern Art
•Andrea Bowers, “Nothing Is Neutral,” Redcat, Los Angeles
•Tavares Strachan, “Where We Are Is Always Miles Away,” Luggage Store
Battle in Heaven, directed by Carlos Reygadas
This Book Will Save Your Life, A.M. Homes (Viking)
Maquilopolis, directed by Vicky Funari and Sergio de la Torre
•Julia Christensen’s
•Takeshi Murata, “Silver Equinox,” Ratio 3
•Kathryn Spence, “Objects and Drawings,” Stephen Wirtz Gallery