Matt Sussman

The face of Cher


(In the style of Roland Barthes’ The Face of Garbo.) Cher’s face belongs to our current moment in cinema when the female visage represents a kind of absolute non-state of the flesh, which can be reached through a variety of (as-yet-not-entirely-confirmed) nips, tucks, filler injections, makeup and post-production airbrushing.

Cher’s is indeed a formidable face-object. In Burlesque, her makeup is thicker than her costars’ because the paint has been applied atop an increasingly contoured plaster surface. What was once a Byzantine icon — heavy lidded eyes and elongated nose framed by an oval countenance — has become a Noh mask. Her famed mile-long cheekbones are no longer defined by their underlying hollowness, but by the gibbous moon-like protuberances of her cheeks. So too does the plumpness of her lips, the lower line always under-drawn, exhaust the descriptive powers of “bee-stung.” Amid the snow of her foundation, her eyes remain her most expressive feature, narrowing slightly whenever she offers a bemused smile and wetting at the edges (glycerin?) to indicate sadness. This face, with the dark vegetation of its eyes and totem-like countenance, comes to resemble Louise in Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) or Dead or Alive singer Pete Burns.

Yet how many actresses have consented to let the crowd see the ominous maturing of their beauty? Not many, unless it’s Oscar season. Their essence is not to be degraded, their faces are not to have any reality except that of their perfection. The face of Cher — whose character Tess, also a showbiz vet, has probably been around the block as many times and could claim as many comebacks as the actress playing her — openly testifies to the existence of this unspoken entertainment industry mandate, “forever young,” and burlesques it into a form of extreme beauty.

Viewed as a transition the face of Cher reconciles two iconographic ages, it assures the passage from actual plasticity to a molded mask. As is well known, we are today at the other pole of this evolution: the face of Heidi Montag, for instance, is homogenized, not only because of its peculiar thematics (woman as child, “real girl” as reality star) but also because her face, which has nothing of an essence left in it, is constituted by an infinite complexity of cosmetic enhancements. Cher’s enhancements only further enhance her “Cher-ness,” whereas Montag’s sundry “improvements” ultimately render her (or say, Madonna) less distinguishable. The face of Cher is an Idea, that of Montag an Afterthought. 




MUSIC Local multi-instrumentalist and Root Strata label cofounder Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has titled his newest solo album, Love is a Stream (Type), but the watercourse this robust and unexpectedly sharp collection of dazzlers brings to mind is Niagara Falls.

Whether he’s playing a pastoral variant of psych rock with his more recent project The Alps or improvising a soundtrack to one of Paul Clipson’s gorgeous 8mm films, a careful attention to timbre and a nimble, even delicate, shaping of sound through the graduated addition of sonic elements have always been trademarks of Cantu-Ledesma’s musicianship.

Love is a Stream is, in some ways, a sustained exploration of what happens to timbre when you keep piling sounds on top of each other. Cantu-Ledesma smears what sounds like racks of overdriven keyboards and the warped buzz of a hundred guitars into thick, shimmering fog banks, as if following Iggy Pop’s lead when he remixed Raw Power in 1997 so that it sounded more “in the red.”

Variations exist across the album’s 12 beatless and wordless tracks, but they can be easily missed if one isn’t listening closely. Opener “Stained Glass Body” warms up with 20 seconds of tonal clusters ham-fisted on a Casio and keening vocals until a tangled low-end of what sounds like processed-to-bits guitar burrows up through the mix, building to a sustained crescendo of speaker-shredding intensity. This quick and early peaking is consistent over the next 45 minutes, with brief moments of respite spaced throughout (track five, “Body Within Body,” and track nine, “Womb Night,” keep things at a comparative simmer).

“Orbiting Love” is a church bell carol as reorchestrated by the Cocteau Twins and fed through dying computer speakers. “White Dwarf Butterfly” perfectly recaptures the enveloping hiss and warped cassette-like warble of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When” (listening to the two tracks simultaneously produces a smile-inducing complementarity not unlike one of Humphry Slocombe’s less outré taste combinations). The appropriately titled closing track “Mirrors Death” ends the album on a more meditative note, as a recurring rumble gently breaks apart an ice floe of quietly droning guitars, until it too has sputtered into silence.

The My Bloody Valentine comparison is inevitable with an album such Love is A Stream, and with a musician of lesser gifts than Cantu-Ledesma, it could be taken as faint praise. As was noted in this paper’s recent profiles of local acts Weekend and Tamaryn, the continued influence of shoegaze can be heard all over contemporary indie music but it takes more than a studied replica of Kevin Shields’ “glide guitar” to build something decidedly new — or even fresh — when working with well-worn floor plans.

Like the beautiful, overdriven digital tsunamis of Tim Hecker or Christian Fennesz, Love is A Stream employs a familiar vocabulary to new ends. I hope Cantu-Ledesma, at least for the next little while, continues to keep things turned up to 11. 


Pwning the classics


Jennie Ottinger’s last solo painting show at Johansson Projects, “ibid,” presented an assortment of ghostly figures — ballerinas, nurses, schoolchildren, businessmen — lifted from found photographs. The less-is-more aesthetic of Ottinger’s small oil and gouache canvases underscored the fact that, save for the recovered images used as source material, the everyday people depicted in them had long been lost to history.

The same could hardly be said of the authors Ottinger breezily engages with in her latest show, “Due By,” in which she casts a gimlet eye on William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, David Foster Wallace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Harper Lee, John Updike, and Leo Tolstoy, among other notable figures of the modern Western literary canon.

Ottinger has essentially remade these authors’ best-known works in her own image with her own images. In addition to painting scenes from titles such as The Loved One and To Kill A Mockingbird, she has also created new covers for them (based on the design of older editions) enfolding her art around actual books. The contents of the books don’t match their titles. Their plastic slipcases, though, are a clever nod at authenticity.

On one wall these new-old books have been stacked horizontally into humorous thematic groupings whose titles frequently double as groan-inducing punchlines: the Madame Bovary, Couples, and Anna Karenina stack is called Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the MILF For Free? Another short stack that includes Lolita, Sons and Lovers, and Oedipus Rex is titled, appropriately enough, Inappropriate Lovers.

Also throughout the gallery are single volumes, propped open on shelves. Ottinger has glued together the books’ pages and carved out small rectangular spaces into which she has placed her own summaries of the re-covered work, which you are allowed to pick up and leaf through.

Ottinger’s retellings — handwritten in a tiny, tidy scrawl that resembles birdtracks across fresh snow — are by far the best thing in “Due By.” Her observations are pithy, and at times, flash an understated brilliance. Ottinger is also, on occasion, not above proclaiming her ignorance of the text she’s writing on and doesn’t hesitate to quote Wikipedia and SparkNotes for backup.

Here she is on Anna Karenina‘s titular doomed heroine: “We will soon see evidence of her extraordinary relationship skills.”

Or the protagonist of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “Much like tofu, he adopts the qualities of those around him.”

And I challenge any English PhD to come up with a more perfect gloss on As I Lay Dying‘s Budren clan as, “Holy shit! This family is cursed. Very National Lampoon’s Vacation.”

If Ottinger were a high school student, she would be the bright kid who always makes wisecracks in class because she’s bored with or understimulated by her surroundings, and not necessarily by the assigned reading (I wonder, in fact, if Ottinger was that student). Her writing, for all its glibness and front-loaded superficiality, carries a palpable amount of affection for the texts. Ottinger’s sassiness is an informed sassiness; it lacks the underlying vitriol of true snark.

In other words, Ottinger’s armchair criticism is the sort that the Internet — and blogs, in particular — has made us more accustomed to. At the same time, educators attempting to teach any of the texts featured in “Due By,” have had to become more adept at sniffing out the lines in their students’ papers lifted from the same Wikipedia and SparkNotes entries that Ottinger playfully quotes. You can read Anna Karenina in its entirety online, or you can find a million ways to get around reading it and still turn in a term paper on “the death of the heart.”

Mind you, I don’t think Ottinger is clutching her pearls over the fate of the literary canon (or the book as object, or the coarsening of pedagogy, etc.) in the age of Google. If the smart, funny, and lovingly crafted objects she has created in “Due By” must be burdened with a takeaway message about the way we read now, I’d like to quote one of the great antiheros of television, Don Draper: “Change isn’t good or bad. It just is.”



With Ed Moses’ dazzling acrylics, what you see is what you get. That’s not a diss by any means. Rather, don’t expect something else to emerge if you give into the temptation to slowly cross and uncross your eyes while staring down one of the textile-like paintings in “Wic Wac,” Moses’ current show at Brian Gross Fine Art.

Moses — a L.A. veteran who had his first show at the city’s legendary Ferus Gallery in 1958 — identifies as an abstract artist, even though paintings such as Anima Kracker can’t help but cause pattern recognition: their fractal-like smears of off-set yellows and purples are in fact made up of the morphed stripes, spots, and other tell-tale markings of zebras, giraffes, and tigers. 


Through Jan. 8, 2011

Johansson Projects

2300 Telegraph Ave, Oakland

(510) 444-9140


Through Dec. 23

Brian Gross Fine Art

49 Geary, SF

(415) 788-1050

America’s original sin


VISUAL ART Going into “Huckleberry Finn,” the final installment in the Wattis Institute’s trilogy of group shows organized around canonical American novels, it is perhaps best to heed the notice Mark Twain places at the outset of the text from which this exhibit takes its name and inspiration: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.”

The only punishment one risks incurring with “Finn” is self-inflicted fatigue from trying to take it in all at once. As befits Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — a book that is, among many things, a satiric portrait of the post-Reconstruction South, a vernacular bildungsroman, an exploration of the cross-racial politics of friendship, and a fictionalized travelogue — curator and Wattis director Jens Hoffmann sets a bold course across American geography, social and literary history, and visual art that is as expansive and winding as the Mississippi.

Much as he did with “The Wizard of Oz” in 2008 and “Moby Dick” last year, Hoffmann — firing on all cylinders here — has assembled a visual dossier that takes an open source approach to its primary text. In the spirit of Twain’s warning shot to plot-seekers and would-be moralists, the exhibit’s pamphlet calls its presentation “fragmented and inconclusive.” This description, like Twain’s, is only partially true. Individually, the pieces (including 15 new commissions) vary in terms of how directly and from what direction they engage with Twain’s novel. But Hoffmann’s talent as a curator lies in grouping together works, artists, and eras that, under the broad umbrella of “Huckleberry Finn,” have something new to say to each other — and to us.

Book-ended by two screening rooms, the first floor galleries examine Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from a largely historical perspective, treating the text and its author as historical objects (in addition to some handsomely bound first editions of the book, there’s even a reproduction of Twain’s trademark white suit, hung casually on a coat rack) and exploring in more depth the cultural geography of the Mississippi (see James T. Loyd’s long survey of the river’s lower half), and in particular, the social inequalities wrought by King Cotton’s reign.

Some of the works, such as Horace Pippin’s two 1944 oils of antebellum life, Harlem Renaissance painter Claude Clarke’s harrowing depiction of a slave lynching, or Alec Soth’s 2002 photographic series documenting the beauty and strangeness of the riverside, are, each in their own ways, remarkable forms of reportage. Other pieces are pointed interventions. Betye Saar’s The Liberation of Aunt Jemima (1972) is a mixed media sculpture that arms a mammy doll, set against a background of Aunt Jemima syrup labels, with a rifle and a broom.

The same could be said of the works on the exhibit’s second floor, as well as their arrangement, which more explicitly addresses the ugly legacy of what historian George M. Fredrickson has called “America’s original sin,” slavery. Right out of the elevator, one is confronted with a powerful triptych: Warhol’s screenprint Birmingham Race Riot (1964) is displayed beside a reproduction of a segregation-era sign that reads “BLACKS ONLY,” and both hang above Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ The End (1990), a stack of free-to-take posters placed against the wall, each one containing a white space framed by a black border.

Whereas pieces in the lower galleries are arranged with greater room between them, Hoffmann fills the second floor chockablock with representations of degradation and defiance: Kara Walker’s massive and monstrous shadow-play of rape and violence covers one wall; Ruth Marion-Baruch’s stoic photographs of Black Panther leaders hang on another. It’s as if Hoffmann felt that the only means of adequately depicting “Jim’s turbulent quest for freedom,” to again quote the program notes’ gloss on things, was actual disorder.

Appropriate to a show inspired by Twain, some works also exhibit a sense of humor as they engage with larger issues. Simon Fujiwara’s video piece — in which the artist dons a kind of cultural drag, playing an exaggerated caricature of himself being interviewed about his relationship to the character Jim — becomes funnier as his interlocutor’s questions become more ridiculous. It is a tall tale — aimed at both critics and artists — about misreading artistic practice as identity formation, and it is worthy of Huck himself.


Through Dec. 11

CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts

1111 Eighth St., SF

(415) 551-9210

GOLDIES 2010: Jennifer Locke


In her pieces, Jennifer Locke has, variously, jumped rope for 30 minutes in a full-body latex suit (cutting out a hole in the bottom afterward to drain out her accumulated sweat and urine); wrestled with a partner at the Berkeley Art Museum smeared in stage blood; covered herself in Elmer’s glue, let it dry into a second skin, and then peeled it off; received a lap dance from a male stripper; and branded a fellow participant.

Granted, reducing Locke’s art to such a titillating laundry list is a superficial move. But the immediate visceral spectacle her work repeatedly presents is undeniably seductive — albeit in a punk rock kind of way. It’s hard not to be pulled in by the grappling, athletic bodies, the donning and shedding of second skins, all frequently soundtracked by the amplified breath of the participants themselves, even if it sometimes causes one to flinch.

Locke, who has spent considerable time working as a pro dom and is herself a champion submission wrestler, is keenly aware of her art’s initial draws. “Yeah,” she laughs over the phone, “athletic bodies are inherently sexy. It’s in our nature as human beings to want to look. But I want there to be a barrier between the audience and the image of the body.”

In Locke’s work, which she describes as a sculptural hybrid of live studio actions and video, the camera often provides that layer (or more often, layers) of mediation. Locke strategically uses video within her pieces to alter the on-site audience’s expectations and perceptions of what’s occurring in front of them, as well as those of viewers encountering the pieces as video documents after the fact.

Whatever erotic or transgressive charge a viewer may have invested in the actions being performed becomes rewired through the camera set-up, or is short-circuited entirely. As critic Daniel Coffeen has noted of Locke’s work: “She does not dabble in human affect but in human mechanics.”

In the aforementioned BAM piece, Red/White (Fake Blood), Locke and her wrestling partner sparred in the museum’s loading bay, their actions relayed to the audience via a live video feed that, due to technical difficulties, wound up being projected in black and white. The door to the dock, however, was left slightly ajar so anyone who wanted to see the “real event,” and the piece’s “true colors,” could — although no one was ever specifically directed to.

In Black/White, a three-day piece done as part of the opening of the San Francisco offices of the Marina Abramovic Institute of Performance Art, Locke placed the camera filming a live feed of her actions so that it encompassed those viewing her as well, then projected that image on a rear wall so the audience could observe either Locke’s action or the projection of themselves watching Locke’s action, but not see both simultaneously.

“I used to talk a lot in my artist statement about power dynamics, but then I realized over time that I’m more interested in how meaning gets produced,” she says. “Power is a means to talk about that, but I want to know how those hierarchies actually shift around in reality: Who’s in control? Am I? Is the camera? Is the audience? My work is like a three-card monte.”


GOLDIES 2010: Amanda Curreri


Five minutes into talking with Amanda Curreri over a slice and coffee at Mission Pie, I’ve agreed to take part in a piece she’s working on as part of Shadowshop, the in-gallery artists’ marketplace Stephanie Syjuco is organizing for SFMOMA’s upcoming survey of work made in the past decade.

“It’s called Afghanistan Insert,” Curreri explains, speaking in the measured fashion of someone who carefully considers her words. “I’m trying to insert Afghanistan into SFMOMA and into San Francisco’s art community.”

Curreri’s commitment to getting the local arts scene to engage with what has become commonly dubbed by the mainstream news media as “the forgotten war” is not just politically motivated. It’s also personal. Her husband has been working in Afghanistan for the past five months as a security contractor, during which he has sent her snapshots of local graffiti. They are documents of his ground truth.

Curreri plans on physically inserting herself and her husband’s images into Shadowshop, much in the same way she holds one of his pictures in the portrait accompanying this feature. Indeed, the photo, this profile, Curreri’s new status within the local arts community as a Goldie winner, and the conversations this increased attention might encourage will all become part of the discourse surrounding Insert Afghanistan and contributing to its impact.

All this is consonant with Curreri’s view of herself as more of an instigator than an artist. “I’m trying to make art that crosses out of the art world,” she says, echoing Joseph Beuys’ notion of social sculpture. Her projects thrive on participation, using the exhibition space as a kind of social laboratory in which she arranges shared cultural touchstones and institutions — campfire songs, the judicial process, family recipes — as prompts for personal reflection and shared conversation on the “big subjects” that undergird them: history, politics, memory, and in the case of Afghanistan Insert, their intersection within a seemingly endless and fruitless foreign occupation thousands of miles away.

Engaging with Curreri’s art often entails an extended encounter with the artist herself (given how unexpectedly my interview at Mission Pie has turned out, the reverse seems true as well). The last conversation I had with Curreri was this past July, when she videotaped my extemporaneous responses to her off-camera questioning about the topic of last words. My interview was to be incorporated into her concurrent exhibit “Occupy the Empty,” for which she transformed Ping Pong Gallery via hand-sculpted “props” into a courtroom in which various associates, friends, and strangers, such as myself, volunteered their time and testimony.

As with Insert Afghanistan, the inspiration for “Occupy the Empty” was also personal: after participating in a court hearing concerning her late father, Curreri found out it had been held in the same Massachusetts courthouse in which Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death in the early 20th century. Curreri, also of Italian-American descent, saw the coincidence as a chance to connect to that history and, in the process, build a community around a larger discussion of remembrance. Curreri recalls one participant for whom the show served an almost therapeutic function.

“I want to create art that has an interpersonal function, in real-time,” she says. “I want my work to set a specific frame around our inherent connectivity.”


Seeing spots


Jancar Jones Gallery might be no larger than most gallery kitchens, but New York City-based artist Bill Jenkins has created the illusion of more space within it through very simple means. For his solo show “Lids and Dots,” he irregularly spray painted black polka dots across the gallery’s white walls, evoking Yayoi Kusama’s spot-covered installations from the 1960s as well as Keith Haring’s doodled-over interiors from two decades later.

The dots, especially when gazed at from the corner of one’s eye, make the gallery’s tiny dimensions seem more malleable. They curve corners rather than cut them, and their irregular placement suggests protrusion or indentation where there is actually only flatness.

This play off the given shape of a space is taken up in the exhibit’s other titular component. Made from papier-mâché, sometimes studded with debris and small objects from his studio, Jenkins’ coral-like “lids” sit atop a variety of everyday domestic vessels: a filing tray, a small plastic waste basket, a bowl — that have themselves been placed on white plinths.

The juxtaposition of Jenkins’ handmade components with the mass-produced products they only haphazardly cover is funny and strange. But the absurd pairings also raise the more serious question — echoed in Jenkins’ transformation of the exhibition space itself — of what happens when functionality is no longer a self-apparent quality of a thing but becomes something to be discovered in-process or, perhaps, to discard altogether.


Narwhals are the sort of animals that seem too strange to actually exist yet are that much more fantastic because they do. The same could be said of Seth Koen’s wonderfully suggestive wood sculptures at Gregory Lind, currently on display in a show that takes its inspiration from the small Artic whale, and its singular spiraling horn (actually a tooth).

Koen carves and planes his pale maple and basswood pieces into smooth planks with soft, curved edges that typically bend 90 degrees at a certain point. Their placement on the walls or floor, along with their titles, suggest various marine mammals, or the sort of tools that ancient fisherman would use to hunt those very same creatures.

With its two dowel-like appendages poking from what resembles the joined back and seat of a chair turned upside-down, Tusk sketches a walrus with but the simplest lines. So, too, does Selkie, with its upturned spire, evoke the titular shape-shifting seal of Celtic lore, as well as the horned creature from which the exhibit takes its name and creates a strange new adjective: “Narwhellian.”

It is a fanciful variation on “Orwellian,” as well as a repudiation of that word’s sinister connotations of control and manipulation. Koen’s sculptures, whose simple shapes are at once unspecific and particularly evocative, welcome a freedom of interpretation. Almost toy-like, they invite play.


If you don’t get your candy fix this Halloween weekend, be sure to browse the rainbow-colored confections at Scott Richards Contemporary Art when the group show “Sweet Tooth” opens Nov. 4.

Your eyes will probably hurt as much as your teeth after taking in so many glossy, photo-realistic depictions of sugar, as well as its cheaper, government subsidized imitations. There are paintings of candy drops, a cocktail umbrella-topped mountain of sorbet, a truly dubious Jell-O mold, and a package of colorfully iced cookies (Daniel Douke’s Invasion) that resembles an edible version of one of Warhol’s Flowers silkscreens. The effect is one of brightly hued and cutely packaged obscenity.

There’s even some old fashioned, Easy-Bake sexism courtesy of pop pin-up artist Mel Ramos, whose Reese’s Rose features a busty brunette emerging from a Reese’s candy bar wrapper, à la Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. Katy Perry should hit him up for her next album cover.

Wayne Thiebaud’s 1970 gouache painting Study for Gumball Machine is remarkable for its vivid two-dimensionality, reducing the spherical nature of its subject to colors and mostly straight lines. Dimension is drawn in, but Thiebaud’s line and color combinations create an aura around the gumball machine rather than convey its seeming tactile immediacy.

Thiebaud’s study lacks the glossy shellac that drips across the other works in “Sweet Tooth.” It is a useful reminder that we can’t always get what we want. 


Through Nov. 13

Jancar Jones Gallery

965 Mission, Suite 120, SF

(415) 281-3770


Through Dec. 11

Gregory Lind Gallery

49 Geary, Fourth Floor, SF

(415) 296-9661


Nov. 4–Dec. 31

Scott Richards Contemporary Art

251 Post, Suite 425, SF

(415) 788-5588



Dancing with the dark


FILM Kazuo Ohno, who died this past June at 103, probably received the broadest exposure of his long career when Antony and the Johnsons chose Naoya Ikegami’s black and white Ohno portrait as the cover art for their 2009 album The Crying Light. Shot in profile, wearing a black dress with a cluster of white flowers pinned in his hair, the visibly aged Ohno — his head tilted back, mouth slightly agape, and hands thrust forward like twisted branches — appears frozen somewhere between ecstasy and his last breath.

The image captures something of the powerful ambiguity of Ohno’s solo performances, in which he frequently embodied female characters. Beneath the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? pancake makeup and vintage rags, Ohno — one of the founders of the postwar Japanese dance-theater form butoh — could still convey great tenderness as well as sorrow, and that it was possible to laugh in the dark while struggling through it. It is Ohno’s undeniable humanism that courses through Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ retrospective of films documenting his life and practice, with an accompanying performance run by acclaimed butoh troupe Sankai Juku.

Known for its evocations of darkness and decay, butoh came about as an artistic response to the horrors of the World War II, horrors Ohno had experienced first-hand when he was held for two years as a prisoner of war in China and New Guinea while serving as an intelligence officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. Ohno’s first solo performance, Jellyfish Dance, given in Tokyo in 1949, was a reflection on the burials at sea he witnessed on board a vessel bearing captives to be repatriated to Japan. Ohno was 43 years old.

In the audience that night was the much younger artist Tatsumi Hijikata, who was entranced by Ohno’s performance. The two spent the next several years developing what was to become known as Ankoku Butoh-ha, “the dance of darkness.” Although Hijikata choreographed many of Ohno’s performances from the 1960s on, he became known for his grotesque and boundary-pushing performance style, whereas Ohno developed a more introspective, sometimes even delicate approach.

Ohno was born on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. His life changed in 1926 when, while still a student at the prestigious Japan Athletic College in Tokyo, he attended a performance by the Argentinean flamenco dancer Antonia Mercé, who would become the subject of his 1977 magnum opus Admiring La Argentina. Soon after he began to study with the modern dance pioneers Baku Ishii and Takaya Eguchi, while teaching physical education at a private Christian school in Yokohama — a position he held until the 1970s when he momentarily retired from public performance.

Although his choice of characters and costuming frequently drew attention to his aging body, Ohno was an indomitable performer. Even when he was confined to a wheelchair, late in his life, Ohno was still determined to use his body as a means of expression. The documentary An Offering to Heaven focuses on a remarkable 2002 collaborative performance with ikebana master Yukio Nakegawa, in which Ohno brought to life a dream he had in which a million tulips were cast from a helicopter, by dancing under a shower of flower petals and rain using only his upper body.

When he could no longer use his hands, he would dance with his eyes. On his death bed, he claimed that he would continue to dance with his breath until he exhaled for the final time. 

“Remembering Kazuo Ohno”

Nov. 4-21, $6–$8

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

701 Mission, SF

(415) 978-ARTS


Tick tock


HAIRY EYEBALL In a characteristically poetic passage within 1980’s Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes describes early cameras, given their cabinet-like appearance and precise mechanical innards, as “clocks for seeing.” I couldn’t shake the phrase while taking in Will Rogan’s “Stay Home,” an ambiguous smile of a solo show composed of photographs and three-dimensional photographic collages at Altman Siegel.

Taking the measure of time is very much on Rogan’s mind, as it was on Barthes’ some 40 years ago. A photograph is but an imperfect means of forestalling time’s onward march: it offers the present a momentary record of an instant long gone. So too has photography, at least in the nondigital form that Barthes was writing about, become an index of a past medium, and in our current age of Photoshop, an object for nostalgic longing (see the Hipstamatic iPhone app).

Rogan skirts this sand trap even though his practice deliberately engages with 1970s printed matter and evokes a range of photographers from that decade and later, most notably Lee Friedlander and Daido Moriyama’s social landscapes, and to a lesser extent, Sherrie Levine’s appropriations. The three small sculptural collages of cropped images affixed to painted wood pieces with beeswax even look as if they are from another time. Indeed, it’s easy to get distracted by Rogan’s mode of address (“hey guys, here are some cool books I found at a yard sale, and look what I came upon while walking to the corner store”), by his work’s muted cleverness and calculated arrangement of happenstance, that it can be easy to overlook the substance of what he’s saying.

Viewing the Past As it Happens takes its title from a passage in a picture book on astronomy that is itself the subject of the photograph. The book lies open; a picture of a galaxy on the right page. A description on the adjacent page details that what we are looking at, that what astronomers gaze at through their telescopes night after night, is in fact millions of years old. Of course, this also functions as a gloss (as does the photograph’s title) on the act of taking a picture: in that moment when we look into the viewfinder, our fingers poised to capture what we see before us, we are in a sense seeing what will become the past.

Two other photographs of educational books, The Elusive Nature of Time and Man Versus Clock: The Unequal Struggle, drive the point home that the photographer’s relationship to time is a Sisyphean one, even as the lifted bathos of their titles sends up the self-seriousness inherent to such postulating. Rogan seems to say, “Don’t freak out, too much,” while simultaneously holding up evidence to the contrary. The detritus that catches Rogan’s eye in other pictures — reflective glass shards, a gutter-lodged beer can, a taped-together window, an abandoned sneaker — are corollaries to the amazing sign on the paper shredding business captured in Shredder that reads, “DOCUMENT DESTRUCTION — While You Watch,” in light of which “document” starts to read more as a verb than a noun.

With Busts, a series of six magazine pages (covers perhaps?) that have been altered so that only the ghostly white silhouettes of unknown seated subjects remain, Rogan moves from documenting destruction to participating in it. It’s hard to tell whether or not the outlines are formed from erasing a prior image or painting over unrelated text, some of which is visible underneath the white. Regardless, the message is still clear: time is on no one’s side.



Time will certainly not be on the side of Hugh Brown, who demonstrates in his solo show “Allegedly” at Robert Koch that no amount of skilled workmanship or flawless execution can make up for a paucity of ideas. Indeed, he has but one, and truly, it is more a gimmick than a concept: to remake iconic works of art in his own image.

And how does the artist picture himself? As a chainsaw-wielding bad boy, cutting through the canon and art world pretensions with the power phallus of choice for exploitation filmmakers and ice sculptors. Brown’s smash and grab tour through art history includes Diane Arbus (here, the child clenched in rage holds a toy saw instead of a grenade), John Baldessari, Henri Matisse, Barbara Kruger (“I saw therefore I am”), and Roy Lichtenstein, among many others.

Granted, Brown’s art is well made and it exhibits a careful attention to the material details of the work it parodies. A “Bruce Nauman” is actually done in neon (surprise, it’s a chainsaw). Each work is also credited to the original artist, a parenthetical “allegedly” following their name, as if the dubiousness of what we we’re looking at weren’t apparent already.

Appropriation is by no means a new game, and many of the artists hijacked by Brown made poaching and quotation central to their own practices. But the art in “Allegedly” lacks any real critical force. It says nothing about the works being pillaged and everything about Brown’s estimation of himself. The show is apiece with those postcards that put sunglasses on the Mona Lisa or banana hammocks on Michelangelo’s David.

How Brown has managed to convince gallerists otherwise is a mystery that “Allegedly” leaves unsolved. *


Through No. 6

Altman Siegel Gallery S/F

49 Geary, Fourth floor, SF

(415) 576-9300


Through Oct. 30

Robert Koch Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 421-0122


Of Human Bondage


HAIRY EYEBALL Two life-size sculptures of human skulls sit side by side at Meridian Gallery. The first is cast in glass, tiny air bubbles filling its dome like frozen stars. The one to the right, the wall card indicates, is actually human, but you wouldn’t know it since it’s covered in black leather. The seamless second skin is pulled tight around the bone, as if shrink-wrapped. The effect is both helmet- and lifelike, making you immediately want to run your fingers across your head and face, feeling the tautness of your flesh, aware, at the same time, of what’s contained by such penetrable softness.

Bringing out the sentient in the inanimate is one function of certain forms of shamanism, but it could also serve as description of art making as well. It certainly applies to the practice of Toronto-based, African American artist Tim Whiten, whose work, by turns affecting and frustratingly opaque, is the subject of Meridian’s career-spanning overview, “Darker, Ever Darker; Deeper, Always Deeper: The Journey of Tim Whiten.” This is Whiten’s third show with the gallery, and his return is always something of personal one: his close friendship with exhibit curator and Meridian director Anne Trueblood Brodzky goes back decades.

With its use of natural, sometimes found materials — cotton, coffee, leather, wood, stone, bone, glass — and ritualistic air, Whiten’s art frequently gives off the impression of having been excavated rather than created in a studio, as if what fills Meridian’s three floors are the assembled artifacts from some now-vanished indigenous people. (This is an artist whose most well-known piece, Metamorphosis, involved him being sewn into — and then wriggling out from — a bear skin turned inside-out ). As Robert Farris Thompson’s essay in the accompanying catalog painstakingly details, Whiten’s work consciously takes inspiration from and evokes a network of traditions and objects (his “visual ancestry” in Thompson’s words) that stretches from the daily rituals of his late woodworker father to the bone yards of the American South to the totems of the Ejagham people of southwestern Camaroon.

Although such context is helpful, possessing it does not give a more overtly referential sculpture such as Magic Staffs (1970) — two wooden sticks wrapped in leather with dangling bits of animal bone and human hair — the same charge as Whiten’s far simpler leather encased stones from the same period. As with the leather-wrapped skull (Parsifal, 1986), Whiten’s covering of the stones serves to underscore the natural processes by which their shapes came to be while also reconstituting them as something more mammalian.

Two large canvases from the mid-to-late 1990s, Enigmata (no. 11) and Enigmata with Rose (no 4.), work in the reverse by displaying just the covering: in this case, hospital sheets, stained with coffee. Their chestnut brown wrinkles and creases suggest skin, as well as the bodies who once laid on and beneath them, leaving their marks in blood and sweat, giving birth to new life and passing on from this one. They are by far the most touchingly human pieces in “Darker.”



Darker still are the photos of Rudolph Schwarzkogler at Steven Wolf’s spacious new Mission District digs. “Castration Myth” documents the intense 1960s actions the late Vienna Aktionist carried out in front of a few spectators in his apartment. The indeterminacy of what’s happening in these photos (the exhibit takes its title from the apocryphal story that Schwarzkogler amputated his own penis in one performance) still causes unease, even if the Aktionists’ anti-aesthetic — in which the artist’s body is pushed to its limits, trussed up, battered, and defiled — has become metabolized into pop culture by way of punk rock and, more recently, the prurient sadism of the Saw films.


Through Nov. 26

Meridian Gallery

535 Powell, SF

(415) 398-7229


Through Oct. 9

Steven Wolf Fine Arts

2747 19th St., A, SF

(415) 263-3677

King of the beach


MUSIC That old saw about how the Velvet Underground’s first record may not have sold well but everyone who heard it went on to form their own band could also be said of Austrian composer/producer Christian Fennesz’s 2001 release Endless Summer (Mego).

Although I can’t speak to Endless Summer‘s sales numbers — surely the deluxe reissue treatment it received in 2007 must have helped it reach new ears — the influence of its honeyed guitar strums submerged in swells of digital glitch and distortion is clearly discernible in many contemporary MP3 blog favorites, from the laptop shoegaze of M83, to the muscular, ambient miasmas of Oneohtrix Point Never (who Fennesz recently remixed on the superb “Returnal” 7″ with Antony Haggerty), and even to the nostalgia-coddled, analog warmth of any number of “glo-fi” artists. And while indie’s seemingly endless succession of poppier “beach” bands may have only recently declared endless summers of their own, Fennesz had already been at the waterfront long before, summoning the ghosts of the Sandals and bending their essence into something strange and new without losing it entirely.

Of course, extolling the virtues and influence of a “classic” can inadvertently pigeonhole its creator. In the near decade since Endless Summer came out, many others have made bedfellows of their computers and guitars or slurred melody six ways through an effects chain, but few have consistently done so with as fine an ear for composition and as much conceptual care as Fennesz. Lest we forget, the man is a working musician, and his subsequent output — two solo albums for Touch, Venice (2004) and Black Sea (2008), as well as a slew of collaborative releases, remixes, 7-inch singles, and compilation cameos — has been as steady as it has been frequently stellar, often venturing further away from Endless Summer‘s sun-dappled shallows and into darker waters.

Take the recent live document Knoxville (Thrill Jockey), an improvised set recorded in early 2009 with experimental guitarist David Daniell and Necks’ drummer Tony Buck, which is perhaps as good a preview as any for Fennesz’s upcoming rare headlining set at the Swedish American Hall. Although billed as a trio, Daniell and Buck seem to take a backseat to Fennesz’s guitar and electronics, subtly augmenting his digitally processed guitar scrapes and chord fragments until everyone’s contributions become layered into a thickly textured undertow of noise. Like the best of Fennesz’s music, there is a strongly romantic kernel in Knoxville‘s walls of sound, an emotional tether that tightens as Buck’s rolls and scrapes, Daniell’s feedback, and Fennesz’s signal processing become more densely crosshatched. Simply put, it’s exhilarating. Much like a stolen kiss at sunset or catching your first wave.


With Odd Nosdam

Tues/28, 8 p.m., $20

Swedish American Hall

2170 Market, SF

(415) 861-5016

Portraits of Jason


HAIRY EYEBALL “The black queen is not interested in sympathy,” intones the artist Tim Roseborough dryly in Portrait of Jason II: Rebirth of the B*tch , his “sequel” to Shirley Clarke’s 1967 film Portrait of Jason. It’s one of many verbal snaps issued by Roseborough’s piece, a séance with and tribute to its titular subject currently on view at the tiny Scenius Gallery.

The Jason is question is Jason Holliday, who, for close to 100 minutes, gives Clarke’s near-static 16mm camera the performance of a lifetime. In an uninterrupted stream of speech filmed mostly in medium close-up, Holliday holds forth on the life experiences, aspirations, and observations he’s picked up as an African American, a gay man, an ex hustler, and a showbiz dreamer.

As the culled remains of the 12-hour shoot roll on and Clarke loads in new reel after new reel, Holliday’s finger poppin’ sassy front gradually gives way to flashes of deep-rooted pain and vodka-fueled rage, culminating in a tear-streaked finale that qualifies as one of the most unsettling moments in American documentary film.

Dressed in Jason drag — Coke bottle glasses, a natty white shirt, and dark blazer — and speaking in Holliday’s jivey cadence, Roseborough resurrects Clarke’s subject as a ghost from the past commenting on current events (Obama is discussed) and a cultural climate worlds away from the pre-Stonewall moment of Portrait.

Things get more interesting when Roseborough uses his performance of Jason to dive into how race and gender are affectively coded in Clarke’s film. The above quote is spoken in the midst of a disquisition on representations of “the queeny black man” as either an object of (presumably white) pity — here he brings up Paris is Burning — or exotic fascination (RuPaul), who is invariably collapsed with the figure of the drag queen.

Although it bears the look of its source material, Roseborough’s piece fundamentally differs from Clarke’s film in its presentation. Shot on single-channel video, Roseborough’s movie is shown on DVD. At my viewing session, I was given a remote allowing me to skip around between chapters, effectively taking in as much or as little of his Jason as I would like. Of course, when watching the original Portrait, you can up and leave the theater at any time (many viewers have in the two screenings I’ve attended), but its grueling duration and unrelenting pace are also what gives Jason’s performance, and Clarke’s film, their urgency.

Roseborough’s Jason might be more effective if unleashed across YouTube instead of confined to the by-appointment-only limitations of Scenius’ white cube (although, even former reigning queen Kalup Linzy has moved on and up to episodes of General Hospital). I’m glad the bitch is back, but I’d like to have a clearer sense of the stakes behind Roseborough’s new portrait.



There are scads more shows opening just around the corner that space limits me from including in last week’s fall arts preview. That said, here are a few more current and upcoming exhibits worth seeking out in the coming weeks:

Composed of hundreds of miniature landscapes inspired by Western landscape painting, Sean McFarland’s refracted view of California’s blues, browns, greens, and golds turns Adobe Books’ back room into an exploded postcard shop.

At the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the cleverly titled “Black Sabbath” examines how black artists used Jewish music as way to define African American identity, history, and politics. The Idelsohn Society of Musical Preservation, which curated CJM’s recent “Jews on Vinyl” exhibit, has uncovered all sorts of hidden-in-plain-sight encounters between black and Jewish musical cultures, from Cab Calloway doing Yiddish jive to Johnny Mathis singing the Aramaic prayer “Kol Nidre.”

Radiohead fans know Stanley Donwood as the go-to cover artist and frequent artistic collaborator for the British rock group’s albums from The Bends onward. “Over Normal,” Donwood’s first stateside solo exhibit, features many of the painter’s colorful “word map” canvases, whose wavy, grid-like structures (based on the street layouts of major world cities) are filled in with politically resonant and controversially juxtaposed words (see the cover for 2003’s Hail to the Thief). 


Through Sept. 10


3150 18th St., Suite 104, SF

(415) 420-2509


Through Sept. 19

Adobe Books Backroom Gallery

3166 16th St, SF

(415) 864-3936


Through March 1, 2011

Contemporary Jewish Museum

736 Mission, SF

(415) 655-7800



Thurs/2 through Oct. 27

218 Fillmore, SF

(415) 861-1960


Funny face, fecal face


FALL ARTS/HAIRY EYEBALL “New Work: R. H. Quaytman” It’s appropriate that the paintings commissioned by SFMOMA for R.H. Quaytman’s first West Coast showing were conceived in response to the museum’s own photography holdings as well as the work of SF Renaissance poet Jack Spicer. I’m curious to see what sort of conversation Quaytman’s precise, labor-intensive, and site-specific silk-screens (in “seven interrelated sizes based on the golden ratio”) stage with Spicer’s salty and spicy verse. Oct. 22-Jan. 16, 2011; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,

“Masami Teraoka: The Inversion of the Sacred” Masami Teraoka built his reputation in the 1980s and ’90s on his apocalyptic ukiyo-e-style paintings, which juxtaposed topical content (AIDS, the globalization of fast food) against their faithful reproduction of an older, “traditional” aesthetic. In recent years he’s turned to Renaissance altar painting as the medium of choice to express his disgust over a whole host of new evils. His latest gilded blasphemy — a triptych that reenvisions the Last Supper as a Papal stag party in hell — encompass the ever-mounting sex abuse scandals linked to the Catholic Church and the gulf oil spill. Oct. 2-Nov.13; Catharine Clark Gallery,

“Tammy Rae Carland: Funny Face, I Love You” For her second solo show at Silverman Gallery, Mr. Lady Records cofounder and visual artist Tammy Rae Carland presents a suite of new work inspired by female comedians. Carland’s photographs of empty stand-up stages give off a slightly forlorn vibe, to be sure, but her anywhere clubs are also sites of possibility to laugh off gender difference as well as to laugh at it. You’ll leave in stitches. Sept. 10-Oct. 23, 2010; Silverman Gallery,

“10 Years of Fecal Face, An Anniversary Show” A decade in Internet years is a long-ass time, so three cheers to founder John Trippe and his army of global correspondents for sticking to their guns these past 10 years and creating an invaluable resource and platform for Bay Area artists and visual art fans. Tripp has pulled together a who’s who of site and Fecal Face Dot Gallery alum — David Choe, Matt Furie, and Jeremy Fish, to name a few — for this epic retrospective. Support the scene that supports you. Sept. 10-Oct. 9, 2010; Luggage Store Gallery,

“HARVEST: what have you gathered?” Just in time for the lead-up to Thanksgiving, the North of Market/Tenderloin Community Benefit District Gallery lays out quite a spread. “Harvest” asked a diverse group of TL-based artists, “What have you gathered?” Their responses should make for an interesting snapshot of the lives that comprise a neighborhood in flux. Sept. 1–Nov. 30; 134 A Golden Gate,

“Reclaimed: Paintings From the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker” Fact: the Nazis did many shitty things, such as taking other people’s (wealthy Jews, in particular) cultural property as their own. Such was the fate of the collection of prominent Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, who had amassed a sizable number of Northern Renaissance rarities. After much effort conservators finally repieced together the collection in 2006, and now SF gets a peek at Goudstikker’s greatest hits. And what hits they are: for starters, Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape with Iceskaters (1608) could give Breughel’s peasantry a run for their money. Oct. 29-March 11, 2011; Contemporary Jewish Museum,

“Chris Duncan: Eye Against I” Though it takes its title from a seminal album by Washington, D.C., hardcore-legends Bad Brains, “Eye Against I” can also refer to the mind/body split one undergoes when staring down one of Chris Duncan’s refracted whirlpools of color. Fry art by way of Saul Bass is one way to think about Duncan’s carefully hued spirals of isosceles triangles, but some of the guest artists scheduled for a series of accompanying live events might provide some other ways to re-see the work. Sept. 11- Oct. 16, 2010; Baer Ridgway Exhibitions,

“One Night Stand: A Mills MFA Group Show” Art doesn’t come much cheaper than this. The bright-eyed and bushy-tailed talents in the 2011 Mills MFA class are selling their work for under $50 a pop. Buy now or cry later after they’ve won a SECA award and made the cover of Juxtapoz. Oct. 8, 6-9 p.m.; Branch Gallery,

“Cliff Hengst and Wayne Smith: New Work” Both Hengst and Smith have been longtime fixtures on the SF art scene, but their work — different as it is in tone and medium — is always refreshing. Here’s hoping Hengst unveils work in line with the small gems in his last showing at 2nd Floor Projects: news photo-sourced images of demonstrations in which everything but the protestors’ signs have been blackened out. Sept. 10-Oct. 29; Gallery 16,

“Suggestions of Life Being Lived” This exciting group show curated by Danny Orendorff and Adriane Skye Roberts promises to live up to the dare laid down by Bikini Kill many moons ago to be “worse than queer.” Bypassing the usual identity politics-centered narratives and concerns that have defined much LGBT art practice, “Suggestions” seeks out new territory for queerness, whether it be in Kirstyn Russell’s photos of gay bars past, Jeannie Simm’s intimate study of an Indonesian maid training agency, or Chris Vargas and Greg Youman’s humorous “real life” Web sitcom Falling in Love With Chris and Greg. Sept. 9-Oct. 23; SF Camerawork,


Not all fall hits are in the city. Borrow some wheels and head to points north and south to check out these promising shows:


Before SF Art Institute was SF Art Institute, it was known as the California School of Fine Arts and had one of the finest photography programs in post-World War II America. Set up by Ansel Adams, the program counted such celebrated photographers as Dorothea Lange, Homer Page, and Imogen Cunningham among its illustrious faculty. Smith Anderson North in San Anselmo collects an unprecedented showing of photographers who came out of the program at the height of its fame. Sept. 14-Oct. 15; Smith Anderson North,

“2010 01SJ BIENNIAL”

You may know the way to San Jose, but San Jose knows the way to the future. The 01SJ Biennial has grown into one of the Bay Area’s premier art events, bringing together visual artists, architects, computer programmers, and a whole host of other creative doers and thinkers and unleashing their creations and collaborations across the city, this year, with the prompt to “Build Your Own World.” Sept. 16-19;

In the dumps


From Kurt Schwitters’ dwelling-consuming accretion The Merzbau to Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s silhouette-casting garbage heaps, making art from the discard pile is by no means a new gesture. It can still be a potent one, though, as evinced by “Art at the Dump,” a 20-year survey of the fruits of Recology’s artist in residence program at Intersection for the Art’s new gallery space in the historic San Francisco Chronicle building.

Recology’s program — the first of its kind in the nation — has grown immensely since the late artist and activist Jo Hanson first reached out to the Sanitary Fill Company back in 1990 and got her hands dirty. Today, participating artists are provided with a stipend and a studio in which to create work from materials scavenged from the Public Disposal and Recycling Area (a.k.a. “the dump”). The residency also involves community outreach, with artists speaking to the more than 5,000 students and adults who annually attend tours of the city’s garbage and recycling facility.

As in any large group show, the creative mileage at “Art at the Dump” varies. More than a few residents over the years seem unified in their studied appreciation of Robert Rauschenberg’s combines and Joseph Cornell’s shadow boxes, but their final pieces often lack Rauschenberg’s precise eye for juxtaposition or Cornell’s tender hermeticism. Mark Faigenbaum’s (2005) wonderful Pop 66 (2) — a chopped-up 1966 Muni bus poster arranged into a quilt-like pattern of concentric squares — on the other hand, stands on its own as an abstract reconfiguration of its source material while also evoking Charles Demuth’s precisionist oils.

If one artist’s trash doesn’t always make for treasure, at the very least you can count on a conversation piece. A sculpture by Casey Logan (2008) consists of a section of a tree trunk whose upper half has been, as if by the intervention of some magic beavers, whittled into a two-by-four complete with barcode sticker. It is called Destiny. It makes for a humorous pairing with Linda Raynsford’s (2000) two Tree Saws: old handsaws whose rusted blades Raynsford delicately cut into the outlines of forest giants.

Other past residents have taken a craftier approach. Estelle Akamine’s 1993 evening skirt and fantastically fringed cape made from computer tape ribbon could easily pass for one of Gareth Pugh’s recent gothic runway looks.

Perhaps the exhibit’s final word belongs to Donna Keiko Ozawa’s 2001 conceptual sculpture Art Reception, a found jug filled to the top with trash produced during a gallery’s opening reception. Cleverly recalling Oscar Wilde’s famous opening salvo in The Picture of Dorian Gray that “All art is quite useless,” Ozawa’s piece also underscores that the process of art-making — from a piece’s creation to its display — leaves its own set of carbon footprints.



Robb Putnam’s also no stranger to refuse. The titular orphans in the Oakland artist’s first solo exhibition at Rena Bransten are large, cartoonish canine heads made from compacted scraps of old blankets, fake fur, bubble-wrap, and it seems whatever else Putnam swept off his studio floor.

Mike Kelley’s perverse stuffed animal sculptures and the grotesque composite portraits of Giuseppe Arcimboldo both come to mind here. But with their Augie Doggie-like curves and permanently wagging tongues, Putnam’s mutts are more pitiable than abject. Skinned and beheaded, they are mascots for the unwanted and forgotten.

The show is only up for four more days, so run don’t walk to take in all the plush sadness.


Through Sept. 25, free

Intersection 5M

925 Mission, SF

(415) 626-2787


Through Aug. 21, free

Rena Bransten Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 982-3292


Lights out!


NOIR (AND NOT) FILM SERIES Like many of its hardboiled antiheros, film noir is a career criminal on the lam. Constantly eluding the clutches of the historically particular and categorically retentive, it’s especially skilled at flying under the radar only to stealthily reappear years down the line. Just look at the number of times it has been sighted (as well as cited) since its initial appearance in postwar France, when critics first identified something particulier about the 1930s and ’40s American films that filled Parisian cinemas.

Noir’s notorious elasticity is on full display in “Not Necessarily Noir,” an extraordinary police lineup of double bills organized by the Roxie’s resident noir programmer Elliot Lavine. Following on the heels of Lavine’s May series “I Still Wake Up Dreaming,” which celebrated the down and dirty world of B pictures, the two-week long “Not Necessarily Noir,” as its title indicates, includes films that scan as noir more in terms of their sensibility than which video store shelf they’d sit on. From Cold War sci-fi (the original 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers kicks off the series) to more contemporary dramas such as Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992) — and let’s not forget the 1983 WTF remake of Breathless starring Richard Gere — “Noir” plays fast and loose with genre and decade but ensures that at the core of each of its titles gleams a heart of darkness.

I’m hoping that the recent return of Mad Men will boost interest in the early 1960s rarities Lavine has programmed, all of which make the bad behavior and private tribulations of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce suits look like kid stuff. Let’s start with The Sadist (1961), James Landis’ lean and nasty B&W attempt to jump on Psycho‘s bandwagon. The picture’s reputation as an honorary precursor to 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is much deserved thanks to Arch Hall Jr.’s gonzo performance as the titular thrill-killer.

With his incessant giggle, bleached pompadour, 10-yard stare, and an overhanging brow worthy of Ansel Adams, Hall Jr. is hillbilly nut-job personified, and it’s a pleasure to which him terrorize a trio of uptight schoolteachers stranded at a remote gas station. Credit is also due to the striking compositions of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who would in later decades become the Oscar-winning go-to man for Hollywood blockbusters such as The Deer Hunter (1978) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

The psychological thriller Mirage (1965) is another title that tips its hat to Hitchcock (as does Brian De Palma’s 1976 Vertigo redo Obsession, which screens in the series’ second week). Gregory Peck stars as a bewildered accountant whose world starts to fall apart when he realizes that his daily routine has actually been a byproduct of long-term amnesia. As he attempts to recover his life pre-memory loss, first with the aid of a hired detective (Walter Matthau in a great supporting bit) and then with an old flame (Diane Baker), he discovers that someone is invested in keeping him in the dark — for good.

The real gem, though, is Jack Garfein’s criminally unavailable Something Wild (1961), which plays with his only other feature, the homoerotic military school drama The Strange One (1957). You know the gloves are off when within its first five minutes the ravishing Carroll Baker, the film’s star and director’s then-wife, is graphically raped. After running away to Manhattan, Baker’s traumatized victim is rescued from a suicide attempt by Mike (Ralph Meeker, star of 1955’s Kiss Me Deadly), a drunken mechanic who locks her in his rundown flat. Though, at times, Meeker and Baker lay on the Method acting pretty thick, Aaron Copland’s dissonant original score and cinematographer Eugen Schüfftan’s remarkable black and white photography of New York’s slums and skyscrapers push Something Wild into wonderfully strange, surreal places.

Week two, which focuses more on recent incarnations of noir, might rankle purists, but offers plenty of bullets, bloodlust, and good men turned bad. Quentin Tarantino favorite Rolling Thunder (1978) offers much gruesome fun as its claw-wielding, Vietnam vet protagonist hunts down his family’s murderers. Also worthy of rediscovery are Ivan Passer’s harrowing Cutter’s Way (1981), which also centers around a group of dissolute ‘Nam vets, and neo-noir proponent Paul Schrader’s Blue Collar (1988), a similarly working-man-minded drama about the fallout of a union office heist bungled by a group of broke Detroit auto workers.


Aug. 20–Sept. 2, $5–$ 9.75

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087

The yellow wallpaper


HAIRY EYEBALL New York City construction workers at the World Trade Center site recently unearthed an 18th-century ship hull. More interesting is that scientists believe that the structure was part of the massive landfill that extended lower Manhattan further into the Hudson River. You don’t have to read too deep to hit on the symbolism of this story, even if the occurrence at its center isn’t so uncommon in a city as densely developed and old as New York (see the 1991 discovery of a 200-year old African burial ground, also in lower Manhattan). Beneath the site where the Twin Towers fell lies further wreckage, older ruins. Nothing is ever truly gone. What lies buried will eventually surface. The present is always haunted by the past.

The same could be said of the art world, which has recently been holding some flashy curatorial séances of its own. Two exhibits don’t necessarily make a trend, but the Berkeley Art Museum’s current “Hauntology,” recently reviewed in this paper, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Musuem’s ongoing exhibit “Haunted: Contemporary: Photography/Video/Performance,” both summon the specters of late-1980s academic theory (Derrida in name and word, in the case of BAM’s show) in their selection of works that address the unseen yet felt presences — aesthetic, historical, political — floating amid the present.

You can also add “Now, It’s About What You Can’t See” to the list, although this group show at Triple Base Gallery of paintings, drawings, and installations is not as enthralled by its organizing principle — what is absent may not be forgotten — as the previously mentioned exhibits are to critical theory and now-old debates around appropriation in photography. As Triple Base’s statement declares, though the artists vary by age and medium, their works, “provide faint shadowy traces of moments to imagine what once existed and hint at an ever-evolving history.”

The faintest traces belong to Rachel E. Foster’s wall installation, which is practically invisible from certain angles. Only by moving back and forth in front of the surface does the repeatedly painted word “ghost” emerge from the seemingly contiguous white field of the gallery’s wall. As in her older works involving text, here, Foster cleverly collapses medium and message, using a representational strategy to bring a word’s meaning to life. In this case, the word “ghost” becomes just that.

Unfortunately, it’s hard not to read Foster’s installation as a commentary on the small group of Eleanor Kent’s early oil paintings, which are hung on the same wall. Inspired by her life in Noe Valley in the 1960s when she was still associated with the Bay Area Figurative movement, Kent’s small-scale domestic scenes — her son playing, a couple talking over dinner — aren’t by themselves elegiac. But Foster’s apparitional wallpaper imbues Kent’s facelessness figures and rough outlines with an air of loss that might not be present otherwise.

Wallpaper is put to different use in Mara Baldwin’s How to remember where you put something, the sharpest and most moving articulation of the show’s preoccupation with absence and memory. Baldwin, it appears, has removed and rehung a large section of old wallpaper. The yellowish pattern of red and yellow flowers has faded with age, as revealed by two brighter rectangles near the section’s center that suggest the spaces where perhaps art or photos had once been hung (curiously, no nail holes are visible). But looking closer, you realize that the paper in the less-faded sections is not the same paper at all, but a continuation of the wallpaper’s design in watercolor.

The piece’s two painted sections aren’t simply indexes for what’s gone missing (which may not have even existed in the first place). Executed by Baldwin’s steady, patient hand, the painted sections also draw attention to what they are intended to replicate: the banal, mass-produced wallpaper that surrounds them. By flattening background and subject, Baldwin makes painting the aid to memory of the piece’s title, while also suggesting that “putting on a new coat of paint” always involves some form of erasure. Chechu Alava’s soft-focus portrait of a sylph-like young woman in a slip is more conventionally ghostly, but not nearly as haunting as Foster’s hidden graffiti or Baldwin’s yellow wallpaper.



As I wrote two columns ago in my review of the multi-gallery show “They Knew What They Wanted,” the George Eastman House’s 1975 exhibit “New Topographics” — currently hanging in a reassembled version at SFMOMA — continues to cast its shadow over contemporary art and curatorial practice, particularly where landscape is concerned.

“Land Use,” at Oakland’s Swarm Gallery, could easily be a satellite to both exhibits. Bill Mattick’s color photographs documenting the ecological cost of urban and industrial development in Southern California are the closest relatives to the grim indictments of such “New Topographic” participants as Joe Deal, Robert Adams, and Lewis Baltz. Chris Sicat’s pieces of reclaimed wood “colored in” with soft graphite pencils are less successful as sculptures than as documents of the artist’s attempts to work within natural form of his materials. Sculptor Reenie Charrière takes a similar tack with manmade waste, aggregating the plastic bits that don’t make it to the recycling center into playful, biologic forms.


Through Aug. 29

Triple Base

3041 24th St., SF

(415) 643-3943


Through Sept. 12

Swarm Gallery

560 Second St, Oakl.

(510) 839-2787

The kids aren’t alright


FILM The Kids Are Alright isn’t the only film this summer that subtly skewers the suburban upper-middle class by following a seemingly well-adjusted family as they’re thrown into crisis when a shadowy father figure attempts to enter their orbit. Only in the case of Todd Solondz’s Life During Wartime, instead of a sperm donor, Dad is a convicted child molester.

A quasi-sequel to 1998’s Happiness, Life picks up 10 years later to survey the still-damaged Jordan sisters. After discovering that her husband Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams) is still making sexually harassing phone calls, mousy Joy (squeaky-voiced British actress Shirley Henderson) flees to Florida, where her older sister Trish (Allison Janney) has attempted to start a new life for herself and her children. Oldest Billy (Chris Marquette) is now a bitter college student, and youngest son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) still doesn’t know the horrible truth about his father Bill (Ciarán Hinds), who has just been released from prison. Third sister Helen (Ally Sheedy), has had success in Hollywood, but still feels victimized by her family.

Despite the entirely new cast, happiness remains just as elusive as before. Pleasure, when it can be found, is fleeting. Characters’ awkward conversations with each other inevitably sputter and stall, and even the best intentions are no measure against disaster. Solondz may be a scathing observer, but he is not above being sympathetic when its called for. Neither does he gloss over the serious questions — what are the limits of forgiveness? When is forgetting necessary? — Life grabbles with, something that was quite clear when I talked with the affable Solondz in his San Francisco hotel room.

SFBG Why did you decide to return to these characters?

Todd Solondz When I finished Happiness, I never imagined I would. But it just shows that my imagination wasn’t so fertile, because about 10 years later I wrote the first scene of Life During Wartime and I liked what I had written. Also, knowing that I could recast the movie freed me up to have fun and get at things I hadn’t gotten before in quite the same way.

SFBG Diverse casting is another hallmark of yours, and you always get such strong performances from your actors. Do you have specific people in mind once you’ve written the script?

TS I like to shake it up and try out different people. For this film, I knew I wanted Ally Sheedy but I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get her. Almost everybody has read everything for my movies because I don’t have much in the way of rehearsal. Usually the audition is the rehearsal since we usually can’t afford anything more.

SFBG Your films elicit this queasy response. The audience’s laughter always seems nervous. How do you find a balance between humor and sadness?

TS It’s a moral challenge. As an audience member, you’re highly attuned to the laughter you like and the laughter you don’t like, and it becomes a moral decision — laughing or not laughing. My movies are comedies, but terribly sad comedies.

SFBG Life During Wartime interrogates the possibility of “forgiving and forgetting.” Yet you’re always careful not to condemn your characters too harshly, no matter how antisocial or appalling their behavior.

TS Yes, but you have to be careful. I have no sympathy for [Hinds’ character] Bill Maplewood or someone who could commit those crimes, but he is tragic since he also loved his son. People want to embrace humanity or love mankind, but those are abstractions so they don’t really mean anything. Rather, to what extent can you allow someone like Bill Maplewood into that embrace of humanity? To me pedophilia has no inherent interest. It’s how it serves as a metaphor for that which is most demonized, ostracized, and feared that interests me. I think in this country more people would rather have dinner with Osama bin Laden than with Bill Maplewood.

SFBG Can you divulge anything about the film you’re working on now?

TS The title is Dark Horse, and all I can say is that there is no child molestation, rape, or masturbation in it, so I know what’s left. But we’ll see how marketable it is.

LIFE DURING WARTIME opens Fri/6 in Bay Area theaters.

According to Matthew


It is an understatement to say that the work of Matthew Barney elicits strong reactions. Critics have alternately hailed him as “the most important American artist of his generation” (that’s the New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman) and complained of his art’s Wagnerian grandiosity, needless inscrutability, pretentiousness, and icy perfection (“loveless” was one of the words the San Francisco Chronicle’s Kenneth Baker used to describe “Drawing Restraint 9,” Barney’s 2006 show at SFMOMA).

As someone whose initial infatuation with Barney’s work is increasingly tempered by skepticism, I think there is truth to both camps. You’ll be able to deliver — or perhaps revise — your own verdict at the Roxie Theater, which is presenting all 7.5 hours of the epic Cremaster Cycle (1995-2002), Barney’s five-part, officially-never-gonna-be-available-on-commercial-DVD magnum opus. The theater is also screening De Lama Lâmina, Barney’s near hour-long 2004 film, in which he collaborates with a Brazilian Carnaval krewe to orchestrate a performance aboard a float in Salvador da Bahia’s annual parade.

Barney’s art becomes increasingly frustrating and seductive the longer one attempts to decode its carefully staged and indisputably visually stunning pageantry, which encompasses death metal covers of Johnny Cash, the esoteric intricacies of Masonic symbolism, Busby Berkeley-style revues in football stadiums, androgynous water sprites, and the complex biology of sexual differentiation in the fetus (the series is named after the muscle that controls the descent of the testes). The one constant is Barney’s display of his body: frequently nearly-nude, but more often subject to some physically demanding ordeal or engaged in an athletic feat.

As Daniel Birnbaum astutely observes in Artforum, “Barney is a believer in ‘the meaning of meaning.'” Which is to say, nothing is done just for show in Barney’s world, even if the systems of meaning he draws upon — developmental biology, Celtic mythology, Mormonism, minimalist sculpture — are themselves enclosed within, and at times frustratingly occluded by, his art’s glossy packaging and Hollywood-level production values. It’s hard not to ask: what does it all mean? But the question easily gets lost within the Cremaster Cycle‘s lavishly appointed echo chambers.

That said, Barney’s art offers no shortage of beautiful moments and otherworldly imagery. His universe encompasses elegance (Aimee Mullins as a gorgeous cheetah woman in Cremaster 3) and horror (the conception scene early on in Cremaster 2). Whether or not all this beauty is truth is still up for debate.



Robert Koch Gallery is currently home to quite the odd couple. From the 1960s to 1985, Czech artist Miroslav Tichy, formerly a painter, took thousands of surreptitious pictures of women in his hometown of Kyjov using various homemade cameras made from whatever was on hand: cardboard tubes, wood, sanded Plexiglass lenses.

The photographs — creased, badly printed, all in soft focus — are as dreamy as they are creepy: Tichy often cropped off the heads of his unknowing subjects (many of whom are in swimwear), leaving their identities anonymous while reducing them to bared legs and torsos. Despite their aura of timelessness, you feel dirty looking at Tichy’s photos. It’s hard, though, not to keep staring.

Plenty of isolated gams appear in the work of Hungarian artist Foto Ada, also at Koch, but the effect is far less sinister. Ada (maiden name, Ada Ackermann, married name, Elemérné Marsovsky) created her remarkable photo-collages from the late 1930s through World War II, clipping magazine and newspaper images of soldiers, Hollywood starlets, and industrial landscapes into sharp and humorous comments on the accelerated culture of her time. The Nazis, in particular, gets theirs: Hitler and Goebbels converse in skeleton-filled catacombs, appropriately oblivious to the death that surrounds them.


July 30– Aug. 8, $5–$9.75

Roxie Theater

3117 16th St., SF

(415) 863-1087


Through Aug. 21, free

Robert Koch Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 421-0122


Group think


HAIRY EYEBALL “Calder to Warhol,” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s giant introductory survey of the Fisher collection, isn’t the only big summer show happening right now. With its wanted poster-style flyer design and a menacing title that could have come from a hardboiled paperback, “They Knew What They Wanted” is an exquisite corpse of a group show, pieced together and then strewn across town by four artists at four different galleries: Shannon Ebner at Altman Siegel, Robert Bechtle at John Berggruen, Katy Grannan at Fraenkel Gallery, and Jordan Kantor at Ratio 3.

Allusions to criminality aside, the artists/curators of “They Knew What They Wanted” would more likely be found on the forensics team than the wrong side of the law. All are steely observers whose art could broadly be said to share a focus on the dynamics of surveillance at work within postwar portrait and landscape photography, particularly photography that looked at what was booming outside of America’s urban centers. Although Grannan is the sole photographer in the group, Ebner’s temporary installations of handmade signage placed in public settings — which she then photographs in black and white — and Bechtle and Kantor’s photo-based oil paintings also fall under the sign of the photography.

It’s not surprising then that multiple pieces by each of the curators can be found across all four galleries, as well as certain names (Lee Friedlander, Miriam Böhm, Trevor Paglen, and Ed Ruscha in particular) whose work shares an aesthetic affinity with that of the curators. This form of cross-gallery display gives “They Knew What They Wanted” a cohesion that is often rare in group shows, while still not being so insular as to make it hard to differentiate each artist-curator’s own aesthetic sense.

Bechtle’s selections offer the least surprises, summoning the same post-1960s Western suburban milieu evoked by his photorealistic paintings of driveway-bound vintage cars. After a few rounds of viewing, though, Robert Adams’ vintage snaps of Colorado ‘burbs, Friedlander’s skewed takes on small town architecture, Isca Greenfield-Sanders’ aquatint etchings of backyard swimmers, and Tom McKinley’s oils of cool modernist interiors start to add up to the visual equivalent of tract housing.

Ebner and Kantor’s picks are more interior-minded than the mainly street-level and exterior scenes crowding John Berggruen. They also veer the furthest from each artist’s own work. For example, Sol LeWitt’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it painted electrical wall plate at Altman Siegel is just a few Home Depot aisles away from Rachel Whiteread’s stainless steel castings of light switches over at Ratio 3. Back at Altman Siegel, Fletcher Benton’s 1983 bronze tennis racket, “Adjustable Racket for Short Heavy Hitters,” leans dejectedly in a corner, in wait for a yard sale that will never come. Grannan’s grab bag at Fraenkel is the most photo-heavy, and her selection ventures furthest — with mixed success — from the thematic territory staked out by Bechtle, Ebner, and Kantor.

In a way, Ebner, Bechtle, Grannan, and Kantor have beat SFMOMA to the punch. The museum is set to restage the landmark 1975 photography exhibit “New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape” — which presented dispassionate documentation of parking lots, construction sites, and other forms of ex-urban development — at the end of the month. But for a sustained exploration of the meteor-like impact of “New Topographics” on the photography and painting that followed in its wake, one couldn’t ask for a better art historical crash-course than “They Knew What They Wanted.” *



Through July 31, free

John Berggruen Gallery

228 Grant, SF

(415) 781-4629

Through Aug. 7, free

Altman Siegel Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 576-9300

Through Aug. 13, free

Ratio 3

1447 Stevenson, SF

(415) 821-3371

Through Aug. 21, free

Fraenkel Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 981-2661

Riot awakening


FILM On the night of June 28, 1969, police embarked on what they thought would be a routine raid on a gay bar in New York’s Greenwich Village, the sleazy, Mafia-run Stonewall Inn. The ensuing three days of rioting — during which mostly young men and drag queens accustomed to being marginalized and hauled off to jail stood their ground and fought back — became what historian Lillian Faderman has called “the shot heard round the world” for LGBT activism: a spontaneous expression of street-level outrage that fueled the birth of a movement.

Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s solid documentary Stonewall Uprising takes a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to this historic flashpoint that makes for an information-packed, if at times dry, 80 minutes. Working around the paucity of photographic documentation of the actual riots (itself a testament to the marginalization of homosexuality in the late 1960s), Davis and Heilbroner make extensive use of period news footage and photography, reenactments, and most important, the first-person testimonies of who those who witnessed and participated in what one interviewee terms “our Rosa Parks moment.”

And what damning facts they are. Stonewall Uprising is most effective in its first half, when it vividly conveys the demonization and oppression queers regularly faced at a time when homosexuality was illegal in every state except Illinois. In one excerpted clip from a 1966 CBS investigative report that I’m sure Mike Wallace would just as soon have stricken from the record, the news anchor states matter-of-factly: “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous.” In another clip, a Florida detective sternly warns a gym full of middle school students that should any of them act on their same-sex desires, “you will be caught.”

Davis and Heilbroner’s contextual groundwork is as impressive for its archival research as it is repetitive in its message: pre-Stonewall life was hell. The documentary becomes more nuanced as it zeros in on reconstructing the first night of rioting via eyewitness accounts. Howard Smith and Lucian Truscott IV, journalists for the Village Voice whose offices were nearby, remember fearing for their lives when they found themselves barricaded inside the bar with the police. But it is former police deputy Seymour Pine who emerges as the night’s unofficial antihero, having ordered his officers to hold their fire to prevent unnecessary bloodshed. Pine’s interview — as much a mea culpa as a performance of self-assurance by an elderly man that he is on the right side of history — is Stonewall Uprising‘s true revelation. 

STONEWALL UPRISING opens Fri/9 in Bay Area theaters.

Dizzy dazzle


ART Let’s start with the obvious: the massive art collection of Gap Inc. founders Doris and the late Don Fisher is by far one of the largest and most significant windfalls SFMOMA has received in its 75-year history. More important, the collection — which had primarily been viewable throughout the Gap’s SF headquarters only by company employees and visiting tour groups — is finally being made accessible to the general public.

Gary Garrels, SFMOMA’s senior curator of painting and sculpture, has selected 160 works — a mere fraction of the 1,100 total — for “Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection,” a Fishers’ Greatest Hits that aims to provide an overview of the breadth of their holdings as well as highlight their in-depth focus on certain artists. During the exhibits media preview, Garrels mentioned that the Fishers acquired pieces without the help of advisers, jointly choosing works that “spoke to them.” Clearly, they had a taste for big game.

Primarily comprising paintings and sculpture, “Calder to Warhol” is, as its title indicates, a veritable who’s who of mid-to-late 20th century modern art that takes over the museum’s top two floors and spills out into the rooftop sculpture garden. I’m not being facetious when I say there’s something for everyone. Aside from extensive collections of Calder and Warhol, the show is chockablock with iconic pieces by Ellsworth Kelly, Gerhard Richter, Cy Twombly, Richard Serra, Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Close … and the list goes on.

The range of artists and quality of the pieces assembled is dizzying. Take the fourth floor, for instance. The shock of several hideous, large-scale mixed media on aluminum DayGlo monstrosities by Frank Stella from the late 1970s and ’80s is largely soothed by the blushing, meaty pinks and reds of The Street, a remarkable 1956 Philip Guston abstract canvas in an adjoining gallery (Guston gets an additional gallery all to himself), which then leads to the downy embrace of Lee Krasner’s equally stunning 1961 oil Polar Stampede — a palimpsest of brown and gold hatch-marked feathers — and from there a gallery of four decades of Twombly’s looped scribbles.

Then there’s the small collection of Agnes Martin paintings, which by itself would be worth the price of admission. Martin is an artist who particularly suffers in reproduction: the delicate lines and gentle washes of color in her paintings get lost, and all one sees are their grid-like skeletons. Being able to study up close the subtle pop effect of the squares in Night Sea (1963) — the way in which the gold leaf underneath the oil causes the canvas’ tiny bluish squares to flash teal — is a revelation.

Or, starting from the floor’s north end, one encounters a crash course in Pop Art and its kin. The Lichtensteins and the Claes Oldenburg apple core are all well and good, but the Warhols are where it’s at: standouts are early 1960s silkscreens such as Tunafish Disaster and two of the handsome criminals in the “Most Wanted Men” series, and lesser-famous portraits of Joseph Beuys and Robert Mapplethorpe alongside Dolly and Jackie’s familiar visages. These aren’t the usual Factory hits.

Around another corner, past a room crowded with Close portraits, is another must-see: two enormous Sigmar Polke canvases from his alchemical 1988 series, “The Spirits That Lend Strength to the Invisible,” on which the German artist applied unconventional materials such as tellurium, chemical resin, and ground-up meteors. Their wild, particulate sprays evoke both the Hubble Telescope’s images of space, as well as the crude plumes currently floating off the Gulf Coast.

And I haven’t even started in on the fifth floor, with its showcases of Important Works by Calder, Kelly, Serra, Kiefer, Richter, and some particularly wonderful Lewitt wall drawings.

Yes, “Calder to Warhol” is dizzying. It is also frequently dazzling. But I can’t help but feel a little squeamish in the face of such a grand and copious cache; one that until recently had been displayed as an act of corporate largesse to those in the service of the empire that funded its acquisition.

Art collecting is a form of investment, capital put down toward ensuring the collector’s future legacy as much as it is a reflection of aesthetic tastes. The Fishers rarely sold pieces, and the equal attention they paid to collecting both figurative and abstract works — as well as an earlier failed bid to construct a private museum in the Presidio — suggests that the collection was developed increasingly with an eye toward creating the very sort of jaw-dropping endowment of which SFMOMA now finds itself the very fortunate recipient.

Certainly for SFMOMA, the benefits of this gift are clear. The museum’s profile has undoubtedly risen, and will continue to rise once the planned expansion set to house the remaining 90 percent of the collection’s holdings is complete. What remains less apparent throughout “Calder to Warhol” is a sense of the Fishers’ personal investment in the pieces they so assiduously acquired. To simply say that the art — so much amazing work, now finally on view — speaks for itself is only half true. As with any major private collection, it also speaks to a long campaign waged over the peaks and valleys of the art market.

Still, the Fishers aren’t merely the sum of their deep pockets. I wish the wall panels revealed when each piece had been bought, and whether Don or Doris had singled it out first (Imagine their dinner conversations: “Honey, would you like to buy a Dan Flavin?”). That information would put a different, perhaps more humanizing, spin on the story “Calder to Warhol” currently tells: a testament to the Fishers’ wide-reaching, frequently well-informed, and relatively safe taste for blue chip names.


Through Sept. 19, $9–$15

(children under 12 free; first Tuesday of every month free)


151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000

The people’s court


HAIRY EYEBALL Amanda Curreri wants you. Like the open-ended phrasing of its title, "Occupy the Empty," Curreri’s second solo show at Ping Pong Gallery is both a basic statement of what an artist does within an exhibition space and a call to action soliciting the viewer to step in, step up, and take a stand. Or perhaps the phrase should be "take the stand," since, as the artist explained to me during a recent gallery visit, the arrangement of the installation’s components roughly mirrors the layout of a courtroom.

A heavy wooden bench sits to the right of the gallery entrance, evoking where the witnesses, lawyers, and spectators sit; leaning against the wall to the right is the "jury box," two long panels silk-screened with six life-size images of chairs apiece; a sculpture in the gallery’s center, which looks like a segment of the kind of pearl necklace both Jackie O and a porn actress would wear, becomes the balustrade that typically separates the actors from the observers in legal proceedings.

On the wall opposite the bench hangs a canvas covered in carefully painted grayscale rectangles — an abstract approximation of TV static — that’s next to a TV set elevated on a stool off of which hangs a compilation of last words of various famous figures (it’s hard to top Karl Marx’s final trump card: "Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough"). This is what Curreri refers to as the "power spot" in the room, "either where the judge would go or where the witness stand would be."

Our conversation is occurring after I’ve just "stepped down" from being videotaped by Curreri, and her telling collapse of the judge’s bench and the jury box sums up my experience: I wasn’t really under oath, but I wanted to be true to myself, since my act of testifying and its record are now part of "Occupy the Empty." She’s been asking people who come by the show to sign up and share their thoughts on the subject of last words. On July 9th, just before the exhibit closes, these conversations will be played back on the TV set, which until then has remained off.

Curreri started formulating "Occupy the Empty" last year after participating in a court hearing in Massachusetts concerning her late father. It turns out this was the same courthouse in which Italian-American anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death in the early 20th century. Curreri, also of Italian-American descent, started thinking about the judicial system as a kind of democratic theater in which one’s mandatory performance carries incredibly high stakes — including, as with Sacco and Vanzetti and thousands of other tragic cases, death.

"I wanted to bring some gravity into what we do as artists," Curreri explains, reflecting on the stakes of participation in her art. "I really value the way people put their lives together and present themselves. So I wanted a work that would necessitate some commitment on the viewers’ part."

When Curreri starts remembering the conversation she had with her father on his deathbed, I think of the collage hanging on the wall opposite the silk-screened jury box, in which Curreri has surrounded a copy of the moving letter Sacco wrote to his son on the eve of his execution with childhood photos of her and her dad. This fusion of the personal with the historic is simultaneously touching and troubling (Sacco’s words are not those of Curreri’s father, even though the two men are aligned graphically), but it is rooted in the common impulse to ground our present by finding solace in the past. Last words are comforting in this regard. They are epigrammatic reminders that we will have our say.

At its core, "Occupy the Empty" is about just that: having a say. Or as Curreri phrases it: "I’m asking people to stand in a moment of silence and occupy it and project."


"3+3," a group show of local marquee names at Haines Gallery, contains a lot of eye candy. Shaun O’Dell’s delicate ink-on-paper exercises in moiré pattern interference and Leslie Shows’ graphic reconfiguration of a brush-painted Chinese landscape scroll via cut-out comics and Benday dot sprays are particularly lovely stations in this curatorial relay: Haines selected O’Dell along with Kota Ezawa and Darren WatersTon, who in turn chose Emily Prince, Taha Belal, and Shows, respectively.

Prince’s contribution stands out because the beauty of its craft comments on the nature and history of its craft. In two identical wooden square frames hang what appear to be identical lace doilies, although the one of the right seems more brittle and aged. Closer inspection reveals that the second doily is in fact a to-scale, scanned, and intricately cut-out paper replica of the one on the left, which the wall card indicates was crocheted by the artist’s grandmother. Prince’s handiwork is no less delicate — or "auratic" for that matter — than that of her grandmother’s, and this tribute to "women’s work" is no less genuine for containing a facsimile.

If you want to have a conversation about the place of craft within fine art, you’re first going to have to navigate through these two skeins.


Through July 10, free

"Last Words" viewing party July 9 , 7–9 p.m.

Ping Pong Gallery

1240 22nd St, SF

(415) 550-7483


Through July 10, free

Haines Gallery

49 Geary, SF

(415) 397-8114

The Daily Blurgh: Caged tigers I have known


Curiosities, quirks, oddites, and items from around the Bay and beyond

SF may put the “booooo” back in booze: “San Francisco could become California’s first city and county to tax booze — about a nickel a drink — in an effort to recover taxpayer health care costs for alcohol abusers.”


RIP: SF Zoo’s Tony the Tiger.


Architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro was picked yesterday by the UC Berkeley to design the university’s new art and film complex that will house the Berkeley Art Museum and the Pacific Film Archive. Does that mean DS+R are still in the running to design SFMOMA’s planned expansion?


Palin PWND in ethics probe (but, sadly, at this point, isn’t $390,000 just chump change to her?).


“Though Mr. Tabbert, 28, personally prefers G-star denim and concert tees, he was on the hunt for 150 dishdashas, the ankle-length garments worn by men in Iraq and elsewhere in the Arab world. In July, actors will wear them in a simulated Iraqi village, posing as townspeople, clerics and insurgents at a National Guard training ground in the Midwest.”

A gallery of Klubstitute fliers from SF’s gay 90s.

In honor of the late Tony and the gay high holidays that are upon us, here is some feline pride from France: