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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Final Days for 2 Exhibits

Tomorrow, June 30th, is the final day of “Bay Area Currents” at the non-profit Oakland Art Gallery. For this year’s edition, the juror was Christopher Miles, notable art writer and curator from the Los Angeles area. There is some interesting work in this show, particularly the contributions of Michael Mellon, Ben Riesman, James Sansing, Tabitha Soren, and Kirk Stoller. The gallery is located near Oakland’s City Hall, at 199 Kahn’s Alley. There is a map on the OAG website. The hours are 11:00 to 5:00 on Friday.

Michael Zheng’s exhibit at Mission 17 in San Francisco, originally scheduled to close on July 1st, has been extended to July 8th. The show, entitled “As the Butterfly Said to Chuang Tzu,” is highly conceptual but absorbing in a quiet way. The show is uncluttered and unfolds nicely as you wander around. In one piece (image above), the artist has damaged a wall and then covered the damage with a life-sized photo of the damage. Another piece is nearly invisible until you notice it, and then you have to look close to make sure you know what you’re seeing. Gallery hours are Tuesday 3:00-6:00, and Saturday 2:00-5:00. The address is 2111 Mission St., Suite 401, near the corner of 17th St.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Obscure Show of the Week

Five guys who met in the MFA program at San Francisco Art Institute have organized a show of their work at Root Division, an artist-run space in San Francisco's Mission District. The artists are Dustin Fosnot, David O. Johnson, Casey Logan, Ian Treasure, and Brian Wasson. The affable Dave Johnson gave me a tour on Monday. It’s an interesting show—and definitely more engaging than a number of recent commercial gallery shows. I hope people will see it by the final day, Saturday, June 24th. There is a blog site for the show, although the photos there don’t do it justice (and what’s with that black background?). The installation shot above is borrowed from that site. One hiccup is that you need to call Root Division at (415) 863-7668 to arrange to see the show. This is not as hard as it may seem. One reason for the appointments is so that the show can be turned on (many lights, a motor) before visitors arrive. Root Division is located at 3175 17th St., between Shotwell St. and South Van Ness Ave.

What’s Up With This Blog?

I’ve been neglecting this blog, and here’s why. First, I got involved in a lot of household projects. One thing led to another, and they all soaked up time. Meanwhile, I came to realize that the blog had turned into a job. I had retired only months before, and already I was imposing a job-like structure on myself. That was a mistake. I need a free-flowing, unstructured expanse of time after all those years of work.

I have other priorities: exercise, reading, DVDs, music, hanging out. Even in the art world I have other priorities. I would rather put together an art exhibit than write about one. I would rather fool around with my own art projects than write about the art world.

The blog became a burden mainly because I was attempting to provide a guide to the local scene. It’s no secret that press coverage of the scene is slim to none. A future researcher trying to understand Bay Area art in the past 10-15 years would find little help in the press. Most of what happens is simply not recorded there—a scandal for a supposedly cultured region. Instead, the best public records we have are a few websites. I was trying to add to that mix but have decided that fixing the information gap is not my job.

I’m switching to a more occasional and personal mode. I will continue to recommend some exhibits and comment on a few of them. I will record my thoughts on other art-world topics. But I’ll be doing this only as time permits and as the spirit moves me. My goal is to be steadily intermittent.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Last Day for Bucheon Show

Today June 18th is the last day of “Deluge” at Bucheon Gallery. It’s a group show of mostly (but not exclusively) watercolors, and there are a number of work that are worth seeing. My photos of the show did not turn out very well, partly because of uneven gallery lighting, but examples are shown above and below. The gallery is open until 6:00 pm today. The location is the Civic Center area at 389 Grove St., just east of Gough St.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The (Sad) Affordable Art Fair

I just looked through the website of the upcoming Affordable Art Fair in New York City, which has lined up more than 75 galleries. Is there such a thing as an infallible taste for bad art? It's painful to think of newbie collectors attending this event with the expectation that a lot of good art will be available for—how lucky—under $5,000. The art world actually offers quite a bit of good art for less than $5,000, but you need to know who and where. Newbie collectors need to understand that top galleries instinctively steer away from anything that sounds down-market, even if their backrooms contain excellent work in the lower price range.

Friday, June 02, 2006

New Exhibits in SF and Beyond

The MFA Exhibition of the University of California, Davis, will open tonight, Friday, June 2nd. There will be receptions at the two venues, the Richard L. Nelson Gallery and the Memorial Union Art Gallery. The campus website provides a map page that also has a link to parking information.

The non-profit Southern Exposure is about to close for an extended period of earthquake retrofitting and gallery reconfiguration. On Saturday, June 3rd, there will be a closing event from noon to 5:00 pm. As a souvenir of this much-loved space, you can plunk down $20 and get a canned piece of their walls (photo above). The address is 401 Alabama St., near 17th St., in San Francisco.

Jack Hanley Gallery is opening a solo exhibit of New York artist Carter. Carter’s drawings are full of male heads that remind me of barber shop style posters. The show will also include photographs. There will be a reception on Saturday, June 3rd, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. The address is 395 Valencia St. (near 15th St.) in San Francisco.

Crown Point Press has released two new etchings by New York artist Kiki Smith. These are on view in the gallery along with other work. The location is 20 Hawthorne St., off Howard St., in San Francisco.

San Francisco Art Institute has opened an exhibition that includes 15 SFAI alumni from the late 1960s to the late 1990s. The exhibit, entitled “Work Zones,” was curated by Okwui Enwezor and is presented in the Walter and McBean Galleries. This is a don't miss exhibit, but there is plenty of time to see it, as it runs through July 29th. The address is 800 Chestnut St., between Jones and Leavenworth Sts.

If you’re out in San Francisco’s Sunset District, stop by the Mollusk Surf Shop to check out the little show curated by Marsea Goldberg, proprietor of New Image Art in Los Angeles. I have seen some good work in this relaxed venue. The address is 4500 Irving St. (at 46th Ave.). The phone is (415) 564-6300.

Back to the Blog

Recently I stopped blogging while dealing with other things. First I (more or less) finished the extensive re-hanging of the art on my walls. This included lots of hole patching & spot painting. The good news: it looks better. The bad news: no more room for wall art.

My fix-it energy then spread to the rest of the apartment. I reorganized my closets, which provided a few that’s-where-that-was moments. I got rid of various stuff, creating small joyful patches of free space, always at a premium in a small apartment. I did a bunch of little repairs. I ordered several stacking desk trays to help me organize all the art-related announcements, clippings, notes, etc. that are threatening to overrun the place. And throughout the apartment, I cleaned like a demon. (I still have bruises, now a week old, from some of that cleaning.)

Some of the stuff I decided to get rid of was CDs and LPs. This meant doing a farewell sampling of dozens of disks. One night I was up until 4:00 a.m. doing this (on headphones).

Now I walk around my place with a satisfied glow, the housecleaning version of post-coital flush.

In a psychologically related project, I have also spent hours researching cities and towns that could be places to live now that I'm a retiree. I want more space than I can afford in San Francisco. The cost of living in this city has steadily increased while the quality of life has declined. Re-locating could take a year or more, so I’m trying to get started on it.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Crunch of Bay Area MFA Shows (updated!)

Most of the Bay Area’s art studio MFA programs open or close their graduate exhibitions this month. Tomorrow, May 19th, is the last day to see the exhibit of 8 artists at San Francisco State University. The hours are Noon to 4:00 pm. The location is the Fine Arts Building, which is across a walkway from the Creative Arts Building and close to the Student Center. The campus website has a map. The nearest street parking is likely to be on or near Holloway Ave., off 19th Ave.

Saturday, May 20th, is the final day to see the large exhibit at The California College of the Arts (CCA). I’ve been through it twice and can recommend it. The address is 1111 8th St. at the base of Potrero Hill, in San Francisco. Hours are 10:00 am to 7:00 pm daily. Free street parking is generally available nearby.

The final day for UC Berkeley's MFA exhibit is Sunday, May 21st. The show includes 7 artists and takes place at the Berkeley Art Museum. The hours are 11:00 am to 5:00 pm for the remaining 3 days. The address is 2626 Bancroft Way, and there is another entrance at 2621 Durant Ave. Admission fees are spelled out on the museum website. (This is the only MFA exhibit in this list that requires an admission fee—and the only one, so far as I know, that forbids photography.) There is a city parking lot between Channing Way and Durant Ave., west of Telegraph Ave.

San Francisco Art Institute’s large MFA exhibition opens Friday, May 19th, with a reception from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. (Actually they’re calling it a Vernissage. C'est prétentieux, non?) From May 20th to 27th the show will be open daily from Noon to 6:00 pm. The location is the Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason, San Francisco. Fort Mason has large areas for parking; according to the Fort Mason website, parking fees were initiated this month.

The compact MFA exhibit at Mills College (Oakland) will continue through Sunday, May 28th. There is some good work here, as reported here on April 29th. The exhibit is installed at the campus Art Museum, which has variable hours. Directions for getting to Mills via the freeway are posted on the college website. Free parking passes are available at the entry gate.

Finally, Stanford University’s MFA exhibit opened on May 16th and will run through June 18th. There will be a reception on Thursday, May 25th, from 6:00 to 9:00 pm. It’s a small show—only 5 artists—but this program has a reputation for quality. The exhibit is presented in the T.W. Stanford Art Gallery. Stanford is located about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The university has an interactive map to help visitors. Gallery hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. Parking is free after 4:00 pm and all day on weekends.

Alert: New SF Exhibit Opens Tonight

Two solo exhibits open tonight at Ampersand International Arts. “Under Skin” presents new paper cutouts by Chicago-based Tanya Hastings Gill (first image above). The work captures the artist’s response to the children she has seen during a recent year of international travel. The second artist is Laura Heyman, based in Syracuse, New York. In her project, titled “The Photographer’s Wife,” she photographs herself in the manner of male artists taking snapshots of their wives or lovers (second image above). There is a reception from 6:00 to 8:30 pm tonight, and the shows run through June 18th. The location is 1001 Tennessee St. (at 20th St.) in the Dogpatch neighborhood.

Alert: Oakland Exhibit Tonight

The annual Bay Area Currents exhibit opens tonight at the non-profit Oakland Art Gallery. The reception is from 5:00 to 8:00 pm. This is a juried show, and this year the juror was Christopher Miles, a notable in the Los Angeles art scene who operates as an art writer, curator, teacher, and artist. Thirteen artists from the Bay Area are included in the show, which runs through June 30th. Photographs by Ben Riesman and Tabitha Soren are shown above (top and next). A sculpture by Kirk Stoller is pictured below. The gallery is at 199 Kahn’s Alley, across the plaza from Oakland City Hall. The gallery website provides a list of the artists, good maps, and other information.

Back to Blogging

I took a short vacation from blogging while busy with other things. Most of these “other things” were art-related. I went to several exhibits, one in the company of an artist friend—my favorite way to see art. I visited another artist friend and got a tour of his revamped studio and current projects. I made a little art piece myself, a first version of something I might pursue. Mostly, I did a major rehanging of the art I have on view at home, prompted by the acquisition of new pieces over the past six months. This involved moving about 40 pieces. To make more art space, I also raised a large mirror by 7 inches, not an easy task. My apartment is tiny, so the art is crammed in. It’s absurd really, but I tell myself, quite sensibly, that passions aren’t sensible.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Art of Conspiracy at Heather Marx

The new show at Heather Marx Gallery is a funhouse of American paranoia, created by Los Angeles artists Davis & Davis. The centerpiece is a mockup of a diner (photo above) where two Men in Black recite threatening snippets of dialog from 1940s films noirs. A copy of the Krill Report (about UFOs) sits on the café table. Two other works occupy the room, and a diagram at the desk attempts to connect all three in the manner of Mark Lombardi’s conspiracy drawings (photo below). Even “Shambhala” as recorded by Three Dog Night gets pulled into the mix.

If you walk into the back room, you’ll encounter a work by another artist, David Hevel, that seems to react to the atmosphere with pure terror (detail below). Actually, Hevel’s piece is meant to represent actor Tom Cruise’s girlfriend Katie Holmes giving birth.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Chinese Art Career

In the New York Times on May 1st, David Barboza wrote an interesting account of art careerism in China. His examplar was artist Zhou Tiehai, 39, who recently had a solo exhibition at the Shanghai Art Museum. As a younger artist, Zhou was frustrated by the attention paid to other Chinese artists, so he set out to play the art market. Noting that the talked-about artists in China had signature styles, he developed a style that contained a recognizable element while mocking the whole process. His signature element, borrowed from the American cigarette brand, is Joe Camel. Now he is in demand by Western collectors, who pay up to $100,000 for a painting. Zhou developes the ideas for his paintings but does not actually paint them. He hires other artists to do that.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Camouflage Your Brain (Hirschhorn @ Wattis)

At the CCA Wattis Institute, there is an exhibition by the Swiss born, Paris-based artist Thomas Hirschhorn that will close in two days, on May 13th. I had meant to write about it earlier but kept postponing because I wanted to address the armature of theory on which the exhibit is supposedly based. I’ve concluded that life is too short for that, so here are my on-the-fly impressions.

The show is titled “Utopia, Utopia = One World, One War, One Army, One Dress.” If I were a drag queen, I’d be saying, “One dress? Oh sugar, here take one of mine.” But I digress. The exhibition seems like a parody of the conceptually driven program at the Wattis. At the entry, you can pick up a text-heavy, 51-page booklet. It contains a forward by the curators, an analysis by a Stanford art professor (with 23 footnotes), an artist’s statement, and a 28-page essay (with 112 footnotes) by a young German philosopher, Marcus Steinweg, who is a favorite of the artist. This is the most pretentious show I’ve seen in quite some time.

Visually, the show is a helter-skelter installation of sculptures, models, mannequins, enlarged text fragments from the Steinweg essay (photo above), photographs, drawings, painted blobs in camouflage colors, and miles of camo tape. This material covers every wall and the floors too. And it fills both floors of the Wattis space. The show looks thrown together, even junky (photo below), although not from lack of practice—a version of the show was presented at the Boston ICA last fall. Some of the material is visually interesting: the mannequins, for example, with their disease-like bulges of camo tape.

There are some fun ways to look at the show. First, as noted by the curators, it is “loosely inspired by rural French military museums,” so it can be viewed as a wacky museum. Second, with its run-amok ambiance, the show can be enjoyed as a tantrum. Finally, it could be seen as look inside the brain of someone whose thinking has been hyper-caffeinated by postmodern theory.

Camouflage is the visual theme of the show, and it appears as if Hirschhorn is trying to turn a massive annoyance with camouflage-as-fashion into the fanciful idea that such fashions could lead to world unity if everyone wore them. Well, ah, didn’t China have a go at this during the Cultural Revolution?

The artist’s intellectual rationale for the exhibit could be shredded in a freshman seminar. It would take a graduate seminar to pick apart Marcus Steinweg’s essay. I won’t even attempt it. It includes endless sentences such as “The hyperborean subject is the hyperbolic subject of self-transgression and self-surpassing toward an absolute exterior that is Uninhabitability itself, Chaos, Incommensurability as such.” Dude, I’m sure!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Brooklyn Art Triggers SEDS Outbreak

Over the past week, Brooklyn College’s MFA exhibit has sparked fear and panic among New York officials. Let’s call it Sudden Empowered Dingbat Syndrome (SEDS).

Reports from several sources tell the story. The exhibition—entitled “Plan B”—was installed in a World War II memorial building owned by the city, a roomy venue that the college had used for this purpose in recent years. The day after the last week’s opening, the Borough Commissioner of Parks, Julius Spiegel, observed sexual content in the exhibit and ordered that it be closed immediately. Artists and others were told to leave the building, and the locks were changed. The official reason was that the show violated a verbal agreement covering use of the building, under which anything displayed must be “appropriate for families.” The artists say that they were never told of any restrictions.

Next, the infection spread to the provost of the college, Roberta S. Matthews. She decided not to oppose the Parks Department. Then she ordered a crew from the college to remove the artwork from the city building. In some cases, this meant removing site-specific installations. The artists were not told in advance. The workers assigned to the task were apparently not art handlers. They piled work into an open truck. A student quoted in the New York Times said that the movers damaged a sculpture that had taken her more than a year to create.

Catching the contagion, New York's mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, made a statement supporting the actions of the Parks official.

A civil rights attorney plans to file a First Amendment lawsuit on behalf of the students. A lawsuit for damage to the work has also been discussed. The Brooklyn College Faculty Council voted overwhelmingly to condemn “this act of censorship.” The college says that it has secured another venue for the show, but it’s not clear if the students will cooperate.

So far in this brouhaha, I don’t see any discussion of the peculiar notion that a war memorial should be “appropriate for families.” That could be a line from Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.

Reports about this series of events have appeared in the New York Times, on the AP wire, and on a website, Plan C(ensored), created by the students.