Impressions

Impressions: Anthony Discenza: Trouble Sleeping @ Et Al Projects  

Conceptual horror. 

Text-based works and a sculpture are selectively lit by un-diffused LED arrays. The lights are staged, but rather than theatrical, they feel forensic.

A light box displays a long textual description of a super-sensing machine. The gist of it—I found it a little too bright in the darkened space, with afterimages hindering reading—could be science fiction. Or like Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, it seems like a description of the very near future or a depressing parable for the life of a current screen-addict.

Nearby, a panel of black and white encoding is mounted and displayed like a photograph. The dense, random pattern recalls a Magic Eye picture (no 3-D illusions appear). By withholding signification, it seems anomalous in the oeuvre of this literary artist.*

Standing on end in the far corner, a large red LED sign scrolls text about an exorcism.

A smaller LED bank illuminates a hyperrealist sculpture of detached fingers. It seems like a continuation of a fascination with horror as explored in HalfLifers, Discenza’s performance/video project in collaboration with Torsten Z. Burns, here manifesting as a phobic vision.

There’s practically no ambient light in Et Al’s long, narrow basement space in this show. Thankfully the architecture is well renovated—while it is entombed without natural light or airflow, it doesn’t feel as creepy or claustrophobic as say, the subterranean levels of Sculpture Center or the now-defunct Triple Base. The lack of human hand in the work and clean, white box display mostly refrain from theatricality, in contrast horror’s tendency to be cliché, campy, or funny. The bloody, detached fingers are revolting—the realism is accomplished—yet there’s something absurd in knowing that they are representations… fakes. Discenza’s work can have misanthropic and despondent notes. Considering the works in Trouble Sleeping again makes me think about how adolescent interests in horror and existentialism give way to mid-life mindsets informed by real encounters with aging and mortality.

*Examples of Discenza’s work—including projects that are like one-page books—can be seen in a group show at Catherine Clark Gallery through February 14.

Through February 27
Anthony Discenza: Trouble Sleeping
Et Al Projects, San Francisco   

[I visited on Friday, January 30; the exhibition will change week-to-week.]

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Community, Travelogue, Impressions

Points of Reference: West Coast

Some aesthetic impressions from a Portland-San Francisco tour:

Looking east up the Columbia River Gorge, from Crown Point in Oregon, USA. Author: Hux. // Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Looking east up the Columbia River Gorge, from Crown Point in Oregon, USA. Author: Hux. // Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Columbia River Gorge. The more I visit grand vistas, the more I understand Romanticism.

Landscape paintings don’t usually affect me—but imagine living in a crowded, dirty city in the Industrial age, then exploring such vast, stunning locales like the Columbia River Gorge, the Catskills, or the Lake District in the UK. Post-postcard, post-Ansel Adams, I might be desensitized to the images of these places, but I never fail to experience awe—smallness in light of something greater—when I visit these places. It seems natural to want to capture the grandeur and qualities of light, as much as preserve the environment for future generations. [Go Parks!]

Ryan Pierce. Preview image for New World Atlas of Weeds and Rags. // Source: ElizabethLeach.com.

Ryan Pierce. Preview image for New World Atlas of Weeds and Rags. // Source: ElizabethLeach.com.

Get excited:
Ryan Pierce: New World Atlas of Weeds and Rags
Elizabeth Leach Gallery

Portland, OR
Through June 23

Really happy to catch the solo show of my CCA MFA classmate. Ryan specializes in hard-edged, post-apocalyptic narrative painting over luminous Flashe washes. He constructed this show around weeds, with tight botanical renderings of thistles, milkweeds, etc., as well as giveaways of pesticide-resistant seeds. My favorite paintings were from a sequence featuring the sun and the moon. I sensed some Charles Burchfield-esque visionary heat.

Karl Blossfeldt, Adiantum pedatum, Maidenhair fern, young unfurling fronds, 12x. // Image source: PortlandArtMuseum.org. Caption source: karlblossfeldtphotos.com.

Karl Blossfeldt, Adiantum pedatum, Maidenhair fern, young unfurling fronds, 12x. // Image source: PortlandArtMuseum.org. Caption source: karlblossfeldtphotos.com.

Karl Blossfeldt’s New Objectivity photos of botanical geometry.
70 Years/70 Photographs
Portland Art Museum
Through September 9

My knowledge of photography is a bit anemic, but this means that I get to enjoy many discoveries in the repair process. Blossfeldt’s images were a delight. See more at karlblossfeldtphotos.com.

Portland Sewing

The short: Private lessons with Sharon Blair. Highly recommended.

The long: My sewing knowledge comprised making clothes for Puffy, my stuffed Crocker Spaniel, under the guidance of my mother. (Mom’s an excellent seamstress who made some of my favorite childhood dresses. She still uses a Montgomery Ward Singer dating from the late 1970s/early 1980s; to change stitches, she manually changes a baffling array of stamped metal gears.)

Remarkably, this experience, along with much experimentation, has girded me through sewn sculptures and ribbon projects over the past few years. In the same time though, I’d accumulated a battery of questions about fabrics and techniques. Sharon, the instructor, patiently answered them all. She has tons of industry experience, and started the lesson with a quick history of sewing machine manufacturers. <Tool nerd swoon>

I got a crash course in cutting and sewing, and practiced three of the six kinds of fell seams, which will be critical for an upcoming flag project.

The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco), Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop), 2012. // Source: StephanieSyjuco.com.

The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco), Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop), 2012. // Source: StephanieSyjuco.com.

The Marianas (Michael Arcega and Stephanie Syjuco)
Montalvo Historical Fabrications and Souvenirs (A Pop-up Shop)
Montalvo Project Space
Woodside, CA
Through July 20

Friends’ first collaboration. It’s good. Go see it, and bring cash!

Allison Smith, Fort Point Bunting, 2012. // Source: international-orange.org. Photo: Jan Stürmann.

Allison Smith, Fort Point Bunting, 2012. // Source: international-orange.org. Photo: Jan Stürmann.

International Orange
FOR-SITE Foundation
Fort Point
San Francisco
Through October 28

Really good show in an amazing site. Go! I went on a foggy, chilly Monday (no crowds) and it was lovely.

My favorite was Allison Smith‘s Fort Point Bunting. Each of the 75 swags is accompanied by quotes from servicewomen printed on linen and framed in waxed canvas cording. The narratives were empowering. While military intervention is fraught, this insight in the battle for equal access to combat is pretty thrilling.

Stephanie Syjuco‘s International Orange Commemorative Store (A Proposition) establishes a standard of finish and level of production that is sublime, and should have most artists quaking in our boots. Anadamavi Arnold‘s crepe paper gowns were magnificent. I read Kate PocrassAverage Magazine off-site, but found it to be the most entertaining and insightful look at the Golden Gate Bridge. I also loved Andy Freeberg‘s portraits of workers on the bridge, for the diverse, recognizable subjects, rarely-seen perspectives, and cool tools.

Fort Point’s history and vistas were great to explore. I enjoyed how the show engaged the site, so that viewers browsed historical/permanent displays in the course of visiting the exhibition. I expected a strong show due to the roster of international artists; I was pleased to find that the projects that resonated with me most form a collection of articulate, accomplished female artists.

Robert Kinmont: 8 Natural Handstands (detail), 1969/2009; nine black-and-white photographs; 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. each; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photo: Bill Orcutt. // Source: bampfa.berkeley.edu.

Robert Kinmont: 8 Natural Handstands (detail), 1969/2009; nine black-and-white photographs; 8 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. each; courtesy of Alexander and Bonin, New York. Photo: Bill Orcutt. // Source: bampfa.berkeley.edu.

State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970
Berkeley Art Museum
Through June 17

I’d heard rumors that this is the best show  many locals had seen in a long time. Unfortunately, I had only one hour, so I didn’t have the quiet mind required for uncovering the historical significance of the performance documentation and historical ephemera that ran through the show.

I loved that the show brought the major West Coast art initiative Pacific Standard Time up to Bay Area. Also, it’s not often you get to see an major survey exhibition about California art that doesn’t have a Los Angeles bias. I enjoyed learning more about seminal artists like Gary Beydler, William Leavitt, Bas Jan Ader, and Guy de Cointet (these de Cointet text drawings are fantastic, backgrounding Tauba Auerbach’s text paintings). It’s always nice to see Bruce Nauman‘s video pieces installed—here, Come Piece, two closed-circuit televisions with different halves of their lenses taped off.

The only thing that struck me negatively was the way that political art (works by artists of color and feminist artists) was the last thematic section. The architecture of the last room especially made the agit-prop David Hammons seem like an afterthought. I can’t pinpoint it, but I suspect that the early earth and performance work relates to a spiritual quest in merging art and life, and I intuit a bit of a woo-woo factor there, reinforced by the fact that my contemporaries who are especially fond of these artists tend to make transcendental works themselves.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill, 1996; painting; oil on canvas, 36 in. x 66 in. (91.44 cm x 167.64 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Ruth Nash Fund purchase; © Robert Bechtle  Source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/104616##ixzz1xQHskP3n  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. // Source: SFMOMA.org.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill, 1996; painting; oil on canvas, 36 in. x 66 in. (91.44 cm x 167.64 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Ruth Nash Fund purchase; © Robert Bechtle Source: http://www.sfmoma.org/explore/collection/artwork/104616##ixzz1xQHskP3. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill (1996)
SFMOMA 

Bechtle is a perennial favorite of the SFMOMA’s, and mine too. This late, great painting—on view in the second floor galleries—is like five paintings in one. The JPG doesn’t do it justice. Bechtle’s understanding of reflected light and surfaces is phenomenal. This work was the highlight of my SFMOMA visit, along with Anthony Discenza’s The Effect in  the contemporary language art show, Descriptive Acts.

I expected that The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area and Parra: Weirded Out shows would be more extensive. In fact, the Fuller show has two huge wall graphics that leads to a room of fantastic, large screenprint posters and transparencies. That’s followed by a group show by local, contemporary designers that is so un-related visually that my companion and I assumed that we’d drifted into the permanent design exhibit. The Parra exhibit is a massive mural, that is lovely and loads of fun, but I would have loved to see some works on paper, to get a little more intimate with the person behind these famous graphics.

I also would have loved to see more of Mark Bradford‘s video and performance works, especially documentation of his intervention at the San Diego-Tijuana border, though those could have been in the Bradford show I just missed at YBCA. The extensive selection of Bradford’s collages helped me understand the depth of his innovation with the materials (posters and curling papers) and tools (rope and power sander).

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Community, Travelogue

Travelogue: Portland, OR and San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Just came back from a trip to the West Coast to see family, friends, and art. Here are my cultural highlights…

Portland, OR

My old college buddy Victor Maldonado, who’s now a professor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and seems to know everybody in the PDX art scene, was kind enough to take me around to galleries in the Pearl District. The scene is small but some spaces, like Elizabeth Leach Gallery, are clearly top-notch. The gallery owners were friendly and their storefront spaces seemed welcoming. Good times.

Jenny Holzer's tough-talking texts at the Printed Matter show at the Pacific Northwest College of Art's Feldman Gallery.

Jenny Holzer's tough-talking texts at the Printed Matter show at the Pacific Northwest College of Art's Feldman Gallery.

Gorgeous exhibition space in Weiden+Kennedy's foyer.

Gorgeous exhibition space in Weiden+Kennedy's foyer. Neat show examining work, including a publication with a prose poem by Victor Maldonado, an old college buddy.

I liked these photo-based color abstractions by Thomas Campbell in the Pearl Room at Powell's Books.

I liked these photo-based color abstractions by Thomas Campbell in the Pearl Room at Powell's Books.

Nice painted-out photos by John Beech at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. A beautiful space to boot; so happy for Ryan Pierce, who's represented by them.

Nice painted-out photos by John Beech at Elizabeth Leach Gallery. A beautiful space to boot; so happy for Ryan Pierce, who's represented by them.

James Minden's etched/scribed black plexiglas works; three perspectives on the same work.

James Minden's etched/scribed black plexiglas works; three perspectives on the same work. At Augen Gallery.

Hall of video portraits. Susie Lee. Portland Art Museum.

Hall of video portraits. Susie Lee. Portland Art Museum.

Video portrait by Susie Lee.

Video portrait by Susie Lee.

Erotic Victorian figurines by Chris Anteman, also in the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards show.

Erotic Victorian figurines by Chris Anteman, also in the Contemporary Northwest Art Awards show.

This work reminded me very much of the work of Bay Area ceramicist Erik Scollon.

This work reminded me very much of the work of Bay Area ceramicist Erik Scollon.

No photos but worth mentioning… The Museum of Contemporary Craft has at least two CCA connections, currently exhibiting an audio-weaving project by alumna Christy Matson and hosting a talk by faculty Deborah Valoma on July 9. Nice exhibition signage and web design to boot…. I also enjoyed my visit to Blue Sky Gallery, the home for the Oregon Center for Photographic Arts, and would encourage my photography friends to look them up.

I would have liked to check out some of the artist-run spaces in Central Eastside and the galleries at the surrounding colleges, but those will have to wait until a future visit.

San Francisco Bay Area, CA

I got to see lots of art, friends, and art by friends in San Francisco. Staying in the West Bay, I wasn’t able to make it to the East Bay enough. But I got to see ambitious projects by friends at familiar spaces (Stephanie Syjuco at Catherine Clark Gallery), new spaces for familiar galleries (such as Frey Norris Modern and Contemporary in the SOMA or Steven Wolf Fine Arts in the exciting destination arts district emerging around Southern Exposure), edgier galleries that may not be around forever, and spaces I just never made it to before (Di Rosa Preserve in Napa, CA, and SFMOMA’s top floor).

Casteneda/Reiman's landscape illusions and installations at Baer/Ridgeway, San Francisco.

Casteneda/Reiman's landscape illusions and installations at Baer/Ridgeway, San Francisco.

Steven Barich's meticulous graphite and charcoal works at Branch Gallery, Oakland.

Steven Barich's meticulous graphite and charcoal works at Branch Gallery, Oakland. Branch is a cool little space in that part of downtown that seems cooler than ever.

An aquatint with hand painting by Barich. Priced very affordably, as are all the works in the show. In my correspondence with the artist, I considered doing another information graphic comparing Bay Area art prices to those of other cities (haven't got the time or resources at the moment to take this on, sorry!)..

An aquatint with hand painting by Barich. Priced very affordably, as are all the works in the show. In my correspondence with the artist, I considered doing another information graphic comparing Bay Area art prices to those of other cities (haven't got the time or resources at the moment to take this on, sorry!).

Stephanie is super meticulous about the presentation of her work. I love the open backs of these crates and the industrial feel of the lasercut stands. The blurred out postcards are especially wily.

Stephanie is super meticulous about the presentation of her work. I love the open backs of these crates and the industrial feel of the lasercut stands. The blurred out postcards are especially wily. Knowing that the artist once worked at the Asian Art Museum, not far from Catherine Clark Gallery, makes the show quite cheeky.

Stephanie Syjuco's very finely tuned solo exhibition at Catherine Clark Gallery stages downloaded books and houseplants (!) in the back room.

Stephanie Syjuco's very finely tuned solo exhibition at Catherine Clark Gallery stages downloaded books and houseplants (!) in the back room.

Di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA.

Di Rosa Preserve, Napa, CA.

Usually you can find an art opening when hipsters are lounging out front. Here, they're accompanied by Discenza's sign.

Usually you can find an art opening when hipsters are lounging out front. Here, they're accompanied by Discenza's sign.

Front of Inka Hoots' plane/shanty. Funny after building a shanty for Art in General just a week an a half ago.

Front of Inka Hoots' plane/shanty. Funny after building a shanty for Art in General just a week an a half ago.

Wall vinyl by Anthony Discenza. I like this writing-based practice; there's something distant and cynical while also engaged and a somewhat enraged.

Wall vinyl by Anthony Discenza. I like this writing-based practice; there's something distant and cynical while also engaged and a somewhat enraged.

Video installation by HalfLifers (Torsten Z. Burns and Anthony Discenza) at Zombie-Proof House at di Rosa Preserve. Short scenes where the artists portray zombies engaged in mundane tasks are interspersed with behind-the-scenes-like shots. Very appealing.

Video installation by HalfLifers (Torsten Z. Burns and Anthony Discenza) at Zombie-Proof House at di Rosa Preserve. Short scenes where the artists portray zombies engaged in mundane tasks are interspersed with behind-the-scenes-like shots. Very appealing.

Masterful photos, beautiful prints, nicely installed, very sad show. If the models' eyes are shown, they are downcast; expressions are grim; all but one are women, often nude, all very pale and probably underweight. This is going to seem like a very facile critique, but why do men still make work photographing nude, disempowered women? Is it because photography's connection to advertising allows for greater moral latitude or complicity with exploitative images?

Masterful photos, beautiful prints, nicely installed, very sad show. If the models' eyes are shown, they are downcast; expressions are grim; all but one are women, often nude, all very pale and probably underweight. This is going to seem like a very facile critique, but why do men still make work photographing nude, disempowered women? Is it because photography's inherent connection to advertising allows for greater moral latitude or complicity with exploitative images? Fraenkel, by the way, usually has great shows, and this fall's line-up is really exciting.

At Stephen Wirtz Gallery, Doug Rickard's photos pulled from Google Street View, primarily featuring dark-skinned people in dilapidated environs, made me a little sick too. I am all for art projects that appropriate Google Street View, but something about the selection of these images, and their presentation as nice, re-photographed photos, seems exploitative. I saw the Google van when it came down my street. I felt curious and powerless to escape its cameras. In these moments, the subjects are no more or less powerless in their relationship to the Google camera, but putting a magnifying glass to them for further inspection, and grouping them among other scenes of impoverishment, seems further, and unnecessarily, disempowering.

At Stephen Wirtz Gallery, Doug Rickard's photos pulled from Google Street View, primarily featuring dark-skinned people in dilapidated environs, made me a little sick too. I am all for art projects that appropriate Google Street View, but something about the selection of these images, and their presentation as nice, re-photographed photos, seems exploitative. I saw the Google van when it came down my street. I felt curious and powerless to escape its cameras. In these moments, the subjects are no more or less powerless in their relationship to the Google camera, but putting a magnifying glass to them for further inspection, and grouping them among other scenes of impoverishment, seems further, and unnecessarily, disempowering.

I liked a few different works in the group show at Haines Gallery in San Francisco. I'd loved an image of a camera obscura installation by Abelardo Morell, so it was nice to see this photo, though I'd rather experience the installation still.

I liked a few different works in the group show at Haines Gallery in San Francisco. I'd loved an image of a camera obscura installation by Abelardo Morell, so it was nice to see this photo, though I'd rather experience the installation still.

Small signs of protest against Ai Weiwei's detainment.

Small signs of protest against Ai Weiwei's detainment. Anytime people use Chinese take-out boxes, I cringe a little, but I appreciate the sentiment. This project appeared next to Christian L. Frock's Seed the Embassy materials..

Binh Danh's super cool daguerrotypes were also on view, for you to examine closely, at Haines.

Binh Danh's super cool daguerrotypes were also on view, for you to examine closely, at Haines.

These photograms by Wendy Small are quite nice. I overheard another visitor dismiss them as "decorative." Yes, they'd fit in as a cheeky Victorian element in someone's otherwise modern home, but still, the images are pretty neat.

These photograms by Wendy Small are quite nice. I overheard another visitor dismiss them as "decorative." Yes, they'd fit in as a cheeky Victorian element in someone's otherwise modern home, but still, the images are pretty neat.

Painting by James Chronister in Chromanticism at NOMA Gallery, curated by Liz Wing.

Painting by James Chronister in Chromanticism at NOMA Gallery, curated by Liz Wing.

Chronister detail.

Chronister detail.

These abstract geometric drawings on newsprint by Richard Kent Howie are sort of childish, but it was neat to see work that's ostensibly about color in such a limited palette. Also at NOMA Gallery.

These abstract geometric drawings on newsprint by Richard Kent Howie are sort of childish, but it was neat to see work that's ostensibly about color in such a limited palette. Also at NOMA Gallery.

Richard Kent Howie detail.

Richard Kent Howie detail.

Great video by David Claerbout at SFMOMA. Comprised of multiple shots of the same scene in an Asian high-rise apartment courtyard. The number and fineness of the images transition from believable to surreally plasticine. The video is called, Sections of a Happy Moment.

Great video by David Claerbout at SFMOMA. Comprised of multiple shots of the same scene in an Asian high-rise apartment courtyard. The number and fineness of the images transition from believable to surreally plasticine. The video is called, Sections of a Happy Moment.

Eija Liisa-Ahtila's message to viewers of her video installation at SFMOMA.

Eija Liisa-Ahtila's message to viewers of her video installation at SFMOMA.

2009 mica mural by Rosana Castrillo Diaz. That's a material I should work with.

2009 mica mural by Rosana Castrillo Diaz. That's a material I should work with.

Who can resist a Thiebaud cake? SFMOMA's Blue Bottle Cafe.

Who can resist a Thiebaud cake? SFMOMA's Blue Bottle Cafe. That means it's probably baked by painter/sculptor/cake-maker Leah Rosenberg.

Tobias Wong's mirrored puzzle. SFMOMA.

Tobias Wong's mirrored puzzle. SFMOMA.

A few moments after suppressing a few goodbye tears at SFO, I re-encountered this mosaic tile by Mike Mandell and Larry Sultan. Based on photographs of people awaiting arrivals, the faces are expectant. Reunifications are impending, and there's something very sweet about that joy counterbalancing the sorrow of goodbyes in equal measure at the airport.

A few moments after suppressing a few goodbye tears at SFO, I re-encountered this mosaic tile by Mike Mandell and Larry Sultan. Based on photographs of people awaiting arrivals, the faces are expectant. Reunifications are impending, and there's something very sweet about that joy counterbalancing the sorrow of goodbyes in equal measure at the airport.

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