Art & Development, Community

Artist-curated shows and alumni notes

Summer is supposed to be the low season for art, but this is San Francisco and we don’t summer in the Hamptons; the fog rolls in just the same. A few galleries have mixed up their programming with artist-curated shows.

“They Knew What They Wanted”
Katy Grannan, Shannon Ebner, Jordan Kantor and Robert Bechtle curates selections from Altman-Siegal, Fraenkel, Berggruen and Ratio 3. Go see this show for insights into four interesting artist-curators, pictures and objects you wouldn’t normally get to see, and some really great works, including a communal ballpoint pen drawing initiated by Arte Povera artist Alighero e Boetti at Ratio 3.

A similar work by Alighero e Boetti, Mettere al mondo il mondo 1972 -73 penna biro blu su carta intelata 2 elementi, cm 159 X 164 cad. Source: Archivo Alighero Boetti.

If you aren’t familiar with Boetti’s work, have a look at the virtual tour at Archivo Alighero Boetti.

Over at Patricia Sweetow Gallery, abstract painter Kim Anno curates a group show called “Everyday Mystics.” I wish I could have made out the images in Ricardo Rivera‘s projections on and alongside reflective objects like helmets and metal cups. The idea was neat. I overheard the owner mentioning something about the work being about communicating with outer space, so I figured it’s just as well I couldn’t tell what was going on, since I’m not the intended audience. The MP3 player embedded in the center of a spinning turntable is crafty and chuckle-worthy.

Ali Naschke-Messing‘s thread installations shined with glitter and glowed with fluorescence. Two large floor-to-ceiling works that exploited incidental marks and holes in the existing architecture. A series of wall-based works, which incorporated some sort of putty or plaster, were striking in their simplicity and efficacy. The works are formal investigations of site and form and volume; they’re also catalysts for subtle perceptual experiences. From a distance (and in photographs), the works are almost imperceptible; I almost didn’t see one until it was right in front of me. In person—and particularly with PSG’s abundant afternoon light—the density of thread creates vibrancy. They are more materially substantial than Fred Sandback‘s string intallations, but not by much.

Suné Woods contributes some moving black and white photographs whose imagery is memorably unstable.

Woods is a recent MFAs from CCA (class of 2010). Naschke-Messing was my classmate (class of 2007); I’m proud to have studied alongside so many bright, hardworking, curious, supportive and respectful artists. They change directions, start new projects, stay connected, and keep showing. This summer, shows around town by my classmates include:

Lindsey White: Equivalent Exposures install at Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, Source: http://www.baerridgway.com/

Through July 17
Lindsey White: “Equivalent Exposures”
Quietly humorous and deceptively simple photographs, videos and sculpture
Baer Ridgeway, SOMA, SF

Through July 25
Robin Johnston : “meditations on space and time” (two-person show with Chelsea Pegram, Mills MFA candidate)
Data-driven weavings and drawings
Swarm Gallery, Oakland

Just closed July 10
Amanda Curreri: “Occupy The Empty”
Installation, text, video, participation
Ping Pong Gallery, Dogpatch, SF

Opens July 16
Erik Scollon: “The Urge”
Queer porcelain fetish-based installation
Ping Pong Gallery, Dogpatch, SF

And internationally, new media artist David Gurman is a 2010 TEDGlobal Fellow, participating in the technology and ideas conference in Oxford, UK.

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Art & Development

Zeitgeists, LA art, Mysteries

Frieze, January-February 2010. Source: Frieze.com.

Even critics who hate contemporary art reckon on [the zeitgeist]—it allows them to use a small handful of particularly loathed examples in order to damn an entire system.

Dan Fox, “Spirit Guide: The Many Uses o f the Zeitgeist,” Frieze, January-February 2010.

If I had a nickel for every time someone cited Damien Hirst’s diamond-covered skull as everything that’s wrong with contemporary art….

There are certain sectors of the art world that crave a useful social role for art. Other see art as an activity making important contributions to intellectual discourse. Many look to art for pleasure. And then there are those who appreciate all of this seriousness, but crave the trappings of the entertainment industry too—fame, power, money, glamour, hierarchies, cultural parochialism. One year the art world is interested in this, the next year it’s interested in that. It wants to party, it wants to be scholarly. Markets go up, markets go down. … Everything changes and nothing changes…

—Fox, cont.

Fox’s tone might be interpreted as weary, or maybe even cynical. But I like to think that this passage is the art critic’s equivalent of the maxim, This too shall pass. Chasing the next trend in contemporary art, and comiserating about contradictions in the art world’s collective behavior, isn’t worth the time. Paradox happens.

Glimpse a tiny peek at the massive (9×14′ and up) photographs in Andreas Gursky‘s new exhibition at Gagosian Beverly Hills in “Andreas Gursky makes a long-distance connection” by Suzanne Muchnic, LA Times (March 6, 2010). They’re really a sight to behold.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, rule of thumb. Source: LATimes.com

Check out another great LA Times art review—this one of Minimum Yields Maximum, a group exhibition curated by Gina Osterloh and written by Leah Ollman.

Laura Collins-Hughes inaugurates a new series on alternative arts spaces with a profile of the very artist-friendly non-profit Southern Exposure for ARTicles, the blog of the National Arts Journalism Program.

I had a great time at SoEx’s Monster Drawing Rally, and was really pleased with the result of my hour (OK, 70 minutes) of cutting and collaging. Photos are forthcoming.

Brice Bischoff, Bronson Caves, 2010

Brice Bischoff, Bronson Caves, 2010. Source: SoEx.org


Alchemy, SoEx’s next exhibition, looks like it’s gonna be killer. Curated by Sarah Smith, the artists include Ellen Babcock, Brice Bischoff, Michelle Blade, John Chiara, Randy Colosky, Adam Hathaway, Christopher Sicat, Lindsey White. I suspect there will be many nicely executed photographs about magic in the mundane, and some unabashedly transcendentalist paintings and works on paper. A few years ago, I found San Francisco’s glut of dreamy, semi-ironic, new-age-y paintings terribly insincere and pretentious in their faux-naïveté. I’m still averse to woo-woo-for-woo-woo’s-sake, and laziness regardless of how it’s stylized. Alchemy presents highly capable artists and I’m looking forward to this show. Maybe I’ve sipped the Kool-Aid and it tasted great…. Drink it all in at the opening, Friday, March 12, 7-9pm, concurrent with the opening of Alison Pebworth’s Beautiful Possibility.

Image: Michelle Blade. Source: basebasebase.com

Image: Michelle Blade. Source: basebasebase.com


…Along those same lines, Michelle Blade‘s work can exhibit an earnestness that is anachronistically un-ironic, but I really loved every minute of viewing Blow as Deep as You Want to Blow, her solo exhibition at Triple Base Gallery (through March 21). [Full disclosure: she’s a collaborator of mine; I constructed the lightbox in the show.] She’s turned her high attention to materials and craftsmanship towards transcendence, patterned rugs and metaphysical books. Deploying opalescent paints and vellum marked on both sides, she’s created physical experiences of radiance. It’s Romanticism for 2010. Go see it in person. The front room is great, and if the back room, filled with accomplished works on paper, is not enough, there’s even more works on paper spilling over in a portfolio on the flat files. Inspirational work ethic and spirit-informing content matter.

Perhaps that’s why mystery, now more than ever, has special meaning. Because it’s the anomaly, the glaring affirmation that the Age of Immediacy has a meaningful downside. Mystery demands that you stop and consider—or, at the very least, slow down and discover. It’s a challenge to get there yourself, on its terms, not yours….

The point is, we should never underestimate process. The experience of the doing really is everything. The ending should be the end of that experience, not the experience itself.

J.J. Abrams, “J.J. Abrams on the Magic of Mystery,” Wired Magazine, 17.05, April 20, 2009.

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Community, Research

White stuff I like, more or less

I have always liked Lindsey White‘s photos. Her new photos and videos make up a nice show at Partisan Gallery, somebody’s house on Guerrero. Endearingly earnest, like her previous portraits, but less quirky-cute, and more chance-magic (in the end, it’s just about personal taste: arty vs. Art). The new works are about light, and veer between optimism and the pathetic/mundane.


A bad pic of a great photo by Lindsey White, of a spear of light on a pillow. She shoots digital and 120mm, if you wanted to know.


A multi-channel video installation; each video is a single shot of a single thing. It functions like a sequence of photos in a book, only with slight movement and minimal audio. Great!

Also liked Richard T. Walker‘s two-channel video installation at Iceberger. More instruments, letters to nature, human projection onto the romantic ideals of nature. His English accent adds something; for no good reason, I assume that it suggests more of an awareness of the Romantic period than if he were American. Maybe my visit to Cumbria, the land of all those English Lake writers, has something to do with it.

It was a nice summer evening, and I enjoyed chatting with artists and meeting some guys showing with Little Tree Gallery, but I couldn’t shake my self-awareness of the New Mission, as youthful gallery-goers drank Pabst on the sidewalk for hours on end, just like during First Fridays in Oakland. What’s at stake is so different for different people, isn’t it? Earlier in the day, I found a kindred iconoclast willing to challenge hipsters’ endorsement of dingy ethnic restaurants in rough neighborhoods like Tu Lan and Shalimar. WTF? Thanks to the digital age, there is a source to explain this behavior: Stuff White People Like. See #91: San Francisco and #71: Being the only white person around.

Another thing White People like is critical theory (see #81: Graduate School). I must be White, because the podcast of Johanna Drucker‘s lecture at SVA blew my mind. The artist and author challenges Adorno’s 20th c. aesthetic theory and explains her notion called aesthesis, a specialized form of knowing (through art), characterized by knowing grounded in central experience, emergent experiences and co-dependent relationships. In contrast to Adorno’s assertion that art is autonomous, Drucker suggests that art is complicit and co-dependent; that it is in fact a form of commodity production, even if we don’t like to think of it so.

A tasty morsel:
She classifies low-brow pop paintings and drawings that reference comics or media as:

combinatoric mass culture kitsch production

And on the meat of the matter, for me:

To dispute Adorno’s assertion that because art is removed from the world of utilitarian objects, they are inherently resistant, Drucker says:

The notion of resistance [inherent to art] will die hard because it is the last link to the kind of utopian belief that … has a long history with modernism, and certainly gets reformulated again in mid-19th century with the coming of political philosophy…. The shift to political philosophy from ‘regular’ philosophy is that rather than understanding or describing the condition of knowledge or sensation or the mind, the political philosophy said the point is to change it. So the task of change — which again, the world is broken, we do need to fix it — … comes to be identified with the avant garde and … the role of art assumes a moral hierarchy and a moral high ground for the artist and the work of art. And that seems to me to be highly suspect. And that’s where I come back to complicity. We are not better than the world we inhabit….

The notion that difficulty, in and of itself, is a form of resistance that performs some sort of political efficacy—it’s just not true. It’s what I call magical politics. It’s like, where exactly does the transformation of power relations and political agency actually occur in those difficult works? It doesn’t….

I make difficult work. I write really obscure things. But I don’t imagine that they are making a transformation of the political structure. I do imagine, and I do believe that they transform the meme world. That’s what we do. We are meme makers. We transform. We reimagine. We remodel. We offer new models of cognition and new models of experience. And we produce that as an effect. We don’t produce that inherently in objects. It is an effect of what we do.

I had similar feelings of caution around the sense of artists having a moral high ground in the process of developing new work for Activist Imagination. So it’s great to hear Drucker put a historical framework around the conditions of art-viewing that we are subject to, and available for displacement if we choose.

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