Shop Talk feature in Art Practical, and conversation @ SFMOMA

Shop Talk is a series of articles in Art Practical and conversations at SFMOMA about artists’ survival strategies.


I’m a proud contributor. I had the pleasure of interviewing artists Tattfoo Tan, Amanda Curreri, and Torreya Cummings and collaborative Earthbound Moon to develop a feature story for “Portrait of an Artist, Wily and Engaged,” published on Art Practical today. The feature focuses on strategic optimism, bridging some of my research in the ongoing Positive Signs series on SFMOMA’s Open Space blog.


And, if you’re free, talk about the issues at SFMOMA next Thursday…

Thursday, May 12, 7pm
Shop Talk: Part Three
“What are the economic realities that artists face?”
With presentations by the artist team Sean Fletcher and Isabel Reichert, artist Cheryl Meeker, and writer Lara Durback.

Please join Open Space and the online journal Art Practical on May 12th for the final installment of our three-part series of conversations considering the survival strategies artists develop and adopt to further the social reach of the aesthetic and critical capacities of their work, as well as gain recognition and financial viability.

Koret Visitor Education Center
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, CA

News, Projects

Positive Signs Begins! at Open Space on

It’s official! I’m a contributor to Open Space, the lively, critical blog on the website of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Every Wednesday through June, I will publish Positive Signs, a series of interpretive diagrams, quotes, and speculations on creativity, optimism and the lives of artists, notwithstanding brief forays into the nature of space, stuff, experience, and cognition. Positive Signs take the form of drawings in glitter and neon pen with occasional foil prints on gridded vellum. While I’ve been publishing critical writing and essays elsewhere, I’m excited to see what kind of dialogue a series of drawings and diagrams can inspire on Open Space.

Visit Open Space to view Positive Sign #1.

Art & Development

Shadowshop is now open for business!

I’m a proud participant in Shadowshop:

a temporary and alternative store/distribution point embedded within the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s fifth floor galleries, Shadowshop will stock hundreds of artists’ multiples, small works, tchotchkes, catalogs, books, zines, media works, and other distributive creative output.

While operating as an actual mom-and-pop style store, Shadowshop is also a platform for exploring the ways in which artists are navigating the production, consumption, and dissemination of their work. Four themes (1. artwork-as-commodity, 2. cultural souvenirs, 3. bootlegs and counterfeits, and 4. alternative distribution systems) will contextualize selected projects that are both complicit with and also critical of capitalist circulation. Special projects will be commissioned by Packard Jennings, Juan Luna-Avin, and Imin Yeh.

For almost six months (November 20, 2010—May 1, 2011) Shadowshop will feature only local Bay Area works, give museum visitors access to a wide variety of affordable wares, and provide a snapshot of a vibrant and energetic art scene.

Support your local artists! 100% of pre-tax sales from Shadowshop go directly to the artists.

A project by Stephanie Syjuco in conjunction with the SFMOMA exhibition “The More Things Change” and supported by the Live Art program.

Along with multiples I’ve made by hand, I contributed a new work…
u&me, me&u pillows

With alternating texts on each side, u&me/me&u acknowledges the give and take in relationships between lovers, friends, and artists and viewers, and the validity of diverse perspectives. It is inspired by a pillow embroidered by activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

u&me/me&u are sewn by the artist in small editions. The open edition will primiere at Shadowshop, a temporary and alternative store/distribution point by Stephanie Syjuco for the exhibition The More Things Change at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

100% of profits from u&me/me&u at Shadowshop will be donated to Marriage Equality USA, an all-volunteer, national non-profit organization whose mission is to secure legally recognized civil marriage equality for all, at the federal and state level, without regard to gender identity or sexual orientation.

shadowshop, local art for mass distribution

To purchase the pillows ($75 each) and support marriage equality, visit Shadowshop, on the fifth floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, from November 20, 2010–May 1, 2011. If you are unable to visit SFMOMA, email me to reserve a pillow from a forthcoming batch, to be produced in the coming months.
Community, Research



Museo-rama: Joint Member Day, SF, CA

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 20 is Joint Member Day. If you’re a member the Asian Art Museum, Cartoon Art Museum, Contemporary Jewish Musuem, Museum of the African Diaspora, Museum of Craft and Folk Art, SF Camerawork, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, you and a friend can visit participating museums for FREE admission, special events and exclusive discounts.

I’m curious about Dispatches from the Archives and The View From Here photography exhibition at SFMOMA. I’m all for exhibitions that help Americans understand China’s pluralism, and the Shanghai exhibition at the Asian Art Museum introduces the cosmopolitan city through its Western-influenced hybridized modern art and design (with a few pieces of contemporary art). Still, I thought the didactic texts shied from the mention of colonialism; this westernization seems possible because cities were forced open to British trade by the Treaty of Nanking after China lost the First Opium War. Also, pop culture afficionados: don’t expect to see lots of vintage-kitsch Shanghai lady adverts; those make up only a small fraction of the exhibition.

It’s A Sign: New Bohemia Signs at Adobe Books’ Backroom Gallery, SF, CA

Design nerds ho! The immaculate hand-painted stylizations of New Bohemia Signs, San Francisco’s own anachronistic, fedora-donning, sign painting shop, are on view at Adobe Books’ Backroom Gallery through April 3. It’s like Steven Heller’s New Vintage Type came to life in shiny, seductive enamel paint. You can purchase individual functional signs for your indie mart or design tchotchke shelves, or larger aggregations for the aesthetics, and to make an undeniable statement about your good taste.

The signs are really cute. They are examples of great graphic design, but ultimately, just signs. I had hoped to make some smart-sounding statement about semiotics or wayfinding (especially in relation to “The Secret Language of Signs,” Slate’s recent series on signs), but really, style and legibility seem to be the main point of the work. If there is something more interesting to tease out, it’s probably in regards to context: A shop selling books (so antiquated!) exhibiting hand-painted signs produced by another independently-owned, brick-and-mortar small business, and the printed/painted letters they love.

Rockin’ Paper, Swingin’ Scissors at Rowan Morrison Gallery, Oakland, CA

Sort of in the same vein of totally adorable/collectible is Ryohei Tanaka’s show of papercuts at Rowan Morrison Gallery through April 3. Ryohei’s based in Tokyo now; I went to CCA with him in the late 1990s. Back then, he was a total drawing maniac, whose work was characterized by density and a cuteness that was simultaneously attractive and appalling. Now, his explosive prolificness has resulted in figures, monsters and robots in cheery colors and a traditional Asian folk art/paper craft. Small cuts start under $100; if that sinks your battleship you can walk away, as I did, with a navy screenprint of assorted figures on a white cotton rectangle (I think it’s a Japanese work scarf or tea towel) for $8.


The website for Scott Oliver’s Lake Merritt project is up!

COMING SOON, to New York:

Gormley fatigue.


“Everybody Have Fun,” Elizabeth Kolbert’s round-up of recent books on the problematic intersection of happiness research and policy in the current New Yorker Magazine (March 22, 2010).


What Defines the Bay Area Visual Arts Community? | Art Practical

The art world blogosphere is abuzz in self-examination of late. Curator Renny Pritikin set off a surprisingly large discussion when he suggested quantifying which artists leave the Bay Area on SFMOMA’s Open Space Blog last month.

Equally interesting is Art Practical Editor Patricia Maloney’s characterization of the Bay Area art scene. This was posed by artist and curator Joseph del Pesco on the Open Space Blog, and summed up by Hope Dabov in What Defines the Bay Area Visual Arts Community? on Art Practical.

Maloney’s last three observations seem especially astute:

– Artists embrace progressive stances around social and political issues, but many still use traditional media to articulate those stances.

– Ephemeral and social practices are encouraged, as are documenting and capturing traces of these practices.

– Material-based practices tend to dominate conceptual ones.”

Art & Development, Values

Points of Reference

eclipse installation by Pavel Buchler
Pavel Büchler’ Eclipse at Max Wigram Gallery (London)
I love this simple but thoughtful installation.

Maureen Dowd recently remarked in the New York Times that Barack Obama’s election somehow signified that Americans are post-race. What a tremendously privileged point-of-view to take. Artist Kerry James Marshall doesn’t think we’re post-race, and neither do I. Cheers to SFMOMA for commissioning Marshall, and the two for pulling no punches.

I really appreciated Philip Tinari’s “OPENINGS: CHU YUN” in this month’s Artforum as well. It takes a lot of confidence — more than I’m naturally disposed of — to make works that are authentically minimal at the risk of seeming slight. As Tinari puts it, there’s

something subversive… about making works that were barely works.

Visit Chu Yun’s website. I really love the Constellation installation.

Paul Morrison’s exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery is pretty good. I enjoyed the giant 75′ wide b/w hard-edged mural, which combines source images from 19th-century-style engraving and 20th-century cartoons (I think I saw some Smurfs’ flowers?). I don’t think the shifts in scale is as dark or menacing as the curatorial statement suggests, however. And while I appreciate the white-on-white high-relief picture of dandelions, which is reminiscent of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, I also found the white-gold-and-black-acrylic-on-canvas paintings to slip too easily into collectible luxury items. As I learn more about gold and how, like diamonds, its mining and refinement is inseparable from issues of colonialism, inequality and environmentalism, I can’t see how Morrison justifies his use of gold leaf. Terry Gross’ interview with Brook Larmer on “The Real Price of Gold” is elucidating (Fresh Air, January 8, 2009).

Tomorrow, there’ll be a march on Washington against the use of coal. Writing from Manchester — a city spawned by the Industrial Revolution, whose skies were literally blackened by coal smoke, but has since embraced everything green — coal seems like such a 19th-century phenomenon, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s still a necessity today. Stranger still is how the myth of “clean coal” can persist in America today, despite a relatively educated populous.

Podcast of Joseph Kosuth’s Meet the Artist lecture at the Hirshhorn Museum. I’ve found this podcast series extremely inconsistent, with some poor audio quality of in-gallery recordings. But Kosuth excells in providing a smart, well-prepared lecture about his work and Conceptual Art. Cheers for artists talking with precision about art!

The work of two Mancunian conceptually-oriented object-makers:
Nick Crowe
Ian Rawlinson
and their work as a collaborative team


art review: new work, hahn and netzhammer at sfmoma

Just caught two shows of contemporary art and installations, breaking up the familiar galleries at SFMOMA. I was pleasantly surprised by both of these shows.

New Work: Zilvinas Kempinas, Alyson Shotz, Mary Temple
through Nov. 4 (Second floor)

I’ve already mentioned the awesome work of Zilvinas Kempinas here. At this show featuring work dealing with light and perception, Kempinas presents a site-specific installation of VHS tape attached to the floor and the wall, forming a huge, shimmering slope of black stripes. I may have to retract my statement that I’m not one of these people who likes a work wherein the more you look at it, the more there is to see. But Kempinas’ tape installation provides a wealth of optical illusions—vibrations, moirés, interfering shadows, grids of tape and shadow—which were pleasing to discover. Though one could argue that this installation falls into the category of media art using media relics, it has a stronger relationship to op-art, and consequently seems more open-ended than some media art objects.

Mary Temple contributes a subtle, effective trompe l’oeil installation miming cast window light, complete with silhouettes. She used latex paint on the walls, and stain on hardwood floors. However, the telltale additional layer of hardwood flooring over the museum’s floors gave away some of the almost-invisible process. It is what it is.

Alyson Shotz’s installation of clear beads on giant abstract wire forms was tightly constructed. It was a cool, massive installation that can only exist in behemoth galleries and museums. Still, it was not as dramatic as I had expected it might be. I don’t think all art has to be beautiful, but any abstract form playing with light seems to me to be clearly about beauty and perception, and this one fell a little short for me. I can’t figure out if it was the lighting, or if my expectations to be dazzled (or beadazzled? harhar.) were too high. Maybe I’ve been blinded by one too many beaded installations by Liza Lou?

Room for Thought: Alexander Hahn and Yves Netzhammer
Through Oct. 5 (Fourth floor)

A strange and wonderful installation of multiple video projections, sculptural objects and wall painting. In the center of the darkened space, a table sits on the ground with its legs hooved in oversized glasses; the rectangular center of the tabletop is pulled out by two ropes, forming a swing-like appendage to another twin table that hoovers, hardware hidden, in the air. Oversized ventilation pipes house a series of projectors, whose videos feature Virtual Reality-style animations of mannequin-like figures in unsettling abstract environs. I understood immediately that the doll-like bodies facilitated the telling of a deeply psychological and disturbing story. But the multiple elements were highly choreographed, and I wasn’t able to experience it all in my short visit, though I’ve got lingering spookiness to mull over.