Impressions: Bay Area

Some art shows I saw in San Francisco and Oakland.

When I visit California during holidays, I recall the familiar, discover what’s changed, and encounter weird schedules. It’s catch as catch can.

Baby (Medium for Intercultural Navigation): An installation by Michael Arcega @ SFAC Grove Street. Kids dream of floating down a river, and MA has made a real outrigger sailing canoe. It works. Hope you got to ogle it, suspended in flight.

The Point: Kirk Crippens in Collaboration with the Bayview-Hunters Point Community @ SF City Hall The SF Arts Commission’s humanizing portrait series continues, and currently ties in to The Last Black Man in San Francisco moment.

Here’s an interesting line-up of spaces to visit back-to-back: Kiria Koula (nice fluorescent white cube with cool, linear, geometric interventions), the expanded Ratio 3 (terrifyingly perfect and high-ceilinged white cube with hard edged, linear, oft black-and-white interior design and architectural installations) and CULT/Aimee Friberg (b/w architectural interventions/wall paintings/geometric sculptures).

Stephanie Syjuco @ Workshop Residence. A combination of things difficult not to like: a residency, workshop, and artist’s multiple store, with very desirable objects. Even shopping-agnostic-I couldn’t resist a tote bag to support the artist and program. The price points were mostly out of my range, but nobody said that manufacturing things in SF would be cheap.

Dud: Oakland Black Friday. I tried not to spend money, out of respect for Ferguson, and lingering memories of Adbusters’ Buy Nothing Day. I had some help—parking meters were free thanks to “Plaid Friday” (Is the Oakland Chamber of Commerce targeting lumber-sexuals?) and Arizmendi was closed (in an almost-throwback against the creep of retail hours into the holidays). But I was only able to visit three of four galleries on my list. Admittedly, I failed to look closely enough at their websites to see if they were, indeed, actually open. So Royal Nonesuch Gallery, Random Parts, and City Limits Gallery, I guess I’ll have to check you out another time. Thanks, Johannson Projects, for opening your doors.

Meta-Practice, Values

Only in an obfuscating art world does transparency seem radical

Some generative, collective thoughts for transparency and against competition.

Thinking about all the things that are supposed to go unspoken in the art world, and artists’ self-preservation, and how even a teeny bit of transparency can seem risky or radical in the obfuscating art world. Our battles seem so hard won, why share any insight with others? Exactly because none of this is easy. Info and access are the easy bits, relative to good work, persistence, and longevity.

“Every interaction involves a choice between collaboration and competition, and to what degree. Eventually you have to choose the world you want to live in.”


“So much of the way that the art world is structured favors competition. Grants are competitive. … Artists compete with artists–stealing ideas instead of sharing them, or using copyright laws to guard against thoughtful re-use. Artists compete for shows in a limited number of exhibition spaces instead of finding their own ways to exhibit outside of these competitive venues. Artists conceal opportunities from their friends as a way of getting an edge up on the capital-driven competition. … This is a treadmill made from decomposing shit that is so devoid of nutrients that even its compost won’t allow anything fresh to grow. We need something better to run on. … Working toward a global network where one creates opportunities and, in turn, can respond to limitless opportunities without the pressure to compete, allows for a more generous, diverse and open art practice.”

Marc Fisher (Temporary Services), “Against Competition,” Blunt Art Text #2, April 2006 via Stephanie Syjuco/Free Texts



Get excited: This week in NYC

Loads of thought-provoking art events in NYC are coming up! These all appeal to things I’m excited about lately—horizontal networks, feminism, activism and more:

Tonight! Tuesday, November 12
PANEL: Who Cares About Collaboration?

540 W 21st St, NYC
7-9pm, Free

Speakers include Joe McKay (UCB/Headlands!), Sarah Perks (the awesome Cornerhouse of Manchester), and folks from The White Building (a cool London art space).

Friday, November 15
Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Projects Space 

323 W 39th Street, 2nd floor, NYC

Reception for the exhibition and event series for EFA’s Arts-Workers-as-Artists program, including Hatuey Ramos-Fermín and Elizabeth Hamby, whose excellent Boogie Down Rides event brightened up my weekend.

Lane Relyea, Your Everyday Art World

Lane Relyea, Your Everyday Art World

Saturday, November 16
CONVERSATION: Katy Siegel with Lane Relyea, author of Your Everyday Art World
Regina Rex
1717 Troutman Ave #329, Queens
About the

new networked, participatory art world

Get there early to check out:

EXHIBITION: Ornament and Crime
Ortega y Gasset Projects
1717 Troutman Ave #327, Queens
Gallery hours are 1-6 Saturdays and Sunadays. Exhibition on through Dec 8.

Group show curated by undercover super hero Lauren F. Adams, featuring projects by Stephanie SyjucoDavid MabbSusanne Slavick, and Stacy Lynn Waddell.

Monday, November 18
PRESENTATION: Guerilla Girls Broadband
Interference Archive
131 8th Street #4, Brooklyn
Talking about their latest project, MapAbortion, on access to reproductive health.

(I’m also really excited about Interference Archive’s forthcoming exhibition, Serve the People: The Asian American Movement in New York, opening December 5. IA’s core collective includes the indefatigable Josh MacPhee, and book- club-mate Blithe Riley!)

Community, Impressions, Travelogue

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:

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

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: Caption source:

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

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

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:

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

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: Photo: Jan Stürmann.

Allison Smith, Fort Point Bunting, 2012. // Source: 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:

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:

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:  San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. // Source:

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: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Robert Bechtle, Potrero Hill (1996)

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).

Citizenship, Community, Sights

get excited: open studios, mfa shows, more

Besides Frieze, NADA, and Pulse art fairs in NYC this week, there’s a slew of auxilliary events, open studios, and MFA shows to check out. In support of friends and community, here’s my list:

Go Stephanie!

May 4–6
Stephanie Syjuco: RAIDERS (Redux)
Catharine Clark Gallery’s New York Pop-Up Gallery
313 W 14th Street, 2F, NYC

May 4–6
LMCC’s Open Studio Weekend
125 Maiden Lane, 14th Floor, NYC

Go Michael!

Saturday, May 12
2012 MFA Interaction Design Festival at the School of Visual Arts
Thesis Presentations: 11am – 4pm @ SVA Theatre
Thesis Exhibition: 5–7pm @ SVA Interaction Design Department
Go Nyeema!
May 12–13
NARS Foundation Open Studios
88 35th Street, 3rd Floor, Brooklyn
May 18–19
Kambui Olujimi: A Life in Pictures
Apex Art, 291 Church Street, NYC
Saturday, May 19
Question Bridge: Black Males Blueprint Roundtable
Brooklyn Museum 
Finally, if that’s not enough, learn about Emergency USA‘s amazing projects building medical infrastructure in areas of conflict:
Thursday, May 3, 7pm, E-USA office @ 21 Exchange Place. Presentation. RSVP to
Sunday, May 6, 5–8pm, Randolph Beer, Nolita. 15% benefit happy hour.

get excited: in the bay

So much to get excited about in the Bay, meaning the San Francisco Bay Area, and more specifically, the actual bay.

We Players: How We Leave and Return: Intersections of Art and History
April 28–July 1, 2012
Angel Island State Park

Opening Reception @ the Visitor’s Center: April 28th, 2012 1:30 – 3pm

Exhibiting Artists:
James Bradley
Torreya Cummings
Lauren Dietrich Chavez
Julia Goodman
Matthew Gordon
Justin Hurty
Brandon Walls Olsen
Imin Yeh

How We Leave and Return is a site-specific exhibition of visual art on Angel Island State Park.

Seven Bay Area artists were invited to explore Angel Island’s history, architecture, and landscape, and create contemporary artworks inspired by the island’s historic narratives and recurring themes.

How We Leave and Return asks the audience to consider the cyclical nature of human history, marking that it often repeats itself, and presents ideas as to how a society copes with its legacy of ideologies, ontological positions, and cultural practices.

Lots of CCA alum (woot!) in this show, curious to see hear how TC’s boat voyage goes…. I don’t like getting caught up in issues of race and representation, but I’m glad that a Chinese American artist, especially one who deals with issues of identity in her work, is in the show. Angel Island is so important in California history as it intersections with Chinese Americans.

FOR-SITE Foundation: International Orange
Fort Point National Historic Site
(beneath the Golden Gate Bridge)
May 25–October 28, 2012

Celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge, International Orange — named in honor of the unique paint color of the span — offers fresh perspectives on an enduring landmark. This exhibition at Fort Point presents new work by contemporary artists responding to the bridge as icon, historic structure, and conceptual inspiration.

The contributing artists — Anandamayi Arnold, Mark Dion and Dana Sherwood, Bill Fontana, Andy Freeberg, Doug Hall, Courtney Lain, David Liittschwager, Abelardo Morell, Cornelia Parker, Kate Pocrass, Jeannene Przyblyski, Allison Smith, Stephanie Syjuco, Camille Utterback, and Pae White — approach the bridge with diverse and distinctively individual aesthetics, materials, and points of view.

Really excited that this show, featuring so many stellar Bay Area and national artists (my personal faves linked above), will be on for a few months, increasing the chances of me catching it.


It’s a joy

On Tuesday, I drove 240 miles to de-install and pick up my work from Catskill, NY. Today, I spent over 2 hours in transit going to Chelsea and back to photograph my installation. After this, I’m going to color-correct the photos, then work on a residency application. (Meanwhile, my latest studio project has been untouched—frozen in a state of incompletion—for the past 1.5 weeks.)

There is little joy in schlepping. The transit left me knackered, and feeling not especially productive. But I want to contrast these niggling feelings about artists’ extrastudio activity with a different sentiment about being an artist, to make space for an attitude adjustment.

When I visited Michael Arcega’s and Stephanie Syjuco’s studios in San Francisco last Friday, it felt like this is where they report to work, because it’s their jobs to be artists. This is less about occupations—Arcega and Syjuco both work as teachers—and more to do with the seriousness and intention of their practices, of their drive to be making and exhibiting as artists. The visits made me want a bigger studio, and somehow restructure my life so that I can spend more and more of my time being an artist. I left feeling inspired to be more ambitious, diligent, and committed.

I savored this sense of forward momentum. During my long drive to Catskill, I came to this realization: Being an artist for a day—working on your art, managing your art career, even undertaking extrastudio activities—is a gift.

Artists often want to focus on studio work—most of us probably became artists because of the pleasures of creativity and discovery. But there is much more to being an artist, and rather than disparage the extrastudio work—the unending grant applications, the mounting rejection letters, the mindless schlepping—I thought about being grateful for it. There are countless other things competing for our attentions—but we choose to be artists, and therefore the activities we engage in are of our volition and intention.

A few points of reference come to mind:

Lee Pembleton, in my interview with Earthbound Moon for Art Practical, said,

We pour our resources in to the work. Of course, it is not a suffering work, but an ecstatic one.

The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is about finding pleasure, satisfaction, purpose, and happiness in one’s work. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that there are spoken words in this nearly silent film, and they are of lasting import to me.

Yes, there is little pleasure in schlepping. But perhaps I can approach this work, in all of its facets, however transcendent or mundane, exciting or tedious, in terms of finding satisfaction and purpose. From that perspective, the ability to be an artist—the capacity and circumstances—are delights in themselves.