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:

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.


notes on news

Over Thanksgiving dinner — Filipino food and apple pie — I had the rare pleasure of explaining contemporary art to family members. We talked about postmodernism and how a picture of $400 by Warhol could bring in $43.7M at auction.

I can appreciate how hard it is to make sense of the contemporary art world. I know about how some things work; others, I’m still learning — such as this telling article about why blockbuster museum shows like Tut are such big business (below). It’s because it actually is a big business.

But the Tut show, a product of an alliance between Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian government’s chief archaeologist, and U.S. sports and entertainment giant AEG, is also a global revenue powerhouse that takes over its hosts entirely.

In 2005 Hawass paired with AEG, which owns sports arenas and teams (such as the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings) around the world , for a traveling exhibition that would display a few dozen of Egypt’s thousands of Tutankhamen artifacts. The show was to be put on by an AEG subsidiary, Arts and Exhibitions International.

The deal was simple: The hosts, like the AGO [(Art Gallery of Ontario)], could keep a portion of the gate receipts (the AGO declined to disclose how much, citing a confidentiality pact with AEI), but would surrender all say in how the show was presented and installed. The host would only profit after all of AEI’s costs were covered. AEG also demanded that its own, proprietary gift shop be installed.

At the AGO, the result is a stranger in the house, a hermetically sealed silo hived off from the rest of the gallery. This isn’t how most people expected the gallery to carry its mission of transformation [and inclusion of contemporary art] forward.

—Murray White, “Boy king’s reign at AGO troubles artists” (Toronto Star, November 29, 2009)

I’d had inklings of such tactics (when the Tut show came to the de Young Museum, local preparators were shut out of the installation work), but this is unsettling. Museums are perceived as custodians of historically significant artifacts. For many visitors, this suggests a faith in museum officials — that what’s exhibited is there because it’s edifying and worthy of the public’s attention. The reality is more complicated — in the Tut show, what’s exhibited is there because it’s historical as well as popular and profitable.

To make an entertainment business out of exhibition-making just feels wrong. I’m not so innocent to believe that art and commerce must be kept separate, but I’d hope that museums would be above big-business tactics (media saturation, merchandising, proprietary products) and values fixated on the bottom line. When museum officials legitimize a corporate blockbuster exhibition as an attempt to expand audiences (to their non-profit institutions) at $32.50 a pop (most of which goes to a big business), it seems unscrupulous.

Before traveling to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Tut exhibition was at LACMA. That sort of makes sense. LACMA’s a county museum, so its emphasis is not on contemporary art or risk-taking; it can be forgiven for erring on the side of populism. Plus, everybody knows it’s strapped for cash. Now, Koon’s hanging locomotive sculpture needs a helping hand. At “an estimated cost of $25 million, making it one of the most expensive public art projects ever undertaken” (Katya Kazakina, “Koons’s $25 Million Dangling Train Derailed by Lacma Shortfall,”, November 29, 2009), no wonder. I’m all for ambitious public art (love Chris Burden’s lampposts at LACMA), but you don’t have to be a cynic of fine art to think that $25M is an outrageous sum. Imagine how many new works of contemporary art that could fund. You could award 100 artists a quarter of a million dollars each!

Last, Randy Kennedy sums up a massive study of how artists are faring in the recession (“A Survey Shows Pain of Recession for Artists,”, November 23, 2009). Of 5,300 respondents spanning painting, film and architecture,

  • “more than a third don’t have adequate health insurance”
  • “While the majority of artists have college degrees, only 6 percent said they earned $80,000 or more.”
  • The artists surveyed tended to earn either very little of their overall income from their artwork or almost all of it.”

I’m biased towards indie stuff: art and commerce can mix well. If you’re feeling the gift-giving spirit this month, don’t forget your local artists and galleries:

SHOP SHOW @ Swarm Gallery, Oakland, CA
Opening Friday, December 11, 2009, 6-9 pm and continuing through January 24, 2010

HOLIDAYLAND GIFT SALE @ Blankspace, Oakland, CA
On now thru December 20, 2009, with a First Friday Reception on December 4th from 6-10pm

Art & Development

Diagram as sketch

dark into light installation guide
Christine Wong Yap, Schematic for Dark into Light, 2008, computer drawing, dimensions variable.

Design skills come in handy, now that I’m starting to think of diagrams as sketches. I’ve been using InDesign with a 1-inch grid with 12 subdivisions. This is great for drawing large installations to scale. Sure beats 1/4″ graph paper.

Nerdy, I know. But skills make life easier. Just the other day, D.G. explained a concept of electrical circuits to me. I thought it was pretty cool, until he said, “That’s the only thing I remember from second grade electronics.” Which made me realize that I didn’t take second-grade electronics — or any electronics for that matter! I bought a book, “Wiring 1-2-3,” a few weeks ago, but it seems like I’ll never catch up. I guess better late than never.

Dark into Light won’t be the most effective electrical circuit, but I still think it’ll be cool. Come to Swarm Friday night to see what I mean.