May 2010

Louise Bourgeois's "The Feeding"

The vast ouvre of internationally recognized and legendary artist Louise Bourgeois, now 98, has always been personal, often autobiographical. The artist has also worked in a wide variety of media. This show of newer work at Gallery Paule Anglim, titled “Mother and Child” (on view through June 12), features both aspects. On view are sculptures, verse, gouache drawings, and prints focused on motherhood, sexuality, birthing, the female power to create, aging, and dying. With these, then, Bourgeois also continues her career-long attention to the experience of being a housewife/mother, further establishing her as one of our most important feminist artists.

Bourgeouis’s work can tilt towards heavy-handedness, particularly when it engages in overly literal, sometimes gruesome, dipictions of pain and fear. That is not a problem here; in fact, quite the opposite.

The gems of the show are the thirteen gouache drawings. This is particularly interesting given the imagery – graphic birthing scenes and nudes of pregnant women that depict the fetus in utero – and the fact that they are all painted in blood red on a flat white background. Crudely painted to the point of being almost abstract, with edges blurred by the watery gouache, they are approachable and, somehow, sad. They reveal themselves slowly; from the forms emerge a baby’s head from between two legs, and oversized breasts. These are solitary women, swollen and alone. Slightly more abstract, and quiet, are the two medium-size bronze sculptures. From Bourgeois’s “Echo” series, these are casts of sweaters that had been soaked and stuffed; they’re both painted white. Hinting at the human figure, the sagging, drooping forms poetically speak to emptiness, aging, and death.

Intimate, shocking, scary, viseral, beautiful, Bourgeois here succeeds as only someone with years of experience at her craft and art, and a long life of intense and moving experiences fully felt, is able. She gets to you where it counts.

David Michael Smith's "King George III"

From the moment I first saw SF-based artist David Michael Smith‘s work at Scott Richards Contemporary Art a month or so ago, I was smitten. I had the chance to see this latest creation, King George III, at the SF Fine Art Fair, and I liked it so well that I was inspired to create this new section so I could talk about it: my pick of the week.
Smith draws on historic personalities, pop culture, and symbolism to add rich (often creepy or dark) narrative to his beautifully rendered, almost surreal paintings. Note, for this work, he also made the frame and constructed the clock.
Here is Smith’s full description of this painting as stated on gallery Website: This painting depicts King George III, the third British monarch from the House of Hanover. By all accounts a well-intentioned, pious, and judicious king, he suffered in later life from recurrent and, eventually, permanent mental illness. This is generally supposed to have been the result of the blood disease porphyria.
One of the symptoms of porphyria is a purple discoloration of urine during an attack. The painting is saturated with the color purple and the glass bowl under his right hand is full of a purple liquid. The pillar behind him is made of porphyry (derived from the same Greek word, meaning “purple pigment,” from which the disease is named) as is the clock face set into the frame. I’ve included symbols of madness in the painting including a hornet and a tulip and the looming storm on the horizon.
King George III kept a menagerie of exotic animals at Kew Gardens and I’ve included the monkeys as a reference to them. As his life became more and more wretched due to his illness, he lived much of his later years as a prisoner in Windsor Castle, subjected to the harsh treatment of various doctors. I imagine he could have felt quite a kinship with these creatures, ripped from the normalcy of their lives and put behind bars.

Davide Coltro's "Living Shrouds," detail

One hundred black-and-white portraits, with an emphasis toward the black end of the scale, repetitively line the walls of this solo exhibition by new media Milan-based artist Davide Coltro (on view April 1 through May15, 2010). Each work measures 16-by-13 inches and is encased in a plastic sleeve; the sole break in the lineup: a screen, similar in size to the portraits, playing a random feed of hundreds of these images, here brightly colored, melding slowly into each other, one after the next.

The portraits, which feature Coltro’s friends or people he’s met, were created with a standard office photocopier; the subject laid his or her head on the machine. This accounts for the mostly three-quarter or full profiles, with only a few head-on shots. The method also explains the darkness of the images and that everything surrounding the face is black.

To create the continually morphing screen feed, the artist uses a proprietary algorithm he wrote, which resizes, colors, and combines the portraits. The screen recalls and further pushes the work, “[Systems],” featured in the artist’s first exhibition at Wolfe Contemporary (2007), which focused on landscape. Again, Coltro approaches a traditional genre through his lens of unique technology.
While the printouts serve to support the screen module, the combination works well as a whole. While the screen steadily presents a never-ending march of faces over time, the single portraits snaking the gallery walls offer the whole crowd, all at once. And both views upend the genre: whereas portraiture originally highlighted an individual’s uniqueness, set him or her apart, these streams of faces remind us that we are one of many. The xeroxing process, which renders a visual sameness, reinforces this . So stark, unflattering, and similarly produced are the images, beauty and status become a non-factor. The end result is one of equitability and unification.

The one off-putting aspect of the show is the plastic encasing of the images; wavy and reflective, it makes the portraits difficult to see. (It’s curious to learn that this display was insisted on by the artist.) But still, the show works. The flow of images is harmonious; the screen, especially, is mesmerizing. And, this is at its heart a conceptual piece; it is the idea we take with us. We are all a part of this, in it together. There’s a comfort in that.

This review originally ran in art, ltd magazine.

Ai Weiwei's "Snake Bag"

The Ai Weiwei show at Haines Gallery is important for many reasons, not all of which have to do with the specific work on view. Hailing from Beijing, Weiwei is at the forefront of the increasingly vibrant conversation the international art world is having about contemporary Asian art, especially that coming out of China. An activist and forceful critic of the Chinese government (he was beaten by the Chinese police last year and suffered life-threatening head injuries because of it), Weiwei’s art gives outsiders intimate insight into Chinese culture and current issues through the universal language of objects and concepts. His work also resonates within Western art history. Obvious influences and references can be made to Marcel Duchamp, Félix González-Torres, and Andy Warhol, and even contemporaries, such as Jeff Koons. (Also worth noting, similar to other mega-artists, Weiwei employs loads of assistants to transform his vision into form.)

Weiwei is a conceptual artist; the greater message of his pieces is not immediately evident. Where his work succeeds then is that it engages us to the point of curiosity. The pieces on show at Haines—all recent sculpture (2006–2010) of various mediums, including porcelain, marble, and canvas packs—are pretty, sometimes luscious, and simple. They are easy points of entry to sometimes difficult subjects.

Perhaps most powerful—at almost sixty feet long, it has quite a presence—is Snake Bag, 2008, a series of 360 backpacks zippered together in the form of a serpent. The work is a memorial to the thousands of children who perished in the 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake; Weiwei holds the government responsible for the excessiveness of the death toll (it was this criticism that led to the police beatings). Kui Hua Zi (sunflower seeds), 2009, is another strong work. Comprising 550 pounds of porcelain seeds piled in a conical shape (it took twenty assistants more than a year to hand-make all the pieces), it’s a nod to the famine diet of peasants during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which spanned 1959 to 1961. The work readily recalls Gonzalez-Torres’s candy piles, albeit appropriately relaying a slightly less generous twist. Of particular interest to the Bay Area is Owl Houses, 2010, a collection of ten hand-painted porcelain structures meant to be owl habitats. These were recently installed in the San Francisco Presidio to serve their sheltering purpose as part of “Presidio Habitats,” an on-site group exhibition that  runs through May 16, 2011.

This is the first major solo exhibition of Weiwei’s work on the West Coast. Go to see some lovely work, stay for the conversation.

This exhibition is on view until May 28, 2010.

Interact with the artist: Additionally, Haines Gallery has created an “Ai Weiwei at Haines Gallery” blog. It serves as a place where the public, artist, and gallery can interact. Questions and comments for Weiwei are encouraged; it’s a unique opportunity to interact directly with the artist. Go to:

Patrick Dintino's "Bubble Yum"

Patrick Dintino has created an artistic lens through which he looks at everything that interests him: consumer culture, news media, karma, advertising, endangered species, and now, leisure. The products of his process are mesmerizing spectrum paintings. He’s been making them for over ten years, and in his mind, he’s just begun. “I’m very much interested in color codes and how we react,” he explains. Every one of Dintino’s paintings features a series of vertical bands of various widths and colors; each strip blends into the next, forming hazy boundaries. From afar the works look airbrushed. They are not. Each is made by hand with a house-painting brush. “If you look close,” he says, “you’ll see brush marks, hair and dirt in there. I want these to challenge people about the idea or concept of painting.” The physical process of making the work is straightforward. “I go up and down, up and down until the colors blend.”

Dintino will research an idea for weeks or months before he commits it to canvas. “I get imagery from the Internet,” he says, pointing to a recent work, which will appear in his upcoming solo exhibition at San Francisco’s Andrea Schwartz Gallery. “I’ll have a concept—for this one I searched for ‘vacation’—and see what images pop up. I’ll sift through thousands of images and see what color vibrations speak to me.” Dintino notes that once a painting is started, he finishes it in one sitting. “I’m a control person,” he explains, “but in this type of painting, you can’t control; it’s a forced spontaneity. There is difficulty in combining colors, but I like that tension, that idea of a certain amount of clash. If it’s comfortable, then it becomes predictable. I want it to be a bit uncomfortable but beautiful at the same time.”

Though abstract, Dintino’s spectrum paintings each feature a distinct rhythm and narrative—a melody, he states. (He used to be a full-time musician.) And even though there is an engaging dis-ease in these works, they are meditative.

Dintino grew up in the Bay Area. He earned his undergrad and master’s degrees at California College of the Arts, where he now teaches painting. He began his artistic explorations in the Funk art tradition, turning trash into sculpture. This evolved into collage work, which he still does today. His material is mostly packaging or junk mail. “I like the idea that it’s delivered to my house,” he says with a mischievous smile. “I’m playing with that idea of information that’s delivered. I like taking information that’s supposed to go into the mind and distorting it, changing it and reflecting it back on itself.”

In its minimalist approach, Dintino’s work falls outside of current fashion. Although he doesn’t align himself in particular with any of his contemporaries, he notes having been influenced by Op art painters such as Bridget Riley, color field artists, à la Mark Rothko, and perceptualists, such as Robert Irwin and James Turrell. As is, Dintino’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. He was a 2002 SECA finalist, and is up again for the award this year; he was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2004. Working out of his converted garage studio at his El Cerrito home, Dintino is free to clear his mind and mull over what lies behind the various tones, hues, and images we’re bombarded with. “I am distorting people’s views with these spectrum paintings, their perception of things,” he says. “That’s what’s driving this work.”

Patrick Dintino’s work will be featured in an upcoming solo show at Andrea Schwartz Gallery, in San Francisco, from June 16 – July 30, 2010.

This profile appears in the May/June issue of art, ltd magazine.

"Color & Color" Winter 2010 issue

Going the DIY route and traveling in the well-tread Bay Area tradition of  artist book production—a la Hot & Cold and One Artist One Book, among many others—artists Amanda Curreri and Erik Scollon (both represented by SF–based Ping Pong Gallery) recently began co-curating and co-producing the seasonal publication Color & Color. The second/Winter (CC#1) issue has just been released; it’s forty-six pages feature work by Luke Butler, Audrey Hynes, Lindsay Jesse, Cybele Lyle, Ali Naschke-Messing, Nyeema Morgan, Paul Morgan, and Marci Washington. The common theme that runs between issues is (not surprisingly) color; specifically, each issue is “guided by the duality of two thematic colors.” This issue’s colors are yellow and purple. The first issue (CC#0), released last Fall, was based on orange and blue. 
Color & Color, as Curreri and Scollon explain online, “was conceived as a mobile venue in which to present new work of artists we respect and with whom we want to work. We hope that with each issue the publication can connect artists with new audiences and expanded dialogue.”  
The publication is available in print and digitally. More information and links to acquiring one or both issues can be found at the Color & Color site.

Enrique Chagoya's "Illegal Alien’s Guide to the Concept of Relative Surplus Value" will be offered in the silent auction at Vernissage

This Thursday, May 13: Vernissage, the MFA preview party and fundraiser for the SF Art Institute. Highlights include: live music by legendary Studio 13 Jass Band; guided private tours by some of the area’s finest curators (see list below); a silent auction featuring original fine art by SFAI alumni notables, including Nicole Buffett (BFA 01, MFA 04), Omar Chacon (MFA 04), Enrique Chagoya (BFA 84), and William Wiley (BFA 60, MFA 62); and the opportunity to be the first to experience the work of a next generation of emerging artists coming out of one of the nation’s most prestigious and forward-thinking art schools. The exhibition features work in a variety of media by approximately 100 graduating MFA students. Vernissage also presents the unique opportunity to meet and discuss with the artists. Additional information and purchase tickets at:
Where: Herbst Pavilion at Fort Mason (Marina Boulevard and Buchanan Street)
When: 6 p.m.  Patron tours with special curatorial guests; 7 p.m. Cocktail buffet / mingle with artists / silent auction / entertainment
Curtors offering private tours: Apsara DiQuinzio, Assistant Curator of Painting and Sculpture, SFMOMA; Rudolf Frieling, Curator of Media Arts, SFMOMA; Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, SFMOMA; Betti-Sue Hertz, Director of Visual Arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Hanru Hou, Director of Exhibitions and Galleries, SFAI; Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; Julio Cesar Morales, Adjunct Curator, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts; Jeannene Przyblyski, Dean of Academic Affairs, SFAI; Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Programs, SFMOMA; and John Zarobell, Assistant Curator of Collections, Exhibitions, and Commissions, SFMOMA. 

Gustave Caillebotte's "The Floor Scrapers"

Sit with this for a moment: beginning this late spring through January 2011, over two hundred iconic French Impressionist, Postimpressionist, Realist, and Naturalist paintings will be on show at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. And these works will never be seen again in such quantity outside of their home, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Opening May 22 (and running through September 6) is “Birth of Impressionism,” which will feature about half the works and focus on Paris around 1874, when the first exhibition of Impressionist paintings took place. “There was a preponderance of different styles,” says  Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco John Buchanan, “all at once and all in one city.”
Almost immediately following (opening September 25 and running through January 18, 2011) is the exhibition “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Beyond,” featuring Postimpression-ist work by the greatest masters of the genre. The de Young is the only venue in the world to get both shows.
How’d we get so lucky? It’s all about passion and good relationships. But first some background. The Musée d’Orsay is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of nineteenth century French art, including Impressionist and Postimpressionist work, by design. Housed in what was originally a train station (note: the architect who transformed it into the museum, the renowned Gae Aulenti, is also responsible for San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum), created in 1900 for the Paris International Exhibition, the museum was launched in 1986. Its mission is to highlight Western art from 1848 to 1914. Its collection was formed by consolidating the best pieces from this period from the Louvre, Jeu de Paume, and the Modern Art Museum in Paris, as well as generous gifts from private parties. Many of the works coming to San Francisco were originally in the collection of Gustave Caillebotte; a painter himself (his stunning painting The Floor Scrapers will be on show in the first exhibition), he was also a man of great financial means. This allowed him to be an early collector of work by fellow artists. Interestingly as well, several paintings are making a return, having also been shown in San Francisco at the Panama Pacific exhibition of 1915.
In anticipation of its twenty-fifth anniversary next year, the d’Orsay is undergoing a major refurbishment. “The current director, Guy Cogeval, is a professional and personal friend of mine,” says Buchanan. “He asked if I wanted to make an exhibition with him.” Cogeval and Buchanan—who has a great love of nineteenth century French art and culture—met on several occasions to plan the show: two exhibitions emerged. And to that, Buchanan simply said: “I think we should do both.”
Viewers can anticipate what amounts to the rare experience of art history books come to life. The first exhibition highlights works by over forty artists, including such visionary masters as Edgar Degas, Frederic Bazille, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Gustav Courbet. Highlights include: Degas’s The Dancing Lesson (1873–1876) and Racehorses Before the Stands (1866–1868), Monet’s Saint-Lazare Station (1877) and Rue Montorquei, Paris (1878), and Pierre Puvi de Chavannes’s Young Girls on the Edge of the Sea (1879), among so many others. Buchanan points out that he is particularly excited about the numerous fine Manets that will be here—there will be eleven, ranging from 1865 to 1882. “He was a great Naturalist,” Buchanan says, “yet he was close friends with the Impressionists. His work was influenced by seventeenth century Spanish paintings. He was the first truly modern artist.” Particularly, Buchanan singles out The Fife Player (1866). “We make direct contact with a real human being,” he says of the painting’s subject. “He’s gazing directly at us.” Another greatly anticipated work is what many of us know as “Whistler’s Mother,” American expatriate James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Gray and Black, no. 1 (1871). “It shows Realist and Naturalist tendencies,” Buchanan says. “And the influence of Japanese art.”
Running concurrent to “Birth of Impressionism” is “Impressionist Paris: City of Light,” at the de Young’s sister venue, the Legion of Honor (June 5 through September 26). Featuring over 180 prints, photographs, paintings, and books, it will add further context to the main exhibition.
Following, the “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Beyond” exhibition features 120 works focusing on late Impressionist masterpieces, as well as Pointillist paintings by such masters as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. Some of what we can look forward to: Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone (1888), Portrait of the Artist with the Yellow Christ (1889) by Paul Gauguin, and Seurat’s The Circus (1891).
“This is a huge moment for those of us who love France and French art,” Buchanan concludes. “It’s like stepping into an art history book of late nineteenth century France.”

Thomas Campbell's "Der"

Yar is a nautical term for “ready,” or “quick and agile.” Being so, Thomas Campbell’s current show, which bears the term as its title, is appropriately named. It’s of the now, and ready in abundance; there are almost thirty works on show. Not overfull, the quantity is in synch with the lively color and ebullient movement of these works. They’re fun, whimsical, and detailed. This show is quick and agile, moving deftly through a variety of materials and forms: bronze sculpture, acrylic, spray-paint, wood cut-out sculpture, sewn fabric, gouache, gourds, prints.
The maritime reference is also fitting; Campbell’s work comes out of surfer/skateboarder culture (he lives in the small coastal town of Bonny Doon, outside of Santa Cruz). He is aligned with fellow “Beautiful Looser” (referencing the groundbreaking exhibition and now documentary film) artists, such as Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, and Mike Mills. Comparisons can also be made to artist Mike Shine, who also resides in a rural coastal town, Bolinas. With them he shares a graphic, bold, illustrative aesthetic. Also common, giving a nod to the graffiti/urban art scene, as well as recalling the 1960s rock posters by Wes Wilson, is the incorporation of words featuring stylized lettering. And like all of these artists, this work moves beyond its initial hit of jubilance, hipster trendiness, and humor (some work of this genre fails to get past this).
The work here is precisely executed and demonstrates a confident and rich use of color, pattern, narrative, form and composition. What points best to this are the two works that stray the most, but are perhaps the best in show: the two bronzes, Charles and Der. ared down to the blue-black color of the metal, each presents a single character. They demonstrate Campbell’s ability to edit and engage formally, seriously, and retain voice and vision; it’s yar.

William Wiley's "Durango Dexter and the Dolphins"

Just about one year ago, Bay Area musician, writer, and now visual artist Sonny Smith set out on a highly ambitious project: conceive of one hundred bands and/or musicians, coordinate over ninety artists to create album covers for the fictitious musical acts’ fictitious 45s, write and record the two hundred songs represented by these albums (A sides and B sides), and write the (mostly) fake musicians’ personas (Smith also included his own band, the Sunsets, in the mix). And he did it. The culmination of the effort is on view at Gallery 16 (through May 28).

Numerous well-known artists—William Wiley and Ed Ruscha, Tucker Nichols, Brion Nuda Rosch, Alice Shaw, and Chris Duncan—as well as Smith and lesser known names created albums. Hanging alongside many of them are the musician bios, which are most often humorous and engaging. Additionally, standing out among the crowd, there is the life-size jukebox, made by Smith, that plays the very real songs he created and recorded.

To be expected, the range of the artwork is huge: style (some appear professionally rendered while others show the hand of craft; some are tight and detailed, others are loose), media (drawing, painting, sewing), and tone (many are outright funny; none are terribly serious), and, yes, quality. What the show lacks in formal consistency of the visual work, however, it makes up with cleverness, wit, and multidimensionality—it’s wonderful, well developed satire. There is depth beyond the novelty, due in large part to the way Smith is exploring collaborating across media, and with so many artists; its greatest merit is the well-rounded exploration of imagination by merging visual, musical, and literary elements. And it’s also a lot of fun.
This exhibition is on view until May 28, 2010

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