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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