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Marcel Dzama, "Here's a Fine Revolution," color spit bite aquatint, with aquatint and soft ground etching, 21 1/2" x 30 3/4", 2015

Marcel Dzama, “Here’s a Fine Revolution,” color spit bite aquatint, with aquatint and soft ground etching, 21 1/2″ x 30 3/4″, 2015

Having taken a week off for the holiday, Art Beat Bay Area returns with this weeks picks of some of the Bay Area’s amazing art offerings, as well as a look at what’s to come.

Marcel Dzama at Crown Point Press, San Francisco (through Jan. 2): In his signature darkly humorous and playful style, Dzama explores fairy tales, ballet, and terrorism, among other topics, in this show featuring three new prints, a series of twelve etchings collectively titled “The Fallen Fables,” a selection of black-and-white collages, and three films. There is also a short video documenting Dzama’s time at Crown Point Press that gives insight into the work and the artist’s process. Dzama continues to work in his highly recognizable and much beloved aesthetic (one writer referred to his popularity as “Dzama-mania”), and the work features characters viewers have become familiar with from past pieces; his art readily invokes thoughts of that by Henry Darger. When stopping in to view the work, be sure to pick up the Crown Point Press newsletter, Overview, which features an informative essay about the work written by Kathan Brown.

“The Mapmaker’s Dream” at Haines Gallery, San Francisco (through Dec. 23): This excellent group show features work by Maurizio Anzeri, Marius Bercea, Linda Conner, Chris McCaw, and Pae White. The works all address, as the show title directly states, ideas around mapping. By example, Anzeri sews geometric shapes onto vintage landscape photographs, invoking ideas of very simple architectural plans, what future structures over that space might look like. White’s video Dying Oak/Elephant is features digital animation created from the scanning of an 800-year old Oak tree, which resides on the For-Site property in Grass Valley; the artist created the video during her residency there. The resulting piece is mesmerizing and fluid; it has the appearance of traveling through the human circulatory system, flowing through a network of interconnected vein-like structures that ebb and flow in their density, sometimes breaking apart into a collection of dots. Throughout, this well-curated show is a thoughtful, engaging, and  thoroughly enjoyable.

Frida Kahlo, "Retrato de Mrs. Jean Wright, oil on canvas, 25" x 18", 1931, featured at the John Berggruen Gallery

Frida Kahlo, “Retrato de Mrs. Jean Wright, oil on canvas, 25″ x 18”, 1931, featured at the John Berggruen Gallery

“Looking Back: 45 Years” at John Berggruen, San Francisco (through Dec. 19): This show firmly establishes why the John Berggruen Gallery has been considered one of the finest modern masters galleries around, especially when it comes to the work of Northern California artists, and more specifically, those from the Bay Area Figurative movement including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and Nathan Oliveira. Works by these artists as well as that by such well-known names as Frieda Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Clyfford Still, Wayne Thiebaud, and Ed Ruscha, among others, cover the two floors that comprise the gallery. It is an exceptional, not to miss show. The timing of a gallery retrospective is fitting as this is the gallery’s second-to-last show in its downtown location; an announcement of where the gallery is moving to will be made in the coming weeks.

Guy Diehl , “A Dialogue with Tradition II,” at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco (through Dec. 5): Guy Diehl continues his decades-long career of exploring the traditional genre of still life. Once again, he delivers a show of exquisitely painted, moody and graceful works variously featuring books, bottles, and fruit, among other objects. References to art history, both direct and indirect, abound. This is a excellent opportunity to view exceptionally well painted and beautiful pieces.

Upcoming!

Thursday, December 3 is First Thursdays in San Francisco.

Opening December 4, Oakland: Erik Parra, “each devil his own,” at Transmission Gallery. An opening reception will take place Thursday, December 4, 6 to 9 p.m.

December 12, 5 to 7 p.m., Oakland: Open Studios and Group Show, “Something for Everyone,” at Lost & Foundry Studios, 305 Center Street, Oakland. Featured artists include Alexis Arnold, Jeff Hantman, Bridget May, Chris McNally, Kim Miskowicz, Mansur Nurullah, Pamela Palma, Steve Smith, Chris Wells, and Erik Zo.

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Chris Ofili, "Princess of the Posse," 1999, acrylic, collage, glitter, resin, map pins and elephant dung on canvas, 96 x 72". Collection SFMOMA, © Chris Ophili

Chris Ofili, “Princess of the Posse,” 1999, acrylic, collage, glitter, resin, map pins and elephant dung on canvas, 96 x 72″. Collection SFMOMA, © Chris Ophili

“Portraits and Other Likenesses,” which draws from the collection of SFMOMA, is an excellent selection of over fifty works covering a wide variety of mediums—sculpture, collage, multimedia, painting, photography, installation, prints and drawing—also samples genres over a wide swath of time, from early last century to the present. Working with a creative take on the idea of “portrait,” works span from more traditional painted and photographic likenesses of individuals to abstract symbolism. Individual pieces speak to identity, race relations, fashion, politics, social status and power. Artists from around the world are represented; the “portraits” are of people from a number of countries and cultures. Covering two floors, the show manages to hold together tightly and maintain a strong degree of quality consistency, quite a feat given the vast terrain covered.

Among the highlights are early twentieth century black-and-white photographs by James Van Der Zee and P. H. Polk. Chris Ophili’s large and glittery Princess of the Posse is propped against a wall near Kara Walker’s even larger graphite and pastel on paper figurative scene Daylights (after M. B.). Also of note is Kehinde Wiley’s Alexander the Great, a striking, intense and colorful image. Depicting pride and strength is Sargent Johnson’s Forever Free, a sculpture of a maternal figure protecting her children—this work was part of SFMOMA’s founding collection and was first on view when the museum opened, in 1934. On the more playful side is one of Nike Cave’s eclectic and fun soundsuits. Among the many other artists whose work should be closely considered are Glenn Ligon, Romare Beardon, Consuelo Kanaga, Mickalene Thomas, and David Hammons.

"Tightrope TRAINing," 2015, acrylic on panel, 21 x 25”

“Tightrope TRAINing,” 2015, acrylic on panel, 21 x 25”

Paying homage to famous artists (both past and present); featuring humor and a magical dream-like quality; displaying exquisite detail, the new works by Spainish-based artist Pablo D’Antoni are absolutely delightful. Scale and shape play a key role in this new body of work: pieces range from half-inch round nail-heads to 3” x 24” horizontal panels and 2” x 48” “matchstick” panels, to more conventional mid-sized rectangular works (36” x 47”, 20” x 40”, etc.). This play with proportion contributes to how the works are read, as well as giving an almost fun-house feel to the show. The nail-head works—magnifying glasses are supplied in order to better see them—are homages to J.M.W. Turner, each one a miniature remaking of a landscape (and one self-portrait) by the painter. In addition to being a painter, D’Antoni is an art conservator. Perhaps this luring in of the viewer, requiring very up-close observation, is intended to mimic the very close attention needed to restore or conserve a work: in each case, one must become intimate with the piece.

The quoting of famous works, which is also seen in the horizontal pieces, references D’Antoni’s knowledge of art and art history. The long, narrow pieces each focus on one artist—Lautrec, Michelangelo, Banksy, among others—with several of that artist’s works recreated, sometimes with a funny twist: in the Van Eyck piece, the remake of Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy changes the stick the man is holding to a selfie stick, iPhone attached. These horizontals read like a book. On each side there are usually a couple of square panels featuring reproductions and then a central panel which depicts works hanging in a gallery-like space.

Another thread of influence in these works is surrealism. This is most apparent in the more conventionally proportioned works, which share with all the rest a similarity of great detail. Among them is Black Cat, which features four different styles of fishing boats floating against an almost pure white background, arranged along the bottom quarter of the panel. The boat on the right has a tall pole attached to its bow, which is topped with a seated fisherman who has another boat hanging from his fishing line. The strangeness opens the door to the imagination; the vast empty space inviting you to fill in a narrative. Visually, the restrained palette is soothing; compositionally, the work is well balanced. This painting is as rigorous as it is playful, as serious as it is fun.

"Deep State," 2015, oil on canvas on panel, 84 x 72

“Deep State,” 2015, oil on canvas on panel, 84 x 72

Apocalyptic, trash-laden, desperate landscapes make up “Deep State,” a solo exhibition of new paintings and prints by Scott Greene. These narrative works — one can’t help but immediately begin to create the backstory that renders the worlds we’re looking at — are somewhat loosely painted, which adds to the sense of things falling apart, being oh so tentatively, just barely, held together.

The large, horizontal (144 x 48 inches) Trading Post features a cell tower camouflaged like a tall pine tree that’s leaned over (thus the horizontality of the work, which adds to its off-kilter feeling) and filled with supplies such as gas cans and animal pelts. A man toward the top of the “tree” is stashing wood and a lamb is falling to the ground. The rest of the landscape appears chaotic, disheveled.

Providing an element of comic relief to the serious subject of our compromised environment, which is the central focus of the show, is Cavalier, which depicted a Napoleon-like figure raising an arm up and forward, a sign that says, “Let us go forth and conquer!” He is astride a sheep, rather than a horse, and our Napoleon has a smiley-face plastic grocery bag stuck to his head, covering part of his face, and a large brown blanket covering his blue and gold uniform, which peaks out beneath. The sheep rears up, a surprised look on its bridled face, on a trash-strewn cliff overlooking the landscape below.

These works exemplify the feel of the show: the “advanced” world (wo)man has created or is attempting to create via technology or bravado and ambition comes with a cost. The natural world, which feeds us and makes our lives healthy and abundant, will ultimately deliver us back to times of primitive hunting and gathering and extreme filth, times we’re worked long and hard to advance from. Green environmentalist nightmare is that the world we take for granted will revert as a result of humanity’s hubris. These works depict an unpleasant yet possible future; they’re beautiful to the eye even, as a political statement, they mean to help sound a serious warning.

"MindPlace ThoughtStream" (video still), 2014. Courtesy the artist and Gimpel Fils, London; Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich; and Galerie Crèvecoeur, Paris

“MindPlace ThoughtStream” (video still), 2014. Courtesy the artist and Gimpel Fils, London; Galerie Gregor Staiger, Zurich; and Galerie Crèvecoeur, Paris

For Shana Moulton’s solo exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, “Picture Puzzle Pattern Door,” the artist once again takes on the persona of the mute character Cynthia, and we are immersed in her world. The exhibition is comprised of a main video room featuring a central video on one wall and several other complementary videos on the other three walls; outside of that are interactive works, readymade objects, another video, and collages.

The central theme is the commercialism of alternative healing tools as well as popular peace-generating practices. The narrative of the show, which plays out in the groovy, otherworldly central video—chock full as it is with special effects that make objects turn watery and Cynthia get absorbed into her dress, among other truly fantastic occurrences—traces Cynthia’s quest to cure her IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) using, it seems, every sort of alt health-promoting tool that’s been advertised to her. Her pursuits feel at once naive—Is she (are we?) being hoodwinked by crafty snake-oil marketers?—and incredibly earnest.

The highlighted tool Cynthia employs is a biofeedback machine (it’s a real-world product, a ThoughtWave; one of the interactive pieces provides the machines for viewers to try). But additionally she eats Activia yogurt—at which time the video changes to the Shakira music video sponsored by the product—wears a back brace, uses a hot water bottle, and walks through a meditation maze. It’s clear, she’s open, eager to try anything and readily responds to marketing messages.

The videos are enormously inventive and imaginative; colorful, fluid, quirky—there’s definitely a hippie vibe to the whole show. Cynthia’s innocence is both entertaining and endearing; as well, she provides an opportunity for us to laugh at ourselves and our own vulnerability to cure-all, life improving treatments and tools. And while the show as a whole can feel a bit heavy-handed—the readymades are objects with the purported power to provide good fortune, youthful vitality, and health; the collages use imagery that captures the same message—that is exactly the point: we can’t get away from this; advertising is everywhere.

Who isn’t just a little interested in spending $19.99 for two sets of life harmonizing flameless color changing glow candles (as advertised in the final video of the show, which then also provides instructions for using the biofeedback machines situated nearby): just lay back and let them magically change your being! And I wouldn’t believe anyone who wasn’t at least a little curious to try the ThoughtWave. For my part, I skipped it—I already have one at home.

"Bode," 2015, wood and paint, 60 x 37 x 28

“Bode,” 2015, wood and paint, 60 x 37 x 28

Touching on religion, language, interconnectivity and figuration, sculptor Robert Brady’s wide ranging show, “Gone Fishing,” gently hints without giving too much away. We get a sampling of various forms and series the artist explores in clay and wood. There are several pieces from the artist’s “Language Series,” wall mounted ceramics inspired by Asian calligraphic characters. The resemblance is clear, but Brady doesn’t strive to recreate actual words; the written characters are simply jumping-off points, leaving us to read these loosely intricate works however we like. Sometimes the characters are made of squared-off pieces that resemble Jenga blocks. Sometimes they are round, wide and hose-like, conveying different moods.

Also prominent are the wall-hung wooden works, which generally resemble shields. These finely crafted works, almost flat and mostly monochromatic, are largely inspired by religious figures such as priests, and objects such as a bell. Additionally, there are three rather large (one reaches a height of 8 1/2 feet) wooden sculptures, one of thin, long-limbed (think Giacometti) and stacked human figures — witty associations of a family tree or climbing the corporate ladder are evoked — and the others of intertwined fish.

As varied as the works can be, a common thread that connects all of Brady’s work is their rough-hewn, primitive quality, no doubt the influence of his Nevada upbringing, which brought the artist in touch at a young age with Indian artifacts. Further, having studied under Robert Arneson, Brady reflects the influence of the Bay Area funk movement, as well as artists such as Peter Voulkos. Given these associations, across the board Brady’s work is truly a singular vision. – See more at: http://visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&pcID=26&aID=2806#sthash.6ahapl0Z.dpuf

"A Consensual Hallucination," 2015, hand-cut collage on paper, 9.5" x 13.25"

“A Consensual Hallucination,” 2015, hand-cut collage on paper, 9.5″ x 13.25″

Collage artist Alexis Anne Mackenzie pushes her artistic practice to greater abstraction and complexity in relation to the work she presented less than a year ago. Comprised of small pieces, several of them diptychs, Mackenzie methodically cuts one or two images into strips — curved arches, straight verticals, and  wavy verticals — of roughly the same thickness and adheres these over another image at regular intervals that are the thickness of the strips. Thus, the images remain visible, albeit now variably stuttered, and with varying degrees of recognizability. For the diptychs, the same base image is used. One piece features a set of strips over the base. For the other she uses those that are left, such that the pieces strongly relate but also demonstrate how, given different sets of information from the same pictures, things can look vastly different.

The results are mesmerizing. The evenness of the repetition of the strips sets up a meditative rhythm. And movement is created by the vacillations of the strips, as well as the shape of the strips themselves (the works with the arched strips call to mind a record, which speaks to the artist’s avid interest in music). Then there is the intense visual engagement, as the eyes are compelled to continuously shift emphasis so as to pull out one image. A longer look reveals greater details in an individual image — flowers, female figures — and then, as the eye begins to bring into focus another of the images, the first image appears to fade, becoming almost ghostly. At times, the images all work together to form yet something else again. Mackenzie does an amazing job of playing forms from different images off of each other. While the concept at its heart, given the visual complexity, is relatively straightforward — it’s an interweaving of images — the resulting optical playground evocatively teases with ideas of how much to keep hidden and how much to reveal.

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