Robert Minervini, "A Necessary Ruin," acrylic on canvas, 50 x 60"

Imagined, futuristic landscapes are the common theme that runs through the work of artists Tadashi Moriyama and Robert Minervini. But that is where the commonalities end, providing an opportunity to delight in very different, but equally engaging views of the world we’re headed toward. (It’s a theme that’s been featured prominently in other recent shows in the Bay Area, specifically those of Amy Casey and also of Alex Lukas.)

Minervini’s world is post-apocalyptic: shells of finely rendered, multi-story buildings hold court over an otherwise structure-less landscape that is filled only with shrubs, grasses and marshland. Trees are noticeably and suspiciously absent. Luminous multihued skies — oranges and pinks, blues and yellows — place the scenes at the beginning or end of the day, a visual metaphor for the larger “end of days” message. But these works are more hopeful than full of doom; they are very sparsely populated with humanity, small flowers are in bloom. The tone is of rebuilding and regeneration. These structures are new, as indicated by the presence of a crane in one work, placed far in the distance, and the fact that they are whole and show no signs of wear.

Moriyama’s world, comparatively cartoon-like, primary-color bright, and fantastical, features intricately networked communities or cities that appear to be controlled by a single or just a few, central figure-head(s). The big brother/government-oversight message is clear. Nature and technology appear as if enmeshed, equally holding things together and pulling them apart.

If Minervini is reflecting on what a recovering world will look like after a catastrophe and Moriyama is providing us a view of a future without one, neither world is exactly a view of paradise. The elements and themes here actually don’t veer far from today’s world: the future may be closer than we think.

Alice Shaw, "Curtain Call," 2012, Pigment print on canvas, 43'' x 78''

Conceptual artist Alice Shaw gracefully balances humor and serious commentary—here, global warming and pollution—in her fifth solo exhibition at Gallery 16 (through April 21). Employing photography, sculpture, canvas, and/or paint, Shaw wittily, slyly, pointedly relays her thoughts and observations about the deteriorating state of our surroundings.

Some works hit like one-liners, such as Evidence of Global Warming—Former Goldfish Habitat (2012), a fish bowl filled partway with sand with a piece of driftwood sticking out of it. Others reveal in layers, such as Some Things Change and Some Things Stay the Same (2011), a photo of trees in a forest; at center are trees whose leaves are changing, surrounded by evergreens. Also subtle, and cheeky, is Panorama (2012), which at first appears to be only a raw canvas; closer inspection reveals a forest landscape painted along the sides, just brushy enough to deliver the image, just quiet enough to not be obvious.

Throughout this large show (there are a total of 26 pieces) of generally smaller works (most pieces measure in the range of 10-by-13 inches), we are, one work after another, compelled to stop, look, smile, and think. Shaw’s unique vision and clever perspective, an enduring pleasure in all her work, is once again superbly translated into objects, of art.

"Bricks (Budapest)," by Tamas Dezso, 2009

Isolation, bleakness, and decay have a strong presence in this solo exhibition (up through November 23, 2011) of photographs by Hungarian artist and photo-journalist (he’s been published in Time, the New York Times, and National Geographic, among other publications) Tamas Dezso. But while the tone may be dour, the serene poetry of these works leaves one feeling more dreamy than depressed.

The works on exhibit (2009–2011) are all part of the series “Here, Anywhere” (recently awarded first place at the 2011 International Center Awards and the Daylight Magazine and Center for Documentary Studies Project Prize), which documents Hungary’s “vanishing past”—the edges of Hungarian culture that are being lost to post-communist-era changes.

These images, then, serve as poignant and powerful documentation of a culture experiencing profound transition as well as formally conscious works of art. As regards the latter point, these pieces capture moments of rhythmic chaos and juxtaposed textures—a flock of black birds flying above leafless trees against a grey sky; a man atop a huge pile of white bricks in front of a large brick wall; a field of dying sunflowers. These are moments of quiet, and are both arresting and contemplative.

Brion Nuda Rosch, "Time as Concept (Infinity)," 2011

Brion Nuda Rosch presents twenty-three new works ranging from a large diptych painting to numerous smaller collages (through October 1, 2011). Many are reminiscent of the work Rosch has shown over the past few years, featuring a found image, often of a black-and-white landscape, with a painted, cut-out, four-cornered form placed on it. The form in these works is painted flat brown, perhaps a stand-in for the earth, or some sort of firm grounding. These and other works play with formal concerns such as foreground and background, form, and composition.

Perhaps the most poignant piece of this ilk is the sextet of same-sized works, arranged grid-like in three columns of two, Time as Concept (Infinity). The background image is the same in every piece; the brown shape is the only variable, changing in size and form. In the lower-right-hand work (the “last” piece) the brown shape fills the frame. What, then, is the image? Is this, or where is, the content? By showing us “something” and then “nothing,” Rosch effectively demonstrates what is at the heart of his work; he questions the foundations of image-making.

At times Rosch’s minimalist approach becomes too minimal, as with the piece Two Right Angles in Conversation, a framed cut-out piece of cardboard with rough strokes of brown paint on it. We consider the form, and move on. But when he’s on point, which he is numerous times in this show, Rosch provides us with sharply edited works that simply, elegantly address major concepts with a minimum of fuss.

Joseph Park, "Wizard," 81 x 72 inches, oil on linen mounted on board, courtesy Rena Bransten Gallery

Joseph Park, whose recent work is featured in this solo exhibition (through August 20, 2011), “This is Prizmism,” is an outstanding painter. It is apparent as soon as you enter the gallery, which is divided into three specific sections: one representing the “school” of prizmism (works done in a variety of explorations using the style); another, the full realization of the style; the third, the “masterpiece”—we are witness to the steady progression of a genre.

This is a style that the artist has developed and, as the name implies, subjects look as if they’re being seen, at least partially, through a prism: angular and often featuring a riot of dazzling color.

Fittingly, the school section features figure studies, plaster casts of heads, and the equipment the artist uses to practice his craft, namely, an easel that can hold the artwork at any angle or orientation and at a variety of heights. In the next room are eight medium-sized works of various subjects: a portrait of Van Gogh, a self-portrait, two home interiors, a pair of abstract works—demonstrating a full range or realization of the application of prizmism. The final room has only one work: “Wizard,” a large (81 x 72 inches) prizmism-ed take on Diego Velásquez’ “Las Meninas;” a nice art historical nod not unlike those we find in the work of Vik Muniz.

The show’s concept hovers on gimmickry. As other critics have noted, the work tends to be overly rich and somewhat show off–ish. But this can be forgiven: Showing off is only unforgivable if you can’t deliver. And Park delivers. He inspires us to want to look with care at each and every painting; to realize which works alone make his case. If he adds on beyond that, the rest serves to demonstrate that Park is a master of his vision.

Margaret Kilgallen, "Untitled," arylic on paper, c. 2000, 13.25 x 12 inches, courtesy Ratio 3, San Francisco

“Summer / Selections” (through August 5, 2011) is an excellent opportunity to view a healthy sampling of over 40 pieces, some of which have never been shown, by the late Margaret Kilgallen (she was only 33 when she died, in 2001). Kilgallen was a seminal member of what has been dubbed the Mission School, the graphic, folk-art-esque, street-art-inspired SF movement of the early 1990s that produced other such notables as Chris Johanson and Barry McGee (Kilgallen’s widower; the shared visual language between McGee and Kilgallen is evident in both artists’ work).

Kilgallen’s art is deeply rooted in craft, in particular that of sign-painting. Further lending a hand-hewn feel is her use of roughly sewn-together canvases and repurposing of paper. But what is most captivating about Kilgallen’s work is her use of line, shape, and color, and the attention cast on everyday subjects and objects: trees, leaves, faces, shoes, and even simple repeated patterns. With minimal crisp, smooth edges used to delineate her graphic, highly stylized depictions filled in with only one or maybe two flat colors, Kilgallen operates with maximum efficiency to maximum effect. The commonplace is elevated to a level of rich meaning; Kilgallen speaks in elegant visual haikus.

"Gentle Surrender" by Eric Zener

In his new body of work—on show at Hespe Gallery through May 31—Marin-based painter Eric Zener addresses an entirely new subject: trees and bushes. The show includes mostly oil-on-canvas work, with only a few mixed-media pieces, the latter of which have dominated recent exhibitions. Known for his dreamy, intensely colorful, layered resin-and-paint images of underwater swimmers and water-focused work, which he’s been creating since 1998, this new direction is a total departure.

As with the earlier work, these pieces are photo-based. But while the hyper-real glossy mixed-media works (which actually begin with a photo transfer) demonstrate the depth and vibrancy Zener has excelled with in the past, it’s the paintings that steal the show. From afar they do maintain a photorealistic quality (indeed, digital images of the paintings may lead you to believe that they are actually photographs), but closer up, gestural brushstrokes reveal the medium; these are painterly works.

The subjects depicted are predominantly of trees with dense and messy branches, sometimes bare and in one case, on fire; up very close, the tangle of foliage verges on abstraction. These subjects could, in many cases, be dead, or just barely surviving a cold winter. The palette is equally as sparse; several works are done in black and white. When leaves and hue are present, the coloring is subtle enough to allow the frenetic composition to hold court. These works are a study in the beauty and intuitive order that can be found in nature’s chaos; they are immediately reminiscent of Lee Friendlander’s images of similar subjects, as from his “New Mexico” series, and have a similar affect on the viewer: they’re calming and mesmerizing.

Zener moves with this series from explorations of life to death—and, in the case of the fire painting, destruction. He moves from wet to dry, sooth to rough, bright to somber, glossy to matte, simple to complex. He’s removed the fluid figure and replaced it with a nature that’s impenetrable. These works are more difficult, and less inviting, and with them Zener hits a whole new stride.

Sol LeWitt, "A Square of Chicago Without a Trapezoid" (1979), altered photograph

Grids, formal studies, geometric shapes, and patterns fill the walls of San Francisco’s Fraenkel Gallery in this unique show of photography by seminal minimalist and conceptual artist Sol Lewitt (1928-2007), who is much better known for his sculpture and drawing. This is the first gallery exhibition to focus only on Lewitt’s photographs; the show, titled “Photographic Works, 1968-2004” and on up through April 30, 2011, spans the greater part of the artist’s career.

Some of the images directly transfer from Lewitt’s better known work. For instance, Buried Cube Containing an Object of Importance But Little Value (1968; it’s the oldest work in the show) is documentation of a conceptual work; the process of the action is presented in a sequential grid. The evidence of the artwork is now the artwork itself.

Wall signage also informs us that Lewitt was influenced by motion sequence photographer Eadweard Muybridge (incidentally, there is a large Muybridge retrospective currently up at nearby SFMOMA). We can readily see Lewitt’s interest in sequencing via A sphere lit from the top, all sides, and all their combinations (2004), a study comprising 28 images, arranged in a grid, of a sphere lit from various specific angles. Note too, the work is created by following instructions left by the artist, the same concept Lewitt applied to wall drawings.

Perhaps most informative of how the outside world influenced Lewitt’s work is Grids of Grids (1976), in which images of similar everyday objects – wooden doors, grates, skylights – are arranged grid-like, three up and eight across. Is this how the artist processed what he saw? Is this our opportunity to see things through his eyes? Or perhaps this is the artist studying and seeing repetition, which he then breaks down to its most elemental forms and lines in his paintings, drawings, and sculpture (or “structures” as he fittingly called his three-dimensional work). Here we get some insight into a formal process and vision, and get to look at some elegant, rigorous, contemplative imagery as well.

"Tender" by Sister Corita, 1974, Collection of Lucia Eames

A blaze of bright color and bold graphics by Sister Corita (1918-1986; born Frances Elizabeth Kent, aka Sister Mary Corita and Sister Corita Kent) abound in this celebration of her life and impact at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Folk Art (through June 5, 2011). Additionally fleshing out the importance of this influential West Coast Pop artist, innovative educator, and activist are ephemera, such as copies of the educational books Corita wrote; personal letters and photographs; and films and videos about the artist’s career and life. The exhibition “E is for Everyone: Celebrating Sister Corita” emphasizes key works from the 1960s, such as the iconic Power Up and Tender images as well as her close relationship with design couple Charles and Ray Eames.

Corita is known for crossing boundaries, be they creative or social. This comes through in this intimate (the museum encompasses one large gallery space) but still powerful exhibition. She was on the vanguard of pop and graphic art, working primarily in the discipline of screen-printing. The serigraphs she created combined graphic art, typography, music lyrics, social commentary, and literature to create her unique style. (Her teaching also reflected her cross-disciplinary interests; Corita co-taught classes at the Immaculate Heart College Art Department in Hollywood with such cultural icons as Alfred Hitchcock, John Cage, and Buckminster Fuller as well as the Eameses.) Her choice of medium fit well with her interest in social change and working class outlook on art and art-making, as her prints were easy to widely distribute and recreate. And they were: Corita was commissioned by Amnesty International and International Walk for Hunger, among other socially conscious organizations. Perhaps most widely known is her “Love” stamp, issued in 1985, and her notecards for the Campaign for Human Development (a collection of which are featured here).

"Power Up (A)" by Sister Corita, 1965, Collection of the Corita Art Center

Corita’s provocative spirit did not go unnoticed during her lifetime; in 1967 she was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine; the cover line read: “The Nun: Going Modern.” And her influence continues: one can find correlations between the twenty-one works on show to contemporary artists such as Shepard Fairey, Ed Ruscha, and Pae White, and curators, graphic artists, and students continue to rediscover and draw from her work and teachings.

Two intriguing collage exhibitions have recently been on view in the art-booming Mission district of San Francisco: Hilary Pecis, “Half Truths and Outright Lies,” at Guerrero Gallery (through March 5) and Sebastian Wahl, “Kaleidoscpe Eyes,” at Gallery Hijinks (through February 26). In both, you’ll find a barely controlled cacophony of imagery, captivating composition and fine craftsmanship, with a punctuation of playfulness.

Hilary Pecis, "Up to No Good," 2011; Giclee Print, edition 1 of 3; Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

San Francsico-based Pecis tries a new medium with these new works: computer-based collage. Previously, Pecis hand-cut each piece of her finely detailed works which she then often enhanced with pen-and-ink patterned “doodles.” Using a computer has changed the work in two important ways: it is smoother, physically lacking the materiality of the handhewn pieces; and imagery has changed. Whereas Pecis had culled imagery from magazines — mostly fashion magazines, which accounted for their bright colors and loads of jewels and gems — now she’s got the entire Internet and we see everything from jets to kittens and mountain goats, pillows to trains and bombs exploding.

Hilary Pecis, "Kingdom," 2011; Giclee Print, edition 1 of 3; Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

Use of the Internet played a large part in image selection; Pecis often used images that randomly appeared during her searches to create her fantasy worlds. And this links to an interest that drives this body of work: the changing face of journalism, or information sharing (and subsequent worldview building), and resulting overload, both visual and written, which is increasingly empty of substantial content, is easily replaced, and is highly repetitive and self-referential. (As the press materials reveal, The title of the show is based on an Intelligence Squared debate, “Good Riddance to Mainstream Media,” which discusses the relevance and fate of traditional journalism and the blog. David Carr, a writer for the NY Times said “They become an echo chamber of half-truths, sometimes outright lies, without any real data points coming in. And so you end up with a sort of mass of people talking to each other, no one has read anything. No one knows anything. They’re talking about something that someone else read that read that read that read. And we end up in a meta-world.”)

One commonality that runs through almost all Pecis’s work is her penchant for tight, epic scapes. And here she continues to perform at top speed. Also in this show, and not to be overlooked, are two works that stray from the herd; they are calm, tranquil, the content highly edited down–perhaps created by layering image over image? The result of which is borderline nothingness. A preview of things to come?

Hilary Pecis, "100 Perfect Sunsets," 2011; Giclee Print, edition 1 of 3; Courtesy Guerrero Gallery

Sebastian Wahl at Gallery Hijinks

Sebastian Wahl, "Kaleidoscope Eye 1," 2010; original collage in resin on panel"; Courtesy Gallery Hijinks

New York artist Sebastian Wahl makes his San Francisco debut in this solo exhibition. As the title of the exhibition points to, the works are arranged in patterns of multi-reflected imagery, as if one is looking through a kaleidoscope. Wahl’s hand-cut images range from cultural icons to architecture, the religious and spiritual to nature. Fine detail and careful, strangely witty placement abound: by example, Andy Warhol famously swims in a can of tomato soup positioned on a bird’s wing in Kaleidoscope Eye 1.

Sebastian Wahl, "Spirit Bird," 2010; original collage in resin on panel; Courtesy Gallery Hijinks

Also notable here is the craftsmanship: the works are made of up to fourteen thin layers of resin–a medium the artist has been working in since 2006 — each encasing its own images. This introduces an added and unexpected depth and dimension; the layers cast subtle shadows with shifting light. Wahl, a former graffiti artist, says he’s interested in creating works that promote mindfulness and concentration. And this gets to the greatest strength of these works: there is a calm in the chaos.

Sebastian Wahl, "Mandala 2," 2010; original collage in resin on panel; Courtesy Gallery Hijinks

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