Barry McGee, from "China Boo" at Ratio 3, 2015

Barry McGee, 2015

Here is a selection of some of the best exhibitions up now:

Barry McGee, “China Boo” at Ratio 3 (through Dec. 19): This show is epic, and I don’t use that word lightly. McGee is in his finest form, presenting work small and huge, riffing off old favorites, and pushing color and pattern to eye-dizzying glory. There is also a spectacular show within a show, the result of some fortuitous timing and massive collaboration. I’ll say no more, as to not ruin the surprise, aside from, Do. Not. Miss. This. Show.

Sophie Calle, at Fraenkel Gallery (through Dec. 24): Using text, photography, and a project installation, Sophie Calle looks at the topics security, secrets, violence, and suicide. Tonally, work throughout runs the spectrum of white to black, lending a heavy feel to the weighty subjects covered. This show is intense, and packs a thoughtful, resonating punch. It’s the kind of show that follows you out the door.

“Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition” at the de Young (through Jan. 10): From my story for art, ltd. magazine about this massive show highlighting the Panama-Pacific International Exposition’s fine art component: “The show features over 200 works, most of which were shown at PPIE. Of particular note is the massive amount of research that went into creating the exhibition, the fruits of which are laid out in a thorough, copiously illustrated 400-page catalogue. ‘Until now, a clear understanding of the art historical significance of the PPIE has been obscured by its unwieldy scale … as well as the relative dearth of visual evidence of what was exhibited,” [James] Ganz [the show’s curator] notes. “The contemporary catalogues and guidebooks of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs were sparsely illustrated, and few gallery interiors were photographed. The curatorial team spent several years scouring archival sources and the primary and secondary literature, as well as reaching out to auction houses, museums, and private collectors with the goal of identifying a critical mass of the works shown in 1915 to arrive at a considered and coherent selection for this restaging.” This is a gorgeous and historically significant exhibition.

Julio César Morales, “Emotional Violence” at Wendi Norris Gallery (through Dec. 19): Julio Cesar Ramirez continues his exploration of border crossing and informal economies, touching on drug trafficking and human trafficking, as well as human rights violations as they pertain to displaced or undocumented peoples (think Syrian refugees), among other weighty subjects. The work is powerful, poignant, and, at times, disturbing, but always eye-opening.

Coming Soon! A selection of upcoming shows and events to watch for:

Opening this Friday in SF: Josh Jefferson, “Head Into the Trees” at Gallery 16 (Nov. 13 to Dec. 31). An opening reception will take place Friday, November 13, 6 to 9 p.m.

Opening December 11 in SF: “Major Work” at Chandran Gallery (Dec. 11 to Jan. 15), a show curated by Andrew Schoultz, includes new, large-scale work by Alicia McCarthy, Aaron Noble, Kelsey Brookes, Revok, James Marshall (Dalek), Sam Friedman, Eric Yahnker, Mark Dean Veca, Saber, Hilary Pecis, Tim Biskup, Eric White, Allison Schulnik, and Andrew Schoultz. An opening reception will take place Friday, December 11, 7 to 9 p.m.

Opening December 10 in SF: William T. Wiley, “& So . . . May Cuss Grate Again?” at Hosfelt Gallery (Dec. 11 to Jan. 30). An opening reception will take place Thursday, December 10, 6 to 8 p.m.

Book launch party November 30 in SF: For This Bridge Will Not Be Gray, illustrations by Tuckers Nichols, text by Dave Eggers. November 30, 6 p.m. at Books, Inc. in Opera Plaza.

Cornelius Völker, "Oysters," oil on canvas, 2004

Cornelius Völker, “Oysters,” oil on canvas, 2004

It’s fall, and that means the art galleries are hanging some of their most stunning shows of the year. This year is no exception; there’s an incredible selection of great shows up right now (and more coming). Be sure not to miss these stellar offerings:

Corneluis Völker at Hosfelt Gallery (through Jan. 2): From my recommendation published in Visual Art Source (http://bit.ly/1MC0JT2): “Cornelius Völker can make any subject enticing, as he demonstrates in this survey of work from the last fifteen years. The German artist explores the traditional genres of still life and portraiture, with a sometimes strange (or perhaps to some, humorous) twist, uniquely luscious brushwork, and lively color.” This is a tremendous show, and the artist’s first ever solo show on the West Coast. It is not to be missed.

Sandow Birk, “Imaginary Monuments” at Catharine Clark Gallery (through Jan. 2): Birk delivers again with this show of new drawings and an etching. These works are part of the ongoing Imaginary Monuments series, which Birk started in 2007. Birk combines recognizable text with imagined and fantastic imagery to create highly charged, often to the point of being humorous, works that resonate on multiple levels. Also to note, Birk’s book American Qur’an is now available for pre-sale; a copy of the book is on display with the show (complete with white gloves so that visitors can safely navigate the pages). The gallery is hosting a book release signing and holiday party November 21.

Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, “Memory City” at Koch Gallery (through Nov. 14): From my recommendation for Visual Art Source (http://bit.ly/1HpmJZT): “Photographer couple Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb collaborated to create this body of images featuring scenes of and people in Rochester, New York. This work is inspired by the bankruptcy closure of Eastman Kodak in 2012, which was long headquartered in the city, and the impact that shutdown has had on the community. These are everyday scenes, but with such a sublime use of composition and light as to produce rich narratives and strong emotional qualities.” Simply put, these are gorgeous, emotionally rich images.

a2a434ed-6f6c-49b4-9f37-9bfd26581356Catherine Wagner, “Rome Works” at Anglim Gilbert Gallery (through Nov. 21): This new body of color photographs came out of Wagner’s Rome Prize residency at the American Academy in Rome. These bold and beautiful images explore the display, conservation, and handling of Greco-Roman statues and marbles, providing a unique, fresh approach to viewing these treasured classic artworks. There will be a reception Thursday, November 5, 5:30 to 7:30.

Upcoming! There are also several great shows opening this week, many in coordination with First Thursdays in San Francisco and First Fridays in Oakland. Here’s a selection:

Opening Friday in SF: Julian Hoeber, “The Inward Turn” at Jessica Silverman Gallery (Nov. 6 to Dec. 19). The opening reception will take place November 6, 6 to 8 p.m.

Opening Thursday in SF: Julio César Morales, “Emotional Violence” at Wendi Norris Gallery (Nov. 5 to Dec. 19). A discussion between the artist and Lucía Sanromán, director of the visual arts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, will take place November 5, 6 to 7 p.m.; a reception will follow, 7 to 9 p.m.

Opening Friday in SF: Barry McGee, “China Boo” at Ratio 3 (Nov. 6 to Dec. 19). An opening reception will take place November 6, 6 to 8 p.m.


Private collection of Oakland-based Fred Neal

Private collection of Oakland-based Fred Neal

Years before the Globe and Mail declared Oakland the “Brooklyn of the West,” in 2012, citing among other cultural draws its “exuberant art;” or before ArtPlace designated Oakland’s downtown neighborhood as one of America’s top 12 Art Places, earlier this year; or before the New York Times noted that Oakland’s first Friday art event, Art Murmur, was a key component of turning Oakland from “seedy to sizzling” in 2010, then in 2011 mentioned Murmur as a component of Oakland getting “a new ‘there'” and finally, last year, ran a full story about the event titled “A Monthly Night of Art Outgrows its Name”–years before all that, Fred Neal began building an art collection focused primarily on East Bay-based artists (in addition to a few artists from further afield in the Bay Area).

Today Fred Neal, an engineer by profession, holds “somewhere around 300 to 400 or so pieces of art,” as he stated in a recent interview. “I’m not sure though; I’ve never catalogued all of it.” Exact numbers aside, the collection contains more than enough to fill just about every inch of wall space in Neal’s modest Albany home (just north of Berkeley); “I rotate the work,” says Neal, “and I loan art out to family and friends.” In his designated art room, he keeps racks of stored works and a flat file case that is literally bursting with photographs and prints.

Prints, drawings, paintings, photographs, and wall sculpture hang throughout and sculpture sits beside the many pieces of his glass collection (procured from the region’s glassblowers). And Neal’s taste varies widely: there are abstracts and landscapes, colorful pieces and black-and-whites, traditional wood-block prints and images made with a scanner, funny works and serious pieces, Latino protest art, and work by both young up-and-comers and established artists. Among the numerous works hung salon-style in the family room are a bright, minimal abstraction by Mills College MFA graduate Brian Caraway; in a nearby hallway is one of Oakland-based artist Peter Foucault’s abstracts, the workings of a robot; and, in his office, is a large photograph of a decaying building by Katherine Westerhout, who is also based in Oakland.

When asked what guides his purchasing, Neal simply responds, “I buy what I like.” He also mentions that he keeps himself to a strict budget (most of the pieces were bought for under $1,000), and he buys work from young artists, early in their career. It’s a collecting style (and zeal) reminiscent of Herb and Dorothy Vogel.

Fred Neal started collecting art in the late 1970s; the first works he bought were prints by Northern California artists Stan Washburn (who’s now represented by ArtZone 461 in San Francisco) and Henry Evans, who focuses on botanical prints. These first pieces he purchased were from the now defunct Collector’s Gallery, which was in the Oakland Museum of California and run by Mary Ellen Landis, and featured all local artists. “Mary Ellen was the first,” notes Neal, “to show local artists exclusively.”

But it wasn’t until about 10 or 15 years ago that Neal started collecting in earnest; it was at that time that he really started to delve into the Oakland art scene, inspired by Kerri Johnson at, first, the Oakland Art Gallery (OAG), then (the now closed) blankspace (also in Oakland); “It was Kerri who really got me hooked on the Oakland art scene,” says Neal. “I collected heavily from her.” (Johnson, an artist herself, is now co-director of Branch Gallery, Oakland, and a founding partner of the Bay Area Visual Art Network, BayVAN). Another space Neal frequented then and still does to this day is the long-running Pro Arts (which joined forces with OAG in 2009).

“There were,” Neal says, thinking back a decade or so, “many smaller galleries in Oakland that came and went. And then about six years ago, a lot of artists started to migrate to Oakland, especially from San Francisco, and more galleries started to open up.” Neal pursued the growing scene, becoming familiar with and buying from galleries such as Rowan Morrison (which is now defunct), Johansson Projects, Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, Swarm, Krowswork, and artist co-op Mercury 21, and a few years later, Vessel Gallery and Slate Contemporary. “I also want to mention the Compound Gallery, with Mat and Lena Reynoso,” Neal continues. “Three or four years ago, they took a large warehouse building, and they now have a beautiful gallery space and studios for at least a dozen artists; they’re also artists themselves. It’s a great place to see art and meet artists, and it’s just fun to hang out.”

Neal goes on to add, “Oakland also has great Latino art; I collect Jesus Barraza, Favianna Rodriguez, Melanie Cervantes–they all started a print collective here for political and activist art. I first saw this work at Pro Arts and got hooked.”

Within his collection, Neal has work from over 100 artists–including, to mention just a few, Hunter Mack, John Vias, Ann Weber, Misako Inaoka, Deth P. Sun, Jon Carling; “I have a lot of favorites,” says Neal–and a list of artists he wants to collect from, most of whom live nearby. When asked why he sticks close to home, he notes his interest in getting to know the artists; not only are there numerous galleries where he can find work but also loads of studios to visit.

And, finally, when asked, “why Oakland?” Neal explains, “Oakland has a vibe. It’s gritty and down to earth. There’s a lot of diversity and it’s unrestrictive. Oakland is fun and edgy, and these kids are doing different things. People are more adventuresome, taking more risks with their work. And they’re getting it shown here.”

"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.

"Left Leg" by Catherine Wagner

Catherine Wagner’s photographs of splints (on show at Stephen Wirtz Gallery through December 18, 2010) — the medical devices used to stabilize injuries and often associated with war wounds — and antique prostheses are riveting. Each of these technically precise images shows one device against a flat black background in gentle, even light; the device appears to float in the space. Isolated, showing fine detail, these images are intense. Splints and prosthetics are highly personal. They’re held tight or molded to the body and worn for protection and recovery, repair. Thus, the title of the exhibition “Reparations,” implying making amends. It’s a loaded concept especially in this time of multiple international conflicts, and also an indirect path from which to approach such difficult subjects. Wagner points us in a hopeful direction.

Wagner deliberately chooses to photograph splints and prostheses made at various points through history, thus there is a didactic angle that displays the progression that’s been made in this field of medicine. For all of their references and dramatic portrayal, these are highly evocative pieces. For some, they illicit fear, repulsion, or sadness. But they also symbolize healing and help: everything will be set right, allowing for a return to normal life. Behind each object, we know there is a story, perhaps glorious, perhaps tragic, perhaps comic. The absence of the person who wore the device begs the question of his or her fate. And then they are, in many cases, intriguing simply as sculptural pieces. These direct, thought-provoking images convey the power of a well-chosen and expertly photographed subject.

Ever since Bay Area painter Nellie King Solomon had her first solo show in San Francisco fresh out of graduate school in 2001, her work has met with positive reviews, even from the hard-to-please SF Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker. (She’s also a three-time SECA nominee, up again for the award this year.) The final words of his glowing appraisal of that first show also issued up a challenge that many shared: “Her show is a powerful debut that will be hard for her to follow.” Solomon laughs about the gauntlet Baker threw. Her reaction? “I was like, you do not know who you’re messing with.” Almost a decade later, the work is stronger than ever.

As Is, 2001, by Nellie King Solomon; courtesy Nellie King Solomon

Solomon makes luscious, ephemeral large-scale abstract paintings on Mylar, addressing issues of space and environment, control and movement. They are created in her light-filled Hunter’s Point studio, on a table using handmade tools or sometimes just gravity to maneuver the paint. The imperfect surface contributes to the creation. Her early works were bright and fluid; puddles and rivulets meandered over the opaque surface resulting in meditative, organic paintings. On some, oval marks stamped with one of her homemade wooden tools, are also evident, harkening back to the point at which Solomon started her artistic journey–with the dot.

Solomon’s path to painting was indirect. Raised in San Francisco by an architect father and philosopher/dancer/writer mother, she’s known the creative life since birth. But it wasn’t clear until she’d already pursued several different avenues, including sustainable agriculture and architecture, that painting would be her primary focus. The decision to pursue art–Solomon earned a master’s of fine arts degree from California College of the Arts–coincided with a shift in momentum. “The reason for the dot was to stop traveling. Every two years I would leave some city and move to another. I needed to stop. The line, which was architecture, was also travel; so I took it away. I was in dots for four years before I touched representation and then another four years before I touched color. Then it moved to these ovals because I wanted a little bit of speed, but I still wanted it to stay slow.”

Niagara, 2000, by Nellie King Solomon; courtesy Nellie King Solomon

With this new work, Solomon is beginning to move. Whereas past paintings were almost self-created by the undulations of her work surface, in these, Solomon is the primary guiding force. A common feature throughout are large, thick rings that don’t quite close; the shape is created with a graceful full-body gesture, a nod to Solomon’s early training as a dancer. “I have hidden that strong arm behind my back for a long time,” she explains. “I’m just letting it come out. That’s one reason I work so large. I want it to be to some degree out of my control. If it’s too big for me to be able to handle, it keeps me from getting glib. It keeps me a little scared.” Solomon’s increased boldness is also evident in her changing palette. Pretty pinks, reds, and yellows of the past are replaced by toxic neon oranges and magentas and dark browns, black, green, and blue mixed with glitter; the edges, caked with soda-ash, have a corroded texture. The influence of Solomon’s interest in the environment, and the increasing degradation of it, is increasingly obvious. Gone are the delicate niceties of early work; these paintings are brave, brazen, and intense.

Boom Bloom, 2008, by Nellie King Solomon; courtesy Brian Gross Fine Art

“I always knew I had something to say,” says Solomon, reflecting back over her career to date. “I just didn’t know what I was going to say. But I knew that nobody was going to do it if I didn’t. I feel like I’m just getting started.”

This is not about Dave Eggers, the best-selling author and founder/editor of McSweeney’s. Nor is it about David Byrne, the bike-rack designer and lead singer of the Talking Heads. This is about visual art and the two-man show that currently features work by both Eggers and Byrne at San Francisco’s Electric Works (on show through August 21).

Exhibition view of work by Dave Eggers

The first, and last, impression of this show is delight, with a dose of idiosyncrasy. It’s a good summer offering: light and witty, even quirky hip. Eggers’s contributions take up the larger space of the gallery, while Byrne’s work is featured in the smaller side-room. The work shares a clean aesthetic; both present drawings on paper (Eggers uses China marker, Byrnes, graphite) that incorporate use of text. Eggers’ space also features the same words and images painted large on the walls. Color is limited — black, white, orangey-red, and grey-blue.

Exhibition view of work by Dave Eggers

This is Eggers first solo art exhibition, and it’s a nice start. But this is not the first time Eggers has made visual art (though this his most recent work; all pieces are 2010). He studied painting and art history at the University of Illinois and worked as an illustrator, cartoonist, and designer before switching over to the written word; he didn’t think he could make art a career.
Each piece in the show features a detailed drawing of an animal against a blank white or tan of the paper surrounded by text; the animal images are based on old photos, and the text is Eggers’ idea of what that animal might be thinking. Appropriately, the animals’ personalities are introverted, standoffish, or a little sad. The artist’s graphic/illustrative influences are clear; the uncluttered, bold layout with large lettering is reminiscent of political propaganda posters — nature illustrations meet Shepard Fairey.

Why Did Your Grandfather Send You This Picture Of Me? by Dave Eggers; Photo courtesy SF Electric Works

The works on paper are hung all over, a loose salon style, and broken up by the large wall works. Animals are everywhere. A beaver poses the question: “Why did your grandfather send you this picture of me?” A rhino states: “It is time you thanked us for deeds done in thy name.” A bull notes: “You will never have a successful long-distance relationship.” And a bat boldly says: “Go to the city in your car.” In several cases, the same text is used with a different animal or the same animal is paired with different text. The phrases are humorous, at times poignant or advisory, though several do feel like inside jokes or personal observations we’re not let in on.

Military Technology by David Byrne; courtesy SF Electric Works

This is not David Byrne’s first art exhibition; he has been showing artwork since 1990 (in a group show held in Tokyo). Featured here are several drawings from his early 2000s “Arboretum” series (which was, incidentally, featured in a book by the same name published by McSweeney’s). As the series’ title suggests, the images (mostly) connote trees; they are very simple line drawings that only hint at the form. Fittingly, image serves only as structure for what are really diagrams (also on view are a bar graph and a Venn diagram); a word is written on each branch and root. In them, Byrne humorously, smartly traces the connection or flow from one idea to another, often seemingly unrelated, idea — unless you’re Byrne’s imagination. In his words, Byrne says:

Drawing/diagrams (mostly) in the form of trees, which both elucidate and obfuscate the roots of contemporary phenomena and terminology. Sort of like borrowing the evolutionary tree format and applying it to other, often incompatible, things. In doing so a kind of humorous disjointed scientism of the mind heaves into view.

The Influence of Mixed Drinks by David Byrne; courtesy SF Electric Works

In The Performing Arts, roots of One-Man Show, Dance Theater, Revival, Fringe and other performance-associated designations grow branches of Bankers, Designers, Bureaucrats, Politicians, Career Military, and other professions. The Influence of Mixed Drinks features roots of various popular cocktails and branches of idyllic world situations: Racial Equality, Religious Tolerance, Mideast Peace, and the like.
The shows together provide insight into the creative thought processes of these contemporary cultural influencers.

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