"The Big Picture Escapes Me," 2015, acrylic on found wood, 64 x 84"

“The Big Picture Escapes Me,” 2015, acrylic on found wood, 64 x 84″

The art I am loving this week.

Chris Johanson, “Equations” at Altman Siegel, San Francisco (through Dec. 19): I have long enjoyed Chris Johanson’s work, and with this show of new work, all paintings on found wood, he delivers again. I had the privilege of writing about his last show at Altman Siegel for Art Practical, and many of those words still apply: “This selection of brightly colored . . . paintings continue in the naïve, raw style that has earned the self-taught Johanson, a former graffiti artist, critical praise and recognition as part of San Francisco’s street-inspired Mission School. Here again, Johanson’s aesthetic is simple, direct, and rough. The . . . paintings are childlike in their hand-hewn simplicity.” Also notable about the work is that, while the aesthetic may be naïvethere is a definite outsider art feelthe subjects and design are complex.

NEAT: New Experiments in Art and Technology” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (through Jan. 17): This show explores the Bay Area’s influence on bringing technology and science to the practice of art. It features new or updated work by such notable artists as Jim Campbell (whose work is currently also featured in a show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art; see below), Paul DeMarinis, Alan Rath, and Paolo Salvagione (Salvagione also worked with CJM Chief Curator Renny Pritikin as a curatorial consultant on the show). This show very much lives up to its name on many levels. The museum also created an excellent digital catalog for the show that features essays, artist interview videos, stills from the show, and more.

Jim Campbell, “New Work & Collaborations with Jane Rosen” at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, San Jose (through Feb. 14, 2016): In this immersive show of new light works by the internationally recognized Bay Area artist Jim Campbell, he explores ideas of blurring and fracturing the image (even into three-dimensional space), as a counterpoint to technology going to higher and higher resolution. He has also worked with glass sculptor Jane Rosen to create meditative, glowing pieces.

Lisa Kokin, “10 Years in the Making: Lisa Kokin at Seager Gray Gallery” at Seager Gray Gallery, Mill Valley (through Dec. 6): This show takes place in the small back area of Seager Gray, but don’t let its size or location fool you: this intimate display is front row incredible. As the title implies, these textile- and book-based pieces range in terms of year created, as do they in execution; Kokin is an artist of many talents (so much so, if not informed otherwise, one could easily think this was a group show). Consistent are they though in excellence: delicate, intricate, fun, beautiful, smart.

Upcoming!

Performance at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, December 3, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.: “New Experiments in Art and Sound.”

Opening November 19 in Oakland: Sanjay Vora, “Lost Love” at Vessel Gallery. An opening reception will take place Thursday, November 19, 6 to 8 p.m. An artist talk will take place December 12 at 2 p.m.

 

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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.

 

The Panama Pacific International Exhibition, San Francisco, 1915

Just nine short years after the devastatingly destructive 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires, the citizens of San Francisco transformed the marshy wetlands of what is now the city’s prestigious Marina district, which had then been serving as a post-earthquake refugee camp, into the spectacular 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition (PPIE), a world’s fair to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. The feat was nothing short of miraculous.

The event featured 11 exhibition palaces over 635 acres, with 21 countries represented (in addition to national and more local representation). Central to the efforts of the fair was the showcasing of art. PPIE boasted one of the largest art exhibitions ever assembled in the United States: on show in the Bernard Maybeck–designed Palace of Fine Arts and an accompanying Annex were over 11,000 works of art (11,403, to be exact)—paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs, all beautifully presented, as was discovered by the curatorial staff at the de Young when researching their upcoming exhibition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the PPIE. “We were excited to discover several previously unknown installation views of the Palace of Fine Arts,” says James A. Ganz, the de Young show’s curator. “There has always been an assumption that the Palace was a jumbled mess, but these photographs by Gabriel Moulin reveal beautifully installed galleries.”

Additionally, there were numerous murals and 1,500 sculptures commissioned by artists from around the world, as well as artwork that was part of other exhibitions in the fair. The total number of artworks at PPIE is estimated to be around 20,000. To help make sense of this overwhelming display, there was a strong art educational component, complete with docent tours. Unsurprisingly, there was a strong emphasis on American art, but also ample offerings from Europe, which was a major accomplishment given that, during the art acquisition phase, WWI broke out, making selection and shipping of the works enormously difficult. (Although in at least one case, the fair benefitted: 39 German paintings that had been shown in Pennsylvania and were scheduled to be returned didn’t make it back, due to the international turmoil, and ended up at the fair).

There was an emphasis in the show on Impressionism, but also examples of Austrian Expressionism, Hungarian modernism, and Italian Futurism; artists from Finland, France, and Italy, among other countries, were represented, some well-known, other not. For a majority of Bay Area residents (and those on the West Coast in general), it was their first time seeing not just what was happening artistically in Europe, but elsewhere in the United States.

In all, nearly 19 million people passed through the fair and roughly half of them visited the Palace of Fine Arts, which still stands today (the other structures were destroyed). From an art and culture perspective, PPIE had such impact that Ganz has dubbed it the “Great Artquake of San Francisco.” Tremors from this quake were felt long after the fair—and are still reverberating. The French Pavilion was the inspiration behind Alma Speckels’ museum, the Legion of Honor. The Palace of Fine Arts was turned into a museum. While that museum did close in 1924, the momentum of it (albeit not continuous) would eventually result in SFMOMA. The fine art component of what would become the Oakland Museum of California (a merger of three previously independent institutions) was launched. Many pieces from the fair found their way to Memorial Museum (now the de Young), which, prior to 1915, had been the only significant art museum in the city.

PPIE had an effect on artists as well, impacting the “Society of Six,” a group of innovative Oakland-based painters that emerged in 1917. Their works can be traced to the beginning of modernism in Northern California and would go on to influence, directly or indirectly, such artists as Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and other members of the Bay Area figurative movement. Art buyers took advantage of the offerings as well: almost 1,600 pieces found homes outside the fair, with roughly 1,000 works staying in California, many of them ending up in public institutions.

To celebrate the centennial of the PPIE, numerous events and exhibitions are and will be taking place in the Bay Area throughout 2015, into 2016 (see ppie100.org), serving to demonstrate the monumentality of the fair and its enormous effect on the city. The California Historical Society is offering two exhibitions—at its downtown headquarters and at the Palace of Fine Arts—that provide an in-depth look into all aspects of the fair, including architecture and design.

Highlighting the fair’s fine art component is the highly anticipated de Young show “Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition” (opening October 17 and running through January 10, 2016). The show will feature 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,” Ganz 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.”

By design, the selection of art will mirror the eclectic gathering featured at PPIE: “From the beginning I felt it was important that we should not merely assemble a group of masterpieces that have clearly stood the test of time,” Ganz states, “but that we ought to represent some of the prevailing artistic currents that include works of art by many figures who will be unfamiliar to today’s museumgoers. The curatorial challenge is to create a lucid and balanced exhibition that is true to the original experience of fairgoers in 1915. To that end, two-thirds of our show is devoted to American art, and one-third to the French Section and to the International Section.”

Of the many exceptional works that will be on show, Ganz points to a few highlights, including Umberto Boccioni’s Matter (1912), which, he states, “is a milestone of Italian Futurism.” Ganz also singles out Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Symposium (The Problem) and Mäntykoski Waterfall: “I am especially pleased to be bringing these seminal works by this important Finnish painter back to San Francisco,” Ganz says. Among other artists whose work will be on view are American artists Mary Cassatt, James McNeill Whistler, and Thomas Eakins, and Europeans Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Oskar Kokoschka.

“Jewel City” will also show two large murals; these are of particular note because, “as original commissions for the PPIE,” says Ganz, “they are especially evocative of the exposition and the experience of fairgoers in 1915.” And finally, there will be documentation of the fair, including paintings and photographs. Among them is a photograph of the Palace of Fine Arts by then 13-year-old Ansel Adams (who skipped school for a year to regularly attend the fair). Together, these shows offer a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the tremendous impact this one (albeit sprawling) event had on the San Francisco of 100 years ago, and today.

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.