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.

"Powerless" by Deborah Oropallo

The show of new work by Deborah Oropallo at Gallery 16 in San Francisco (through April 30) expands her exploration of gender power, the symbolism of the uniform and the role of iconic imagery in shaping female identity. One to continually push conventions of image-making and composition, Oropallo again exceeds herself.

In her work over the past several years, Oropallo had delved into juxtaposing famous portrait poses of 17th- and 18th-century portrait paintings of powerful men with modern-day lingerie modeling (its startling how similar the poses are). Following that, in 2009, it was collaged, strong, sexy rodeo cowgirl imagery, again juxtaposing a strong male archetype with a strong, sexy female-type.

A fitting next step, this new series takes on the rich topic of female fairy-tale figures and vulnerable/sex-kitteny female Pop imagery: Little Bo Peep, Rapunzel, Wonder Woman, French maid, Snow White, the Catholic school girl, and Alice in Wonderland all make an appearance here.

But though the references are pretty obvious, they are altered with the inclusion of bondage or S&M references, gas masks, ski masks, and other less cute imagery. These works have greater edge than previous pieces. Oropallo is growing increasingly bold, and the results are viciously engaging. They are funny, creepy, strange, whimsical, and powerful, without falling into easy traps of feminist bitterness or clichéd comparisons. Taken one way, they are comparisons of equal opposites—sweet and innocent versus aggressive and violent—bringing to question which really holds the power and the reality of either, or both, of the fantasies (and whose fantasies are they, anyway?); taken another, they are a collapsing together, all at once, of the potential numerous identities that comprise any single human being. These are well thought out pieces that pose intriguing open questions.

From a visual standpoint, the work is drop dead striking. Most are large, measuring 60-by-44 inches. And they have an incredible sense of depth — the imagery is layered and collaged—almost to the point of appearing three-dimensional. The structure of the images gives them movement and life; Oropallo is a master of composition. And in that, she’s become a great manipulator of the manipulators, using the language of visual messaging to bring those very messages into question.

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