Alex Lukas, "Untitled," 2011

Apocalyptic American landscapes fill the walls in Philadelphia-based artist Alex Lukas’s current exhibition (on show through October 8, 2011). The twenty-five works here range in size from 6-by-10 inches to 25-by-72 inches. The undisputed centerpiece is an enormous cyclorama in the center of the gallery that measures 4.6 x 33 feet; the work is displayed in an arc that surrounds the viewer so that it encompasses one’s entire field of vision.

Two types of scenes are presented here. Metropolis-scapes appear underwater, overtaken by lush vegetation and what appear to be decaying swampy suburban areas. The revisiting of very similar imagery does become repetitive is too frequent, causing the initial emotion response to dissipate.

The cyclorama features the second, suburban-y scene. The format itself is significant not only because of its grand size but also because its original message juxtaposes powerfully against its message here. Cycloramas were a format used during the 19th century to display scenes that commemorated national strength, such as battles won; here it envisions the ultimate power as nature (to the demise of a superpower). It is tempting to extrapolate that the action in the original cycloramas (e.g., war, striving for ultimate power) may well lead to the condition presented in the current cyclorama.

In all of the works there is not a human in sight, but there are traces everywhere, in the form of buildings, deteriorating billboards, and graffiti. The latter is especially poignant, pointing to what is often the most enduring and powerful form of communication to distant generations and after general destruction: writing on walls. That graffiti might be the only surviving remnants of man amounts to the proverbial “writing on the wall”: we should have seen this coming.

What is particularly striking in these works, as opposed to other end-of-days art (think Sandow Birk’s series The Rise and Fall of Los Angeles or Albrecht Dürer’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse), is that the images feel peaceful. Waters are still and clear. There is no fire; there are no explosions. Trees and bushes are healthy and abundant. Doom is paired with serenity.

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

Exterior of Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Where the old warehouses, high-tech lofts, and chic eateries of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill rub up against the gritty streets, ecstatic murals, and colorful Latino and hipster cultures of the Mission District, a burgeoning art scene is coalescing. (Notably, the Mission is also namesake to one of the city’s most recent art movements: the graffiti-/street art-driven Mission School.) Featuring both commercial galleries and new alternative spaces, this emerging arts nexus promises to bring greater visibility to the rich network of San Francisco’s more experimental visual arts talent, as well as to draw in national and international artists and projects.

The Mission/Potrero scene started to simmer visibly in 2006. That year, Eleanor Harwood–who’d been involved in the Bay Area art scene through her work curating the Adobe Books Backroom Gallery–opened her eponymous gallery at Alabama and 25th Streets. Just a few blocks away on 24th Street, Dina Pugh and Joyce Grimm took over operations at Triple Base Gallery, turning it from an organically organized artist space into a community-engaging commercial gallery. Both venues have focused on supporting emerging, often local, artists, many of whom now have strong art careers. (Zoe Crosher, who shows with Hardwood, was invited this fall to participate in the 2010 California Biennial). Also, just down from Triple Base is the forty-year-old Galeria de la Raza, a nonprofit art space focused on supporting Chicano/Latino visual, literary, and media artists. Within just over the last year, these outliers from the San Francisco’s more established downtown scene got a lot more company.

In October 2009, the thirty-six-year-old highly respected and progressive artist-run nonprofit Southern Exposure settled into its new home, a large, open, brick building, on 20th Street. It was followed in the spring of 2010 by Guerrero Gallery and then Gallery Hijinks, both just blocks away. Steven Wolf Fine Arts, which opened in September 2010 across the street from Guerrero, is the most recent addition to the neighborhood. They are all only a short jaunt from the earlier established trio (and all fairly accessible via the city’s BART train).

Guerrero Gallery interior

Each of the galleries offers a little something different. Hijinks focuses exclusively on emerging artists. “We’re only representing artists who are on their way to getting or have never had shows or just need exposure in San Francisco,” explains co-owner Jillian Mackintosh, formerly of the Tenderloin-based White Walls Gallery and then Gallery 6. “This gallery is focused on being a stepping stone into the bigger galleries.” Guerrero–run by Andres Guerrero, founder of White Walls–is also focused on emerging talent, but represents some more established artists as well. Wolf, who relocated from his spot in the premier downtown gallery building, 49 Geary, (his is the only commercial gallery to move to the area from elsewhere in the city) primarily exhibits experimental contemporary work that, as he puts it, “feels original and is hard to pin down, and even when you get a sense of what it’s about, you still marvel that someone thought of it.”

Additionally, he sees the potential to collaborate across disciplines. “Dave Eggers is in the neighborhood, and this is where Litquake [an annual literary festival] is based,” Wolf notes. “There’s this potential for there to be more of a dialogue between the literary world and the visual culture world. That’s another reason why I found this neighborhood so interesting.”

To further enhance the situation, come early March, a trio of art entities will make their home in a space at 20th and Folsom. It will house the object-based art publication The Thing, the People’s Gallery, and Kadist SF. The Thing is moving from a studio to a more public space. Co-creator Jonn Herschend, who runs the project with Will Rogan, notes that, while this new location will primarily serve as the publication’s office space, it will also be open to the public, and events will be hosted there. The People’s Gallery is an associate project of the Independent Curators International–supported People’s Biennial, a two-year traveling exhibition curated by Jens Hoffmann–who is also director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts–and artist Harrell Fletcher. The focus of the gallery and biennial is on giving exposure to outsider or underexposed artists from across the country. The People’s Gallery will feature bi-monthly solo exhibitions of work by artists featured in the biennial.

And then there’s the multifaceted Kadist, a nonprofit that originated in Paris. This space–run by independent curator and art journalist Joseph del Pesco and Devon Bella, a curator at Adobe Books backroom gallery and curatorial assistant for the 01SJ Biennial–will establish Kadist’s San Francisco presence. This local incarnation will feature a residency for curators, artists, and art publications; art collections, such as its “101 Collection,” a group of contemporary works created by artists who live within close proximity to the West Coast’s Highway 101; and twice-weekly presentations, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Wednesday offerings will include screenings, readings, performances, and the like. On Saturdays, the space will be an art magazine reading room stocked with English-language publications from all over the world.

To kick off its establishment, this 20th and Folsom crew plans to host an event on March 9, 2011; details are pending. Meanwhile, the Mission/Potrero art spaces are also coordinating an event for March featuring one-night-only happenings in each location, marking an auspicious beginning for a uniquely inventive–and truly San Francisco–art scene.