Marcel Dzama, "Here's a Fine Revolution," color spit bite aquatint, with aquatint and soft ground etching, 21 1/2" x 30 3/4", 2015

Marcel Dzama, “Here’s a Fine Revolution,” color spit bite aquatint, with aquatint and soft ground etching, 21 1/2″ x 30 3/4″, 2015

Having taken a week off for the holiday, Art Beat Bay Area returns with this weeks picks of some of the Bay Area’s amazing art offerings, as well as a look at what’s to come.

Marcel Dzama at Crown Point Press, San Francisco (through Jan. 2): In his signature darkly humorous and playful style, Dzama explores fairy tales, ballet, and terrorism, among other topics, in this show featuring three new prints, a series of twelve etchings collectively titled “The Fallen Fables,” a selection of black-and-white collages, and three films. There is also a short video documenting Dzama’s time at Crown Point Press that gives insight into the work and the artist’s process. Dzama continues to work in his highly recognizable and much beloved aesthetic (one writer referred to his popularity as “Dzama-mania”), and the work features characters viewers have become familiar with from past pieces; his art readily invokes thoughts of that by Henry Darger. When stopping in to view the work, be sure to pick up the Crown Point Press newsletter, Overview, which features an informative essay about the work written by Kathan Brown.

“The Mapmaker’s Dream” at Haines Gallery, San Francisco (through Dec. 23): This excellent group show features work by Maurizio Anzeri, Marius Bercea, Linda Conner, Chris McCaw, and Pae White. The works all address, as the show title directly states, ideas around mapping. By example, Anzeri sews geometric shapes onto vintage landscape photographs, invoking ideas of very simple architectural plans, what future structures over that space might look like. White’s video Dying Oak/Elephant is features digital animation created from the scanning of an 800-year old Oak tree, which resides on the For-Site property in Grass Valley; the artist created the video during her residency there. The resulting piece is mesmerizing and fluid; it has the appearance of traveling through the human circulatory system, flowing through a network of interconnected vein-like structures that ebb and flow in their density, sometimes breaking apart into a collection of dots. Throughout, this well-curated show is a thoughtful, engaging, and  thoroughly enjoyable.

Frida Kahlo, "Retrato de Mrs. Jean Wright, oil on canvas, 25" x 18", 1931, featured at the John Berggruen Gallery

Frida Kahlo, “Retrato de Mrs. Jean Wright, oil on canvas, 25″ x 18”, 1931, featured at the John Berggruen Gallery

“Looking Back: 45 Years” at John Berggruen, San Francisco (through Dec. 19): This show firmly establishes why the John Berggruen Gallery has been considered one of the finest modern masters galleries around, especially when it comes to the work of Northern California artists, and more specifically, those from the Bay Area Figurative movement including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, and Nathan Oliveira. Works by these artists as well as that by such well-known names as Frieda Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Clyfford Still, Wayne Thiebaud, and Ed Ruscha, among others, cover the two floors that comprise the gallery. It is an exceptional, not to miss show. The timing of a gallery retrospective is fitting as this is the gallery’s second-to-last show in its downtown location; an announcement of where the gallery is moving to will be made in the coming weeks.

Guy Diehl , “A Dialogue with Tradition II,” at Dolby Chadwick Gallery, San Francisco (through Dec. 5): Guy Diehl continues his decades-long career of exploring the traditional genre of still life. Once again, he delivers a show of exquisitely painted, moody and graceful works variously featuring books, bottles, and fruit, among other objects. References to art history, both direct and indirect, abound. This is a excellent opportunity to view exceptionally well painted and beautiful pieces.


Thursday, December 3 is First Thursdays in San Francisco.

Opening December 4, Oakland: Erik Parra, “each devil his own,” at Transmission Gallery. An opening reception will take place Thursday, December 4, 6 to 9 p.m.

December 12, 5 to 7 p.m., Oakland: Open Studios and Group Show, “Something for Everyone,” at Lost & Foundry Studios, 305 Center Street, Oakland. Featured artists include Alexis Arnold, Jeff Hantman, Bridget May, Chris McNally, Kim Miskowicz, Mansur Nurullah, Pamela Palma, Steve Smith, Chris Wells, and Erik Zo.

Andy Goldsworthy's "Hand hit site dust," Presidio Spire, October 2008

Using only materials found as is in nature — rocks, dirt, water, flowers, branches — Andy Goldsworthy (whose exhibition Incidental Objects is on show at Haines Gallery, SF, through December 24) creates quietly beautiful installation works. Goldsworthy has executed over 120 commissioned works the world over, several of which are located in the Bay Area, including the cracked stone piece, Drawn Stone, which traces the entrance to the de Young Museum, Spire in the Presidio, River of Stone at Stanford, and Surface Tension at the Hess Art Museum. Typical of the Scottish artist’s work, these feel so right, so effortless, poignant and poetic. What isn’t evident is the complex conceptual and experimental considerations leading up to these elegant final products.

This current exhibition provides insight into Goldsworthy’s explorations; it includes documentation — photos, works on paper, proposal drawings, and video — of the “incidental” and often temporary creations resulting from Goldsworthy’s process. Images of a hand smacking the dusty ground in the Presidio at the site of Spire address his process and stand apart from the final rather architectural image. Video documenting the creation of Rain Shadows, for which the artist laid on the ground through rainstorms; in the end, the form of his body remains in the dry dirt. These action maquettes and other artistic residues bring a greater understanding to the longer lasting final product. But they also illuminate, as anyone who’s seen the 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides — which follows Goldsworthy through many artistic adventures — that this artist creates graceful traces, however impermanent, all along the way. It’s a selection that not only reveals Goldsworthy’s path of contemplation, but is a fine example of ephemera that succeeds as works of art in their own right.

Ai Weiwei's "Snake Bag"

The Ai Weiwei show at Haines Gallery is important for many reasons, not all of which have to do with the specific work on view. Hailing from Beijing, Weiwei is at the forefront of the increasingly vibrant conversation the international art world is having about contemporary Asian art, especially that coming out of China. An activist and forceful critic of the Chinese government (he was beaten by the Chinese police last year and suffered life-threatening head injuries because of it), Weiwei’s art gives outsiders intimate insight into Chinese culture and current issues through the universal language of objects and concepts. His work also resonates within Western art history. Obvious influences and references can be made to Marcel Duchamp, Félix González-Torres, and Andy Warhol, and even contemporaries, such as Jeff Koons. (Also worth noting, similar to other mega-artists, Weiwei employs loads of assistants to transform his vision into form.)

Weiwei is a conceptual artist; the greater message of his pieces is not immediately evident. Where his work succeeds then is that it engages us to the point of curiosity. The pieces on show at Haines—all recent sculpture (2006–2010) of various mediums, including porcelain, marble, and canvas packs—are pretty, sometimes luscious, and simple. They are easy points of entry to sometimes difficult subjects.

Perhaps most powerful—at almost sixty feet long, it has quite a presence—is Snake Bag, 2008, a series of 360 backpacks zippered together in the form of a serpent. The work is a memorial to the thousands of children who perished in the 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake; Weiwei holds the government responsible for the excessiveness of the death toll (it was this criticism that led to the police beatings). Kui Hua Zi (sunflower seeds), 2009, is another strong work. Comprising 550 pounds of porcelain seeds piled in a conical shape (it took twenty assistants more than a year to hand-make all the pieces), it’s a nod to the famine diet of peasants during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, which spanned 1959 to 1961. The work readily recalls Gonzalez-Torres’s candy piles, albeit appropriately relaying a slightly less generous twist. Of particular interest to the Bay Area is Owl Houses, 2010, a collection of ten hand-painted porcelain structures meant to be owl habitats. These were recently installed in the San Francisco Presidio to serve their sheltering purpose as part of “Presidio Habitats,” an on-site group exhibition that  runs through May 16, 2011.

This is the first major solo exhibition of Weiwei’s work on the West Coast. Go to see some lovely work, stay for the conversation.

This exhibition is on view until May 28, 2010.

Interact with the artist: Additionally, Haines Gallery has created an “Ai Weiwei at Haines Gallery” blog. It serves as a place where the public, artist, and gallery can interact. Questions and comments for Weiwei are encouraged; it’s a unique opportunity to interact directly with the artist. Go to:

The FOR-SITE Foundation, partnering with the Presidio Trust, will present “Presidio Habitats,” a site-based art exhibition featuring work by eleven artists from around the world. It is the first of its kind at a National Park. The exhibition opens to the public May 16, 2010, and will be on view through May 15, 2011.
The common concept each artist worked with was to create a habitat for a specific animal that lives in the Presidio. Featured projects, which vary widely, are as follows:

Ai Weiwei’s Western Screech Owl Habitats
CEBRA’s Sculpture Habitat for the Gray Fox
Chadwick Studio’s Habitat for Anna’s Hummingbird
Fritz Haeg’s Snag Tower
Jensen Architects’s Patience
Amy Lambert’s Pollen Balls Project
Nathan Lynch’s Where is the Hare?
Mark Dion with Nitin Jayaswal’s Winged Defense
Philippe Becker Design’s Winged Wisdom
Surface Design’s A Habitat of Flight
Taalman Koch Architecture’s Owl Dome
Many educational and informational programs and displays accompany the exhibition including a 1,300-square-foot exhibition space by Ogrydziak / Prillinger Architects, which features all twenty-five proposals originally submitted (from which the eleven were chosen), interpretive materials, and artist models. This will be located across from the Presidio’s Log Cabin. Additional in-depth information is provided by signage at each site, as well as audio narrative that is accessible via cell phone. Also available is a free exhibition brochure featuring a map and summary information on the works and selected animals.. Finally, there will be a series of  lectures  featuring participating artists, natural resource specialists, and other professionals involved with art and the environment. The exhibition and related programs are free and open to the public.
To launch this unique undertaking, a full-day celebration will be held May 16. Complete information will be available at the FOR-SITE Foundation Website.

Xing Danwen's "Wang Jin, Marry a Mule 2"

Xing Danwen, “A Personal Diary”
At Haines Gallery, San Francisco, Calfornia 
Exhibition ran through March 27, 2010

Photographer Xing Danwen is recognized as one of China’s most influencial contemporary female artists. This is the first and only scheduled U.S. showing of an important series of her photos, “A Personal Diary of Chinese Avant-Garde Art in the 1990s.” The images document the subversive performance art scene—which comprised many of Danwen’s friends—that took place in Beijing’s “East Village” from roughly 1992 to 1994. Art historically then, the series is significant for chronicling a formative period of China’s contemporary art scene.
But artist fame and historic importance aren’t the primary reasons to see these works; they are good art. The images are powerful, bizarre, beautiful, charged—pushing Chinese cultural convention and comfort boundaries. Subjects are naked, as in the four-panel Liu Anping, Untitled Gesture; play with gender roles and identity, as in Ma Liuming, Performance 2 and Zhu Ming, Mona Lisa 3 , which show male artists exploring the feminine; and otherwise test social limits, as in Wang Jin, Marry a Mule 2—a photo, dazzling with hot pink, of Jin in tuxedo and his mule “bride”. In Zhang Huan, 65Kg, Huan is suspend naked in chains from the ceiling with 250 cc of his blood dripping into a hot pan.
These are pictures with punch. Learning about the harsh experiences of several of the artists depicted, as well as Danwen—incarceration, poor living conditions, interrogation—because of their creative output adds to the narrative.  
Danwen’s intimate and confrontational style has appropriately been compared to Nan Goldin’s. But the similarities end there. These images are crisp, colorful, and large (60-by-40 inches framed)—a celebration of rebellious experimentation.
These images don’t let you go easily. And sometimes they even make you smile.

(Exhibition recommendation orginally posted in the Visual Art Source newsletter.)