Driss Ouadahi, "Breakthrough," 2012, oil on canvas, 78 3/4" x 141 3/4"

Driss Ouadahi, “Breakthrough,” 2012, oil on canvas, 78 3/4″ x 141 3/4″

“Look Both Ways”  features 31 works by 20 artists, including a large installation, several sizable sculptures and wall-works, as well as a number of moderately sized works. It also introduces Hosfelt Gallery’s grand new space — a light-filled, high-ceilinged, industrial-raw space encompassing 8,900 square feet — in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco. The exhibition is a sampling of highlights from an illustrious stable artists: Alan Rath, Jay DeFeo, Tim Hawkinson, and Jim Campbell among them. And not only does it celebrate what’s transpired over the gallery’s 15-year history but also, with the introduction of several new artists as well as new work by long-standing artists, looks forward.

One highlight of the show is that several of the larger works – including Liliana Porter’s installation “Man with Axe,” the mechanized sculpture “Lala Zaza” by Rath, and Hawkinson’s whimsical “The Fin Within” – are to their benefit provided ample room to breathe in the expansive gallery space. And while there are works in a number of different mediums — mechanical sculpture, paintings, drawings, photography — and varied formal orientations — bright, subdued, detailed, minimal, organic, reflective — it all manages to hang together, a nod to good curating.

On the note of curating, and further addressing the space of the gallery, one of the stated goals of the exhibition is to present “work that exists on one level when seen from a distance, but that is something else up close.” There are several instances where this is particularly evident, one of which is Campbell’s light sculpture “Tilted View.” From afar, it’s a suspended plane of small, white globes, with shadows of what could be overhead clouds creating subtly greyed areas that float across their surface. Step in closer and the orbs break down into their individual units, each one hanging from a black wire. The illusion of the changing skycap is, it turns out, programmed patterns of light fed into small bulbs. The image has been pixilated, albeit it is no less lyrical for knowing that.

Emil Lukas’s elaborate wall-hung “Horizontal Ring” reads at a distance as a colorful abstract image that shifts as you move around it. The fine and innumerable pieces of thread that comprise the piece become evident as you get closer; they are strung from nails tacked into the sides of the frame, akin to the string art we were all introduced to in childhood, though taken to a whole new level of intricacy and layering. The effects are delightfully dizzying and dynamic.

Also by design, another common thread here is an emphasis on a visual hook to draw us in only to slowly reveal a greater depth. While the works throughout the show are consistently engaging, there are a few that stand out, particularly in this regard.

The breathtaking oil-on-canvas diptych “Breakthrough,” by Driss Ouadahi, features a broken chain-link fence with only sky behind it, here a purple and yellow sunset. This photorealistic work makes an immediate impact: it’s expansive, all-encompassing, and gorgeous. Sit with it for awhile and thoughts of imprisonment, escape, longing, and “it’s better on the other side” readily come to mind; then the patterns of the fence take on a meditative quality, disrupted by the snared imperfections.

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the presence of the grander works, there are a number of modestly scaled pieces that hold their own: lively and colorful ink-and-acrylic on paper works by Rina Banerjee, simple yet poignant collages by John O’Reilly, and delicate monochromatic watercolors by Nicole P. Fein. It adds up to a celebration of thoughtful, complex work and a tantalizing foreshadowing of things to come.

The immediate impression of “EINFLUSS: 8 from Düsseldorf” (on view through February 5, 2011) is, wow, these artists can paint! Save the two works by artist Luka Fineisen, a sculpture and a gestural wall piece, both made with plastics, all of the other twenty-seven, mostly large-scale works in the exhibition are paintings, and there’s something wonderful to be found in every one of them.

Bernard Lokai, "Ohne Titel"

As the show’s title indicates, eight artists are represented: Bernard Lokai, Jutta Haeckel, Driss Ouadahi, Birgit Jensen, Cornelius Völker, Stefan Kürten, Stefan Ettlinger, and Fineisen. The artists all studied at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf, well known as one of the most influential art schools in the world. The list of artists who have studied or taught there reads like an A-list of contemporary art: Gerhard Richter, Joseph Beuys, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, Katharina Fritsch, Anselm Kiefer, and Sigmar Polke, to name only a handful. And if there’s a singular thread to be noticed throughout the work of all artists who have ties to Kunstakademie, including the eight in this show, it’s a rigorous training in both art history and formal artistic pursuits.


Stepping into the gallery, you are immediately grabbed by Lokai’s bright abstract work, “Ohne Titel.” The painting features a bold yellow background that subtly varies in intensity and purple/lavender brushstrokes concentrated in a tall, rather thin triangular form with its base at bottom mid-canvas and the apex ending about three-fourths of the way up, a light gesture that veers off the top of the picture. It is a work of economic movement and elegance. Lokai’s two additional works in the show — to be fair, one of the pieces, “Landschaftsblock S (Landscape Block S),” is actually comprised of eighteen small canvases, each a study in the exploration of that space between representation and total abstraction — are equally engaging. Evident is the influence, though not overbearingly so, of Richter, under whom Lokai studied.

Cornelius Völker, "Sink - 4"

Exhibiting a love of paint’s lusciousness is Völker, whose two paintings of sink drains and six guinea-pig works — Völker works in series, fully immersing himself in whatever he’s focused his brush on — are as much about their subjects as they are about celebrating the medium. Thick, brushy strokes blend and swish the color about. The drains swirl with life, the guinea pigs become almost abstractions of delightfully colorful, moppy hair.


Ouadahi combines a strong sense of architecture with emotion. In “Vis à vis,” layers of beautifully painted grids may be read as outlines of high-rises being built, or the aftermath of destruction. The viewing experience sets you apart from the city. A barrier is also present in “Fences Hole,” in which a gorgeous, Impressionist-style dusky sky is obscured by a photorealistic painting of a chain-link fence with a ragged hole in it. There is a sad and lonely feels to these pieces that is only heightened by their beauty.

There are textural, layered pieces by Jutta Haeckel; Birgit Jensen’s explorations of imagery, monuments, and patterns; Stefan Kürten’s nostalgic, historically complex paintings; and Stefan Ettlinger’s livelyl narrative scenes in egg tempura and oil on canvas. Throughout there is attention to process, technique, and individual vision that combine to truly satisfying effect. This is a well-chosen glimpse into what remains one of the most vibrant art scenes in the world.