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.

"Female Figure" by H.C. Westermann

This funky, fun show (on view through December 18, 2010) highlights work by two highly accomplished and similarly offbeat artists, William T. Wiley and H.C. Westermann. Wiley is one of the founders of the West Coast Funk movement and a masterful watercolorist, and Westermann is known for his inventive child-art or “low brow” aesthetic ,with doses of Surrealism. Make no mistake, this is finely crafted work, a fact particularly discernable in his sculpture. Of particular note is the use of unusual materials.

The two are linked art-historically for their 1960s and ’70s fine-art counterculture ways. Specifically, the artists turned away from mainstream art trends, be it minimalism or Abstract Expressionism. The two are also linked on more personal terms. Wiley (the younger of the two) was influenced by Westermann’s work; a mutual admiration developed over the artists’ years-long friendship and correspondence.

Common to both artists’ works are handwritten words and phrases, including a generous spattering of puns and sarcasm. The text reinforces the message, as well as the humor. There are also nods to art history. The works are highly personal and often emotional, making them truly individualistic.

Examples on view here show both artists at their best. From Westermann we see work spanning 1969 to 1980 (the artist passed in 1981), and from Wiley, mostly recent works, from 2009 and 2010. The quirky cartoonish, outsider-art appearance of these pieces belies their thinly veiled sophistication. It doesn’t take much more than a short pause to uncover the layers and rich storylines embedded in the pieces.

The subjects addressed are often weighty, including war, a major focus of Westermann’s, resulting from his personal experience serving in World War II. Death Black Ship (1972) — the ship is a recurring icon in Westermann’s work — is a wonderful example of such conflict-focused work. A battle rages off to one side, colorful and full of movement, while in the foreground, two rats sit on a ship’s deck with the quote, “Spectre though I may be, I am not sent to scare thee or deceive, But in reward of thy fidelity,” along with the attribution to Wordsworth, just off to their left. The sculpture Death Ship of No Port with a List (1969) demonstrates Westermann’s fine skill as a woodworker, while The Deerslayer (1969) shows off his use of odd materials — it’s a figure made of metal pipe with a head of deer horns — and ironic humor.

Wiley’s pieces examine variously our deteriorating environment, Eastern philosophy, wisdom (or lack thereof), social inequities, and an array of social-political subjects. The dunce cap features prominently in several of the works. It serves as a symbol of expression regarding the idiocies around us. For instance, in Dunce One (2009) — from a series of four works, each of which features one yellow cap decorated with words (and a lot of word play), phrases, and random imagery — features the phrase, “seems like it would be better to pay people to be good/cheaper than not helping them.” Not to be overshadowed by the abundance of text in most of these works is, indeed, Wiley’s talent as a painter; of particular note here are the pieces True Safety (2009) and Is This Double Dip Expression (2010).

Though very much about their time, this pair of artists, their work imbued with humanity, will and do endure