Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night is one of the most recognizable images in the world; even those who know nothing about art associate it with that guy who chopped his ear off. But during a long-ago tour through New York's Museum of Modern Art I came across the original, and seeing it in person made all the difference. Prints and copies don't reveal the maniacal thickness with which the artist applied his paint, leaving swirls and whorls that dramatically reveal both his passion and his instability.
Observed in a gallery setting, Sharon Ben-Tal's work has a similar effect. When photographed, her mixed-media paintings appear to be simple geometric designs on a monochromatic background, but upon close inspection they reveal 80 to 100 layers of paint (often mixed with graphite or ground glass) applied by the artist to each panel. Surfaces glimmer with unfathomable depth and an infinite variety of shades; the images are so compelling that the foreground squiggles -- presumably the works' subjects -- fade in importance against the gorgeous, bottomless backgrounds. An exhibit of Ben-Tal's paintings, "Liquid," continues through Dec. 23 at the Heather Marx Gallery, 77 Geary (at Grant), Second Floor, S.F. Admission is free; call 627-9111 or visit www.heathermarxgallery.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Sex writers put out
No matter how vanilla and mainstream your sexual preferences, the strange desires that occasionally crop up are, admit it, unpredictable and perverse. When the T-shirt of a delicious-bellied fella rides up as he grabs a Muni strap in front of you, don't you suddenly long to lick his abs? Do you perhaps yearn to administer a light spanking when a lovely lass leans over to pick something up and exposes a flash of panties? Have you never been amazed at the weird variety of people and objects that populate your naughty dreams and fantasies? The libidinous wordsmiths whose stories and poems fill the new book Bottoms Up: Writing About Sex abandon straightforward erotic narratives for pieces that examine the whys and wherefores of desire itself. Hear from people like (SF Weekly contributor) Lori Selke, Final Girl author Daphne Gottlieb, and Sister Spit superstar Shoshana von Blankensee at 7 p.m. at Modern Times Bookstore, 888 Valencia (at 20th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 282-9246.
-- Joyce Slaton
No one's trying to kill you. Don't worry.
Here's something you don't see every day: a 100 percent rating on the respected movie review Web site Rotten Tomatoes. Korean director Kim Ji-woon's A Tale of Two Sisters is so gorgeous, so frightening, and so well told that all the critics love it. Think about it: The people whose job it is to hate everything give this blood-soaked fairy tale a thumbs up. For example, the BBC says it's "[d]ark, dreadful, and utterly disturbing," in a good way. The plot is indeed about a couple of girls, plus their very evil stepmother. Screenings begin today at the Lumiere Theatre, 1572 California (at Polk), S.F. Admission is $7.25-9.50; call 267-4893 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com for show times.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser
We live in a dog-crazy town, and one of the good side effects is Wonder Dog Rescue, where prospective "parents" can apply to be matched up with a critter that needs a home. The organization's holiday party and fund-raiser features delicious vegetarian food, a mellow DJ, and tons of other animal lovers, starting at 6 p.m. at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Admission is $10-15; call 337-8823.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser