Artbeat

Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

"Big Deal & Blow Up," "Extraordinary Exhibitions: Broadsides From the Collection of Ricky Jay," and "Leon Borensztein and His Friends: A Look at Creative Growth Artists and Their Work." Three unconnected shows and a newly commissioned interactive sculpture explore a wide range of expressions and media. Visually, the supersized “Big Deal,” with large-scale works from a quintet of artists, dwarfs viewers with its sheer mass. And while we perked up our ears at the mere mention of Johnston Foster’s “coterie of sculptural critters and home furnishings” and photographs of Jim Denevan’s crop circle–like sand drawings done on Northern California beaches, what we’re really dying to see is Michael Arcega’s Spanish galleon made entirely from manila folders, El Conquistadork, which actually embarked on a short voyage (with the artist onboard) across Tomales Bay. In addition to these monster-sized works, the extraordinary playbill collection of sideshow scholar Ricky Jay is on view. Among the highlights are colorful depictions of typical Barnum-era entertainers, such as a cannonball juggler, a flea circus, and a female magician. The party continues with Leon Borensztein’s photographic portraits of developmentally disabled artists from Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center standing next to their own work. The pièce de résistance, however, is Yerba Buena’s latest commission, Blow Up by local hero Scott Snibbe, an interactive piece (part of “Big Deal”) that transforms patrons’ breath into what press materials describe as a “gallery-sized field of wind.” Through April 3 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third Street), S.F. Admission is free-$12; call 978-2787 or visit www.ybca.org. (Jane Tunks) Reviewed Jan. 19.

"Dave Muller: Stars & Bars (American)."Muller taps into the audio voyeurism of the iPod age, in which one's personality can be summarily profiled by one's playlist. The artist digs into his personal music collection to create a series of narrow watercolor scrolls, more than 8 feet tall, that replicate the spines of cherished vinyl records. Each drawing renders in loving detail a pair of well-worn covers: the chewed corner of John Lennon's oft-handled Plastic Ono Band rubs up against an Albert Ayler album, while Brian Eno and the Roches keep company nearby -- extractions from an intimately classified crate. An MP3 player in the gallery broadcasts an impressively eclectic soundtrack consisting of every song Muller has listened to since the new year began, while a wall-drawn timeline forecasts the future of music in the form of a barren desert with a few promising blooms. Through Feb. 18 at Anthony Meier Fine Arts, 1969 California (at Octavia). Admission is free; call 351-1400 or visit www.anthonymeierfinearts.com. (Adrienne Gagnon) Reviewed Jan. 26.

"Mina Mina Country." Though modern Americans assign scant importance to the substance of their dreams, numerous cultures consider the movies our minds create while we sleep to be a method of traveling in the spirit world to commune with the specters found there. Among Australian Aborigines, for example, dreams represent connections between the dreamer and the land he inhabits as well as the ancestors who passed before; this sacred and mystical link forms an important topic in Aboriginal art. All this is a bit hard to discern just by looking at Dorothy Napangardi's deceptively simple works, which use dotted lines and geometric patterns to represent visions of Mina Mina, her home in the Northern Territory of Australia -- but with a little background, we grow to appreciate her colorful prints for the evocative journal entries they are. This show of Napangardi's images continues through Jan. 31 at the Crown Point Press Gallery, 20 Hawthorne (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is free; call 974-6273 or visit www.crownpoint.com. (Joyce Slaton) Reviewed Dec. 15.

"The Still Lives of Saints." Follow the trail, enter through the waterfall, and find yourself in an oversized religious diorama: This installation is artist Michael Velliquette's psychedelic ode to judgment, damnation, and salvation. A huge pillow shaped like a human hand, giant eyeballs that gleam with natural light, and colored things made of string encourage the viewer to contemplate transcendence. (The ornate confusion of crafty objects looks as if it'll also spur comments like, "Trippy!") Thematic elements include eyes and hands; materials are Velliquette's customarily simple ones, such as construction paper, felt-tip markers, and tape. Through Feb. 13 at Ratio 3, 903 Guerrero (at 21st Street), S.F. Admission is free; call (646) 732-2767 or visit www.ratio3.org. (Hiya Swanhuyser) Reviewed Jan. 19.

"Tim Bavington: New Painting." To the uninformed eye, Tim Bavington's paintings of bright vertical stripes resemble TV test patterns, but in reality the images are a bit more complex. The artist creates his works by assigning a color to each note in the 12-tone musical scale and then translating songs into airbrushed bands. In this way the rough staccato skip of Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down" is transformed into skinny striations of red and green, while Jimmy Page's blistering, smudgy solo in Led Zeppelin's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" ends up as fuzzy, wide lines. Through Feb. 12 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) Reviewed Jan. 12.

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