Art Beat

Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

"2x4." Wallpaper is cool again. Design collective 2x4's first solo museum exhibit is plastered from floor to ceiling with vertical strips of the stuff, each documenting a different design project. Best known for collaborations with star-chitect Rem Koolhaas, 2x4 specializes in the marriage of graphic design and three-dimensional environments. Its designs of wallpaper, signs, logos, and books are based on impeccable research and executed with eye-grabbing moxie. A case in point: the collective's schema for the interior of the Koolhaas-designed campus center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which weaves history and present-day reality into one elegant, visual statement. The building is swathed in mural-size images of the grave faces of the institute's founders; on closer inspection, they dissolve into thousands of cheeky icons depicting student activities. Elsewhere, a series of custom wallpapers for Prada stores features strikingly anti-consumerist imagery: a stadium crowd holding up cards to form images of Maoist peasants; diagrams detailing the manifestly un-Prada-esque body measurements of the average American; and a patently fake, Edenic landscape populated by eerie, sexless, candy-colored mannequins. It's hardly the typical image of perfection that makes you want to buy, buy, buy, but then again, Prada shoppers might already be beyond all aspiration. The innovative exhibition design successfully embodies the collective's bold aesthetic and is fun to look at, but unfortunately, its small scale and close quarters make it difficult to absorb the details, which is where 2x4's true genius lies. Through Nov. 27 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free-$12.50; call 357-4000 or visit www.sfmoma.org. (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed June 29.

"International Parks." Leslie Shows' engaging collaged paintings are surreal landscapes: dystopic, desolate, yet richly textured and often whimsical. Overlapped layers of oily-looking paint and bits of collaged paper congeal to depict abandoned amusement parks, garbage dumps, and desiccated forests. In Detritus Pile, for example, a mountain of trash towers over a gnarled fallen tree and a river of sludge. The titular pile is covered in tiny paper circles and half-moons created by the repetitive use of a hole punch; reminiscent of fingernail clippings and confetti, they make the image feel both festering and festive. Below, swept along in the painted river's murky current, are odd, illustrated paper cutouts: deer antlers, sunglasses, a tiny geodesic dome. Similarly, the clever use of grid and ruled notebook paper creates an impressive white expanse in Salt Field With Attributes. The paper is cut into fine strips and triangles, and augmented with paint and marker, its smeary blue lines delineating the dry hillocks and bleached white sky of a monumental, barren landscape. From across the room, the works seem quite grand; at close range, they dissolve into myriad tiny pieces. Shows works with the skill and precision of a quilt-maker, turning castoff bits of paper and paint into scenes that depict the environmental consequences of indiscriminate consumption. "International Parks" is a subtle reminder that even the smallest wasteful gestures contribute to the despoiling of the natural environment. Through July 9 at the Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia (at 15th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 522-1623 or visit www.jackhanley.com. (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed June 29.

"Joto." This group exhibition of queer artists from Latino communities is intended to shock: The name "Joto" itself is the Spanish-language equivalent of "faggot," and a featured piece, Who Would Jesus Torture? by Clinton Fein, displays a crucified George W. Bush near-nude on the cross sporting an erect "missile," flanked by Rumsfeld belting Hussein to an electric chair. Other artists take a milder approach, notably the self-taught Tony de Carlo, whose colorful portraits blend the spirituality of Mexican icon art with the soul of urban Los Angeles. Through July 31 at the Amaru Gallery, 510 Valencia (at 16th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 552-3787 or visit www.amarugallery.com. (Michael Leaverton) Reviewed June 22.

"Marking Time." Ever wondered how many strokes it takes to make a painting? Ask Robert Sagerman. Applying dollops of paint with a palette knife, he keeps track of every color and stroke of each of his dense, multicolored, abstract paintings. Inspired by complex cabalistic readings of Jewish scripture -- in which each letter can also be read as a number -- the works have cryptic titles like 49:7,171 and 37:6,702, where the first number refers to the number of colors in the painting and the second documents the number of strokes. For Sagerman, painting is a ritualistic, meditative practice in which the obsessive recording of each decision and gesture is a way to focus and clear the mind. The resulting paintings are suitably contemplative squares or rectangles covered with overlapping layers of hue applied with machinelike regularity. This evenness is disrupted by the irregular edges of the paint and the eye-bending optical sensation created by intense, vibrating color. The chunks of paint are so thick they cast deep shadows, giving the works not only a sense of depth, but also an almost sculptural presence. The effect is something like gazing at a wall covered in ivy: At first it seems mundane, but on closer inspection it reveals subtly seductive patterns. Through July 2 at Brian Gross Fine Art, 49 Geary (between Kearny and Grant), Fifth Floor, S.F. Admission is free; call 788-1050 or visit www.briangrossfineart.com. (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed May 25.

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