Back in 1978, merry prankster and conceptual artist Lowell Darling pegged 60,000 votes when he ran for the governor of California against Jerry Brown -- even eliciting Brown's endorsement after promising that if elected, he'd hire Brown to govern the state for him. Darling's campaign was full of outré hijinks -- for example, performing what he called an "urban acupuncture" treatment on the San Andreas fault and touring the state in a pink and black 1956 Plymouth with soft-sculpture lips to plant kisses on babies. The ensuing whiteout of media coverage wasn't unfamiliar to Darling, a provocateur whose past projects included establishing the Center of World Problems, which put forward madcap solutions to serious global dilemmas.
These days, Darling has been putting his energy into his latest invention, the "Bayennale Bay Area International Art Exhibition," which seeks to provide a modest complement to the biennials of Berlin and New York. More than 100 artists in 30 venues over 16 days coordinate in one of the most involved and diverse artistic undertakings the Bay Area has yet witnessed. The Oakland Port Authority has even thrown $20,000 into the mix to promote public art and to draw tourists into the potential creative maelstrom.
Bayennale venues run the gamut from traditional underground spaces like the Lab, the Oakland Noodle Factory, the Oakland Art Gallery, and the SomArts Cultural Center to industrial shipping containers around the Oakland waterfront and development hubs like the Fruitvale Transit Plaza. While the exhibition's blueprint is definitely meant to rally the bay's populace of isolated and wildly divergent artists, it's not merely a way to get higgledy-piggledy local creatives in the same performance space.
Case in point: SomArts' "Crossings: a gathering of artists" is a collection of three group shows exhibited in the same space to create a cross-pollination of themes and exchanges between historically underrepresented international and local artists; Bayennale includes work by artists from the Philippines, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, France, India, Haiti, and various indigenous nations in the United States and Australia. The Lab also includes a series of installations, such as Polish artist Monika Weiss' Lethe, Drawing River, a piece that engages audience members in entering the mythological river of forgetfulness. The Oakland Art Gallery hosts a plethora of curious performance pieces, including Jessica Tully's Oakland Walk of Fame, which uses children's art implements to map fictitious pathways around Frank Ogawa Plaza, and Tina Heringer's Team Arnold, in which the artist rides BART from San Francisco to Oakland in a poker-faced sendup of Maria Shriver.
It may not be one of Darling's customary feints, but earmarking the unsung talents of dyspeptic loner artists is pretty incendiary in its own right. -- Nirmala Nataraj