Artbeat

Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

"Ab Ovo." Like an art-world version of Telephone -- the game in which a message gets garbled through repeated transmission -- Steven Hull's project is designed to take us somewhere unexpected. Hull administered the MMPI-2TM (a psychological test that measures pathology) to 19 artists and gave the results to 19 writers, each of whom wrote a children's story based on one personality profile. He then distributed the stories to 19 other artists to illustrate. The result is a collection of emphatically off-kilter images. Displayed in the gallery without their accompanying texts -- the stories can be heard on audiotape and are collected in a book -- the images present moments in unknown yet oddly familiar narratives. Junko Shimizu's domestic interiors in flat, clear colors and simple lines look benign enough, until you realize they're littered with severed (but not bloody) body parts. Kelly Barrie's deadpan portraits of adults dressed up as bears and other storybook characters are simply creepy -- like Barney on a cigarette break. And Lamar Peterson's illustrations of cartoon hearts, balloons, and happy cactuses push kid lit's penchant for anthropomorphism to new, hallucinogenic heights. Ostensibly, children's books help shape the psyche; "Ab Ovo" ("from the egg" in Latin) reverse-engineers them to remind us that childhood was never as uncomplicated as we recall. Through Dec. 24 at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 49 Geary (at Kearny), Suite 411, S.F. Admission is free; call 263-3677 or visit www.stevenwolffinearts.com. (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Nov. 30.

"Chuck Close: Self-Portraits 1967-2005." Step up to a Chuck Close painting and you'll see squares filled with abstract shapes, a precise arrangement of dots, or some other technique in miniature. Step back and you'll see Chuck Close. For nearly four decades the artist has rendered his own head, moving through styles but always retaining his signature mug-shot angle. Featuring more than 80 works, this show traces the arc of this astonishingly single-minded career. Since 1967 Close's stuck to his technique, laying a grid over a photo and painstakingly transferring the data in each square to a 9-foot-tall canvas with an airbrush. But along the way the grid itself started showing up, scoring the portraits with crosshatched lines, and Close began filling the squares with shapes, dots, and other designs. In 1988, he experienced chest pain while attending an arts ceremony at Gracie Mansion; by the end of the night he was nearly paralyzed. In rehabilitation, he strapped a brush to his wrist, trained his arm to do the work of his hand, and never looked back. Through Feb. 28, 2006, 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. (Michael Leaverton) Reviewed Nov. 16.

"Perpetual Motion/Movimiento Perpetuo." This lovely, haunting installation by Victor Cartagena and Elisabeth Oppenheimer is the culmination of two years of research spent recording people's immigration stories. The collected audio recordings float out over a sea of black inner tubes -- some resting on the floor, some suspended from the ceiling -- flanked by wall-size video projections of walking and running feet. On one pair of facing walls are pavement-level close-ups of the feet of well-shod city dwellers, walking at a brisk clip. On the other wall, considerably less-well-off feet run furtively along a dirty passageway. Despite the stark contrast in class and tone, the video loops create a continuous motion, suggesting that the flip side to the creature comforts of city life is invisible, low-wage, immigrant labor. The inner tubes simultaneously refer to the treacherous ocean crossings that many immigrants face and stand in for immigrant bodies and stories, bobbing just below the surface of the sidewalk, beneath notice. Although the video is the only element that moves, the entire piece seems to breathe, giving life to stories that take place in the shadows and often remain there, unheard or untold. Ironically, while the installation creates a beautiful visual metaphor for the immigrant experience, the recordings of the immigrants themselves are difficult to hear. Overlapping with each other and with readings from theoretical texts, the voices of the people who generously recounted their experiences are fragmented and obscured: heard, but still not understood. Through Dec. 3 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th streets), S.F. Admission is free; call 626-2787 or visit www.theintersection.org. (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Oct. 26.

"Styrofoam Hummer (American Detritus)." Andrew Junge's sculpture is grotesque poetry: a Hummer made out of Styrofoam. Fresh from the Artist in Residence Program at the San Francisco dump, Junge reclaimed castoff pieces of the unrecyclable material, then cut, bonded, and sanded them into a full-size replica of our governor's favorite gas hog. The level of verisimilitude is amazing: The tow cable, windshield wipers, even the keyhole on the door are all meticulously sculpted. Junge chose to leave the Styrofoam its "natural" shade of white, so the effect is more ghostly than realistic. If you look closely, you can see familiar packing material patterns under the wheel wells and subtle seams on the tires where the artist has pieced square blocks together to make a rounded shape. But these details of fabrication are beside the point. The excesses of the H1 Hummer (a gas-guzzling, road-hogging, militarily inspired vanity) and the wastefulness of Styrofoam (too toxic to burn, too expensive to recycle) are a match made in trash heaven. Together they're the perfect expression of the often forgotten link between consumer luxury and the military campaigns enacted to preserve it. The consumer H1 turns military functionality into Army chic; Styrofoam Hummer brings the recklessness of that conversion full circle. Through Jan. 13, 2006, at View 155, 155 Grove (between Van Ness and Polk), S.F. Admission is free; call 554-6080 or visit www.sfacgallery.org. (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Nov. 30.

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