Grand Opening

The inaugural exhibition at Catharine Clark's new gallery shows that context is everything

In a bold move, Catharine Clark has shuttered her posh gallery at 49 Geary and relocated to new quarters at 150 Minna. Around the corner from Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Museum of the African Diaspora, and SFMOMA, the ground-floor gallery features cracked cement floors, 16-foot ceilings, and exposed duct work. It is an edgy backdrop for the lush satirical paintings, video installations, and humorous conceptual work she shows. The messages are louder, clearer, and funnier; hopefully the gallery staff won't have to explain the jokes to curious patrons.

"What we show is content-driven work that is well crafted," Clark says. "And I've always liked humorous work. At the opening party, people said, "The work looks so edgy.' But these are the same artists we showed at 49 Geary; only the place is different." With "Breaking Ground Breaking" Clark reinforces her commitment to showing artwork with a bite.

Several artists responded to the theme of "breaking ground." Ray Beldner's Ground Breaking or In Advance of the Broken Shovelspoofs a work by Marcel Duchamp. Scattered in "conversational" groups around the gallery, shovels with broken shafts "dig" the floor and turn each room into a construction site. Walter Robinson's tongue-in-cheek Contextis front and center in the entry. A wall of brightly colored giant buttons bearing a single word ("heaven," "hell," "body," "sex," "beauty," "ground," "context") reminds us that placement is everything.

A detail from Sandow Birk's Destruction, a graphic view of the Iraq War.
Sandow Birk
A detail from Sandow Birk's Destruction, a graphic view of the Iraq War.

Details

Through July 7. Admission is free; call 399-1439 or visit www.cclarkgallery.com
Catharine Clark Gallery, 150 Minna (at Third Street), S.F.

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Nina Katchadourian's banner announces a "GRNAD OPENING" and her eponymous C-print of the corner deli in her Brooklyn neighborhood repeats the refrain. The artist, of mixed Swedish/Armenian parentage, continues her investigation of immigrant identity with tender humor.

Conceptual artist Charles Gute mines the format of dime-store word search games and embeds Pioneers of Bay Area Conceptual Art and Groundbreakersin a minimalist grid of letters. Travis Somerville's incendiary For the Red Necks of Georgia — with wooden cross, KKK tokens, and an MLK church fan — is a theatrical throwback to racial clashes in the American South.

Two videos by Anthony Discenza are tapestries in flux. Drift, a single-channel video projection of a hillside neighborhood as it disintegrates, shuffles and reassembles the houses in an endless loop of shifting tiled patterns. The destabilized pixelated images reflect the ubiquity of urban sprawl and our fragile hold in the drift of continents. For another work, the artist Googled images of "dream house." Online ads for McMansions dissolve and scramble as Dream House subverts the message.

The works of three oil painters with impressive technical chops gain added luster in the industrial space. In Julie Heffernan's Self Portrait as Moth to Flame, baroque silk curtains part and reveal a scene of Eden gone wrong. Animals mate crazily in a forest on fire as Adam and Eve, oblivious, fish nearby. For Sweet Crude, Scott Greene recasts a punctured Chevron logo as a treacherous knight's coat of arms. And Chester Arnold lovingly paints his bird's-eye version of How the West Was Wonas a swirling autobiographical trash-heap of memorabilia and sludge.

Standouts in this strong show are Josephine Taylor's fantasy Bomb Landscape 2 and Sandow Birk's Destruction from Depravities of War. A new mom, Taylor lets her protective instincts and her paranoid imagination run wild. In a wall-sized work on paper in gouache and colored ink, she doubles herself and her furry fox cub, confining them underground in a flat black space. They are pale survivors of some earthly catastrophe. Sandow Birk's door-sized woodcut rivals the size of the biggest new flat-screen TV. From a suite of 15 giant prints to be showcased in the fall, Destruction is a Baghdad cameraman's view of the Iraq War. In format and documentary style, Birk echoes the 16th-century "reportage" of French printmaker Jacques Callot, whose work inspired Goya's famed Disasters of War. His translations of everyday TV images into the blunt black-and-white language of woodcut makes us see the disastrous war freshly. The mindless cruelties of soldiers and the desolation they wreak is a story both new and heart-rendingly old.

Stellar contributions by other artists complete the dynamic show. There is a breath of New York in the air on Minna Street. Catharine Clark's raw and sophisticated new space has upped the ante. Will her move have a ripple effect? It will be fun to see what shakes out in the art establishment around Union Square.

 
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