Harpoons and Harbingers

This fall, visual artists bite, reflect, and cannibalize.

Candice Breitz
Oct. 1-Dec. 20 at SFMOMA, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. $9-$15; 357-4000 or www.sfmoma.org.
Video art that shows real people engaged in something they're passionate about is often affecting for one simple reason: It counteracts the slick and dehumanizing stuff that Hollywood produces. Two years ago, SFMOMA exhibited artist Phil Collins' The World Won't Listen, a video installation in which Istanbul residents sang karaoke versions of Smiths songs. Their heartfelt engagement with the lyrics and their self-conscious tics made for surprisingly emotional viewing.

This fall, SFMOMA screens a piece by South African artist Candice Breitz that explores similar territory. In Working Class Hero, 25 fans of John Lennon from around the world sing all 39 minutes and 55 seconds of his first solo album. Each is displayed on an individual screen, and the resulting cacophony fascinates. Some of the fans dance around, some look grim, and one doffs a blindfold — all while chanting lines like, "I don't believe in Elvis." Also on view is Breitz' piece Mother, in which film clips of Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep are edited into a distilled portrait of a stereotypical high-maintenance mom.

"Bellwether: Southern Exposure's Grand Opening and Inaugural Exhibition"
Oct. 17-Dec. 12 at Southern Exposure, 3030 20th St. (at Alabama), S.F. Free; 863-2141 or www.soex.org.
It's been a long walkabout for Southern Exposure, the boundary-pushing art gallery that has occupied two Mission District storefronts since losing its original space in 2006, but the organization has finally found a place to settle down. To celebrate its new 4,000-square-foot gallery and 15-year lease, SoEx launches a group show examining — what else? — "uncertainty." In "Bellwether," artists will erect an immigration office in the gallery to recruit new citizens, offer a safe zone for visitors who need to "bug out," and show an electric camper home pod. The show is full of art pranksters such as the venerable art group Ant Farm, perhaps best known for half-burying a row of Cadillacs in Texas (Cadillac Ranch, 1974). As usual, public programs and activities are planned, including an alternate reality game from Nonchalance that will lead participants through the city, and an airplane that will fly over, pulling a banner that reads, "I'm sorry." We're unapologetically glad about SoEx's triumphant return.

"When Lives Become Form: Contemporary Brazilian Art, 1960s to the Present"
Nov. 5-Jan. 31 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission (at Third St.), S.F. $5-$7; 978-2700 or www.ybca.org.
The Brazilian 1960s art movement dubbed "Tropicália" was most famous for its music, a marriage of regional and international influences advocated by such figures as Gilberto Gil. But this marriage — or "cannibalism," as the poet Oswald de Andrade called it — of cultures influenced visual artists, too. Hélio Oiticica is the standout artist from this period, and in "When Lives Become Form," his influence is clear. Oiticica created paintings, hanging and interactive sculptures, and artworks to be worn as costumes. At "Lives," Yerba Buena installs one of his "lounge spaces," where viewers can hang out. Oiticica's spirit will carry over to a large piece by Ernesto Neto, renowned for his biomorphic soft-sculpture environments, and a kaleidoscopic wall piece by Beatriz Milhazes.

Walter Robinson
Oct. 24-Dec. 12 at Catharine Clark Gallery, 150 Minna (at Third St.), S.F. Free; 399-1439 or www.cclarkgallery.com.
Like shrines to pop culture and politics, Robinson's installations are made up of pieces of consumer ephemera enlarged or shrunk to emphasize their "thingness." His craftsmanship is impeccable, often lending his anticonsumption art a paradoxically slick plastic sheen. If this is a commerce-driven world, though, it's one visited with the spirit of pop surrealism. Giant tree-shaped air fresheners look unmistakably familiar, but they're branded with the words "Hope" and "Fear." A map of the world stamped with big red silhouettes of the United States is displayed below a bouquet of bombs the size and color of children's birthday balloons. Enormous pencils sprout erasers in the shape of JFK's head. The timing feels right for this kind of stuff; what might have seemed merely wry last year now bears the bite marks of bankers' bonuses.

Sept. 22-Dec. 12 at the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St. (at Hooper), S.F. Free; 551-9210 or www.wattis.org.
Last year's Wattis Institute exhibit based on The Wizard of Oz was a curtain-jerker, full of mind-blowing associations. This year, Wattis takes up Ishmael, allowing artists to pursue meaning in Herman Melville's splashy novel Moby-Dick. This is rich fishing, indeed, and with a roster of artists including revered underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, McSweeney's favorite Marcel Dzama, Turner Prize nominee Angela Bulloch (one of the Young British Artists), and Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, alternate interpretations of the big white whale will abound. Look especially for work from Henrik Olesen, well versed in locating the homosexuality barely repressed in narrative; and Tacita Dean, whose video obsession with the sea bears moody fruit. Also on display will be the famous illustrations by Rockwell Kent, commissioned for the 1930 Lakeside Press edition of Moby-Dick, along with 19th-century whaling tools.

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