Fall Arts: Eight Visual Art Exhibits You Must See This Season

Yoon Lee: "Minor Inconveniences"
Sept. 8-Oct. 22 at Marx & Zavattero, 77 Geary (at Grant), S.F. Free; 627-9111 or www.marxzav.com.

"Swishes and chaotic shapes." That's how Yoon Lee has described the scenes in her paintings. I'd put it this way: "Waves of undulating lines and matter, twisted on a canvas to almost the breaking point." You don't so much look at a Yoon Lee painting as get lost in it — especially her large-scale works. Breach is a 6-by-12-foot cascade of red, orange, magenta, brown, black, gray, turquoise, and white. The movement in Lee's work relates at least partly to the movement in her own life. Born in South Korea, Lee got her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2005. She has exhibited around the United States and internationally, and has had residencies in Florida and California. Time and space are recurrent themes in Lee's wondrous paintings.

"Houdini: Art and Magic"
Oct. 2-Jan. 16 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission (at Third St.), S.F. $5-$12; 655-7800 or www.thecjm.org.

Yoon Lee’s Splash
Courtesy of Marx & Zavattero
Yoon Lee’s Splash
A work from “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts.”
Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, given by Colonel T.G. Gayer-Anderson, C.M.G., D.S.O. and his twin brother Major R. G. Gayer-Anderson, Pasha.
A work from “Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts.”

More than 80 years after his death, the escape artist who called himself Houdini still commands the popular imagination, with new books arriving this year (including The Last Greatest Magician in the World) and big-budget movies in the works (including The Secret Life of Houdini). This exhibit offers a thorough overview of Houdini's life. We get his travel diary, his voice on audiotape, film clips of his escapes, the trunk he used in his "Metamorphosis" trick, the oversized milk can from another sensational act, a series of handcuffs, a straitjacket, and lots and lots of photos — of Houdini, his parents, and his wife, who performed with him ­— alongside a collection of modern art paying homage to his legacy.

"Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective"
Oct. 15-Jan. 16 at SFMOMA, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. $11-$18, 12 and under free, first Tuesday of each month free; 357-4000 or www.sfmoma.org.

In the plaza area of UCSF's Mission Bay campus, people frequently look up in awe at the Richard Serra sculpture called Ballast. Around the world, Serra's sculptures are rightfully lauded for their expanse and vision, but as Serra told Charlie Rose this year, "I've been drawing all my life . . . but the larger public — and I even think probably the larger art public — doesn't know the history of my drawing." Now they will. For the first time, Serra's drawings have been collected in one public exhibition — not just the wall drawings but also his notebooks, which the 71-year-old Serra has been loath to part with. "Richard Serra Drawing: A Retrospective" arrives in San Francisco from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. More than 50 works, from book-sized to behemoth, are on display in this revealing look at a shadow side of Serra's career.

Lalla Essaydi: "Les Femmes du Maroc"
Oct. 6-Dec. 3 at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, 464 Sutter (at Powell), S.F. Free; 677-0770 or www.jenkinsjohnsongallery.com.

Islam, feminism, and resistance are recurring themes in the photographs of Lalla Essaydi, the Morocco native who poses beautiful young women in settings that resemble the fantastical rooms of a casbah. Essaydi shrouds the women in fabric that matches the rooms and hennas the women's exposed skin with Islamic calligraphy. While they play off of old Orientalist paintings that exoticized North African women, the images are also a commentary on Lalla's upbringing, when male elders would banish young women to a kind of solitary confinement. Grasping the full subversiveness of her work requires some understanding of Essaydi's personal story and of the hierarchies that still exist in Morocco and elsewhere in the world.

"Maharaja: The Splendor ofIndia's Royal Courts"
Oct. 21-April 8 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin (at McAllister), S.F. $7-$17; 581-3500 or www.asianart.org.

Covering the 1600s to 1947, this exhibit surveys India's ruling strata, where kings and princes enjoyed a lifestyle that still seems remarkable with the passage of time. The early centuries are represented by watercolor paintings and such objects as a dagger made from rubies, emeralds, and gold. The last 100 years show the influence of British colonialism, whether through a photo of the cricket-playing Maharajah Ranjitsinhji of Nawanagar or an ornate throne owned by a British estate. The intersection of East and West is symbolized by an image that Man Ray took of two young aristocrats, Yeshwant Rao Holkar II and Sanyogita Devi of Indore. The two are cuddled up and smiling wildly, with Devi staring right into the camera. Life as a maharajah was good. Very, very good.

"Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power"
Oct. 29-Feb. 12 at the de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden (at JFK, in Golden Gate Park), S.F. $6-$10, 12 and under free; 750-3600 or www.deyoung.famsf.org.

Continuing the de Young's recent series of strong loaner exhibits from overseas, the museum showcases works from Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum — the gilded palace that houses some of Europe's most impressive art. A who's who of Renaissance painters from the 15th and 16th centuries anchors this fall exhibit, with Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese the ones who should inspire the most oohs and aahs. Titian is represented by Danae, his sumptuous interpretation of a woman from Greek mythology, and Portrait of Isabella d'Este, Marchioness of Mantua, which shows the 60-year-old royal looking 30 years younger than she was. All of the paintings in "Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power" come from the Kunsthistorisches' Gemäldegalerie, or "Picture Gallery."

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