Guy Overfelt’s Crashed Cop Car Is Everything We Want to See

Three new exhibits cover terrain from the meditative to the pointedly political, including a provocative vehicular sculpture.

Fake News, Guy Overfelt (Courtesy of Ever Gold [Projects])

In the recent history of San Francisco art galleries, few exhibits have matched the surrealism of “Ever Wash,” the 2011 show at Ever Gold Gallery that turned the tiny Tenderloin space into a fully functional laundry facility. Conceptual artist Guy Overfelt (aided by curator Tony Labat) orchestrated everything to his liking, including changing the name on the gallery’s storefront awning, having gallery director Andrew McClintock play the role of a laundromat worker, and setting the generous price (free!) that people would pay for washing and drying there. Sure, art-goers showed up during the show’s one-month run — but, perhaps predictably, so did transients.

“I was forced, as a gallerist, to do borderline street people in the Tenderloin,” says McClintock of his first show with Overfelt. “I was having to wash their clothes. It was fucked up.”

But McClintock can’t get enough of Overfelt, nor Overfelt of McClintock. So when McClintock took his gallery to Minnesota Street Project and renamed it Ever Gold [Projects], Overfelt came, too. His new exhibit, “Guy Overfelt. A.C.A.B., 1995-2017,” centers around a police car whose front is totally smashed from a high-speed crash, but which otherwise works. Its flashing lights whirl away at art-goers, who are invited to sit in the back seat like a prisoner or in front like a patroller. The trunk has a two-channel video that streams a major photo agency’s footage — used without permission — of violent demonstrations and police sweeps.

Given that the exhibit’s acronym stands for “All Cops Are Bastards,” the car alone is enough to warrant a visit to McClintock’s gallery. But a Guy Overfelt exhibit is usually more — much more — than first appearances. The twists are on every wall and in the gallery’s adjoining room, where Overfelt planted two Siberian kittens amid beanbag chairs designed to resemble U.S. flags. “ACAB” also stands for “All Cats Are Beautiful,” so art-goers have to sift through the dueling themes as they look around and take in the exhibit’s other conflicting signals.

Overfelt’s paintings — the ones that look like carefully considered star-gazing works — hang throughout the gallery. He made each one using the kind of road-mark paint that’s typically reserved for asphalt. He also sprayed them with white paint from a fire extinguisher, attached them to Belgian linen, and added a New Age title, like “Today I choose to release all hurt and resentment.” (Get it?) Amid echoes of violence and mayhem are layers of odd beauty and contradictions. Even the cop car’s model year, 2011, has meaning: That’s when Donald Trump first seriously considered running for the presidency. (The car is titled Fake News.) And the gold gate that now fronts the gallery is both a reference to Ever Gold’s old home in a tough district and a commentary on its new Dogpatch location, in an area where wealth is much more obvious. No one is safe from Overfelt’s slings and arrows — not even himself.

McClintock tells SF Weekly that he nominates the Bay Area-based artist for a SECA Art Award, the coveted annual SFMOMA prize, each year. When the SECA jurists were considering Overfelt, they took a tour bus, “and they met at his studio,” McClintock says. “He got on the tour bus and drove the bus to the projects, and had someone get on the tour bus and talk about living in the projects with all these very wealthy arts patrons. That’s part of his practice. Burning bridges. It’s good, because not a lot of people do that, especially in the Bay Area. It’s an intense art-making practice, but it’s very important.”

Yes, it is, even if McClintock plays along with Overfelt, as he did with “Guy Overfelt. A.C.A.B., 1995-2017,” whose official press release says that Overfelt is dead. (He isn’t.) Like Mark Twain — who, after a newspaper announced his demise, supposedly said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” — Overfelt is a humorist who relishes pricking his fans and foes.

This new exhibit is bringing him more of the former. According to McClintock, several police officers recently walked into Ever Gold [Projects] and — instead of being offended — raved about Overfelt’s art, including the car, which is for sale at $45,000.

“They were loving it,” McClintock says. “I thought they were going to freak out about the ACAB thing, but they didn’t. They were just really excited to see a cop car that was crashed, and they were sending photos of it to their captain, and joking with him, ‘Oh, man, we got into a car crash. Sorry, captain.’ So I think there are going to be a lot more cops coming by.”

On Miles Davis’ historic jazz album Kind of Blue, pianist Bill Evans spoke beautifully about the Japanese painting technique that requires spontaneity and a continuous brush stroke.

“These artists,” Evans wrote, “must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.”

That’s what Shantell Martin does. She takes her pen — a single pen — and draws continuous lines that weave here and there, making faces and outlines and all manner of worlds from seemingly simple hand movements. On the opening night of “Charge Your Self,” at Chandran Gallery, Martin did live drawings to demonstrate how free-flowing her work can be. Born and raised in southeast London, she lived for five years in Japan, and she now works in New York.  

Shantell Martin (Photo by Jonathan Curiel)

“I started my career in Japan, and what influenced me in Japan is this idea of mastery — of taking a single or a simple element and perfecting that or exposing that to its limits,” Martin, 36, told SF Weekly between creating art pieces at Chandran Gallery. “What I’ve attempted to do in this portion of my career is, ‘Can I make a line that’s recognizably mine?’ We can all create a line, but how much work needs to go into a line to make it look like you or feel like you.”

Martin’s background includes work with neuroscientists and a two-year scholar position in social computing at the MIT Media Lab.

“What people don’t always understand,” she says, “is that sometimes, the work isn’t physical or tangible. And being somewhere like MIT, I could explore the process and the analytics of drawing — like how long is the combined amount of lines of my drawings.”

Martin uses different pens — her finest is usually 0.05 millimeters, while her biggest is “really big” — to produce either thin or thick lines. She’ll add words to her works, as with the Chandran piece with a face that says, “Think Blink But Dont Sink.” That summarizes her artistic approach. And the face, with its expressive eyes, could even pass for her.

“Drawing lines puts you in a position where you’re not thinking about it,” she says. “And if you’re not thinking about it, you’re less inclined to draw like someone else. You’re less inclined to hesitate and to think too much. … People always look at them as if they’re simple [lines]. And then you go away and try and do them, and then you realize that they’re not. That’s why I love drawing live.”

Anyone who has stumbled upon Anthony Holdsworth during one of his Bay Area plein air sessions knows how talented he is. Holdsworth sets up his easel and paints the scene before him with a kind of precise joy. His canvases are harmonies of color — the colors of Matisse and Monet — and they make the people and places he conveys seem utterly timeless.

Luna Rienne Gallery is exhibiting Holdsworth’s series of recent Mission District paintings, pairing them with an exhibit of Nathan (Nate1) Tan’s canvases, some of which also profile the Mission itself. Tan and Holdsworth were each born in England, and each found his way to San Francisco, but Tan has a street-art and graffiti background, and his paintings are more impressionistic — with spray-paint drippings and other techniques that give his work an almost dream-like quality. Like Holdsworth’s canvases, Tan’s make you see the streets of San Francisco in a much different way. We see what they see. And there’s something magical there — from the skies to the roadways that most people pass without a second thought.

“Guy Overfelt.  A.C.A.B., 1995-2017”
Through Aug. 19, at Ever Gold [Projects], 1275 Minnesota St. Free; 415-243-0825 or evergoldprojects.com

“Shantell Martin:  Charge Your Self”
Through Aug. 18, at Chandran Gallery, 459 Geary St. Free; 415-312-4120 or chandrangallery.com.

“Mission Lake:  Paintings by Anthony Holdsworth”
“Familiar Places: Paintings by Nathan Tan”
Through Aug. 7, at Luna Rienne Gallery, 3318 22nd St. Free; 415-647-5888 or lunarienne.com.

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