Archive for the 'Painting' Category

Quid Pro Quo

Fittingly, conservatives brought down the curtain on their eight years of failed and perverse policies by announcing that the theater was, in fact, on fire. It’s almost too much to ask of people to get excited about Barrack Obama’s election as president considering by now everyone’s probably suffering from sheer exhaustion, if they’re not frantic with worry about losing their jobs and homes. So it’s with a psychological acuteness that Galería de la Raza has titled their current show Strange Hope. They seem to have zeroed in on the feverish schizophrenic state of the union, where optimism somehow still finds root in the detritus left behind by the former administration.

quid11Strange Hope began with a gesture, the blind exchange of the works now on display amongst the participating artists on opening night. It’s a clever way to ground the exhibit in the moment by reinforcing a sense of community in the face of an outgoing ideology that largely looked after the monied interests of the few at the expense of the people they had sworn to protect, some of whom would end up face down in oil-soaked water thanks to disregard. Victor Cartagena’s Untitled, 2009 is the perfect spectre for a new era of economic hysteria: a bald-headed red-faced Polyphemus, the center of a dollar bill representing his single eye. The torn pages of script that frame it (Hebrew?) invite further exploration (any polyglots out there that can identify the text?).

All of the works are of the same dimensions, 8.5″ X 8.5″, all are works on paper, but there is considerable variety amongst them. Veronica Duarte’s Vision of an Immanent Order, 2008 for instance at first glance appears to be covered with layers of cardboard cut-outs forming wavy Pepsi logo-like hills piled one on top of the other. Actually, the paper has been skillfully folded to bulge in bas-relief. Strips of artificial turf and a single tiny tree adorn the crests. Sylvia Buettner’s Plaisir, 2009 uses affixed sheet metal and charcoal to heighten the contrast between two facing figures. The woman’s profile is incised into the white ink in precise little lines, whereas the man’s is rendered in charcoal. A printed floral design, perhaps from a woodblock stamp both divides the composition and thematically ties them together.
Two of the most striking images come from Tân Khánh Cao and Jesus Barraza. Untitled, 2008 by the former artist is a silhouette, Kara Walker style, of a little girl on her pony. Perched atop her head like a mortar board is a miniature F-117A Stealth Fighter. Barraza’s work is a silk screen print of a Native American man in blue and flesh tone against a field of white clouds. The economy of the colors in Alcatraz, 2009 calls to mind Shepard Fairey’s work, the iconic image after all helped convey the burden of our aspirations during the election, but Barraza’s work is obsessively detailed which complements the stripped down color scheme nicely.

Images were a little hard to come by for this post, but I managed to track down a few on the artists’ websites for your continued browsing pleasure. Check out Rio Yañez’s rather accommodating Batman here. Scott Macleod makes visible what we’re all thinking. Finally, the piece at the top of the post that appears on all the show’s fliers is by Jenifer Wofford, whose work I mentioned in passing way back in October when I stumbled across it on a kiosk on Market St. In my recent post on public art, I suggested that Wofford’s stuff deserved to be blown up to enormous size on a city billboard or wall, so get on that SF Arts Commission would you?

Didn’t You Get The Memo?

I try to adhere pretty strictly to a self-imposed rule that I only post on exhibits I’ve actually attended. I feel I owe it to you, Dear Reader, to actually make the effort to visit a show if I’m going to urge you to do the same (some kind of Marxist theory of art appreciation no doubt). I’ve broken it once, when I was too sick to see a show that I’d been looking forward to, and now extenuating circumstances have again forced my hand. You see, the clock is ticking on a certain exhibit at SFMOMA and it turns out you’re the artist on this one. Not sure if you were aware.
The 1000 Journals Project appears to be a straggler in the museum’s hit or miss The Art of Participation series, which reached dizzying highs with its inclusion of Janet Cardiff’s The Telephone Call but fared less well with some of the online exhibits accessible via terminals in the galleries. This one looks like a lot of fun though: starting out as blank journals, the books have been passed from hand to hand and crisscrossed the globe. On their many stops, additions have been added bit by bit, meaning that whether you’re intending to observe or add your own ideas there’s going to be plenty of inspiration on hand.
The hope of course is that you’ll contribute, so the museum is providing material in just such an eventuality. If you, like me, are still kicking yourself for not getting in line to take part in The Gift, now’s your chance to get even with all those satisfied go-getters. It also seems perfect for those eager to participate but for whom the thought of, say, reenacting a scene from Life Boat on camera makes you want to curl up into a fetal ball.

A word of warning, 1000 Journals has their own dedicated website, but my attempts to visit prompted a Google advisory warning of potential malware like Trojan programs lurking in the background. I’m not going to link to it here: use your own discretion and note that it’s linked on the SFMOMA page. Oh, and congrats on your first show, but get crackin’: 1000 Journals closes on April 5th.

À La Mode

One of the greatest examples of interactive media I’ve ever seen came burned onto a CD-ROM bundled with an annual awards issue of ID magazine. Love Disc 95, the work of Paul Kim and Karl Ackermann, former RISD graduates, was a series of stream of consciousness mini games of clickety-click bliss, navigated with a little yappity dog avatar (there is a website but it appears unloved and abandoned unfortunately). One of my favorite bits was a simple choice between two variations of the word “glamour.” Selecting the first launched an audio file which pronounced the noun with the breathless admiration of a spectator at a Paris runway: “GLAMerrr…” The second was enunciated as if uttered by an exacting but enthusiastic language coach: “gla-MORE-ay…” My roommates and I would play the files over and over again, laughing and repeating them for the sheer joy of it.
Rachel Kaye’s show at Triple Base Gallery is equal parts glamerrr and glamoreay, both giddy with that indescribable “IT” that the camera loves and attentive to the variety of subjects that get sucked into its orbit.
Several film versions of Romeo and Juliet make the cut, as well as images of royalty: the Virgin Queen herself who appears to be sinking by degrees into her substantial habiliment and her latter day namesake who casts a jaundiced eye upon a model from the floor of George Condi’s studio. On the facing wall Kaye has painted a work that captures all the ones from the opposite side of the gallery, like a photo shoot of her own exhibit. It would be interesting to see what an entire issue of Vogue painted by Kaye might look like.
Her work reminds me of sketchy paintwork of Moira Kalman (genius). The elephants book-ending the bench in the center of the gallery and the Toile cats, skins mimicking furniture fabric and porcelain complete the taxonomy of posh (and also disconcertingly suggest the air of chic shoe store). If such sensibility can be dismissed as an over-infatuation with surface, Kaye’s painting is a nice reminder that it also often ushers in a much needed freshness, as well as rescuing the old and repositioning it to make it seem new again. Superficial and stunning both, we need the glamerrr as much as we may sometimes deride the glamoreay.

The Passing Throng

A caravan captured in the moment is a multitude of curves. Overlapping limbs appear to double and triple as if the result of a camera set for a long exposure. The camels’ necks form elegant curls like those of a bevy of swans: taken together they resolve into a pattern like on printed fabric, suggesting the roll of the dunes or successive swells.
Andrew Li’s work now on display at the Jack Fischer Gallery captures the attention with its rhythmic quality. But long after you’ve admired how well composed the pen and ink drawings are, you find yourself lost in the details. Faces reveal their distinctive quirks, uniforms their particular and arcane regalia.

According to his artist profile, Li works quickly, which is almost hard to believe given how perfectly framed are the works on display. Out of what would appear to the disinterested eye a faceless multitude he plucks out a scene, showing us its exceptional quality. The “unnecessary duplicates” of humanity en masse identified by Ishmael in Moby Dick are redeemed by Li with the particularity of their distinctive rendering. It’s a kind of “wave-particle” deftness: Li shows us the patterns, then, like the image of two faces becoming a goblet, we apprehend the individuality.

My favorite work was of festive Chinese street celebrants. A team of performers is manipulating a dragon costume above their heads, the undulating “body” circling round to form a halo over the heads of the spectators. Huddled underneath a lion dancer crouches like a real beast, sniffing the air. It’s the kind of situation you can find yourself in, unexpectedly, right around the Chinese New Year here in San Francisco and Li’s work reminds me not to take such welcome surprises for granted.

throng2As usual, there are all kinds of works squirreled away in every corner of the available gallery space and each one tempts you to delay your departure. I see one of Lauren DiCioccio’s pieces that was on display last year at the Lab leaning against the wall, one of those amazing ciphers wrought in tiny colored circles of paint. In a cubby hole atop a plan chest is a Sarah Bereza sculpture festooned with antlers that used to hang above the doorway. Yep, I still want it.

Hanoi to Hallyu

Embarrassingly, it took a Korean horror film, R-Point, to enlighten me regarding that country’s significant involvement in the Vietnam War. At VAALA’s page introducing Yerba Buena’s exhibit transPOP: Korea Vietnam Remix, you can read the curator’s statement where it is noted that “the Republic of Korea was the second largest foreign military and economic presence in Vietnam behind the United States, with over 300,000 combat forces and approximately 24,000 skilled workers in exchange for substantial U.S. aid.” For someone who sought out just about every domestic film released about the Vietnam War as a kid, I can’t help but wonder about the hows and whys of this rather glaring lacuna.

It’s a bitter irony that throughout history war is often the instigator of cultural exchange. The spoils and stories brought back from campaigns abroad fuel a fascination and mystique of those sites of conflict. To meet the new demand, trade is an inevitability, and what follows is often a delicate negotiation between the promise of economic opportunity and the nascent underlying traumas. transPOP is infused with this blend: the gaudiest stage shows of clean-cut pop bands share space with grainy images of carpet bombings and the flare of ignition from helicopter-mounted missile racks. It’s a diverse ensemble, more than slightly overwhelming in the varied approaches and subject matter on-hand. But you are never more than a few feet away from the reminder of the nexus that formed the present day relationships between Korea, Vietnam and America, whether it is a twisting pathway of camouflage-patterned placemats or the sounds of whirring rotor blades coming from projected news footage. Rather than offering a woefully inadequate attempt at a comprehensive overview, I’ve picked out a few of favorites from the show:
exercises1 Nguyen Mahn Hung’s fighter jets with their incongruous payloads of cereal goods and pig carcasses in Go To Market, 2004. The F-4 Phantoms are contemporaneous with the Vietnam War. The appearance of the later F-18 Hornet suggests the enduring legacy of the co-mingling of commerce and militarism (UPDATE – or not, check out Johnny O’s correct identifications in the comments. Thanks again!). It’s a striking image of the disparity between humble and humbling levels of technology that prompts no end of reflection. Who gets to own which? Who’s in charge and why? How do we get there from here and what will become of us if we do?

Song Sanghee, The National Theater, 2004; video installation. This is right inside the entrance and delayed my venturing into the main space of the gallery for a good long while. A man at a podium begins a speech on the hope for reconciliation between North and South Korea. Suddenly, an assassin appears in the lower corner of the screen and fires shots from a prop gun as someone offscreen attempts to wrestle him to the ground. Although a bodyguard seated near the podium springs from his chair and draws his own gun in retaliation, he is too late: the woman next to him slumps over, the victim of a stray (imaginary) bullet. He freezes in this position for a moment or two, straightens his coat, takes his seat and smooths out his trousers. The other man emerges from behind the podium where he’d taken refuge and the woman resumes her former posture on the folding chair. The speech begins again and the scene plays out once more to its tragic conclusion. The action is not looped: during one run-through, the bodyguard drops his gun by accident, but he still strikes the same pose in tableau, arm outstretched. Specifically, the piece reenacts the attempted assassination of Korean President Park Jung-hee and the accidental slaying of his wife, Yuk Yeong, but in its recurrences of hope and horror can be read the anxiety over the troubled history of efforts of rapprochement between the two halves of a divided nation.


The slowly moving clusters of flowers against an identical background, which finally reveal themselves as the camouflage of a creeping figure in Lee Yong-baek’s Angel Soldier, 2005. This is projected onto a gallery wall and it took me a while to even tease out the effloresced fatigues from the backdrop. Soon others emerge, magic eye-style, moving at the same measured pace, crouched in a commando duck walk.


Steaming Out (Post IMF), 2000 also by Lee Yong-baek, is another video projection of perambulating metaphors (image from the YBCA page video). A man in a business suit carrying a canvas laptop bag trudges across the bottom of a swimming pool, bubbles sputtering upward from the regulator in his mouth. As the name suggests, the work is informed by the IMF crisis and its affect on Korean white-collar workers.

The complexity of LIN + LAM’s Unidentified Vietnam (Invisible Like Peace), 2006. In a disorienting inter-cutting of period footage and reenactment, Lana Lin and H. Lan Thao Lam’s video piece introduces a white gloved woman regarding a passage from Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American: ‘”In a way you could say they died for democracy,” he said. “I wouldn’t know how to translate that into Vietnamese.”‘ The implication that the quote is more telling for what it says about the speaker than for any profundity in his observation is underlined by the frantic interweaving of staged and acquired images.


Lying on Facism, 2006 by Min Hwa Choi Chul-Hwa. The delirium induced by the rosy red that suffuses the protesters and the landscape as if their solidarity had been captured by a Tesla aura photograph seems to foreshadow the haze of inevitable clouds of tear gas.


Finally, Sandrine Llouquet’s Troi Oi! series of drawings in marker pen and enamel on plexiglass. There was plenty of colorful and playful work on display, like Tiffany Chung’s Marioland-esque hued characters in her Bubble Double Bazooka prints and her weird sea anemone styrofoam stalk Sugarcane-Kumquat Mixed Juice. But Llouquet’s tiny renderings are little worlds of their own that kept me coming back for another look.


Artists Amanda Hughen and Jennifer Starkweather have taken the “unique forms and patterns derived from constructed systems and natural movements around a specific locus” to inform their work currently showing at Electric Works, The Airport Project.
Taking as their starting point seven airports, Hughen and Starkweather set to work incorporating vast amounts of data as dutifully as any machine, describing the arcs of departing planes in long bead-like strings that radiate outward from a common origin. The patterns that emerge, of spirals and spokes, are painstakingly applied chains of tiny dabs and splashes of paint. The abstraction of human movement en masse takes the form of willowy branches and fireworks. I was reminded of the hidden beauty found unexpectedly in mechanically captured images tracking patterns of movement over time, like the famous image of particles in CERN’s bubble chamber. There is also the suggestion of wood grain in patterns delicately rendered in graphite and ink in several of the pieces (growth being another kind of change and movement over time, if a subtle one).
There are elements here that are built out of the visual language of images created and generated mechanically: the aerial photograph, the displays of air traffic controllers, the war room computer models of parabolic trajectories (real and imagined for the big screen). Yet the works themselves are in no ways direct copies of any of these things, rather, the result of a meticulous process and collaboration. They are fascinating to look at simply as compositions: the muted grayscale of concrete highways overlaid with the strings of dots and dashes. Then there are further elements that could only be possible in a work of art: the fact that the works shuttled back and forth between the artists as they evolved piecemeal nicely underscores the patterns of human movement represented in the paintings. Whereas there is often the anxiety that new technologies will render some traditional form of art obsolete, art seems particularly adept at gobbling them up as they come and regurgitating them: the medium emerges strengthened rather than weakened. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase is a famous example of a work of art that is abetted and inspired by technology but not beholden to it. The works in Hughen and Starkweather’s series rescue abstraction designed with utility in mind and draw it back into the realm of aesthetics where the human element is restored.

Jocund Company

Lifejacket figures huddle on the ice floe of an arctic sea, but they may as well be hitching a ride aboard a cloud the way the placid waters echo the gray sky above. Freighters and a tug, docked as they are in the far distance, add to a sense of quiet in the crisp air where sound travels more slowly.
In Yee Jan Bao’s paintings, showing at Mark Wolfe Contemporary Art, figures cavort against the featureless landscape, even as the ocean-goers mutely pass by. The works are marked by the trails of paint which Bao has let drip down their surfaces, helping along the conceit of a sky bleeding right into the waters below until they become nearly indistinguishable from each other.
The pose of a swimmer, carefully balancing his step with arms extended is nicely realized. The position of the arms also align with the diagonal lens flare, breaking the line of the background. The tiny element of life, underscored by the flare, stands out sharply against such an inert scene.
The figures are composed of little blocky blotches of color, bringing to mind the simple figures of old PC games of the EGA era. Even standing stock still, snapping photographs, they are amazingly vibrant against the nearly featureless landscape. It’s no surprise to find them gamely leaping into the void.

On the Masthead

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