Lost: INTO THE WOODS

Marco Del Re, 2015

Marco Del Re, 2015

The ambitious but uneven group show INTO THE WOODS starts with a quote from the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel:

“Early tomorrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is the thickest. There we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.”

This quote could be read at least two ways: one that casts the artists as the children, of whom the gallerists would gladly be rid so they can get on with their work and be left alone, and another in which the patrons are the children, coerced by the gallerists into a magical forest crafted by elfin artists, unable to find their way back home. In all art, there’s this tension between the gallerists, the artists and the patrons as they struggle to find a safe place together without one wanting to be rid of the others.

INTO THE WOODS features works by nine contemporary artists: Marco Del Re, Luc Doerflinger, Joanne Easton, Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, Velia de Iuliis, Laine Justice, Brett McCormack, Kal Spelletich and Justin Teisl – some of whom should have been excluded, which underlined the uneven nature of the show. The best works, straight from the pages of the Brothers Grimm, draw inspiration from the same fairytales and folk legends that inspired the Sondheim musical by the same title, in which there is great tension around who is good and who is doing the right thing. That same tension fills the gallery, where, as the press release states: “The international artists in this group exhibition explore dreamlike and expressive themes creating haunting landscapes, strange environments, mysterious people and creatures that are at once magical, ominous and compelling.”

Actually, that great quote is really only about the show’s best work, created by Marco Del Re and Cecile Granier de Cassagnac. The other artists do this to a much lesser degree, ending up in witch’s sausage grinder instead of being haunting, mysterious, or magical in any way. In a different group show with a different concept, I know that these artists would all be highlights in their own right, but not here. This is most obvious for Joanne Easton’s and Brett McCormack’s great work, shoved into their respective back corners. Their work would fit nicely in a show about earth art or paper crafts, but here they are overshadowed in both concept and location by the two foreign illustrative magicians.

New York based artist Brett McCormack’s intricate black and white paper sculptures of, supposedly, the predatory systems of the forest are clearly out of place. Velia de Iuliis’ hyperrealistic paintings depict insects and snakes. While stumbling technically, especially when there is so much amazing scientific illustration crossing over into the arts, her pieces are nonetheless very intriguing.

It really is the French artist Cécile Granier de Cassagnac’s – whose work decorates a vast expanse of gallery wall as well as the cover of the show card – Forêt, in watercolor on 90 by 118-inch paper, that is the star of the show. According to the press release, de Cassagnac’s “haunting representations of animalistic forms in gouache and watercolor revisit childhood nightmares, suggesting a forest filled with characters from Brothers Grimm tales.” I couldn’t agree more, which means that I agree as much as I can possibly agree.

Many artists try to recreate these creatures from childhood nightmares – so many that a whole art genre could be created just to accommodate them – but de Cassagnac’s watercolors are remarkable in that they don’t lose their artistic compulsions. They are still great works of art, works that come from deep within the proverbial forest, revealing something about what great artists do when they try to explain something about themselves and how they see the world, how they see themselves. They are truly magical pieces.

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, 2015

The other standout is Marco Del Re, whose wonderful primitive mixed-media paintings recall much of the greatest work of the early 20th century – especially Matisse, and perhaps Klee. Del Re masterfully mixes both his techniques and his mythology, mashing together Greek and Biblical tales into his linocuts, each of which is later individually painted by hand. The resulting pieces are museum postcard-ready – both iconic and mysterious, nymphic and satyric. There is something nostalgic, in our modern digital age, about those types of images that require the viewer to look at them on a wall, in person. It’s refreshing to see Del Re create such images with an unabashed love for that very primitive interaction just between a viewer and some marks on the wall.

Laine Justice’s far-flung paper works were both obsessively compelling and disappointing at the same time, resulting in a big hot mess, which many young artists seem to aspire towards. His “magical composite creatures,” half cute illustration and half messy impressionism, are painted on paper scrolls to create a chaotic, feverish dream that ignores any and all of the woods. Justice’s work could be the focal point of a different group show, but here it’s a poorly considered inclusion.

Laine Justice, 2015

Laine Justice, 2015

Joanne Easton is in the wrong show too. Technically, her work does deal with forests – or twigs and branches, more accurately. She heads out on winter days, wraps dark branches in brightly colored tape, and photographs them. It’s Land Art 101, a decent introductory class project at a small liberal arts college upstate, a worthy participant in a local land art show, but it certainly doesn’t succeed at “exploring the boundaries between the quotidian and the mystical in reference to the longevity (or lack thereof) of art itself,” as the show’s announcement, clearly reaching to find a way to justify her inclusion, describes. Still, wrapping and photography is interesting. Just not here.

Justin Teisl’s epoxy and acrylic paintings felt borderline kitsch, something that could be mass produced as art, each a variation on the next but all ultimately made in China by a guy who just shuffles illustrations into his glue machine, and while the technique is interesting, the art isn’t. Also scattered throughout the space are the one-trick-pony tree machines of Kal Spelletich. His whirring structures are fun to look at and fun to think about in the moment, but then they vanish from one’s thoughts the minute they are out of sight.

Lastly, there’s Luc Doerflinger’s work. It’s clearly great work, and it fits perfectly into the theme of the show, and the whole front wall of the gallery is his, but I honestly didn’t like it. I didn’t like the framing, I didn’t like the mass-hanging, I didn’t like the light bouncing on the glass covering the images, and I didn’t like the paper work’s uneven quality. I didn’t even like the low humming dread of his pieces, especially with all the bad choices of paper, framing choice, and glass that were made. I’m not even sure that watercolor is Doerflinger’s best medium to begin with. I think some excellent dry brush technique on canvas would have been much more successful. I also think he should refrain from cutting his images while framing, and then piling them all together on the wall to make them seem more important. Mr. Doerflinger just needs to do the one image right, from start to finish, each choice without compromise, his amazingly low-energy brush strokes leading the way.

All in all, INTO THE WOODS is a great show. It really is. But it’s not perfect. It has some well-deserved highs, and some misplaced lows, but it brims with ambition, and Jules Maeght Gallery has reached far and wide to find the most interesting artists it could, and since I’m probably wrong about what exactly the highs are and what exactly the lows are (though I think people will unanimously agree that it’s uneven), I think it’s a must-see show for people to go and argue about, and in the end that’s one of the great things about great shows: they have the energy to rile people up, as this show certainly does.

Jules Maeght Gallery, 149 Gough Street @ Oak, San Francisco, julesmaeghtgallery.com

October 15, 2015 – January 30, 2016

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor Chuck Frank

I hate Eric White’s Art, by that I mean I love Eric White’s Art

Installation view of Eric White's "New Works" at the George Sorokko Gallery

Installation view of Eric White’s “New Works” at the Serge Sorokko Gallery

What living and dating in Hollywood has done to Eric White’s Art.

I think that there’s something about living in Los Angeles, as I once have, that breaks people. It hollows them out, and fills them with images that are not their own. I used to believe that everyone in LA was crazy, because everyone else was famous, and it was impossible to be sane when you walked out of your front door only to see your neighbors face giant and 30 feet up in the sky, overlooking your matchbox houses, where everyone was slowly dying instead, the palm trees, all planted for the 1932 Olympics, swaying overhead.

One-Seater Oil on canvas
 26" x 78"
, 2015

One-Seater, Oil on canvas
 26″ x 78″
, 2015

In his latest show, “New Works” Serge Sorokko Gallery, you can see Eric struggle with the crazy of his adopted hometown of LA – with painting made from before and after moving to Lalaland. Originally from Ann Arbor, a utopian sort of small college town, aside from the artist declared bad weather, through RISD, a series of romantic misadventures in San Francisco, because if not for anything, what else is San Francisco good for, current tech bubble aside, and finally down, as in south, to his current home in LA, where after selling one of his early pieces to LA royalty, he’s now become a court artist of sorts, lover as well.

Rom Com Oil on canvas, 
97" x 42"
2013.

Rom Com, Oil on canvas, 
97″ x 42″
2013.

Now what, you might ask, does this have to do with the art on the wall? Well I’m trying to posit two things to explain why his art, so bad as it is, is so good, so please bear with me. First, that LA is Crazy, and two, that Eric White has become a court artist who both documents and questions the royalty that has overwhelmed all of his senses, not unlike the great Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.

And I believe that his ‘New Works’ show stands as a testament to all that.

“New Works’ is nothing if not Hollywood nostalgia, though he admits that it is covered in his own paranoia about what it means, and what it is trying to say, and so his work, all meticulously, and beautiful painted, gently touches upon the dreams that movie land promises, only to know that just underneath those promises is something much more sinister, something much more dangerous – a belief that the world is something that it is not. A belief in truth and justice, and what might be called the American Way, none of which is actually real.

No Neutral Thoughts Oil on canvas
 24 x 24" 2008

No Neutral Thoughts, Oil on canvas
 24 x 24″ 2008

And so Mr. White paints half naked women, lounging in their excruciating sexuality, their faces blue with some poisoning, as the giant head of Marlon Brando, or the like, hovers behind them.

Or Mr. White shows us the beautiful American housewife, as captured by the director of photography, his lens cropped and focused on her nipples pushing through her white blouse.

There’s something desperate in the eyes of the woman behind the wheel of her giant car, the words ‘No Other Dream’ floating by in another picture, but on the same road as hers. Because, as someone who has lived in Los Angeles, whether there as an actor, or a writer, or a chef, or even as a celebrity character dancing for tips on Hollywood Blvd, there is no other dream, for years and years.

Down In Front: Dead Reckoning Oil on canvas 
36 x 60", 2014.

Down In Front: Dead Reckoning, Oil on canvas 
36 x 60″, 2014.

Even Donald Sutherland knows that the city is full of Body Snatchers, their invasion successful, though surprising to him, not communist in any way, but driven entirely by their lust of money and sex as an offering to their power. ‘Hey kid, it’s not a big deal, this is how the city works, sex is just like a handshake here, now bend over and let me introduce myself.’

Untitled Oil on canvas 
24 x 24", 2006.

Untitled, Oil on canvas 
24 x 24″, 2006.

Nowhere in Mr. White’s ‘New Works’ are things as they appear.

As he write:

“Because I promised”

“After what you did last night the sooner …”

“Infant Therapy.”

In the final assessment, Hollywood idolatry is no different from the multi-faced, multi-eyed Ganesh, long-trunked, long-dicked, with a perfectly toned yoga body, baby Chairman in one hand, and plastic blue elephant toy in another. Whether it’s the latest tie-in toys, or the pro-USA propaganda of the recently released ‘The Martian’, Hollywood both master and slave to both.

In that way, Eric White’s work is brilliant, gorgeous, and technically stunning, as it both revels and reveals in the City of Lights that currently has its sweet pale fingers wrapped around his arm, from one red carpet to another, as one of the lucky, one of the favored, as he says himself, there is ‘No Other Dream’.

Ganesha

Our Beloved Ganesha by Eric White

And having rejected this idea myself, through struggling daily to keep it at bay, in a world saturated with winners taking all, I hate what his work has to say, and I hate that he’s spending his time looking into this. In a perfect world, Eric White would be painting his amazing paintings about something else, and not about Los Angeles, not about movies, and not about their special kind of craziness. Though I can’t say that I know what that other thing would be. But I do know that Mr. White has to resist the siren call of temptation, and try to find it, the world deserves a better White.

Eric White “New Works” on view September 18 – October 18, 2015 at the Serge Sorokko Gallery.

Serge Sorokko Gallery 55 Geary St., San Fransisco.  415.421.7770

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank

Mark Benson Answers One Of Life’s Eternal Questions in Solo Show “How was your weekend?”

Mark Benson. 2015. Fan, beach ball.

“I worked the whole weekend. Again.” Mark Benson. 2015. Fan, beach ball.

Taking cues from the 9-5 (or is it 8-6 or longer?) sleep/shower/shave/work/weekend/repeat life, Mark Benson’s solo show, “How was your weekend?” at San Francisco’s Ever Gold Gallery starts with the most common of conversations held in jobs the world over, each and every Monday morning, shining a light on the mundane and repetitive in contemporary work culture.

“So? How was your weekend?”

Benson takes almost-found objects and obsessively recreates them through sculptures and paintings, elevating the sacred weekend activities, placing them on the pedestal of art within the holy walls of the gallery – a show of respect and honor for those times of magic and wonder that people share each and every Monday morning together.

“My weekend? My weekend was awesome. How was your weekend?”

Stuck in time and removed of the backyard, or the beaches, according to the gallery release, “a pall hangs over these moments alluding to them as dead and gone forever, or for at least another business week.” 

“I Went Camping For the First Time and Last Time”, Mark Benson. 2015. Cast plaster soap.

“I Went Camping For the First Time and Last Time”, Mark Benson. 2015. Cast plaster soap.

“I had the flu.” Mark Benson. 2015. Wet Newspaper.

“Not Good.” Mark Benson. 2015. Cast Plaster, tufstone, pigment, Imodium AD.

“We Did Absolutely Nothing.” Mark Benson. 2015. Printed jeans lounge pants, Vornado fans.

“We Did Absolutely Nothing.” Mark Benson. 2015. Printed jeans lounge pants, Vornado fans.

Much like a poor man’s Damien Hirst, Mark Benson’s work uses transformed, reinterpreted everyday objects to bring to life a variety of contemporary social issues and emotions, from anxiety around productivity to the fear of failure.

“My weekend? We went to the beach. It was awesome”

The question is, does Mr. Benson succeed? In a poor man’s way, yes.  Not only does a pall hang over the work, its weekend participants dead and gone, but a mundane repetitiveness hums through the space, from the flapping sweatpant jeans to the perpetually circling beach ball. The show becomes a museum to weekends past, from an ancient time when weekends were a thing.  See the beach ball – it goes round and round. Watch the fat pants – they go flap, flap, flap. Everything almost celebrates its own boringness. Even Mr. Benson, who was present, seemed bored by the work, of the gallery, of the visitors, and most of all of that damned question, asked every damn Monday:

“How was your weekend?”

How was his weekend? His weekend was terrible – he fought with his girl, her cat scratched his face, no one bought his art, his friend forgot to include him when they decided to go to the Beauty Bar, on and on and on. How was his weekend? His weekend was shit.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 1.” Mark Benson. 2015. Oil on canvas. 13×16 in.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 1.” Mark Benson. 2015. Oil on canvas. 13×16 in.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 2” Mark Benson, 2015. Oil on canvas.

“It Was Great. I Got in Some Good Studio Time 2” Mark Benson, 2015. Oil on canvas.

But is any of that in the art? Is Mark Benson in the art? Is there heart in the art? No. It’s all too cynical. There is too much about other people and their stuff, and their stories – those dead vanished people and their awesome weekends.

Those magical moments lost.

Does that mean it’s bad art? No.

Art too can be lonely, mundane, boring, cynical and repetitive. Even good art can be. I guess we are just going to have to keep an eye on this Mark Benson to see how good his gets.

P.S. Give the guy some money to go a little bit bigger. Benson’s work might even find some swagger as a result.

Mark Benson received his MFA from California College of the Arts in 2011. He currently lives in Oakland, CA.

Ever Gold Gallery, 441 O’Farrell St., San Francisco. 415-796-3676. evergoldgallery.com

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank

Jordan Doner Blows Up Luxury at Serge Sorokko Gallery

Jordan Doner photograph

Jordan Doner Revolution in Luxury

Jordan Doner’s debut solo show at Serge Sorokko Gallery called A Revolution in Luxury, is part of the artist’s ongoing series about fashion, consumption, and vague concepts of utopia. New York photographer Jordan Doner takes (supposedly) limited edition Louis Vuitton luxury handbags by Takashi Murakami and Richard Prince, fills them with explosives, and then documents the moment when the explosion occurs. The site-specific installation features large-scale color photographs, photo-etched metal plates, sculptures, walls of hung parachute material and video works.

According to Doner, the idea for the series came from researching mid-century utopianism. His research pointed him to Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. Doner was captivated and inspired by the final scene of the film, where in a tremendous explosion, a home with designer goods and space-age food, are all blown apart in beautiful slow motion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ResQFDDsDAI

By borrowing from the film’s critique of a consumerist utopia and the ‘blow-things-up’ technique, Doner took limited artist-edition Louis Vuitton handbags and detonating them in Upstate, New York. The photos and the harvested debris from these explosions were first exhibited the end of 2009.

Jordan Doner

Jordan Doner at Serge Soroko Gallery

This new series on display at Serge Sorokko Gallery, expands on those original explosions by packing the bags are with luxury ‘shrapnel’, as Doner calls it all – luxury watches, sparking jewelry, lipstick, stiletto heels, rhinestone encrusted cuffs, and silicone breast implants.

First, here are my doubts. At the prices that the bags go for, around $2500 – what if the bags are fakes? What if Doner’s critique is in fact a postured critique using fake bags? NYC, the artist’s hometown is known as a source for fake luxury bags in Chinatown. In which case, Doner’s desire to blow up the utopian consumerist ideals by blowing up symbolic representations of that ideal, in fact achieves only the opposite by blowing up fake luxury handbags. Because of the status of the bags within the context of this show is so paramount, I was hoping to see the actual tags and receipts somehow presented to verify the theoretical position of the explosion.

Secondly, there’s the question of the source material reference, and the artist’s dialogue with the work of Antonioni. Doner’s work should be seen as a cover version of the Antonioni, instead of an iteration of the idea, which would make the discussion much more interesting. If Doner’s work celebrates the blowing up, by replicating the explosion, with luxury goods or with other status signs, the homage becomes an action in support. The blow up then serves as an anti-consumerist utopian exercise.

Also in this series, Doner explores several contemporary artists in his Antonionian utopian critique of luxury arts by exploding scale replicas of Donald Judd’s volumetric “boxes” and an Equilibrium Tank sculpture by Jeff Koons – (that must be fakes). The gallery proclaims that the “debris from the destruction will be displayed alongside the resulting artworks in a near-forensic manner.” While I certainly take issue with the idea that the artworks are displayed in a near-forensic manner, once I understand the idea of the fake art work being part of the anti-consumerist exercise, by including a critique of contemporary art consumption, with the choice of the artists that he selects, the work really seems to start to take shape.

Doner Parachute copy

Lastly, the space is swaddled in backlit parachutes that are reflected and refracted with mirrors and photographed. With this, the artist crafts wall sculptures, mixing actual parachutes with his photographs of ones to create his own personal “utopias” in an attempt to fade the distinctions between the projected materialistic fantasies of a luxury class and everyday reality. In this way, according to Doner, the entombing of the gallery in white military parachutes blurs the representation and physicality of the artist’s utopian critique evident in the photos and videos.

Jordan Doner parachutes

Jordan Doner parachutes

With this I disagree. The images of the parachutes are beautiful, though they don’t really work in the ‘blow-up’ critique, nor do they suggest a new utopian path – and if they are meant to, that path is completely obscured. But the photographs are stunning regardless of the ‘new path’ suggestion.

The photographs and the videos are great. They are mostly pictures of things blowing up and that’s almost always pretty cool, and the parachute pictures are pretty.

And yes, as an Antonioni exercise, storied within a critique of class, consumption, luxury and fashion, it’s a great success. Though having been photographed by a fashion photographer, and on display along one of the toniest shopping streets in San Francisco, across from the Paul Smith, Alexander McQueen and Agent Provocateur store, where bras sell for $800, it’s also deeply and likely unintentionally ironic as well.

Jordan Doner window

Jordan Doner window

One must only wonder how Doner decided to price his artwork. Did he price them as surrogate luxury goods, critiquing the consumption of luxury goods?

Jordan Doner

Jordan Doner

With that last question everything becomes so meta that viewers heads are ready to explode, with the anti-utopian critique coming full circle back to the viewer.

The show marks Doner’s first exhibition in San Francisco.

Serge Sorokko Gallery 55 Geary Street San Francisco CA 94108 (415) 421.7770 http://www.sorokko.com

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank

#ArtEverywhereUS, Fails to Break Through the Noise

ArtEverywhere POVart SF

“ArtEverywhereUS” Bay Area Photo by Chuck Frank

Billed as the summer of great American art, and promoted as “the largest outdoor art show ever conceived.” The Art Everywhere US campaign was comprised of 58 artworks, reproduced to a total of 50,000 times, and seen from coast-to-coast throughout August 2014. However ambitious the project was, it failed to break through the visual noise of the city (where we at POVarts saw it). Instead, it either makes the case against painting and photographic art in the public realm, or makes the case for the deep abiding need to support galleries and museums as the primary place to see art.

ArtEverywhere POV3

“ArtEverywhereUS” Bay Area Photo by Chuck Frank

Much like orchestral music choking in the face of rock ‘n’ roll, these fine paintings and photographs whisper valiantly, but without success in the face of their brash commercial graphic relatives. The worst part of the campaign is that it is a foil to great advertising, as almost everything about the formal layout of the campaign fails. Let’s start with the questionable relationship between the original scale of the artworks, and their enlarged reproductions for the billboard format. And then there’s a tangle of words aligned at the bottom corner accompanied by a colored dot with white numbers. The dot doesn’t say anything more that that. It doesn’t tell you that this is 24 out of 58 works. It’s just a numbered dot. The words spell out the artist’s name, the name of the artwork, and the relevant museum collection. At the top of the frame is the hashtag #ArtEverywhereUS. Whereas #ArtEverwhereUs might have been slightly more intriguing, suggesting that in fact we are all the Art, and we are Everywhere. Next, there’s the white frame around the reproduced artwork. Perhaps it is meant to suggest the museum galleries’ white walls, but the effect is a strange off-centeredness of the image in an ad space. The visual noise of the city creeps in, and its cacophony ultimately swallows the reproduced artworks. The city suffers no weakness, and here art feels listless, gaunt and anemic.

ArtEveryWhere POV

“ArtEverywhereUS” NYC Photo by Kit Franco

Walter Benjamin anticipated art’s loss of aura through mechanical reproduction, and here we see his notions materialize. Instead of showcasing art for the masses to see, these works are literally flattened out, losing their specific presence in time and space. While these great artworks may be liberated from a kind of ritual viewing that is part of their being seeing in a museum setting, they enter into a new kind of ritual space, one of desire and consumption. There is an irony that these literally priceless (or very pricey) art objects fill the frame of signage space usually reserved for advertising things to people, to consume, but cannot afford. (Or perhaps in this case, cannot afford to see in person.)

ArtEverywhere POV1

“ArtEverywhereUS” NYC the irony of a homeless woman sitting in a bus shelter with Andy Warhol’s soup can is not lost on us.

We have to wonder about why this public space wasn’t opened up for contemporary and/or emerging artists who don’t have their work hanging in the galleries in haloed museums? For some great examples of billboard space used for contemporary and context specific art see the work done by the Billboard Art Project.

Next to the vibrancy of the street graffiti, #ArtEverywhereUS might even make the case for the aerosol kings who roam the streets after dark showing us what art everywhere might actually look like. In the end, here’s our suggestion – put on great museum shows, and advertise them with the verve and gusto that is the billboard’s common language. Let people know that they’ll be awed and surprised in their local museums, for a short time only, and on some days it’s buy one ticket, get one free.

Written by Chuck Frank (POVarts West Coast Editor) and Kit Franco (East Coast Editor)

What is #Gorgeous at the Asian Art Museum? You Tell Me.

Gorgeous1

Photo Credit: Chuck Frank

Having a vague concept of what gorgeous is, the Asian Art Museum partnered with the SFMOMA to present 72 artworks drawn in what appears to be a random sampling from both the collections of the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. With woks spanning over 2,200 years and dozens of cultures, the Asian Art Museum made “an attempt to shift the focus from historical and cultural contexts, emphasizing instead the unique ways each work announces itself or solicits a viewer’s attention.” Just because Jeff Koon’s “Bubbles” (sculpture of Michael Jackson with his pet monkey) is placed next to a Buddha, does not make ‘context’ relevant and impact our understanding and appreciation of the work. Context requires more than just proximity.

Gorgeous-1-1

Jeff Koons, “Bubbles”. Photo Credit: Art-Nerd.com

“Bubbles” is a statement to its own excess, and Koons’ particular brilliance, no matter where you set it down. “Bubbles” is the #gorgeous, but the curators, hoping that this new context makes us think of “Bubbles” in a different light, don’t succeed. Instead everything else looks old, colorless and drab. It reminds me of when lesser artists use a great movie as a source to make their art. The greatness is in the original movie, the derivative works just leech some of its power. You’re left thinking that you should just really re-watch that great movie – and ignore the art. Here, all you can think is that “Bubbles” and the many other great contemporary pieces would look so much better with some space to breath, without these beautiful artifacts that become like tchotchkes in a fussy antique store, cluttering the space.

The curators hoped that ‘left to (our) own devices, (we) might gravitate toward the strange or the familiar’ in what seems like a win – win situation. And when it comes to being ‘Gorgeous’ ‘some artworks may be beautiful to (us); others, bizarre and challenging’. Clearly they had no idea what gorgeous means. Here’s a hint – gorgeous is splendid or sumptuous in appearance, coloring, etc. Gorgeous is something that is magnificent. It is not strange, bizzare or challenging. “Whatever (gorgeous is), your reactions to the show will be unique. And that’s what interests us. And as Allison Harding, co-curator of “Gorgeous”, states, “This isn’t about what the museum thinks. This is about what you think.” Does that mean that “Gorgeous” is #muddy, #spiritless and #boring?

Because, that’s what I thought.

628x471

Photo Credit: News Time (ww1.hdnux.com)

Mixing contemporary paintings, sculptures, photographs with art historical objects of high design or decoration (sacred or profane) is not curating. Making a meaningful point through art is. I found something a little condescending in the tone of the show, for instance the viewer was guided: “(a)cross from a Picasso, you might spot a decorated Qur’an from 16th-century Persia or an arresting photograph by Sally Mann.” Which in fact you do, because that’s what’s on display. #statingtheobvious. Hey, and you know what if you went to the #Gorgeous show at the Asian Art Museum, you might also have to walk up some stairs to get into the building, and if you are thirsty you might find yourself a drinking fountain to get a sip of water, and if you are really lucky you might find some escalators to take you up to the third floor where the truly amazing Buddhas are located. And there if you are really lucky, you’ll find yourself in the presence of truly great art, in a truly great institution. But whatever you find, you’ll not find any #gorgeous in this show, thanks to the exhibition’s misguided curatorial slackness.

It’s a pity that in the case of “Gorgeous” hosted by the Asian Art Museum there was not a greater whole created from the sum of the parts. Instead the parts competed in a mangled attempt to create an artistic dialogue around the idea of #gorgeous.

Gorgeous-2

Photo Credit: Chuck Frank

Asian Art Museum’s video promotion for “Gorgeous” 

Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is located at:

200 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

“Gorgeous” exhibition ran 6/20 – 9/14, 2014

Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank

Wolfbat Wows in San Fransisco’s FIFTY24SF

WolfBat Show

Wolfbat at Upper Playground Gallery. Photo: Chuck Frank

Wolfbat is Dennis McNett, born in 1972 and living in New York since 2001. He carves mad, angry, surly block prints, and has for over 18 years. He is currently showing a selection of his works at FIFTY24SF, Upper Playground’s gallery.

In McNett’s show at FIFTY24SF, one wall is dedicated to a couple of skateboard series that he may have done for AntiHero, where he has done other boards. There are angry ants, growling wolves, vexed bats and hostile skulls among many other series of four skate deck designs, all printed in limited edition prints of 48. The opposing wall is covered in random posters, reminding viewers of a teenage boy’s room, oozing with youthful anger and testosterone. Along the back of the gallery there’s a triptych of paper maché masks that bring McNett’s creatures to life, and across the back wall is a giant printed wall hanging – the masterpiece of the show. Created by combining printed panels of Wolfbat creatures, the giant flag drapes the rear wall in exquisite bold black and white printed lines that when unraveled reveal a world of snarling animals at battle. The center panel has a snake and a jungle cat in a deadly embrace.

While wood block printing has been around for a very long time, and saw a resurgence in popular American art in the sixties, as part of the political/protest art movement, Wolfbat really shows how this ancient technique can still be relevant in the age of digital giclées. It’s awesome that groups like Upper Playground and AntiHero have jumped on the Wolfbat bandwagon to help promote this physically direct and captivating technique. The only downside is that emotionally, with all the anger that these works evoke, the Wolfbat show feels a bit like it stays one note, but with a space this small, it may work to the show’s advantage. The slapdash hanging of the collection of posters is somewhat of a disservice, as most of the attention gets focused on the back wall drapery, the masks, and the skateboard decks. Better editing and curating of the mixed poster wall installation might have given it more presences in the show.

Since his work has already been featured in The New York Times, as well as Juxtapoz, Thrasher and Complex Magazines. It’s clear that McNett has already earned his chops – this isn’t a make or break it show, it’s just a great opportunity for the West Coasters to see what an awesome New York-based artist is doing. And with that in mind, it’s a must see show. The show runs through September 28th.

FIFTY24SF GALLERY: 218 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA

Written by West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank