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

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.


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

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


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.


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.


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.


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

Swoon Soars at Brooklyn Museum

Swoon at the Brooklyn Museum. Exhibition view. Photo by Kit Franco.

Swoon at the Brooklyn Museum. Exhibition view. Photo by Kit Franco.

Swoon, who is now semi-revealing herself as Caledonia Curry, is a street artist turned gallery artist turned activist. Each role weaves in and out of what ends up being a stunning and elaborate installation “Swoon: Submerged Motherlands” in the rotunda gallery of the Brooklyn Art Museum.

In it she uses her signature large-scale block printing technique to achieve a heavy lined, graphic structure to her imagery. Surprising though, is how well the other elements of her artist vocabulary work together in this show. While there is a touch of Waterworld sci-fi in the weathered and sun-bleached patina of the overall aesthetic of the show – it seems to be there for good reason. Swoon is interested in addressing the aftermath and environment circumstance of Hurricane Sandy that devastated parts of New York, and in particular her own neighborhood of Red Hook in Brooklyn. She has built sea-worthy boats of debris and remnants of land-based civilization. Car parts, packing crates, miscellaneous construction materials combine to create sophisticated forts that float. In fact, the maiden voyage for these unlikely vessels was one that went from Troy, NY down the Hudson River to Long Island Queens, NY in 2008. They were then disassembled, shipped and reassembled in Slovenia and used to crash the Venice Biennial as an unlikely visitor/participant in 2009. Besides the vision, persistence, and absolute dedication to her work, Swoon also needs to be credited for being able to work with a community of artists and assistants who she leads to create and show such amazing and visionary work. It takes tremendous talent, humility and gusto to get all of this done.

SWOON cutoutsSWOON vessel

In “Sumberged Motherland” the viewer walks into the top floor rotunda at the museum and is at first a little disoriented. Instead of a traditional clockwise or counter clockwise meandering to see an art exhibit, there is an immediate pull towards the center of the gallery. And there at the core of the installation is a huge fabric covered tree sculpture that reaches up 72 feet to the top skylight of the rotunda. The base of the tree stretches out in tendrils of fabric root systems, and is surrounded by various sculptures: the floating vessels/boats, a little house/hive that fits four people comfortably and invites viewers to sit, and a slew of blockprinted, wood-backed figures. Images of women abound. The artist references her mother, and the various life cycles that her mother has transitioned through. At the top of the house/hive structure is an image of a breast-feeding mother – grand and nurturing. The walls of the rotunda are streaked with yellow paint along the outer circle, and inside are streaked with a watery bluish green. There is an oceanic feeling that results and a field of blue fills one’s peripheral vision to support the boat voyage narrative. The range of materials and scale shifts work well in this installation. Intricate paper cutouts (mostly laser cut), add decorative filigree and juxtapose well against the weathered and distressed wood, metal, and other salvaged materials. Particularly stunning is how these cutouts, acting like stained glass elements against the skylight, fill the top of the rotunda. They cast dramatic shadows around the top of the architectural dome of the gallery. The dominant toned paper block-prints fit well with the overall earthy materiality of the show and support a sense of humility in the presents of nature. “Submerged Motherland” is a testament to Swoon’s development from making art for the streets, to making art for galleries, and then back again with literally more momentum and in more dimensions.

SWOON hive1

written by POVarts East Coast Editor: Kit Franco

The exhibition dates: April 11 – August 24, 2014 at the Brooklyn Museum, NY


“As a Body” at Cooper Cole Gallery


"As a Body" installation view.

“As a Body” installation view, featuring: Mira Dancy “Psychic Pillow Charm”, 2014, Acrylic on bleached cotton with polyester, grommet, chain, 67 x 69 x 6″. Photo by Kit Franco

The August summer show at Cooper Cole Gallery, stripes down to the core of humanness: the body. In it, seven artists grapple with the notion of what makes us up, in term of our figure, form, material, and content. It’s an interesting concept, and fits in with this gallery’s cutting edge approach to showing contemporary art. “As a Body” is curated by Kari Cwynar and features work by Mira Dancy, Olivia Dunbar, Allison Katz, Lauren Luloff, Jenine Marsh, Jody Rogac and Camilla Wills.

The overall installation of the show ranges from text-based work in a collaged scroll, to conceptual mixed media photography and video art, to conventional portrait painting and photography with a twist. There is also a sculptural installation that sweeps across the entirety of the gallery space by visually punctuation the walls with swipes, and twists of air-dried clay that has then been glazed to produce an effect that is intriguing while also, a little disconcerting. A friend who came along to see the show thought it looked a little like poo streaks around the walls, I didn’t disagree. The two standout pieces that dominated the show were Mira Dancy’s “Psychic Pillow Charm” and Lauren Luloff’s “Purple Alex”. I would have almost been satisfied just seeing those to works set at angles against opposite corners as they were shown, in a dialogue between nude female forms and naked male both painted in gestural stains on fabric or canvas. The feminine triangle of Dancy’s “Psychic Pillow Charm” references a small amulet/pendant, but holds its own through scale and thickness with a surprising and refreshing authority. Her brushwork is ballsy and present. In the opposite corner of the room, Luloff’s larger-than-life nude male figure is soften, made more feminine and rendered translucent by the strong life coming through the front window of the gallery. The work’s patchwork of stitched fabric supports the loosely rendered modern guy, with his scruffy facial hair, and scrawny limbs he feels like he could be any dude, unveiled in this Matissian way. Besides being stunning works, these two pieces also remind us that the viewer is no longer defined exclusively through the male gaze. Thank God.

As a Body 1

Lauren Luloff, “Purple Alex”, 2014, Bleached bedsheets & fabric, 118 x 78″ Photo by Kit Franco

“As a Body” through September 6th at Cooper Cole Gallery, 1161 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Canada.

written by POVarts East Coast Editor: Kit Franco