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2013: The Year in Review

Garry Winogrand, New York World's Fair, 1964 
 
Here are some of Squarecylinder’s favorite shows from the past year.  This list isn’t intended to be comprehensive or inclusive.  Nor is it ordered to convey relative value or rank. It represents only exhibitions that we saw, liked and feel deserve one last look before we clear the deck to bring on fresh arrivals.
 – David M. Roth 
 
Garry Winogrand @ SFMOMA. "Winogrand’s photographs are made with an absolute mastery of controlled spontaneity," wrote Roger Vail.  "They are the most immediate abrupt instantaneous pictures one can think of. Incisive, invasive, sometimes rude, his camera cuts into the inhabited spaces of his subjects to reveal facial expressions and visual relationships that can only be seen the way they were recorded. Moreover, they are made with a locked in technical command. They often give us almost more than we can handle, as if he were a kind of human panopticon, looking in all directions at the same time.”  The 275 prints on exhibit are almost without exception photographic art of the highest caliber. The show is a revelation as well because more than 100 of them have never been shown before. The show rightly focuses on the images Winogrand made in New York City, perhaps his best; but it also showcases lesser known, but equally significant pictures he in Texas, Southern California and Washington D.C., where he recorded anti-war protests during the early 1970’s, before the U.S. exited Vietnam. 
Atsuko Tanaka

Gutai @ SFAI’s Walter & McBean Galleries. In 1954 a salad oil magnate and self-educated painter/theorist named Jiro Yoshihara issued a challenge to Japanese artists. “Do what has never been done before!”   Sixteen Osaka-area artists, hand-picked by Yoshihara, united under the banner of the Gutai Art Association just that.  Their activities turned out to be revolutionary.  Kazuo Shiraga, in a frontal attack on painting, used his feet to slather pigment across paper and canvas.  Shozo Shimamoto made pictures by hurling paint-filled bottles at canvases. Atsuko Tanaka famously donned the Electric Dress, a garment made of colored light bulbs. Others wrapped landscapes in fabric and collaborated on dadaist-influenced interactive performances. This exhibition, curated by John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock, couldn’t have matched a concurrent show at the Guggenheim for size and breadth.  No matter.  Strong works from the major figures, supported by period documents and solid research, gave viewers a real taste of what Gutai was all about – and, a clear intimation of its influence on contemporary practices. 

 
Christian Marclay The Clock @ SFMOMA. He crunched film history and boiled it down to a seamless, hurtling, electrifying, 24-hour extravaganza that demonstrated –minute by clock-ticking minute – the role of time in cinema.  A triumph of editing, imagination and sheer stamina.  
 
Kara Walker

Kara Walker: Emancipating the Past @ Crocker Art Museum. Since she arrived on the scene in the mid-'90s, Walker has repeatedly demonstrated the processes by which we internalize racial stereotypes and the corrosive effect they have.  Using fictional (yet true-to-life) visions of the antebellum South executed on paper at a large scale and a single devastating video, Walker, in this stunning exhibition, does more of the same.  Through January 5. 

Val Britton

Val Britton Intimate Immensity @ SJICA.  Imagine unmooring the globe’s landmasses and suspending themin midair from strings like a cosmic puppeteer.  That, essentially, is what Val Britton did in The Continental Interior, a room-sized installation in which the collagist pushed her estimable 2-D visions of terrestrial reality into three-dimensional space.  For Britton, whose largest collages run to 10 feet square and can sometimes strain the bounds of what can be displayed on a wall, this felt like both a breakout move and a logical extension of what she’s been doing since the start of her career, which, of late, has expanded.  She was commissioned to make public works at the SF International Airport and at Facebook’s headquarters and was awarded a residency at Beamis Center for Contemporary Arts.  There, she’ll create what will be her largest installation to date, scheduled for exhibition in June at Gallery Wendy Norris where it will occupy the entire space.

David Maisel Mining @ Haines. Anthropologists say that if you want to learn about a civilization, look at what it leaves behind.  Photographer David Maisel does exactly that. But unlike anthropologists who inspect 
David Maisel

physical evidence on the ground, Maisel makes photographs of the Earth from airplanes, and the geochemical haloes he commits to film – residue of the industrial processes that fuel the human market economy – yield a strange, beguiling kind of forensic evidence.  That evidence, assembled in this show and in a stunning career-spanning book, Black Maps: American Landscape and the Apocalyptic Sublime, forms a kind of planetary autopsy, a portrait of mankind’s ravenous appetites and their consequences.  Unlike his closest counterpart, Edward Burtynsky, Maisel doesn’t use his art to tar and feather the perpetrators; as he pointed out in interview at the gallery, if you drive a car, fly in an airplane, or live anyplace that’s not entirely off-the-grid, you, too, are complicit in the destruction his photos criticize.  

Jane Rosen
Jane Rosen @ Seager Gray.  Rosen makes birds out of blown and cast glass, sculpting them as the Egyptians did, as inert icons, leaving just enough information in her attenuated forms so that we can identify them as birds of prey. Most notable are their poses, the poses of nobility that raptors typically strike perched.  Frozen and statuary, but also heraldic in the manner of ancient gargoyles, they signal something far greater than just bird-ness.    That something is time – geologic time, evoked by the alchemical process of glass making itself. It reveals Rosen to be an acute observer of nature, equal parts Morris Graves and Robinson Jeffers.
 
Gordon Onslow-Ford Centennial Celebration @ Weinstein. “Every phase of the artist’s career,” wrote Mark Van Proyen,” is represented in this superbly chosen retrospective, which is the most recent of four, but the first that encapsulates the artist’s entire career.”  It runs from his earliest work, made under the influence of Andre Breton and the French Surrealists to the Dynaton (1948-51) period, where he broke from the Marxist/Freudian
 
Gordon Onslow-Ford
 
synthesis advocated by Breton and embraced Asian influences; and finally, to examples from his last decade where every shape, says the author, represented “an optimal decision suffused in the lessons gained from long experience and deep reflection.” Animated by archetypal forms, Onslow-Ford’s work bridged the gap “between ordinary consciousness and lucid daydreaming,” affirming the existence of “a universal, post-historical consciousness.”
 
Richard Diebenkorn
Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years 1953-66 @ de Young Museum of Art.  This show “has two undeniable hallmarks,” wrote Mark Van Proyen. “Its breathtaking display of sheer painterly virtuosity and the way it shows the artist taking on all of the already traditional modernist subjects of abstraction, still life, figure and landscape, in every case enlivening them with a fresh and distinctly individual sensibility.”  Meaning, “superlative draughtsmanship and vivacious color manipulation, as well as in almost all cases, a talent for finding the perfect balance points between pictorial and graphic organizations of form, creating picture spaces that perfectly finesse the tension between the dynamic and the static.  In short, this exhibition represents a rich and powerful affirmation of painting for the sake of painting, undertaken at the moment just prior to the pandemic of Duchampitus that would keynote the ensuing five decades of art production.” 
 
David Hockney A Bigger Exhibition @ de Young.  The largest show devoted to a single artist in the museum’s 119-year history, it shows Hockney at the peak of his powers, expanding the modernist view of landscape with multi-part videos, paintings, and iPad drawings, the best of which border on visionary. All
 
David Hockney
 
testify to Hockney’s abiding interest in perception and his ceaseless quest to expand it.  The inventiveness he brings to the task constitutes a high-water mark in the history of such efforts — proof that the search for new ways of seeing remains a centerpiece of artistic striving, if not human nature itself. Through Jan. 20, 2014. Through Jan. 20, 2014. 
 
Alan Rath Irrational Exuberance @ Hosfelt.  The electronic “aviary” that Alan Rath created for Irrational
Alan Rath
Exuberance certainly fulfills the promise of its title, which was not, contrary to what you might think, a referenceto Alan Greenspan’s warning about inflated asset values; it’s about the artist’s hope for how people might react to his feather-clad, kinetic sculptures. Their movements, which mimic tribal dances and animal-mating rituals, bypass reason almost entirely. Instantly disarming, they light up a part of the brain that craves unfiltered joy.  In their quiescent state they don’t seem capable of much; they look simply like what they are: feathers attached to slender, flexible tubes and speaker cones. But when activated by heat and motion they flutter, pulsate, spin, sway, shake, shimmy, thrust, quaver, vibrate and twitch at unpredictable intervals — carving lines in space that make them seem positively animate, like what Jean Tinguely might have created had he been a digital-era artist addicted to Wild Kingdom.   
 
Ed Moses Yesterday’s Tomorrow @ Brian Gross. At 85, Moses continues to be one of the most fascinating and enigmatic figures in contemporary art.  His paintings hide nothing, but his techniques often mask as much as they reveal.  That is because for most of his 60-year career, the artist has relied almost exclusively on process and accidents: experiments with materials and self-invented tools that remain closely guarded secrets. This show of ten mostly large-scale works finds Moses
 
Ed Moses
 
reinvigorating past motifs with fresh methods.  The latest is a craquelure achieved by mixing acrylic paint with some unnamed substance that, when manipulated, “carves” spidery skeins into the grounds of his monochromatic canvases.  At a distance (or in reproduction) the surfaces look like something Alberto Burri might have created in the early ‘50s when he lived in LA and was sunbaking mud on canvas. Whatever the formula, the process is neither random nor fully controlled, but more like a carefully calibrated randomness – if such a thing can be said to exist. 
 
Barry McGee
Mission School: Energy that is All Around @ SFAI’s Walter and McBean Galleries.  Given their diverse sensibilities, you can debate whether or not Chris Johanson, Margaret Kilgallen, Alicia McCarthy, Barry McGee and Ruby Neri, constitute a “school.”  The argument in favor, made by Renny Pritikin, points to their shared traits: “They chose to paint or draw on cheap, faded, stained and torn commercial paper, or pieces of quarter-inch plywood or doorskin found discarded in the street or at construction sites, or on walls, fences and freight trains.  Their drawing styles were improvised, fugitive, rejecting of the abilities of a traditional skilled hand, and came soaked in arcane social histories, whether of surfing, skating, hoboing, or folk music, typography and design.”  This show, like the Gutai exhibit, made no claim for being comprehensive.  It didn’t have to.  Every piece radiated virtuosity and deep feeling, a testament to the artists and to the incisive choices made by curator Natasha Boas. 
 
Edward Burtynsky Water @ Rena Bransten. When environmental activist/photographer Edward Burtynsky pursues a subject, he doesn’t just nibble around the edges. He launches global investigations that produce
Edward Burtynsky

finely modulated moral arguments designed to change how we think.  Such was the case with Water, a three-continent, four-year odyssey that took him to nine countries — yielding what may be his most poetic body of work to date, work the artist likens to that of his favorite painters: Casper David Friedrich, Jean Dubuffet, David Shapiro and Richard Diebenkorn.  Departing from his terrestrial viewpoint, he shot this series entirely from the air, using planes, helicopters and various mechanical devices to capture bird’s-eye views of farms, subdivisions, dams, deltas and polar icecaps.  The result is compelling and nuanced story about how we are depleting the one resource we absolutely cannot do without.   

Amy Feldman Raw Graces @ Gregory Lind.  Her highly elastic forms, which veer from wackily geometric to ecstatically biomorphic, give shape to the notion of things being altered
Amy Feldman

by unfamiliar forces.   Feldman’s main gambit is subverting the rectilinear conventions of painted, pictorial space.  She builds her forms with wavy lines that sit at odd angles to the edges of the paintings, which, in turn, set up an uneasy dialog between positive and negative space and between the shapes that appear at the outer edges.  Works that immediately caught my eye were In or Outer, Ohm Home and Squared Up.  The first features interlocking rectangles that recede into the picture plane; the second has a trio of stalagmites/stalactites interacting with a pair of warped parallelograms.  The third combines a frenzy of circular gestures in a juicy, pulsating mass. Descriptions of this sort don’t do justice to these pictures' dislocating physical impact.  They are to painting what Harold Lloyd is to physical comedy: exemplars of the well-executed pratfall, tempting fate, but landing on one's feet.

 
Alex Couwenberg @ Andrea Schwartz.  Couwenberg’s precisely crafted paintings — built of off-kilter geometric and biomorphic shapes, taped-off lines and blocks of strong color — radiate the kind of synthetic
 
Alex Couwenberg
 
sex appeal that has long been a hallmark of LA art.  The slickness seen in reproductions masks a richness of execution and a vision that makes the connecting threads of this notoriously fragmented culture seem palpably real. 
 
Hung Liu Summoning Ghosts @ Oakland Museum and Offerings @ Mills College Art Museum.  This two-venue career retrospective showed Liu to be one of the world’s great history painters — and, unbeknownst to
Hung Liu

many, a masterful installation artist, evidenced by several dramatic and moving pieces at Mills.  The focus, overall, was on her  iconic drip-stained paintings; they describe the toll exacted by some of the momentous events in recent Chinese history, all of which the artist witnessed.  But she also extended her gaze further back in time, to the prior century.  Working from vintage photographs, she rehabilitated China’s dispossessed (peasants, prostitutes, orphans, laborers, prisoners), transforming the Socialist Realism she learned as a “daughter of the revolution” into her own brand of social realism using an array of modernist techniques to give voice and visceral presence to mostly female subjects. Working from photos, her painting process is analogous to the photochemical act of “fixing” an image in the darkroom from which pictures seemingly emerge out of nowhere.  Liu performs a kind of psychic translation of that act, supplementing it with lived experience and an extraordinary level of empathy, a working method that enables her to, almost literally, summon ghosts.

Bruce Conner

Sight Vision: The Beat Era @ Paule Anglim. If this show, the sixth in a series, appears less than cohesive, that is because of the fierce individuality of the artists involved: Jay De Feo, Bruce Conner, Wallace Berman, Joan Brown, Jess, George Herms and Marjorie Cameron.  Rejecting the stifling formalism that held sway in New York, these Bay Area artists committed themselves to doing things their way, privileging nature over culture with an art that had no signature style other than what the individual artists forged for themselves.  Dada, Surrealism, Existentialism, Eastern religion, occult practices, hallucinogenic drugs, visionary art and jazz were their shared interests.  But the expression of those interests took myriad forms, shifting constantly with little concern about financial consequences because in the late 1950s and early 1960s there were none; the market for their work didn’t exist until dealers like Paule Anglim stepped in to create it. 

Michael Jang
Michael Jang The Jangs @ Stephen Wirtz. The Jangs is an intimate family profile made in 1973 while the artist was enrolled in an SF State workshop taught by Lisette Model, Diane Arbus’ teacher.  The 30 black-and-white prints on view detail Jang’s aunt, uncle and cousins in their suburban cocoon: watching TV, eating, goofing, exercising and lounging amongst telling period artifacts. At a time when America’s leading street photographers were depicting a culture at war with itself, Jang’s views of life in the upscale SF suburb of Pacifica cut against the grain.  They could be stills from a cheery sit-com about Chinese-Americans.  Portraits of assimilation and success, these pictures smash whatever stereotypes might have then existed.  Like the artists who influenced him, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, Jang has a knack for framing decisive moments packed with details that make you look and keep on looking.  
 
Carrie Mae Weems @ Cantor Art Center.  The MacArthur Foundation deemed the African-American photographer a genius, yet her work, which deals with race, culture, gender, identity and stereotypes, takes aim at the white, male-dominated systems and institutions that confer such awards. The show, writes Tirza True Latimer, “demands that all of us own up to our participation in oppressive systems at every level and take action.” “If Weems is what genius looks like in 2013, I say, “Hallelujah!” and I thank her for her part in redefining the term.”  Through January 5. 
 
Carrie Mae Weems
 
Monica Lundy: House of Strange Women @ Toomey Tourell.  Winner, in 2010, of the Jay De Feo MFA Prize at Mills College, Lundy, 39, demonstrates that bravura painting, despite its near-fossilized status in contemporary art, still has the power to stop you in your tracks. The Oakland artist focused her attentions on
Monica Lundy

tough characters and tough places: prisoners, mental hospitals, and, in her most recent series, House of the Strange Women, on male and female prostitutes, painted from SFPD photos taken in the ‘20s and ’30s that she discovered in a book of the same title in a public library.  Her works, all on paper, do for painting what Dashiell Hammett did for detective fiction.  They bring hard-boiled characters to life without judgment and at a scale that borders on cinematic.  

Ian Harvey/Koo Kyung Sook

Ian Harvey/Koo Kyung Sook @ JayJay.  They collaborate by combining hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of business-card sized pictures into collages, ranging in size from modest to monumental.  Onto each unit they pour enamel, polyurethane, shellac, pigment and metallic paint and allow the ingredients to combine freely, oftentimes with graphite, creating a textural tug-o-war between grit and gloss.  At close range these mixtures resemble microscopic snapshots of cellular activity, their strong colors and dueling viscosities forming an approximation of biological activity.  Macro views of full-scale composites show bodies and faces that appear to have survived a fiery holocaust.  Twisted and disfigured they exhibit a fierce, life-affirming energy as if immortalized in congealed magma.  By using primordial forms as the building blocks of these abstract/figurative works, the artists communicate the power of cataclysmic events and the temporal nature of all living things. 

Mike Henderson

Mike Henderson & Friends @ b. sakata garo.  This exhibition was about three friends: Mike Henderson, William T. Wiley and Robert Nelson. Friends who met “at a creative time in art and life” when “everything seemed possible…and was.” The words are Wiley’s, and they refer to era in Bay Area art, between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s, when collaboration flourished and when boundaries between poetry, film, music, performance and the visual arts were memorably dissolved.  With historic underground films, seldom-seen paintings and sculpture by Nelson and current works by Wiley and Henderson, this show embodied the energy and spirit of that era.  

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2 Responses to “2013: The Year in Review”

  1. Great post David. I saw most of these shows and I agree! These were wonderful shows.

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