On the Asian Art Museum’s second floor, in one squarish room between early Japan and Korea 1392-present, visitors suddenly enter a different nation altogether. Proximities 1: What Time Is It There? is riot of colorful art objects spread across every kind of media not represented in the permanent collection. Curated by Glen Helfand, the series of Proximities exhibitions (three in total) seeks to examine the “wide, elusive range of Asia through the varied perspectives of Bay Area artists.” This first installment is a tantalizing, if fragmented beginning, enticing visitors to return and absorb the project one exhibition at a time. It features Andrew Witrak, Larry Sultan, Lisa K. Blatt, Ala Ebtekar, Tucker Nichols, Elisheva Biernoff and James Gobel.
Andrew Witrak’s Trouble in Paradise #2 is the centerpiece of the exhibition. A two-person pool raft covered with cocktail umbrellas, it packs a candy-colored visual wallop, but I found his second piece, Hospitality Channel: Bali, more compelling. It’s an loop of tropical vacation imagery (a tennis ball on a red clay court, couples enjoying spa treatment, a turquoise infinity pool) with fictional logo (“Grand Colonial BALI”) forever stuck in the upper left hand corner of the screen. The “Ken Burns effect” serves the slow-paced video well, as increasingly nondescript images of ridiculous luxury slide into view.
Other works in the exhibition touch on the artists’ personal relationships to specific nations. Ala Ebtekar creates an alternate reality for Iran in a series of prints merging real architecture, science fiction and idealized space to question what type of future a hybrid nostalgia might produce. James Gobel charts an imaginary voyage to the Phillipines. In his three-panel felt, yarn and acrylic piece You’re Gone Away But, You’ll Come Back Some Day, the Philippine flag is repeated and fragmented and melded with patterns,
bits of text and dashes of embroidery thread.