by David M. Roth
I’ve long been allergic to art fairs. With very few exceptions, I find they offer too little payoff for the time invested. But I sometimes wonder: am I missing something? This year, tamping down instinct, I couldn’t help but be wowed by the number of prominent New York galleries exhibiting at Fog Design + Art, running through Sunday at Fort Mason. Included are many I’d gladly burn shoe leather to visit in Manhattan: David Kordansky, David Zwirner, Galerie Perrotin, Fergus McCaffrey, Gladstone, James Cohan, Lévy Gorvy, Luhring Augustine, Marian Goodman, Matthew Marks, Petzel, Paula Cooper, Tanya Bonakdar and a good many others. Sprinkled among them are a handful of high-profile SF galleries — Hosfelt, Haines, Crown Point Press, Anthony Meier and Fraenkel – that are presenting works well worth traveling out of your way to see.
Which is why I’m giving this, the sixth edition of Fog, a big thumbs-up. No critic greets the morning seeking the familiar. We venture out to have our heads spun, to see things we’ve never before seen and to revisit other things we love but too seldom see. Fog checks all three boxes, offering an easily navigable 53 booths, a far cry from years past when other fairs (not named Fog) packed as many as 70 galleries into Festival Pavilion. The viewing experience is not only
profoundly better, it, also more comfortable and inviting. The floor is carpeted. The room is heated. You can even check your coat. The whole thing is downright civilized, even homey – made so by the many galleries showing home décor.
My recommendations? If you go, make a beeline for Lévy Gorvy. The gallery has put on view works by the self-taught genius, Carol Rama (1918-2015), infamous in Fascist Italy for works that transgressed every boundary (material, sexual, genre) you can think of, and the Germany-born Venezuelan artist Gertrud Goldschmidt, known professionally as Gego (1912-94), whose forte was kinetic wire sculpture. Of the two, it’s Rama who delivers the knockout punch, with materially inventive (and sometimes explosively erotic) paintings that employed a vast range of detritus. Animal teeth, surgical hardware and shredded inner tubes are just a few of the materials that show up in works that slip between Surrealism and Arte Povera and outsider art, activities motivated by a seemingly unrestrained libido and her mother’s internment in a mental institution – a common fate suffered by women in Mussolini’s Italy. The display serves as a prelude to a Rama exhibition that opens January 24, should you find yourself in New York.
An equal pleasure is the exhibition of Gutai artists at Fergus McCaffrey. If you missed the wide-ranging exhibition the gallery mounted in New York last spring (or its predecessor, A Splendid Playground, at the Guggenheim), this is a good place to sample Japan’s most influential post-WWII art movement. This presentation focuses on one of its best-known exponents, Kazuo Shiraga, famous for bloody red gestural works, key examples of which can be found here. But the bigger treasure for me — which you have seek out since it’s mounted in the back of the booth — is a small, spooky canvas by Sadamasa Montonaga called Sakunin (1965), a work whose central element is a black ghost-like shape surrounded by stains and washes. In it, you can see Gutai’s close connections to Art Informel.
A pair of Francesco Clemente watercolors, Actors at the Terreiro XX and XXII (both 2008), at London-based Blain|Southern, are, by themselves, worth the price of admission. There are plenty of other contemporary masters of figuration, but none, working with watercolor, achieve the level of expressivity and psychological complexity that Clemente does. Equally delectable in the same booth is a painting of roses by Joan Synder, Come Spring (2015), its colors an intoxicating blast of reds, pinks and greens. At Gagosian, a piece by Giuseppe Penone called Spine d’acacia – Contatto 11 maggio 2010, made of outward-facing thorns, beckons and
threatens with equal force. Katharina Grosse’s Untitled painting (2017), a collision of intersecting planes, also at Gagosian, skillfully and alluringly reformulates cubist notions of space in what appears to be a collage of fragments seamlessly joined.
Twenty-three coal-black bronze sculptures by William Kentridge arrayed across three shelves can be seen at Marian Goodman, pleasurably calling to mind the dancing silhouettes populating the South African artist’s animated films. On the aisle side of the same booth, Dwindler, an epoxy resin sculpture by the Iran-born German artist Nairy Baghramian, radiates a level of kink worthy of Matthew Barney. It consists of what appear to be pieces of a body cast held to together by wet putty, suspended from the wall by a steel armature.
Oscar Tuazon’s site-specific installation, White Walls (San Francisco), at Luhring Augustine is designed to mess with your head. It’s a see-though metal box set diagonally in a piece of sheetrock. The illusion proffered is that of a giant mirror. Thing is, there is no mirror. Instead of looking at your own reflection, what you see are other people on the opposite side of the enclosure responding to the same stimuli. It elicits laughs on both sides. (Viewers with long memories may recall a similar, albeit more elaborate, version of this idea, executed by Stephen Kaltenbach in the early 1970s.) Other attempts to hijack preconditioned reflexes can be found in vintage postcards painted over by Tomoo Gitika at Blum & Poe. In these, the artist obscures the faces of geishas with abstract gestures, which I read as Dada-inspired acts of cultural monkey wrenching, though other less-charitable interpretations might be equally valid.
In that vein, nothing on view at Fog beats the Ai Weiwei exhibition at Haines. It features the artist’s well-traveled bicycle sculpture Forever (2013) set inside a booth covered in the same
wallpaper that served as the backdrop for his last show at the gallery, in 2016. The printed images, which have never been paired with this sculpture, are of chandeliers made of gilded security cameras. No work of art I can think of more effectively sums up the gold-plated surveillance state that is China, a frightening admixture of totalitarianism and capitalism run amok.
Only two other galleries at the fair present solo exhibitions: Hosfelt and Crown Point Press (CCP). Hosfelt is showing post-minimalist works by Andrea Higgins, an artist not seen in the gallery since 2000. She paints exploded views of fabric in oil, resulting in dimensional works that give off Op-like sensations. Laura Owens’ etchings at CCP are luscious evocations of nature, a universe away from the heavily textured (and electronically accessorized) hybrids that as of late have garnered much critical attention. Photographers Adam Fuss and Richard Mosse also have great work on view; the first is at Fraenkel, the latter at Altman Siegel, a preview of the artist’s upcoming show this fall. A Gerhard Richter squeegee painting, Yusuf, rendered as a 12-foot-long Jacquard tapestry, is absolutely stunning. You’ll find it at Anthony Meier.
At this point, you may rightly wonder why I’ve not said anything about Untitled, the other art fair running this weekend at Pier 35. Answer: I’m nursing a fractured toe that needs coddling, so I leave it to others to fill the void.
# # #
Fog Design + Art @ Festival Pavilion, Fort Mason, through Sunday January 20, 2019.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.