by David M. Roth
Remember when galleries devoted portions of their summer schedules to young artists? Exhibitions like these, known as introductions, gave many emerging artists their first big breaks. Today, for economic reasons, few major galleries award such opportunities.
To the best of my knowledge, the only big-name SF gallery doing so this season is Anglim Gilbert. In this, A/G has a long and illustrious history, having championed many innovators whose names today read like a who’s who of Bay Area art: David Ireland, Paul Kos, Jim Melchert, Jess, Bruce Conner, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Tom Marioni, and Joan Brown to name just a handful. Most, at the time they were introduced, were perceived to be at odds with prevailing tastes. Yet for 33 years, the gallery’s founder, Paule Anglim (1923-2015), waged the necessary uphill battles to bring them to the fore. In today’s climate, it’s hard to imagine any dealer of her stature doing the same.
However, since some of the artists in the A/G stable are deceased and others are deep into (or well past) the mid-career mark, it makes sense that the gallery would eventually audition new talent. The only questions were: what artists would be chosen and by what criteria? Would the gallery chart new territory or maintain the status quo? Answers to the last question, set forth in
two back-to-back exhibitions – Summer Sessions Part I: The Lands Beyond (which ended July 27) and Summer Sessions II: Fugitive Material (through August 24) – indicate a bit of both. We see extensions of artistic sensibilities A/G already represents, as well as those of others who could conceivably fill unoccupied niches. By August 24 when the series concludes, A/G will have showcased six such newcomers, three in each show.
Two clear standouts are Ricki Dwyer and Eli Thorne, both of whom appeared in Summer Sessions I. Dwyer works with textiles and exhibits a keen sense of how texture, color and pattern operate as social signifiers. The best example is a piece called I Never Got To Be A Dyke, But I Know I’ll Never Get to Be A Fag, in which a palm tree spray-painted on a wall appears to “sprout” from a geometrically patterned tapestry hung on the same surface. The faux tropical foliage and the woven aboriginal patterning signal different kinds of exoticism, and their incongruous pairing explains the seemingly unbridgeable gap referenced in the title. Stronger still are Dwyer’s monoprints, made by placing lengths of string on inked pieces of paper, that when run through a press, form wavy grids of positive and negative space: ghost images that read, alternately as cuneiform tablets or as drunken takes on Agnes Martin. More impressive still is an imprint made with the same process on a piece of carpet padding; its marbleized texture provides an ebullient, multi-colored foil for the embedded shape of what appears to be a piece of black netting. Such transformations align Dwyer with Arte Povera and show yet again that there’s no limit to the ways humble materials can be provocatively repurposed.
Thorne, a painter of hallucinatory narratives worthy of Carlos Casteneda, extends the legacy of Bad Painting, a micro-movement that began in the 1970s. Its adherents jettisoned the niceties of conventional representation in favor of rawer modes of expression better suited to challenging the status quo, particularly that of women. While Thorne’s paintings appear to sidestep gender issues, they do call to mind Judith Linhares, a longtime member of the A/G stable. Like Linhares, Thorne situates distressed people in perspective-skewed landscapes populated by strange animals, serpents and unruly plants. And while the artist employs a mostly muted palette, using thinned-down oils that, in certain passages, mimic chalk pastel, there is nothing muted about these works. They strike with the force of a fever dream.
Summer Session II is a markedly cooler affair. It’s dominated by photography and by work that appears to be photo-related, even when it’s not. Rachelle Reichert’s charcoal drawings occupy the latter category. She is, without question, a virtuoso. Problem is, her drawings, at their best, too closely resemble those of another gallery artist, Canan Tolon; both work by piling up abstract shapes in grayscale tones that look as if they’d been silkscreened onto the surfaces in overlapping layers.
The most interesting of the three artists in this, the second edition of Summer Sessions, is Brianna Tadeo, one of a growing number of artists engaged in camera-less photography. She places plant specimens on photo paper inside sealed boxes, which prevent the paper from being exposed to light. As a consequence, the foliage shows up as a white silhouette outlined by “sprays” of color and residual stains – evidence of interactions between the photo chemicals and the liquid oozed out of the plants during their decomposition. The concept, unfortunately, holds a lot more appeal than the end products. But, if the formulas for this experiment were sufficiently tweaked, who knows what might happen? I see potential.
Kija Lucas’ images of plants and found objects don’t fare as well. She makes them on a flatbed scanner with predictably deadpan results. Exceptions are images in which pollen was allowed to disperse across the platen, and in these we find convincing facsimiles of cosmic events such as exploding nebulae — events typically captured by high-powered telescopes.
If the idea behind Summer Sessions is to introduce the public to artists who might someday join the gallery and become stars, then A/G will need to revamp its approach. Two for six is a good average in baseball. In art, not so much. With seven nearby universities churning out hundreds of MFAs annually, it doesn’t require much imagination to see how a series like this could be better.
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Summer Sessions Part I: The Lands Beyond closed July 27, 2019 and included ceramic works by Maryam Yousif. Summer Sessions II: Fugitive Material through August 24, 2019 @ Anglim Gilbert Gallery.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.