by Renny Pritikin
No More I Love Yous, a group show guest-curated by Anton Stuebner, presents not only a lively selection of painting, drawing and sculpture, but also expands curatorial practice to include pop music, regional history and autobiography. All the artists are participants in workshops for developmentally disabled adults for which Oakland-based Creative Growth is world-famous.
The title of the exhibition is based on a 1995 tune by Annie Lennox despairing of romantic love and its trappings. Her lyrics suggest a more hard-headed and emotionally distanced attitude. Stuebner also offers a playlist on the gallery website to accompany the exhibition, consisting of half a dozen pop songs with a range of opinions about sex and love, from tragic to libidinous. This project is both an extension of and homage to the work of the late Leigh Markopoulos, who was the director of the curatorial practice program at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco until her tragic death in a car accident in 2017.
Markopoulos was Stuebner’s mentor, and also deeply involved with Creative Growth; she curated a 2010 exhibition there titled Love is a Stranger, also named after a Lennox tune. Thus, before walking into the gallery, Stuebner builds an ambitious preface for the exhibition consisting of two related aspects. He suggests music can set a cultural context for how we think and talk about relationships. He adds a tacit suggestion for how to continue an engagement with loved ones no longer accessible to us—either due to breakups or deaths—by engaging with their ideas. I, too, was a colleague of Markopoulos, and so my writing about the exhibition reiterates the meta nature of this ongoing engagement, building ties among a community of artists and those interested in their work.
William Scott shows several paintings and drawings of young African American couples full of optimism. Portrayed in formal occasions like proms and weddings, they put their best foot forward. The largest of these works, in color, recall illustrations found in African advertising for barbers and the like: handsome, stylish people. The women are overtly sexualized with accentuated butts and bosoms, an idealized heterosexuality in which objectification of the body is an exercise joyously shared by all. Rosena Finister problematizes that reductive view by using animal metaphors to tell stories in which females reject unwanted male advances. In three drawings with text bubbles, various four-legged females inform their potential mates in no uncertain terms that their agency is primary, and the males better understand that from the get-go. Casey Byrnes takes male ego to task a bit further by literally objectifying it — he makes planters of nude male figures, some made for shelves, others almost life-sized. The largest ones are quite silly; they feature semi-erect penises designed to function as water drains for
plants embedded in the empty torsos. Juan Aguilera makes a salon-style display of plaques and puppet-like objects depicting nude female forms. These appear to be the result of sincere curiosity and fascination with the Other, and are not sexual.
Some of the most convincing of the works in the exhibition are the most elusive and open-ended, by Ron Veasay. These are large, color portraits of men nude from the waist up, seen from behind, suggesting a queer point of view. The figures are posed in stylized, male-model stances, skillfully evocative of whole personalities communicated through what are essentially only slabs of color. They suggest that attraction and seduction take place through the aesthetic eye as much as through language. Finally, the single most unforgettable image in the show is a small color pencil drawing by Gerone Spruill, in perfectly juxtaposed shades of orange, tans and black. It depicts the long legs of a couple from the waist down, one in shorts and white knee-high boots, the other in black slacks. The figure on the right has its right foot standing on the other’s left foot. That’s it, except for two additional elements almost hidden in the upper left corner: a hand, covered in rings terminating in sharp, dagger-like nails, the owner of the foot no doubt preparing to respond to having its foot stomped on. It seems like a hilarious and wordless narrative of male physical intimidation until the viewer notices that the imagined female is labeled in longhand script, M.C. Chuck, and the male aggressor is Ms. Chuck. Two sides of the same coin, gender fluid, lovely.
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“No More I Love Yous” @ Creative Growth through March 11, 2020.
About the author:
Renny Pritikin retired in December 2018 after almost five years as the chief curator at The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. Prior to that, he was the director of the Richard Nelson Gallery at UC Davis and the founding chief curator at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts beginning in 1992. For 11 years, he was also a senior adjunct professor at California College of the Arts, where he taught in the graduate program in Curatorial Practice. Pritikin has given lecture tours in museums in Japan as a guest of the State Department, and in New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar, and visited Israel as a Koret Israel Prize winner. He is working on a memoir of his experiences in the arts from 1979 to 2018.