Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Globalism comes to the galleries

Fine Arts

Isaac Julien, "Playtime" (2014), installation view, Victoria Miro Gallery, Wharf Road, London, 2014. Courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo: Stephen White
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Local galleries are wrapping up 2017 with their final shows of the year. Here's a chance to catch some of them before time runs out.

Portrait of Isaac Julien by Graeme Robertson. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture: "Playtime." The gay black filmmaker-photographer Isaac Julien, a major figure in British visual art and queer indie cinema who grew up in London's East End, was last in San Francisco for his lushly romantic photography show "Looking for Langston." He's back, this time with three timely, large-scale video installations that address the interconnection of labor, capitalism and information flow in the globalist age. Taking its title from Jacques Tati's 1967 film "Playtime," the central 70-minute montage with James Franco and Maggie Cheung plays out across seven large monitors and three capital cities – London, Reykjavik and Dubai – focusing on different characters impacted by the 2008 financial crisis (2014). Also included in the exhibition is a companion piece, "Kapital" (2013), chronicling an academic, London-based panel discussion; and a cinematic cut of "Better Life (Ten Thousand Waves)" (2010), the artist's ambitious rumination on a migrant labor tragedy and its wider societal implications. Shot in Mainland China with contemporary and archival footage of Shanghai, it's shown on a single screen at San Francisco Art Institute's newly built Gray Box media gallery on the Ft. Mason campus. Through Feb. 11.

Haines Gallery: "Lands End: California at Larkin." I was first wowed by the work of San Francisco photographer John Chiara several years ago at Pier 24. Stationed prominently on the wall in the entry to that facility's soaring warehouse space, Chiara's "Embarcadero at Interstate 80," a pair of exhilarating, monumental 50"x80" pictures shot from underneath the Bay Bridge gazing upward, made me want to stand up and shout. Chiara's Bay Area landscapes are a world apart from the typical, prettified postcards of iconic San Francisco, in part because he works with a mammoth, custom-built camera obscura, and prints directly onto photographic paper, leaving behind remnants of the process: torn edges, chemical streaking, etc. In his latest show, he deploys techniques that hark back to the 19th century, training his attention on sweeping ocean vistas and fog-shrouded beaches of the northwestern California coastline with predictably thrilling results, and the steep hills and urban architecture of an intersection where the Tenderloin meets Nob Hill. Through Dec. 23.

Ever Gold Projects: Marc Horowitz's "'You can't do that to them,' the wiser, older Architect said" explores glitches that can alter one's perspective, but he's especially interested in disorientation triggered by rifts in time. His fanciful paintings start with an injection of visual nostalgia reminiscent of 19th and 20th century Currier & Ives prints, which promoted the American dream and manifest destiny. But Norman Rockwell Americana this is not. Horowitz, an SFAI alumna, is fond of visual puns, social media pranks he transforms into attention-getting projects, and subverting familiar tropes of pop culture. He overlays his imagery with bursts of color and unexpected references, as in "Old Traps disappear and new ones emerge," where a hearty pioneer, hurling a weapon in a snowy woodland camp, is eyed suspiciously by a red blob in the shape of a teepee shot through with spears, the kind one might see in kids' Saturday morning cartoon shows. Through Dec. 16.

Jack Fischer Gallery at Minnesota Street Project: "Hoodwink by Didactix." Ever on the hunt for fairness in an unjust, increasingly ludicrous world, Juan Carlos Quintana has created a rogues' gallery of unappetizing characters, most of whom you wouldn't want to be stuck in an elevator with, and lodged them in cartoonish ink & acrylic paintings. The artist's stinging social commentaries hit their zing-worthy targets – the new elites and the nouveau riche, "hubris, incompetence, arrogance and folly" – with humor and without mercy like an amped-up, hyper-dyspeptic Roz Chast. With titles such as "Maligned Do Gooders," "Xenophobia," "Last Selfie Before the Apocalypse" and "Revenge of the Philistines," one gets where this self-taught Oakland artist is coming from at a time when, as he says, "the powers-that-be fervently gaslight the populace." Through Dec. 30.

Robert Koch Gallery's three-photographer show includes Debra Bloomfield, whose latest large-scale series "Seas" captures the daily drama of the shifting horizon line, gradations of sea, sky, fog and shadow, and the turbulence of a weather-generating ocean, while obliquely addressing climate change and rising seas. Foregoing traditional darkroom techniques and using the lumen print process, Rachelle Bussieres's recent works, influenced by the hues and golden light of Western skies, suggest ice formations, mountains, moons and other heavenly bodies, while Rebecca Norris Webb, who has published a half-dozen photography books with her husband and collaborator, Alex Webb, and on her own, creates complex still-lifes with the restlessness of cinema. Through December 30;

Weinstein Gallery: In "Obscure Line between Fact and Fiction," a mid-career retrospective of work by Marcus Jansen, the German-American painter dubbed the progenitor of "modern urban expressionism," one can detect vestiges of the rebellious, hit-and-run aesthetic of the 1980s graffiti movement that influenced him. A U.S. army veteran who served on the front lines during the Iraq war, he was profoundly affected by the violence he witnessed, and channeled his PTSD and the wounded desert landscape of wartime memory into an indictment of American imperialism and a media-obsessed society. Alienation, isolation and absurdity go hand-in-hand in a succession of emotional, surrealistic canvases: a lone zebra wanders the Savannah wilderness; a solitary figure on the dark side of the moon is dwarfed by a distant eclipse; men in empty suits are minus heads or faces; an anemic pink rooster is subjected to arcane experiments; and a dancer leaps across a chasm from one junk heap to another. Through Jan. 20.


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