Auerbach, Tauba: Typeface Can Be Groovy

Just as Alexander Calder started out working for the circus and Richard Serra in steel mills, Auerbach’s first job after graduating from college was sign painter. Like Calder’s mobiles and Serra’s monoliths, Auerbach’s works are indebted to their maker’s early workaday life. Tauba’s pencil, ink and gouache drawings are made up of carefully drafted letters, numbers, lost and arcane alphabets, calligraphy and wordplay.

Her latest gallery show, an anagram title “THE ANSWER/WASN’T HERE” just opened at Jack Hanley Gallery on May 4 on the outskirts of the Mission (closer to Flax Art & Design than La Taqueria). Jack Hanley (locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles) has been showing young and more established conceptually based artists since 1990. When I visited on opening night, 8 of 13 works had pre-sold.

Tauba is a perfectionist- a bellwether in our 80/20 culture. Her work is best when there is a blend of her signature sculptural typeface, harmonios bright color and either humorous or didactic subject matter. “Uh-Huh II,” “Yes and Morph I,” and “Subtraction (Startling)” are examples of this winning combination. This time Tauba has also done a video piece to compliment her work, “Telephone” 8 minutes, is a visual example of how her mind jumps and could translate "startling" into starting, staring, string, sting, sing, sin and finally, I. Work that was new to me featured pure intricate geometric design, now without any letters or symbols. It is large scale and breathtaking in its exactitude; ink on paper is an unforgiving medium.

I first saw Tauba Auberbach’s work with my fellow members of SECA when the artist was being considered for the 2006 SECA Art Award. Her friends at the Luggage Store Gallery had allowed her to set up her work for my group’s review one Saturday morning in the Spring of that year. The biennial award, sponsored by SFMOMA's Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, recognizes local artists of exceptional promise.

Locals will appreciate that Tauba is a native San Franciscan. She attended SF Day School and University High. She earned her BA in Studio Art from Stanford in 1999. She grew up in the Marina but told me she thinks the neighborhood has changed irrevocably. She is wistful for an earlier time, before chain stores took over the mom-and-pops, the kind of stores that would have hung her signs. During her tenure at Damon Styer’s New Bohemia Signs, she worked on some noteworthy projects: Far West Fungi and Miette in the Ferry Building, Stinking Rose and Calzone’s in North Beach, Mollusk Surf, the gold leaf windows at Cable Car Clothiers, as well as smaller businesses like chiropractic offices and psychics.

It is impossible to write about Tauba without mentioning the accolades she has received so early in her career. There has been impressive scholarly art world press about her and noteworthy galleries in San Francisco and New York have shown her work. Her highly original subject matter and beautiful execution makes her one to watch.

This show $3000-$18000

Through May 26. Jack Hanley Gallery, 395/389 Valencia Street, San Francisco 94103, tel: 415/522.1623, fax: 415/522.1631, email:, hours: tuesday - saturday, 11am - 6pm