Wall, Jeff: A Movie in Every Photograph

Saturday, October 27, 2007 - Sunday, January 27, 2008

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third Street (between Mission and Howard Streets), San Francisco, 94103, Telephone: 415.357.4000, Mon &Tues 11:00 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.,
Wed CLOSED, Thurs 11:00 a.m. - 8:45 p.m., Fri – Sun 11:00 a.m. - 5:45 p.m.
Click here for images: http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/exhib_detail.asp?id=266

SFMOMA’s Fall/Holiday offering is an embarrassment of riches: Joseph Cornell’s intimate dioramas, Olafur Eliasson’s new age appropriation of the entire 5th floor, Douglas Gordon’s outrageous video art, and newcomer Lucy McKenzie’s hand drawn interiors reminiscent of a 50’s movie set are all worth visiting. It will be interesting to see how the influence of these exhibitions shows up in the work of San Francisco Bay Area artists over the next few years.

But if you can only make time to visit one museum show before the end of the year, the Jeff Wall retrospective at SFMOMA is the one to see. This is highly entertaining photography that will appeal to art aficionados and novices alike.

Wall has only produced 130 or so finished light box transparencies since he devised this format in 1977, and here you can see a full 30% of this work. 40 of his signature staged oversize photographs are on view, beginning with his first foray into this format and concluding with the thrilling denouement of new masterpiece “In Front of a Nightclub,” a promised gift to SFMOMA.

The limited production stems from the fact that he strives for originality in every work; he does not like to repeat himself. The result is a dazzlingly varied array of subject matter but all with the characteristic Wall look: expansive, epic, rich in detail and a satisfying beginning, middle and open-end, just like a great short story.

Wall (born 1946 in Vancouver, B.C.) is a member of an elite club of superstar living photographers (including Andreas Gursky and Thomas Struth) who are pushing the medium forward at a rapid pace. Wall takes photography to the next level by mounting the transparencies in a light box (larger than the movie screens at Opera Plaza in some cases). In fact these works are so wide that if you look closely you can see the seam linking the 50” film. Wall first started using this method of presentation when it was new to the world of commercial advertising and it has since become his signature.

Wall’s greatness stems from the fact that his work is a Napoleon pastry of academic layers and yet is egalitarian at heart. Knowledge of cinematography, great film direction, literature, and art history all provide extra satisfaction to the trained viewer but are not necessary to enjoy his work.

Those that did sit through an art history survey will appreciate that Wall spent a decade of his life teaching that class to undergrads and his work is heavily influenced by the monumental scale and dynamic axes of greats like Carravagio and Delacroix, as well as the intimate social-boundary pushing depictions of the bourgeois by Manet and Renoir.

Knowing his process makes the pictures even more interesting. He carefully plans the scene he will stage and photograph, exactly if he were directing a movie, including holding dress rehearsals. In fact he did collaborate on making films for many years but nothing ever quite came to fruition. Wall has also curated a fall film series at SFMOMA that features a “who’s who” roster of important ‘60’s and ‘70’s directors. Click here for the screening schedule:

This exhibit is unique in that it is co-curated by the Director of SFMOMA himself, Neal Benezra. It is a rare occurrence that someone of Mr. Benezra’s station takes time from his demanding day job of running the museum to do any curating project, let alone a blockbuster traveling show like this.

Don’t miss: “Destroyed Room” (parents, rest easy, you’ve never had it this bad), “Milk,” “Insomnia,” “Tattoos and Shadows,” and “After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, The Prologue.” If you ever daydreamed during AP Lit about what 1.369 light bulbs hanging from the bedroom ceiling might look like, Wall has improved upon your vision.

Steven Wolf Fine Arts: Journalist’s Sensibility Pervades Artistic Choices

October 4-29: Derek Boshier, Magazine / Colleen Asper, The Trial;

Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 49 Geary St., Suite 411, San Francisco, CA 94108, 415-263-3677 info@stevenwolffinearts.com

Steven Wolf has a well respected reputation in the San Francisco art community as someone who features intellectually rigorous work and takes risks with his programming choices. Steven Wolf’s aesthetic is informed by his undergraduate degree in philosophy, growing up surrounded by his parents’ collection of Americana, and his first career as a newspaper reporter covering politics, crime, business and theater in New York and Los Angeles.

He is also universally liked and considered to be friendly and approachable, especially to young artists and gallery directors. He makes a point to keep track of what’s happening in the smaller and newer galleries. Svea Lin Vezzone of nascent Swarm Gallery + Studios in Oakland agrees: “I really like visiting his gallery because it's a guarantee I'll see something I've never seen before. The work he shows is experimental and often humorous. We have the type of relationship that I can call him with a question or idea and he is generous with his perspective and knowledge.”

Wolf chooses the work he shows using the filter of a futuristic/historical perspective. If he thinks that the work will still resonate with an audience thirty years from now, then it’s a candidate for a gallery show. Quirky, droll and thought provoking are all adjectives that Wolf uses to describe his choices. “If it really looks like art, it makes me uncomfortable.”

The current show is no exception. The work of New York based Colleen Asper features blank courtroom scenes that are chilling in their anonymity and lack of narrative detail. The three untitled triptychs of witness, judge, and prosecuting attorney each flanked by two flags are viewed by you, the impotent defendant. Characters bear a resemblance to players in famous televised trials. The installation in fact mimics a courtroom set up and is well worth the trip to the gallery to see in person. ($3800-$4200 per triptych.)

Established British artist Derek Boshier’s cartoony and vibrantly colored magazine covers parody celebrity and sports star worship, the new religion of modern science, and fake geo-political boundaries that were arbitrarily imposed by jingoistic Western nations. The $18,000+ pricepoints for the enormous 80"x60" works reflect the great size and Boshier’s station. The smaller pieces are highly collectible at $2000 each.

Click here to see pictures of this show: http://www.stevenwolffinearts.com/dynamic/exhibit.asp

The painting featured on the splash page on the gallery website is a fitting icon for Steven Wolf Fine Arts. The irreverent piece by 60’s pop artist John Clem Clarke (“Stuart-George Washington”) is a paint-by-numbers copy of a 1806 piece by then portraitist-to-the-stars Gilbert Stuart, featuring our first president and his trusty steed’s large rear end. http://www.stevenwolffinearts.com/gallery.asp

Wolf and his wife relocated to San Francisco from New York in the early nineties. While covering his new Bay Area reporter's beat he came in frequent contact with the rich legacy of 1930’s and 40’s Works Project Administration (WPA) left-wing propaganda artwork which blankets our public buildings.

He also found himself in strange corners of the city and took the time to explore the underground network of thrift stores and flea markets. After discovering a Nathan Oliveira collage in a second-hand shop for $10, he actively enlisted the junkmen to keep on the lookout and put aside found artwork for him. Butterfield & Butterfield’s estate sale auctions were a wealth of forgotten treasures. After reading Carolyn Jones' seminal text, Bay Area Figurative Art, and learning about the California School of Fine Arts’ (now San Francisco Art Institute) influential post-war GI Bill scholarship students, he was hooked on collecting Bay Area art.

When he opened his first art gallery a few doors down from Zuni CafĂ© on Market Street in 1995, he shared space and customers with a business that sold second hand architectural furniture from the same 30’s and 40’s period that interested him. A few years later Wolf’s second gallery space at Jones and Sutter focused on “eccentric, under appreciated California artists.”

In 2003 he “got bored with the traditional notion of commercial galleries” and decided he “didn’t want to revive dead artists anymore.” He moved downtown to prestigious 49 Geary and modified his programming to feature emerging artists of the Bay Area and beyond, one of just a few of that ilk in the building at the time (including Stephen Wirtz and since relocated Catharine Clark).

Noteworthy artists represented by SWFA include Molly Springfield (MFA U.C. Berkeley) who creates conceptual work and drawings that comment on the place of books in our lives, Kaz Oshiro who recreates nostalgic suburban icons with verisimilitude such as dorm refrigerators, electric guitar amplifiers, and shopping mall trash cans and Hamburger Eyes, a San Francisco envelope pushing photo studio collective that offers darkroom classes and nurtures young talent.

Wolf is always on the lookout for new talent. He finds his artists through referrals from other artists and at the international art fairs, collaborating with galleries in other cities in order to give an artist national exposure. In fact he is just back from the Pulse London art fair this week so be sure to ask him about it when you stop by.

ArtSpan Open Studios: An Easy How-To

32nd Annual ArtSpan San Francisco Open Studios http://www.artspan.org/
Weekend 1: October 6 Private Preview Gala, October 7 Exhibition Opening
All Weekend 2-5 events: 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Weekend 2: October 13-14 Western SF
Weekend 3: October 20-21 Central SF
Weekend 4: October 27-28 Eastern SF
Weekend 5: November 3-4 Hunters Point Shipyard

Yes, “Open Studios” is daunting. Exhausting. Even those of us with limitless stamina for seeing art feel weak the day-of and choose to stay in and swiffer the apartment instead. But this is the ultimate backstage pass. It’s an amazing opportunity- not only to buy art that makes your heart flutter at the very reasonable prices, but to also make friends with the artist himself. And there's a one-in-a-zillion chance that this same painting could pay for your kid’s college education some day.

No, you’re not imagining it; there is a distinct similarity to the undignified modern courtship ritual called speed-dating. For the unscorched, here's a quick synopsis: arrive at a downtown bar that is indistinguishably waxing or waning in popularity, sign in with the host. Speak to 20 members of the opposite sex for 5 minutes each (ladies stay seated as the men switch seats) and record important characteristics in dim light with a pen that is running out of ink. When you get home that night and log on to fill in the online ballot, hope that the clues you wrote to yourself are enough to jog your memory and that your can’t-take-it-back Y or N vote for each of the people you met that night is what you really want, and that the object of your affection feels the same way. However, unlike speed-dating, the Open Studios artist always wants you. With little effort on your part, you are guaranteed to find yourself in her bedroom because it doubles as her studio.

In past years, Open Studios caused brain fog and temporary amnesia after a day of driving, parking, looking for quarters, climbing to mold-scented attics and basements, begging forgiveness from meter maids, and then getting back in the car to go to the next studio.

But this year things will be different. There are ways to make the eight weekend days easier to navigate.

1. Narrow it down. Visit the Open Studios Exhibition at SomArts Gallery, 934 Brannan Street at 8th, Wednesday-Friday, Noon-4pm, Saturday & Sunday, 10am-5pm through October 28. Almost every artist participating in Open Studios has donated a work to this exhibition. Artists’ featured works are a good representation of their overall oeuvre so you can quickly see what appeals to you. Most of the paintings and sculptures on view (priced from $100-$3000) sold at the opening night party on Saturday, October 7, so don’t get frustrated if you see something you would have liked to buy. Just make a mental note to attend the kick-off party next year.

2. Get the guide. If you can’t make it to SomArts, go to this website http://www.artspan.org/guide.php to learn where you can pick up a copy near you. It’s a beautiful glossy magazine style book with an example of each artist’s work and clear mapping and scheduling information.

3. Do a little homework. Don’t just peruse the guide. Spend some time looking at the websites of the artists you have decided you like. Plot out who you will see each weekend.

4. Hire a car service. PlanetTran eco-friendly hybrid car service http://www.planettran.com/ costs $60 per hour. Avoiding parking drama makes the investment a bargain. (Invite two friends and divide by three.)

5. Bring your checkbook. These guys do not take credit cards. Open Studios’ artists run the gamut from gallery-represented types to newly minted, just-quit-my-job-to-paint-full-time artists who have barely managed to scrape together the $175 fee to participate in the program.

6. Do not haggle. These prices are already low. IF you are buying more than one piece from a single artist then it is acceptable to ask if the artist would consider giving you a discount on your second purchase.

7. Don’t dawdle. If you walk in the door and don’t care for what you see, two minutes and a pleasant “thank you” is enough.

8. Sign the guest book. Get on the mailing list and follow his career!