Best Of: Jeanne GerrityAugust 15, 2012
Best Performa Reprise in San Francisco: Simon Fujiwara, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), November 17 and 18, 2011
Simon Fujiwara’s epic, purportedly autobiographical performance in three acts was highly entertaining in its gleeful self-mockery. Staged in the context of The Air We Breathe, SFMOMA’s timely exhibition on marriage equality, the plot followed the artist through a sexual epiphany caused by an abstract expressionist painting, an attempt to write an erotic novel based on his parents’ bohemian lifestyle in 1970s Franco Spain, and a recent discovery in a New York taxi of a camera full of mundane wedding photos. Fujiwara blurred fact and fiction in a farcical performance that poked fun at just about everyone: unimaginative tourists, conventional couples, and even himself.
Over the past year, SFMOMA has shown great potential in the presentation of performance art, most notably demonstrated by its excellent current exhibition, Stage Presence, and the accompanying performance series. I hope this proclivity toward performance art is a bellwether for the next three years of activities as the museum closes its physical space and operates at large in the Bay Area community.
Best Performa Reprise in the East Bay: Alison O’Daniel, Night Sky, Krowswork, July 7, 2012
This film presents two overlapping stories of disparate worlds that are connected by a brightly colored hula-hoop-shape portal. The film floats back and forth between the narratives: two girls traveling through the desert on a metaphysical quest, and a group of contestants competing in a sweaty, sensual dance marathon. The film’s intermingling of elements collapses cinematic boundaries in a visually gorgeous composition. During this screening, the local musician Psychic Handbook played live music that responded to cues in the film and complemented the original score by Lucky Dragons. Audience members held latex balloons through which they felt vibrations from the music, which heightened the sensory experience.
This seventy-five-minute film was shown at Krowswork Gallery in the East Bay as part of You Must Change Your Life, a three-weekend performance art salon. Although I unfortunately missed the earlier performances that evening, I did observe two visitors intently writing letters to each other that would be dispatched a year later—part of a project by Double Zero (Hannah Ireland and Annie Vought). Founded in 2009, Krowswork fills a void in the local arts scene, showing experimental film and video and, increasingly, performance art.
Best Exhibition Incorporating a Museum's Collection: Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past, Asian Art Museum, May 18–September 2, 2012
Several exhibitions in the past few years have attempted to reinvigorate old collections with the injection of contemporary art, but few have succeeded as triumphantly as Phantoms of Asia, organized by its guest curator, Mami Kataoka of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. The exhibition includes works by thirty-one artists from all over Asia, from China to Indonesia to Kazakhstan, deftly placed in proximity to pieces from the permanent collection. These juxtapositions are unexpected and innovative, and yet the resulting connections are so seamless as to appear preordained.
Poklong Anading’s black-and-white photographs of people holding mirrors are displayed next to ornately decorated hand mirrors from the Han Dynasty; the power of mirrors throughout time is emphasized with poignancy. Motohiko Odani’s unsettling masks based on Japanese Noh theater glare across a gallery at traditional masks from the collection. The masks confront each other, as well as visitors, in a challenge to the presumptive temporal boundaries of art objects. By bringing art works from disparate eras into fruitful aesthetic collision, the exhibition offers a new approach to viewing art in a museum.
Best Exhibition in a New Gallery: Manitoba Museum of Finds Art, Will Brown, April 28–June 2, 2012
Will Brown, which replaced Triple Base in its location on 24th Street, functions more like a conceptual art project than a commercial art gallery, and the exhibition Manitoba Museum of Finds Art operated within this same ethos. The exhibition presented the quirky collection of a former SFMOMA employee, Alberta Mayo, originally displayed in her office in the 1970s. It included an extensive selection of moose paraphernalia, items tangentially related to art exhibited at SFMOMA, correspondence, and photographs. Challenging the traditional definition of art through the presentation of souvenirs, trinkets, and ephemera, the exhibition also questioned the deification of renowned artists and showed the potential for individual expression within an institution. The exhibition not only acted as a glimpse into an insider joke from another era but also suggested the possibility of the personal archive as an artwork in itself.
Best Program about Comedy: Tammy Rae Carland, Kadist Art Foundation, May 23, 2012
Tammy Rae Carland’s recent work explores humor as subject matter, and her program at Kadist gave insight into her motivations. As one of the most successful projects in Bay Area Now 6 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Carland’s unconventional portraits of local, female, stand-up comedians often obfuscated their faces and emphasized spectacle. At Kadist, Carland played tracks from vinyl recordings of female comedians both historical and contemporary, interspersed with a discussion between the artist and the independent curator Christina Linden. The clips and the accompanying commentary both led to my greater understanding of Carland’s practice and prompted me to consider the complex role of women in the world of stand-up comedy. Also (and perhaps most importantly) I laughed so hard that I cried.
Best Reason Not to Leave Facebook: Curiously Direct (ongoing)
On June 5, 2011, the local artist and curator Aaron Harbour began writing “direct, short reviews of art shows I’ve seen” as Facebook status updates under the name Curiously Direct. Concise, witty, and candid, the several-sentence-long reviews are a welcome relief from the often wordy, frequently diplomatic writing that proliferates in the art press. A pithy quotation from a recent entry on YBCA’s exhibition David Shrigley: Brain Activity reads: “For an institution that prides itself on risk-taking programming, this was exactly the opposite of risky: work with about the danger of a giggle-worthy cat GIF,” while an assessment of Wayne Thiebaud: Paintings and Pastels at John Berggruen Gallery ends: “As for this show, [it’s] not much better than a Google image search for his name.” Whether or not you agree with Harbour’s opinions, you have to admire his candor.