Best Use of Floor and Ceilings in an Exhibition: Emma Spertus, Forum of Federations, Important Projects, December 9, 2011–January 15, 2012
For this modest solo exhibition (in the larger of Important Projects’ two attic galleries), Spertus created an installation best viewed from below. Boxes of various shapes and sizes—covered with digital prints of book covers, tables, posters, the Lake Merritt BART stairs, and elements sourced from the gallery—filled the ceiling of the room. In the center of the floor, an enlarged pillow, printed with an image of a wooden staircase, sat invitingly. Lying back on the pillow, one could view the ceiling in its entirety, creating a disorienting scene for those entering the space. At the closing reception, Spertus distributed unique posters as mementos of the show’s odd constellation of boxy images. The “forum” was thus redistributed among the possessions or wall hangings of those lucky enough to take a piece of the show home.
Best Use of Airplane Napkins: Nina Katchadourian, Seat Assignment, Catharine Clark Gallery, April 14–June 9, 2012
For her fifth show at Catharine Clark Gallery, Nina Katchadourian presented work made entirely in-flight, using only the limited materials already at hand. Her series of Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style (2010-ongoing) were achieved with improbable props: plastic cups, toilet-seat covers, napkins, and an inflatable neck rest. These self-portraits are shockingly dead on, aided by Katchadourian’s excellent facial expressions of pious solemnity. Topping it all, however, was the video piece Acca Dacca Diptych, in which a frilly-collared Katchadourian lip-synch-battles herself. Her period-appropriate music of choice? AC/DC’s “All Night Long” and “She’s Got Balls.” Understandably, at the opening of the show, visitors waited in line at this piece, eager to don the headphones and find out what was making everyone giggle so gleefully.
In this two-part article, Jessica Brier crafts a well-researched, clear, and much-needed argument for the necessity of critically addressing humor as a crucial strategy in both life and art.
Breaking down the subject into categories of deadpan humor, the punch line, the inside joke, slapstick, bawdy humor, and unintentional humor, she makes accessible a topic that is difficult to pin down, let alone write coherently about. When reading texts that are especially relevant to me, I often find myself highlighting sentences, copying and pasting them into a document I’ve blandly titled “Notes on Reading.” This proved especially difficult with Brier’s pieces, as I wanted to copy them from start to finish, line for line.
Best Artist Talk: Stephen Kaltenbach at SFAI, November 14, 2011
Moderated by Constance Lewallen, this talk at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) was one of those rare nights when I left an auditorium invigorated and inspired. I’m not sure what I expected to hear from someone who has spent the past forty years involved in secretive art practices under a variety of different personae. (In one, he is a successful regional artist; in another, he makes abstract sculptures that the real Kaltenbach has just started to like. “It gets weird,” he admitted.) But at SFAI, Kaltenbach was wry, candid, and surprisingly encouraging, a testament to his many years as an educator of young artists. Adding to the light comedy of the night, Kaltenbach and Lewallen were seated at one folding table and shared one microphone. Lewallen would ask a question, Kaltenbach would try to answer, no one would hear him, she would shift the mic over to him, noisy rumbles and scratches would blast through the auditorium, and so on and so forth. They admirably bore the awkward back-and-forth, creating a closeness with the audience that echoed their own familiarity with one another.
Best Temporary Bookstore: Scanners, 312 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA
In 2011, for the month of October, Matt Borruso and Nick Hoff presented as a specialty bookstore their combined findings from a year of scrupulous buying. While the eccentrically organized subjects ranged from art history to philosophy, an unconventional beauty united the texts. By presenting the books salon-style on the walls and face-up on tables, Borruso and Hoff maximized the visual impact of their brightly colored, graphically stunning wares. A series of talks at the bookstore firmly established Scanners within a conversation about the status of contemporary print culture, books as rarified objects, and the relationship of books to artists as source material. Scanners regularly rotated its inventory, guaranteeing that I left the store after each visit with a bag full of purchases, thrilled by my new discoveries and without a hint of buyer’s remorse.
Best New Space: Will Brown, San Francisco
Will Brown is defined by its organizers David Kasprzak, Jordan Stein, and Lindsey White as a “collaborative project that currently takes form as an experimental exhibition space.” In what used to be the Mission’s Triple Base Gallery, Will Brown has hosted five exhibitions and about twenty events, ranging from screenings to concerts to slide shows to picnics. Running an experimental exhibition space means mounting shows about shows, hanging art that isn’t there, and refusing to create a gallery with a monthly rotation of solo and group shows. Will Brown takes every opportunity to expose visitors to hidden and forgotten elements of the art world. At the same time, events featuring local artists and their vibrant contemporary practices create a narrative line between past and present without heavy-handed didacticism. Instead, it’s just a whole lot of fun.