Best exhibition you likely never saw: Zheng Chongbin, White Ink, Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco, May 19–September 3, 2011
Located on the third floor of the Chinatown Hilton, the Chinese Cultural Center (CCC) may be a bit off the radar for many art viewers, but Zheng Chongbin’s exhibition White Ink was more than worth a visit. Drawing equally from Western abstraction and calligraphic tradition, Zheng’s visceral ink paintings paradoxically were both fresh and ancient. Though made on traditional Xuan calligraphic paper, the works possess a blunt structural power similar to the work of Franz Kline, an emotional weight reminiscent of Anselm Kiefer, and a gestural embodiment that calls to mind the performative drawings of San Francisco’s own Tom Marioni.
Best Mission School Exhibition (tie): Chris Johanson, This, This, This, That, Altman Siegel, June 3–July 30, 2011; Margaret Kilgallen, Summer / Selections, Ratio 3, June 23–August 5, 2011
Clare Rojas’ exhibition from May to August 2010 at San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and Folk Art could have made this a three-way tie, but thankfully it closed too long ago to be considered. Taken together, the shows at Ratio 3 and Altman Siegel make an interesting pair. The selected works by Margaret Kilgallen exhibited at Ratio 3 reopened the wound of her untimely loss to cancer in 2001. There were some exuberant stitched-together canvas works in Ratio 3’s rear gallery, but the mass of the show felt elegiac—hermetically framed drawings on antique paper poignantly highlighted the absence of the ebullient murals that Kilgallen would have almost certainly produced if she were still alive. In contrast, Chris Johanson’s wonky, colorful paintings and shipping-palette constructions at Altman Siegel exuberantly pulsed with life.
Best “Painting” Exhibition: Liam Everett, being-with, Romer Young Gallery, May 20–June 25, 2011
Artists who make up new art forms are afforded some leniency for their inventiveness, but such innovations rarely produce substantial work. It is therefore impressive when a painter manages to reinvigorate the act of painting as successfully as Liam Everett did in being-with at Romer Young Gallery. The pieces seemed as much found as made. While clearly the product of a laborious, reductive process, Everett’s paintings looked effortlessly inevitable, like rust or mold staining. Their angular traces and shadows of scraped-away paint were strangely photographic yet weathered and worn like skin laced with scar tissue.
Best Exhibition I Thought I Would Hate: Daniel Tierney, Reject, Reject, Stephen Wolf Fine Arts, May 28–July 2, 2011
I did not think I was going to enjoy Daniel Tierney’s Reject, Reject, at Stephen Wolf Fine Arts, because it seemed to embrace the kind of ironic material sensibility that I tend to associate with vacuous hipsterism. However, though possessing a couple of this genre’s tropes, the cardboard and spray-paint works created such a deceptively elegant effect that they overcame my prejudice. Tierney’s alchemical transformation of banal materials was made all the more satisfying by a lurking humor that was confirmed by Stephen Wolf when he recounted Tierney’s telling him that one of the smaller pieces in the show wasn’t actually smaller but just farther away.
Best Collaborative Exhibition: castaneda/reiman, Still Life Landscape, Baer Ridgway Exhibitions, June 4–July 16, 20111
The art of collaborators Charlie Castaneda and Brody Reiman has long seemed more like the output of a single artist than the hodgepodges that often result from collective creative endeavors. Their stunning “solo”show at Baer Ridgway Exhibitions built on the idiosyncratic visual vocabulary that they have developed over the past two decades and took it in newly ambitious directions. The varied artworks on display in the sprawling show deftly interwove painting, sculpture, installation, and photography and expertly balanced casual whimsy with meticulous craftsmanship.
Best Exhibition Overlap: David Maisel, History's Shadow, Haines Gallery, April 6–June 4, 2011; Ryan Thayer, Timemachines, NOMA Gallery, April 23–June 12, 2011
Like two starlets showing up to the Oscars wearing the same gown, highly similar exhibitions can be awkward or even embarrassing. However, occasionally two shows augment each other so perfectly that it seems incredible that they were not orchestrated to coincide. David Maisel’s History's Shadow at Haines Gallery and Ryan Thayer’s Timemachines at NOMA Gallery produced just such a serendipitous overlap. Located no more than three blocks from each other, the exhibitions produced an odd and wonderful discursive space. Together, Maisel’s haunting X-ray prints of objects from the Getty Museum’s collection and Thayer’s eerie and physically similar photograms, made by placing iPods and other light-emitting tech objects on photosensitive paper, became a profound, far-ranging meditation on mortality, visibility, and time.
Best Museum Exhibition: Eva Hesse, Studiowork, UC Berkeley Art Museum, January 26–April 10, 2011
I still vividly remember visiting the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s sprawling 2002 Eva Hesse retrospective—the work was that evocative, organic, elegant, and startling. The UC Berkeley Art Museum’s recent Studiowork exhibition was no less impressive though much less grand. The modest scale of both the artworks and their sensitively orchestrated installation offered an intimate space where viewers could comfortably coexist with pieces that, like old friends, invited slow, almost habitual, interaction.
Best Juried Exhibition: A Floorless Room Without Walls, The Lab, June 24–July 30, 2011
Juried group shows rarely make good exhibitions. They are often uneven and disjointed even if they are structured around a theme. They certainly serve as exposure for emerging artists, but they do little else. That said, I would have never guessed that the exhibition A Floorless Room Without Walls at The Lab was juried. Its guest curators, Marcella Faustini and Chris Fitzpatrick, worked closely with The Lab to devise a call for submissions that made The Lab’s crazy ceiling both the site and subject of the exhibition. The resulting show included inventive works by Aaron Finnis, Amy Ho, Cybele Lyle, Daniel Konhauser, Emma Spertus, Zarouhie Abdalian and Joseph Rosenzweig, and one anonymous artist. It proved to be as intriguing as it was experimental.