1.21 / Review

Best Of: Christine Wong Yap

By Christine Wong Yap August 18, 2010

Best Solo Show: Pae White, Between the Outside In, September 2October 18, 2009, Mills College Art Museum. 1

LA-based Pae White’s new installations from her FOR-SITE Foundation residency were previewed in a smaller iteration of the show—New Langton Arts’ final exhibition—before its larger manifestation at Mills. The highlight was a series of semi-reflective, semi-transparent structures. Inside, they featured engrossing videos of 3-D renderings of botanical specimens. The installations’ disorienting perceptual experiences and the resulting heightened awareness instilled in viewers epitomize contemporary art’s phenomenological potential.

Best Hijack: Stephanie Syjuco, Copystand, October 14–18, 2009, Frieze Art Fair, London. 

San Francisco‑based conceptualist Stephanie Syjuco garnered international attention with her booth’s art-pirating workshop, which featured copies of neighboring booths’ merchandise. Taking her interests in black markets to a commercial art fair in a sluggish economy was a savvy, prescient, and fearless gesture. With gallery sales, social approval, and copyright infringement allegations at stake, the critical acclaim Syjuco received is her just dessert.

Best Curation: Moby-Dick, September 22–December 12, 2009, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art. 2

Moby-Dick was truly ambitious. Its several new commissions included a 50-foot clay whale by Adrián Villar Rojas (with Alan Légal) and a chandelier of pickles (that actually lit up!) by Evan Holloway. Among the gorgeous contemporary works were an LED night sky by Angela Bulloch and a film by Peter Hutton. Ellen Gallagher and Edgar Cleijne presented a room-size installation with multiple projections. Historic works and artifacts were placed throughout, including a knockout suite of prints by Kent Rockwell. With its ambitious programming and quality publications, the Wattis is San Francisco’s biggest little ICA, and it should be applauded for the international contemporary art discourse it brings to the Bay Area.

Best Example of the Kind of Rigorous Contemporary Solo Shows by Emerging Artists that More Non-Profit Art Spaces Should Be Doing: Pablo Guardiola, Primero La Caja, December 5, 2009–January 23, 2010, Galería de la Raza.  

Cheers to curator Carolina Ponce de León and Galería de la Raza for hosting the solo show of the young, bright, conceptual photographer and installation artist Pablo Guardiola. The result was a highly considered semiotic experiment. While opportunities for emerging artists to participate in mixed-bag group exhibitions are appreciated, talents like Guardiola’s deserve the chance to prove their mettle in exhibitions of their own. (Reviewed in Art Practical 5.) 

Best Collections Show: Galaxy: A Hundred or So Stars Visible to the Naked Eye, February 25–August 30, 2009, Berkeley Art Museum.

As distilled by curator and museum director Lawrence Rinder for Galaxy, the Berkeley Art Museum’s collections felt deep and fresh. His approach delighted; the selection and placement of the works exhibited whimsy, surprise, humor, sex, and formal elegance. Rinder’s clear statement of curatorial preference injected a sense of transparency to the usual impersonal authority of museums, giving a face to the institution.

Pae White. “In Between the Inside-Out,” 2009; installation view, Mills College Art Museum. Courtesy of the Artist. Photo: Paul Kuroda.

“Moby-Dick,” 2009; installation view, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts. Courtesy CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco. Photograph by Johnna Arnold.

Best Reason to be Optimistic About Contemporary Art in San Francisco: Southern Exposure. 3

What recession? In 2009, Southern Exposure triumphed by inaugurating a beautiful, custom-built home to support emerging and experimental local artists. In addition to two group shows and five solo shows, the gallery’s ambitious programming included a juried film/video screening, a public art/intervention day, and a five-week sound series, just since last October, not to mention their direct support of groups and individuals (including Art Practical) through the Alternative Exposure Grant and the Graue Award, a new grant for new public projects.

Best Reason to be Optimistic About Contemporary Culture in the East Bay: Ice on the High, December 3–6, 2009, Pacific Basin Building, Berkeley.

Ice on the High was a series of “feral experimental events” organized by Kim Anno, Maggie Foster, and Aida Gamez. Proceedings included a staged reading of Allen Ginsberg’s HOWL, projects by Terry Berlier, installations by Joshua Churchill and sound by Joshua Kit Clayton. When activity like this takes place in empty storefronts on San Pablo Avenue in West Berkeley, the center of the art world seems important in name only.

Best Collaboration: Chris Bell, Elaine Buckholtz, and Floor Vahn, February 24–May 14, 2010, SF Arts Commission Window Space.

For Chain Reaction 11, sculptor Chris Bell, light and video conjurer Elaine Buckholtz, and sound-smith Floor Vahn created an untitled installation that epitomized their divergent practices.4 They filled the space with a matrix of fluorescent tubes, purple light, a mysteriously deep cabinet, and plaintive sounds. It was spooky and enchanting, and in its blend of accessibility and open-endedness, the project was a perfect use of the city-run space. 

Best Show by a Non-living Artist: Charley Harper, September 23–October 31, 2009, Altman-Siegel Gallery.

The late children’s book author and illustrator developed an iconic style with his knack for decorative patterns, hard-edged geometry, and endearingly innocent content. Harper’s work is beloved by designers, illustrators, and artists. Though he was recently championed in a new monograph, edited by the designer Todd Oldham, the book’s printed illustrations reveal little about their making. Seeing Harper’s original paste-ups, complete with sketch lines, cut edges, and registration marks was momentous.

Best Way to Go Out with a Bang: Jigsawmentallama, November 12–December 19, 2009, David Cunningham Projects.

The final group show at the video-oriented project space made David Cunningham Projects seem more crucial than ever. Placing no-holds-barred local artists like Keith Boadwee and Skye Thorstenson alongside UK- and Europe-based artists like Austin McQuinn and Sonja Nillson, the show—and the space—seemed urgent and special. If San Francisco welcomes all newcomers, shouldn’t spaces with local and international experimental programs make their homes here?



1. Disclosure: I did a project with Mills College Art Museum this spring.
2. Disclosure: I worked at the Wattis and helped install this show; I also recently showed there.
3. Disclosure: I showed at SoEx, designed some collateral, and made in-kind donations to this non-profit art space.
4. Disclosure: I participated in this group exhibition.

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