1.21 / Review

Best Of: Mary Anne Kluth

By Mary Anne Kluth August 18, 2010

Best Use of Words: Anthony Discenza, January 7 –February 13, 2010, Catharine Clark Gallery.

Anthony Discenza deployed text on the wall, on metal signage, and on lightboxes for "Everything Will Probably Work Out Ok," his solo show ealier this year at Catharine Clark Gallery. The artist inflated a Western veneer of optimism, refinement, and excitement, posing it as a sales tool abused by both ends of a cultural hierarchy. Like the rapid-fire juxtaposition of non sequiturs available on the Internet, television, or in an art school, the show managed to be both unfiltered and economical; highly evocative yet elegant; and most of all, accurate and still darkly funny. 

The light boxes are emblazoned with "Teasers," which expand upon the vernacular ways fans can articulate conceptual amalgamations or hybrids of existing pop cultural entities by using the term "meets." For example, Teaser #1 (2009) states, "The Wu Tang Clan meets Conan the Barbarian...." If the text ended there, fans of Kung Fu–inspired gangster rap or historical action beefcake movies would be able to guess the conceptual direction the new movie or song would be venturing toward. But the text continues "meets Fraggle Rock meets Walter Benjamin meets America's Next Top Model," producing a roller coaster of references, concepts, and imagery rather than a discernable generic direction. Used in this way, the term "meets" references the vivid, jumbled cultural landscape from which this hurly-burly has arisen. 

The printed metal street signs included in the show physically created a spatial relationship between Discenza’s text and the urban landscape. Bearing poetic phrases, the works were installed outdoors among real city signage. Lapse Into the Romantic (2007) reads, "A LAPSE INTO THE ROMANTIC ENABLES US TO AVOID THE HIDEOUS REALITIES ADDRESSED," while Low Key Basics (2009) was inscribed, "THIS WEEK: MORE NAUTICALLY INSPIRED LOW-KEY BASICS." Visually translated into authoritative edict, the advertising and critical slogans create absurd and profound resonance with the surrounding streets.

Paradoxically, by committing fully to the transient "here and now" of our cultural moment, "Everything Will Probably Work Out Ok" pointed at a more fundamental dysfunctionality—the collective cognitive dissonance that has historically arisen with the simultaneous development of advertising, mass entertainment, and cultural criticism.

Anthony Discenza. Limits of Poetry, 2007; vinyl on aluminum; 30 x 24 in; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Catherine Clark Gallery, San Francisco. 

Bradley Castellanos. Sanctuary, 2009; oil, acrylic, photo collage, and resin on panel; 26 x 33 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Marx & Zavattero, San Francisco. 

Best Use of Materials: Bradley Castellanos: North Woods, February 4–March 13, 2010, Marx & Zavattero

“Bradley Castellanos: North Woods” featured a set of mixed-media paintings depicting the overlapping boundaries of industry, domesticity, and wilderness. Intricately constructed, the works cohesively incorporate painted and collaged photographic elements to simultaneously produce tactile surfaces and legible images. Areas of hazy abstraction and labor-intensive cutout seams imbue each picture with a stark, ominous atmosphere. 

In Retreating (2009), layers of photo collage, resin, and paint mimic the texture of weathered cabin siding or diseased tree bark, as if the surface of the painting is eroding itself. Similarly, Manahoy City (2010) depicts a dilapidated industrial building painted among carefully cutout skeletal trees, as if the environment is reclaiming both the building and the entire art object. Sanctuary (2009) shows a rough teepee made of sticks in front of a rust-colored tree line under a black sky. Lightly colored dead grass is visible through large gaps in the structure.

The materiality of the works in the exhibition characterizes the natural world as foreboding, almost corrosive. In a community such as ours, rife with wistful images of the wilderness as an idyllic, spiritual realm, this show was a welcome, visceral gut check.

Best New Artist Run Space: Royal Nonesuch Gallery, 4231 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland. 

Founded in October 2009 by Elizabeth Bernstein and Carrie Hott, Royal Nonesuch Gallery is a small gallery space in Oakland. One of many new, engaging spaces found on both sides of the Bay, Royal Nonesuch stands out for its consistently interesting and cohesive programming.

One highlight of the past year was “Lending Library,” an exhibition curated by Dena Beard that made the research and preparatory materials of a group of local artists—including Desiree Holman and Trevor Paglen—available to the public. Another was “I-Object,” curated by Clark Buckner—former director of the now defunct MISSION17—which used objects to critically evaluate the rhetorical underpinnings of current performance and social practice works. It included a fake bomb made by Justin Hoover and performance by Kathryn Williamson.

Bernstein and Hott note in the gallery’s mission statement that they “are dedicated to creating community around art-based experiences that are thought-provoking and conceptually rigorous, while also being accessible and fun.” As the Bay Area community continues to develop and thrive, spaces with similar such missions help to cultivate a general audience throughout the region, between the universities and art schools, and amongst beginning collectors and academics alike.

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