Saturday, June 23, 2007

New space: Johansson Projects in Oakland

Kimberley Johansson first got my attention with her show "The Art of Survival" at ABCo Artspace in West Oakland, where she impressed by bringing Jim Campbell and Victor Cartagena into Oakland's alternative gallery scene. She's just closed another ambitious, intergenerational show at Ego Park and her own new space at 2300 Telegraph. "Excavations" featured established Bay Area artists Lewis de Soto, John Roloff and Mark Brest van Kempen alongside newer talents Misako Inaoka, Scott Oliver and Val Britton. I was only able to see half the works, those that remained on view after the show had officially closed.

Val Britton

Val Britton's large works on paper are intricately detailed and cut out, taking on a sculptural topography that links up conceptually with her cartographic drawings. She says they have personal significance as a kind of visual history of her father, a truck driver. The titles, which are unwieldy at best, suggest as much, but the works can be read much more expansively with a mind to Manifest Destiny and our home in the American West, as well as to the migratory condition of contemporary life.

Scott Oliver

Scott Oliver is everywhere these days, and it's well-deserved for someone so hardworking, gifted and plain old nice. He's got a show up at YBCA right now as the Collective Foundation with Joseph del Pesco, he's still co-editing the Bay Area art review website Shotgun Review, and he's got an upcoming residency this fall at the SF Dump. Can't wait to see what he does there! Hopefully more amazing pieces like The Valley (above).

Misako Inaoka

Misa Inaoka's grass ceiling at Johansson is an art installation I would love to live with. Her inverted field is peppered with track lights, resembling a flipped-over golf course. Her bizarrely modified birds sitting on ethereal branches complete the dreamy faux-natural mood. Barely noticeable peepholes in a wall reveal more surreal nature scenes in miniature. The interplay of natural and artificial elements in her work is uniquely Japanese, and reminds me of this building in Fukuoka that my friend Rick recently visited, with a mountain of stepped gardens outside and a luxury shopping mall on the inside.

Acros Building, Fukuoka, Japan

The collaborative installation by John Roloff and Lewis de Soto is a gallery version of a public artwork they have proposed for the Oakland Estuary, a murky channel connected to Lake Merritt that runs through downtown. Sludge from the estuary sits in the bottom tank, with clear water stacked above it. Both tanks bear inscriptions, the top tank's in reverse so that the text can be read clearly in the water's reflection. The proposed installation would be a series of engravings in reverse on the Estuary's promenade, so that passersby could read the inscriptions in the water below. Mark Brest van Kempen has also been engaged by this Oakland beautification effort to create sculptures for the Rockridge-Temescal Greenbelt Park. I was sorry to have missed his installation of "Impossible Parks."

Lewis de Soto & John Roloff

Patricia Sweetow's new show at 77 Geary

Several good shows this month in SF and Oakland. Patricia Sweetow has reopened her gallery at 77 Geary (on the mezzanine), in a raw loft space reminiscent of early Chelsea locations. The inaugural show is "Stop Pause Forward," open until June 30. She's promoting several promising younger Bay Area artists in this show, including Weston Teruya, Jamie Vasta and Jonathan Burstein, and also has a great piece by New York artist Christian Nguyen.

Jamie Vasta

Vasta's paintings made with glitter are intricately drawn and stunningly gorgeous, and in the best of them the narrative is strong enough to overcome my implicit distrust of their beauty. Photos don't do them justice, you really need to see how the light plays off their ersatz surfaces in person. Burstein collages pictures cut from art magazines into self-portraits in which images of famous and unknown artworks, fashion, design and advertising blend to represent the artist as a composite of diverse influences. It's a sophisticated comment on the realities of post-graduate life. Teruya's sculptures suggest garden follies built from a combination of sporting equipment, barricade and natural landscape, and his "Garden Flags" continue the odd safety/sport signification with drawings reminiscent of Ben Peterson (who's recently left SF for Philly - another significant loss to the Bay Area art scene).

Jonathan Burstein

Christian Nguyen's work is new to me, and quite intriguing. Sacristy, Altar and Mizrab, 2006, is a scroll covered in intricate pencil drawings, architectural in nature, that Nguyen encodes with complex philosophical, mythological and spiritual intentions. The elaborate web of advancing and retreating spaces suggests M. C. Escher seen through a Modernist lens. This work is from the series The Empty Space (2003-06), which Nguyen's artist statement says is based on the story of the Tower of Babel, a fantasy of uniformity and cohesion.

Christian Nguyen

Sweetow's July show will be video art, curated by Jeanne Finley and featuring recent CCA grads David Gurman and Amanda Herman, as well as Tommy Becker and Bayete Ross-Smith, both of whose new work I'm excited to see. Solo shows for Jamie Vasta, Bayete Ross-Smith and Christian Nguyen are coming up later in 2007-08. It's encouraging to see her bring some fresh energy to sometimes stodgy Geary Street. I wish her great success.