Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jenifer Wofford, Chris Bell, Bruce Tomb and Elaine Buckholtz at Southern Exposure

The venerable Southern Exposure, currently in a lovely temporary location on 14th Street between Valencia and Mission, presents four concurrent solo shows this month. There are several great projects by artists I've had the pleasure to work with in this one.

As you approach the gallery, a wave psychedelic light washes over the sidewalk, trees and passersby. This is Elaine Buckholtz' Scenes for a Box Carnival, an Op-Art inspired intervention into public space projected from the gallery's storefront windows.

The theatrical approach continues inside, with Slow Pan Interior, an installation by Chris Bell. An image of the gallery skips across its own walls, inverting the space in which we stand. Sydney-born Bell recently completed his MFA from Stanford and a subsequent residency at Headlands. His works are kinetic experiments, electrified and illuminated.

Detail of a poster on Bruce Tomb's Art Wall

In the bathroom, Bruce Tomb has mounted a new version of his (de)Appropriation Project Archive all over the walls. The installation consists of messages he culled from tags and posters on the "art wall" of a former police station he owns on Valencia Street. Tomb is an architect, designer and artist, who co-designed Headlands' latrine and has a business, Infinite Fitting, designing bathroom fixtures. So, a natural location for his installation, I guess.

Jenifer K. Wofford, Unseen Forces

Finally, in the rear gallery, is another of my favorite artists/people in the Bay Area, Jenifer K. Wofford. Her Unseen Forces installation is a continuation of a theme she began with her 2005 exhibition Chicksilog at the Richmond Art Center, which I had the pleasure of working on. In this iteration, all the Chicksilogs appear to have been detained by the Transportation Security Administration, leaving their island paradise an uninhabited and fully secure location bedecked with metal detectors. Wofford just finished getting her MFA from UC Berkeley, and is also the organizer of the international traveling exhibition project Galleon Trade, featuring other great Bay Area artists like Mike Arcega, Julio Cesar Morales, Stephanie Syjuco, and introducing Mexican and Filipino artists to SF, at the Luggage store later this year.

Southern Exposure will move again before the year is out. Check out their current space while you can, chill in their backyard bamboo garden, and say hello to the awesome and friendly staff: Courtney, Maysoun and Aimee.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Takashi Murakami at MOCA

Spent the weekend in LA and decided I could no longer make fun of the Louis Vuitton boutique inside MOCA's Takashi Murakami retrospective until I went to see it with my own eyes. I have always had a love-hate relationship with Murakami's work. On the one hand, as a lifelong lover of manga I appreciate the robust Japanese-ness of Murakami's particular post-apocalyptic cartoon vision. On the other, the equally robust and Japanese consumerism apparent in his works touches a sensitive nerve in me. The MOCA exhibition showed Murakami once again to be a keen manipulator of emotions, striking a host of cultural tender spots in a savvy and exuberant way. I simply couldn't help but give in to the gleeful horror of it all.

Hiropon, 1997. Oil, acrylic, fiberglass and iron. Edition of 3.

Back in graduate school in 2003-04, I struggled with my response to Hiropon (above) in the SFMOMA exhibition Supernova: Art of the 1990s from the Logan Collection. This image in particular disturbed me because of the often violent representations of women's sexuality prevalent in hentai, Japanese erotic comics and animations, and the relationship between that reality and Japan's rigidly patriarchal society. As I researched the work and Murakami's statements about it, I began to understand the ideological gymnastics he puts into play. Hiropon is a play on the collector mentality, and as a multiple available in large and small scales, editions and commensurate price ranges, it levels the relationship between the big-ticket art collector who buys a large sculpture for a half million dollars at Christie's and the teenage otaku (loosely translated: dork) whose miniature version came in a shokugan candy box.

Takashi Murakami's SuperFlat Museum Convenience Store Limited Edition - Hiropon/ Blue, 2004. Molded plastic.

The archetypical otaku is a boy in his teens or early 20s whose greatest fear is other people, and particularly the opposite sex. This anxiety manifests itself in sexual fantasies that are at once grotesque and strangely cute. Murakami protege Mr. represents the otaku run amok.

For Murakami himself, this is but one thread in his Warholian repertoire of consumerist critique. As with Warhol, it can be difficult to determine whether certain images of Murakami's are in fact critical or simply embracing of consumerism, and the Vuitton boutique which MOCA has notoriously placed within the exhibition galleries is an example of that critical dullness. Most offensively, it is the one boring part of an otherwise constantly exciting show, with nothing much to see. The fact that the sales don't even benefit MOCA does my non-profit arts administrator heart a bad turn, so enough about that misguided attempt at shock value.

Tan Tan Bo Puking - a.k.a. Gero Tan, 2002. Acrylic on canvas and wood.

Murakami is at his best when he synthesizes Japanese spiritual traditions with his anime influences. In Tan Tan Bo Puking, a form derived from his DoB character (a riff on Mickey Mouse) regurgitates toxic waste in a scene that could easily have appeared in anime master Hayao Miyazaki's 2001 classic Spirited Away. The painting is enormous, about 12 feet high by 24 feet wide, and truly impressive to comprehend. Like Miyazaki's film, Tan Tan Bo Puking incorporates symbols of the spirit world and suggests that environnmental devastation is throwing the order of things off-balance.

Oval Buddha, 2007. Aluminum and platinum leaf.

Some of the best work in the show is the newest. From Oval Buddha, 2007, a gigantic aluminum and platinum figure that can only be described as a mutant temple sculpture, to Second Mission Project Ko2, 1999-2000, an alarming female figure who transforms gruesomely from hentai girl to fighter jet, Murakami in his full career stride is pushing both sides of the envelope. The former work is alluringly spiritual in its meditative, architectural quality. The latter work is aggressive and vicious. Both use humor as an attractor and grotesqueness as a repellent, pushing and pulling the viewer. This duality is the essence of Superflat, at the heart of Murakami's vision.

Second Mission Project Ko2, 1999-2000. Fiberglass, iron, acrylic, and oil paint.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Frederick Loomis: The Third Covenant at Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Happy new year!

Last night I went to see Frederick Loomis' solo show at Steven Wolf Fine Arts in San Francisco. Fred is a visionary artist who spent the first 25 years of his career drawing in staff meetings as a Marketing executive for Verizon. He took early retirement a few years back and got an MFA from California College of the Arts, which is where I first encountered his intricate and obsessive work in 2004.

Miriam Mosher, First Generation, Class 5 Anthropomorphic Computing Platform, 2005, colored pencil on paper

Fred's been getting some much-deserved attention lately. The image above appeared on the cover of Leonardo last winter (Vol. 40 No. 1, February 2007, MIT Press). It depicts the first generation of human computers endowed with a soul, the "Mother Platform." Her skin is made of 24K gold and her nervous system is fiber-optic. Loomis attributes all his work to his alter ego "Edward Mathew Taylor," whose visions in the 20th century predict the coming race of human computers and lay the foundation for a new techno-futurist religion.

The Dios Neurocontroller, 2006, pencil on paper

Taylor has had visions of "Mind Maps," mandalas crossed with microchips that describe a circuit of sentience. His prophecy draws from three sources: the Mormon Church of Latter-Day Saints, research to develop Artificial Intelligence in machines, and the 12-step recovery program. Like the Mormons, Taylor is engaged in the creation of new religious texts that reflect the circumstances of his contemporary society. These circumstances are defined largely by technological advancement, and the belief held by many in the AI and science-fiction communities (science and literature sides of the same coin) in the impending Singularity when computer evolution outpaces that of humans. He foresees that human failings such as addiction and cruelty will be eliminated by a superior race of computers that preserve mankind's better qualities while avoiding our worse ones.

Porters of the Third Covenant, 1991, pencil on paper

The exhibition also includes a series of older drawings that form "The Third Covenant," describing the lineage between extant Bible-derived religions and Taylor's new faith. A publication has been produced which includes all these drawings and the tenets of the Third Covenant. Loomis reports that the Third Testament will be his next undertaking, in the tradition of the Quran, the Book of Mormon, and Dianetics.

Fred insists that his intention is not actually to start a religion, but I say, if L. Ron Hubbard can have followers, Fred's mythology is way more seductive. He is a man with a mission, and I guarantee you will see much more from Fred Loomis.

Frederick Loomis: The Third Covenant
Through Feb 1, 2008

Steven Wolf Fine Arts
49 Geary St., Suite 411
San Francisco, CA 94108

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