Last chance for
December gallery shows
by Sura Wood
Around town and beyond city limits this month is an assortment of shows that will be closing by the end of the year or sometime in January. So if you hurry, you can take advantage of the last chance to catch them before they're gone.
Crocker Art Museum Emancipating the Past: Kara Walker's Tales of Slavery and Power African-American artist Kara Walker mines the contentious intersection of race, gender, sexuality and identity, but her true subject is power: those who wield it and try to steal it from others. Born in Stockton to an artist father whom she worshipped, and raised in the South, Walker's controversial work hit the art world like a lightning bolt in the early 1990s. At the tender age of 28, she was one of the youngest recipients of the MacArthur Genius Grant. Deploying deceptively simple, life-size silhouette figures that are cut out of black paper and attached to gallery walls, Walker portrays violent nightmarish scenarios of cruelty, enslavement, and repression in its many forms: sexual, racial and emotional. Her visual narratives, where characters copulate and do each other harm, are part historical slavery drama, part antebellum romance fiction. Her latest show includes her visceral tableaux as well as drawings, prints and videos. Yes, it's a trek to Sacramento, but what better time to visit our state capital than during the holiday break before the show leaves town? Through Jan. 5, 2014; Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento); crockerartmuseum.org
Catherine Clark Gallery Stacy Steers' Night Hunter, the title of her latest exhibition, is also the namesake of her signature work, which took four labor-intensive years to produce. Steers, a meticulous film, video and collage artist whose films have been shown at the Sundance and Telluride Film Festivals and the National Gallery of Art in D.C. among other venues, constructed the hallucinatory film with an amalgam of images of an angelic Lillian Gish taken from the silent-screen star's classic films, which were combined with over 4,000 paper collages and fragments of 19th-century illustrations. Transplanted into an animated horror fantasy, Gish is pursued by one giant, quite persistent, mean-looking reptile with fangs bared. Butterflies flutter out her mouth, and later, she lays an enormous egg, one of many that reside in her gothic environs, a dark upstairs room where the sun don't shine. The short film is accompanied by a tall, freestanding Victorian dollhouse lit from within by blue light and embedded with small projection screens. Through its windows, one can view dreamlike videos. Meanwhile, film project Phantom Canyon is an evocation of memory incorporating 18th and 19th century engravings and figures from Eadweard Muybridge's 1887 locomotion studies. The surreal journey begins when a naked little girl opens an old trunk and shiny bell crystals and insects fly out; soon a giant python appears, houses and beds are airborne, and a flirtatious young woman is seduced by a man with bat wings. Though this show officially closed on Dec. 14, the dollhouse and films will remain in the gallery and be accessible online through the end of the month. www.cclarkgallery.com
Fraenkel Gallery Diane Arbus: 1971-1956 Always compelling our attention no matter how often they're published or exhibited, photographs by Arbus, the champion of the different and decidedly unglamorous among us, never get old. Although her career was all-too-brief, spanning a mere 15 years, one cannot argue with the impact of her work. Beginning shortly before her untimely death in 1971, this exhibition of 60 rare and familiar images traces the evolution of her photography in a novel way. Working backward in time, it looks at pictures from each year, placing them in five separate categories that reflect Arbus' preoccupations: unusual people marginalized or ostracized by society; the private, often strange domains they inhabit; and the mysteries of connection and aloneness. Through Dec. 28; www.fraenkelgallery.com
Krowswork Gallery & Project Space Cuba for Keeps Mississippi photographer Milly West shares her personal impressions of Cuba, that exotic island off the coast of Florida that remains an enigma for most Americans with the possible exception of Beyonce and Jay Z. In this collection of pictures, the artist offers an intimate perspective of a commonly misunderstood and mythologized place and its people, as well as its community of artists, some of whom she has photographed in their homes. Magnetized by the bright colors, especially the Caribbean blue that announces its presence everywhere, and the sensual vitality of a populace whose spirit seems undimmed by economic privation, West clearly has affection for Cuba, a country she has visited more than 30 times since 1996. "It's as though her camera were directly attached to her heart," writes Sandra Levinson, director of the Center for Cuban Studies in New York. "These photographs are not made by a foreigner in a strange land, but by a sister coming to visit her family." Through Dec. 28; www.krowswork.com (Oakland). Note gallery hours: Fri. & Sat.: 1-5 p.m.
Hosfelt Gallery has two concurrent shows up that run until the end of January. Jim Campbell's Tilted Plane is a room-sized installation that continues this inventive artist's creative attempts to translate two-dimensional digital imagery into three dimensions. (You may have seen his work Exploded View hanging above the atrium at SFMOMA last year.) Suspending hundreds of incandescent bulbs whose filaments have been replaced with LEDs, Campbell advances his ideas a step further by enabling visitors to feel as though they've entered a slanted plane of flickering light and moving imagery. The piece, which can be viewed from above or below and from multiple angles, can be a little like a planetarium wired by Edison, with lightbulbs standing in for stars. In On the Road, Israeli-born painter Gideon Rubin draws from cyberspace, print media, snapshots and postcards to push the limits and traditional notions of portraiture. His figures, whether dressed or naked, are eerily faceless, and his equally impersonal, oddly featureless landscapes speak of modern anomie. Through Jan. 25; www.hosfeltgallery.com.