Escape to the galleries
by Sura Wood
With the holiday season descending on us, what could be better than taking refuge in art? Herewith are a few places to escape to in the coming weeks.
Oakland, a fresh face on the art scene, continues to be a growing force. Take Johansson Projects, a small, hip venue on Telegraph Avenue whose reliable track record of ingeniously devised, contemporary art exhibitions delivers the unexpected. A case in point is their current show, All Exit, a series of futuristic, architectural, multi-media installations and sculptures by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, a husband-and-wife team who address the allure of the California frontier, from Silicon Valley tech campuses, corporate business parks and farmland to infinity and beyond. "Priest of the Temple" (2012), for example, combines a sculptural collage of a demolished Silicon Valley hotel spa, live camera feeds and an enlarged portrait of microchip mogul/prophet and founder of Intel Gordon Moore, a kind of high-tech Bucky Fuller whose presence looms over kaleidoscopic imagery that contracts and expands like the universe itself. "Constant World" (2014), comprised of video, sculpture and electronic components that are complemented by a hypnotizing assemblage of metallic spheres, models and lights suspended from the ceiling, is both utopian vision and seamy film noir. Through Jan. 3.
In 2006, Modernbook Gallery published their first monograph, Hong Kong Yesterday, by photographer Fan Ho. A street-level view of post-war Hong Kong, a densely packed region undergoing a dramatic transformation during the 1950s and 60s, the book sold out in the first six months. Since then Ho, who's now in his 80s, has become an Internet sensation with an avid following off-line, too. The gallery, which not only mounts exhibitions but also publishes limited editions of work by some of the artists they represent, marks its 15th anniversary this month with the publication of A Hong Kong Memoir, the final installment in Ho's trilogy. Its release is accompanied by an exhibition of 50 of the artist's works in which he has created new montages, utilizing digital techniques to layer, superimpose and manipulate images from old negatives. In the illusory "Life Goes On" (2010), for instance, people crossing train tracks appear to dance with their shadows. The show includes pictures that exemplify Ho's expressive artistry such as "Trio" (2000), a spare haiku-like scene where a lone boatman punts down a river enveloped in mist; a bare tree branch sculpts the foreground, and a huge harvest moon overhead lights the way. His painterly, exquisitely composed, high-contrast black & white images are reminiscent of traditional Chinese landscapes, and his bold urban geometries linger in the mind.
Born in Shanghai, Ho, who lives in San Jose, has been called "the Ansel Adams of Hong Kong," and cites Shakespeare, Brahms, Fellini and Charlie Chaplin as formative influences. The recipient of 280 awards for his photographic work, and lauded in his dual career as a Hong King movie director and actor, Ho was inspired by French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson. But, while Cartier-Bresson strived for "the decisive moment" and grabbed his pictures on the run, Ho's approach is characterized by the deliberation, serenity and patience that have yielded some of his most stunning photographs, like "Approaching Shadow" (1954). Taken outside a college, it depicts the precipitous angles of a pair of white-walled buildings, one of them in shadow (the shadow was added in the darkroom), that form two triangles, evoking the grandeur of the Egyptian pyramids, and dwarfing the slight figure of a woman standing between them. Through Jan. 31.
Gallery Wendi Norris has developed a strong contingent of female artists that includes Eva Schlegel, an Austrian who blends painting, film and photography. In her latest show, a pair of videos, running consecutively, are projected onto the surface of a whirring industrial fan: "Rotor Universe" injects a dose of wonderment with a black, starlit cosmos and a pulsing red orb that flashes Morse code, and "No Man's Heaven" features images of men and women flying through the sky overlaid with quotations from astronauts describing the experience of defying gravity. The work calls to mind supernovas and uncharted worlds, ruminations particularly apropos given the comet landing and Interstellar, the cinematic space odyssey transfixing wannabe cosmic travelers from the safety of terra firma. Also on view: several erotic paintings in garish tints based on tawdry pornographic images the artist uncovered in a Viennese brothel in the 1960s; and photographs of blurred female figures that are intriguing, distant and difficult to make out. They suggest transition and the elusiveness of identity for women who unwittingly serve as canvases onto which society projects its fear, loathing and desire. Through Dec. 20.
Drawing on the inexhaustible reserves of the eminently quotable Gertrude Stein, the alternative art space Gray Loft Gallery has come up with a novel approach for its latest group show, There is a There There, a playful rebuke to Stein's famously disparaging remark about Oakland, which the town has never been able to shake. Stein, famous for her Paris salons, believed in living with art, a credo that inspired gallery curator Jan Watten to bring together more than 30 of her favorite (mostly) Oakland artists like Philip Dow, Tracey Snelling and Suzy Barnard, who says she makes cargo ships the "protagonists" of her paintings. Barnard is represented by the brilliant blue "Being Brilliant," a response to the magnificent Bay view outside her Pier 70 studio in San Francisco. Displaying the art in salon fashion a la Stein, Watten has juxtaposed form, content, color, medium and genre in thematic areas and arranged works in clever configurations with furnishings to create environments for them to inhabit.
Unfortunately, the building that houses the gallery has been purchased by a developer, and in the near future, there may indeed be no there there. Through Dec. 12.