Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Early New Year gallery roundup

Fine Arts

Deborah Oropallo, .45 (2016), photomontage, paint, paper and canvas. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery
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It's officially winter, and baby, is it ever cold outside. But gallery-wise, the year is heating up what might otherwise be a dreary season. Throw on the parka and grab the umbrella, there are places to go and things to see.

Catharine Clark Gallery: Bell the Cat, Deborah Oropallo's latest exhibition, continues her investigation into the manifestations of gender and power – blatant, veiled or subterranean – in traditional portraiture. Making devilish use of photomontage as she did in her groundbreaking exhibition Guise, Oropallo, who started as a painter, juxtaposes figures in historical paintings with imagery from fetish costume catalogues, the Internet and her own photography, then applies a layer of paint to the proceedings. The images merge and emerge like ghosts, hovering in a dance of distortion. In "Bear Arms," an empty, hooded bear costume hangs limply in front of a scrim, nearly obscuring the bare legs of a model scantily clad in a teddy bear outfit. Pinocchio's long nose pokes out of a tangle of marionette strings ("Moral Fiber"), one of two puppet-themed works that appear to speak to the dawning age of Trump, as does "Women Wonder." She explores imperiled femininity in the reactionary age of Trump, sourcing the dark subtext of fairy tales, where women drew power from their beauty and witchcraft, or simply ran out of luck. In "Peril," one of two pieces referencing Snow White, a blood-red apple is proffered by a wicked woman's hand. ".45" depicts a general posed in formal red, white, and blue military dress, epaulets, fruit salad and all, hands clasped behind his back. It might be George Washington, except for the ram's head crowning the ensemble. The piece, originally conceived as a tribute to Hilary Clinton, who would've been the nation's 45th president, took a different turn after the election.

Through Feb. 18,

Artist Sofie Ramos' installation view at Incline (2016). Photo: Courtesy of the artist and Johansson Projects

Johansson Projects: Not one to be confined by the boundaries of a canvas, Oakland artist Sofie Ramos' bold, fantastical, don't-fence-me-in installations transform the gallery into a magical playground with walls, ceilings and floors covered in layers of rainbow-colored house paint. It's as if one had fallen down the rabbit hole into a Technicolor wonderland of geometric shapes, vinyl, sculptures and collages like children's birthday presents bundled in kaleidoscopic wrappings. Think of the chaos of a kindergarten classroom, albeit one with a flock of precocious young artists; it's an environment that may trigger a long-buried urge to get out the finger paints, go to town and chill out afterward during nap time. Ramos, who thinks of her works as being in flux, transient, constantly evolving, will be adding and tweaking elements during the run of the show. After dismantling an exhibition, she reuses materials and admits to never throwing anything away. Her art, like life, is never finished.

Through March 11,

Brian Gross Fine Art: Bay Area Figurative Drawing: 1958-68 promises to be a delight, with works-on-paper by a crackerjack group of local artists; a notorious boys' club, I'm afraid, but one shouldn't hold that against them. The exhibition, which mines a particularly fertile period in the annals of Northern California art, includes 14 works, hybrids of realism and abstraction by major players in the movement such as David Park, Frank Lobdell, Elmer Bischoff, Diebenkorn, William Theophilus Brown, Nathan Oliveira and others, each of whom had his own distinctive style and deserves his own exhibition. They're good company.

Through Feb. 25,

Berggruen Gallery opens this Friday in its new, three-story, 10,000-square-foot space (4,600 of it dedicated to exhibition) at 10 Hawthorne Street, striking distance from SFMOMA. The inaugural show, The Human Form, which assembles over 60 ventures into figuration from the early 20th century onward, is a big-tent concept that allows the gallery to roll out the big guns. The impressive roster includes contemporary and historical artworks by undisputed masters of their mediums such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Edward Hopper, Willem de Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Gerhard Richter, Kara Walker, Lucian Freud, Nick Cave, Khende Wiley, Kiki Smith, and many others.

Jan. 13-March 4,

An Unexpected Visit (2015), HD video, 2-channel video installation by Simon Garcia-Minaur. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Embark Gallery

Embark Gallery's Get Lost show seems to be about resisting the confines of societal expectations, cultural stereotypes and prevailing artistic representations, all of which are challenged here by a group of local Fine Arts grad students. They offer their perspectives, fresh though sometimes a little weighed down by art theory, on expressions of queer identity, politics and activism in a new digital age. Richard-Jonathan Nelson, for instance, examines the fetishizing of black bodies in queer visual culture through brightly colored textiles, digital collages and soft sculptures, while Simon Garcia-Minaur's short videos like An Unexpected Visit, which shows a figure whose head and face are bandaged in green mesh like a terrorist, speak to the invisibility and covert nature of queer sexual relationships. Part spoken word, part video, part installation, Izidora Leber's "A rumination of the queer body in documentary and video making history – and suggestions of how to get lost as a concept for identitarian escape," which questions "institutional notions of binary genders and heteronormative standards of identity," is complemented by a live performance involving fire, text and orange tie-dyed balaclavas, references to political protests.

Jan. 28-Mar. 4,


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