Exhibits preview :: Burgeoning art before the blockbusters

  • by Kevin Mark Kline, Director of Promotions
  • Friday May 21, 2010
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Don’t You Know You’ve Got to Try a Little Bit Harder (felt, yarn, rhinestones,  acrylic on canvas, 2010) by James Gobel. Photo: Courtesy Marx  Zavattero, San Francisco
Don’t You Know You’ve Got to Try a Little Bit Harder (felt, yarn, rhinestones, acrylic on canvas, 2010) by James Gobel. Photo: Courtesy Marx Zavattero, San Francisco

During this brief lull between the wind-up of winter museum shows and the launch of summer blockbuster attractions like the Fisher Collection unveiling at SFMOMA in late June, there's an assortment of interesting, idiosyncratic gallery shows to tickle the palette. Here's a small and by no means comprehensive sample itinerary for the adventurously inclined.

Marx & Zavattero: James Gobel: I Get What I Want, and Always Get It Again! Say it loud: I'm chubby and I'm proud. In his latest exhibition of mixed-media, felt, yarn and acrylic paintings, the gay San Francisco-based artist James Gobel defies gravity. He elevates portly men to iconic status, and rockets them into the pop-culture stratosphere as he weaves a narrative in which rotund, furry gay guys subscribing to the "bear" subculture (Gobel is a charter member) star in their very own rock-n-roll fantasies. When Gobel started down this particular road over a decade ago, he drew on imagery from pinup magazines such as Bulk Male, Heavy Duty and American Grizzly, dedicated to the sensual attributes of heavy-set men, as well as the personal ads found in those publications. In 1995, he put on 35 lbs. to get the right gestalt. For his most recent work, he channels Queen's gay frontman Freddie Mercury, who died of complications from AIDS at age 45, and Adam Ant, known for his tango with androgyny and chronic bad behavior. The antithesis of the prevailing physical ideal (streamlined, youthful and muscular) and fully at ease with themselves, Gobel's regular Joes-turned-rock-angels are costumed in fluorescent colors, alarming patterns and gold chains as they belt out rock and pop songs from the 1980s on strobe-lit stages in an ode to kitschy glamour. Rock on, boys! Runs June 12-July 17. www.marxzav.com

John Berggruen Gallery: Helen Frankenthaler: Paintings, 1961-1973. An inveterate New Yorker and a pivotal figure in postwar American painting, championed by the powerful art critic Clement Greenberg, who introduced her to the New York scene, Frankenthaler was one of the few women to exhibit large-scale, abstract expressionist paintings. She studied with Hans Hoffman, but it was Jackson Pollock who was the catalyst for her style, though she went further than he, especially in the arena of color. She developed her signature soak-stain technique, diluting oil paint so that the color would be absorbed by the untreated canvas, which gave some of her works the luminous transparency of watercolor, and thereby introduced the second wave of abstract painting known as Color Field. Many consider some of the work produced during the period covered by the show the high point of late-1960s painting. The innovative technique was crucial to the immediacy Frankenthaler prizes, and led to the kind of seemingly spontaneous painting that, as she once said, "looks as if it were born in a minute." Through June 26. www.berggruen.com

Robert Tat Gallery: Horst P. Horst + George Hoyningen-Huene. This exhibition features stunning, exquisitely composed, and sometimes erotically charged photographs by two pioneers of fashion photography who met in Paris in 1930, became fast friends, then lovers.

The German-born Horst, an apprentice to Le Corbusier (he soon soured on the demanding master architect), became a trend-setting photographer for international Vogue during the late 1930s and 40s. Known for still lifes, nudes and, later, portraits of toast-of-the-town luminaries like Cole Porter, Dietrich, Gertrude Stein, Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Noel Coward, Cocteau and Chanel, Horst, rarely working with the aid of filters, embraced surrealism, Greek ideals of beauty, and, with his lens, the endless legs of chorus girls. (See his Round the Clock series.)

The younger of the two men and the embodiment of Aryan perfection in his own right, he occasionally modeled for Huene, who liked to photograph god-like specimens of male pulchritude. "Horst on Horse," where the partially nude, Adonis-like Horst straddles a white marble steed, is a prime example. While enjoying a successful stint at Vogue, the worldly Huene majored in elegance, visually realized through gorgeous models and clothes and even more gorgeous light. Shaped by the moveable feast of 1920s Paris, Huene, the son of Russian aristocrats, collaborated with Man Ray and went on to shoot Josephine Baker, work for George Cukor and immortalize the radical landscapes of Africa, Greece and Egypt with classic flair. He liked to quote Chanel's line, "L'elegance c'est moi," and there's no reason to argue. Through July 31. www.roberttat.com

Robert Koch Gallery: Elliott Erwitt: New York. Think of the electrifying, romantic New York of Woody Allen's Manhattan, transmitted through the splendid black-and-white cinematography of Gordon Willis, and you have an inkling of photographer Elliott Erwitt's New York City of the mind. Erwitt's black-and-white pictures capture the daily life of the metropolis and its denizens, who can pack the landscapes and bring them to teeming, maddening life, or abandon them, leaving behind an untouched paradise. Born in Paris to Russian emigres, Erwitt, who arrived in New York by way of Italy and Hollywood, and whose photographic background is in journalism, fashion and advertising, has both the outsider's awe and detached observer's emotional distance. He maintains that distance with subjects as varied as Muhammad Ali dancing like a butterfly with Frazier in Madison Square Garden, a bulldog assuming its owner's identity, a child aligning herself with Egyptian statuary at the Metropolitan Museum, a deserted Central Park stilled by snowfall, or crowds at Coney Island. Through May 29. www.kochgallery.com