May Gallery Walk

  • by Sura Wood
  • Thursday May 25, 2017
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"Cheer Pile with Preppy Boys" (2017) by Jennie Ottinger
"Cheer Pile with Preppy Boys" (2017) by Jennie Ottinger

May is the gateway to summer, and the following shows at galleries in San Francisco and Oakland are a harbinger of the footloose season to come.

Megan Reed and Jennie Ottinger are the troublemakers currently causing a ruckus in "Rabble-Rousers" at Johansson Projects. Reed's goofy, anthropomorphic sculptures, the colors of fruit soda, cotton candy and Likamade, look like characters that played hooky from a children's cartoon to watch the parade go by. Humorous, kind of sweet, mounted on spindly legs or going in several directions at once, they're ungainly in an adorable way. Works such as "Whitewashed," an extra-large-sized, bubble-gum-colored hand anchored in a pile of orange slabs, and either waving or giving someone the finger, and "P," a queasy, flesh-toned thing with a long tongue sticking out from a hole in its center, among others, make a game audience for the sports spectacles conceived in the scintillating imagination of Jennie Ottinger. The San Francisco artist, whose paintings probe the underside of power, hierarchy and affiliation with wicked humor, continues her preoccupation with peppy, smiley-faced cheerleaders who are (mostly) the soft pink of rare beef. But don't be fooled: beneath the clean-cut, All-American veneer, the rah-rah stadium rallies she depicts have a giddy, unwholesome fervor Leni Riefenstahl could love. It's enough to make one stop and ponder how quickly a roaring crowd can turn into a torch-carrying mob. Ottinger is particularly interested in why people join clubs, and how they behave both towards each other and outsiders. Not well, I reckon. In "Cheer Party" and "Cheer Fight," for instance, fisticuffs break out within or between squads while leering male onlookers, aroused by the conflict, stand idly by. My fave, though, is "Cheer Pile with Preppy Boys" (you gotta love that title), set on a green expanse in front of that bastion of upstanding behavior and reverence for women, a frat house. (May 27-July 22).

Hosfelt Gallery's "Garage Inventors" pays tribute to all those Silicon Valley geniuses who got their start puttering in the family garage by providing a showcase for artists with a scientific bent, an engineering degree or plain old ingenuity. Charles Lindsay, who constructs immersive environments, videos and sculptures fashioned from aerospace and bio-tech castoffs, started as a geologist before directing the artist-in-residence program at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute. Those pursuits are reflected in his very cool "Rocket Brain," a transparent Pyrex rocket ship forged from a salvaged missile guidance system and mounted on a bullet-proof Plexiglas shelf and saw horses. Two MIT grads also contribute: Alan Rath, who creates electronic sculptures that have an eerie resemblance to human body parts; and Jim Campbell, whose light-box, "The Square Enters the Circle," forms a single image from a series of color digital pictures of the Pantheon in Rome. Meanwhile, tinkerer extraordinaire Tim Hawkinson has transformed a bicycle into a whistle that plays notes triggered by the grooves in its rear-wheel tread. Done in conjunction with SpaceX, NASA and CERN, and integrating elements of astrophysics, biology, archaeology and a dash of Einstein's relativism, Rachel Sussman's "(Selected) History of the Spacetime Continuum" consists of a handwritten, 100-foot-long timeline mural that begins eons ago, before the Big Bang, and extends 100 billion years into the future. Talk about thinking ahead. (Through July 1.)

Rena Bransten Gallery: "Promised Land." The salient feature of Hung Liu's art is its humanity, which can be felt like an insistent, reassuring backbeat. Mourning, loss and displacement stalk Liu, who suffered hardships during the Cultural Revolution and emigrated to the U.S from China in 1984, bearing a life story that would have embittered and crushed the spirit of a lesser person. In her latest show of paintings and works on paper, Liu responds to searing images by Dorothea Lange, whose own capacity for empathy is on full display in a retrospective at OMCA. Both artists bear witness and understand the power of imagery to shape collective memory. But while Lange soberly documented the poverty and desperation of Dust Bowl migrants and the Depression, Liu casts her net wider, beyond borders, looking at forced migration, economic deprivation and hunger as part of the human condition. She changes the white ethnicity of the maternal figure in Lange's most iconic, widely reproduced picture, "Migrant Mother," and puts a hungry baby in the poor woman's arms ("Migrant Mother: Mealtime"); while the wary young African American boy of "Laborer: Farm Hand" seems defeated before his life has begun. Through a bright color palette and vigorous lines, she offers a sliver of hope in paintings such as "Westbound," based on Lange's "Oklahoma Family on the Road." In Liu's rendition, the parents and children hitchhiking on the side of a rural road are surrounded by wildflowers in a field of dreams, a pit stop on their way to that elusive "promised land." (Through June 24.)

The raucous moveable feast of canines, creatures and carnival characters that leapt from the teeming brain of Roy De Forest has migrated to Brian Gross Fine Art, where the exhibition "Man of Our Times" features drawings from the last two decades of this highly original, Bay Area artist's career. (50 of his color-charged paintings and sculptures are on view in a survey show at OMCA.) The drawings, which have a folksy, outsider-art gestalt, are complicated affairs with complex compositions, pop culture references and a cast of striding caballeros, demons, tribal deities and representatives from the animal kingdom. Fantastical scenarios play out in scribbled pastels and mixed media works, encased in the artist's handcrafted frames adorned with carved animals and weird little heads of suspicious origin. But the drawings here are a Zen-like sea of calm compared to De Forest's paintings, populated as they are with an overflow crowd of dogs - BFFs who, let's face it, are better than most people we know. (Through July 1.)

"Cheer Pile with Preppy Boys" (2017) by Jennie Ottinger. Photo: Courtesy of Johansson Projects and the artist

"Migrant Mother: Mealtime" (2016), oil on canvas by Hung Liu. Photo: John Janca, courtesy Rena Bransten Gallery

"Untitled" (2003), mixed media on paper with artist-designed frame by Roy De Forest. Photo: Courtesy of Brian Gross Fine Art, Estate of Roy De Forest

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