Last Saturday turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year in San Francisco. For anyone who doesn’t know, summer doesn’t arrive in this city until after Labor Day. Cashmere scarves and knit sweaters are all the rage in July, and by September the temperature and trends shift to hot days filled with sangria, tank tops and maxi dresses. I enjoyed the weather with a stroll through the galleries in downtown Union Square.
A couple months ago I wrote about the 49 Geary building in San Francisco’s Union Square, but the neighborhood is home to other galleries in separate buildings. After living in this city for several years, I realized that this would be my first time to some of these spaces. Passing through the hoards of tourists and a peaceful protest for Syria, I arrived at Gallery Paule Anglim. And what luck I had walking in and up the stairs, as Ms. Anglim herself was walking down the stairs and out, clearly in a rush to get away from the uncomfortable indoor heat this climate change has caused.
Regardless of the weather, which is never a topic of conversation in SF until this very month, it was a delight to see paintings by Pamela Wilson-Ryckman in an exhibition titled GPS. From the exhibition statement: “Precise knowledge of location gives one the illusion of control but knowing exactly where you are doesn’t necessarily mean you are in a good place. Rather than location it is often the experience of place that matters. How much information does one need to reconstruct a memory or sense of place? The answer is — not that much, imagination fills the gap”. I was most interested in Geppetto’s Jacket (2013) and it’s glaring painterly techniques, creating so much dimension of space for that “imagination”.
Out the door and on to the next, I visited for the first time Dolby Chadwick Gallery. As soon as I walked in, the speakers on the gallery desk were playing fun reggae music that fit perfectly with the tropical feeling in the air. It was a relaxing Saturday in the gallery — if I had to work I would be playing the same music! Guy Diehl’s awesome exhibition A Dialogue with Tradition sported realist paintings of still lifes that any art nerd could really appreciate. Some objects include books and postcards of historical works of art. From the exhibition statement: “his work is first and foremost ‘art about art,’ the lynchpin of his paintings is their references to other artworks”. After taking the postcard for the exhibition, I realized that my new favorite thing would be taking pictures of art and its exhibition postcard.
And once again, I was off to the next space I had never been to before until that day, the lovely two-story John Berggruen Gallery. Two shows were up: The Grand Anonymous by Linda Ridgway and the other of Important Works on Paper from the Past Forty Years by Chuck Close. I fell in love with Ridgway’s But the secret sits in the middle and knows (2011) — a bronze wall sculpture of blackened flowers — for its transcendence above kitsch. Sadly, it was already sold.
When I walked down to the main gallery level, I felt like I had walked into an old world Soho: 4 giant Chuck Close watercolors. But I’m a sucker for mixed media collage, so Study for “Keith”/4 times (1975) got me all riled up with excitement.
Finally, I stopped into Caldwell Synder Gallery and its ridiculously hip show by Marta Penter. The space itself goes on for days and it perfectly compliments Penter’s muted paintings of American culture just being alive and chillin’ and laughin’ and lovin’ and wearin’ jeans and listen’ to tunes. I’m reminded of Levi’s and Gap and wonder if she’s collaborated with either company, as they’ve been headquartered in San Francisco forever.
Like I had mentioned in my 49 Geary post, it’s hard to disassociate the art from the status of Union Square as the high-end shopping district of San Francisco. Several galleries in the city started off in the downtown area only to later move out to other less commercial areas. I, for one, love the play between art and commerce and luxury brands and cultural demand. I don’t mind that my art stroll can be stopped by seeing a fabulous abstract work of art in a window, or a fabulous contemporary Bang & Olufsen sound system. In the end, they’re both going to end up sharing space in someone’s living room.
I recently saw the trailer for Woody Allen’s new movie Blue Jasmine starring Cate Blanchett. There was an exterior shot of a cafe on the block I live on in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. I pass that cafe almost everyday and I never considered it to be so dramatic until I saw it in the trailer. I was reminded how vibrant the Mission is, and so I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood to visit some great art spots.
The Mission is a cool place — home to a dense Mexican community that is quickly becoming consumed by white affluent hipsters. Lots of homeless people in puffy down jackets slowly push shopping carts on Mission Street past tipsy Marina bros wearing aviators and the latest salmon-colored shorts. “Artisanal” is in the name of the game in this area, with highly priced food, home, and decor products in shops along Valencia Street.
The booming tech scene has spawned the tech renaissance populated by well-educated and well-paid 20 and 30-somethings that have injected the city with so much money that San Francisco has become one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Private commuter bus lines for employees of companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google weave through the Mission, attracting very competitive rental fees on new and old luxury apartments.
Sprinkled throughout this urban grid are several art venues. From private galleries to non-profit spaces, the Mission is an eclectic mix as diverse as its inhabitants. The tech folk have yet to share and indulge their economic prosperity with the artistic community of the Mission, but eventually some kind of connection will be made. Until then, these art venues continue to produce and shape an active voice in the shape of San Francisco’s cultural identity albeit in the shadow of technology’s spotlight.
Just two blocks from the cafe in Blue Jasmine is the artist-run space Root Division. Several of my classmates from grad school have had or currently have studio space there. From the website: “Root Division is a visual arts non-profit that connects creativity and community through a dynamic ecosystem of arts education, exhibitions, & studios”. The space constantly holds calls for submissions and proposals for future shows and delivers a wide range of educational programming. My favorite is their annual juried exhibition titled Introductions. I’m a sucker for healthy art competition and the debut of emerging artists!
During my visit, I got a chance to check out the group show Electronic Pacific Satellite curated by Justin Charles Hoover. Digital and time-based media fill the space, but I’m still a fan of a standout like Gabby Miller’s Logistics from Sea to Land (For Giang and Nam) (2012). A large section of a steel shipping container is painted blue on one side and leans against a wall. Miller quotes a text from Marc Levin’s “The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger” that traces the shipping connection between the US and Vietnam. I giggle when I relate the shipping container to the enormous private tech busses passing through the Mission.
Some blocks away, I see Southern Exposure. From the website: “Our good friends THE THING will be in residence at Southern Exposure for the month of August before transitioning into their new Tenderloin storefront this fall. Six years ago, THE THING launched their first issue at SoEx; it’s only fitting that they return for the completion of their 20th, conceived by Tauba Auerbach. A wrapping party for the 20th issue will be hosted by SoEx on August 15″. The last time I was at SoEx, I participated in a wrapping party for the 19th issue by David Shrigley. This space is all about collaboration and sharing with passionate artists throughout the city.
I keep walking and I see Kadist, but its doors were closed this day. From the website: “Kadist Art Foundation encourages the contribution of the arts to society, conducting programs primarily with artists represented in its collection to promote their role as cultural agents. Kadist’s collections and productions reflect the global scope of contemporary art, and its programs develop collaborations between Kadist’s local contexts (Paris, San Francisco) and artists, curators and art institutions worldwide”. One night a couple years ago, Tony Labat invited several artists to share YouTube videos in this space. We all gathered around a projection screen and watched a variety of odd, funny, weird, informative, and emotional videos. The evening became the contemporary equivalent of an ancient scene of storytelling around a blazing fire.
After passing a yoga studio or two, I finally end my wandering on a block with two private galleries: Steven Wolf Fine Arts and Guerrero Gallery. I have an affinity for Steven’s gallery because I exhibited in the space last year. The first gallery room hosts Richard Kamler’s Twelve Food Trays on Ikea Shelves (1999 — Present). The gunmetal-colored objects display the last food item requests from death row prisoners. It’s quiet in the room, and spooky and grey and I know in the other room there is a working sculpture of an electric chair by Philip Zimmerman, so I get a little uncomfortable and I quietly back out of the gallery and cross the street.
Across the street at Guerrero Gallery, Adam Feibelman shows a bunch of artwork in an exhibition titledÂ Do with Me as You Will. While the space is naturally bright and airy like Steven’s gallery, there’s a different, lighter feeling in here. Maybe it’s the hand-cut paper pieces in pretty frames that seem more familiar in a gallery space. There’s sewing thread and pattern and images of cityscapes, so I think that it could be quite uplifting, until I consider the brown edges of the cutouts to be burnt and suddenly everything looks very spooky and ghost-like. What an intense block of artwork!
A couple hours of walking in the Mission can bring you face-to-face with the contemporary art scene of San Francisco. The sun is always shining, and it’s particularly rewarding when it seems like the rest of the city is covered in fog. Every space has an interesting perspective and is consistently delivering the kind of work that local artists enjoy making, and local audience members enjoy discussing. Now let’s try to get the tech folk to check it out!
This week: Our faithful correspondent Patricia Maloney sat down with former US Congressman Pat Williams and his son Griff Willams at Gallery 16 in San Francisco earlier this month to discuss the turbulence of the Culture Wars during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Patricia finally learned how legislating works in a conversation that ran the gamut from explaining Piss Christ to conservative parents and why Poker Jim Butte is the best place to catch some Shakespeare to how the NEA is vital to cultural production in rural communities and why now might be the moment to demand the return of federal grants for individual artists.
Rep. Pat Williams, who served Montana as its U.S. Congressman for nine terms, from 1979-1997, was Chairman of the House Committee that oversaw fiscal authorization for the NEA. He was one of the most vocal champions for Federal Arts Funding and has been credited for saving the NEA at a time when it was threatened with extermination by the religious Right. When the National Endowment for the Arts came under attack for subsidizing what some legislators considered sexually explicit art, Williams led the fight to save the agency. â€œAs long as the federal government can support the arts without interfering with their content, government can indeed play a meaningful part in trying to encourage the arts,â€ Williams told The New York Times. â€œThe genius of the NEA has been that the peer- review panels, made up of local folks, chose art and artists by using criteria based upon quality and excellence, never touching subject matter.â€
â€œHe was a tireless and fearless supporter of the arts,â€ reports John Frohnmayer, who served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during that tumultuous era. â€œHe risked his political career in doing so.â€ Frohnmayer recalls that Williams â€œcalled out the congressional critics of the Endowment for their duplicity and moral posturing.â€
This week: Brian Andrews and Patricia Maloney talk to SFMOMA!
There are about nine people in the world who can pull off a Clark Kent outfit — you know, the button-down business shirt that is unbuttoned to reveal a giant S. Christopher Kardambikis is one of those people. The Superman reference can point to a number of things: Christopher’s dashing good looks, his nerd-level interest in comics, and/or his weakness to Kryptonite.
While his solo artistic practice is an ever-evolving exploration into the higher realms of mythology and absurdity, his collaborations with other creative folk are consistently grounded in the community zeitgeist. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve RSVP’d “no” (because I was busy!) to the various happenings and events put on by Christopher and Co. From book binding parties to book fair receptions, his collaborative projects reveal a passionate interest in generously sharing and showcasing the wonderful work of various artists.
Jeff: I just drove down from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and boy are my arms tired!
Chris: Wouldn’t it be your feet because you drive a Flintstones car?
J: Well the car that I rented was terrible. I’m not going to mention the brand, but I will never rent it again. Anyway, it’s funny that I’m in Los Angeles interviewing you when I am supposed to be covering the Bay Area for Bad at Sports. Why did I drive all the way here for you?
C: Because it’s warmer here and you like fire. The whole city is on fire right now.
J: Wait, are you serious?
C: It’s hot and dry. The city is full of fire. There’s a danger at every turn.
J: Yikes. There’s been a heat wave in San Francisco for the past week. You know why?
J: Because we’re preparing for your arrival! There it is — that’s how I segue you as a Los Angeles-based artist into my Bay Area-centric column (segue #1).
C: I’m pan-Californian. Southern California cannot contain me.
J: Before I ask you about what you will be doing in SF, what are you up to in LA these days?
C: Outside of working my day job, I’ve been collaborating with various artists on different publications. I’m so new to the city! It’s so big and I’m so small. It’s so expansive and I’m just trying to find my place here. LA is a very strange animal.
J: You moved up from San Diego. Any differences in the art scenes?
C: San Diego doesn’t have a huge art scene. A lot of what I was doing was centered around UC San Diego where I went to grad school and the various awesome spaces setup by alum of the program.
J: What brought you out to LA?
C: It seemed like the next logical step for me. While I was in grad school I was able to drive up to LA frequently and I got to know the city a bit and I liked what I saw of the art scene here. Many people I knew moved to Los Angeles — from San Diego and Pittsburgh, where I did my undergrad — so it seemed like a good support network. I’m not ready to leave California yet.
J: I have the same feelings about San Francisco. I should have moved back to New York after grad school, but I fell in love with California! Have the cliches of surfer life and pot smoking affected your work?
C: Ha, no. I mean, it’s Silver Lake — we’re so far from the beach. I can’t surf the LA River.
J: There’s a river here?
C: It’s really tiny.
J: Speaking of tiny (segue #2), your artwork is super detailed, super tiny pen strokes, super tiny lines — tiny tiny tiny.
C: The whole endeavor is diminutive.
Chris is distracted by a DVD of the film Fantastic Voyage on a table.
C: Fantastic Voyage!
J: What? What is that?
C: Five people in a ship are shrunk down and injected into the body of a patient who needs brain surgery.
J: Tiny! Tell everyone how this movie is super linked to what you do, because from the cover of the DVD case, I can clearly see the connection, at least aesthetically.
C: I’ve been looking at the history of science fiction — early Jules Verne as well as ideas that people have overturned, like debunked science. An interesting thing about Fantastic Voyage is how they’re constructing the sets as these incredibly abstracted versions of what the body looks like — what the respiratory system looks like, what the inner ear looks like, what the brain looks like. I wish movies looked like this now, where you can’t rely on computer graphics to make things look “realistic”. Here, there’s a trick to use material that is at hand to craft a mood or a real three-dimensional environment that has to be interacted with and is utterly transformative, like hanging cotton candy from the ceiling. It looks so lush! They’re crafting a visual language to deal with these environments — these shapes and colors that we can’t readily create.
J: Hearing you speak about their techniques makes me really curious to know what your techniques are when you’re figuring out how to create the environments and backgrounds in some of your work.
C: Think about Mundus Subterraneus. I’m trying to figure out a way to describe something with printed images and drawings that is pointing to a larger system that I can’t actually describe or show all at once in two dimensions. I’m trying to break apart an image-making process with the tools or the material that I have at hand.
J: What do you have at hand?
C: Well right now I don’t have much of anything, but in San Diego where I made that book, I was working with a large format printer and trying to make it function and operate more like a physical printing process like silkscreen.
J: What were you printing?
C: I was smashing together several reference images. I was looking at celestial maps. I was looking at the visual systems with which thinkers like Kepler and Kircher used to describe the interior of the Earth. Â I was using a lot of my own photography of the desert area around San Diego. I was using Photoshop to abstract all of this information, and then I would break apart the digital images in order to print the actual colors separately. Then I was trying to trick the machine to do something it’s not supposed to do.
We continue to have a lengthy discussion of the process.
J: Oh my God, that’s amazing!
C: Anyway, I didn’t break the printer, but there were a few instances where it looked a little hairy.
J: I want to focus on the “book” part. Why a book?
C: There are a few answers for this. Specifically, this is an accordion fold book. The amount of space it can take up varies. When the book is closed, it’s almost 2 feet by 3 feet with a spine that’s 1 inch.
J: That’s a big book!
C: And it gets bigger! Now we’re going in the opposite direction of Fantastic Voyage. When my book is open all the way, it’s 28 feet long and there’s print and drawn information on both sides, so you can’t ever see the full-thing all at once.
J: Chris, what’s your problem? Just make a normal book!
C: It functions as a normal book! Any viewer can pick up the book and move the pages around — you have to go through the experience with each turn of the page. You don’t see everything all at once — it’s not like an event horizon. And that’s one of the things I really like about artists’ books — it demands a more active engagement from the viewer. No matter what, everyone knows how to interact with a book. It makes the whole thing relatable as opposed to walking into a gallery where someone might be unfamiliar with the space or how the space functions. I’m an artist and sometimes when I walk into a gallery I don’t know what to do with myself. Artists’ books are immediately engaging even if the information is complex or dense.
J: Speaking of dense (segue #3), you are coming to San Francisco with a book that has like, ten thousand artists in it, right?
C: 70! Artists! Writers! Video and Film Makers! From all over the country!!
J: Tell me about the project. Wait, don’t. Let me copy and paste from the website right now.
According to recent scientific reports, there may be between 8 billion and 13 billion life bearing planets in our galaxy alone. With numbers like that we will certainly encounter living beings from outer space someday. When we do, what will they look like? What special parts will they have, and how will they “do it?” Will we find what they do sexy, incomprehensible or just plain gross? You can find the answers to these questions and more in Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities, an extraordinary 288 page, full color, book and 120 minute DVD encompassing art, writing and film.
Can you tell me about the collaborative process behind Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial Sexualities?
C: The book is a collaborative effort between three of us: me, my former professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Suzie Silver, and Jasdeep Khaira. This project started almost four years ago. I was getting ready to go to grad school and Jasdeep and I were running an artist book publication project in Pittsburgh called Encyclopedia Destructica. Suzie pitched the idea of Strange Attractors to us. She had founded a blog called The Institute of Extraterrestrial Sexuality and wanted to work with us on a book project where we would prompt people to use the lens of science fiction to think about sexuality.
J: How did you find so many contributors to the book?
C: We started inviting people whose work we were familiar with through our combined and extended networks of creative friends. We encouraged people to pass it along to anyone they thought would be interested in it, as well as use it as an opportunity to contact people we didn’t know but whose work we enjoyed. It’s really humbling to see so many people get excited about a project like this — contributing to it as artists or supporting it through the Kickstarter campaign that funded a large portion of it, or learning about it through events like what’s happening in San Francisco.
J: An art event about alien sex in San Francisco? Sounds really normal.
C: There’s going to be a screening of eleven of the works from the DVD that comes with the book, and a reading by Suzie Silver. It’s at the Center for Sex and Culture.
J: I don’t remember planning anything at my house! Just kidding. Anything in particular you like about the San Francisco art scene?
C: I think the art scene is really vibrant and unique. It’s interesting to me because San Francisco is much more dense than Los Angeles. I frequently come to San Francisco for zines or book projects and I feel like these things are ubiquitous to the city — you can’t get away from them. I recently participated in the first LA Book Fair with Encyclopedia Destructica and my current publication project called Gravity and Trajectory, which I collaborate on with Louis Schmidt. It was shocking to see how many people were actually from LA. I thought more people would be coming from San Francisco or New York — places with a strong reputation for publications.
J: And with the screening of works at the event — any particular ones stand out? Give me two. I know — it’s hard.
C: The videos are so wonderful. I love them all. Video Science 7: Space Love part 3 – Unregistered Planet 311OPEL by Luke Meeken and Andrew Negrey. Luke and Andrew both have separate mixed-media contributions to the book, and their collaborative video work pulls from their individual practices to create a richly textured environment. The other is Masturbation in Space by Mike Harringer and Joshua Thorson. How do I even describe this? It’s a story about an alien abduction seemingly told over the telephone. I don’t want to say too much about it because I want it to be a surprise.
J: You’re so dramatic. Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #4)
C: Way to bring it full circle.
J: I’m the king of segues.
C: We’ve gone on such a journey during this talk.
J: Just like Fantastic Voyage! (segue #5)
Strange Attractors: Investigations in Non-Humanoid Extraterrestrial will be presented at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco this Friday, May 10 from 7 to 10 PM. To view more of Christopher’s individual artwork, visit www.kardambikis.com.