Bill Berkson

  • John Roloff

    John Roloff is known for his site-collaborative ceramic installations, including the many forms of “ship”—his inclusive symbol—that frame them. Roloff grew up on the Oregon coast and attended the University of California at Davis with the idea of becoming a marine geologist. Engaged with what geologists call the Picture (or Big Picture) of metamorphic planetary events within “deep-time” millennia, he explores that larger reality of piecemeal, vertiginous timescapes in a contemplative mood, not as a would-be scientist but sensibly, with an eye to its human and emotional implications. One aspect

  • Leon Borensztein

    Leon Borensztein, who was born in Swidnica, Poland, and came to California from Israel in 1978 at the age of 31, makes contemplative documentary photographs that take off from his journeyman’s work as a portraitist for a commercial agency. The job allows him to be, as he says, “an observer of a variety of people”—westerners who, singly or as couples or family groups, have sought out the agency’s services or responded to its promotional campaign. Having finished taking a custom color portrait, Borensztein will often ask his clients to stay on for additional black-and-white shots, adjusting their

  • MADE IN U.S.A.

    Those who have seen “MADE IN THE U.S.A.,” a traveling exhibition organized by the University Art Museum, Berkeley, agree that what makes the show especially worthwhile are the disparate individual works, many of them great and nearly every one provocative. The first gallery alone, under the rubric “American Icons,” is enough to credit the curatorial skills of Sidra Stich, the show's organizer. At the near end (in the Berkeley installation, at least), four “Flags” done by Jasper Johns between 1955 and 1965, each differently handled, gave off multiple sensations of grandeur and emblematic regret;

  • George Lawson

    George Lawson is a 36-year-old Floridian who lives in San Francisco and has been showing regularly there since the mid ’70s and more recently in New York and West Germany. He co-curated the three-gallery “Open Image” exhibition in San Francisco last winter, featuring recent German abstract painting–most of it consistent with his own latter-day reductivist principles. Those principles assert the importance of an individual focus on the exact properties of painting as painting, the essential practicality of which might be summarized by Whitehead’s remark to the effect that “a mood of the finite

  • Gordon Cook

    Gordon Cook died in 1985 at the age of 57. The current traveling show of his work, organized by the Oakland Museum, concentrates on his paintings, which he turned to seriously in his early 40s with some prescience that they would be accepted as more “big time” than his prints. His paintings are beautiful—many of them achingly so—but his prints are great, especially the etchings done in his mid 30s and those of the last two years of his life, when he renewed his fascination with the printing process after a nine-year hiatus. The privileges of paint are materialistic, even though paintings depend

  • Nayland Blake

    In Nayland Blake’s conglomerated sculptures, the links—often literally those of little brass chains—seem to have come ready to hand, like prepositions materialized. The connections they make between one thing and another and between things and words have the sudden strength of the obvious. Contemplating each discrete piece is like contemplating the rightness of a cliché that hasn’t worn itself out by insisting too much upon its perfection but provokes the same meaning to issue forth every time. The mechanical logic involved in this aligns with the mechanical character of assemblage generally,

  • Diane Andrews Hall

    Diane Andrews Hall started out as a painter in the late ’60s and left off in the ’70s to collaborate on video and performance pieces with her husband Doug Hall and the conceptualist group T. R Uthco. Images and ideas generated by her camera work on those pieces resurfaced in the paintings she began making six years ago, and her current interest in weather and landscape runs parallel to Doug Hall’s: his videotape Storm and Stress, 1986, and her new pictures share particular motifs—the ocean at Baker’s Beach in San Francisco, dark clouds massing in New Mexico skies—as well as a passion for improvised

  • Nell Sinton

    Nell Sinton is a sensibility painter, meaning that her feelings about a specific motif are peculiar to the way she shows what she sees of it, to the paint strokes she uses; that is, she discovers what she feels by painting it. At76, she has a well-founded local reputation for painting in various modes and for making box constructions and large, intricate collages. (One of the latter—Gough Street from Fort Mason, 1985, in the present show—features an actual bite-size paint chip from the Golden Gate Bridge in its center.) That her sensibility once overreached her motifs is manifest in the fantastic

  • “Second Sight”

    The theme designed to hold together the variety of paintings and sculptures in this biennial show was both tenuous and ambivalent. Loosely paraphrased, the curator Graham Beal’s catalogue essay’s main argument ran like so: that where Modern art “on the whole” denied the past, a sign of the present rage for content is to be found in newer artists’ espousals of antique styles and/or subjects as “aids to meaning.” Ideally, a theme show should gather force and add to the effects of individual works. This one fizzled and subtracted and left one with a feeling of greater vacancy in the departments it


    THE WORD “LOGOS” OF MY title caroms off at least three senses, each one of them lighting up in its turn, abuzz in the vicinity of Ed Ruscha’s work. The first, the elemental sense—old Greek for “word,” “thought,” “proportion,” and “ratio”—is quite a bundle in itself. Ruscha, it might be said, immerses words in graphic thought zones, the better to “read” the words’ true proportions. The mental size of a color plus the treatment of words as figures makes for an openness of logic. Ruscha is a field semiotician whose insistent method is “Try this.”

    The second, biblical sense of “logos,” or “Logos”

  • Alan Rath, Jeanne C. Finley, George Kuchar

    The “preconstruction” setting of this video-gallery-to-be turned out to be less manageable than had been anticipated, what with stacks of plywood and Sheetrock waiting in the wings (or, anyhow, the foyer). Nevertheless, Alan Rath’s three new electronic sculptures, Jeanne C. Finley’s pair of slide-cum-video presentations, and George Kuchar’s motel-room environment for his videotape Weather Diary 1 all commanded their discrete spaces bravely. In fact, since the installations together shared a high degree of wreckage and calamity content, the ambient topos of renovation took on an especially ironic

  • Rupert Garcia

    The Rupert Garcia retrospective of 17 years’ work was timely, not as a summation (as an artist, Garcia is a young 45) and not because of the quality of political statements in the work, but because it caught the artist amid an efflorescence. Together with the small gallery sampling of new work, it left one with that giddy off-the-diving-board sensation one prays for, and least often expects, from a mid-career survey.

    Garcia is known as a California-born Chicano painter and printmaker who devised the boldest, most succinct silk-screen images during the third-world poster movement of the late ’60s

  • Bill Dane

    “Well, it’s a fantasy problem,” says a Sunday comic-strip frame on the shop-window partition in one of Bill Dane’s recent photographs. The window-dressing view (Shreves, San Francisco, 1982) shows a big teddy bear mummified in funnies and sporting a pair of Chinese platers, each with the same image of an exotic garden with butterfly. It’s an apotheosis of desperate, pintoes artifice, and you realize the whole shot’s about getting to heaven and finding it just like home.

    The stuff of this world, as Dane finds it, is preternaturally pictured, dolled up, or in one way or another on display Repeatedly,

  • Mark Rothko

    The local talk about this traveling retrospective of Mark Rothko’s works on paper centered on the unfortunate restrictions placed on the works’ visibility by the show’s organizers, the Mark Rothko Foundation and the American Federation of Arts. Presumably, the disadvantages to public viewing were residual of the great care lavished on conservation. But the experience was, as one viewer put it, "like seeing a drive-in movie in the afternoon.” Stuck behind formidable shields of glass or Plexiglas, many of the pictures simply failed to appear, and others made what were at best tenuous showings

  • Italo Scanga

    Fairfield Porter once said of the Italian abstract painters of the '50s that they had “a common sense of humor that prevents them from taking their art seriously enough. They are like wise clowns inhibited by a knowledge of the vanity of all human effort” The same might be said of Italo Scanga, a Calabrese by birth and a naturalized Californian as if by temperament. His sculptures are spirited without pressure. He seems to want them to have style and meaning but cheerfully refuses to go flat-out for either. Hence, his best pieces are the most easygoing, the ones in which his materials—wood,

  • Terry Allen

    After a lost war, as an imperial poet had it, one should write only comedies. Of the Vietnam “adventure,” however, the multiple dislocations, both public and private, have left next to nothing of what comedy most requires: a consensus about what’s really funny, or even bearable, if the residual facts of defeat are taken into account. So, whenever possible, we don’t much take them into account, or, if we do, our tally is a cumulative void framed by afterthoughts that fail to resolve, never click, but weigh in with an insistence like that of meaning, except that they are dumb throughout. As

  • Tom Marioni

    In the videotape shown at New Langton Arts accompanying a set of retrieved and refashioned items from his Museum of Conceptual Art (MOCA, the industrial loft that he used as a center for his art activities from 1970 to 1984), Tom Mariani says, “I intend to hang onto the past—that’s why I like San Francisco so much.” The past as Marioni displays it is both autobiographical and objective, an adumbrated nexus of erstwhile events and things that bear their own stamps of timeliness and formality Every form in its own way, he implies, is poignant. His care for the forms things take is monumental (in

  • Joel-Peter Witkin

    Over the past six years, Joel-Peter Witkin has gotten a sudden wide reputation as a sort of upstart Rasputin of the silver print. But, as even this limited traveling retrospective (40 prints from 1974 to 1985) reveals, his stylistic progress has actually been slow and fitful, and his subject matter—an eclectic theosophy with blaring sexual overtones—has developed apace. Witkin works in series. The series have titles such as “Contemporary Images of Christ,” 1970–74, “Evidences of Anonymous Atrocities,” 1975–77, and “Journeys of the Mask,” 1982–. He also works from preliminary drawings, one of

  • Robert Arneson

    Robert Arneson’s sculptures and large color drawings about nuclear war are direct statements of a private orientation toward the subject. He is dealing with his understanding, as a citizen, of a probability that society seems to cherish as ardently as it denies. The subject is vulgar and no fun; it is ugly. Its symmetries—the symmetry, for instance, of a cloud from a nuclear blast—a redull. But the projected spectacle of a world totaled in its own karmic knot is endlessly enticing; it’s the media barrage par excellence (a “bomb,” in common parlance, being both high and low on the scale of public

  • “Image/Word: The Art of Reading”

    The theme of this exhibition—the cohabiting of verbal and visual materials in ostensibly purely visual artworks—was formalist and timely. In his essay for the catalogue, Barrett Watten says, “The works . . . argue to be read rather than interpreted, and the act of reading by the viewer is intended, explicitly by many of the artists, as part of the work:’ He also says that ”the work is addressed directly to the way it is understood. This act of understanding will involve, inevitably, a politics and a practice on the part of the viewer.”

    The common stance of the nine “Image/Word” artists is to be