Glen Helfand

  • Willie Stewart

    Willie Stewart was two years old when the Cure’s “In Between Days” was released. The song is an earworm that can get you to dance to dour lyrics: “Yesterday I got so old, I felt like I could die.” Stewart took this former nightclub staple as the title of his recent solo exhibition, which, like the band’s music, was austere, showy, and well-crafted, more thoughtful than its slick finishes suggested.

    Stewart, who is also a musician, used the arena of arty punk and synth bands from the 1980s to explore layered notions of time, in an era when any decade’s records are instantly streamable. A sense of

  • picks May 23, 2019

    Conrad Egyir

    The tone is springlike, with crisp whites and bold graphic patterns rendered in sunny colors strategically punctuated with bright fake flowers. Conrad Egyir’s mixed-media paintings gathered in the exhibition “Ameliorations” serve as emblems, portraits, and quasi-religious narratives that honor black bodies and allude to iconographies of the African diaspora. Some works take the form of giant postcards or sheets of dot matrix paper. Within the compositions, bodies are arranged and iterated in geometric ensembles with shifts in scale that position some as deities and others as civilians embodying

  • picks February 22, 2019

    Desert X

    Southern California’s deserts are geographically sprawling, environmentally diverse, historically fraught, and ever dramatized. Their appeal to artists and curators is understandable. In its first iteration in 2017, Desert X, a biennial intended to “engage viewers, and focus attention on the Valley’s environment,” veered toward spectacle, with architectural works by Doug Aitken, Richard Prince, Tavares Strachan, and others. The nineteen artists and collaboratives in the 2019 edition, which has expanded to cover some fifty-five miles around Palm Springs, has a few heavy hitters, including Sterling

  • picks January 23, 2019

    Wardell Milan

    Composite bodies constructed from pages of Robert Mapplethorpe’s notorious Black Book, 1986, populate Wardell Milan’s collages, drawings, and paintings. These fractured compositions of physical sensuality and social tension often include shards of images from other sources as well as renderings of lines and shapes glued onto the surface.

    While the show is titled “Parisian Landscapes: Blue in Green,” the first large work one sees has a deep red background and is inhabited by distorted, Frankenstein-like figures that could have been drawn from the paintings of Francis Bacon: Muscular men in posing

  • slant December 14, 2018

    On the Ground: San Francisco

    FOR MUCH OF NOVEMBER 2018, raging wildfires made particulate matter levels dangerously high in the Bay Area. Eyes watered, schools closed, art openings and lectures were canceled. People fled to LA, never known for its air quality, for bluer skies. It became matter of course to wear N95 respirators if you could find them. Lines snaked around hardware stores, and San Francisco’s young, affluent demographic patiently waited for theirs, just as they do in queues for the latest must-have artisanal ice cream.

    This is not to draw too emphatic a comparison between the arts and the effects of global

  • picks July 20, 2018

    Will Rogan

    “Albatross,” Will Rogan’s strangely potent exhibition, is timely in multiple senses. The sculptures, found objects, and photographs allude to the effects of climate change and also to the concept of time itself, in its varied scales and paces. Immediately, seascape photographs and rocks placed like Minimalist sculptures on the floor establish a geological baseline. Weights and chains from cuckoo clocks droop from photographs in small handmade frames, and elsewhere, horological mechanisms have been reconfigured to make die-cut shapes of urns, keys, and faces that rotate at their own, sometimes

  • picks June 29, 2018

    Alicia McCarthy and Ruby Neri

    You feel an aesthetic electricity when you enter this modestly scaled gallery that has brought together work by Alicia McCarthy and Ruby Neri, artists who studied together at the San Francisco Art Institute in the early 1990s—art and life pals ever since. Back in the day, they were both focused on making art in the street and often had cans of spray-paint in their hands. The thrill of hissing aerosol is still visible in their work, albeit in discrete objects of their own making—McCarthy’s kaleidoscopic, interwoven abstract matrices in spray-paint and house paint, and Neri’s voluptuous ceramics,

  • interviews April 27, 2018

    Alice Shaw

    With wry wit and deceptive literalness, Alice Shaw has been making work for over twenty-five years that cleverly focuses on a few core issues: doubles, photography, and the hegemonic history of landscape photography in her native Golden State. Her current exhibition at Gallery 16 in San Francisco, “Cloned,” is on view through May 26, 2018. Here, among other things, she reveals some reasons for her current focus on sheep.

    IMAGERY OF FARM ANIMALS seems somewhat unpopular these days. I was watching some Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films a while back and noticed how much animals used to play

  • picks April 10, 2018

    Matthew Angelo Harrison

    The twelve works in Matthew Angelo Harrison’s 2018 series “Dark Silhouettes” are a handsome provocation. Traditional wooden African sculptures, many sourced online, are encased in smoky resin and placed upon pedestals of the artist’s design, echoing Minimalist furniture from the 1970s. It is intriguing to know that Harrison, who is based in Detroit, worked in prototyping for Ford Motors, as some of the resin has been carved into with a CNC router, creating topographical rivulets in these industrial arrangements. Some of the blocks have holes drilled as if to offer oxygen to a captured deity;

  • diary December 24, 2014

    Dancing in the Moonlight

    THE BERKELEY ART MUSEUM BUILDING, a bold but seismically iffy piece of Brutalist architecture, has been on borrowed time for a while now. Bracing was added more than a decade ago, but it still rates poor on the safety scale. A new, more stable, and conveniently located building designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro is nearing completion, and so the museum threw itself a daylong celebration of its soon to be former home on the shortest day of the year.

    Architect Mario Ciampi’s edifice, which opened to the public in 1970, is all about exposed concrete, verticality, and buttress landings overlooking

  • picks July 18, 2013

    “An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle”

    The artist Jess and the poet Robert Duncan exchanged romantic vows in 1951, more than sixty years before the Supreme Court weighed in on marriage equality. Posthumously, the couple still inspires much of San Francisco’s creative community. Titled after a Duncan collection published in 1960, this exhibition reveals a group of creative individuals who lived and worked in the Bay Area during a romantically bohemian era of alternative lifestyles and artistic as well as social experimentation. The Jess-Duncan crowd may have crossed paths with the Beats, but their scene was more intimate, and too

  • picks May 10, 2013

    Alan Rath

    There’s a serious flirtation factor to Alan Rath’s recent mechanized sculptures. Composed of metal armatures and computer hardware that seemingly animate feathers, the works literally tickle the viewer who stands even a socially acceptable distance away. Working with robotic forms since the 1980s, Rath has always captured a dynamic confusion between electronics and human intimacy, utilizing standard tech-art hardware—video monitors, audio equipment—as stand-ins for the human body. At Hosfelt he doesn’t hide the tripods and consoles, but the addition of an organic material is a breakthrough,

  • diary March 15, 2013

    City Lights

    STORM CLOUDS gathered last Tuesday, March 5, at the same time as a formally attired crowd convened at the Hotel Vitale lobby to fete artist Leo Villareal and inaugurate The Bay Lights, a massive public work covering the San Francisco Bay Bridge. When I arrived, the affable artist himself was just inside the hotel, greeting guests with a degree of comfort that belied the idea that his eight-million-dollar project might be doused during its Grand Lighting.

    Villareal’s work is dubbed the world’s largest LED light sculpture. It spans nearly two miles and straddles communities with investments in art,

  • diary August 29, 2012

    Street Smarts

    THE SIDEWALKS surrounding the Berkeley Art Museum last Thursday were filled with dazed and eager newbie scholars who brazenly streamed through crosswalks, taunting drivers on the first day of classes at Cal. It also happened to be the opening of Barry McGee’s rollicking home-turf midcareer survey at the BAM. McGee and his street-inflected artwork have always had an ambivalent relationship with authority, and it was a fitting and yet somehow awkward merging of events. The university is a zone of both youthful energy and bureaucratic entanglements: During the opening, there were reports of campus

  • diary July 19, 2012

    Coast to Coast

    HOW IS IT that Cindy Sherman’s had such a paltry exhibition record in San Francisco? Back in the 1990s there were a couple small solo shows—a Berkeley Art Museum Matrix presentation of her history works, an exhibition of her thorny prosthetics pictures at the long-defunct Friends of Photography—but whole series passed by a city where costume play and identity shifts are colorfully visible, and where photographers have long found institutional haven. So the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art might be making up for lost time in picking up a leg of Sherman’s MoMA-organized career survey. Street-pole

  • picks May 14, 2012

    Bessma Khalaf

    Those who give credence to the Mayan eschatological prophecy that the world will end this year can shop nearly until Christmas to prepare for the apocalypse. This sort of humorous and mundane magick is the sly subject of Bessma Khalaf’s mostly monochromatic photographs, videos, and sculptures in her latest exhibition, “Re-Enchanter.” The show reveals an intoxicating mix of tonal ingredients, not the least of which is a base of witty theatricality. Take the self-descriptive, elegantly composed black-and-white photograph Still Life with Le Creuset (all works 2012), which repurposes a pricey Dutch

  • picks April 25, 2012

    Luke Butler

    Now more than ever, it can seem that media is eternal: Most any film or classic television series will stream dead shows, live, at our summoning, from vast digital archives. Luke Butler’s work is an emphatically analog illustration of mediated mortality and masculinity. In previous works, he’s depicted male crew members from the original Star Trek series in painted film-still moments of struggle and vulnerability—when characters have been felled by nearly lethal rays. In this exhibition, these characters, sharply painted in acrylic, tangle against flat gray backgrounds or, in the case of Landing

  • picks April 13, 2012

    “State of Mind”

    There are perpetual rumblings about ballot initiatives to split California in half, somewhere in the middle of this vast landmass. It’s exactly the kind of crackpot idea or pipe-dream hyperbole that makes the Golden State (and its residents) so appealing. “State of Mind” is the only exhibition of the Getty-sponsored, Los Angeles-centric “Pacific Standard Time” lot to migrate north, and it serves the vital function of expanding the program’s geographic purview to include NorCal artists. Perhaps even more important is that it demonstrates (as the title asserts) that there is indeed a broader

  • picks December 06, 2011

    Leslie Shows

    Leslie Shows’s new body of work was inspired by two small chunks of pyrite, aka fool’s gold. In a sense, the material is richer in metaphor than actual value; neither precious nor revered, it has modest industrial utility and reflective qualities that dazzle deceptively in the ground. As a doppelgänger for a fourteen-carat commodity, it calls worth into question. A series of faceted paintings on shiny aluminum panels, some more than six feet tall, are based on scans of pyrite and are rendered in a polymorphous array of elements––Plexiglas, Mylar, crushed glass, metal dust, mica, acrylic paint.

  • picks November 09, 2011

    “September 11”

    For the past ten years, the meaning of September 11 has been elastic, its tension easing and straining to encompass mournful impulse and a desire to forget. Peter Eleey’s unhurried exhibition of works by forty-one artists treats 9/11 as a lens through which to consider collective trauma––even though the majority of pieces here were made before 2001. Although the show opened on the tenth anniversary of the attacks, its poetic, melancholic demeanor is less concerned with memorializing than with presenting an introspective and political acknowledgment of the ambivalence that surrounds that fateful