Glen Helfand

  • picks August 17, 2011

    “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories”

    To live up to the appellation “grande dame of transatlantic modernism,” the honorific bestowed on Gertrude Stein by one of the curators of this substantial exhibition devoted to her mediated life, is no small task. Stein always appeared to walk on solid, ego-bolstered ground, and the fittingly literate “Five Stories” takes a faceted approach to illuminating, and to a degree problematizing, her activities as a writer, art collector, networker, public intellectual, and queer trailblazer. It does so through a collection of artifacts, digital slide shows, and vintage and recent artworks (by Deborah

  • picks July 06, 2011

    Chris Johanson

    As a barometer of culture (or perhaps of the artist’s psyche), Chris Johanson’s current show reports clear skies. A small, washy acrylic on paper is emblazoned with the word SUN, which is inscribed repeatedly in yellowish hues. Like a mantra from a Mel Bochner painting, the term starts to become abstract, though only just—on the opposite side of the gallery is another, similarly scaled piece that offers the term EASY LISTENING, floating among jagged blue forms, affirming an easy vibe. Johanson, who has deep roots in San Francisco (though he currently splits his time between Portland and Los

  • picks May 23, 2011

    Ryan Thayer

    The glow of our cell phones and laptops attracts us like moths to a flame––or, in cable TV vampire parlance, we are glamoured by their engineered luminosity. There’s something of that almost supernatural power depicted in Ryan Thayer’s monochromatic photograms of sundry personal electronic devices, objects that emit light but are also capable of making photographs themselves. These items are sleek and of the moment, but technological upgrades will soon render them antiquated. The cameraless impressions that Thayer sears into sheets of lightsensitive paper, however, are fixed, pointing to a

  • picks April 18, 2011

    Will Yackulic

    Aesthetic time frames are elusive in Will Yackulic’s work. Some of this is due to his subject matter: basic geometric forms like tiny pixellike cubes and floating geodesic spheres. Earlier works, mostly on paper, seemed to describe ancient landscapes and allude to meditative tantric drawings. His latest show is touted as a return to oil painting, a medium he has rarely exhibited in. Perhaps he was simply keeping that portion of his practice on the back burner long enough to find a fresh challenge in it.

    Titled “Precision & Precarity,” the exhibition comprises thirteen paintings, all similar in

  • Bull.Miletic

    For the past decade, Oslo-based artists Synne Bull (Norwegian) and Dragan Miletic (Yugoslavian) have been working together as Bull.Miletic, producing film- and video-based installations that link the mediating effect of cinema with urban spaces. At Paule Anglim, the former San Francisco residents placed the Eiffel Tower and its Parisian environs at the center of their exhibition, “Mise en abyme.” Visible from the gallery entrance, the iconic French landmark seduces, cast as the protagonist of Par Hasard, 2009, a single-channel video depicting the turn-of-the century marvel in all its evening

  • picks February 09, 2011

    Ingrid Calame

    Contours of stains, splotches, and cracks lifted from concrete floor and asphalt pavement form a consistent foundation of Ingrid Calame’s work; its success is also rooted in the links it creates between one unlikely site and another. Perry Street Projects Wading Pool, Buffalo, New York #2, 2010, the grand, understated wall drawing at the heart of this exhibition, is a vast transcription of the cracks in an arid swimming pool at an ill-fated Buffalo housing project. As always, Calame tilts her horizontal subject matter upward to reorient its meaning. Here, by applying blue and red powdered pigments

  • picks January 21, 2011

    Geoffrey Chadsey

    In the startling series of watercolor pencil drawings exhibited in this show, Geoffrey Chadsey depicts characters that embody an uncanny, unbalanced mishmash of malleable flesh and warped psyche. These are figures with questionable fashion sensibilities and rock-star ambitions, who shift between genders, time frames, and, in some instances, species. Made using a rendering technique that echoes the dense curving and parallel lines used in engraved likenesses of presidents on paper money––or, more broadly, a plastic surgeon’s felt-tipped notations on bare pre-op skin––the nearly life-size figures

  • picks December 16, 2010

    Sara VanDerBeek

    In an installation that recalls an elliptical rebus, the fourteen photographs in Sara VanDerBeek’s first West Coast solo show are infused with dusky, steely blue color schemes and simple geometric forms that suggest vast artistic and celestial arenas—modernist sculpture, American poetry, the cosmos. Recurrent images of arrowlike angles (a blue neon sign in Gwangju [all works 2010]; a Walker Evans–ish print of a pitched-roof building turned on its side in Druid Hill) gently direct the viewer’s gaze and attention from one work to the next, compounding poetic juxtapositions that are at once absorbing

  • Mel Bochner

    Challenging the claim that “photography cannot record abstract ideas,” Mel Bochner used the medium to do just that. In this career-spanning exhibition, ten photo-based works documented the Conceptualist’s efforts to upend photographic convention. (The show also included paintings and a wall drawing.) Serving as the exhibition’s poster image was the iconic Surface Dis/Tension, 1968. Here, the artist photographed a grid receding into space so that, distilled as an image, it appeared perspectivally distorted. Taking this photo as a base object, Bochner soaked the print in water, allowing the emulsion

  • picks November 11, 2010

    “Huckleberry Finn”

    The third and final installment in the Wattis’s trilogy of exhibitions inspired by iconic American novels (preceded by “The Wizard of Oz” in 2008 and “Moby Dick” in 2009), “Huckleberry Finn” is as engaging and controversial as its source material. No curator is noted in the gallery’s wall text, yet the project bears the unmistakable imprint of Wattis director Jens Hoffmann, who trumps Mark Twain as the impresario behind the curtain. The show offers American-style portions of material, a sort of all-you-can-eat buffet where viewers can piece together a narrative from Hoffmann’s characteristically

  • picks October 24, 2010

    Koki Tanaka

    Both physical comedy and the parti-colored stock of ninety-nine-cent stores can be found nearly anywhere in the world, and both, in a sense, transcend language barriers, wordlessly communicating their appeal. By combining the two elements, Japanese artist Koki Tanaka manages to allude to art history and the physical and emotional architecture of households. “Nothing related, but something could be associated,” his first US solo exhibition of witty, offhand sculpture, video, and drawing, finds him making varied use of cheap plastic commodities and putting them through paces, creating temporary

  • Chadwick Rantanen

    As America slogs through its new recession-era corporate landscape, Chadwick Rantanen’s installation of sculpture and photographs perhaps most obviously evoked the semicustomized, sturdy-for-the-price furnishings of modest industrial-park start-up offices. With this show, the artist mined the aesthetics of efficiency—and perhaps therapy—using such mundane light-corporate materials as sandblasted glass in soothing hues, burnished metal, and abstract images that speak of low-risk investment in the future. In effect, the work communicated a catalogue of postmeltdown minimalist tropes, with an

  • picks September 28, 2010

    Elisheva Biernoff

    A seemingly empty storefront with fall leaves strewn on the floor is not such an anomaly these economically parched days, but in Elisheva Biernoff’s trompe l’oeil installation, which mulls over perpetually troublesome nature versus culture tensions, they’re props, a paper confetti of handcrafted debris. The dead plants, along with crumpled gum wrappers, cigarette butts, religious brochures, and pinecones, are all attentively remade with authentic artificiality. Indeed, the artist’s painted plaster stones are so intricately detailed that they invoke Vija Celmins’s rock replicas in To Fix the

  • Lucas Michael

    Sexual compulsion is a primary subject of Lucas Michael’s solo exhibition at Silverman Gallery, but the most graphic elements on view are literally numerals. Specifically, starkly presented combinations of “3688” and “321”—which, if you’re in the know (or just ask the gallery sitter) are identifiable as street addresses for the Slammer, a gay sex club with locations in Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. These stark, sans-serif typeface numbers signify the availability of anonymous sex. Michael renders 3688, for example, as soft, though not droopy, black cotton sculptures, with a layer of

  • picks August 10, 2010

    “Now and When”

    Art exhibitions are built upon packets of time; they mark an artist’s “moment” or a curatorial conceit, which often quickly vanishes. For one of ten commissioned time-capsule projects to commemorate this civic gallery’s fortieth anniversary, Joseph del Pesco unearthed a dozen rare art magazines produced in the Bay Area over the past forty years, and he created a website with them to present snapshots of the region’s art activity. While not the most visually commanding piece in this boisterous exhibition, it functions well conceptually as an archive of activity and community. So does Lynn Hershman

  • picks July 29, 2010

    Erik Scollon

    In titling his smart, saucy exhibition “The Urge,” Erik Scollon telegraphs his interests in aesthetic and biological drives. Thankfully, his control of his materials and impulses is exacting and mindful of pleasure. The dozens of porcelain objects, displayed in a nearly retail manner on unfinished wooden shelves, are for the most part sex toys (with accessories) created as ceramics and embellished with a free range of ornamentation—witness a Delftware-style butt plug, and a set of exquisite square-bodied, Zen/Minimalist vessels with cylindrical necks perfectly proportioned to hold braceletlike

  • Emily Wardill

    Emily Wardill’s Game Keepers Without Game, 2009, cribs from La Vida es Sueño (Life Is a Dream), a seventeenth-century Spanish play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, but the source is nearly unrecognizable. Whereas Calderón’s play revolves around the life of a Polish king who imprisons his son at birth, Wardill’s adaptation, set in contemporary Britain, recounts the tale of a mixed-race girl put up for adoption by her family and her father’s dubious attempt, many years later, to bring her back into the family fold. Although the plot is linear, Wardill complicates its telling with an exaggeratedly

  • picks April 14, 2010

    Libby Black

    Economic crises have, thankfully, given artists a reason to restyle the lens through which we view luxury brands. Even Takashi Murakami favored Zen over Louis Vuitton in recent work. Libby Black carved out a career during recent years tracking consumer aspiration by re-creating (or inventing) designer-label objects—Chanel surfboards, an entire Kate Spade boutique––from paper, hot glue, and acrylic paint, as well as imperfectly redrawing well-selected fashion magazine ads. Her niche might be called psychologically charged DIY consumer satire, and her work reflects real desires and disappointments.

  • picks April 14, 2010

    “Group Show”

    For the past two decades, dealer Jack Hanley has perhaps been the Bay Area’s unofficial goodwill art emissary. He has not only brought important contemporary artists to San Francisco—back in the early 1990s he introduced Jack Pierson, Karen Kilimnik, Zoe Leonard, and others––but he has also done much to activate and to popularize, particularly at art fairs, a funky brand of Conceptualism emerging from the studios near his Mission District gallery. The fact that Hanley is shuttering his West Coast operations to focus on his Watts Street space in New York is cause for reflection. Fittingly, the

  • picks March 14, 2010

    Ewan Gibbs

    The not-unfounded stereotype of northern-California fog is well suited to Ewan Gibbs’s modestly scaled, labor-intensive graphite drawings, which previously depicted famous buildings and anonymous hotel rooms. This exhibition comprises eighteen works, commissioned for SF MoMA on the occasion of its seventy-fifth anniversary, and are titled as a group San Francisco, 2009. They show tourist views—think snapshots from Flickr instead of postcard-perfect shots of Coit Tower and the Golden Gate Bridge—that subvert image conventions through their conceptual strategies. Gibbs constructs his works through