Glen Helfand

  • 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

  • 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