Glen Helfand

  • diary May 01, 2008

    Homecoming Kings

    San Francisco

    Institutional memory is rarely as sentimental as it was in the Bay Area last week, when several respected curators made high-profile homecomings. Things kicked off on Wednesday with Ralph Rugoff’s visit to the Wattis Institute for the opening of “Amateurs,” his group show surveying strategic uses of amateurism in contemporary art. Rugoff is currently the director of the Hayward Gallery in London, but he helmed the Wattis from 2000 to 2006 (heady days when Matthew Higgs was also part of his curatorial team). The irony of the exhibition’s premise was well suited to an art school—the gallery is on

  • Ian McDonald

    The eleven sculptures that constituted Ian McDonald’s recent exhibition at Rena Bransten Gallery were bunched together on a single white platform. The mode of display seemed as important as the objects themselves—smooth, stonelike ceramic sculptures, at times encrusted with glittering purple crystals—in its address of a classic modernist trope. The works were also set on artist-designed powder-coated steel tables and in one case enshrined in a large vitrine, thereby blurring distinctions between art, décor, and institutional display. The totality of the installation evoked a combination

  • diary April 16, 2008

    The L Words

    Los Angeles

    “I think that line over there is for LA Art Weekend people,” said someone behind me as I stood in queue at the Hammer Museum last Thursday night, waiting for an appearance by Albert Maysles, elder statesman of American cinema verité. I half-expected to see officials sporting LAAW badges, but no such distinguishing markers were apparent. Having thoroughly consulted the itinerary of LAAW events—a compelling list of museum visits, openings, screenings, parties, and the like—I still wasn’t sure what, exactly, the Weekend constituted, other than a way to link disparate art and culture events in Los

  • Chris Ballantyne

    It was no great surprise when crumbling subprime mortgages tipped the US economy off balance recently; the residences that the loans almost bought are literally and figuratively built on illusions, whether financial fantasies, cheap construction materials, or ill-considered locations. These conditions form the distinctly shaky foundations not only of contemporary American architecture but of contemporary American life in general, and they are the central focus of Chris Ballantyne’s paintings on paper, wood, and wall. Ballantyne’s work represents desolate, depopulated suburban and exurban

  • picks March 14, 2008

    James Gobel

    There are ample social and sexual explanations for the rising gay male subculture known as “bears”—you can read them between the lines on the pink pages of Butt magazine—though all you need to know when looking at James Gobel’s work is that it gleefully celebrates, in a kind of quotidian abundance, an excessive and huggable abjectness. The artist has been illustrating this position for some time, and for his current exhibition, he presents a series of portraits of big-boy dandies who are visually caught between past and present and are coddled by decor. Posed in lush interiors, against draperies

  • Paul Kos

    Paul Kos’s career-spanning exhibition “West of the Great Divide: 1968–2008” featured twenty-one works—kinetic and static sculptures, drawings, sound works, and videos addressing the pioneer histories, mythologies, and landscapes of the American West. The focus was thus as much on the Gold Rush as on the Bay Area Conceptualism of the 1970s, of which Kos was a key progenitor. The show—less a retrospective than a highly selective survey pulling from a mature artist’s extensive inventory—revealed Kos as the purveyor of a funky brand of minimalism infused with goofy wit.

    This was previously communicated

  • diary February 20, 2008

    Tales of the City

    San Francisco

    Valentine’s Day may be sweet and red, but the art world is better known for cool remove than sentimentality. So it is worth noting that three San Francisco museums made public shows of affection on or around the Hallmark holiday. The first stop last Thursday night was the opening reception of the Asian Art Museum’s exhibition of new work by Chinese artist Zhan Wang. It was a somewhat rare presentation for a museum less inclined to feature contemporary work than, say, Hokusai paintings (which are actually on view down the hall). Wang’s show included a series of sculptures involving California

  • picks February 05, 2008

    Pablo Guardiola

    The crux of this exhibition of seven prints and a single sculpture is an iconic untitled photograph of a brown paper lunch bag on a table. The bag is crumpled at the top, while its squarish midsection is marked by a grease stain in the shape of a world map. With this image, Pablo Guardiola manages to pack a cargo container’s worth of international allusions into a humble sack. While the bag’s contents remain a mystery, the oil blotches clearly stem from something homemade: There are no crisp corporate logos in evidence, only continental forms with fuzzy edges, and perhaps the promise of some

  • Jill Miller

    Jill Miller’s “Collectors” generated waves of anxiety among Bay Area art patrons recently. The exhibition consisted of surveillance videos, photographs, and related sculptural objects gleaned from a six-month period during which the artist and a team of assistants trailed local patrons without their knowledge. In a National Enquirer–style tabloid that accompanied the show, Miller reveals that she trained with a licensed private investigator to learn the fine art of the stakeout. For the purposes of the exhibition, her use of the skill yielded bulletin boards of blurry photographs, articles (with

  • picks January 13, 2008

    Katy Grannan

    Having created career-making portrait photographs of anonymous subjects in Poughkeepsie and other sleepy and slightly sinister burgs in upstate New York, Katy Grannan demonstrates a significant shift of locale in the works that make up her recent series “The Westerns,” 2005–, which are set in and around the Bay Area. The pictures were shot at the edge of America, in a landscape where radical self-transformation and a particular kind of sunlight are presumed to be par for the course. In a publication accompanying the exhibition, Grannan refers to California sunshine as “relentless and cruel.”

  • Takeshi Murata

    Few of us acknowledge that the snapshots and video clips on our hard drives, much less on YouTube, won’t last forever. Even fewer, save for computer programmers, understand just how the pixels that compose those images will decay. In his masterful video works, Takeshi Murata doesn’t so much point to this built-in obsolescence as harness a rich painterly possibility to fugitive, consumer-grade visual information.

    Murata’s recent exhibition featured two projected videos, Escape Spirit VideoSlime, 2007, and Untitled (Pink Dot), 2006. Both works have ominously buzzing sound tracks by Robert Beatty

  • Michael Arcega

    Walking a tightrope between the nerdish and the savvy, Michael Arcega’s current exhibition at the de Young Museum maintains an amiably critical position. Its title, “Homing Pidgin,” immediately signals the artist’s penchant for puns, which he applies to hot-button topics like a kind of witty conceptual makeup. In this selection of sculptures, vinyl window treatments, and displays of objects borrowed from the museum’s notable Oceanian collection, Arcega cleverly turns artifacts into multilayered jokes. He takes aim, as in previous projects, at aspects of colonialism—in particular at the

  • picks November 08, 2007

    B. Wurtz

    The core of this exhibition of late-'80s works by B. Wurtz is a series of six photographs, with accompanying objects, that generate illusions of scale and possess a deceptive whimsy. The large black-and-white images depict what seem like important buildings—some resembling mid-twentieth-century power stations—shot from low angles. Their seemingly looming proportions, however, are quickly undercut by the proximity of simply constructed sculptures that are the photographs’ actual subjects. Set on the floor like a shrine beneath each picture is a construction of found materials referred to in the

  • Laurie Reid

    Laurie Reid titled her recent exhibition of eleven watercolors “Speechless,” but while the totality may have been visually subdued, the show’s cumulative effect was far from mute: The works on paper, each an iteration of a nearly identical motif, expressed a variety of ideas and posed a number of questions that changed according to one’s physical proximity to them. From a distance, the paintings appear to be two-dimensional, almost photographic evocations of the contours of mountains enshrouded in mist, or of lines made by water in sand. But on closer observation, they reveal themselves to be

  • picks October 19, 2007

    “Las Vegas Diaspora: The Emergence of Contemporary Art from the Neon Homeland”

    Heartily disproving the catchy tourist-bureau slogan, Dave Hickey’s Vegas-boosting exhibition suggests that what goes on in this neon-ringed macrocosm of excess, heat, and dust doesn’t necessarily stay here. Hickey, head of the art department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for most of the 1990s (he now teaches in the English department), has organized a group of twenty-six notable alumni who benefited from an art education in a land of strip clubs, low-rent casinos, and a notable lack of art-world pressure. Subtitled “The Emergence of Contemporary Art from the Neon Homeland,” the show

  • Joachim Schmid

    Artists willing to face the Herculean challenge of channeling the relentless deluge of photographic imagery face a profoundly modern futility: There’s no possible way to manage the sheer overload. Nevertheless, in the catalogue for his current twenty-five-year survey, Joachim Schmid announces that he has reached the point of being able to sift through ten thousand photos a day. The German artist’s practice since the early ’80s has been to act as a found-image filter—first as critic, then as artist.

    The exhibition, “Selected Photoworks 1982–2007,” which was organized by the Frances Tang Teaching

  • picks September 17, 2007

    Amanda Curreri

    By titling her solo exhibition after a classic campfire song, “Make New Friends,” Amanda Curreri dares to swirl nerdy “Kumbaya” togetherness with sculpture and socially engaged art. The results are cryptic and sweet, depending on the number of viewers milling about the intimate venue—the more the merrier. At the entrance to the show, Curreri has constructed a gateway of thrift store–scavenged mirrors attached to an open wall of primary-colored two-by-fours: One must quite literally pass through the looking glass to see the show. The artist delineates the gallery space as a spare, sanctioned zone

  • Douglas Gordon

    Transparent WYSIWYG titles are one powerful layer of Douglas Gordon’s deceptively straight-faced, open-ended practice.

    Transparent WYSIWYG titles are one powerful layer of Douglas Gordon’s deceptively straight-faced, open-ended practice. His 24 Hour Psycho, 1993, is just that: the Hitchcock film extended to the length of a day. A wonderfully imposing work that wrestles with cinema, memory, and madness, it is impossible to watch fully, owing to its time-based extreme. Ditto for his ongoing, self-reflective metawork Pretty much every film and video work from about 1992 until now. To be seen on monitors, some with headphones, others run silently, and all simultaneously. For this compact

  • Christian Maychack

    Art, like nature, is subject to curious mutations. Christian Maychack, whose sculptures envision gooey, anthropomorphized objects and spaces, is clearly well aware of this parallel. His work is as much about transformation as it is about convention. In Notes on Becoming, 2007, for example, a standard pedestal column seamlessly merges with the wall, taking on beveled “geological” edges. The structure’s appearance is indebted as much to Star Trek sets as to the magisterial mountains of Aryan painting. Atop this pedestal are gray, phallic blobs that suggest Henry Moore sculptures subjected to Peter

  • picks August 10, 2007

    Felix Schramm

    Felix Schramm’s new installation is a formalist funhouse made of drywall and thin skins of paint, mudding, and wallpaper. Collider, 2007, is the “site-responsive” centerpiece, and it’s a monumental work of faux architecture seemingly squeezed into a small space. It’s as if a deconstructed domestic structure, a Home Depot asteroid, has crash-landed into pristine institutional space. The conglomeration of jagged edges and dramatic angles initially exudes a sense of entropy and violence. Yet Schramm’s forte is controlled chaos, and the roughness of the spatial interruption soon reveals itself to