Glen Helfand

  • picks December 28, 2005

    Wangechi Mutu

    Abuse of power comes as no surprise, as Jenny Holzer so lucidly put it some twenty-five years ago, and it remains a fitting slogan for the current geopolitical climate. Wangechi Mutu's skin-toned collages and body-referencing installation addresses the same subject—misused authority—with a range of heated corporeal references. Her site-specific installation, titled The Chief's Lair Is a Bloody Mess, includes two substantial collages, a series of sculptures, and wall works, and manages to address the dour tenor of the times by including wine bottles that drip their contents to the floor

  • picks December 14, 2005

    Ruth Asawa

    If Ruth Asawa's decision to focus on public art and arts education in recent years has prompted her to show fewer discrete objects, it has also had the effect of making her three-dimensional wire forms all the more of a treat. An alumna of Black Mountain College, Asawa studied with Josef Albers and Buckminster Fuller, and her hanging crocheted wire sculptures, bulbous forms that resemble jellyfish suspended from the ceiling, echo her former teachers' interests in the economy of space and geometric shapes. The works on view, mostly from the '60s, engage mid-century modern design, modernist

  • Shane Aslan Selzer

    In her notably assured first solo exhibition, young San Francisco–based artist Shane Aslan Selzer employed an aesthetic both calculated in its range and instinctual in its use of unusual materials. At Lisa Dent Gallery, Selzer mined a challenging artistic vein sparked, arguably, by the likes of Rachel Harrison via a well-choreographed suite of works in a variety of media—sculpture, photography, video, and print. The show was installed in two rooms, one of which basked in primarily natural light while the other was dark enough to accommodate an atmospheric video installation. Both settings

  • picks November 23, 2005

    Desiree Holman

    Charlton Heston's version of Planet of the Apes meets role-playing therapy, tarot-card mysticism, and music video choreography in Desiree Holman's witty and psychologically charged exhibition. It’s titled “Troglodyte,” a word that the dictionary dually defines as a member of a cave-dwelling community as well as someone who lives alone, anti-socially. Holman made a group of furry latex ape suits that are posed sitting on logs in the leaf-strewn gallery—a mother and chimp, lone males, and an elder hirsute creature that sits alone in a corner. The suits betray their handmade fabrication with

  • picks November 08, 2005

    “AB OVO”

    Oakland-based artist Steven Hull’s fascinating project—high-concept, multiple-phase curating at its best—manages to tap into the darker psychological recesses of dozens of artists to create mesmerizing visual and literary narratives. Hull invited nineteen artists (Mike Kelley, Martha Rosler, Candice Breitz, and Glenn Ligon among them) to submit to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory test, which is often used in courtrooms to determine personality types and assess mental health. The results were anonymously handed over to writers (including Lynne Tillman, Ben Ehrenreich,

  • Edward Burtynsky

    Uncomfortable ironies abound in Canadian artist Edward Burtynsky’s large color photographs of ravaged natural terrain. Burtynsky’s subjects have consistently been landscapes in which the process of industrialization has resulted in spectacles that dwarf the likes of Michael Heizer’s sprawling City, 1970–99. Burtynsky’s work is undeniably gorgeous yet maintains connections to the documentary. It is also invested with a sense of adventure and achievement: The photography of dangerous places tends to necessitate the negotiation of corporate bureaucracy as well as some tricky outdoor navigation.

  • Libby Black

    A cooked lobster, a tin of caviar, a golden Louis Vuitton champagne bucket containing a bottle of Cristal, and a Chanel picnic basket with a baguette protruding from it are spread on a Burberry blanket in a feast of name-brand luxury. All that’s missing is the diner, who has kicked off her magenta Prada high heels and quit the scene. One clue to her mode of departure might be the nearby boat emblazoned with a cheerful floral motif more often applied to pricey handbags and fitted with a life preserver bearing the iconic LV monogram. The tableau, Picnic Set, 2005, was constructed by Libby Black,

  • diary October 19, 2005

    De Young and the Restless

    San Francisco

    The new de Young Museum, a smart, sexy, copper-clad edifice by Herzog & de Meuron, has international eyes on an institution that’s historically been more comfortable catering to its local community than to the global entity known as the “art world.” With the exception of conceptually-inflected new photos by Catherine Wagner, the opening exhibitions—an ancient Egypt crowd pleaser, Jasper Johns prints—weren’t designed to engender critical dialogue. It was the building itself, with its metallic façade and twisty, asymmetrical tower, that was thought-provoking. An opening weekend that featured a

  • Robert Bechtle

    The midday sun beats down mercilessly in Robert Bechtle’s signature 1960s Photorealist canvases of solitary American cars sitting on the hot asphalt alongside California stucco homes or in empty parking lots. It’s a clean, hard light that Bechtle renders with uncanny veracity. This illumination even seems to brighten his interior scenes such as Xmas in Gilroy, 1971, a painting of three women in a nondescript living room. The flash blurs the faces, which belong to the artist’s relations, but there is no doubt that the scene is a generic American family function. It is difficult to see, yet somehow

  • picks August 12, 2005

    “Beautiful Debris”

    As the capitalist dreams of plenty are being dashed by dwindling oil supplies and questionable international trade treaties, an aesthetic of neo-baroque excess seems both pertinent and appealing. In this three-person exhibition, the decorative takes on an irresistible dark side. David Hevel’s work, the show’s highlight, effectively picks up Jeff Koons’s bourgeois Pop-baroque torch with two oversized floral arrangements that are shrines to cheesy pop divas Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears. While those media darlings are referenced with skinny, wig-wearing greyhound figures, the sculptures more

  • picks July 31, 2005

    Will Yackulic

    Like a monochromatic game of Tetris in 3-D, Will Yackulic's gouache paintings on paper exude the timeless appeal of digital structures. All the images are built out of units of hand-drawn cubes, rendered in a standard palette of cool blue and white, from which he seemingly organically builds geometric forms that resemble mountains, architecture, and blocky texts. In some ways, Yackulic treads in Ed Ruscha text terrain, though the look is less languid LA than icy imagined cyberscapes informed by edgier phrasings. In one work with a dense black background, a tall, glacier-like mountain rises to

  • picks July 15, 2005

    Jarrett Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough / Jacob Hartman

    The interior of the distressed wooden-plank structure that is Jarrett Mitchell and Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough's Django Chapel, 2005, seems a lot like that roadside church in Tarantino's Kill Bill. Both are raw, rustic sites of stylized violence and cinematic allusion. Mitchell and Yarbrough's structure functions as a cozy/creepy screening room/gallery (with church benches for seats) showing an extended clip from the 1966 subtitled Italian film Django, a narrative of cartoonish cruelty that's regarded as the first spaghetti Western. Excerpts of the film are recreated in dramatically lit, collaborative

  • diary July 03, 2005

    Tuttle Recall

    San Francisco

    Richard Tuttle’s highly anticipated SF MoMA retrospective is, like his work, a deft balance of playfulness, elegant presentation, fine-tuned funkiness, and what one admirer described to me as a “slow burn” aesthetic. And on opening night, the art definitely smoldered, even if the festivities themselves were lukewarm. SF MoMA’s openings haven’t been particularly lively since “the go-go David Ross days,” as Bay Area-based art historian Pamela M. Lee put it. Back then, in the era of the dot-com bubble, the museum’s events pulsed with an—how to put this—irrational exuberance that’s been

  • picks June 17, 2005

    Leslie Shows

    In an assured solo debut, Leslie Shows combines her interests in social and environmental issues with obsessive hands-on methods to form collaged visions of a world in decline. The colors of her vast landscapes evoke oxidation, rust, strip-mined American vistas, yet Shows manages to dazzle by composing these works with incredible detail and the dramatic sweep of a geopolitical paradigm shift. Her works express a hard-to-fathom vision somewhere between utopia and dystopia, a retro future of corporate ruins, as well as a crafty environmentalism. The pieces themselves are acts of recycling, with

  • picks June 09, 2005

    BULL.MILETIC

    Collaborative team BULL.MILETIC’s compact video sculpture transforms a journey through a politically charged landscape—the site of the Berlin Wall—into a dreamy meditation on eroding memory. With this work, titled Wiegenlied (Lullaby), 2005, the artists cast a hypnotic spell by coupling the sound of a soothing music-box tune (Paul Lincke’s classic march Berliner Luft [Berlin Air]) with footage projected onto a crisp white pillow. The images slowly, mechanically revolve within a circular frame, creating a narrative of navigation—trawling through verdant vacant lots, residential

  • Lucy Puls

    Secondary markets shift constantly, and not just in the art world. The advent of eBay has altered the way we value objects that gather dust. Even Dick Cheney has seen fit to point out that a sizable number of Americans now avoid unemployment lines by selling their stuff on the Internet. Since the late 1980s, Lucy Puls has instead transformed household junk into sculpture, casting old toasters, books, LPs, CDs, and stuffed toys inside blocks of translucent resin and turning them into solid forms that exude a strangely alluring sense of loss.

    Puls’s new work represents a visual, if not thematic,

  • Althea Thauberger

    Sky, Kory, Aleta, and Reese, the four teenage girls who star in Althea Thauberger’s video A Memory Lasts Forever, 2004, could very well be a high-school alterna- folk band, with the artist acting as their shadowy Svengali. But while Thauberger casts her young charges in glowing light and allows them to costume themselves in stylish junior garb, the artist’s intentions are worlds away from those of a record-company flack. We encounter the quartet poolside, on a drunken summer night in a landscaped suburban backyard. As is often the trope in teen movies, parents are absent. We watch as the friends

  • picks April 11, 2005

    Tariq Alvi

    There are two wheelchairs in Tariq Alvi's new installation, both encrusted with tantalizing materials. One is covered in white and blue floral cake frosting and the remnants of forty burned birthday candles; the other sports a fleshy mosaic collage of gay porn pictures. The latter wheelchair hangs upside down from the ceiling, like a body encountering an obstacle in the process of ascension—an easy-to-overlook beacon of mortal eroticism. The spare exhibition—titled “Super Pride and Super Prejudice” (after the recent discovery of a hardy new strain of AIDS) and made during a residency

  • picks April 11, 2005

    Tracey Snelling

    The act of constructing fantasy worlds, as a photographic practice, makes sense now: It is a satisfying strategy for taking some control of a world that has seemingly run amok. Tracey Snelling is firmly ensconced in the crafty act of creating hobby-shop sculptures of buildings and then photographing them in real-world settings, blurring distinctions between the constructed and the real. Her terrain is a brand of noir: dusty fleabag hotels, tenements, and roadside attractions—usually populated by people who look like they’re on the lam. At Mission 17 she includes a cluster of aging high-rise

  • Reuben Lorch-Miller

    Liminal space was the operative theme in Reuben Lorch-Miller’s recent exhibition at Catherine Clark Gallery. Visually and verbally, formally and conceptually, Lorch-Miller’s photographs, sculptures, videos, and wall-painted texts consistently explore the idea of ambiguity. Eight selections from a series of color digital enlargements titled “From the Oblivion” (2003–2005) set the tone here. Their subjects appear arbitrary—a tornado, a snowy mountain, a heavy-metal musician—though the spirit of Richard Prince’s early appropriations hangs heavily over them all. Lorch-Miller’s works originate in