Glen Helfand

  • picks March 17, 2005

    Tucker Schwarz

    Tucker Schwarz renders a mean chain-link fence, not to mention an aging ranch house, with her sewing machine. Her intricate, mostly architectural images are sewn on muslin, with loose threads dangling, lines clinging to the pale fabric. The compositions suggest Ghada Amer's embroidered works transposed to a desolate American suburb, though Schwarz's craft-inflected vision exudes a homegrown sense of ambivalence. The show also includes two surprising and ambitious web-like sculptures, both 2005, made from threads and stringy bits of cloth. Like Fred Sandback, Schwarz makes thread command space,

  • picks March 10, 2005

    Mitzi Pederson

    Making emphatic statements with a light touch is hardly the characteristic mode of our era, but it's a primary appeal of Mitzi Pederson's deceptively modest sculpture and drawing. She traffics in whispery hues, and transforms simple materials—papier maché, glitter, and aluminum tape—into objects of quiet, powerful beauty. The main attraction of this compact show is untitled (ten years later or maybe just one), 2005, a new sculpture made from stacked cinderblock chunks, probably chipped Home Depot remnants. Pederson has arranged them in an evolutionary narrative that begins with what

  • Pamela Wilson

    Collapse and catastrophe are timeless themes but also define the moment in which we find ourselves. “Democratic” elections, war, natural disaster, and misguided economic policy are disheartening realities that blend into a shifting cultural backdrop. This is the context of our times, yet the images with which the media bombards us are not without precedent: The rubble of a bombed building is a universal image, and the devastation left by a tsunami doesn’t look so different from the aftermath of any other sort of disaster. Pamela Wilson’s paintings are rooted in catastrophes’ basic sameness, yet

  • picks February 11, 2005

    “Hairy Bodies”

    While inspired by the queer subculture that adores large, hairy guys—bears—this provocative exhibition is less about fetishism than about creating a model of hirsute glamour. Ruth Eckland's video casts a furry, big-bellied man in a slow-motion water ballet (with an electronic soundtrack that's too ominous for its own good), while in his own pair of atmospheric, fairly static videos, Chris Komater treats hairy male shoulders to the loving photo-shoot breezes that usually accentuate a supermodel's luxuriant mane. A series of vitrines contain Nick Dong's pearl-encrusted sterling silver

  • Chris Finley

    ZIPPER Alan, GUTT Alex, DICKENSHEET Dean & Shirley . . . The collaged list of names, depicted in a large digital print by Chris Finley titled Lord Slug, 2004, appears random at first. But it soon becomes clear that the artist has picked out those most likely to have elicited taunts from elementary school classmates. Indeed, he apparently read the San Francisco White Pages from cover to cover in a gleefully puerile search that makes this work an immediate guilty pleasure. Unless, perhaps, your name happens to be SHATS Sofia. It’s a digression from Finley’s more labor-intensive, thematically

  • Erwin Wurm

    The one-minute sculpture, Austrian artist Erwin Wurm’s trademark form, is as easily identifiable and digestible as a brand name. These instruction-based artworks, in which participants are asked to engage in silly and mildly humiliating acts, are eminently camera ready. Yet Wurm’s work is deceptively pop in tone—while superficially humorous, it deals with darker psychological, philosophical, and religious ideas than its outwardly lighthearted style might imply.

    Like the bulk of Wurm’s projects, his first US museum survey, “I Love My Time, I Don’t Like My Time: Recent Work by Erwin Wurm,” is both

  • picks December 17, 2004

    Dorothy Napangardi

    In this show of recent aquatint prints and paintings, dots coalesce into mesmerizing veils of pattern and map-like forms rendered in black, white and earthy shades of ochre and brown. These are works that evoke the grids of city lights as seen from airplane windows at night, or meditations on bead curtains—a division between here and there. Dorothy Napangardi, an aboriginal artist who divides her time between urban and rural Australia (in Mina Mina Country, after which the show is named), makes art that fits squarely into the dialogue of artists who work with obsessive mark-making and

  • Sean McFarland

    Using a dramatic depth of field characterized by sharp foregrounds and blurry backgrounds, Sean McFarland makes images that are part theatrical gesture and part document. His pictures reduce generic, albeit picturesque, cityscapes to the scale of a model train set. The sixteen pictures—all untitled, 20 x 20 inch C-prints made between 2003 and 2004—often depict identifiable locations in San Francisco. One daytime street scene, for example, shows a block not far from the gallery and captures the tension of encroaching gentrification. Depicting a row of crumbling buildings, one faced with

  • picks November 04, 2004

    2004 California Biennial

    To get to the California Biennial, deep in the heart of the O.C., you’ve got to drive past acres of car lots, the John Wayne Airport, and an upscale mall called Fashion Island. It’s a perfect visual and social primer for this veritable oasis of an exhibition. The twenty-seven artists and collaboratives, selected by curators Elizabeth Armstrong and Irene Hofmann, are given plenty of space for the 120 works on view, making the show more digestible than the Whitney Biennial—yet despite the regional focus, the exhibition offers just as much variety as that sprawling national. Featuring artists

  • picks October 29, 2004

    Byron Kim

    Byron Kim made a splash at the 1993 Whitney Biennial with Synecdoche, 1991–present, a minimalist grid of hundreds of monochromatic paintings in varying skin tones that neatly dovetailed with the art world’s concurrent interest in identity politics. But this lean, effective mid-career retrospective shifts the focus squarely to the artist’s identity as a painter, tracking Kim’s evolving use of single hues to encapsulate personal memory and his own take on art history. The show’s two galleries are as different in tone as in subject matter. The first is dominated by the warm brown shades of Synecdoche,

  • Larry Sultan

    The San Fernando Valley, the collection of middle- and upper-middle-class neighborhoods and industrial parks that sprawls along the arid flatlands behind the Hollywood sign, is notorious as an ur-suburb, the location of the Brady Bunch split-level manse and other faux sitcom residences. Yet despite this wholesome association, it has evolved into the capital of porn-video production. In Larry Sultan’s series “The Valley,” 1998–2003, most of which was shot on adult-film locations, the area’s social complexity emerges with remarkable economy. As a group, the fifty-three large-scale chromogenic

  • picks August 27, 2004

    Alice Shaw

    Alice Shaw is a woman of the people. With her dryly witty photographs and drawings, she documents intersection points between herself and others, suggesting that democracy is ultimately a state of mind: We’re all in this together. The endearing, gap-toothed artist engages in an identity investigation that echoes the work of Cindy Sherman and Nikki S. Lee, yet Shaw follows an idiosyncratic path. In a series of self-portraits, she’s disguised herself as famous namesakes. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Shaw dresses herself in a girlish blue dress, like a character greeter at Disney World, though the

  • picks August 03, 2004

    “Beautiful Losers”

    An official-looking sign—“Please Check Your Skateboard at the Information Desk”—is posted at a gallery entrance in this rollicking tribute to “contemporary art and street culture.” A survey of large, colorful works by subcultural heroes including Chris Johanson, Barry McGee, Thomas Campbell, Ed Templeton, and the late Margaret Kilgallen (with forebears like Larry Clark and Raymond Pettibon included for context), “Beautiful Losers” reads like an institutionalized traveling compilation of Deitch Projects’ popular youth-focused shows. It’s usually packed with skateboarders lured by

  • picks July 19, 2004

    “Pink Steam”

    Writers Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian are a San Francisco power couple whose free-ranging literary interests extend into pop culture, Beat poets, horror film, the art world, and their own colorful relationship. This cliquish yet endearing tribute show, organized by artist Colter Jacobsen, sprawls out in a public library in the queer Castro district—a setting that suits the couple’s bohemian tendencies. Taking its title from Bellamy’s latest book of prose pieces, the exhibition attempts to capture the essence of its subjects, and in the process it manages to transcend its sometimes self-congratulatory

  • picks June 30, 2004

    Felipe Dulzaides and Robin Rhode

    This double bill presents two artists with wandering international spirits and playful, perfomative approaches to complicated issues. Both Felipe Dulzaides and Robin Rhode use still and moving images to tell stories about that familiar contemporary condition, rootlessness. Cuban-born Dulzaides works from a nomadic sensibility, filtering the psychic tones of a range of locations through a wry lens. In a dual-slide-projection piece, Bust Busting, 2002–2004, he randomly juxtaposes photographs of public sculptures in American, European, and Cuban locales, creating absurdist monuments to visual

  • Pipilotti Rist

    For her West Coast solo museum debut, Swiss video and installation artist Pipilotti Rist showed three works, including a brand-new one cocommissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Luxembourg’s Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean. Together they reveal not only the artist’s masterful visual sense and emphasis on female-centric images with a spiritual bent but also a recurrent theme of Christian ritual that never detracts from a notorious sense of serious play.

    Each of the three video installations seduces with its own version of Pop religiosity. Positioned in the lobby leading into

  • Harrell Fletcher

    Harrell Fletcher’s appealing brand of community-based art may rely on the people, but the tone is more block party than party line; material and message seem to be ungrudgingly provided by the wide range of “ordinary” publics—schoolchildren, church choirs, convenience-store clerks—he engages. Two concurrent exhibitions in the city where he began his career revealed how this artist, now based in Portland, Oregon, takes his flexible conceptual framework on the road, adapting it to places from Houston to Malmö, Sweden, in each case making himself temporarily part of the neighborhood.

    “Happiness

  • picks April 13, 2004

    Iona Rozeal Brown

    Iona Rozeal Brown trades in imagery of the ganguro, Japanese nationals who darken their skin to emulate African Americans. For her, this subculture is a platform from which to engage issues of race and rampant capitalism on a global scale. In a handful of recent paintings in this exhibition, “Bling Blasian Bling,” she offers her now signature fusions of ukiyo-e style and subject matter with the designer flash of hip-hop royalty. Geishas, courtesans, and a lone young yakuza are outfitted with poufy Afros, hair extensions, fur coats, curving, talonlike fingernails, and deep brown, masklike facial

  • picks April 09, 2004

    David Huffman

    In David Huffman’s timely and satisfying group of new paintings, a crew of black astronauts—their weary faces visible through slits in their helmets—go about their vaguely militaristic activities within a richly depicted galaxy of floating clouds and gaseous blobs or meteorites. The men use ropes to hoist themselves from one outer-space outpost to another, toting bulbous missiles and ominous-looking containers presumably filled with toxic goo. A mysterious robot enemy is sometimes present, but more often the astronaut-soldiers shoot aimlessly into the ether or set off explosions that

  • picks March 11, 2004

    Michael Arcega

    With a kind of theme-restaurant opulence, Michael Arcega’s performance and sculpture project plumbs the rich depths of California and Mexico’s colonial past. Arcega, who was born in Manila, created a Spanish-style galleon out of office supplies—primarily manila folders—and actually sailed the thing on open water in northern California’s Tomales Bay. The artist has a penchant for puns, christening his ship “El Conquistadork” and offering an audio record of his voyage on a tape player crafted from a plastic turd and dubbed the “Captain’s Log.” Despite the silliness, the ship itself is a marvel,