Gwen Allen

  • “Something (you can’t see, on the other side, of a wall from this side) casts a shadow

    In recent years, and in successive waves, San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) district has been transformed from an industrial zone inhabited by large working-class and transient populations to a “revitalized” commercial and cultural hub filled with upscale condos and dot-com offices. Shortly after Airbnb opened its new headquarters there last year, city officials forcibly removed homeless encampments under the freeway overpasses that crisscross the neighbor-hood. Less than a block away at SOMArts, one of the city’s few surviving nonprofit art spaces, independent curator Juana Berrío recently

  • Judy Chicago

    “Pussies,” Judy Chicago’s first solo exhibition in San Francisco since her iconic installation The Dinner Party premiered there in 1979, presented paintings, drawings, and ceramic plates made between 1968 and 2004, many of which exemplified the feminist art practices pioneered by the artist in the 1960s and ’70s. The show felt timely not only because it occurred during a time of ongoing legalized sexism in the United States, but also because it was staged in the wake of recent allegations of sexual harassment leveled against powerful men across cultural spheres (including at this magazine)—making

  • “The Train: RFK’s Last Journey”

    The 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy—who promised to heal racial divisions, redress income inequality, and end the war in Vietnam—devastated Americans who dreamed of the realization of those aims. As his body was carried by train from New York to Washington, DC, for burial, supporters lined the tracks—waving, crying, praying, and holding handmade signs. This collective expression of grief and solidarity was captured by photographer Paul Fusco. Approximately twenty of Fusco’s prints will be shown alongside Rein Jelle Terpstra’s

  • Tania Bruguera

    Over the past several decades, Tania Bruguera has pioneered a distinct form of socially engaged art, located at the intersection of performance art, institutional critique, and activism. She coined the terms Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art) and Arte Útil (Useful Art) to describe facets of her practice in which she strategically elides the division between art and life with projects that have included a school that she ran out of her house in Havana (Cátedra Arte de Conducta [Behavior Art School], 2003–2009), a newspaper she published in collaboration with Cuban artists living inside and outside

  • “From Counterculture to Cyberculture”

    “From Counterculture to Cyberculture” took its title from Fred Turner’s influential 2006 book, which demonstrated the unexpected symbiosis between the Bay Area counterculture of the 1960s and the computer industry that emerged in nearby Silicon Valley over the same decade. Guest-curated by David Lewis and including nine artists represented by both his New York gallery and Altman Siegel, the exhibition engaged with the overlapping legacies of alternative DIY culture and digital utopianism. Coming on the heels of “Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia,” a major survey of 1960s and ’70s art

  • Noam Rappaport

    Noam Rappaport’s recent show at Ratio 3 represented a fresh, fruitful direction in the Los Angeles–based artist’s ongoing investigations of abstraction. On display were four “dogleg”-shaped canvases (versions of which were exhibited at James Fuentes Gallery in New York in 2014) and a new series of five sculptural reliefs, as well as several hybrid paintings, composed of multiple canvases joined together and overlaid with various collage elements, such as rope and scraps of wood (all works, 2015). Rappaport’s prolific, playful-yet-conscientious explorations of shape, color, and surface revealed

  • Alejandro Cesarco

    Alejandro Cesarco’s show at Kiria Koula comprised two films, a print, and a wall silk screen, each of which revisited his abiding themes of time, memory, and the visual and textual signifiers that mediate our experiences of them—rendering (however imperfectly) such immaterial phenomena communicable. One of the artist’s interests is books, as both material objects and conceptual systems that organize narrative, structuring the relationship between author and reader. He is especially attuned to those aspects of writing that are slightly marginal to the text proper. For example, in a series

  • “Sam Lewitt: More Heat Than Light”

    For his new project at CCA Wattis, Sam Lewitt will attach ten heaters designed for use in mobile-communication systems to the gallery’s track lighting, parasitically siphoning electricity to generate thermal rather than luminous energy. As in his previous work repurposing high-tech materials (his contribution to the 2012 Whitney Biennial employed ferromagnetic liquid, used in everything from hard drives to military aircraft), Lewitt here wittily underscores the degree to which physical environments—and, by extension, contemporary neoliberal cultural and economic

  • Geta Brătescu

    “Geta Brătescu,” the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, gave a pithy introduction to this pioneering figure of Romanian Conceptual art. Organized by Apsara DiQuinzio as part of the MATRIX program at Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, this succinct survey, which spanned the years 1974–2000, included two films, a collage series, a photograph, a drawing, a sculpture, and a textile wall piece, all of which cumulatively managed to convey the crux of Brătescu’s artistic concerns. Poetic transformations of objects and materials pervade the artist’s investigations of

  • Clare Rojas

    In her recent exhibition “Caerulea,” Clare Rojas continued the investigation of abstraction she embarked on in 2011, in a departure from the work for which she is best known: whimsical paintings that, like the work of her San Francisco Mission School cohort, take up the aesthetics of sign-painting and street art, though often with a feminist twist. Purged of her signature folksy and fairy-tale-like imagery—stylized animal and matryoshka doll figures and boldly patterned borders and backgrounds derived from quilting and outsider or craft-based techniques—these new oil paintings on canvas

  • Zarouhie Abdalian

    Zarouhie Abdalian’s first solo museum exhibition, organized by Apsara DiQuinzio as part of the Matrix program at BAM/PFA, presented a triad of sculptures that treated sound as both medium and metaphor. Upon entering the gallery, one heard a metronomic tapping or clicking, though its source—six tiny mechanical hammers—remained hidden inside an oblong black vitrine, which evoked the lacquered surface of a grand piano. Titled Each envelope as before (all works 2013), the piece literally reflected its architectural surroundings while expressing its own interior volume as something audible

  • Mathew Hale

    In 1974, while Brian Eno was producing the album Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), he and artist Peter Schmidt devised “Oblique Strategies,” a set of aphorisms printed on a deck of cards and intended as a resource to guide one’s working methods under the mandates of “productivity.” Anyone who has ever felt creatively blocked will appreciate these prompts, which cultivate the intrinsic unpredictability of intuition and chance—“Honour thy error as a hidden intention,” “Ask your body,” and my personal favorite, “Do the washing up.” In “MA THE WHALE,” British artist Mathew Hale (mounting

  • “The Unphotographable”

    Since its invention, photography has been defined by its indexical capacity to document the visible world—what Barthes famously called its “that-has-been.” “The Unphotographable,” as Fraenkel Gallery titled its recent show, challenged this received truth, unearthing, according to curator and gallery owner Jeffrey Fraenkel, “a parallel history in which photographers and other artists have attempted to describe by photographic means that which is not so readily seen: thought, time, ghosts, god, dreams.” Spanning a broad historical and conceptual terrain—from nineteenth-century spiritualist

  • Jay DeFeo

    Jay DeFeo labored obsessively over her legendary painting The Rose, nearly exclusively from 1958 to 1966. The work became so dense with pigment during those eight years that when she and her husband, Wally Hedrick, were evicted from their Fillmore Street apartment in 1965, a hole had to be cut in the side of the building to extricate the enormous canvas. The painting was thought to weigh almost a ton. (In The White Rose, a short, lyrical film from 1967 by Bruce Conner, a forlorn DeFeo is shown dangling her legs over the fire escape as a moving truck drives her painting away.) Formally exhibited

  • James Sterling Pitt

    In her 2011 book Under Blue Cup, Rosalind Krauss understands artistic medium as “a form of remembering”—a metaphor made poignant by the loss and recuperation of self she experienced following a brain aneurysm (a disruption the book both describes and, in its fragmented, aphoristic form, mirrors). Like Krauss, artist James Sterling Pitt also underwent intensive physical and cognitive rehabilitation after a brain injury, and, in the wake of this sudden change in state, he too allowed the disorientation to inform his work, specifically by adapting his art to function as a mnemonic system.

    “On

  • Matt Borruso

    In his semiautobiographical 1928 novel Nadja, André Breton described the Parisian flea market as “an almost forbidden world of sudden parallels, petrifying coincidences, and reflexes particular to each individual, of harmonies struck as though on the piano, flashes of light that would make you see, really see.” In a similar vein, Matt Borruso explored discarded objects of the recent past as sources of unexpected revelation in “The Hermit’s Revenge Fantasy,” his second solo show at Steven Wolf Fine Arts. By means of cut-paper collages, pencil drawings, a two-channel video, and imagery culled from

  • Stephanie Syjuco

    Having established herself as one of Conceptual art’s most passionate advocates, Lucy Lippard voiced her disillusionment with the new practice’s egalitarian, antimarket aspirations in the postface to her 1973 book, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. She wrote, “Art and artist in a capitalist society remain luxuries,” noting how all of the major Conceptualist figures were already selling their supposedly non-object-based work in prestigious galleries. When her book was republished in 1997, Lippard sounded a more optimistic tone, introducing the volume with a new essay, “Escape

  • Emily Roysdon

    “If I Don’t Move Can You Hear Me?”—Emily Roysdon’s first solo US exhibition—investigated the ways in which individual and social bodies communicate. Engaging the grammars and conventions—linguistic, architectural, institutional, or otherwise—that govern public expression and intelligibility, the show featured an installation of screen-printed and collaged photographs, a zine produced by Roysdon on site, as well as a video created in Stockholm this past fall. (These elements plus another new work are on view at New York’s Art in General through May 7.) A sense of the unfinished

  • Gary Simmons

    The so-called blaxploitation film genre courted controversy during its meteoric rise (and equally precipitous disappearance) in the 1970s. Marketed specifically to black audiences and defined by unprecedented depictions of black heroes fighting a villainous white establishment, these films were, on the one hand, hailed for offering revolutionary representations of black power, and, on the other, condemned for perpetuating racial stereotypes and glamorizing violence, drugs, and extramarital sex. Though Gary Simmons made no attempt to resolve the paradoxes of blaxploitation in his exhibition “

  • “Debris from the Cultural Underground”

    This past summer Levi Strauss & Co. launched an experiential advertising campaign known as the Levi’s Workshop in a storefront on San Francisco’s Valencia Street. Declaring “We Are All Workers,” the pop-up offered free public printmaking equipment and workshops in a hypercurated “raw” space where publishing zines became as banal as buying jeans (which one could also do there). In light of this attempt to marry the DIY producer to the sovereign consumer, “Debris from the Cultural Underground” at Ever Gold was a timely reminder of the radical possibilities of self-publishing and alternative