Critics’ Picks

View of “Josh Faught: Look Across the Water Into the Darkness, Look for the Fog,” 2022. Wall: Eternal Flame, 2022; Floor: Inappropriate Happiness, 2022.

View of “Josh Faught: Look Across the Water Into the Darkness, Look for the Fog,” 2022. Wall: Eternal Flame, 2022; Floor: Inappropriate Happiness, 2022.

San Francisco

Josh Faught

The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
360 Kansas Street
January 13–March 5, 2022

The title of Josh Faught’s generous, unsettling exhibition “Look Across the Water Into the Darkness, Look for the Fog” is lifted from John Carpenter’s 1980 pop-horror film, The Fog. The movie is about vengeful ghosts who float into a coastal town in Northern California, where quaint bed-and-breakfasts provide only cosmetic defense. Faught uses textiles, cultural lore, and other means to evoke domestic comfort and its inverse. The artist has explored these themes before, but they resonate with even greater depth here, especially at a time of airborne contagions, when home has become both a prison and a refuge.

Faught’s well-choreographed show begins with an epic two-sided work mounted into a freestanding wall, the front of which features an abstracted image of an AIDS vigil, a response to an older, ongoing pandemic that has claimed millions of lives. On “unfinished” wood framing behind it are small monitors playing all 264 episodes of Murder, She Wrote (1984–96). Looping on other screens tucked into the various textile pieces on display are gay-themed episodes of Days of Our Lives (1965–). The gallery has that melancholic hum of daytime television, a cocoon of formulaic drama.

Studding the space on custom pedestals are handmade baskets, dyed with bright Easter flair. The eccentric objects are containers for a variety of items, including hoarded comfort literature, porn films, and hard candies. We also find obituaries from the St. Louis Jewish Light newsletter, collected and shared by the artist’s mother. Other things, like a shiny ceramic lapdog, were sourced in Palm Springs, California, a desert refuge for aging gay men where thrift stores function as public archives of a particular fading taste.

The pedestals are painted in sunset shades as interpreted by commercial color forecasters. A large mural of a disheveled home interior, bathed in a warm, slightly amber hue, serves as a dramatic accent wall within the exhibition. It features a mirror image of a room from Liza Minelli’s childhood residence in Beverly Hills—an abandoned decorator showplace infected with family drama, squatters, and Hollywood ghosts who likely moan, “There’s no place like home.”