Critics’ Picks

  • Will Rogan, The obscurity of the mid day twilight, (detail) 2018, marine paint, mast, ceramic, sea life, 20 1/2 x 21 x 21”.

    Will Rogan

    Altman Siegel
    1150 25th Street
    June 28 - August 25

    “Albatross,” Will Rogan’s strangely potent exhibition, is timely in multiple senses. The sculptures, found objects, and photographs allude to the effects of climate change and also to the concept of time itself, in its varied scales and paces. Immediately, seascape photographs and rocks placed like Minimalist sculptures on the floor establish a geological baseline. Weights and chains from cuckoo clocks droop from photographs in small handmade frames, and elsewhere, horological mechanisms have been reconfigured to make die-cut shapes of urns, keys, and faces that rotate at their own, sometimes nervous rhythms. Time slips on, glacially, humanly.

    Rogan currently lives and works on a houseboat in Sausalito and summers in the Antarctic, making photographs while on research trips—generative experiences that are reflected here. The obscurity of mid day twilight (all works 2018), for example, repurposes his boat’s mast, a tall object painted shiny maritime white, as an elongated pedestal that reaches into the exposed gallery rafters. Placed on top is an urn that was submerged for a year and a half in the water below Rogan’s domestic vessel, attracting whatever algae, barnacles, or sea grass would grow. From the floor, it looks like a wise, mangy owl.

    The large stones and boulders also serve as bases for oversize ceramic novelty mugs filled with slowly evaporating seawater. These porous vessels, fired but unglazed, have already begun to grow a fuzz of salt crystal from the brine. In Filter, Stress (What Stress?), the parenthetical phrase is inscribed on the mug’s surface in scribbly Roz Chast–ish script. A nearby photo, Eclipse Snake, depicts a rattler the artist encountered on a hike. The wood frame, carved with frantic squiggles, exudes a sense of impending, camouflaged danger.

  • John Akomfrah

    San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
    151 Third Street
    March 3 - September 16

    Vertigo Sea, 2015, John Akomfrah’s magisterial multichannel video installation, presents modernity as a half-millennium of mounting atrocities. Nineteenth-century photographs of enslaved people, grainy, decades-old footage of polar bear hunts, and more recent clips of sperm whale butcherings and melting icecaps are intercut with sweeping shots of majestic natural beauty. Through this dichotomy, Akomfrah shows the development of a truly globalized world as a centuries-long and human-produced emergency, one that trespasses on an increasingly burdened environment. Walter Benjamin’s axiom that artifacts of civilization double as evidence of barbarism permeates the work’s three massive projection screens as voice-overs recalling the 1781 Zong slave massacre and the forced disappearances of Pinochet’s Chile narrate teeming jewel-like butterflies and tumultuous, storm-capped seas.

    Originally shown at Okwui Enwezor’s 2015 Venice Biennale, Vertigo Sea is exhibited here alongside J.M.W. Turner’s 1805 oil painting The Deluge. Chosen specifically by Akomfrah, the painting represents the biblical flood as a whirlpool of agonized bodies, smokelike clouds, and the skeleton-like wreckage of Noah’s ruined ark. Created at the dawn of an age of industry and political revolution, Turner’s smoldering vision acts as a prophetic auguring of the same radical and traumatic changes that Akomfrah obliquely chronicles in Sea. Both works conjure thoughts of another painting by Turner not present in this show: The Slave Ship, from 1840. Depicting the sea as a charnel house of jettisoned human cargo, it completes the story of a maritime, man-made, and, ultimately, catastrophic modernity.