Critics’ Picks

View of “Temporary Structures,” 2012.

View of “Temporary Structures,” 2012.

San Francisco

“Temporary Structures”

SFAI Walter and McBean Galleries
800 Chestnut Street
September 14–December 15, 2012

As its title suggests, “Temporary Structures” is concerned with impermanence. Certainly the precarious nature of our physical world is increasing, as is evident from the ease with which digitally stored information can be lost, or from the advent of pop-up stores as alternatives to storefront businesses. These contemporary issues are cleverly parsed in this exhibition through works such as Christian Nagler and Azin Seraj’s project Market Fitness, 2012—which takes the form of both video installations and exercise classes, melding lessons on the financial market with personal health—as well as Paweł Althamer’s video Brazil, 2010, which depicts space travelers observing architectural and religious traditions from an outsider’s perspective, and Michael Robinson’s film Victory over the Sun, 2007, which explores desolate sites of World’s Fairs past spliced with appropriated interjections that point to the beginnings of hypnosis and science fiction.

However, the show also includes art that redirects the viewer’s attention to the gallery at SFAI (one of the oldest art schools in the US, founded in 1871). Several works reference the gallery’s rich exhibition and architectural history. For instance, curators uncovered a piece by alum Paul Kos long hidden behind plaster, titled Gargoyle VIII, 1985, for which Kos cut through a white gallery wall, revealing the original concrete from the building’s 1969 construction. The result was a tall, narrow indented section shaped like a medieval church window into which a performer hired by Kos wedged himself, climbing up the wall during a live performance. Also included is photo documentation of the 1987 installation Smithsonian Falls, Descending a Staircase for P.K. by another graduate, the late David Ireland, in which wet concrete was poured down the concrete staircase connecting the first and second gallery floors. Amy M. Ho’s piece, Up/Down, 2012, highlights the same staircase by projecting onto its underside images of modeled steps, doubling its presence. While a sense of instability permeates the exhibition, it is ultimately its simultaneous self-reflexivity and awareness of the ephemerality of physical and social constructs that allows it to generate a unique dialogue on the subject.