“An Idea of a Boundary”

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
401 Van Ness Ave.
September 22–January 20

View of “An Idea of a Boundary,” 2017.

The title of this group exhibition derives from a passage in Ursula K. Le Guin’s science-fiction novel The Dispossessed (1974) describing a low, unassuming wall that acts as an absolute border between two planets. The ten artists featured here contend with boundaries that delineate both physical and psychological divisions. Several of the modest photographs in Park McArthur’s Leads, 2016, document thresholds at Chisenhale Gallery in London with door saddles that may look innocuous to some, but may be obstacles for people who use wheelchairs. Gina Osterloh’s film Press and Outline, 2014, also engages with the fraught relationship between the body and its surroundings, as the artist slowly traces the periphery of her own shadow on the wall, blurring the line between the tangible self and its fleeting companion.

The urban landscape and its frequent associate—gentrification—factor into several works in the exhibition, including Hannah Ireland’s Carry On/Fall Out/Find Your Place Here, 2017. Seven mesh knapsacks filled with eroding bricks collected from the shore of a San Francisco neighborhood in the process of upheaval are arranged in a line, speaking to the exposed weight of displacement. Two potent works by Davina Semo confront the viewer with archetypal exclusionary barriers. One of them, a stark gray mirror protected by a forbidding steel grate, borrows its title, SHE SAID THAT THE OUTLINES OF THINGS AND PEOPLE WERE DELICATE, THAT THEY BROKE, 2017, from Elena Ferrante’s novel The Story of the Lost Child (2014). Both the work and its title allude to the idea that solid boundaries can easily dissolve, and that spatial distinctions are often more complicated than they seem.

Jeanne Gerrity

Cosmo Whyte

Marcia Wood Gallery
263 Walker St SW
October 25–November 25

Cosmo Whyte, Stranger than the Village, 2015, C-print, 60 x 40".

In his exhibition “Starting a Bush Fire,” Jamaican-born, Atlanta-based artist Cosmo Whyte presents sculptures made from found materials, photographs, and a series of drawings that circulate around the theme of the dislocated body. Specifically, the artist’s work conjures the history of the displacement of black and brown people from the slave trade, the Great Migration, and the global refugee crisis. Hanging high on the wall in the foyer is Guess Who Is Coming to Dinner, 2017, a collection of orange life jackets thickly adorned with mussel shells. Farther into the space, the arresting photograph Stranger than the Village, 2015, features the back of a black man in a suit, a megaphone balancing on his head of braids. Pinned to his jacket is an image of James Baldwin, also in a suit, looking out at the viewer. A reversal, and a reminder: We must go forward into the future, with the faces of our past champions emblazoned on our backs.

Whereas the sculptures and photographs are more legible in their commentary on race and identity, the series of drawings lining the walls—worked and reworked in charcoal, with several sections of the paper cut like lace or layered with gold leaf—offers a more lyrical meditation. Often, faces of figures are obscured, sometimes by long tendrils of braids, or, in the case of Scalp, 2017, removed almost completely and replaced by a patch of black glitter. Part celebration, part consternation, the exhibition is dazzling in its ability to render the emotional complexity of diaspora. Like the crier who both belongs to the village and is apart from it, Whyte proclaims the news of the day, even to what denies him community.

Katie Geha

David Lamelas

University Art Museum (UAM) at California State University
1250 Bellflower Boulevard
September 17–December 10

Sprüth Magers | Los Angeles
5900 Wilshire Boulevard
September 7–October 21

View of “David Lamelas: Time As Activity,” 2017. From left: Time as Activity Madrid, 2017; Time as Activity Düsseldorf, 1969.

The paragraphs-long labels that accompany the many works in David Lamelas’s retrospective at California State University, Long Beach, some on display for the first time in the US, point to an artistic career of heady investigations into visual hermeneutics. Spurred on by the works of media theorists (Marshall McLuhan), structuralist thinkers (Roland Barthes, Claude Lévi-Strauss), and novelists (Marguerite Duras), Lamelas constructs pieces that unfold over time—requiring both patience and thought from a viewer. Slide projectors accompany a short film in Film Script (Manipulation of Meaning), 1972, ultimately complicating the narrative by providing a detour from the film’s seductive continuity. Works such as Los Angeles Friends (Larger Than Life), 1976—comprising forty pencil drawings and a slideshow—and the book Publication, 1970/97, showcase the artist’s dry humor and proves he is deeply embedded in international Conceptual art networks.

At Sprüth Magers, various excerpts are presented from Lamelas’s ongoing series “Time as Activity,” 1969–. Each piece is a study in film, sometimes with accompanying photographs, of the passage of time. For the initial work, Time as Activity Düsseldorf, 1969, the artist trained a 16-mm camera on three areas of the German city’s commercial and artistic life. He made the claim that “what occurs on the screen has no aesthetic meaning,” but, as the series progressed, aesthetics became inevitably drawn into the fray. This is also the case in Time as Activity Madrid, 2017, wherein Lamelas, working digitally this time, recorded visitors viewing Picasso’s Guernica, 1937, at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Nearly a half century separates these meditations on daily pursuits in politically tumultuous times, and still, we find ourselves making our way—morning, noon, and night. As these two shows demonstrate, Lamelas continues to be not only an adroit deconstructionist of images but a great believer in them as well.

Andy Campbell

William Cordova

Marfa Contemporary
100 East San Antonio St.
October 6–December 22

View of “William Cordova: ankaylli: spatial and ideological terrain,” 2017.

The handwritten words “collection of narrative bits” appear in the lower left corner of a collage from a suite of ten, titled untitled (constellations), 2017. Seemingly innocuous, this phrase suggests a through line for William Cordova’s dense installation of paintings, drawings, collages, found objects, books, photographs, sculptures, video, and sound works, all conjoined by massive spiral-shaped scaffolding built from two-by-fours. The motif of the spiral repeats in the grooves of an LP containing field recordings the artist captured in Chicago at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and the Young Lords People’s Church. For Cordova, the two sites are examples of efforts to join architecture and spirituality, a tradition he traces back to Aztec and Andean building practices. In an alcove of the gallery, the video calle luna calle sol (ai apaec yemayá watatsumi) (moon street sun street [ai apaer yemayá watasumi]), 2017, features the coast of Barranco in Lima, Peru, a sacred site for Andeans as well as a possible precolonial trade route between Asia and the Americas. Each work in this exhibition contains layers of referents and histories, some of which may only be recognizable depending on one’s own personal and cultural background.

The project extends beyond the space of the gallery: Cordova worked with local residents to create concrete spheres, which contain their personal items, that are placed strategically throughout sites in Marfa to mimic the shape of the Big Dipper. These, like all the components of the show, make up one sliver of a multidimensional universe, its points of access and interchange constantly shifting.


Chelsea Weathers

Dave Muller

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
2400 Third Avenue South
December 23–December 3

View of “Now Where Were We?,” 2016–17.

At first glance, the striking white band that skirts Dave Muller’s vast, colorful murals in this exhibition gives the impression of an orderly timeline. But one soon realizes that all of art’s history and geography is disarranged in his mixtape of a show, “Now Where Were We?,” in which objects from the museum’s permanent collection are paired with the artist’s renderings of items from the pop-cultural everyday: among them, a disco ball, hockey pucks, a smiley face, and a rainbow flag. The painted text provides the viewer only the barest of bearings within three galleries organized around the themes of people, places, and things.

The show’s gambit, prompted by curator Gabriel Ritter, offered Muller a chance to show and pair works in unusual ways, and the artist’s disregard for conventional typologies is alternately aggravating and disarming. A Chinese landscape scroll painting faces off with Muller’s rendering of Mount Rushmore. A formalist array of Asian, African, and Pacific Islander masks rehearses curatorial history’s past mistakes, and an otherwise compelling sculpture by Daniel Buren is decoratively subsumed within Muller’s overall design. Animating Muller’s visual playlist are irreverent, playful works by Nick Cave, Jim Nutt, Frank Gaard, and Andy DuCett alongside standout pieces such as Minneapolis artist Cy Thao’s painted illustration of the Hmong migration, an immense landscape by Alfred Leslie, and Viola Frey’s monumental ceramic of a determined female Atlas cradling the world in one hand.

As a means of activating previously sleepy galleries, the installation is a brilliant move. Muller’s problematic, equal-opportunity decontextualization holds critique at bay by hewing to its musical analogy; as a curatorial model, the audiophile’s eclectic taste and benevolent appreciation works well for an encyclopedic museum’s mainstream crowds. Furthermore, it is an installation one cannot unsee. After the walls are painted over and the exhibition becomes embedded in the institution’s history, its candy-colored aura will haunt future shows staged there.

Natilee Harren

“Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas”

3824 Main Street
September 16–February 4

Rigo 23, Autonomous Intergalactic Space Program, 2009–, mixed media, dimensions variable. Installation view.

One of the most refreshing facets of “Mundos Alternos” is its inclusion of artists from states and territories outside the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA paradigm—Puerto Rico, Texas, New Mexico, and New York—introducing the work of dynamic artists such as Hector Hernandez to California audiences. Made with pieces of brightly colored fabric and natural gusts of wind, Hernandez’s photographs Bulca, 2015, and Sound of Winter, 2014, image what the artist terms “hyperbeasts,” inhuman creatures with no discernable gender. Costuming as worlding is a happy constant throughout the exhibition, apparent in the dazzling garments of Mundo Meza, Robert “Cyclona” Legorreta, Carmelita Tropicana, LA VATOCOSMICO c-s, Guadalupe Maravilla, Luis Valderas, and the AZTLAN Dance Company. As with any good show about science fiction, there are also flying spacecrafts of all kinds, featured in Gyula Kosice’s video The Hydrospatial City, 2003, Beatriz Cortez’s virtuosic steel and video work Memory Insertion Capsule, 2017, and Glexis Novoa’s quiet graphite-on-marble drawing, Benares (The Last Photograph), 2013.

Rigo 23’s planetarium, Autonomous Intergalactic Space Program, 2009–, has particular gravitas and is worth special mention, for it was developed in coordination with the Good Government Junta of Morelia, Chiapas, in Mexico. Many of the themes and symbols in this piece derive from the antiglobalization efforts and imagery of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation; snails, ears of corn with masked Zapatista faces on their kernels, and multiheaded beasts representing capitalism abound. A small-format painting installed near the end of Rigo 23’s installation reads: “QUEREMOS IN MUNDO DONDE QUEPAN MUCHOS MUNDOS” (We want a world where many worlds are possible). This exhibition handily fans that desire, thereby providing one of the most thoughtful and engrossing exhibitions to come out of PST: LA/LA.

Andy Campbell

Amalia Pica

The Power Plant
231 Queens Quay West
September 29–December 31

View of “Amalia Pica: ears to speak of,” 2017.

Amalia Pica plays with the basic coordinates of sculpture here, presenting monumental objects with opulent volume but no mass, and small prostrate forms that are weighty but seem visually buoyant due to their surface treatment. In the first of these categories is Ears, 2017, cardboard reconstructions of derelict satellite dishes and other antiquated acoustic instruments that the artist found in the British county of Kent. The original mechanisms were built in the early twentieth century to detect sonic harbingers of incoming aircrafts, but they were quickly rendered obsolete by newer technological advances. Pica’s versions are large enough to dominate the space of the gallery, though their lightweight material gives them a fragile, provisional quality that evokes the accelerated obsolescence that befell their progenitors. One Ear in particular resembles a ruined and abandoned Greek amphitheater, while another is large enough to be a throne for a classical god.

The other four works on display, all part of Pica’s series “In Praise of Listening,” 2016, take hearing aids as their model, though the artist inflates their size to that of a small engine. Carved out of soapstone, granite, and marble, the forms evince a hollow flimsiness due to their polished, plastic-like exterior, even as their matter lends them great density. Blown-up to this preposterous size and connected by transparent plastic tubing, these strange objects lose all similarity to their minute forebears. They sprawl across the floor like discarded apparatuses in some posthuman landscape, their purpose forgotten.

Dan Jakubowski

Héctor Zamora

Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey (MARCO)
Zuazua y Padre Jardón
September 1–January 7

Héctor Zamora, Ordem e Progresso (Order and Progress), 2017, video, color, sound, 3 minutes 4 seconds.

In “Re/Vuelta,” his first retrospective in Mexico, Héctor Zamora presents a selection of twenty-four works, including installations, architectural models, photographs, videos, a live performance, documentation of performances, and sculptures. The Spanish word revuelta refers to both a riot and a revolt, and—with the addition of the slash—to a “re/turn,” signifying a return for the artist to questions around labor that frequently emerge in his work and to his native country.

By focusing on manual production, Zamora here proffers an incisive critique of the changes brought on by the expansion of neoliberal capitalism. Particularly effective is his use of short videos to document public actions from the past, as in O Abuso da História (The Abuse of History), 2014, in which dozens of potted tropical plants are thrown out the windows of a colonial mansion to shatter and accumulate on the ground below, and Ordem e Progresso (Order and Progress), 2017, in which immigrant workers from former Portuguese colonies destroy wooden boats installed in a museum.

Though Zamora has exhibited internationally—including at the Venice Biennale in 2009—he is perhaps best known for his 2004 work Paracaidista (Urban Squatter), a parasitic structure that he built on the facade of the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico City. In the last room of this exhibition, we find the platforms and structures used for the performance work, Re/Vuelta, 2017, which featured dozens of local percussionists rhythmically mashing nieve de garrafa, a traditional Mexican ice cream. The piece’s carnivalesque atmosphere—characteristic of the show as a whole—is a reminder that a return to traditional materials and processes need not be staid or tired, but instead could be just the revolt required to upend market-based logic.

John Pluecker