Critics’ Picks

Jessica Voorsanger, The Birthday Party, 1994.

Jessica Voorsanger, The Birthday Party, 1994.

San Francisco

“To Whom It May Concern”

The Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts
360 Kansas Street
September 5–October 26, 2002

We all know that e-mail has turned letter writing into a lost art, but Matthew Higgs makes the point with a wistful wit and an abundance of material in his curatorial debut at CCAC. Comprised of works, by multiple generations of artists, that involve or imply a correspondence between artist and other, this literate show reveals a certain humanity and perhaps isolation at the core of creative practice. More often than not, the dynamic is expressed with artists “acting” as fans of celebrities, dealers, or social and political institutions. The distant, bemused snail-mail relationship Jeffrey Vallance struck up with news anchor Connie Chung early in her hairstyle-obsessed career, presented as letters under glass, is strangely tender, a mixture of fandom and egotism—from both parties. Similarly, Jessica Voorsanger's typewritten birthday card requests to celebs and art VIPs is a parti-colored festival of Make a Wish Foundation longing, pranksterism, and the occasional kindly gesture from the famous. (It's nice to know that Jeff Koons and Kylie Minogue, who show up in this show repeatedly, have warm hearts—or at least kindly handlers.) The exhibition maintains a balance between art insiderisms—such as BANK's hilariously persnickety copyedits of gallery press releases, or On Kawara's missives from the road—and more real-life concerns. LA-based discovery W.A. Ehren Tool's kitschy ceramic gifts to American military leaders and the resulting responses are creepily funny, humanizing documents and oh-so-pertinent during these anxious, alienated days.