San Francisco

San Francisco

Unfortunately, it was too hot to eat. An unseasonable heatwave hit its peak on the evening of September 20th, when the San Francisco Museum of Art exhibited/consumed an exhibition of Food Sculpture by fifteen Bay Area artists.

The artists involved were Ruth Asawa, Dennis Beall, Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Gordon Cook, Bill Geis, Jerry Gootch, Wally Hedrick, Robert Howard, Jo Landor, David MacKenzie, Fred Martin, Ron Nagle and Manuel Neri. The works involved ranged from Joan Brown’s Summer Shoe, 1967, executed in coldcuts and olives, to Ruth Asawa’s poignant portrait of Museum Director Gerald Nordland as a carrot salad.

In spite of the heat, all the artists attended, as well as the museum staff, various socialites and assorted hippies. The skylight-heated air of the gallery, plus the heat-generating crowd made for considerable discomfort—for the art as well as the audience, as lettuce wilted and Manuel Neri’s giant popsicle-sculpture quietly melted away. Most of the sculpture was merely nibbled at, for while visually amusing, it was, for the most part, culinarily unappetizing: usually lardy goo and guck, all looking rather unsanitary. Only a couple of the cake-and-frosting-type things (that most traditional medium for edible sculpture) were thoroughly consumed.

The Berkeley Gallery opened its 1967–68 season with an exhibition of paintings by Boyd Allen. These recent works in acrylic on canvas reveal an extraordinary vitality of imagination and inventiveness to be broadening and deepening Mr. Allen’s sustained commitment to painterly values and the painterly outlook even as he assimilates to his own uses some of the Gestalt devices commonly associated with hard-edge and Op techniques. Throughout the exhibit there is the recurrent theme of the walled suburban house-yard enclosing isolated figures or shadows of figures, strangely menacing plantlike forms, and the side of a shed, while neighboring rooftops and windows appear over the wall which is usually broken by a gate, opened inward, to reveal sometimes other walls beyond, sometimes a distant horizon. It is this planarlinearly complex “set” that not only provides Mr. Allen with the basis for a theme and variation, but that allows him to create the disturbing linear rhythms, the sudden changes of plane and perspective, and the abrupt juxtapositions of glaring color and deep shadow that lend a Surrealistically hallucinatory character to these nightmare-like phantasies. In a group show three years ago at this same gallery, in which Mr. Allen and Charles Gill were co-exhibitors, it was possible to contrast their thinking. Mr. Allen was then exploring new possibilities within an essentially Abstract Expressionist outlook, while Mr. Gill seemed to be contriving a new Surrealism. Mr. Allen’s current show finds him exploring his own way in the general direction earlier suggested by Gill.

At the Quay Gallery, William R. Geis III exhibited some recent sculptures in which he combines his familiar painted plaster forms with strips of transparent plexiglass. The plexiglass strips are contrasted with the irregularities of shape and surface texture of the plaster structures, the former being regularly cut, generally in the form of long triangular blades and occasionally painted with crisp geometric figures. Geis’s sculpture as a whole is here beginning to take on humor as well as an elegant formalism which it hitherto lacked. These directions in his thinking are brought out also in the abstract pen and ink drawings he exhibits together with his sculpture. In the drawings, as in the sculpture, there are recurrent motifs. Geis, like Klee, whimsically introduces such diagrammatic forms as the dotted line, the arrow and the oscilloscopic sawtooth zigzag into entirely abstract linear phantasies and landscapes.

Dilexi Gallery occupied the first six weeks of its current season with two successive exhibitions of chic bric-a-brac. The first of these consisted of untitled constructions in mixed media by Franklin Williams and the second, of sculpture by Philip Makanna. Williams’s pieces were small, predominantly of fabric and obviously inspired in overall visual texture, color, and shape by some of the more strange and exotic forms of tropical marine life, while Mr. Makanna essayed mostly small pieces of geometrically formal abstract sculpture in highly polished aluminum which he designates as landscapes. While the media and styles of these two artists are quite contrasting their work has a common tendency to decorativeness. Mr. Williams’s elaborate and colorful anemonoid pincushions and Mr. Makanna’s austerely simple hard-edge symmetries in glistening metal belong somehow to the interior decorator’s repertoire of casual and fashionable conversation pieces for the table or the mantelpiece.

Noteworthy among the season’s graphic exhibitions was the large selection of recent drawings and lithographs by Connor Everts at the Michael Walls Gallery. Virtuoso draftsmanship and extraordinary subtle nuances of form and color distinguish Mr. Everts’s series of Surrealistic cloacal-mammary phantasies. These drawings are variations on anatomical themes in the psychoanalytic tradition of uncensored free association by a consummate master of pastels, who can modulate color and mold form to impart explicit naturalism of detail to such grotesqueries of overall distortion as androgynous figures, thighs that become breasts, and a host of other allusions to well-known Freudian equations in which genital organs and other erogenous zones of both sexes become ambiguously transposable through morphological association.

The Arleigh Gallery’s exhibition of recent paintings by Fred Reichman and Richard Bowman reveals no essential changes in the style or outlook of either of these artists since their showing with the Rose Rabow Gallery in the summer of 1963. Reichman’s rather decorative and pretentiously self-conscious neo-Orientalism has apparently degenerated into formula painting. Such canvases as Spring Signals and Blossoms From Mill Valley among his current offerings bring to mind in theme and style paintings like Spring Is a Fallen Fence and Outside Our Window from the exhibition of four years ago. If Reichman’s work has entered artistic stasis, Bowman’s has changed but slightly and for the worse, since he has abandoned the vigor and freedom of his early abstract impression of nature for a calligraphic style sharing with the work of his co-exhibitor the obvious stamp of cultish neo-Orientalism.

Paul Pernish’s current exhibit at the Bolles Gallery represents a complete departure in style, technique and content from the work he showed at this gallery four years ago. Pernish’s earlier work was in oil on canvas and dealt with the sides of freight cars. His work of today is for the most part stylistic portraiture with a strong graphic tendency. Features are stylistically delineated in black, while thin washes of brilliant contrasting colors are flatly applied within sharply defined areas in a manner suggesting expressionistic woodcut methods. The large scale of the paintings in conjunction with this stylistic schematization contributes to their singular impact.

Hansen Gallery recently featured exhibitions of work by Joan Brown, Norman Griffin, Jay Heminway, and Calvin Tondre. Mr. Griffin etches, cuts and paints on aligned and superimposed multiple transparent plexiglass panels creating repetitive stereoscopic sequences, as well as refractive effects. The images used for these “3-D plastic-graphic-sculptures” would appear to be playful parodies of the typical semi-nude models of so-called cheesecake photography in popular girlie magazines. Jay Heminway essays enigmatically simple metal tubes, perforated discs and the like which resemble machine lathed engine parts, while Calvin Tondre exhibits highly ornate wall panel montages with a decided flavor of Eastern European folk art, and Miss Brown presents a series of witty studies of animals in various media—graphic, painting, constructional and sculptural—quite unrelated to her familiar painting style.

William Bowman’s exhibition of painted wood sculpture at the Green Gallery is distinctive. Bowman creates box-like wall pieces with black outer surfaces and circular openings cut into the plane facing the viewer to reveal internal labyrinthine complexities of strange visceral shapes painted in bright pinks, yellows, lavenders and vermilions. The work is “funky” in a sophisticated and elegantly crafted way.

Palmer D. French