San Francisco

Introductions ’77

Hansen Fuller Gallery

Even though it is becoming more frequent for San Franciscans, like their New York counterparts, to head off to Europe during the summer, the most lively part of the season still seems the summer “Introductions.” Complaints are often heard regarding the selection of artists who are “introduced,” how the newcomers look all too much like gallery regulars, or how the young are safely tucked away during the traditionally dead months when no one goes to the galleries. But this program does offer a chance for the local audience to see art made in Sacramento, Eureka, even Nevada and Idaho.

A local squabble arose last year when the director of the Museum of Conceptual Art organized a show of “second generation” Conceptualists in the Bay Area; i.e. a group of protégés of the museum director, who is also a Conceptual artist. The argument was that insufficient time had passed for a second generation to exist; furthermore, the museum director aggrandized himself by assuming a grandfather position in a false historical progression. (It should be kept in mind that “Conceptual art” in the Bay Area is an offshoot of Dada and happenings, Beats and Fluxus, and has little to do with the more severe New York style.) The point of this anecdote is that no truly disinterested party exists who might attempt a sensible, continuous theory of Bay Area art production. And such maneuvers inevitably fall into the hands of “museum directors” and gallery owners.

Of course, galleries will present work of a certain type, reflecting the management’s taste. But it is just as likely that something tried and true will become the basis for selecting new talent, especially in a small, financially insecure market.

At Hansen Fuller, all four “Introduction” artists had things in common with local “stars.” That is not necessarily a bad thing; what matters is how imaginatively they have read their models. John E. Buck's painted constructions looked too much like école de Roy de Forest in 3D—stiff wooden human and animal figures painted in bright crayon colors. Naive perspectives are reproduced as vanishing roads climbing up the corners of the room. There is humor, to be sure; but fantasy and allegory, the strengths of de Forest, are missing. The difference is that between the allusiveness of painting and the literalness of sculpture.

Mark McCloud makes ceramics which sit like lumps on the floor despite their being combinations of the four basic forms. They resembled larger versions of any number of people’s funky clay pots. Still, the stuccolike fattiness of these mostly purple things indicated a feel for surface, if nothing else. Marty Keane’s large paintings of thick, smeared, “Play-Dough”-colored pigments were weird enough, but it was difficult to figure out what they were about. Overtones of early Wiley were there, minus the wit and plus a lot of raw canvas and loose, unstructured paint slinging.

The only artist who held her own was Sophie Diven. Though influenced most certainly by Joan Brown, the work could not be considered imitative. Diven paints wooden floors from a quasi-bird’s-eye view, so that objects on the floor are seen almost flat in reference to the picture plane. The floors are reminiscent of Sylvia Mangold’s, but are not so fussily realistic. On the perimeters of each painting, strange objects turn up. They only begin to make sense with their repetition from picture to picture, as elements in a narrative situation—hatchets, broken glass, wishbones, animals casting shadows, feet with bright red toenails, and a red bead necklace which is sometimes broken, with the beads scattered over the floor. This inventory establishes a woman’s world of symbols; the objects’ configurations intimate a sinister social event. In Brown’s world, the woman is terrorized by phallic nozzles, uncomfortable with a dog/wolf, anxious beside a ticking clock and silent phone. Diven turns this anxious waiting for interaction into social calamity: the frozen moment directly after the social faux pas. The need for contact does not end in fulfillment, but more anxiety.

Jeff Perrone