HAIRY EYEBALL: Bill Jenkins' tiny space transformation with "Lids and Dots," and Seth Koen's narwhal tribute wood sculptures
Jancar Jones Gallery might be no larger than most gallery kitchens, but New York City-based artist Bill Jenkins has created the illusion of more space within it through very simple means. For his solo show "Lids and Dots," he irregularly spray painted black polka dots across the gallery's white walls, evoking Yayoi Kusama's spot-covered installations from the 1960s as well as Keith Haring's doodled-over interiors from two decades later.
The dots, especially when gazed at from the corner of one's eye, make the gallery's tiny dimensions seem more malleable. They curve corners rather than cut them, and their irregular placement suggests protrusion or indentation where there is actually only flatness.
This play off the given shape of a space is taken up in the exhibit's other titular component. Made from papier-mâché, sometimes studded with debris and small objects from his studio, Jenkins' coral-like "lids" sit atop a variety of everyday domestic vessels: a filing tray, a small plastic waste basket, a bowl — that have themselves been placed on white plinths.
The juxtaposition of Jenkins' handmade components with the mass-produced products they only haphazardly cover is funny and strange. But the absurd pairings also raise the more serious question — echoed in Jenkins' transformation of the exhibition space itself — of what happens when functionality is no longer a self-apparent quality of a thing but becomes something to be discovered in-process or, perhaps, to discard altogether.
Narwhals are the sort of animals that seem too strange to actually exist yet are that much more fantastic because they do. The same could be said of Seth Koen's wonderfully suggestive wood sculptures at Gregory Lind, currently on display in a show that takes its inspiration from the small Artic whale, and its singular spiraling horn (actually a tooth).
Koen carves and planes his pale maple and basswood pieces into smooth planks with soft, curved edges that typically bend 90 degrees at a certain point. Their placement on the walls or floor, along with their titles, suggest various marine mammals, or the sort of tools that ancient fisherman would use to hunt those very same creatures.
With its two dowel-like appendages poking from what resembles the joined back and seat of a chair turned upside-down, Tusk sketches a walrus with but the simplest lines. So, too, does Selkie, with its upturned spire, evoke the titular shape-shifting seal of Celtic lore, as well as the horned creature from which the exhibit takes its name and creates a strange new adjective: "Narwhellian."
It is a fanciful variation on "Orwellian," as well as a repudiation of that word's sinister connotations of control and manipulation. Koen's sculptures, whose simple shapes are at once unspecific and particularly evocative, welcome a freedom of interpretation. Almost toy-like, they invite play.
If you don't get your candy fix this Halloween weekend, be sure to browse the rainbow-colored confections at Scott Richards Contemporary Art when the group show "Sweet Tooth" opens Nov. 4.
Your eyes will probably hurt as much as your teeth after taking in so many glossy, photo-realistic depictions of sugar, as well as its cheaper, government subsidized imitations. There are paintings of candy drops, a cocktail umbrella-topped mountain of sorbet, a truly dubious Jell-O mold, and a package of colorfully iced cookies (Daniel Douke's Invasion) that resembles an edible version of one of Warhol's Flowers silkscreens. The effect is one of brightly hued and cutely packaged obscenity.
There's even some old fashioned, Easy-Bake sexism courtesy of pop pin-up artist Mel Ramos, whose Reese's Rose features a busty brunette emerging from a Reese's candy bar wrapper, à la Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Katy Perry should hit him up for her next album cover.
Wayne Thiebaud's 1970 gouache painting Study for Gumball Machine is remarkable for its vivid two-dimensionality, reducing the spherical nature of its subject to colors and mostly straight lines. Dimension is drawn in, but Thiebaud's line and color combinations create an aura around the gumball machine rather than convey its seeming tactile immediacy.
Thiebaud's study lacks the glossy shellac that drips across the other works in "Sweet Tooth." It is a useful reminder that we can't always get what we want.
BILL JENKINS: LIDS AND DOTS
Through Nov. 13
Jancar Jones Gallery
965 Mission, Suite 120, SF
SETH KOEN: NARWHELLIAN
Through Dec. 11
Gregory Lind Gallery
49 Geary, Fourth Floor, SF
Nov. 4–Dec. 31
Scott Richards Contemporary Art
251 Post, Suite 425, SF