HAIRY EYEBALL Welcome to 2011. It's a new dawn, it's a young decade, and I'm feeling good about the following shows worth eyeballing now or further down the line.
On a recent trip back to Taiwan, Job Piston took pictures of his grandfather's garden, the former backdrop for many a family portrait. In Piston's crisp C-prints, the garden stands as a verdant, almost-threatened exception to the urban sprawl that has sprung up around it. Standing in contrast to these landscapes are Piston's photograms of the city that has grown beyond the walls of his grandfather's compound. Created by exposing photographic paper to images on a computer screen originally shot by Piston using his cellphone, these are second-generation copies: photographs of pictures. Much like the now depopulated garden, the blurred, imprecise photograms are reminders, both beautiful and sad, that even through pictures one can never go back. Through Jan. 29. Silverman Gallery, 804 Sutter, SF. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (415) 255-9508, www.silverman-gallery.com .
Seemingly summoned from online backwaters of amateur gay porn sites, the men in Geoff Chadsey's watercolor pencil portraits are turned on, tuned out, and chopped and screwed. An Abercrombie & Fitch-clad stud poses contrapposto in his underwear, his African American face standing in stark contrast to his blond tresses and white appendages. A shirtless bro in a trucker hat, his eyes squinting somewhere between sexy face and catatonia, has an extra set of arms. The lurid flush of Chadsey's color palette — blues like Drano, pink flesh that crawls with green — only adds to the discomfiting mix of the banal and the extraordinary in his work. Through Feb. 12. Electric Works, 130 Eighth St., SF. (415) 626-5496, www.sfelectricworks.com .
Ruth Hodgins and Kit Rosenberg are a collaborative duo who met as MFA students at the SF Art Institute. While they are by no means the first artists to re-present everyday objects and materials, the "all bets are off" approach their work takes play very seriously, extending visual puns into more complicated thought experiments. In Theseus, for example, cooking twine is spun around nails hammered into on a board to create a wall-mounted labyrinth, as if to say that which forms the prison is also the means of escaping it. Through Feb. 19. WE Artspace. 768 40th St., Oakl. www.weartspace.com .
David Cunningham's excellent gallery space at 924 Folsom may be no more, but the man with the golden eye is still actively curating. Case in point: this group show at The Lab, which brings together work by six European artists operating at the intersection of architecture, sculpture, and installation. Of particular note is Cath Campbell's second full scale realization of her ongoing installation 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, which uses the titles of sentimental pop songs as blueprints for drawings, video, and models of imagined spaces. Jan. 14-Feb. 19. The Lab, 2948 16th St., SF. (415) 864-8855, www.thelab.org .
A belated coda of sorts to the large Hesse retrospective SFMOMA held back in 2002, this show focuses on the small, makeshift pieces that the sculptor would use as test runs or sketches of her larger works-in-progress. A friend once described Hesse's amalgams of latex, wire-mesh, wax, fiberglass, and cheesecloth as "sad sacks," but I don't think that designation covers the range of effect her work elicits. There's exuberance, playfulness, and even eroticism, to be found in her manipulation of the above industrial materials; all qualities I hope shine through in even these self-consciously "minor" works of an artist who was anything but. Also on tap at BAM for August is a retrospective of the stunning collage work of another German, painter Kurt Schwitters. Pencil it in. Jan. 26-April 10. Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft, Berk. (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu .
Gertrude Stein famously wore Balmain and had her portrait painted by Picasso. Lady knew how to live. So too, apparently, did her brothers Leo and Michael, and Michael's wife, Sarah, who also collected art, held salons, and became important linchpins in Paris' avant-garde circles in the early 1900s, after they expatriated from the family seat in Oakland. I hope this exhibit shines as much light on the Steins' formative role in helping bringing modern art to the Bay as it does on the Matisses, Cezannes, Renoir, Picassos, and Bonnards they fervently acquired. May 21-Sept. 6. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org .