Visual Art

Dead heat

Old is new again as conservatism defines museums' summer survival strategies
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a&eletters@sfbg.com

TREND Summer's not over, but it might not be too soon to identify Michael Jackson's passing as the touchstone cultural event of season. Icons and paradigms have been crumbling at a remarkable clip: California narrowly avoided a financial abyss, stalwart businesses folded, major pop and art figures died. New Langton Arts, a venerable San Francisco alternative gallery, may not survive the season.

Art museums are inherently rigid institutions. Read more »

On location

The Photo Issue: Humans become afterthoughts in three photo-oriented exhibitions
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a&eletters@sfbg.com

PHOTO ISSUE The ghost of Cindy Sherman is everywhere these days. In Untitled Film Stills (1977 onward), Sherman pictured archetypal B-movie versions of herself in emotionally-charged fake film stills. The project remains a salient commentary on self-imagining and imposed, gendered narratives. Yet Sherman's influence can be seen most dramatically these days in photos where people are simply afterthoughts, either insulated or not present at all. Read more »

Saved!

Take Me to the Water searches the strange depths of full immersion baptism in song and image
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a&eletters@sfbg.com

PHOTO ISSUE Take Me to the Water (Dust-to-Digital, 96 pages, $32.50) is an eccentric archive, under the same bewildering sign as Harry Smith's epochal Anthology of American Folk Music (1952). It comprises both a book (75 sepia plates of full immersion baptism scenes performed in nature) and accompanying CD in the same vein as Dust-to-Digital's earlier ark of covenants, Goodbye, Babylon (2003). Read more »

See here now

The Photo Issue: Changing faces, surprising places, and wild paces -- our third annual salute to Bay Area photography
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This is the third year of the Guardian's photography issue, and fittingly, three themes or commonalities are at the forefront.

First, there is an emphasis on urban landscape or place — while we've always only showcased work by Bay Area artists, this year a number of photographs overtly consider specific settings in SF and surrounding areas as part of their subject matter. Or, in the case of John Chiara and Aaron Rosenstreich, their chief subject.

Second, this issue often — though not always — looks like trans or queer spirit. Read more »

Not being boring

John Baldessari keeps the faith — with buoyant color — at the Legion of Honor
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a&eletters@sfbg.com

There are reasons why John Baldessari has always seemed a little like god. For one, the L.A.-based artist resembles popular visions of the man upstairs. He's a formidably tall fellow — 6 feet, 7 inches — with white hair and beard, and he exudes an unflappably calm, wise demeanor, characteristics that figure in his role as an influential professor for almost three decades at Calarts and UCLA. Read more »

"Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004"

The first large-scale retrospective of the late photographer's work
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REVIEW I saw my deceased grandfather before I saw Groucho Marx. In Richard Avedon's 1972 photograph of the aging comedian, Marx's push-broom mustache, here a baleen of gray bristles, is the only obvious identifying feature in what otherwise looks to be a portrait of an elderly Jewish man. Marx's eyes — like Marilyn Monroe's in Avedon's famous 1957 portrait of the star seeming to want out of her skin — avoid the camera, looking off glassily toward something in the distance. Read more »

We walk with a zombie

Nights and days of the dead economy and culture -- in art, movies, books, and song
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PHENOM In our heads, in our heads: zombies, zombies, zombies.

Don't blame me for taking a bite out of your brain and inserting an annoying tune in its place — once again, not long after the last onslaught of undead trends, our culture is totally zombie mad.

The phrase "zombie bank" is multiplying at a disturbing rate within economic circles. In music, the group Zombi — hailing from the zombie capitol Pittsburgh — is reviving the analogue electronics of George A. Read more »

Doug Biggert: "Hitchhikers and Other Work"

A special homecoming for a lifelong artist who was never a careerist
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PREVIEW So. I find out about this show "Doug Biggert: Hitchhikers and Other Work," and it sounds and looks amazing. It's all generated from a discovery that two friends of Biggert's made in 2002: namely, that he'd taken a photograph of nearly every hitchhiker he'd ever given a ride to. Read more »

Kinda Kink.com

Ratio 3's "Safe Word" reaches out to a neighbor
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johnny@sfbg.com

It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood — won't you be my neighbor? That classic American question is all trussed up and ready to go thanks to "Safe Word," a new exhibition at Chris Perez's gallery Ratio 3 that peeks inside a nearby Mission District space: San Francisco's lively new gargantuan factory of BDSM imagery, Kink.com.

An all-too-rare site-specific appraisal of urban landscape and activity is intrinsic to this show. Read more »

"Bernd & Hilla Becher: A Survey - 1972-2006"

Simultaneously operating within a system and outside a system
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REVIEW The problem, or perhaps the benefit, of a survey of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher in an environment like the Fraenkel Gallery is the institutional quality the space projects onto the work. Read more »