by Charles Desmarais
The weekend in January that saw two big art fairs and a spate of new exhibitionsacross the Bay Area also left us with something more permanent: Three new gallery spaces opened in San Francisco over three days, Jan. 12-14.
Berggruen , at 10 Hawthorne St., is the largest and toniest, and the opening show — which I covered previously — would be the pride of any small museum.
The gallery Capital , 26 Lilac St., has undergone an expansion one can only call massive, if you consider that its earlier incarnation in Chinatown was slightly larger than an office cubicle, and open only one day a week.
The new space, open Thursdays through Saturdays, can comfortably handle a show of eight substantial works, with a back room of additional pieces by gallery artists. The opener, “Gypsy Wagon” (through Feb. 25), features mixed-media paintings by Wendy White and sculpture by Justin Adian referencing the gaudy world of country-western performers.
The best of White’s works is the first picture you see, a double portrait nod to Andy Warhol depicting Dolly Parton that makes a color theme from the shade of her blue eye shadow. Adian’s bulked-up, shaped and painted canvases are simple abstract forms that look something like the vinyl upholstery once found in cheap bars — a perverse kind of artistic reverse engineering.
It is the midsize Adrian Rosenfeld, however, the only one of the three that is a from-scratch new effort in San Francisco, that takes the prize for both innovation and intellectual substance. Even from the front door, at 1150 25th St., the look of the place tells the visitor that this is something different, and serious.
The entry gallery is actually more like a Brobdingnagian library, walled with 16-foot-high bookcases divided by 2-inch-thick shelves. The first exhibition opens with an expanse of vitrines housing publications and historical documents related to the influential gallery Sprüth Magers in Cologne, Germany. The idea seems to be that we will study up before entering the softly lighted main gallery to look at art. I suspect, though, that most of us will look first and then return here to supplement the visual experience.
“Eau de Cologne” (through Saturday, Feb. 25) looks at work by five now-prominent women (Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Cindy Sherman and Rosemarie Trockel) shown and published by Sprüth Magers as early as 1983. All five have, even as their work developed and changed over the years, approached their art with a rare balance of concern for the conceptual and the political, expressed with graphic directness.
A lot is packed into the space without it seeming at all crowded, with surprising early things alongside classic works by Holzer (streaming LED signs and granite benches emblazoned with her aphorisms and poetic texts), Lawler (photographs of works of art uncomfortable in their contexts), Sherman self-portraits and Trockel wool paintings.
It’s an invigorating show all around, but Kruger outdoes them all with a recent text work in red, white and blue — a quotation attributed to Austrian writer Karl Kraus — that reads, “THE SECRET OF THE DEMAGOGUE IS TO MAKE HIMSELF AS STUPID AS HIS AUDIENCE SO THAT THEY BELIEVE THEY ARE AS CLEVER AS HE IS.”
Also recently moved is the prominent Altman Siegel , late of Geary Street. The gallery opened in November in an expansive, Chelsea-style space across the entryway from Rosenfeld. The current exhibition of works by Los Angeles artist Laeh Glenn, “Rip or Rag” (closing March 4), makes a slyly decorative impression at first glance. But what might be mistaken for Pop-inflected silkscreen prints turn out to be laboriously hand-painted. Valueless images of a vase of flowers, a mountain landscape, a kitty-cat lost amid foliage, are restored to a wistful kind of potency — a clear but long-ago memory of direct experience.
Yet another new space for a long-standing San Francisco art purveyor, Modernism, opens Thursday, Feb. 9, with an exhibition of the work of gallery staple Gottfried Helnwein.
A gallery matures: Ever Gold Projects , in the Minnesota Street Project, has hit its stride with recent exhibitions that are as catchy as ever, yet even smarter and more intense visually than in the past. Late last year, “Mark Flood: Paintings From the War for Social Justice” was an environmental collage of sorts, with pictures and signs mounted on an openwork barrier down the middle of the space as well as on the walls.
Looking back, the text works now seem to have anticipated the protest signs that today make up so much of our visual environment. Only less specific, more surreal. “Burn the Which” was my favorite — who knew nihilists had slogans?
Through March 18, Ever Gold presents, side by side, mid-20th century works by the Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga and new work by Los Angeles-based Kour Pour . Both are abstractionists, but they get there by very different means. Shiraga (1924-2008) physically attacked his canvases in the hyper-expressionist manner of Osaka’s Gutai group, of which he was a part. Pour prints his canvases — up to 7 feet high — from large woodblocks. Both are apparently drawn to the color red.
Pour’s art smolders with a heat you can feel at a distance; Shiraga’s explodes in your face.