Oakland’s biking movement has been steadily gaining ground for a while now — with new proposed bike lanes, raucous bike parties, and themed-rides — and to celebrate all that, a new art exhibit at City Hall (1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) depicts Oakland’s bike culture. Bike Life consists of work by three Oakland-based female cyclists and bike advocates, Pamela Palma, Mary Ann Blackwell, and Jillian Betterly. The three artists each capture different parts of Oakland’s biking scene in their artwork, which includes black and white portraits of cyclists, brightly colored paintings of riders throughout the city, and color shots of people on group bike rides and bike camping around the Bay Area. The artists’ hope is that the exhibit captures the breadth and diversity of the cycling scene and motivates more people to ride. The exhibit’s opening reception is this Friday, when the artists will be present to discuss their work and answer questions.
It can sometimes be intimidating to approach the topic of gentrification because it is such a complex tangle of hot-button variables. And when it is tackled, arguments often end with pointed fingers. In order to broaden the discussion, Aggregate Space, Root Division, and Adobe Backroom Gallery have teamed up to present Survival Adaptations, a multi-venue group show that highlights the strategies artists are employing to maintain their artistic practices and spaces within the Bay Area’s current economic climate. The show is partially presented at San Francisco’s Adobe Backroom (3130 24th St.) and partially at Oakland’s Aggregate (801 West Grand Ave.), in recognition of the differing yet intertwined pressures present on both sides of the bay. At Aggregate, the pieces range from virtual galleries to works designed to inhabit interstitial spaces like stairwells. “The Beauty in the Bubble,” by artist group Yuri Pop, invites viewers to explore a 3D topographical map of San Francisco with a magnetic marble. When the ball is placed on specific spots, it activates corresponding video footage to be projected on a screen above. Like this one, many of the works embark from a commentary on economic pressures, but arrive at a broad reconsideration of space and place.
Named for the makeshift podiums used to preach opinions, the Berkeley Art Center’s (1275 Walnut St.) current juried exhibition aims to offer artists a similar kind of outlet. Jurors Steven Wolf and Boots Riley (yes, of The Coup) chose sixteen artists whose submissions were both visually arresting and politically conscious. The collection of works do preach, but in a way that involves the viewer in contemplative dialogue, asking them to decipher the ambiguities of each piece. A series of three paintings by Nick Randhawa, titled “Think Different,” is the most interactive. On the surface, the paintings show cleanly executed iPhone advertisement imagery, yet when the viewer uses red-tinted glasses, the layers below reveal images of factory workers and collaged documents that allude to a darker reality. Nicki Green’s sculpture, “The Revolution Will Be Earthenware,” is another standout piece. It consists of a collection of ceramic vessels that superficially resemble traditional Chinese vases, but upon closer inspection, reveal paintings of important moments in LGBT history. With a handkerchief stuffed in the top of each — like a Molotov cocktail — the works are simultaneously fragile and dangerous, commonplace and radical.
Kala Art Institute’s latest off-site exhibit is a group show at the Berkeley Central Arts Passage (2055 Center St.) titled Belewe, which roughly translates in folk etymology to “to betray.” The show brings together artists who investigate things that stray from the norm, venturing into the interstitial mental spaces that are so often ignored. One of the most eye-catching works is Nyeema Morgan’s “Untitled” (from the installation I, Rhinoceros), which features three cast resin hands emerging from a patterned wall and holding out white ceramic vases. Morgan, who is based in New York, is interested in epistemological hierarchies and the way that cultural knowledge is passed on to viewers through artifacts. Julia Goodman’s hand-made calendar is made from rough paper pulp with protrusions that represent the moon cycles of the months following her father’s death. Ben Bigelow’s contribution is a startling large-scale light box that features a cherry pie smashed against glass, effectively pranking the viewer with a pie to the face. Other artists include Matt Chavez, Veronica Graham, Boris Scherbakov, and Lucy van Limburg Stirum. Altogether, the works lead the viewer through an exciting array of unusual observations.
Exhibitions at the David Brower Center (2150 Allston Way, Berkeley) consistently situate artists as the mediators between citizens and economic and environmental issues. The gallery’s third annual juried exhibition, Reimagining Progress, features works that examine the current state of our system of consumption and the potential for more sustainable alternatives. While many of the works are visually gripping, those with applicable concepts underlying their form are the most thought-provoking. Kathryn Kenworth’s “Trade-O-Mat” is a reimagined vending machine that facilitates a bartering economy. A collection of local artworks is featured in five windows, each with a slot below that invites viewers to submit a card with their offer of a service in exchange for the piece. After the artist determines a fair exchange, the two will meet to make the trade. Aviva Knox’s “Authentic Apparel” features white T-shirts made by different companies, each with a tag that outlines the actual circumstances of labor that went into their production. Although Knox uses a shorthand that’s similar to that of normal tags, her tags hang twice as long as the shirts themselves. Collectively, these works impressively push the notions of production and offer an optimistic view of the potential for change.