The work of Santos Shelton defies chronology: It merges the aesthetics of futurism and folk art in allusions to both science fiction and ancient civilizations. In doing so, the artist engages questions of beginning and end: Where did we come from and where are we going? He is fascinated by the enormity and force of concepts such as the Big Bang, and tries to capture them through dynamic compositions of painted, abstract forms. The concept behind the show, now on view at Betti Ono Gallery (1427 Broadway, Oakland) is aptly relayed by its title, Big Things Have Small Beginnings. Shelton’s new work includes acrylic paintings on paper, cardboard, and wood, as well as installation. It shines in its striking combination of geometric patterns and fluid, organic forms. His series “Watchers of the Cosmos” is the most memorable in the show, depicting ghostly nebulas in a style reminiscent of an updated and urbanized version of Alaska native iconography. They stir up the feeling that there is something out there so large and mysterious that we could never fathom it.
Voulkos, Inspired demonstrates the many ways in which the influence of one spectacular artist can manifest in the works of others. The late Peter Voulkos was known internationally for his dense, abstract clay sculptures that seemed to embody a raw spontaneity. A long-beloved teacher at UC Berkeley and founder of the university’s ceramics department, he also had a reputation for motivating others to abandon utilitarian ceramics and embrace expression through bold, poetic forms. Voulkos, Inspired highlights some of these instances, showcasing work by local artists that draw inspiration conceptually and aesthetically from Voulkos’ revolutionary body of work. The group exhibition, now on view at Kala Art Institute’s Berkeley Central Arts Passage (2055 Center St., Berkeley), features a range of media including sculpture, video, photography, and weaving. Leah Rosenberg’s collection of sculptures resembles colorful, weather-worn books made through the layering of acrylic paint. Meanwhile, Randy Colosky offers playful, abstract bronze sculptures that rethink the lost-wax casting process by incorporating utilitarian pieces artistically. Even more playful are Double Zero’s (Annie Vaught and Hannah Ireland) video and photographs featuring people as sculptures, costumed in headdresses made of found objects.
Conversation about the work of Yang Fudong often turns to the Chinese artist’s alluring surfaces. Fudong has a predilection for film noir and introspective-looking young models, and these most famously come together in his stunning multi-channel video installations, which fragment his film to surround the viewer in a stimulating “screen environment.” “The Fifth Night” is one such example. However, Estranged Paradise, the artist’s mid-career survey now on view at UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley), includes not this work but its more self-conscious double, “The Fifth Night (Rehearsal).” This version shows not the film itself but the associated camera monitor feeds, resulting in something more rough hewn and reflective upon its own artifice. This is emblematic of the exhibition as a whole. Modest in size but purposefully curated, it aims to direct focus upon Fudong’s role as a key commentator upon the culture of contemporary China, where two decades of consumer capitalism and intense urbanization have produced a psyche as fractured as the artist’s videos.
The cultural atmosphere at Mills College is thick with the provocation to test intellectual limits. Not surprisingly, many of its faculty and students have been pushing boundaries in the artistically avant-garde over the decades. A new exhibit at the Mills College Art Museum (5000 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland), Experiments in the Fault Zone, tracks this impressive history of artistic innovation since the 1930s: It intimately showcases rare collaborations between influential artists, such as celebrated composer John Cage and visionary choreographer Marian Van Tuyl, before their influence was fully realized. Some of the most intriguing of these partnerships took place in the 1960s at the Mills Tape Music Center, which was on the forefront of experimentation in electronic music. Listening stations allow attendees to hear playful splices of absurd recordings while photographs and concert posters reconstruct the exciting spirit of originality and cross-departmental efforts. In addition are potent peeks into advances in performance and visual art that are worth remembering.
Museums Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 22
The oil paintings of Los Angeles artist Linda Stark take her months, or even years, to create. Her piece “White Weave,” for example, required a process of repeatedly dripping thick stripes of off-white oil paint onto a canvas. Each separate layer took weeks to dry before the next could be applied. The product is a textural statement, a weaving of paint that reflects the painstaking nature of women’s handiwork. Like most of her pieces, it transcends the two dimensionality of the painting process, forming a sculptural subtly that is affecting in its soft indentations and outward bubbling. The same supple semblance appears in “Brand,” a portrait of a naval in which paint is built up to portray the protrusions of the skin where they wrinkle around the awkward dip. Around the eye-like focal point is a red outline of a flower that looks as if it has been seared into the skin of the painting, with pink irritation surrounding it. Now on view at BAM/PFA in Linda Stark / MATRIX 250, Stark’s pieces are poignant and important meditations on the pains of being a woman.
The exhibit Urban Outskirts is remarkably representative of the gallery that is housing it. Nestled in Jack London’s warehouse district, Blackball Universe (230 Madison St., Oakland) is a music, art, and film collective that hosts an eclectic variety of art shows — among many other things. To visit, ring the doorbell, ascend the narrow staircase, and enter into a disorienting, bohemian maze of varying texture, color, and lighting. The creative fun house is in perfect tune with the paintings by Seren Moran, Lorna Strotz, and Lauren Scherf-Srivastava that currently hang in its gallery. Each artist offers her own wild, architectural impressions of urban landscapes in varying degrees of abstraction. Influenced by Brazilian cityscapes, Berkeley native Moran reimagines conventional depth perspective with rebellious, jutting angles in vibrant, parrot-feather hues of acrylic. Meanwhile, Strotz’s abstract watercolors depict forms reminiscent of boats and spaceships with a romantic blend of bleeding colors. Altogether, the experience of the show pushes the possibilities for urban spaces to take on unconventional beauty.
A city is an ever-changing skeleton of historical relics, with architectural bones that date from various eras. Yet citizens rarely recognize the significance of landmarks. Kari Marboe hopes to change that with her text-based public installation Latham Memorial Fountain Unveiled. In collaboration with the City of Oakland and Lacey Haslam of BLOCK Gallery, the project marks the hundredth anniversary of Latham Memorial Fountain — an iconic, yet often underappreciated, Oakland landmark at the juncture of Telegraph Avenue and Broadway. Marboe brought its story out of the Oakland Public Library and onto the towering windows of Rotunda Dental, which overlook the fountain. The piece is a poetic retelling of how Edith and Milton Latham built the fountain, which was inspired by their parents, who were early pioneers of Oakland. The story mines the history of the space, narratively re-contextualizing it as the heart of the city. In doing so, Marboe frees text from the page and weaves it into everyday life, highlighting our roles as characters in a collective narrative.
The Bay Area’s most defining weather phenomenon gets a close examination in the Oakland Museum of California’s (1000 Oak St.) new video exhibition, A Cinematic Study of Fog in San Francisco. Created by filmmaker Sam Green and cinematographer Andy Black (of The Weather Underground fame), the ten-minute video explores how we romanticize the wind, air, and water systems. It includes interviews with fog novices, like tourists whose views of the Golden Gate Bridge are obscured, as well as experts like meteorologist Jan Null who explains what fog is. While watching dramatic shots of the climate sensation rolling in over the hills, viewers can let the filmmakers envelop you in its misty haze.