Art-worlders who follow fashion as determinedly as the fickle banner-chasers in Dante's Canto III should read, for a little perspective, Peter Schjeldahl's review of 1960s-1970s conceptualism in the August 3 issue of The New Yorker. Beginning on a satirical, though not infernal, note, it progresses upward toward elegy and transfiguration, raising questions about artistic faith and aesthetic folly, that occupational hazard of the arts — Stanley Brouwn, for example, counting his footsteps in 1971. These days, the radical experimentation of forty years ago may seem as silly as disco, platform shoes, and puka shell necklaces, but also pretty benign, compared to the recent follies perpetrated by "real Americans" in the military, political, and financial realms. (Conceptualism, by the way, is doing very nicely in its eclectic, less austere form.)
That's an oblique intro for Oakland plein-air painter Anthony Holdsworth, who has been painting the Bay Area for decades (along with other locations in California, Italy, Mexico, and Nicaragua), but fashion should be seen for what it is. Realism is generally dismissed as a retrograde style, due to the prejudice we inherited from the modernists; they had some justification a century ago, which we latter-day dogmatics can no longer claim. And then there's the Bay Area's schizoid provincialism: LOVE and HATE tattooed on our knuckleheads.
Meanwhile, Holdsworth has a very nice mini-retrospective at Alta Galleria featuring work from various series: older expressionistic slice-of-life oils ("Sunset in Oakland," a backyard scene from Shattuck Avenue, "Berkeley Bowl Series: Meat Counter," "Boiling Pot," "John's Garden"); traditionally picturesque scenics ("Rooftops of Patzcuaro," "Rincon de La Plaza Grande," "Amsterdam, "La Stella, Tuscany," "New Montgomery at Market," "Old Oakland Farmer's Market" in several versions); less traditionally composed street scenes ("Trucker's Friend," "Day Workers on Cesar Chavez"); and urban scenes containing social commentary ("Bring the Troops Home Now," "Storm Clouds over the Chronicle"). That panorama of the Chronicle Building at Fifth and Mission with its appropriately moody Constable sky occupied Holdsworth from March 15 through April 10, 2009. Painting while seated on a traffic island, the artist chatted with some of the more than one hundred employees —"reporters, columnists, editors, copywriters, and teamsters" — who were fired or bought out as the paper downsized. (Art critic Kenneth Baker offered some friendly analysis of the work in progress.) Holdsworth: "Like it or not, over the years the Chronicle's reporters, editors, columnists have laid the cobbles or [blazed] the trails that constitute much of the intellectual landscape that we navigate in the Bay Area. We should all work to keep this institution alive." Cityscape Paintings runs through August 20 at Alta Galleria (2980 College Ave., #4, Berkeley). AltaGalleria.com or 510-414-4485
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