In the Galleries 

Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.

Ear Waves — Next to the Mama Buzz Cafe is a storefront-cum-gallery called Keys That Fit. It claims to be a space to view art "without the social borders that arise from having to enter a space." Currently, Matt Volla's "Ear Waves" graces these windows. Not an unattractive piece, it is, perhaps of necessity, limited. "Ear Waves" consists of a series of ink-drawn waves, the largest of which undulate thanks to a series of electric fans. While Volla has an interest in sound, and while the space is equipped to produce it (the last installation, Joshua Churchill's "By Way of Necessity," relied heavily on sound), the waves are sometimes eerily silent — apparently there is a sound accompaniment; it's just not always on. When all the other galleries are closed, and when you're strolling down Telegraph (say, some balmy Monday afternoon), it's worth stopping by. (Through March 31 at 2318 Telegraph Ave, Oakland;

Elision — Blank Space's current show is an investigation of communication, or the problems thereof. Featuring five artists, the collection is largely supposed to highlight communication's missteps and failures. Most successful is Karen Gallagher's printmaking works of what appear to be business letters and invoices — they are recognizable only by their form. The type itself is so blotched and blurred as to challenge the very idea of type. Lilly Handley's "Untitled or Relevant" is interesting, too. It is a series of small paintings of stills from the very recent television news. Although the images are distinctly familiar, the viewer finds herself searching her memory for context and narrative. Charlene Tan's installation features index cards affixed to the top edges of the wall, legible really only through the provided binoculars. The cards are reminders of that language we're supposed to avoid in polite company: "Meat Curtains," "Stroking and Poking," "Swat your Twat," etc. (Through February 19 at 6608 San Pablo Ave., Oakland; or 510-547-6608.)

Half Asian— Front Gallery is hosting a show that might not have been out of place in a racial profiling pseudoscientific exhibit— which is in large part its power. The photographs by Ben Sloat and Steve Aishman are mid- to wall-size C-prints, oversize close-ups of the faces of people who are half-Asian. There is, of course, a wide range of what half-Asian looks like, but by naming the exhibit thus, the artists prompt the viewer to search for phenotypic groupings, only to be startled out of such an examination and into self-conscious discomfort. This is especially true of "Digital Bodisafa," a series of photos with crude outlines tracing the noses, lips, brows, skulls, shoulders, and eyes of their subjects. These markings mirror the work of 19th-century institutional taxonomies in which authorities "scientifically" used photography to determine the criminal or degenerate potential of individuals. Sloat and Aishman's mimicry of such dated procedures demonstrate how they linger into the present. (At 35 Grand Ave., Oakland, through March 27; or 510-444-1900.)

I Want Sugar — Mama Buzz' gallery space has been transformed into an ersatz bakery, reminiscent of the pastel yummyness of Greenwich Village's semilegendary Magnolia Bakery — you can almost smell the peppermint of the candy-pink walls. One wall is covered by Tara Goe's "Sugar Bombin'," an installation of cupcake cups surrounding the negative space of falling bombs. Despite the unnerving subject matter, the white paper cups against the cotton-candy missiles present a dissonant note of cheery sugar comfort. Aida Gamez's "The Cupcake Club: Nancy, Diane, Barbara, Hillary, Condi" also uses cupcake cups, these featuring tiny portraits of politicos. A bakery case displays all manner of inedible sweet treats: knit cupcakes and petits fours made of faux grass and cardboard and Katie Byron's vibrant plate of "What Muffin Is This?" — muffins baked from casting resin. This is a show that's more than simply fun and whimsical, reminding us that that which looks delicious may not, in the end, be digestible. (Through February 22 at 2318 Telegraph Ave, Oakland; or 510-465-4073.)

Juried Annual 2007 — ProArts Gallery's annual juried exhibition has some excellent entries, particularly in the sculpture division. Zachary Royer Scholz' "object36484806 - folding chair, envelopes, mirror" adequately describes the materials with which this sculpture is made. The hundreds of envelopes, however, are opened out and glued together to form a shape reminiscent of a fossil or a stone, both delicate and solid, heavy and light. Dave Meerker's "Grape/Raisin" is equally ingenious. A vertical stalk of internally lit plastic bags that inflate and deflate, it utters a sinuous whisper as air flows in and seeps out, marking time, entropy, regeneration. Judith White's "Fault Zone Pastoral," a wall sculpture the size of a landscape painting, provides a three-dimensional view of the solid yet unstable ground that the tip-of-the-iceberg bucolic landscape of rural California sits atop. The overwhelming magnitude of the underground strata makes mockery of the otherwise banal peacefulness of the farmhouses and fields above ground. (At 550 2nd St., Oakland, through March 11; or 510-763-4361.)

Measure of Time — Although all the press is focused on the Berkeley Art Museum's Nauman show, there's another exhibit there worth seeing. "Measure of Time" purports to be a meditation on time and duration; viewers aren't absolutely certain whether this is an excuse to bring out some of the museum's permanent collection, or a cohesive thematic. There are some excellent pieces, including Sol LeWitt's "A Sphere Lit from the Top, Four Sides, and All Their Combinations," Jim Campbell's "Shadow (for Heisenberg)," and Shirley Shor's newly acquired "Landslide." Joseph Stella's "Bridge" joins the avant-garde film Manhatta and Max Weber's "Night" in an homage to the speed and density of the emerging urban landscape of the early 20th century. (Through June 24 at 2626 Bancroft Way; or 510-624-0808.)

Sold — Unusually, there is a charge to enter Ego Park Gallery for its current "war memorial" show ($5), but a discount for participation ($2). While some visitors may find this unnerving, Francis Deehan, the artist-duo behind the show, uses logic not unlike that of psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, who claimed that if you don't pay— and pay until it hurts— it doesn't work. While two or five dollars is not likely to wound you deeply, the point is taken. The show consists of two grids, each representing the number of dead in the Iraq War: one wall for Americans (3,233); the remaining walls for Iraqis (55,441 to 61,133). To participate, you're given a strip of the tiny red dots commonly used to mark sold artworks, and instructed to place them at intersections on the grids— each red dot representing one dead person. The art experience is thus transformed from one of passive viewing into a sort of meditative involvement. (Through February 28 at 492 23rd St., Oakland; or 510-839-4667.)

Transforming Visions — The Oakland Art Museum is hosting a retrospective of the wood sculpture of William Hunter, whose works place him somewhere between artisan and artist; they gorgeously span the gap between arts and crafts. The earlier pieces are more solidly on the side of utility — a collection of beautiful polished wood vases and bowls like those at a high-end boutique in Half Moon Bay. More recent works, however, are pure art: graceful shapes full of movement. (Through March 18 at 1000 Oak St, Oakland; or 510-238-2200.)


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  • In the Galleries

    Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.
    • Sep 5, 2007
  • In the Galleries

    Our critics review local visual arts exhibitions.
    • Aug 29, 2007
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