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;

Flight Out of Time — Kala Art Institute delightfully wedges its gallery space within its studio space. To see its exhibits you must also walk through the working spaces of artists, well, working. Or snacking or chatting or musing. Kala's current show features works by Barbara Foster, Jimin Lee, and Tadayoshi Nakabayashi. Foster's woodcuts are primarily de facto diptychs — one piece a black and white woodcut print, the other the same print stamped onto an archival photograph. Some of these seem more literal than others — a woodcut of oil barrels and piles of debris coupled with a photo of fish near a seabed — but the texture and sudden bursts of colors (particularly oranges) are engaging. Lee's manipulated photos of domestic objects (a hot-water bottle, a shower head streaming sparkling water, a blender, a vibrator) have a sublime quality that places them between dreams and impressionist watercolors. Nakabayashi's etchings of grass blades speckled with fallen leaves are repetitive but meditative in their meticulous detail. (Through March 17 at 1060 Heinz Ave., Berkeley; or 510-549-2977.)

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. (Through March 27 at 35 Grand Ave., Oakland; or 510-444-1900.)

Interventions — Barbara Foster is also in a group show at Berkeley Art Center, oddly with almost the exact pieces up at Kala. Also featured is Tony Bellaver's installation, a rendition of the office of a plant biologist experimenting in "building a better tree." Littered with data sheets, saplings in glass tubes, and empty candy boxes, it's something of a cross between a display in an underfunded science museum and a Damien Hirst vitrine. The really captivating works, though, are Scott Serata's photographs. Large-scale images of interior public spaces like casinos and liquor stores, they are strangely reminiscent of 17th-century portraits of artists' patrons, which included displays of the patrons' choice possessions, proof of their wealth and prestige. The casino photos look at first, unfocused glance like a rendition of the Sun King's palace rooms, glittering and dizzying in their baroque surfaces. Upon closer examination, the faces of their human subjects display none of the haughty confidence of their long-dead counterparts — after all, the possessions they are surrounded by are ones they want, not ones they own. (Through March 11 at 1275 Walnut St., Berkeley; or 510-644-6893.)

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. (Through March 11 at 550 2nd St., Oakland; 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.)

My California — Michael McDermott retranslates California in this exhibit at the Swarm Gallery. "Chaparral" transforms a "monsterous" boulder into a giant opal sitting atop a crushed tree on a Santa Monica road; "Pursuit of Fortune" turns the sky a threatening, infectious pink behind a orange rescue helicopter, its rotors strangely still. This pink also takes on a threatening tone in "Fever," a sea/skyscape in mottled blues, marred only by an amoebic pink slick heading toward (or away from) a volcanic mouth filled with the same pink substance. McDermott's lines are confident and his colors bold, both in his oils and in his sculptural pieces constructed of urethane, such as "Brigit" and "Collateral Damage" (#1 and #2). Both these pieces employ the same shocking pink, erupting and melting onto the walls. Also worth seeing are Gregg Fleishman's chairs, constructed of surprisingly sturdy and comfortable birch, and Jared Lindsay Clark's "Bild 20" pieces — particularly in his creative (and aromatic) use of cakes of soap. (Through March 17 at 560 Second St., Oakland; or 510-839-2787.)

Post-Industrial Anomalies and Catastrophe, Crisis, and Other Family Traditions — Both Susan Peterson and Jessamyn Lovell's exhibits show us something good gone a bit wrong. Or something wrong gone a bit good. Peterson's "Post-Industrial Anomalies" is a series of ceramic figurines — mostly apian bunnies: bee wings, bee bodies, hive bodies, rabbit heads — suspended from the ceilings. They are at once whimsical and unnerving, adorable animal cyborgs or genetic travesties — both Beatrix Potter and Hieronymus Bosch. Lovell's "Catastrophe ..." features a number of family and self-portraits which are thoroughly domestic and anything but banal. The most striking (and most reprinted) image is "Mommy with Gun, 2004," a portrait of Lovell's ample mother in cowboy boots sitting in her wheelchair and holding a rifle, her fingers playing the barrel like the fret of a guitar. While the love and responsibility that holds the family together is in evidence in these captivating images, so is the dysfunction that pushes them into resentment and isolation. (Through March 15 at the Richmond Art Gallery, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond; or 510-620-6772.)

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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