On The Wall 

Our critics weigh in on local art.

For complete, up-to-date East Bay art listings, look under Billboard on the home page for the "Select Category" pulldown, then select "Art Galleries" or "Museums."

Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore -- For centuries, no one questioned why all the great artists were men. It was not until the 1970s that feminist art historians began a decades-long effort to give women artists some of the attention they were historically denied. Some devoted their efforts to unearthing forgotten or misplaced women artists. Others have taken a more radical path, arguing that we need to look at art, artists, and artmaking differently, to challenge built-in biases in art history and criticism. This Surrealist photography show on display at the Magnes Museum reflects both of these struggles and tells the story of a lifelong partnership and artistic collaboration between two women whose work has only recently resurfaced. Cahun and Moore met and fell in love as schoolgirls. Between 1920 and 1937, the couple produced hundreds of photographs of Cahun that would appear as a photomontage in Cahun's unpublished autobiography. In some, she experiments with androgyny; in others, she interprets literary or historical male and female roles. The irony is that while one forgotten artist has been celebrated, the other has been left out of the picture. Someone else actually took these photos, Moore, and she was Cahun's lover. The current exhibit presents these photographs as products of a collaborative process and as an extension of performance art, which captivated the two women from the start of their relationship. -- B.K. (Through July 31 at the Judah L. Magnes Museum; Magnes.org or 510-549-6950.)

The Chess Set -- Four thousand dollars for a crying ceramic unicorn head on top of a huge chess piece? Come on. Sculptor Jane Grimm fuels disdain for public art with sixteen human-size ceramic chess pieces that try to take advantage of the boring, gray-tiled lobby of the Oakland Museum of California at City Center Sculpture Court. -- D2 (Through August 10 at 1111 Broadway, Oakland; 510-238-2200.)

Currents -- Nestled across Frank H. Ogawa Plaza from Oakland's City Hall is the nonprofit Oakland Art Gallery and 26 selected pieces by the winners of its annual juried open-call exhibition. Tasked with finding the defining trends in East Bay art this year, guest curator Rosamund Felsen picked nine artists from a group of three hundred entrants; quirky installations and photorealism get the most space. Laura Ball's untitled contemporary realist watercolors bear an uncanny quality of motion for the medium. Most interesting is Ball's restraint. Lines end, some background detail isn't filled in. Scenes are left deliberately rough to highlight smiles and gestures. -- D2 (Through June 30. Artists' talk Thursday, June 16, 6-8 p.m. 199 Kahn's Alley, Oakland; 510-637-0395.)

Shadow Light -- Len Blau takes 25 good old-fashioned black-and-white photos of buildings and reverses the light values in processing to give the compositions a deep black abstract and unfamiliar quality. Sphere exercises silver halide ions to the edge of their capabilities in order to create near-perfect gradients of dark to light across huge geometric shapes. Try that with an artifact-inducing digital setup. Same goes for Negative Space on a Grid, where a boring negative of a modernist glass building gets juiced up by the perfect geometry and the nonlinear optical effects of reflected glass. -- D2 (Through June 11 at the Photolab Gallery, 2235 Fifth St. Berkeley; PhotoLaboratory.com or 510-644-1400.)

Sculpture by Bruce Beasley: A 45-Year Retrospective -- It takes guts to be Bruce Beasley. Three years ago, the Oakland-based sculptor created Vitality, the monumental abstract sculpture that sits atop the fountain at Frank Ogawa Plaza downtown. While it may not be the artistic pinnacle of his career, to most Oaklanders, Vitality is an introduction to his artistry and temerity. Now a retrospective at the Oakland Museum offers the curious a chance to gain greater insight into the career of this gifted man who adopted West Oakland as his home more than four decades ago. With the dedication of a scientist, Beasley has concentrated on one medium at a time -- whether wood, acrylic, bronze, or scrap metal -- researching and exhausting its possibilities before moving on. -- B.K. (Through July 31 at the Oakland Museum; MuseumCA.org or 510-238-2200.)

2005 East Bay Open Studios Preview Exhibition -- Pro Arts' Open Studios takes eyes to the frontier of East Bay art with more than three hundred pieces on display, just a sample of four hundred artists exhibiting simultaneously throughout the region this month. Everything from custom jewelry and pottery to mixed media collages and photorealist paintings crowd the twelve-foot-high walls. Notably, Joe Saxe mashes up photorealism, surrealism, and art deco in his magnetic painting Arthur Was Tired of People Asking Him for the Time. Translucent vegetation belonging in a similarly hyperreal world appears courtesy of gifted glass sculptor Kim Webster. And activist mixed-media artist Sarah Hirneisen catalogues the polluted soil of Oakland with a glass quilt of encased soil samples with appropriate labeling: cyanide, halogens, chromium, etc. -- D2 (Through June 12 at the Pro Arts Gallery; 550 2nd St., Oakland; ProArtsGallery.org or 510-763-4361.)


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    Our critics weigh in on local art.
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