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 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. 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. Guest curator Rosamund Felsen picked nine artists from a group of three hundred entrants; quirky installations and photorealism get the most space. -- D2 (Through June 30. Artists' talk Thursday, June 16, 6-8 p.m. 199 Kahn's Alley, Oakland; 510-637-0395.)

Guilt Free Zone -- Longtime Paulson Press collaborator and Berkeley artist Squeak Carnwath presents 56 busy, patterned, cryptic paintings from two decades of work at Paulson's gallery in Berkeley. Among the most representative, Good Luck starts with loosely shaped and colored bricks in 27-foot-square watercolor overlaid by black ink line drawings of recurring visual and verbal motifs. "When you think of me, think of Rembrandt; a little light and lot of darkness," she writes in several pieces next to crudely drawn outlines of hands and bunnies. It's as though one of Berkeley's more troubled street people had mastered her psychoses and channeled fears about death, war. and pollution into dense, labyrinthine visual layers. "80 percent of the rivers in China cannot support fish," says one line buried in Random Events. "Life is short even with 100 birthdays." "Terror, fear and mastery [are] at the heart of all creative endeavors." Bravo, Squeak. Now, back on your meds. --D2 (Through July 16; 1318 Tenth St., Berkeley, 510 559 2088.)

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. 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. -- 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. -- 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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