There’s no better way to get a read on the regional arts scene than “Bay Area Now,”
opening this month at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Mounted triennially and currently in its seventh iteration, Bay Area Now, an institution-wide show, encompasses a film program curated and introduced by local industry professionals. There is also a tribute this year to 1980s exploitation film director William Lustig; a series of live performances incorporating cross-cultural collaborations and an eclectic assortment of musicians, from jazz and soul to hip hop, as well as choreographers, dancers and spoken word artists.
But the largest and most ambitious component focuses on visual arts. This year, rather than selecting individual artists, YBCA chose 15 nonprofit, small-to-medium-sized arts organizations and asked them to curate dedicated spaces within the museum and on its campus. While some entities are older and more established, the majority of presenters have sprouted up in the last few years, working out of storefronts or apartments or without a fixed address; together they’ll provide a platform for the work of over 70 emerging area artists.
“Stairwell’s,” one of several projects that directly address the exhibition site, is the brainchild of Sarah Hotchkiss and Carey Lin, who commission site-specific art for transitional spaces—stairs, ramps, elevators, escalators and the like. For “BAN7,” they invited conceptual artists Amy M. Ho and Mike Rothfeld to create separate works responding to the stairs leading from YBCA’s Anteroom to Gallery 3. Ho designed spatial installations and projections using light, shadow and a little magic to suggest portals to faraway realms and an entry to an endless tunnel. Meanwhile, a cluster of Rothfeld’s otherworldly, pod-like, papier-mâché objects are gathered at the base of the stairs on a ground cover of gypsum or sand; a bigger piece, a cocoon with flashing colored LED lights inside, wraps around support pillars beneath the stairs. Influenced by science fiction, Rothfeld explores how advancements in special effects have affected our ability to envision the future and discern what’s real.
“Their practices are so different in content and form, yet both Amy and Mike work with concepts of illusion, artifice and reality,” notes Hotchkiss. “Both are extremely talented fabricators. ”
The FOR-SITE Foundation takes a different approach to the notion of place with the goal of stimulating dialogue and new ways of thinking about the environment. “Dead Reckoning” by sculptor and performance artist Nathan Lynch, who grew up near the Hanford Nuclear Power Plant in Washington state, considers the regional identity of the Bay Area, rising sea levels and the changing shoreline through three, 10-foot-tall, freestanding sculptures composed of individual, handmade ceramic components that are assembled on top of a redwood base. Resembling brightly colored ocean buoys, they’re like beacons in rough seas that aid navigation and warn of imminent danger.
“The Next Big Thing,” a group of monumental installations from Creativity Explored, which provides support, studio resources and gallery space to artists with developmental disabilities, is a departure from the intimate objects forged from humble materials one usually associates with outsider art. Given the scale of YBCA, says co-curator Vanesa Gingold, “we were inspired to create large, immersive environments.”
Christina Marie Fong’s humorous cardboard installation, for example, is a life-size fantasy incarnation of her “ideal dream” bedroom, a pop-culture refuge complete with sculptural representations of her favorite LPs and record player, painted sheets, family photos, dirty laundry, her cat and a pet snake. When Marilyn Wong was working on “Two Women,” a quartet of abstract, mixed-media paintings that will line a hallway at the museum, she required diverse source materials: pizza, the sounds of Prince (her favorite musician) playing in the studio, Looney Toons, ’60s surf flicks and traditional Chinese paintings. “Everything she is—her memories, her loves and obsessions—are dissected into grids of dashes and lines,” says Gingold. “With her current work, she utilized ferocious, gestural marks, broadly outlining a head, an eye and hair—using her whole body to render explosive energy.” The paintings will be shown along with Wong’s festive papier-mâché dragon and works by other artists.
Rarely do civilians have a chance to view art produced behind the formidable walls of a maximum security prison. Visitors may be surprised by the beauty and power of “Inside Out,” a section that includes 50 pieces by 30 inmates from the San Quentin Prison Arts Project. The work ranges from brilliantly colored, surreal dreamscapes, politically themed silkscreens and images of San Quentin’s yard and crowded dorms to three-dimensional dioramas of miniature scenes such as a perfectly scaled cell by Roy Gilstrap and Gary Harrell.
“When I first went inside, I expected to see only ‘prison art’—carefully drawn clocks, girls, roses, balls and chains—but I quickly discovered that art serves as an escape for most of the inmates,” observes program manager Carol Newborg, who has worked in California prison arts studios since 1984. “Rather than stick to those common images, inmates explore landscape, life outside, family and self-portraits.” Omid Mokri framed the small acrylic painting of his reflection in a prison-issue mirror with scraps from magazines, an example of an innovative solution to limited resources. “Since emotional self-expression isn’t necessarily safe in prison, expressionistic art is rare,” Newborg adds. Also on view is a dramatic, 64-foot mural with five 7-foot-tall panels painted by a crew of six inmates for one of San Quentin’s immense dining halls. It depicts an imaginary metropolis. In a whimsical narrative touch, the sky gradually shifts from day to night.
“Many of the long-term inmates develop stunning skill and create rich, detailed works that are also an important link to their families,” says Newborg. “We want to help people move beyond, and be known for, something other than the worst things they’ve done.”
July 18 → October 5
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
710 Mission St., 415/978-2787