A group art exhibit is like a mix tape. None of the artists created their work with the intention of having it displayed right next to another artist's work. Even when the pieces are displayed in the same gallery, it is challenging to find a common thread. Much more difficult than writing about one artist's body of work, it's like writing about the very small exhibitions of too many artists, so I have wholeheartedly been avoiding writing about group shows until now.
I was wary when a row of life-sized human figures shrouded in white greeted me at the Cosmic Wonder show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts -- maybe because they were standing in piles of broken bottles, or maybe because I caught a glimpse of their small creepy hands through the white fabric that covered them. A nearby vase of white felt flowers that was taller than me made me wonder if the exhibit -- put together by guest curator Betty Nguyen -- should have been called Bleached Wonder instead.
But beyond the initial sculptures was an interactive show teeming with artwork worthy of the title Cosmic Wonder. A wall installation stuffed with neon, psychedelic, childlike paintings and drawings, and two monitors displaying unrecognizable animation was the first piece I saw and seemed to be the quintessential installation for this particular exhibit. Created by the collective artists of the organization Paperrad, the paintings and monitors were complete with headphones playing techno trance music. I'll admit I don't remember if the music was actually trance, but the artwork screamed Candy Kid Raver, so trance would've been the most appropriate musical genre to accompany the installation.
Several other wall installations were featured in the show, including an enormous mixed media mandala by Hisham Bharoocha that had me standing as close as the museum guards would allow (one inch away at YBCA, I love those guys) to try and determine how the artist went about creating the piece. Next to it was a piece entitled Craftsbury Common II by Reed Anderson -- a giant blueprint paper circle hanging wrinkled on the wall and decorated with intricate cut-out designs and two lovely birds in ink. I liked the juxtaposition of an intricately fragile art process carried out on such an everyday type of paper -- what some might call a comment on high art versus low art.
It wasn't until I saw a skate video filmed at the skate park in the coolest town on the Peninsula (where I currently reside) that I decided to write about this show. "What is a skate video doing in an art exhibit?" you might ask. Well, the skaters carried or were in the vicinity of a large white pentagon-shaped sculpture throughout the video, which is apparently enough to make it art.
YBCA's terrace gallery houses another exhibit from emerging Oakland artists called Sampling Oakland, which included the best piece of art I've seen all summer -- a work of genius by SFSU alum Lucrecia Troncoso, who once created a wall installation of delicate flowers made of her own hair. Troncoso's latest work is an installation of three deer sculptures made of Irish Spring soap standing on a felt meadow in the corner of the gallery, backed by minty-green grass spears painted sparsely on the wall. Not only did the piece smell terrific, but the title Deeroderant won me over -- there's nothing I love more than clever word combinations, except maybe art featuring the gentle woodland creatures that frequent my backyard.
Rather than listing the rest of the pieces I enjoyed in Cosmic Wonder and Sampling Oakland, I've created a scavenger hunt.
Find the following items:
• A triangular mirrored tunnel where you can see 1,000 reflections of yourself.
• A painting featuring infinite paranoid text, including words like "rehab" "meth lab" "soft money" and "sell-outs".
• Mixed plastic bugs crawling up the wall.
• $1.55 in change on the floor near one of the more curious cosmic wonders.
• Two pieces that politely ask viewers to please remove their shoes. I mostly like looking at art, and I frown upon those who attempt to put their grubby hands on pieces in an exhibit, but it's definitely fun to be given permission to kick off your shoes and walk on the artwork.
• A Zen sand garden that appears to be designed by The Teletubbies.
• An old television showing footage of old televisions.
• A phantom shopping cart video displayed on a grocery store shelf and a video by the same artist that features a moving car with no driver.
• A tribute wall featuring drawings of recently deceased artists and writers.
• A wall installation that incorporates air freshener trees (hooray, smell-a-vision!).
Once you've completed the scavenger hunt, you can reward yourself with lunch at A.G. Ferrari Deli, which is less than a block away and a delicious way to complete your cosmic art adventure. Sit outside, have a glass of wine, process all the wonderment you've just experienced, and continue pondering how interestingly-named artist, Mads Lynnerup, managed to get a Toyota Camry to drive itself.
Curious Wonder runs through November 5, 2006
Sampling Oakland runs through October 8, 2006
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street at Third Street, San Francisco