Uplifting Art for Uncertain Times: 8 Exhibits You Can't Miss This Fall

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Jill Magid, 'Tapete de Flores' (detail), 2016. (Courtesy of the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich; and Galerie Untilthen, Paris. Photo: Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen/Stefan Jaeggi)


2016 has been a rough year. We lost incredible talent in the music and film industries. We witnessed unspeakable acts of violence against black, brown, LGBTQ and -- above all -- innocent bodies. Our endless election cycle has brought out the worst in everyone. And it’s not over yet.

Where do we turn in times like these? For many, the arts -- music, dance, theater and visual art -- can provide solace and empowerment. And the leaders within those artistic communities -- our mentors, heroes and elders -- can provide purpose and direction.

Which is why it’s no surprise that in this very rough year, the fall visual arts season is filled with stately names, gestures of homage, and hero worship of the best and most inspiring variety.

Jill Magid, 'The Proposal' (detail), 2016.
Jill Magid, 'The Proposal' (detail), 2016. (Courtesy of the artist; LABOR, Mexico City; RaebervonStenglin, Zurich and Galerie Untilthen, Paris.)

Jill Magid: The Proposal

Walter and McBean Galleries, San Francisco Art Institute
Sept. 9 - Dec. 10, 2016

What happens when the professional archive of an important architect is inaccessible, locked away from researchers, writers and acolytes, with no sign of release? If you’re artist Jill Magid, you devise an ambitious and multilayered project to address that withholding, laying bare the institutional power shaping Mexican architect Luis Barragán’s legacy. In The Proposal, Magid presents Federica Zanco, director of the Barragan Foundation (Swiss home of the archive since 1995), with a two-carat diamond engagement ring made from Barragán’s ashes. Magid asks: Will Zanco accept “the body” of the man in exchange for the return of “the body of work” to Mexico?

Libby Black, 'Sometimes it Snows in April.'
Libby Black, 'Sometimes it Snows in April.' (Courtesy of the artist)

After Pop Life

Minnesota Street Project, San Francisco
Sep. 14 - Oct. 1

After Pop Life gathers over 30 contemporary artists to honor Prince, his legacy and “indelible personal style.” Curator Glen Helfand isn’t just interested in Prince’s past, but in the ways in which his spirit lives on -- both publicly (on dance floors) and privately (as the beautiful background noise to some of our most meaningful moments). Expect princely artworks of all kinds at Minnesota Street: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation and -- naturally -- a karaoke project.

Patti Smith, ca. 1970; inkBoat, '95 Rituals,' 2015.
Patti Smith, ca. 1970; inkBoat, '95 Rituals,' 2015. (Courtesy of The Patti Smith Collection, F. W. Olin Library, Mills College. Photo: Linda Smith Bianucci; inkBoat photo by Pak Han.)

Root Connection: 20 Years of the Patti Smith Collection & The 96th Ritual (for Anna Halprin)

Mills College Art Museum, Oakland
Sept. 14 - Dec. 11, 2016

Did you know Mills houses a Patti Smith Collection? Me either! Seize this opportunity to survey books, articles, photographs and ephemera by and about the great poet, singer-songwriter and artist. If her memoirs Just Kids and M Train left you hungering for more, Mills provides Polaroids, broadsides, vintage fan-zines and listening stations so you can perfect the knot in your own red neck-scarf.

Simultaneously, Mills pays tribute to local legend and post-modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin with documentation of 95 Rituals, performed at San Francisco’s Hyde Street Pier in honor of Halprin’s 95th birthday last year. An ephemeral event morphs into a continuous museum experience and we reap the benefits of Halprin's continued influence on the Bay Area art scene.

Emory Douglas, 'H. Rap Brown (Man with Match),' 1967.
Emory Douglas, 'H. Rap Brown (Man with Match),' 1967. (Collection of the Oakland Museum of California. All Of Us Or None Archive. Gift of the Rossman Family.)

All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50

Oakland Museum of California, Oakland
Oct. 8, 2016 - Feb. 12, 2017

Founded in Oakland in October 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and OMCA has gathered artifacts, oral histories and contemporary art to delve into both the beginnings of the party and its lasting influence. Among the museum’s holdings: still-trenchant Emory Douglas posters, historic photographs of the Panthers standing tall on the steps of the Alameda County Courthouse (steps away from OMCA), and works like David Huffman’s mysterious Tree Huggers.

Bruce Conner, 'Mexico Collage,' 1962.
Bruce Conner, 'Mexico Collage,' 1962. (© 2016 Conner Family Trust, San Francisco / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo: Johnna Arnold)

Bruce Conner: It’s All True

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
Oct. 29, 2016 - Jan. 22, 2017

The first major retrospective of the late, great Bruce Conner comes rightfully home to San Francisco after a warm-up showing at New York’s MoMA. Experimental film, photography, collage, conceptual art and painting reintroduce some of the pioneering artist's lesser-known output over the course his five-decade career. SFMOMA reveals a hefty publication to go along with this show, but for a more intimate peek into the final years of Conner’s life, look to J&L’s Brass Handles, documentation of the handholds he used to navigate his Glen Park.

Ana Mendieta, Still from 'Creek,' 1974.
Ana Mendieta, Still from 'Creek,' 1974. (© The Estate of Ana Mendieta Collection, LLC. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York.)

Covered in Time and History: The Films of Ana Mendieta

UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley
Nov. 9, 2016 - Feb. 12, 2017

Like Eva Hesse, Ana Mendieta is an artist who died far too young. She was 36 when she fell from her 34th-floor apartment window. (The question over whether or not her husband, artist Carl Andre, was responsible for her fall still prompts protests of his work, 31 years later.) Mendieta herself didn’t shy away from controversy or violence in her work. Covered in Time and History gathers 21 film pieces that address everything from sexual assault to her own separation from home (Cuba) and family at the age of 12, to the elemental relationship between human bodies and nature.

Jessica Hines, from the series 'My Brother's War.'
Jessica Hines, from the series 'My Brother's War.' (Courtesy of SFAC)

Not Alone: Exploring Bonds Between and With Members of the Armed Forces

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, San Francisco
Nov. 9, 2016 - March 4, 2017

How do we support the members of our armed forces and the veterans of our wars? Not Alone goes beyond the terse “thank you for your service” to highlight artists working with US military personnel and veterans to build narratives about and with them. Notable contributors include ceramicist Ehren Tool, multimedia artists Rodney Ewing and Whitney Lynn, and journalist/photographer Jason Hanasik, who also helped curate the exhibition.