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Bay Area Visual Art Exhibitions Not to Miss this Fall

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If we’ve learned anything over the past 18 months, it’s that there’s no replacing the physical and emotional experience of seeing art in person. And while Bay Area galleries have generally remained open during the pandemic, our local museums shuttered for months on end.

The resulting backlog of planned exhibitions means there’s a wealth of major shows to take in this fall, alongside an exciting gallery schedule and events that take art out of the white cube—into the streets and onto the water.

Reminder: COVID precautions remain in flux. Proof of vaccination is a requirement for many indoor events. Before making plans, and again before arrival, be sure to check event websites for the latest protocols.

Green hands hold up a pink-patterned fabric with the text: Do you see it now?
Farah Al Qasimi, ‘It’s Not Easy Being Seen 3,’ 2016; archival inkjet print. (Courtesy the artist; The Third Line, Dubai; and Helena Anrather)

‘New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century’

Aug. 28, 2021–Jan. 30, 2022
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive


Some of the most ambitious local programming derailed by the pandemic was originally planned in conjunction with the Feminist Art Coalition. The brainchild of BAMPFA curator Apsara DiQuinzio, this consortium grew out of the 2016 presidential election and the 2017 Women’s March—eventually involving over 100 arts organizations across the United States—to stage exhibitions and events focused on feminist thought and practices. DiQuinzio recently announced her departure from BAMPFA after nine years at the museum, and New Time is her epic send-off. The survey of feminist art from the past two decades contains over 70 artists working in a range of media, extending to BAMPFA’s outdoor screen for Political Landscapes (photographs of marches taken by Catherine Opie), and a newly commissioned mural by Luchita Hurtado, among the last works the artist made before her death in 2020.

An abstract diptych painting dominated by blue, orange and pink brushstrokes.
Joan Mitchell, ‘Weeds,’ 1976; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (© Estate of Joan Mitchell; photo by Ian Lefebvre, Art Gallery of Ontario)

‘Joan Mitchell’

Sept. 4, 2021–Jan. 17, 2022
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

If you’ve been yearning (like me) for color, texture and scale in your reduced, screen-filled life, this Joan Mitchell retrospective offers temporary satisfaction. Organized by both SFMOMA and the Baltimore Museum of Art, the show features a whopping 80-some works spanning the artist’s four-decade-long career. Mitchell’s athletic abstractions are by turns dense and loose, filled with gestures large and small. The show pays particular attention to the landscapes Mitchell absorbed during her time in Chicago, New York, Paris, and eventually, the French village Vétheuil where she lived and worked for her final 25 years.

Two red tinted images of enslaved people with overlaid text.
Carrie Mae Weems, ‘You Became Mammie, Mama, Mother, Then, Yes, Confidant-Ha/ Descending the Throne You Became Foot Soldier & Cook,’ 1995–96; Chromogenic print with sandblasted text. (© Carrie Mae Weems; Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York)

Carrie Mae Weems, ‘Witness’

Sept. 9–Nov. 12, 2021
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Looking back on four decades of work by Carrie Mae Weems, Witness marks the photographer’s first exhibition at Fraenkel—and a welcome bounty for Bay Area art lovers. The show encompasses documentary-style photographs, scenes of Black domesticity, staged reckonings with structures of power, lyrical video work and powerful combinations of image and text. It’s especially fitting to revisit this work (or see it for the first time) in the Bay Area, where Weems lived on and off during the ’70s and ’80s, participating in Anna Halprin’s San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop and studying folklore at UC Berkeley.

Nude woman lays in fetal position on a bed.
Gina Contreras, ‘La Lonely,’ 2021; Acrylic and gouache on canvas. (Courtesy the artist)

Gina M. Contreras, ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’

Sept. 10–Oct. 10
Park Life, San Francisco

San Francisco artist Gina M. Contreras’ delicately rendered paintings of (mostly solo) nude women on their beds, in their homes, surrounded by personal items that spell comfort, are a pleasure to behold. Whether you view her figures as downcast or simply contemplative, they’re never truly isolated; Contreras’ scenes are rich in detail, color and pattern. Look out for painted notebook pages, photographs, magazine spreads and untold numbers of flowers. Her work is so inviting that you might find yourself getting closer to her surfaces than you have to other humans for the past 18 months.

A screen mounted to a floating barge shows a portrait of a woman.
Shimon Attie, ‘Night Watch (Norris with Liberty),’ 2018; Originally produced by Moreart.org in New York City. (Courtesy the artist)

Shimon Attie, ‘Night Watch’

Sept. 17–19, 6:15–9pm
San Francisco Bay and Oakland Estuary

If being indoors isn’t your jam these days, BOXBLUR (a performance program launched by Catharine Clark Gallery) and the Immersive Arts Alliance have organized three nights of waterfront viewing for Shimon Attie’s floating video project: a slow-moving barge boasting a 20-foot-wide LED screen. Night Watch displays silent video portraits of 12 refugees who received political asylum in the United States, images that make tangible what it means to leave one’s homeland in the face of violence and discrimination. The project will be accompanied by live music and dance performances at waterfronts along the barge’s nightly routes, events at over 40 Bay Area partner organizations, and a solo exhibition of Attie’s work at Catharine Clark (Sept. 18–Oct. 30).

Collage of photographs of women performers on a yellow background.
Lindsey White, ‘Ladies Night,’ 2021; Digital fiber print, paper, collage. (Courtesy the artist)

Lindsey White, ‘How to Get on Cable Television’

Sept. 17–Oct. 30
Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

Lindsey White has long engaged with the curious (and insular) worlds of professional and amateur magicians, comedians and other on-stage personalities. In her hands, jokes and gestures, props and scenarios become focused object-lessons on both the value of humor and the gender dynamics within different artistic circles. In this show of all-new photographs and sculptures, White reimagines existing archival photographs, further engaging with the ways the histories of these scenes are preserved—or constructed.

A square painting of circles, stripes and rays in predominantly gold and brown.
Eamon Ore-Giron, ‘Infinite Regress CLXXXI,’ 2021; Mineral paint and flashe on linen. (Courtesy of the artist and James Cohan, New York; Photo by Charles White / JWPictures.com)

Eamon Ore-Giron, ‘Non Plus Ultra’

Anderson Collection, Stanford University
Sept. 23, 2021–Feb. 20, 2022

Eamon Ore-Giron is based in Los Angeles, but his work routinely makes its way back up to the Bay Area (he received his BFA at SFAI in 1996), and we’re the better for it. The artist is the 2020–22 recipient of Stanford’s Presidential Residency on the Future of the Arts, a program started in 2018 to bring “world-renowned artists to Stanford’s campus.” His precise geometric abstractions draw from both ancient and 20th-century influences, connecting Indigenous and craft traditions with avant-garde artistic movements. His compositions—which often remind me of swinging clock pendulums—hint at layers of cultural knowledge and expansive stretches of time.

A painted scene of several seated figures.
Conrad Egyir, ‘A Chapter of Love’ (detail), 2021; reproduction of painting on vinyl. (Courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman)

Conrad Egyir, ‘Chapters of Light’ & ‘A Chapter of Love’

Oct. 1, 2021–Feb. 2, 2022 (gallery); Oct. 1, 2021–Sept. 2022 (facade)
ICA San José

Following the refresh of the ICA’s galleries and the transformation of the art center’s facade into a striking public art venue, Detroit-based Ghanaian artist Conrad Egyir takes over both interior and exterior this October with his figurative tableaux. Inside, Chapters of Light will premiere a series of monochromatic portraits—Egyir usually depicts close friends or himself—that confuse the boundaries between subject, surroundings and background. Outside, A Chapter of Love returns to Egyir’s brightly colored palette to illustrate the idea that “it takes a village” when it comes to raising children. That sense of community and participation is further captured by an interactive portrait room and a sidewalk installation meant to prompt hopscotch-like games.

The setting for Trevor Paglen’s ‘Beta Space’ sound installation: the San Jose Museum of Art’s 19th-century clocktower. (Richard J. Karson)

‘Beta Space: Trevor Paglen’

Nov. 5, 2021–Nov. 6, 2022
San José Museum of Art

While this show is technically inside the SJMA, those seeking it out need only be within earshot of the museum’s clock tower. A newly commissioned sound piece by artist Trevor Paglen—his first—will issue regular verbal announcements in a synthesized male voice not unlike the one heard on the U.S. Naval Observatory’s time-by-phone line (that’s 202-762-1401, for future reference). A blend of local facts (time, weather) and global information (data culled from satellite navigation systems, an endangered species list, Cal Fire updates, to name a few) will interrupt business as usual for 45 seconds at a time, reframing everyday life in relationship to events happening at a geological scale.

Two vertical paintings of red and green leaves.
Ryan Mrozowski, ‘Untitled (Pair),’ 2021; Acrylic on linen. (Courtesy of the artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco)

Ryan Mrozowski

Nov. 5–Dec. 17
Ratio 3, San Francisco

There’s something hypnotic about the Brooklyn-based Ryan Mrozowski’s paintings. Close-up views of lush greenery, often displayed in diptychs, trigger a sort of “spot the difference” compulsion as your eyes dark back and forth between two images. Some of his paintings utilize an all-over pattern punctuated by circles (the centers of black-eyed Susans or eerily evenly distributed oranges). Others depict impossible hedge mazes seen from above. This show will include all new paintings, the likely sources of plenty of exercise for visitors’ optical nerves.

Light-skinned hands use a tool on a dark clay teacup.
‘Untitled (Finishing a Teacup Edited),’ c. 1970; photographic print from the Edith and Brian Heath Collection in the Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley. (Oakland Museum of California)

‘Edith Heath: A Life in Clay’

Nov. 13, 2021–June 26, 2022
Oakland Museum of California


Like New Time, this exhibition exploring the life and work of designer Edith Heath (co-founder of Heath Ceramics) was meant to take place in 2020. (Gosh, we missed out on so much art last year!) Accustomed as we now are to the beauty and heft of Heath products—and all the cultural cachet that accompanies them—it may come as a surprise that Heath’s use, starting in the 1940s, of locally sourced California clays was a major departure in the world of ceramics. This show includes her hand-thrown and early production pieces, architectural tiles, clay and mineral materials (a self-trained scientist, Heath regularly experimented with glazes and firing techniques), photographs, video, personal letters and more. I’ll bet you good money there’ll be some Heath products available in the OMCA gift shop, too.

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