Your Guide to This Summer’s Don’t-Miss Visual Art Shows

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The Bay Area exhibition schedule is back in full force! It’s a good thing the majority of the 12 recommendations below have long runs, allowing you ample time to flit from North Bay to South Bay to East Bay over the course of the next few months, soaking up all the beautiful, exciting and challenging visual art your screen-weary eyes can handle.

White book with drawn image of fireworks on cover against black background
Irrelevant Press' latest publication, 'Relevant Poetry.' (Courtesy Irrelevant Press)

‘Irrelevant Press & Friends’

June 3–25
Aggregate Space Gallery, Oakland
Details here

The eight-year-old publishing outfit Irrelevant Press (founded in Oakland but with a presence in both the Bay Area and Brooklyn) takes over Aggregate Space Gallery this June for what they’re calling “an Irrelevant experience!” The exhibition will be the collective’s first, combining their own zines and art alongside work from their expansive network of friends and collaborators. To get a sense of that communal spirit, one need only look at their most recent publication, a collection of poetry submitted via an Instagram open call that turned into the 80-page Relevant Poetry.

cast metal infinity sign with metal post running through it
Ricki Dwyer, 'Student Forever,' 2022; Cast brass and iron. (Courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center)

Ricki Dwyer, ‘Brass Tacks’

June 10–July 30
Anglim/Trimble, San Francisco
Details here

A show of textile work and cast brass hardware that addresses the deregulation of the labor market? Sign me up. Ricki Dwyer, fresh from a foundry residency at the Kohler Arts Center, considers the gallery of Anglim/Trimble as a body to be dressed in a suspended, artist-made garment. Dwyer’s previous work has played with tension and gravity, juxtaposing small and large-scale elements in exciting dialogue. His own hand is always present in the making, whether woven or welded.

Composite image of blue-hued collage on left and red flowery painting on right
Left: Jean Conner, 'Diver,' 1982 is on view at the SJMA; Right: Jean Conner, 'Aztec Warrior,' 1990 will be at MarinMOCA. (L: © Conner Family Trust, San Francisco, and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; R: Courtesy the Conner Family Trust and Hosfelt Gallert, San Francisco)

Jean Conner, ‘Collage’ and ‘Inner Garden’

San Jose Museum of Art
May 6–Sept. 25
Details here

MarinMOCA, Novato
June 18–Aug. 28
Details here

San Francisco artist Jean Conner is having quite the year. With her absorbing collage work on view in San Jose and over 60 pieces coming soon to MarinMOCA, a tour of her nearly seven-decade career could form the basis of a rewarding Bay Area road trip. At the SJMA, Conner’s collages juxtapose images from large-format color magazines of the ’50s and ’60s into surreal, darkly humorous and at times frenetically maximalist arrangements. Meanwhile, Inner Garden focuses across media on the artist’s interests in nature and spirituality. Both shows are filled with work that will likely be new to many—a combination of the artist’s reticence and the more prominent role of her late husband (Bruce Conner) in the art world. But it’s never too late! Now is the time to get to know Jean Conner’s oeuvre.

Open cloak with radiating painted lines, edges with brown and ivory feathers
Carlos Villa, 'Painted Cloak,' 1971; Airbrushed acrylic on unstretched canvas with lining of feathers and taffeta. (© Estate of Carlos Villa; Photograph by Joe McDonal)

Carlos Villa, ‘Worlds in Collision’ and ‘Roots and Reinvention’

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
June 17–Oct. 24
Details here

San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries
June 17–Sept. 3
Details here

This one’s really a summer-into-fall recommendation. Worlds in Collision, the first major museum retrospective dedicated to the work of San Francisco-born Filipino American artist Carlos Villa, is joined this month by the SFAC’s Roots and Reinvention and, later, an SFAI exhibition (coming Sept. 21). If you aren’t familiar with the late artist and educator’s work, or why he deserves three full shows chronicling his output, the Asian Art Museum would be a good place to start: a large-scale survey of Villa’s drawings, mixed-media paintings and sculptural constructions from the 1970s. Across the Civic Center, SFAC picks up the thread with work from the ’80s and ’90s, when Villa began addressing the history of Filipinos in the United States, the experience of being part of a diaspora, and his own family archives.

L: Kehinde Wiley, 'Barack Obama,' 2018; R: Amy Sherald, 'Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama,' 2018. (L: © 2018 Kehinde Wiley; Both portraits courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery)

The Obama Portraits Tour

de Young, San Francisco
June 18–Aug. 14
Details here

This one’s a no-brainer. If you’re not lugging yourself to our nation’s capital on the regular, chances are this two-month stop at the de Young is your best chance to see Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Barack Obama and Amy Sherald’s painting of Michelle Obama in person. And while visiting these works outside of the context of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will remove some of the emotional and visual impact of seeing the first Black subjects in the ongoing America’s Presidents display, I have a feeling these monumental works carry their own aura along with them.

Five dancers pose mid-action on blocks and railings
Sara Shelton Mann, '7 Excavations / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world.' (Courtesy Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture)

Sara Shelton Mann, ‘7 Excavations / at the edge of the shore and the edge of the world’

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, San Francisco
June 21, 8–10pm
Details here

With a team of artists, Bay Area choreographer, poet and teacher Sara Shelton Mann holds court on the Fort Mason campus from June 6–21, unfolding “an open process of experimental performance-making” over the course of the month. While viewers can stop by to experience open rehearsals and workshops, the residency culminates on June 21 (the summer solstice) with a one-night-only performance of solos, duets and large ensemble pieces created onsite. Incorporating chalk grids, video, sound and art installations, 7 Excavations will be performed with the dreamiest of collaborators: the setting sun, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the watery expanse of San Francisco Bay.

Sculpture that looks like a tangle of multicolored fabric strips
Ramekon O'Arwisters, 'Cheesecake #14,' 2019; Fabric, ceramics from CSULB ceramic program, beads, pins. (Courtesy of the artist and Patricia Sweetow Gallery)

‘Collective Arising: The Insistence of Black Bay Area Artists’

Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa
June 25–Nov. 27
Details here

Collectives have long been a way for artists—especially those disregarded or undervalued by dominant art world systems—to join forces, amplify their voices and organize around common goals. Collective Arising, curated by Ashara Ekundayo and Lucia Olubunmi R. Momoh, surveys contemporary Black artists who have drawn strength from interdisciplinary collectives. Included in the show are members of nure, 3.9 Collective, House of Malico, CTRL+SHFT, and Black [Space] Residency, representing a wide spectrum of Bay Area artistic practices—and an exciting testament to homegrown talent.

Older woman with crossed arms in front of shingled wall covered in clay masks
Ruth Asawa with life masks on the exterior wall of her house in a photograph by Terry Schmitt. (© 2022 Ruth Asawa Lanier, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Courtesy David Zwirner)

The Heavy Hitters

‘The Faces of Ruth Asawa’
Cantor Arts Center
July 6–ongoing
Details here

Faith Ringgold, ‘American People’
de Young, San Francisco
July 16–Nov. 27
Details here

‘Diego Rivera’s America’
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
July 16, 2022–Jan. 2, 2023
Details here

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The summer exhibition schedule is full of major museum blockbusters that don’t need much help from me in the promotion department. That said, I can’t not mention these three. Over 200 clay masks made by beloved Bay Area sculptor Ruth Asawa will be shown together at a museum for the first time, newly acquired from the estate as part of the Cantor’s Asian American Art Initiative.

At the de Young, a retrospective of artist, author, educator and organizer Faith Ringgold brings 50 years of the 91-year-old’s work to Bay Area audiences. Spanning generations, Ringgold’s work acts as witness to both steps forward and back slides in the project of this country’s political and social progress.

And finally, the long-delayed look at Diego Rivera’s work from the 1920s to the mid-1940s, including paintings, frescoes and drawings that explore the artist’s “vision for North America”—a fitting partner to the epic Pan American Unity fresco on view in SFMOMA’s Howard Street-facing gallery.

Ornate white stone atrium with grid of red objects on floor
Installation view of Alison Knowles' 'Celebration Red (Homage to Each Red Thing),' 1994/2016 at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. (Courtesy the Carnegie Museum of Art)

‘by Alison Knowles, A Retrospective (1960–2022)’

Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
July 20–Dec. 18
Details here

There are a lot of retrospectives on this list, and many of them fall into the “rediscovered older woman” trope. But I critique that genre out of love, so I will continue to be excited when these shows are announced. Alison Knowles has her roots in Fluxus, the avant-garde art group that produced happenings, conceptual “event scores” (like Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit) and all manner of experiments that pushed the boundaries of art in the ’60s and ’70s. This presentation spans Knowles’ entire (and still active) career, showcasing her long focus on ordinary objects and the stuff of everyday life. Even a small sampling of her work is fittingly eclectic: silk-screened paintings, “major intermedia projects,” cyanotypes, radio works, “flax and bean sculptures,” and artists’ books.

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