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Reports of Our Visual Art Scene’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

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Summer may be blockbuster time for the movie world, but for visual art, it’s all about fall. Which is why it was way too hard to put together this list of 10 recommendations. Not included are two shows I’m very excited about that didn’t quite make our date cutoffs: Undoing Time at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (a group exhibition addressing images of incarceration) and At Home/On Stage: Asian American Representation in Photography and Film at the Cantor.

Despite reports to the contrary, the Bay Area art scene is going strong. Here’s a small sampling to whet your appetite for the months ahead.

Chaotic sculpture assemblage with models of body parts, human figures.
Milford Graves, Installation view of ‘A Mind-Body Deal’ at the Institute for Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. (Constance Mensch)

‘Drum Listens to Heart: Part I’

Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco
​​Sept. 1–Oct. 15

An ambitious three-part exhibition curated by Wattis director Anthony Huberman launches with a 10-person group show accompanied by live musical performances, a publication and a pop-up record shop. Each part of Drum Listens to Heart is a fragment of the whole show, encouraging repeat visits for each successive reinstallation (Part II on Nov. 9 and Part III on Jan. 17). This framework itself is a nod to the idea of a percussive ensemble—singular rhythms that combine into a cacophonous whole. For Huberman, percussive polyrhythms provide a framework for thinking about both aesthetic and political issues as moments of impact and vibration. This former clash cymbal player buys it.

Photo of hallway with leaning broom sculpture, at right, paper sculptures of brooms
L: David Ireland, ‘Broom Collection with Boom,’ 1978/1988; R: Libby Black, ‘Brooms,’ 2022. (©Henrik Kam; Courtesy the artist and 500 Capp Street)

Libby Black, ‘The Way Things Also Are’

500 Capp Street, San Francisco
Sept. 10–Oct. 8

Berkeley artist Libby Black’s works on paper transcend the two-dimensional plane to become brightly painted and uncanny sculptural objects—often renditions of ordinary things that take on new meaning in her hands. For a solo exhibition in David Ireland’s former home, she creates new work inspired by items in the late artist’s archive and domestic space, including his early nudes, brooms (an Ireland favorite), dishes and chairs. The show, its name nodding to Ireland’s 2004 retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California, The Way Things Are, promises a less exclusive and definitive take on the artistic legacy of 500 Capp, one that incorporates Black’s queer framework, and creates space for emerging artists Maryam Safanasab, AJ Serrano and Nicole Shaffer.


Collaged artwork with "home open" sign, flowers and advertisements
Raymond Saunders, ‘Untitled,’ n.d., mixed media on canvas. (Courtesy of the artist and Casemore Gallery, San Francisco, and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York)

Raymond Saunders, ‘On Freedom and Trust’

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma
Sept. 10, 2022–Jan. 8, 2023

After a 2021 show spread between two San Francisco locations—Casemore Kirkeby and an Andrew Kreps-rented downtown gallery—it was clear Oakland artist Raymond Saunders, now in his 80s, has plenty of work that needs to be seen. This exhibition of 25 large-scale mixed media paintings, some never exhibited before, will span the artist’s lengthy career. Expect his signature layerings of collaged found material, stenciling and painting; his delicate white lines on black surfaces; and references that encompass subjects like the history of the civil rights movement and Saunders’ own art education—all in one complex, mesmerizing work.

Black man in swim trunks lays in kiddie pool in front of shipping containers
Adrian Burrell, ‘Learning to Swim,’ Oakland, California, 2018. (Courtesy of the artist)

Mildred Howard, ‘The Time and Space of Now’
Adrian Burrell, ‘Sugarcane and Lightning pt 3’

ICA San José
Sept. 16, 2022–Feb. 26, 2023

Family history is at the center of the ICA San José’s two solo shows with Oakland artists Mildred Howard and Adrian Burrell. Howard, a key figure in the Bay Area art scene, presents a multimedia display that includes a short film inspired by the discovery of a decades-old 8 millimeter film in her mother’s purse, footage Howard shot as a 14-year-old in Texas. At the other end of the career spectrum, this will be the first solo exhibition for Burrell (even though his CV already includes a commission from SFMOMA and a short film that’s racking up awards on the festival circuit). For this show, Burrell worked with an investigative genealogist to connect with relatives in Louisiana and recreate images about their shared history of resistance.

Purple thistle-like flower against black backdrop
Kija Lucas, ‘In Search of Home, Montezuma 294,’ 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)

Kija Lucas, ‘A Taxonomy of Belonging’

SF Camerawork, San Francisco
Sept. 17–Dec. 17

When SF Camerawork closed its Market Street location, I feared the worst for the nearly 50-year-old arts nonprofit. Happily, the organization is opening a new space at Fort Mason Center (the former SFMOMA Artists Gallery) with a solo exhibition by Bay Area photographer Kija Lucas. A Taxonomy of Belonging draws from Lucas’ ongoing project In Search of Home, which has taken the artist through 13 states, scanning plants, rocks and other objects from locations connected to the movement of her own family over time. In her description of the series, Lucas references the racial taxonomy of Carl Linnaeus, an 18th-century Swedish scientist whose writings upheld and helped define racist systems of categorization by skin color. What, her project asks, do we consider worthy of collecting and documenting?

Figure bent over with white paper sculptures in hands underneath construction scaffolding
Weston Teruya, ‘Ground,’ 2017; still from video documentation of performance. (Courtesy the artist and Headlands Center for the Arts)

Project Space: Weston Teruya

Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito
Sept. 25–Oct. 23

At the dreamy Marin Headlands, Oakland artist Weston Teruya will be set up in one of the residency’s project spaces, periodically opening his studio to the public as he begins researching and making a new body of work about islands. In Teruya’s description of the project, he points to both historical and fictional islands as places that can tell a variety of stories: about anti-imperialism; as cross-cultural meeting places; about lush and volatile environments; and as spaces of memory. Teruya’s work often manifests as delicate and complex paper-based sculptural installations, sometimes made in collaboration with other artists and communities. Repeat visits to Headlands to check in on his progress likely won’t disappoint.

Image of gray sky with tree and moss interwoven in serrated pattern
Jeffrey Gibson, Still from ‘This Burning World,’ 2022. (Courtesy the artist and ICA San Francisco)

Jeffrey Gibson, ‘This Burning World’

ICA San Francisco
Oct. 1, 2022–March 26, 2023

It’s not every day we get a new museum in town. The non-collecting institution formally opens in the Dogpatch with a solo exhibition from New York artist Jeffrey Gibson. Details about This Burning World are sparse but intriguing: an architectural intervention, a projected installation, performances and—in a move founding director Ali Gass’ first tried out at the ICA San José—a vinyl wrap on the building’s exterior. Going off Gibson’s 2020 video commissioned by the Wattis Institute, we can expect dense, lush imagery that refuses to be pinned down into any tidy summary, a perfect start for an institution dedicated to “constant reinvention in the realm of contemporary art.”

Black and white image of Asian American woman smoking cigarette in car
Bernice Bing, 1960, photographed by Grover Sales. (Courtesy Estate of Bernice Bing and the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries)

Bernice Bing, ‘Into View’

Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Oct. 7, 2022–May 1, 2023

While it’s always exciting to have big-name artists in our local museums, there’s a special kind of joy that comes from seeing local stars get splashy institutional attention. Celebrating the Asian Art Museum’s recent acquisition of 24 works by San Francisco-born artist Bernice Bing, Into View presents paintings spanning the 1950s to the ’90s. Bing’s work documents both Bay Area artistic trends (Abstract Expressionism, figuration, Zen calligraphy and modernism) and the influence of the many legends she studied under in her time at the schools now known as CCA and SFAI. Her story is also one of community arts initiatives: in the 1970s, she was part of San Francisco’s Neighborhood Arts Program; in the 1980s she was the first executive director of what is now SOMArts. The Asian Art Museum now holds the largest collection of Bing’s work, and we, the Bay Area public, are the beneficiaries of this investment in our own region’s rich art history.

Graphic image with Angela Davis' face, words "Free Angela" and pointing fingers
Herb Bruce, ‘Free Angela,’ 1971. (Courtesy Lisbet Tellefsen Archive)

‘Angela Davis—Seize the Time’

Oakland Museum of California
Oct. 7, 2022–June 11, 2023

This exhibition, first shown at Rutgers University, looks at the life of the Oakland icon through multiple lenses to examine her image, influence and activism. While the show’s main focus will be on her arrest and the campaigns to free her, Seize the Time also promises to explore Davis’ influence on artists past and present, and her continued fight for prison abolition. Whether visitors are new to her work or looking to dive more deeply into her scholarship and legacy, this show should be on everyone’s must-see list for the fall.

Painting of woman in robe in shower cap in turquoise tiled shower, dog stands behind her
Joan Brown, ‘Woman Preparing for a Shower,’ 1975; di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa, California. (© Estate of Joan Brown; Photo courtesy Venus Over Manhattan, New York)

Joan Brown

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Nov. 19, 2022–March 12, 2023

Remember what I said about local art stars getting their flowers? This survey of the San Francisco-born painter brings around 80 pieces together for the most significant presentation of Brown’s work in over two decades. How do you know when a painting show is going to knock your socks off? When the museum’s press release is peppered with phrases like “definitely independent,” “once dismissed by critics as unserious” and “charmingly offbeat,” and the artist is described as having a “fiery disinclination for the commercial side of the art world.” If the above—and fantastical images of humans, animals and snazzy patterns—doesn’t pique your interest, I will make one more attempt to enlist you in my Joan Brown fan club. As an avid open-water swimmer, she and a group of women successfully sued three all-male Bay Area swim clubs in 1974. Two bathing suits left behind in one of those clubs after her untimely death in 1990 are now part of SFAI’s archive.


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