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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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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