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The Best Art I Saw in 2022

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It’s truly an honor to write this roundup every year. There’s so much I don’t get a chance to review, let alone see in the Bay Area’s voluminous visual art scene. (Believe me, I keep a running list.)

A nonprofit administrator I worked for once said, “If it doesn’t get written about, it’s like it didn’t happen,” a gloomy maxim that still fills me with an overwhelming sense of guilt purpose. So here, to mark the end of 2022, are six things that definitely did happen — and knocked my socks off to boot.

Gallery view of sunset colored pedestals supporting basket sculptures, a textile piece on white wall
Josh Faught, Installation view of ‘Look Across the Water Into the Darkness, Look for the Fog’ at the Wattis Institue. (Impart Photography)

Most Excellent Use of Canned Goods

Josh Faught, ‘Look Across the Water Into the Darkness, Look for the Fog
Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco
Jan. 13–March 5, 2022

While 2022 might be remembered as the year a new museum opened in town (welcome to the party, ICA San Francisco), the Wattis has proffered its version of artist-centric presentations for nearly 25 years, and it especially shines when handing the keys over to local artists. Josh Faught’s solo, curated by Kim Nguyen, was a masterclass in exhibition design, where every presentation detail for these highly textured, intricate works was as meticulously considered as the pieces themselves. With woven sculptures on sunset-hued pedestals and crocheted wall works, Faught used pockets, shelves and nooks to tie together narratives of queer history, the ongoing pandemic, daytime soaps and a prepper-worthy stack of canned tuna. Look Across the Water was a deeply humanist exhibition that delivered visual delights from every vantage point.

Blue gallery walls with large ceramic eyes mounted and multicolored buckets and stools below
Cathy Lu, ‘Peripheral Visions,’ 2022. (Courtesy of the Chinese Culture Center)

Best Water Feature

Cathy Lu, ‘Interior Garden
Chinese Culture Center, San Francisco
Jan. 20–Dec. 17, 2022

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Instead of mounting several shows throughout the year, the CCC devoted its entire gallery space to local ceramicist Cathy Lu’s multi-part installation, encouraging return visits and slow, engaged looking. There are no pedestals in this show; ceramics mingle with a pile of bricks, or are suspended from the ceiling in an undulating pair of mythological hands (complete with long, curling fingernails). At the center of the exhibition is Peripheral Visions, an arrangement of giant ceramic eyes modeled after the real eyes of Asian American women, including author Cathy Park Hong, artist Ruth Asawa and skater Michelle Kwan. Yellow onion-dyed water flows from each eye down into a plastic receptacle, only to be cycled back up in an endless stream. Against an ultramarine blue wall, Lu’s installation makes vibrantly visible the effects of living in a racialized body (especially during a time of anti-Asian hate) in a country where the conversation is so often reduced to a matter of Black and white.

Vertical soft pastel drawing with black circle at center, surrounded by breasts, hands and a red vagina shape
Loie Hollowell, ‘Empty Belly,’ Sept. 8, 2021. (© Loie Hollowell; Courtesy of Pace Gallery; Photo by Melissa Goodwin)

Most Illusionistic 2D Works

Loie Hollowell, ‘Tick Tock Belly Clock
Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, UC Davis
Sept. 25, 2022–May 8, 2023

This one-room exhibition at the Manetti Shrem by New York artist Loie Hollowell is a homecoming of sorts (Hollowell grew up in Woodland, just outside of Sacramento, and her father was a UC Davis professor). Hollowell’s paintings and drawings are tricksters; digital images do them no justice. The paintings are eye-poppingly three dimensional, while the drawings, rendered in soft pastels and ringed with the artist’s notes to herself, look just as substantial under the museum lights. In this show, Hollowell is working out the colors, shapes and compositions inspired by her second pregnancy — bellies and breasts, mouths and hands, streams of milk and swinging pendulums all hint at the chaos and sublimity of growing, changing bodies.

Close-up of woman's made-up face as she applies lipstick
Xandra Ibarra, Video still from ‘Fuck My Life,’ 2012. (Courtesy of the artist)

Best Mini-Retrospective Within an Exhibition

Xandra Ibarra in ‘Hella Feminist
Oakland Museum of California
July 29, 2022–Jan. 8, 2023

In one corner of OMCA’s Hella Feminist is a welcome surprise: a mini-retrospective for Oakland artist Xandra Ibarra, whose art and performance work regularly makes the rounds at national institutions, but is harder to see locally. (On that note, don’t miss the current Jenkins Johnson exhibition Bloodchild.) At OMCA, Ibarra’s photographs, videos, sculpture and menstrual Rorschach test print (titled She’s On the Rag) present an introduction to her archly humorous and highly critical body of work, often centered on the recurring motif of the cockroach. But it’s Fuck My Life, a short 2012 video based on a longer performance work, that brings the house down, depicting a morning (afternoon?) in the life of a “fatigued showgirl” who washes out her toothpaste with a swig of whiskey and shuffles off to her next gig, set to Cuban singer La Lupe’s emotional performance of “Esta es Mi Vida (This is My Life).”

View of gallery with blue tent, large ceramic figures, a carpet and TV beneath and small audience of ceramic cats
Candice Lin, Installation view of ‘Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping’ at BAMPFA in 2022. (Impart Photography)

Coziest Show Featuring Cats

Candice Lin, ‘Seeping, Rotting, Resting, Weeping
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
May 8–Nov. 27, 2022

In a downstairs gallery at BAMPFA, an indigo-dyed tent surrounded by guardian-like figures invited visitors to remove their shoes and lounge on a carpet alongside ceramic cats to watch an animation about another cat, a feral neighborhood creature called White-n-Gray. Outside the tent, a projected video showed a rainbow-hued “cat demon” leading a qigong class in a post-apocalyptic desert. Made during the pandemic and reflecting on that strange time of isolation, when many of us were closest to our neighborhood wildlife (cats included), the show acted as a multisensory release for all the pent up, wide-ranging energy that has accumulated since March 2020.

Two white men stand arm in arm looking down at embellished fabric panels, crowd in distance
People embrace while looking at panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt in Golden Gate Park on June 11, 2022. It was the largest display of the quilt in San Francisco history. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Greatest Monument Ever Made

NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
June 11–12, 2022

Sponsored

While the United States continues to reckon with the origins of its monuments, and how to mark the deaths of over 1 million Americans from COVID-19, the AIDS Memorial Quilt remains the most beautiful and moving depiction of loss that I have ever experienced. Over one weekend, after two years in storage, 3,000 panels of the quilt were spread across Robin Williams Meadow under somber gray skies. Visitors walked slowly across the expansive grid (just a fraction of the project’s scope — it now includes over 50,000 panels), listening to volunteers read the names of both strangers and loved ones. Collectively created and maintained, the quilt’s mutability is its greatest strength, creating a space for mourning, remembrance and awe wherever it’s unfurled.

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