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Your Guide to Visual Art at the New Year’s Start

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I know it’s hard to leave the coziness of the holiday season — especially when the sun is still setting around 5 p.m. But if you’re full of energetic resolutions and eager to start the year off strong, January is the time to bask in art. This month alone, we’ve got major exhibition openings, retrospectives, exciting gallery shows, lively performances and San Francisco’s official “art week.”

If January is just an amuse-bouche of the year to come, I’m going to have my work cut out for me in 2024. See you out there!

Painting of sailboat in silhouette against blue water and sky
Martha Shaw, ‘Silhouette,’ 2001; Oil on canvas, 11 x 11 inches. (Courtesy pt.2)

Martha Shaw

pt.2 Gallery, 1523b Webster St., Oakland
Jan. 6–Feb. 17

When I first saw Martha Shaw’s delicately muted oil paintings in a 2021 show at Anglim/Trimble (alongside her husband Richard Shaw’s ceramics), they knocked my socks off. The Morandi-like renderings of single-family homes, checked tablecloths and paper plates and cups — all from 2021 — were subtle, calm and just a little bit eerie. Now, thanks to pt.2, we get to see a survey of her practice over the past five decades. (As a bonus, the gallery opens a show of Squeak Carnwath’s work from the early 1980s the same night, next door.)

Photograph of landscaped park underneath freeway, Bekins truck in lane beside the grass
An image from artist and landscape planner Bonnie Ora Sherk’s ‘Portable Parks I-III’ installation in San Francisco, 1970. (A Living Library)

Bonnie Ora Sherk: Life Frames Since 1970

Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, Gallery 308
Jan. 13–March 10

Bonnie Ora Sherk was a local champion of overlooked urban spaces. This show, curated by SFMOMA’s Tanya Zimbardo, is the artist’s first posthumous retrospective (Sherk died in 2021 at the age of 76), and charts her practice of public installations, performances and long-term, radical and DIY projects, like the one she’s best known for, Crossroads Community (The Farm). In honor of Sherk’s (literally) groundbreaking work, the show will culminate in a pop-up urbanism/urban planning symposium in March.

Black and white image of figure posing with spiky headdress against vertical stripe backdrop
Zanele Muholi, ‘Faniswa, Seapoint, Cape Town,’ from the series ‘Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail the Dark Lioness),’ 2016. (Photo by Katherine Du Tiel; © Zanele Muholi)

Zanele Muholi, ‘Eye Me

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
Jan. 18–Aug. 11

Zanele Muholi, a self-described visual activist, has long used photography to represent both their own experiences and those of the LGBTQ+ community in South Africa. This show brings together Muholi’s arresting photos (including their self-portraits from the Somnyama Ngonyama series, where everyday objects become dramatic props) with paintings, sculpture and video — in total, over 100 works from the past 20 years. After appearances in group shows like the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s 2019 Show Me As I Want to Be Seen, it’s exciting to get an entire exhibition devoted to Muholi’s powerful work.

Composite of lavender event poster with illustrated objects and photo of person dramatically holding a vial with blue bag over head
L: Event image artwork by Edie Fake; R: Geo Wyex performing ‘Visitation, w/ NO Stars’ at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. (Courtesy the Museum of Trans Hirstory & Art)

Trans History in 99 Objects Variety Show Extravaganza

Stanford University, Piggot Theater
Jan. 18, 5–9:30 p.m.

The Museum of Trans Hirstory and Art (MOTHA), which some may remember from the Oakland Museum of California’s fantastic, expansive Queer California show, is celebrating the release of its first major publication (!) with an evening of performance, discussion, music and readings. Like the book’s “capacious selection” of 99 significant objects, written about by 100 contributors, this variety show includes a dreamy assembly of local and further-flung talents, including Susan Stryker (Screaming Queens), MOTHA director Chris E. Vargas, artists Geo Wyex and Leila Weefur and The Indigo Menace of the Stanford Drag Troupe. Grab a seat, pick up a book and enjoy a night of lively hirstory.

Aerial view of landscape covered by rainbow-hued airborne pollutants
Using fluid dynamics simulations, Forensic Architecture estimated average concentrations of the pollutant PM2.5 in Death Alley on May 23, 2020. (Courtesy of Forensic Architecture)

Forensic Architecture, ‘If toxic air is a monument to slavery, how do we take it down?

San José Museum of Art
Jan. 18–April 21

The multidisciplinary research group Forensic Architecture merges art, data science, journalism and activism with their investigations into issues like the Beirut port explosion, police brutality at Black Lives Matter protests, and, in this presentation, a petrochemical corridor along the Mississippi River. Their research on “Death Alley,” Louisiana traces a 300-year history of environmental racism, where the cemeteries of enslaved people are threatened by even more petrochemical facilities. Using methods like 3D modeling, pattern analysis and fluid dynamics, Forensic Architecture explores the many factors affecting residents’ human rights, all within a language that can be strategically deployed to fight such violations.

Overhead view of pier buildings with sunset and bay in background
FOG Design+Art at Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture in 2023. (Courtesy of FOG)

FOG Design+Art

Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture, Pier 2 & 3
Jan. 18–21, (preview gala on Jan. 17)

San Francisco’s most luxuriously carpeted fair turns 10 this year, bigger than ever and with an expansion onto Pier 2 (aka the former San Francisco Institute of Art campus). FOG FOCUS, designed to showcase work by “young and underrepresented artists,” features galleries like Los Angeles’ Commonwealth and Council, Oakland’s Johansson Projects and San Francisco’s Schlomer Haus Gallery, along with a selection of publications by local small presses. The whole Bay Area pulls out the stops this weekend, so be sure to see what your favorite spots are up to, or peruse the “official” guide to San Francisco Art Week. Hot tip: FOG programming brings in a raft of great thinkers and speakers, so consider timing your visit for a specifically interesting roundtable discussion.

Framed photographic piece with rhombus-shaped prints laid out in stair step-like grid, showing purple aerial landscapes
Rachelle Reichert’s ‘Valley Tilt’ from 2021 is included in the MCAM show celebrating Hung Liu’s mentorship. (Courtesy of the artist)

Look Up to the Sky: Hung Liu’s Legacy of Mentoring Women Artists

Mills College Art Museum, Oakland
Jan. 20–March 24

Just before her death in 2021, painter Hung Liu began speaking with the MCAM about organizing a show of the women artists she taught during her nearly 30 years as a professor at Mills. This show brings together names like Rosana Castrillo Diaz, Danielle Lawrence, Sandra Ono and Mel Prest — artists with vastly different styles and subject matter — on the campus where they once received encouragement and critique from Liu. It’s a fitting memorial for an artist who continues, through the legacy of her influence, to shape Bay Area culture.

Composite of two artworks, one a deep red drawing on panel of two overlapping rainbows, the other a red metallic abstract sculpture
L: Alicia McCarthy, ‘Untitled,’ 2021, colored pencil and spray paint on wood panel, 24 x 24 inches; R: Harry Dodge, ‘I am a Strange Loop,’ 2017, aluminum, lacquer, wood, hardware, Speed-rail joint, 66 x 66 x 23 inches (Courtesy of the artists)

Conversation 8: Harry Dodge and Alicia McCarthy

San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery, 401 Van Ness, Suite 126
Jan. 25–April 27

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten one of these “conversation” shows at the SFAC, which pair two artists (one local, one not) for intriguing juxtapositions and dialogues across their material output. This iteration reunites two artists who are also longtime friends — Oakland’s Alicia McCarthy and Los Angeles’ Harry Dodge (who frequently appeared in Chloe Sherman’s photographs of queer life in 1990s San Francisco). Curated by SFMOMA’s Nancy Lim, the show pairs McCarthy’s 2D work with Dodge’s sculpture, revealing shared interests in abstraction, color and a handmade aesthetic. To eavesdrop on what else their work has to say to each other, we’ll have to listen/look in.

Black and white image of seven women and girls in dresses, coats and gloves standing on sidewalk in a row
Kenneth P. Green Sr., ‘Multiple woman dressed attending West Oakland Methodist Church,’ 1967. (©KENNETHPGREENPHOTOGRAPHY)

Toward a Black Aesthetic: Kenneth P. Green Sr.’s Photographs of the 1960s and 70s

San Francisco Public Library, Jewett Gallery and African American Center Exhibit Space
Jan. 25–April 21

While you’re down in Civic Center, pop over to the main library for a show featuring Kenneth P. Green Sr., the first Black staff photographer for the Oakland Tribune. This show focuses on his images of Black women, taken both for the paper and during his civilian hours, simultaneously capturing the fashion and social movements of the 60s and 70s. Take note: the exhibition is spread across two spaces in the library — starting in the lower level Jewett Gallery and continuing on the third floor, with a special display of ephemera and Green’s images from the 1972 African Liberation Day demonstration in San Francisco.



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