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Your Guide to This Summer’s Not-To-Miss Visual Art

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Every year, it’s a struggle to whittle this list down to a select few. There’s simply so much happening in art spaces across the Bay Area. For 2024, I’ve plotted out an ideal summer, full of inventive gallery shows, exciting museum exhibitions and local artists getting the attention they deserve, all in venues spread across the region.

Black and white photograph of projected film of made-up monster face
Diane Arbus, ‘Frankenstein’s Daughter [close up with shoulders],’ 1958. (© The Estate of Diane Arbus)

Fraenkenstein

May 30–Aug. 10, 2024
Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Over 200 years after it was published, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein continues to genuinely thrill. The novel is gothic horror at its finest: a dark, visceral critique of relentless progress that also has sympathy for the unnamed “monster” at its center. Now, Fraenkel Gallery founder Jeffrey Fraenkel and curator and writer Jordan Stein have organized an “entirely improper and radically incomplete” show in response to the book, mounted through photographs, collage, sculpture, painting and film. Given Fraenkel and Stein’s last collaboration (the 2019 Cushion Works show Fries With That…?) we can hope for plenty of deep cuts from the gallery’s impressive roster, canny sequencing and a hearty dose of play.

Abstract painting of diffuse, blurry dots with bright colors of pink, teal and yellow
Soleé Darrell, ‘Where have you been?’ 2024; Dye on silk velvet, 52 x 39 inches. (Courtesy pt.2)

Soleé Darrell, ‘Where You Need To Be: Teleportation Studies

June 1–July 13, 2024
pt.2 Gallery, Oakland

In her latest series, Soleé Darrell paints large-scale, washy abstractions on the curious material of silk velvet. That fuzzy, glamorous fabric has an inherent texture and sheen, but the Bay Area artist’s expressionistic application of rich jewel tones and fluorescent pinks hold their own. Part liquid light show, part psychedelic tie-dye, her paintings hint at patterns, only to diffuse out into streams and rivulets of pure color.

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As an added treat, Christopher Robin Duncan (an artist whose work regularly lists the medium of “time”) opens The Space Between Years at pt.2 at the same time — two cosmic, mind-expanding shows for the price of one gallery visit.

Person with animal puppet on shoulder looks at computer in messy room
Still from ‘Dirt Castle’ by Jibz Cameron a.k.a. Dynasty Handbag. (Courtesy the artist and Shapeshifters Cinema)

Studio 8 Film Festival

June 14, 2024, 7–10 p.m. at Shapeshifters Cinema, Oakland
June 15, 2024, starting at 6 p.m. at the Balboa Theater, San Francisco
June 16, 2024, 1–3 p.m. at the Roxie Theater, San Francisco

The San Francisco Art Institute may have closed its doors, but the artists it nurtured continue to deliver their special blend of visionary weirdness to Bay Area audiences. Now, a celebration of the art school’s filmmaking stars (past and present) arrives in the form of a three-day film festival named after the on-campus studio where so many got their start. The programs includes alumni-made shorts, work by Los Angeles performer Jibz Cameron, a.k.a. Dynasty Handbag, a Juneteenth-themed slate of films and, closing it all out, a George and Mike Kuchar bonanza.

Print of two police pulled up outside a venue called The Silver Dollar with guns drawn
Carlos F. Jackson, ‘August 29, 1970,’ 2016. (© Carlos F. Jackson)

Calli: The Art of Xicanx Peoples

June 14, 2024–Jan. 26, 2025
Oakland Museum of California

OMCA’s big summer show centers on Xicanx artists and themes, presenting intergenerational, feminist and queer approaches to the shifting identity of “Chicano” in the Americas. The show will open with an adobe temple installation by Los Angeles artist rafa esparza (recently featured in the SFMOMA show Sitting on Chrome), and includes work by Consuelo Jimenez Underwood, Laura Aguilar and Melanie Cervantes alongside a collection of posters from the Third World Liberation Front movement.

Black and white image of person dressed as baker interacting with a loaf of bread, projection behind
TT Takemoto, Still from ‘Looking for Jiro,’ 2011; Single-channel digital video. (Courtesy of the artist and Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco; Photo by Maxwell Leung)

TT Takemoto: Remembering in the Absence of Memory

June 19–Dec. 1, 2024
Cantor Arts Center, Stanford

In this small but mighty show, Bay Area artist TT Takemoto presents art made between 2009 to 2023, a combination of videos, sculpture and works on paper that ask how we represent stories that were never documented. Looking for traces of queer Asian American experiences in archives, Takemoto blends experimental film tactics, pop music, drag king performance, craft practices and even “homoerotic baking” to imagine what life might have been like for queer and gender-nonconforming Japanese Americans before and during incarceration.

Black person works on a sculpture of a head with their hands
Kara Walker working on ‘Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine)’ in 2023. (© Kara Walker; Photo by Ari Marcopoulos)

Fortuna and the Immortality Garden (Machine)
A Respite for the Weary Time-Traveler.
Featuring a Rite of Ancient Intelligence Carried out by The Gardeners
Toward the Continued Improvement of the Human Specious
by
Kara E-Walker

July 1, 2024–May 2026
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

A new site-specific installation by Kara Walker is coming to SFMOMA’s Roberts Family Gallery (most recently home to Diego Rivera’s Pan American Unity mural). The “complex landscape of mechanized sculptures and elaborate displays” will be the artist’s most ambitious large-scale public project to date. That’s no small feat, considering the scale of her 2014 installation in Brooklyn’s Domino Sugar refinery. Walker’s SFMOMA installation includes a complex world of automatons situated within a garden of black obsidian, and has involved collaborations with an engineering company, a couturier and a fabrication studio. Given how multifaceted (and kinetic) the piece promises to be, we might be returning again and again during its nearly two year run.

Painting of a cell block with collaged images in windows
Keith Andrews, ‘Fishing from a Hole in a Wall,’ 2023; Acrylic on parachute cloth. (Philadelphia Mural Arts at SCI Phoenix)

The View from Here

July 3–Aug. 17, 2024
Richmond Art Center

Over the past year, incarcerated artists at San Quentin and Philadelphia’s State Correctional Institution (SCI) Phoenix have exchanged letters — but not through ordinary means. Using their arts programs (the William James Foundation and Philadelphia Mural Arts) as intermediaries, letters were scanned, emailed and printed out to facilitate a creative exchange. The results in this group show includes both imagined and literal views (of daily prison life, of a landscape seen through bars), alongside some of those letters. Art can transport us to other places and into others’ experiences, the show argues, but that is true for both the makers and viewers of that work.

Person sitting amid large-scale figurative ceramic sculptures
Nicki Green among her sculptures. (Courtesy the artist)

‘Nicki Green: Firmament’

Aug. 29, 2024–Feb. 2, 2025
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

San Francisco expat Nicki Green returns for her first solo museum exhibition. When I last wrote about Green’s work in 2019, her clay sculptures boasted delicately painted patterns and images — of Jewish symbols, mushrooms and bathing figures. More recently, Green has brought those figures into three-dimensional space, where they become compelling, larger-than-life presences within art spaces. This exhibition gathers artwork created over the past several years along with new pieces made for the show, exploring the idea of a space between heaven and earthly domains.

Print with overlapping text and blocks of red and green
Sister Corita Kent, ‘with love to the everyday miracle,’ 1967; Serigraph, 23 x 35 inches. (Courtesy BAMPFA)

To Exalt the Ephemeral: The (Im)permanent Collection

Aug. 14, 2024–July 6, 2025
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

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Through a combination of art and film from the museum’s holdings, this semi-meta exhibition gets into the tricky business of collecting, caring for and exhibiting the work of artists who embrace a conservator’s greatest nemesis: entropy and decay. And though it may sound a bit wonky, this premise means we’ll be getting to see things that don’t often get seen — because of their fragility, or their organic or non-archival mediums. The artist list for this exhibition is reason alone to mark it on your calendars. Among them are James Lee Byars, Sarah Charlesworth, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Rosie Lee Tompkins and Martin Wong.

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