First of all, there were beautiful landscapes. From the lush forests painted by John McCormick (Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery, this is his Olema Valley, 60 x 48 Inches, Oil on Canvas on the left), to the suburbs of 1980’s Colorado by Robert Adams (Fraenkel Gallery), to the classic New York Street scenes by Elliott Erwitt (Robert Koch Gallery, all at 49 Geary).
There was pop art: A lovely group of etchings reproducing automotive emblems by Ed Ruscha at Crown Point Press, and a show of Mel Ramos’ nudes at Modernism. Ramos is a master of the female form, and I like the juxtaposition of these sleek bodies with commercial products, but I have to admit that I find myself uncomfortable seeing the heads of female celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Drew Barrymore stuck on a nude model’s body. I know this isn’t new, yet it still bothers me.
Also at Modernism, in the 2nd gallery, were the hauntingly luminescent “imagined interiors” by Patti Oleon. Her grand ballrooms, empty theatres, and moonlit rooms were ghostly, yet realistic enough to have you wonder where everyone was, or that you had stumbled into the hush of a great and glamorous empty room by yourself. I wasn’t familiar with this artist, but will definitely watch for her now. Her work Double Curtains, 2009, oil on panel, 55 x 35" is on the left.
I went to YBCA, curious about Death’s Boutique, an installation by Marc Rios and Kara Tanaka (guest curated by Julio Morales). The artists created several interesting pieces on the theme of death, ritual and desire. Tanaka particularly explores the Swedish practice of Promessa (much like New Orleans, the body/and or ashes of the newly dead are mixed in a communal basin with their ancestors). When I think of how much history is discovered by studying tombs, I find her question a good one, “what is left for future study when we move away from individual burial rituals”? The one bone I had to pick with this exhibition, which also seemed to hurt the elaborate interactive installation downstairs (Renee Green’s Endless Dreams & Time-based Streams), is that YBCA didn’t seem to install identification labels anywhere near the work (that I could find, and I truly looked), aside from the main wall text posted outside the gallery. I felt that the materials used in Rios & Tanaka’s pieces were probably rich in symbolic meaning, but there was no way to know.