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San Francisco
Group Exhibition
SFMOMA - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 3rd St., San Francisco, CA 94103
December 9, 2011 - April 3, 2012

A Salutary Glimpse/Love Affair
by Kara Q. Smith

A regular round-up of best-of locals by the lights of the museum, SECA provides a continuity and perhaps the best yardstick of what the Bay Area thinks is the best thing it might be making.  Ascending the staircase of the SFMOMA, the most fitting compliment is the Fifty Years of Bay Area Art, an exhibition featuring SECA award recipients from the last half-century and one which everyone traveling to the current SECA exhibition must walk through before arriving at their destination. Providing a superlative framework and historically setting the stage for 2010’s four awardees, Fifty Years is a salutary glimpse of the chronology of forward-thinking artists’ accomplishments in the Bay Area.

The truth is there was a sort of timelessness to the art in Fifty Years. Perhaps my aesthetic, limited breadths of knowledge or generational perspective are the reasons I found the bulk of the subjects and aesthetics still relevant. I wondered how I would distinguish the 2010 recipients, if at all. Then I saw Mauricio Ancalmo’s A Lover’s Discourse, 2010.  I chuckled, in a very endearing manner, while I tried to follow the projection around the room. As I turned, I felt like the lovers in the spinning clip, akin to the subject in a movie, helplessly smitten and spinning down the street oblivious to her surroundings[1]. An old film projector dangled from the ceiling, turning intentionally in one direction then reversing itself, its revolutions determining the speed and quality of the sound as the projector was connected to a record on the turntable below. I had this warm feeling inside, like I wanted to hug the piece, but couldn’t, obviously. The distinction here, I think, between 2010 and the previous years on display, is often categorized as nostalgia[2], an underlying criticism in much contemporary art production. In A Lover’s Discourse, technologies of the past have been employed to create this “thing” of 2010 but the feeling is new and I think good contemporary art traps you, so that you don’t even realize you are participating in it, validating it[3]. But then I am also a romantic.

Mauricio Ancalmo, A Lover's Discourse [detail], 2010; 16mm film projector, turntable, LP record, amp, speakers, rope, found footage, and sound; courtesy the artist and Eli Ridgway Gallery, San Francisco; © Mauricio Ancalmo; photo: Johnna Arnold

Another thing I noticed in Ancalmo’s piece was the presence of the artist’s hand. While this projector-machine was at the outset an autonomous being, the visible cords, amplifier, speakers and other technological detritus left no sense of a wizard behind a curtain magically making the piece happen. The process was evident.

Similarly, Colter Jacobsen’s collection of drawings and installations emphasize process and the artist’s hand through mark making. Using mostly found images for source material, or old book covers and paper for canvas, Jacobsen creates images using just his hand and charcoal utensil. Typically, once he has created an image, he will attempt to create it again in the same fashion, drawing the subsequent images solely from his memory of the first one. Jacobsen works in pairs or series a lot. His work exemplifies a skill, that of mark making and a coalescing of past imagery and present context.

Contextually, in relation to visible process, Ruth Laskey and Kamau Amu Patton’s work is in the other room and I find their modus operandi less immediate, but no less paramount. Laskey’s visually pleasing, minimal geometric shapes from her Twill Series (Jet Black), 2009 are framed along the wall. Each work is created through a labor-intensive process of being woven on a loom and colored with the artists own dying techniques. The result: a softened hard-edged palette that draws the viewer in, demanding a place in the conversation of craft versus fine art. What’s interesting about spending time with Laskey’s fecund forms is the noise that permeates the viewing experience. One doesn’t first think much at first of the black strips on the floor when approaching her work, but they are part of Patton’s installation and are sensitive to presence of feet, creating corresponding feedback noise with each step closer. Patton also has a series of abstract paintings in the exhibition. Abstract is the wrong word. The series, titled Static Field, is actually a representation of analog video feedback footage that Patton captured, processed, printed, and then painted. While the analog video projector of the footage may not be physically present in the space, Patton’s work is, in my opinion, the penultimate example of how the 2010 recipients will be categorized and remembered.

His work concentrates the layers of our time.

Kara Q. Smith

Top Image: Colter Jacobsen, Clair de Lune, 2008; graphite on record sleeves; collection of John Seilern; © Colter Jacobsen; photo: Alex Delfanne, London 

[1] Possibly dramatized, slightly.

[2] For context, I read the following recently: “In the September 2011 edition of Artforum, Tim Griffin wrote that anachronism is the ironic, anxious foundation of contemporary art. Indeed, visual art (in fact, many of the arts) lately seems to be constantly glancing backward over a history-burdened shoulder, correcting one artist, expounding upon another, referencing this or that bygone cultural phenomenon.” – Christopher Saucedo, BOMB Number 118/Winter 2012, page 14.

[3] For this reason, where I tend to abnormally over-value wall text, I found the reference on A Lover’s Discourse wall panel to Roland Barthes’ collection of thoughts entiltled A Lovers Discourse: Fragments from 1977/79 fine, but expected, and while telling, not necessary to the experience of the piece.

Posted by Kara Q. Smith on 1/10/12 | tags: SECA

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