Arts & Events

San Francisco Triennial at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

By Peter Selz Special to the Planet
Thursday August 14, 2008 - 09:11:00 AM
Deep Gradient Complex by John Roloff, 2008
Courtesy Gallery Paule Anglim
Deep Gradient Complex by John Roloff, 2008

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts presents an important multifaceted exhibition which demonstrates the varieties of directions of art at this juncture. For the past 15 years the center has presented surveys of the visual arts every three years. Unlike the former San Francisco Annuals, which were limited to painting and sculpture, these “Bay Area Now” shows include photographs, films, videos, films, maps, books, sound and many installations.  

A curatorial team of eight professionals under the direction of Kate Eilertsen selected 21 Bay Area artists who addressed issues of the area’s physical geography, history, and, of course, social activism. But space was also left for purely visual presentations.  

Leslie Shows, who in 2007 was given the prestigious SECA Award by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, is represented with large panels in acrylic and collage, which are like avalanches of pigment and paper suggesting organized chaos. In the center of the large gallery, Ian McDonald, who has shown his ceramic works in Holland, Denmark, Italy, as well as in the United States (many of the artists in this triennial have been exhibiting their work globally) displays giant black clay amphorae which suggest the containers that were used to support the troops of the Roman empire before its collapse.  

Close by is Donald Fortescue and Lawrence LaBianca’s Sounding (2008). The artists placed a soundbox on a fragile table whose legs are filled with pebbles and sand from the beach. Over this table is a huge plastic hailing horn that looks like an old gramophone or the horn of a whaling ship. It emits passages from Melville’s Moby Dick, as well as the sound of waves in a storm. The well-known San Franciscan John Roloff, chair of the Sculpture Department at the San Francisco Art Institute, has been making with site-specific works for a long time. At the triennial he exhibits maps of geological facies and sediment studies, as well as the descending black ship, made of steel and green glass, which is a permanent installation at Yerba Buena. 

Iranian-American, Ala Ebtekar, whose pictures were seen recently at the Paule Anglim Gallery, has drawings and paintings of pages of Persian texts with superimposed warriors on horseback, creating narratives which reconstruct and deconstruct time, space and history. There is also a peaceful small deep blue room by Elaine Buckholtz in which viewers, sitting on black benches, view a quietly moving chromatic spectrum. Then, in a specially designed room of its own with a large mirror facing the reader, Moira Roth, art historian and poet, presents a beautiful large book with maps of her peaceful Berkeley neighborhood that make an evocative contrast to maps and enlarged documentary photographs—many of them from the New York Times—of struggle, war and destruction in Guernica, Alabama, Hiroshima and Bagdad. Called Atlas of War and Peace, this is a deeply affecting work.  

So is the room by Brian Conley, whose work has been seen in New York’s Whitney Museum, as well as in Sweden and Switzerland. He has built a large mobile diorama of moving men, who are periodically “taken out” and removed. Called Miniature Iraq War, it is based on real-time reports from Iraqi bloggers. Various, scenarios are enacted. The room also has videos, photos and fliers, one of them, a report of the U.S. “victory” against cult leaders was “massacre.” As in many contemporary works, art has been fused with politics.