January 2014

Agnes Varda


5909 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles

November 3, 2013 – June 22, 2014

Perhaps best known as a beacon of French New Wave cinema,Agnès Varda has since 2003 cultivated an engaging visual art practice as well, which has come to LACMA in the debut US museum presentation of her photography, collage, sculpture, and installation. The centerpiece of the exhibition, commissioned by the museum, is a large structure titled My Shack of Cinema, 1968–2013, whose walls and roof are made entirely of 35-mm filmstrips from Varda’s 1969 film, LIONS LOVE (…AND LIES), which she admits was a total “flop” at the time of its original release.

As viewers enter the exhibition, the shack appears simply as a structure (with windows and film canister “seats”) whose walls gleam burnt orange and tan, and tint the gallery’s floor. But once inside the shack, visitors are able to inspect up-close individual frames depicting the sun-bleached streets and homes of 1960s Los Angeles and the film’s stars: Viva, Jerry Ragni, and Jim Rado. LIONS LOVEplays on a monitor adorned with a feather boa and American flag, and sprawled across a lengthy wall nearby is a colorful collage, which acts like an oversize scrapbook, juxtaposing Varda’s photos, memorabilia, and hand-scrawled commentary from the set of film.

More photography, which has remained the backbone of Varda’s multifarious practice, is also featured in the show, including a series of images taken during filming as well as intimate snapshots of Varda and her family on the beach and in their convertible. Throughout the exhibition, Varda’s presence can be felt, as the range of media, her jovial artist’s statement on a wall, and the layering of perspectives achieved within the film shack all combine to celebrate her singularly sensitive and peripatetic vision.


Matthew Brannon


5130 West Edgewood Place , Los Angeles

November 16, 2013 – January 18, 2014

Unlike much of Matthew Brannon's signature pared-down, stencil-inspired imagery, for “Leopard,” the artist’s third solo exhibition at the gallery, his latest work is centered on an erotic novella that he penned himself, also titled Leopard (2013), which reveals a sinister and frankly perverse nature. To mark Brannon’s return to experiments in such provocative writing all the more strange, the book itself is completely inaccessible.

Rather than presenting the story as a readable object, Brannon slyly utilizes six canvases installed on the gallery walls as its hiding place. On the side of each canvas, small slots have been lined with metal, in which copies of the thin book have been wedged. In this way, Brannon has created a confusing confluence between the functionality of a bookshelf and the inherent anti-functionality of a painting. While the tight, squiggly, and haphazardly scrawling lines in Brannon’s black-and-white paintings on view, each of which begins with the title Inside Out, such as Inside Out, VII (The Proofreader) and Inside Out, VI (The Translator) (all works 2013), are reminiscent of Brannon’s other graphic work in acrylic, the paintings also include materials, such as brass, enamel, and offset printing on paper, that nod toward publishing.

In the middle of the gallery two monitors play Undivided Attention (Leopard). The left screen shows a woman sitting while reading Brannon’s book, seemingly unaffected by its bravado. On the right, the book’s text scrolls upward a bit too quickly for the viewer to hang onto any single word. In this haste, a fragmented story silently unfolds. One gathers that the protagonist is writing to his ex-lover, recalling their time spent in an experimental collective that based performances and films on their unusual sex acts, some of which involved being tied up or crammed into a room with other writhing bodies. Knowing that such intimate and raunchy secrets are tucked inside such cool, collected paintings imbues these works with an insatiable sense of intrigue that mimics the tense tone of the book, which epically ends with the filming of a schematized, depraved, and fatal orgy on an airplane.

October 2013

Yang Fudong


2155 Center Street, Berkeley

August 21 – December 8, 2013

Getting lost in Chinese artist Yang Fudong's Estranged Paradise, it becomes surprising that this marks the artist’s first mid-career museum survey in the United States. Yang’s work captures the essence of a cool and brooding atmosphere that intimates a certain kind of familiarity. While his videos and photos are a patchwork of old and new ways of living in contemporary China, Yang’s characters emote an apathy prevalent among young people everywhere.

Part of a series of black-and-white snapshots taken during a glamorous night out, Ms. Huang at M. Last Night (2006) depicts two well-groomed men and a young woman donning an evening gown drinking, smoking, and climbing in and out of limousines. Though the scene is submerged in a glossy vagueness, the characters’ expressions and body language toward one another hint that a sinister subplot lurks. It seems that Yang is often more interested in the foreboding moments just before an event than in the event itself. Similarly, the video, City Light (2000) splices the story of a businessman and his doppelganger, whose mundane life becomes an antiquated spy saga. Cleverly switching from black-and-white to color, City Light also uses traditional Chinese music that turns into a thrilling bossa nova to signal that the action, which is never fully identified, is about to heat up.

That Yang says he oddly did not see a Fellini film until years after studying the director in college, or that a Chinese translation of Jack Kerouac's, On the Road, was not available in China until 1998, tells much about the colorful and cinematic imagination with which his constructed scenarios are imbued. Yang’s portrait of Chinese culture, with Beijing and Shanghai often recognizable in the background, forms a collage rather than a straightforward shot.

February 2013

Taryn Simon

John Beggruen Gallery

228 Grant Ave., San Francisco

January 6 – March 16, 2013

Taryn Simon’s photographic practice is well known for mining time and place, as well as for challenging the confines of the frame while weaving complex narratives. Yet her recent pieceThe Picture Collection (2012) is somewhat of a departure. Though Simon continues her selection-based process, The Picture Collection commences with one of the most daunting information banks: the New York Public Library’s circulating Picture Collection, which consists of

1.2 million images from books, magazines, newspapers, postcards, and photos. It’s physical archive that was famously utilized as a research tool by Diego Rivera and Andy Warhol. Simon has parsed the archive’s 12,000 different subject headings, isolated forty-four, and chosen about one hundred images from each of these. While her selection of categories varies drastically, her configurations of its images are relatively standardized. Simon’s large frames encompass three to four horizontal rows of images from a particular archival folder. The photos are laid atop one another, in most instances revealing only the picture farthest to the right in its entirety. In, Folder: Abandoned Buildings, for example, some images appear twice, but their specifics or points of reference can barely be made out from their edges. In fact, only in the three photos to the far right of the frame do we see abandoned buildings shown in full.

While Simon’s, A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII (2008–11) was structured like a book, using photos to trace family histories and texts that functioned like footnotes, with The Picture Collection, she instead paints a portrait. The kinds of details that informed the episodic sagas of A Living Man are left out here, permitting viewers to glean just a rough sketch alluding to the varied pasts buried within each of the archival photos as they are squished together to convey an abundance, rather than being examined individually. Although it is frustrating that most of the images cover each other, Simon’s concealment pays homage to the mystery of this massive archive, reminding us how rarely we find anything so enigmatic in our accessibility-driven age of online search engines.

November 2012

Poetic Politic

Kadist Art Foundation

3295 20th Street, San Francisco

October 17 – December 12, 2012

At San Francisco’s Kadist Art Foundation, viewers are challenged to consider the critical approach of ten artists from Vietnam and Cambodia in relation to the conservative political context of the region where they face censorship or disenfranchisement. The conceit stems from Zoe Butt, a Phnom Penh–based curator and director of Ho Chi Minh City’s Sàn Art. Sàn Art is the only artist-run space in Vietnam. Essentially a nonprofit, though such status does not technically exist there, it operates a residency and exchange program, a reading room, and a regular lecture series.

Poetic Politic explores images that at first appear understated and even beautiful but take on larger social concerns. Khvay Samnang's two untitled digital photos from 2011, for instance, document his performances in lakes that have been ruined by overgrown plants or floating garbage. The photos capture Samnang dumping a bucket of sand over his head, obscuring his face, in an attempt to call attention to the growing problem of land privatization in Cambodia, which has caused these lakes to be filled with sand and covered with new industrial buildings. UuDam Tran Nguyen's video, Waltz of the Machine Equestrians––The Machine Equestrians 2012, likewise references the decline of the region’s natural landscape, via choreographed scooters that drive down a large street in a former scenic town near the Saigon River that is now the busy district of Thu Thiem.

The show offers a historical perspective with the inclusion of photographer Vo An Khanh, who joined the revolutionary communist North Vietnamese Army in 1960. Two photos, Extra-curriculum Political Science Class 7/1972 and Mobile Military Medical Clinic 9/1970, depict haunting figures wearing white masks that cover their faces with only eyeholes cut out, tending to wounded soldiers. Cambodian artist Vandy Rattana’s popular series Bomb Ponds (2009), which depicts the craters left from conflict, and Vietnamese artist, Phùnam’s Patination (2009), which magnifies the crumbling walls of government compounds in Ho Chi Minh City, both speak to the political strife that has lingered in Southeast Asia and left physical traces in its wake.

October 2012

Temporary Structures

Walter and McBean Galleries

San Francisco Art Institute

800 Chestnut Street, San Francisco

September 14 – December 15, 2012

As its title suggests, Temporary Structures is concerned with impermanence. Certainly the precarious nature of our physical world is increasing, as is evident from the ease with which digitally stored information can be lost, or from the advent of pop-up stores as alternatives to storefront businesses. These contemporary issues are cleverly parsed in this exhibition through works such as Christian Nagler and Azin Seraj’s project, Market Fitness (2012)—which takes the form of both video installations and exercise classes, melding lessons on the financial market with personal health—as well as Paweł Althamer’s video Brazil, (2010), which depicts space travelers observing architectural and religious traditions from an outsider’s perspective, and Michael Robinson’s film Victory over the Sun (2007), which explores desolate sites of World’s Fairs past spliced with appropriated interjections that point to the beginnings of hypnosis and science fiction.

However, the show also includes art that redirects the viewer’s attention to the gallery at SFAI (one of the oldest art schools in the US, founded in 1871). Several works reference the gallery’s rich exhibition and architectural history. For instance, curators uncovered a piece by alum Paul Kos long hidden behind plaster, titled Gargoyle VIII, (1985) for which Kos cut through a white gallery wall, revealing the original concrete from the building’s 1969 construction. The result was a tall, narrow indented section shaped like a medieval church window into which a performer hired by Kos wedged himself, climbing up the wall during a live performance. Also included is photo documentation of the 1987 installation, Smithsonian Falls, Descending

a Staircase for P.K. by another graduate, the late David Ireland, in which wet concrete was poured down the concrete staircase connecting the first and second gallery floors. Amy M. Ho’s piece, Up/Down (2012) highlights the same staircase by projecting onto its underside images of modeled steps, doubling its presence. While a sense of instability permeates the exhibition, it is ultimately its simultaneous self-reflexivity and awareness of the ephemerality of physical and social constructs that allows it to generate a unique dialogue on the subject.

June 2012

Candid Camera

New Filipino Cinema


701 Mission St., San Francisco

June 7 – 17, 2012

This June, Yerba Buena presents twenty-nine films in its second year of programming for “New Filipino Cinema.” Even if one sees only a few of these works, which range from short and abstract works to serious documentaries to whimsical fabrications, a somewhat comprehensive view of contemporary cinema and culture of the Philippines may emerge. The most striking commonality throughout the series is the forthright disposition of the people who appear in them—some actors, some not. For instance, in the documentary, Kano: An American and His Harem (2011), by Monster Jimenez, all the women involved speak candidly about their experiences, even at times admitting their lack of understanding of their own experiences.

Kiri Dalena's short film, Requiem for M (2010) opens with the harsh voice-over of a woman ranting about social injustice, blaming those in power and blatantly calling for revolution. This scene is followed by a funeral procession played backward, during which participants often face the camera directly, revealing their grief.Walang katapusang kwarto (An Endless Room, 2011), by Emerson Reyes, another intimate portrait, confronts the audience with continuous close-ups of two lovers in bed, arguing, kissing, and laughing.

Struggle is evident in the lives portrayed in many of the stories, whether real or fictional. The severity of rural life is treated as a given, yet a strong sense of community emerges again and again. One film that veers away from a focus on such hardship is Jade Castro's playful, Zombadings (2011), which deals with rampant homophobia and murder against drag queens in a small village. It weaves magic and folklore into the story to facilitate acceptance within the fictional community.

Each film shares the backdrop of the Philippines’ lush vegetation and the relatively simple ways of life that come from a connection to the land. Still, there are depictions of contemporary life—children at carnivals, teenagers on cell phones, women gossiping. An emphasis on women is found in many of the films, such as Biyernes Biyernes (Friday Friday, 2011), which focuses on the lives of fictional strangers as they search for different forms of comfort. What is most impressive in this program, aside from the stories themselves, is the range of styles and the apparent momentum for independent filmmaking that is building in the Philippines. Increasing interest in and support for filmmakers there suggests that this energy will expand to venues around the world in the years to come.

May 2012

Rineke Dijkstra


151 Third St., San Francisco

February 18 – May 28, 2012

The sociological output of Dutch photographer, Rineke Dijkstra, appears simple enough on the surface. Yet, as this retrospective emphasizes, her enigmatic work is continually strengthened by what it eloquently conceals. Since the early 1990s, Dijkstra’s subjects have been mostly young, “ordinary” people from around the world, whom she captures in the middle of a transition of some sort—joining the military, or having a baby, or merely changing from childhood into adulthood. While the casual poses and environments in which Dijkstra captures her subjects evince their everyday realities, there is nonetheless an austerity to the figures as they are fixed within her neutral frame. This tension that the portraits craft between the natural and the composed subject is exaggerated in some of her most celebrated images, namely her series of adolescents on beaches. The unaffected approachability of Dijkstra’s subjects renders them at once common and stoic, which also explains why these works in particular have so often been compared to the portraiture of Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The ample supply of pieces on view in this show make it clear that Dijkstra’s exclusion of personal, bespoke backgrounds and her focus on physical traits imbues these portraits with both an immense human fragility and an air of restraint. This duality is perhaps best summed up in a wall label adjacent to two images taken in 1995 at a nightclub in Liverpool, which describes her subjects as, “performing" for her camera and for themselves.” It is precisely Dijkstra’s key ability to parse the overlap between one’s performance for others and one’s performance for oneself that heightens the intriguing discord that lies beneath her simple surfaces.