inside art reviews san francisco visual

Art / Richard Misrach slays 49 Geary

Hazardous waste

First Thurs­days at 49 Geary can be over­whelm­ing, peo­ple-wise, and under­whelm­ing, art-wise, and this month was dif­fer­ent only in that the over­whelm­ing­ness was crammed into one place: the Fraenkel Gallery. Packed with peo­ple, it also dis­played a face-melt­ing col­lec­tion of Richard Mis­rach photos.

When I first saw Misrach's pho­tos, I thought imme­di­ate­ly of Sebas­tiao Sal­ga­do. Both guys address big themes — civ­i­liza­tions, sea­sons, land­scapes, human endeav­ors — but they do so in vast­ly dif­fer­ent ways. Sal­ga­do frames his work around human action; his sub­jects are migrants, activi­tists, labor­ers. Mis­rach works with earth, light, space; he works with dunes, strangers, cars, pow­er plants. Salgado's work is tied to cur­rent events, polit­i­cal move­ments, regimes, defin­able moments and rec­og­niz­able things; Mis­rach works with more anony­mous objects and land­scapes. There are much more sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between them, but they share a social aware­ness that invests the best of their work with real intrigue and importance.

inside art reviews san francisco visual

Art / Oakland is special in other ways

Flickr photo

Last night we checked out the Oak­land Art Mur­mur. Actu­al­ly, we didn't even know that such a thing exist­ed, and drove over the Bridge intend­ing to see Jason Munn's open­ing at Bloom Screen Print­ing. So it was a pleas­ant sur­prise to see that lit­tle stretch of Tele­graph goin off when we got there. Jason's stuff was the best of the art stuff, by far, but the action on the street was out front of Rock Paper Scis­sors.That's where we saw a guy burn an Amer­i­can flag. It took him rough­ly 10 min­utes of false starts to light it with a Bic, but just after I took this pic­ture, an ambu­lance raced up the street, sirens blar­ing, on its way to some emer­gency, but it abrupt­ly slowed down when the dri­ver saw the burn­ing flag, and we could see the faces of the oth­er para­medics star­ing at the guy as they crawled by. It was one of those only-in-Oak­land moments. Holla!

inside art san francisco visual

Art / Marcel Dzama, bats, root beer, Canada

The Roy­al Art Lodge snuck up on me. I wan­dered into a show of theirs at the Pow­er Plant, a gallery in Toron­to in 2003. In a fair­ly small space, they'd crammed a wall full of col­lab­o­ra­tive paint­ings, Polaroids, home­made musi­cal instru­ments, and many paint­ings by Mar­cel Dza­ma and Neil Far­ber. It was all very … hard to describe: thrown togeth­er, prim­i­tive, whim­si­cal, charm­ing, dark, strange, hilar­i­ous. A paint­ing of debu­tantes sit­ting in a row on the back of an alli­ga­tor, smok­ing cig­a­rettes. Bats. Root beer syrup. A grid of Polaroids, each of which was com­posed of a per­son in a strange, home­made mask pok­ing his/her head out of a win­dow of an insti­tu­tion­al building.I couldn't quite believe it and I loved it. It would be hard for any art show to rival serendip­i­tous dis­cov­ery like that, but last week, I checked out Yer­ba Buena's show of some new­er Roy­al Art Lodge stuff: Peer Plea­sures 1. Worth see­ing, like many recent YBCA shows. Not spec­tac­u­lar, but solid.See also:

  • Lists of inter­est­ing stuff that Neil Far­ber and Michael Duomon­tier will swap paint­ings for (Neil: Micro­nauts from the 70's. Michael: self-released Joan­na New­som albums).
  • Mar­cel Dza­ma inter­view with Sarah Vow­ell: "If there is a Cana­di­an fac­tor in our togeth­er­ness, per­haps it is borne out of the iso­la­tion of liv­ing in a small city like Win­nipeg, and the cold weath­er. We are not able to go out­side too often because right now your skin will freeze with­in minutes."
music reviews san francisco

Music / Konono #1 lights it up

Last night, Konono #1 played the Palace of Fine Arts. Before the show, I was a lit­tle wor­ried that their scruffy, off-kil­ter sound may get washed-out by the fan­cy sound-sys­tem of the PoFA, and that they may end up sound­ing like lame-ass Ashke­naz-style "world music."But from the first moment, they total­ly ruled, and their sig­na­ture sound — with home­made elec­tric pick-ups for their ikem­bes (thumb pianos), dent­ed met­al discs serv­ing as cym­bals, and MASH-style mega­phones as a PA — was faith­ful­ly recre­at­ed. The PoFA is a cham­ber-music-style venue with cushy seats and lit­tle room to boo­gie, but most of the crowd was stand­ing and danc­ing by the third song, and groups crowd­ed at the sides of the stage to impro­vise a lit­tle dance floor. Their final song was an epic, 45-min­utes trance-induc­ing jam that had every­one clap­ping and chant­i­ng along with the track-suit-clad front man.Most remark­able was the vital­i­ty of it all, the sense that there was some­thing essen­tial and healthy and real being cre­at­ed. Each band member's intense, insis­tent pres­ence was spell-bind­ing, espe­cial­ly the old­er guy in the blue base­ball hat who trad­ed off with Mingie­di (the leader, pic­tured) on the thumb piano and per­cus­sion. He was locked into a seri­ous groove the whole night, bang­ing out pre­cise rhythms, and belt­ing out crisp, deep monot­o­ne har­monies that were jar­ring but some­how per­fect. It's not often that San Fran­cis­co crowds get up and shake their ass­es, so it was espe­cial­ly impres­sive that Konono #1 made danc­ing in a con­cert hall on Sun­day night seem total­ly natural.

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Art / Muhammad Ali likes soul food

Flickr photo

One of my favorite neigh­bor­hood art spots is called Cre­ativ­i­ty Explored, "a non­prof­it visu­al arts cen­ter where artists with devel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties cre­ate, exhib­it, and sell art." Or so it says on its web­site.At first, I felt con­flict­ed about Cre­ativ­i­ty Explored. Much of the art is geni­une­ly impres­sive, and a few of the artists are quite tal­ent­ed and pro­duce tru­ly beau­ti­ful work. But the great­ness is com­pli­cat­ed by the artists' dis­abil­i­ties. So many works seem tru­ly unique, yet you can't shake the feel­ing that you're admir­ing the prod­uct of the very thing that pre­vents the artist from liv­ing a "nor­mal" life.The fact is that I real­ly like a lot of it, espe­cial­ly the handwriting/drawings of John Patrick McKen­zie. John's hand­writ­ing is bold and jaun­ty in a way that, at first, makes it look like a cross between graf­fi­ti and first-grade. But then beyond the ini­tial impres­sion, it becomes clear that the page is often orga­nized very pre­cise­ly. As he tends to col­or in the enclosed areas of each let­ter — the inte­ri­or of an R, D, P, etc — the page takes on a heav­ier graph­ic dimension.Content-wise, each work of John's works is the­mat­ic, though "the­mat­ic" may be too fan­cy a term for it. Each con­tains a set of words or phras­es that is shuf­fled in a vari­ety of ways through­out the work, though some oth­ers just con­tain seem­ing­ly ran­dom indi­vid­ual words writ­ten again and again. Humor (prob­a­bly unin­ten­tion­al) often aris­es from his selec­tion of the names of stars of the 60's and 70's in his work, as well as fel­low Cre­ativ­i­ty Explored artists.Generally, he'll pick a sub­ject — for instance, the 1964 Chevy Impala — and he'll write a series of state­ments about how cer­tain peo­ple feel about the sub­ject. "Bruce Lee likes the 1964 Chevy Impala. Doris Toku­da likes the 1964 Chevy Impala," etc. The work above has a slight­ly dif­fer­ent arrange­ment: "Sylvester Stal­lone likes Chef Boyardee … Muham­mad Ali likes soul food."Sometimes, the sub­ject of the work veers away from the lit­er­al. John has devel­oped a sort of code for refer­ring to all sorts of sub­jects, so you'll see phras­es like "red­neck piz­za sher­iff," "spring chick­en," "cold turkey," "avo­ca­do ice cream," and many oth­ers used in strange con­texts. Some­times they're code, some­times they're just what they are. Some­one once told me that "avo­ca­do ice cream" is code, but recent­ly a teacher at CE the­o­rized that John had recent­ly eat­en at Mitchell's.Like much out­sider art, John's work is exot­ic — the and it's hard to admire and dis­cuss it with­out fetishiz­ing the con­di­tion that con­tributes to it. But you could also say that John's work makes this less of an issue because it is so visu­al­ly appeal­ing, and often so poetic.The SF Week­ly wrote an arti­cle about John in 2002: "Osama bin Laden dis­likes kel­log­gs frost­ed mini wheats"

law & order san francisco

Good time on a California jury

For the last three days, I served on a jury in a civ­il tri­al in San Fran­cis­co Supe­ri­or Court. It was a per­son­al injury case stem­ming from an auto acci­dent on the Bay Bridge in 2002. The plain­tiff sought cash for phys­i­cal and men­tal suf­fer­ing, incon­ve­nience, loss of enjoy­ment of life, and about six oth­er things. I had some idea of how total­ly jacked Cal­i­for­nia per­son­al injury law is. After see­ing the way that this case played out, I am shocked and depressed by it.The facts. There was no ques­tion that the defen­dant (a round-ish kid from out­side Sacra­men­to) rear-end­ed the plain­tiff (an Asian lady from El Cer­ri­to). The ques­tion was: Was there enough evi­dence of actu­al harm to award some kind of mon­ey? The plaintiff's car was unharmed by the col­li­sion. She drove home imme­di­ate­ly after­ward. An expert wit­ness argued that the col­li­sion could not have been more than a slight bump. In my opin­ion, the plain­tiff offered no evi­dence to sup­port her argu­ment. She claimed var­i­ous types of harm: 18 months of back prob­lems, inabil­i­ty to have inti­mate rela­tions with her hus­band (ouch), gen­er­al fam­i­ly dis­so­lu­tion. But her tear­ful tes­ti­mo­ny was the only evi­dence of her suf­fer­ing. There was no tes­ti­mo­ny or depo­si­tion from her doc­tor, no med­ical records, no police report, no tes­ti­mo­ny from her hus­band or kids; more­over, she con­tin­ued to work imme­di­ate­ly after the acci­dent and admit­ted that she missed no work — includ­ing busi­ness trips to Chi­na and Seat­tle — as a result.Our task. We had a total of four ques­tions to answer; but if we ruled "no" on any of the first three, our work was done. Case closed. The first ques­tion: Was the defen­dant was neg­li­gent? If we agreed he was neg­li­gent, ques­tion two: Was the plain­tiff harmed? If so, ques­tion three: Was the defen­dant a sub­stan­tial fac­tor in the harm? Final­ly, if he was: How much mon­ey should be award­ed for the harm?1. Was the defen­dant neg­li­gent? Umm, yeah. The guy rear-end­ed her. Hard to say he wasn't. Still, you had to feel bad for him. He was work­ing at a piz­za place at the time of the acci­dent, and you had to know that he was fear­ing some kind of huge ver­dict. Nev­er­the­less, his tes­ti­mo­ny was uncon­vinc­ing. A "rea­son­ably care­ful" per­son would not rear-end a car in that sit­u­a­tion, even if he was sneez­ing, as he claimed. About half the jury ini­tial­ly want­ed to say that he was not neg­li­gent, but the rest of us had a hard time rul­ing that he wasn't. He wasn't pay­ing atten­tion. A rea­son­ably care­ful per­son would have been pay­ing atten­tion. After 10 min­utes of dis­cus­sion, we came to a deci­sion: 12 yes, 0 no.2. Was the plain­tiff harmed? This is where it got testy. I per­son­al­ly believed that if we said "yes" to this, we were going to have to award dam­ages. So I argued (at length) that she wasn't harmed, and at first 7 oth­er jurors agreed. We only need­ed one more to turn to our side to win — in Cal­i­for­nia, you only need 9 out of 12 jurors to agree on a point to come to a deci­sion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of harm was "incon­ve­nience." The minor­i­ty argued — per­sua­sive­ly enough, as it turned out — that the fact that she had to stop on the Bay Bridge dur­ing crazy week­end traf­fic was enough to say that she was harmed. Even­tu­al­ly, they had the required 9, includ­ing three oth­er young guys who I thought were going to be faith­ful allies (they were from the Mis­sion, Upper Haight, and Potrero Hill). Inter­est­ing­ly, the oth­er two who believed that she wasn't harmed were women: one was an old­er Asian lady (Sun­set), and anoth­er was a young woman from the Mari­na. Final score: 9 yes, 3 no.3. Was the defen­dant a sub­stan­tial cause of the harm? It was real­ly hard to say "no" to this if you said "yes" to the above ques­tion because of incon­ve­nience. I start­ed to get real­ly ner­vous that we were going down a path where we were going to award her some mon­ey because she got bumped on the Bay Bridge, and claimed to have incurred all sorts of hard­ship. Again: 9 yes, 3 no.Aside: It was pret­ty clear that the acci­dent was trau­mat­ic to the plain­tiff; she cried through­out the tri­al, and her ren­di­tion of the acci­dent made it sound pret­ty scary. It hap­pened over the week­end, so the traf­fic was crazy, and the defen­dant han­dled him­self bad­ly. BUT, she didn't file a suit until two years lat­er, didn't keep receipts for med­ical treat­ment, didn't have any tes­ti­mo­ny from doc­tors or fam­i­ly mem­bers. With­out any of this, it seemed insane, real­ly, to say with any cer­tain­ty that she was harmed. It's not like it's hard to pro­duce this evi­dence. C'mon!4. How much is the plain­tiff enti­tled to for her mental/physical suf­fer­ing? At this point, the fore­man used the white­board to write out each ele­ment of phys­i­cal and men­tal suf­fer­ing (loss of enjoy­ment of life, incon­ve­nience, etc), lay­ing out a frame­work where we would agree on a val­ue for each thing. In Cal­i­for­nia, juries are giv­en no guide­lines for deter­min­ing the award; we're left to our own devices.The fore­man said, "I'm just going to throw out a fig­ure. $5000." Upper Haight guy said, "$3000." Anoth­er two women chimed in with $3000. Imme­di­ate­ly, there were four peo­ple who want­ed to award mon­ey for her unsup­port­ed claims. Luck­i­ly, Potrero Hill and Mis­sion guys were even more pas­sion­ate than me about this, and they imme­di­ate­ly artic­u­lat­ed an argu­ment that I hadn't expect­ed: that incon­ve­nience on the Bay Bridge has a mon­e­tary val­ue of ZERO dol­lars. The three Asian ladies imme­di­ate­ly agreed, as did the Mari­na lady.The fore­man kept propos­ing fig­ures — "Okay, how about $2000?" — but Potrero Hill guy inter­ject­ed: "Hey, we've got 8 peo­ple who believe that she shouldn't get any­thing. You're in the minor­i­ty. You need to come to us." Even­tu­al­ly, we were argu­ing about whether or not to award $250. Final­ly, a lit­tle after 4pm, the fore­man cracked: "Okay, fine. Zero dol­lars." And jus­tice was served: 9 $0, 3 $250.But the depress­ing thing was how easy it was to assign mon­e­tary dam­ages, how much the log­ic of the law seemed des­tined to lead to it. Upper Haight guy was brain­washed by it. Even though he could nev­er artic­u­late a prag­mat­ic rea­son why she should get any mon­ey, he kept refer­ring to the jury instruc­tions and say­ing, "I'm just fol­low­ing these rules. She was incon­ve­nienced, and now we have to assign a val­ue to that." The fore­man was sym­pa­thet­ic — he had fam­i­ly mem­bers who had been in a much worse posi­tion and got no mon­ey — which he acknowl­edged was not a valid legal rea­son, but it took him an hour before he aban­doned this. As the ver­dict was read — neg­li­gent, harmed, sub­stan­tial cause of harm — the defen­dant looked scared, and his attor­ney looked depressed. Then, the big fat $0 of dam­ages, and every­thing changed. The plaintiff's attor­ney slumped, and the plain­tiff began cry­ing again. The defen­dant was relieved, and the judge actu­al­ly looked relieved as well. Jus­tice was served. Barely.

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Photos / Underwater buildings

Flickr photo

Some­times, the crap­py lens on my Motoro­la v220 pro­duces inter­est­ing effects. Recent­ly, it has start­ed com­press­ing the depth of field, and at the same time, arbi­trar­i­ly fuzzing out objects. When direct­ed at build­ings in full late-after­noon light, it actu­al­ly makes things look like they're in an aquarium.

mobile reviews san francisco

Burgers in SF

Flickr photo

After a chill after­noon at Chi­na Beach, we checked out some burg­ers at Bill's Place, which made me think about all of the good burg­ers to be found in San Francisco: 

  • Bill's Place (pic­tured) grinds its own, and names its burg­er plat­ters after local celebri­ties. Extra cred­it for the chan­de­liers and non-mayo cole slaw. On the down­side, it's unjus­ti­fi­ably pricey. $10 for a burg­er? Maybe at Zuni, but it seems weird to pay this much at a diner.
  • If you're inter­est­ed in din­er-style ambiance more than good-tast­ing burg­ers, you can check out Joe's Cable Car. I real­ly wish that the burg­ers tast­ed good there, but the real­i­ty is that they don't.
  • For fake retro ambiance, high tourist quo­tient and real­ly mediocre burg­ers, Mel's is your place. There are at least three very uncon­ve­nient Mel's loca­tions, if you're Mis­sion/Low­er-Haight based.
  • Slow Club has (or used to have) a good yup­pie burg­er — sprouts and fan­cy aioli, on some kind of Euro roll. Being from the Mid­west, I dis­like froofy inter­pre­ta­tions of burg­ers, but in weak­er moments I have been known to order this burg­er. And enjoy it. 
  • Speak­ing of froofy, Zuni serves a burg­er amidst its gen­er­al­ly tasty Cali cui­sine. In 1996-ish, I could not bring myself to admit that it was good; in 2005, I can. 
  • On cold nights, Zeit­geist can ring your chimes with a good char-burg­er. On warm, busy nights, expect extra char. 
  • Burg­er­Meis­ter and Burg­er Joint are all about hap­py cows (Niman Ranch beef), ster­ile, flu­o­res­cent-lit din­ing rooms (creepy) and, in the end, sim­i­lar burg­ers. Hip­sters split hairs about which is bet­ter. I call it a tie. (But the Meis­er has Mitchell's ice cream.)
  • I'm a recent con­vert to the virtues of Big Mouth in the Mis­sion. Qual­i­ty con­trol is in full effect on both fries and burg­ers, plus greasy-spoon atmos­phere dis­tin­guish­es it from the ster­ile envi­rons of the BJs and BMs of the world.
  • Every­one talks about Barney's Gourmet Ham­burg­ers but I per­son­al­ly don't see what the fuss is about. It's not that I dis­like white peo­ple, but it annoys me that the own­ers avoid all but the whitest of white neigh­bor­hoods — North Berke­ley, North Oak­land, Noe Val­ley. Dude, next stop: Mill Val­ley.

    There are lots more. I'll update soon.

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Photos / July chills

Riding up Polk Street

I snapped this pho­to after watch­ing Me & You & Every­one We Know at the Lumiere. I was rid­ing down Polk Street, and the sky seemed nice and sun­ny. But there was a chilly lit­tle bite in the air. Ahh, sum­mer. A half hour lat­er, the city was enshroud­ed in fog.

mobile san francisco visual

Photos / Window kitty

Windown kitty

This kit­ten was in the win­dow of the record store on my block. Anoth­er sign of a pleas­ant turn­around on 14th Street. Ten years ago, it was Naps 2 (a hous­ing project bar with a friend­ly sort of vibe), and dog crap every­where. Now, it's a bustling with DIY fare, cool records, a bike shop owned by friends of mine, and an art gallery.UPDATE Feb 2006: Six months after the record shop opened, it closed. So did the art gallery. Now there's a lit­tle cloth­ing bou­tique there. I miss Naps #2.UPDATE June 2006: Nee­dles and Pens also left. My lit­tle street is qui­et again. Oh well.