Arts » Art

New Year at Bay Area Art Galleries

by Sura Wood
Sunday Jan 14, 2018

March comes in like a lion, so the saying goes, but the same could be said of January, judging from the crop of new exhibitions roaring out of the gate in this brand-New Year.

At Headlands Center for the Arts: "Phillip Andrew Lewis: SYNONYM" investigates the phenomenon of group-think and its perils, terrain the Memphis artist understands from first-hand experience. As a teenager, he was held against his will at an intensive drug rehab program that employed mind control and sensory deprivation techniques. He later learned the center was an offshoot of Synanon, whose empire and self-help agitprop, which began in the 1960s, once extended throughout California with compounds and unmarked buildings in Marin and San Francisco. Their extreme approaches to treating drug addiction eventually fell into disrepute, and after facing a barrage of lawsuits, they disbanded in 1991.

Based on extensive research, Lewis' multidisciplinary project incorporates real and imagined video documentation, photographs, and artifacts such as a chandelier equipped with microphones for eavesdropping, and other detritus salvaged from abandoned compounds. He tracks the organization's evolution through a dozen installations illustrating the group's questionable philosophies and harsh "tough love" practices. For some, the handcuffs, peer criticism, shunning, starvation, constant surveillance, and no privacy or contact with family and the outside world made the program more like a North Korean-style fascist state than a mecca for recovery. Not exactly a walk in the park, but fascinating subject matter that sends shivers down the spine. (Jan. 14-Feb. 18;

In its first major offsite project since transitioning to an innovative new strategy in Hayes Valley, Gallery Wendi Norris showcases "Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons: If I Were a Poet" in the roughhewn spaces of Building 649 in Presidio National Park. The artist, who grew up on a Cuban sugar plantation with a multiethnic family whose ancestors were brought there as slaves in the 19th century, trades in the occult and the spiritual, gender issues, religion and memory.

With a name that could belong to a heartbreaking chanteuse out of a David Lynch fantasia, Campos-Pons is unafraid to use her body as a canvas in autobiographical work that carries the mystique of Santeria ritual, and bridges the natural and metaphysical worlds. The show brings together several bodies of work: Glass multimedia sculptures with sound, wood, olfactory and wooden elements, a video installation, and large-format grid photographs shot with a super-sized Polaroid camera as big as a room (Polaroid only made four such cameras, the same kind used by Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter.) The sections, photographed one at a time, are assembled after the fact like "Bin Bin Lady, The Papaya" a portrait of a mysterious, dark-skinned woman in a burka proffering ripe tropical fruit. (Jan. 11-28;

Jenkins Johnson Gallery: "There is No Alas Where I Live," one of two early winter exhibitions here, is a free-ranging photography show that takes its title from a poem by Theodore Roethke. Curator Ann Jastrab, former director of Rayko Gallery, focuses on the work of nine Bay Area photographers including Wesaam Al-Badry's pictures of the Mississippi Delta; the devastated but not defeated victims amidst the ruins of Hurricane Katrina in Lewis Watts' New Orleans Suite; and the painterly compositions of Johanna Case-Hofmeister, who captures the languid waning days of endless summer in giant chromogenic mural prints, produced with a large-format camera. People are seamlessly integrated into her lush, color landscapes, like the young woman in striped bathing shorts with her back to the camera, leaning over an inner tube on the edge of a lake ("Ariel in Quarry") or the unadulterated joy of a pair of adolescent girls floating in the water ("Claire and Grace," 2006). (Through Jan. 27.)

The photographic collages of Deborah Roberts probe and deconstruct the fractured identity of black girls and women, and the myths projected onto them by society and a legacy of prejudice. Confronting and up-ending image-making by pop culture purveyors and art historians, the artist cuts, alters and reconfigures found and manipulated photographs - built with images of famous, barely recognizable figures such as Michelle Obama and Gloria Steinem - and combines them with drawings and paintings. In layering portraits of naive, promising, eight to 10-year-old girls, Roberts challenges prevailing myths and damaging, de-humanizing stereotypes, reconstructing black female identity on her own terms, with enlightening, sometimes disconcerting results. (Feb. 1-March 17;

Haines Gallery: "Taha Heydari: Running Rabbits" features the latest work by the Iranian-born painter, who embraces digital art and a visual style influenced by new media. Drawn from online news, his profusion of almost childlike, pixilated images keeps the eye constantly hopping. In "The List" he evokes the chaotic aftermath of the crash of an Iranian passenger jet likely mistaken for enemy aircraft and shot down by U.S. missiles in 1988; everyone onboard was killed. Heydari lines up headshots of the victims, ill-defined visages fading fast from memory like student pictures in the yellowing pages of an old yearbook. An esteemed scholar of Islamic law, wrapped in ceremonial robe and scarf, his facial features obliterated, is seated by the flag of Saudi Arabia, the leading exporter of oil and exponent of extremist Wahhabist ideology, in "The Vendor," which depicts stagecraft at the confluence of power, politics and religion. (Through Feb. 24;

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit


Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook