• SFAI MFA 2007
  • Deer Fang

  • SFAI MFA 2007
  • James Kristen Van Patten

  • SFAI MFA 2007
  • Marshall Marice

  • SFAI MFA 2007
  • Ryan Jones

This 2007 San Francisco Art Institute MFA exhibition was very much in the 135 year tradition of the Institute: gutsy, muscular, engaging with large issues. Here is my take, discussing what caught my eye.

In his installation Symbiotic Suspension, James Kristen Van Patten works intensively with his materials:  plaster, metal wire and magnets to produce a wall installation referring to the body, the fragmented body and the globe/earth. 

I was particularly taken with Liz Oppenheimer’s split-screen video installation of a surging waterfall, falls. Running in a loop, twin images of Europe’s largest waterfall transform the passive, two dimensional screen into a vortex of energy and dimensionality. This is a formalist work engaged with form’s comments on life force. Besides video, Oppenheimer also works with glass, salt, and materials from nature to produce sculptural and architectural installations commenting on the mystery of the natural environment. Her past installations include Fog Horn/ Alp Horn in Switzerland and Perpetual Motion/ Perpetuum Mobile at Intersection for the Arts.

After writing about Bruce Nauman’s exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum this winter, I was glad to see Marshall Marice’s large-scale photographs documenting his own performance leaping about a wall. Marice’s confident, ebullient, humorous photographs are a quite different take than Nauman’s careful, constrained post-minimal performance videos, Wall/ Floor Positions. Whereas Nauman’s performance was gravity defining, Marice’s are gravity defying body projections. Either Marice takes amazing physical risks or these are humorously manipulated digital prints. Most likely, the photographs document a performance which is both endurance and fantasy.
Opposite Marice’s photographs hangs Elizabeth Bernstein’s exceptional series of C-prints titled The Space Between. The series quietly documents intimate relationships by precisely representing physical space. In a cross between Nan Goldin and Ingmar Bergman, Bernstein’s photographs document her friends’ relationships in psychological detail and subtle color harmonies. I almost missed these photographs and hope they get the attention they deserve.

Lori Delmar’s serial installation of oil on panel paintings are exceptionally conceived and executed in the tradition of monochromatic painting. Thickly painted on fine maple wood panels in grey and silver hues, the paintings are filled with colors which reveal themselves slowly, with shadows and light, implying weather, time, movement and narrative.

Ryan Jones’s juxtaposed wall-installations of 1) an ultramarine snap-line chalk circle and a similarly ultramarine plastic-weave-backed aluminum beach chair wall-mounted with blue wire joined Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson and pop culture. (People forget that Sol LeWitt’s early wall drawings, though not in color but in graphite, were quite sensual. So is this ultramarine walldrawing.) The juxtapositions of 2D and 3D, industrial and domestic, center and periphery, ideal geometry and references to the body as well as mapping and place are conceptually interesting and psychologically layered.

When I was at the exhibition, I joined Steve Bronson, Diana Fuller and others sniffing the black licorice wall installation of Jamaica Fredericks. From a distance, the wall seems to be covered with short lengths of black rope. Great use of new materials. Smells good, too. However, where was the adjoining red licorice wall? Doesn’t red licorice smell like strawberry? Are we allowed to lick the wall? Would we want to? Also:  Fredericks’ drawing of Don Judd-like boxes in motion was intriguing as was her use of a heavy industrial steel wall bracket for her cards.

Another good use of materials: Michelle Carollo’s painting installation. Riffing on Judy Pfaff, taking off from the red and turquoise of Willem DeKooning’s “woman” paintings, Carollo’s industrial materials, geometric shapes and three-dimensional space up-date Constructivism with chaos and clutter.

Deer Fang’s installation in a shipping container of her video-tape take on being a Chinese woman in America created a sculptural theater, retreat and home for her panda-costumed actors engaging in sex and eating bamboo (symbol of good luck).  The video is a funny/sad and outrageous take on stereotypes.  However,  even more interesting to me was Fang’s book documenting other recent videos: Bump ‘n Grind (2006), event and video installation; Unique Dancer,  (2005) installation and DVD, and Cannibal Cafe (2006), performance video. Fang works with troupes of people.

Kathleen Thompson’s large paintings in saturated hues combine bold gestural abstraction with hard-edged biomorphic shapes to create spatial complexity and layered allusions. These could be considered female-identified abstract expressionism conjoining Shahzia Sikander and large scale American painting, and decoration and structure.


— Gloria Tanchelev is an artist and writer.