Category: Gay Swan

Gay Swan on Squeak Carnwath at the Oakland Museum of California.


If only guilt-free zones weren’t so small: Good Luck, by Squeak Carnwath at the Oakland Museum of Art. (Photos by Gay Swan.)

Squeak Carnwath’s paintings are too big to be shoplifted. Otherwise, I would happily “own” one or two of the idiosyncratic, icon-addled, blackboard-sized canvasses from her first solo museum show at the Oakland Museum of California — at the tender age of 62. As one of the leading California artists no one’s ever heard of (unlike her cohorts Viola Frey and Jay DeFeo), Carnwath fuses the personal symbology of a genius Waldorf preschooler with the flawed humanity of the psychotherapy couch. The result is pure Californication.

I couldn’t not love her recurring guilt-free zones (Everything(2)), or her collection of good luck symbols (Good Luck ), bunnies (Long Happy Life ) and record albums (Side One ) — the latter representing about the side-oneness of life. There’s a shameless appropriation of periodic table grids (Four Months), confession (Promise) and assorted visual elements that once led people to associate her work with outsider art. Each painting reads like a short story asking universal questions. Then on the video at the end of the show, there’s Squeak with all the answers. And you walk out feeling like you just had a great talk with your therapist.

Painting Is No Ordinary Object runs through Aug 23.

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Gay Swan reports on Flaming Furbelows at Johansson Projects in Oakland.


The Musical Marmots of Marina Vendrell Renault. (All photos by Gay Swan.)

I had never wanted to hug intestines until I saw Marina Vendrell Renaut’s knitted sculptures at Johansson Projects, part of a group show called Flaming Furbelows. There were eviscerations, udders and other mammalian pudenda hanging like stalactites from the gallery ceiling. Undoubtedly, they’re meditations on the love/hate/grossness we feel towards our innards. And Renaut employs reduce-reuse-recycle tactics like a good citizen. But you just can’t get past how fun the pieces must have been to make. Imagine sweater heaven at the Salvation Army, combined with flea market furs and afghans. Grandma would turn in her grave if she saw the oversized tentacled sock monkey called Coochie Boo Hoo, and her phallus-enhanced tea cozies fitted over remote-control toy cars. But the cherry on top are the five bissected marmots, above. Pull the tassels and they croon lullabies like ghoulish mobiles.

Unfortunately, Renault’s humorous touchables make the paintings on the walls — by Kate Tedman and Eric Siemens, working collaboratively here as “Kate Eric” — look fussy and cold by comparison. The pair must love watching the Discovery Channel. Tiny alien hybrids of bugs and fish alternately war, screw and puke in heavily impastoed acrylic on paper. The technique is as precise as a Dungeons and Dragons drawing, so that you have to examine each monster up close. The animal violence provides a stark contrast to the jellyfish-like silks billowing through the compositions. But ultimately, between chopped up animals and light existential drama, the artists are well-paired, echoing each other in mutually controlled chaos.

Flaming Furbelows runs through May 2.

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Photos: Mahjong at the Berkeley Art Museum.


Forget G.I. Joe: Yue Minjun’s battalion of smiling men at the Berkeley Art Museum are action figure-ready. (All photos by Gay Swan.)

I had visions of China as I strolled through Mahjong, the exhibit of contemporary Chinese art currently on display at the Berkeley Art Museum. Maybe even visions of Chinatown, of commodities bought and sold. Personally I was relieved. I did my time with Chinese art chaperoned by my parents. The natural shanshui landscapes and watercolors were a yawner. The historical and spiritual implications were so vast, I just couldn’t get into it. But here at Mahjong was a consumer vocabulary I could understand. There were fun clothes and bright constructivist posters and plastic tchotchkes, all sensationally over-obvious in their message. I wanted to buy, buy, buy!

Then I began to get bored. And a little panicky.  That spiky-haired, black-shirted Chinese museum security guard who busted me taking pictures didn’t help matters. I suspected Triad ties. So I escaped to the Urban Outfitters next door for some retail therapy. As I chilled out on the Anywhere Sofa ($325), under a speaker blaring rap as if it were nationalist slogans, I realized that the wares that surrounded me were all made in China. I had left the Mahjong exhibit, only to find myself in its American mirror image. Heck, the museum and Urban Outfitters even sport the same warehouse chic. And all I could think was, ’Wow, these faux vintage tees and graphic bedspreads would look great with Chanel No. 5 by Wang Guanyi or Mao/Marilyn by Yu Yuhan printed on them.’

The show is up until Jan. 4th, 2009.

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Photos: Lydia Fong (a.k.a. Barry McGee) at Ratio 3 in S.F.


Having Fong at Ratio 3. Baby not included. (All photos by Gay Swan.)

Barry McGee serves up his signature urban flavors, topped with a few new sprinkles in a surprise show at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. (Bring your own funky glasses to view the infinitely precise 3-D hand drawings in more than one dimension.) The rest is classic McGee…or “Lydia Fong,” as his current alias goes. Color exercises crawl aggressively up three walls like deboned Rubik’s cubes. Contrast that with the sad faces, a gaggle of meticulously rendered masks, hair monsters, and framed napkin doodles. In between the human and the abstract, other urban detritus bubbles up: surfboards, cardboard, a decomposing orange with fruit fly, a baby in bubblegum pink. Oh wait, the baby’s mine.

But what’s outside the Ratio 3 Gallery is just as cool as what’s inside. It’s a one-way alley in McGee’s own Mission Street neighborhood. Next door a woman rescues half-wolf dogs that shelters won’t take. Down a ways, murals and motorcycles take up the sidewalk. All around, there’s weed smoke and freeway noise, Chinese dollar stores and taquerias amid super-eco-chic shops. Welcome to Barry’s world.

The show runs through October 18th.

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