What to See During San Francisco Art Week

From Tauba Auerbach’s very first museum survey to Livien Yin’s intimate paintings inspired by Chinese female immigrants in the US, these are the must-see shows in the Bay Area

BY Natasha Boas in Critic's Guides , Exhibition Reviews | 19 JAN 22

Tauba Auerbach, SvZ, SF Moma
Tauba Auerbach, ‘S v Z’, 2021, installation view. Courtesy: © the artist and SFMOMA; photograph: Matthew Millman

Tauba Auerbach

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

18 December 2021 – 1 May 2022

Tauba Auerbach’s ‘S v Z’ at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art – the Bay Area-raised, New York-based artist’s first museum survey – feels like a homecoming celebration for the artist. Curated by Joseph Becker and Jenny Gheith, the exhibition brings together works from the past 17 years that showcase Auerbach’s multivalent and trans-disciplinary practice, which includes drawing, painting, sculpture and bookmaking. Auerbach’s obsessive, intellectual investigations into pattern and geometry have also led to a preoccupation with the helix – an interconnected form that recurs throughout the artist’s oeuvre. The ‘S’ and ‘Z’ in the show’s title represent the two different directions the helix can take and are connected by a ‘v’ – the symbol denoting ‘and/or’ in mathematical logic – pointing to a non-binary, inclusive space within the exhibition.

Troy Lamarr Chew II , As seen on TikTok, 2021
Troy Lamarr Chew II, As seen on TikTok, 2021, oil on canvas, 152 × 91 cm. Courtesy: © the artist and Altman Siegel gallery

Troy Lamarr Chew II

Altman Siegel

13 January – 19 February

‘The Roof Is on Fire’, Troy Lamarr Chew II’s first solo show at Altman Siegel, presents new paintings in the artist’s ‘Slanguage’ series (2020–ongoing), which translates the coded meanings of rap lyrics into visual puns. Unlike his earlier works, however, which alluded to Flemish vanitas still lifes, here Chew samples cartoons and other pop-cultural subjects, including several references to popular hip-hop dances. In Made in America (2021), for instance, Bart Simpson (from The Simpsons, 1989–ongoing) is in a supermarket with a shopping cart loaded with a bottle of ketchup and a box of mashed potatoes – each element (the shopping cart, the ketchup, the mashed potatoes and Bart himself) recalls the name of a different dance move. Adding a performative and interactive dimension, Chew filmed his friends and family dancing the moves denoted in each painting; by downloading an app, visitors can watch them dancing on the works in augmented reality.

Sahar Khoury Untitled (Lola sitting on walnut rug slab in window), 2021
Sahar Khoury, Untitled (Lola sitting on walnut rug slab in window), 2021, stoneware, aluminium, cement, polystyrene, powder-coated steel and rug remnants, 76 × 51 × 45 cm. Courtesy: © the artist and Rebecca Camacho Presents, San Francisco; photograph: Robert Divers Herrick

Sahar Khoury

Rebecca Camacho Presents

15 January – 18 February

East Bay artist Sahar Khoury continues to surprise with her use of materials in ‘Orchard’ – her latest outing at Rebecca Camacho Presents. Last time I fell in love with a Khoury piece, she had worked her own leather belts into a sensual ceramic form (Untitled [yellow blue green spots with brown and black belts], 2020). This time, in a meditation on nature, the artist has combined walnut and apple wood from the trees in her Oakland garden with metal, ceramic and papier-mâché to create what the press release describes as ‘two- and three-dimensional landscape constructions’, resembling theatrical stage-set maquettes. By incorporating her daily life into her work – re-creating a segment of her home in Untitled (upper left corner of our living room rug) (2021), for instance, or depicting her cat in Untitled (Lola sitting on a walnut rug slab in window) (2021) – for Khoury, all the world’s a stage.

One Beach Plastic Unaccountable Proclivities 2021
One Beach Plastic, Unaccountable Proclivities, 2021, plastic collected at Kehoe Beach and ceramic dishware, dimensions variable. Courtesy: © the artists and FOR-SITE; photograph: Robert Divers Herrick

‘Land’s End’

FOR-SITE Foundation

27 November 2021 – 27 March 2022

Land’s End is the name of the rocky, shoreline park in San Francisco that begins at the mouth of the Golden Gate Bridge, within the Golden State National Recreation Area. The area famously witnessed numerous shipwrecks and is home to the historic ruins of the Sutro Baths – a public saltwater swimming pool that burned down in 1966. It also shares its name with the title of an ambitious exhibition on the theme of climate change. Showcased in the empty Cliff House restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean – now permanently closed due to COVID-19 – ‘Land’s End’ presents works by 26 international artists who activate the kitchen, bar spaces, dining rooms and back rooms of the former landmark eatery. Carsten Höller’s playful pink polyurethane Octopus (2014) looks like it has just crawled out of a suburban kiddie pool, while for here or to go (2021) by One Beach Plastic (Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang) sees a collection of plastic detritus salvaged from Kehoe Beach served up on white ceramic plates as a tragic, environmental-crisis buffet. Ana Teresa Fernandez’s On the Horizon (2021) is a portentous installation, comprising 16 cylindrical pillars filled with water from the Pacific Ocean, which demonstrates how sea levels are expected to rise by at least two metres within the next century. A threatening, if beautiful, elegy to the effects of global warming.

Chris Martin, P.S. Don't Look Back, 2021
Chris Martin, P.S. DONT LOOK BACK, 2021, fabric and aluminum, 6 × 2.4 m. Courtesy: © the artist and ICA San Francisco

Chris Martin

Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco

19 January – 22 April 

In advance of its official opening in autumn 2022, the new Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICASF) presents ‘Meantime’, a series of temporary programmes. For its first iteration, ICASF presents Ancient as Time (2022), a newly commissioned installation by Oakland-based tattoo and textile artist Chris Martin, inside the unfinished building of the museum. For his first institutional solo project, Martin culls from folk and outsider art traditions to create 16 large-scale, black and white tapestries detailing nautical motifs. Here, images of mermaids and sea creatures inspired by traditional tattoo designs are re-coded to reflect the history and stories of African Americans. The main entrance showcases an installation of large, soft sculptures of bold and unapologetic expressions, such as ‘BLOOD FOR FORGIVENESS’. By stepping into Martin’s messaging, the ICASF hopes to signal the ethos of its new mission according to its website: ‘To push the art world and current artistic canon to be more expansive.’ 

Livien Yin, After Washerwoman's Lagoon, 2021
Livien Yin, After Washerwoman’s Lagoon, 2021, acrylic on cotton canvas, 2.1 × 1.5 m. Courtesy: © the artist and Friends Indeed Gallery

Livien Yin

Friends Indeed

18 January – 25 February

In 2021, for their first exhibition at Friends Indeed, Yin created fictionalized portraits inspired by the secret experiences of ‘paper sons and daughters’: Chinese immigrants who became US citizens by obtaining forged documents that stated they were relatives of Chinese Americans. The series, titled ‘Paper Suns’ (2020–ongoing), is also the subject of Yin’s latest solo show at the gallery, ‘Ka-la-fo-ne-a’, albeit with a specific focus on Chinese women who stayed in the US following the 1875 Page Act – which effectively blocked the immigration of women from any East Asian country on the basis of suspected prostitution. In these intimate scenes – nude women hanging out at a lake in After Washerwoman’s Lagoon (2021), for instance – Yin depicts gentle images of female friendship to subvert the objectification of Asian women.

Catherine Wagner, Spatial Verbs, 2021
Catherine Wagner, Spatial Verbs, 2021, set of nine photogravures printed in blue on gampi paper chine collé, 74 × 69 cm. Courtesy: © the artist and Crown Point Press

Catherine Wagner

Crown Point Press

18 January – 25 February

Founded by American master printmaker Kathan Brown in 1962, Crown Point Press is not only a fine-arts printing press that collaborates intimately with world-renowned artists, but it is also an exhibition space just a stone’s throw away from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Passionate about collective history and architecture, Catherine Wagner is known for her photographic studies of inanimate objects. For her new series of photogravures at Crown Point, the artist used small blocks of wood as her subjects, photographing them in a purpose-built studio she had created in the space. The resulting works – a nine-panel print, five diptychs and three large-scale images, all produced using the exact same shade of blue found in architectural blueprints – draw on Wagner’s habitual photographic modalities to investigate light and time.

Main image: Livien Yin, Suey, 2020, gouache on paper, 33 × 23 cm. Courtesy: © the artist and Friends Indeed Gallery

Natasha Boas Ph.D. is an independent curator and scholar based in San Francisco, USA, and Paris, France. She is currently working with London-based artist Zineb Sedira, who is representing France at the Venice Biennale 2022.