The pouring rain and freezing temperatures (by Bay Area standards) gave way to blue skies and sun just in time for UNTITLED, ART’s VIP preview in San Francisco this week. This year marks the fourth edition of the fair—which clearly reflects its geographical position in the country’s tech epicenter - new strategic partnerships include a $10,000 booth prize sponsored by eBay and a new commission presented by the Facebook Art Department.
With around 60 international galleries and nonprofit arts organizations, from 12 countries and over 20 cities, this year’s UNTITLED, ART San Francisco is the most international—and arguably most compelling—show to date. “As a city known for its ethos of innovation and entrepreneurship, set against the backdrop of important social and cultural legacies, this edition of the fair brings together younger artists creating work in diverse media and speaking to a range of contemporary issues, paired with historically important artists who were harbingers of change and new ideas in the 20th century,” UNTITLED, ART’s Executive Director, Manuela Mozo says.
We certainly observed a wide array of stunning artwork conveying a rich assortment of themes pertinent to today. Here are five galleries in particular we were thrilled to see at this year’s UNTITLED, ART San Francisco. Their cutting-edge exhibitions take a unique and critical approach to issues surrounding identity and politics.
GEARY CONTEMPORARY, NEW YORK
Jack Geary started Geary Gallery with his wife seven years ago in New York City. The program, which is a relatively small one, emerged from their strong interest in materiality and texture. At UNTITLED, Geary’s booth is a solo presentation of work by Brooklyn-based artist Johannah Herr. Herr’s colorful and shimmering work, that draws you in like a moth to a flame, tackles themes of military, politics, and capitalism. Her Patented Distraction series is based on Directed-Energy weapons—a type of weapon used by the U.S. police and military, mostly for crowd control. They blast perpetrators with a wave of energy, somewhat like a taser. The works, which are all made of hand-cut vinyl used for commercial signage, reference the relationship between the sort of weaponry used to control the masses and the pervasive way that ideology works to influence people in society.
In Redaction Order 13767 Herr creates a redaction poem of Executive Order #13767 (Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements) to generate an alternative narrative. Omitting certain text in the original order signifies a form of resistance to the Trump administration’s immigration policies and attitudes. Herr, who was in attendance at the show, describes how her maximalist, saturated visuals are a tool. “I make something as seductive as possible in order to draw you in,” she says, “and then subvert the conceptual aspect of it—you’re already enjoying the work, and therefore, implicating yourself in the power structures that I’m exposing before you even realize what it is that you’re looking at.”
LUIS DE JESUS, LOS ANGELES
Luis De Jesus founded his L.A.-based gallery in 2010 with a fairly broad and inclusive program at its core. “We represent artists across the board—female, male, transgender, as well as artists of all races—we think of our program as focused on social and political issues,” says dealer De Jesus. His booth at UNTITLED showcases the work of artists Peter Williams, June Edmonds, and Ken Gonzales-Day. Williams, who is almost 70-years-old, has been conveying the challenges of being a Black American in the U.S. through his paintings for more than 40 years. While Williams’ works are representational, Edmonds’ vibrant paintings on display are abstract, emerging out of her meditation practice and the exploration of her West African heritage. This is the first time that both artists’ works are being shown in San Francisco.
Displayed on the opposite wall is Ken Gonzales-Day’s haunting Erased Lynching series, where the well-known conceptual photographer investigates California’s dark history of lynchings through images found in historical archives. Through his research (which earned him a Pulitzer Prize), the artist discovered that the majority of lynching victims in the West were Mexican or, like him, Mexican-American. In the images, or “postcards” as Gonzales-Day refers to them, the victim is erased through Photoshop, emphasizing the spectacle of the lynching and the crowd that’s gathered. “People ultimately begin to get that there’s something wrong in the images—that something’s missing,” De Jesus explained, “which is what a lot of his work deals with, the idea of missing histories.”
KRISTIN HJELLEGJERDE, LONDON & BERLIN
Dealer Eva Maria Ostendorf with colleague Hedvig Liestol in Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery's booth
Eva Maria Ostendorf is director of Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery, which her sister, Kristin, founded seven years ago in London. They now have two spaces in London and one in Berlin. The Norwegian sisters are passionate about giving young, emerging artists from all over the world a voice through exhibiting their art—with artists from Africa, the Middle East, Australia, Indonesia, America, and Europe as part of their program. At UNTITLED, Kristin Hjellegjerde’s booth showcases work from three different artists from Africa, who are all dealing with questions of identity in different ways. Nigerian artist Nengi Omuku’s large-scale painting depicts two blurred bodies, using glowing, fiery colors. Through her work, she aims to free the body from its physical form, illustrating the way we view our emotional and spiritual states in a new light. Omuku paints on Nigerian hand-made silk, which the artist explained to Ostendorf as being “men’s work” in Nigeria, subverting traditional gender roles.
Also from Nigeria, artist Gerald Chukwuma's new lithograph painting series Naked Truth was inspired by his great aunt’s 1966 novel Efuru , which encapsulates the challenges facing women in a post-colonial world. The booth’s third artist, Ephrem Solomon, deals with themes of mankind’s relationship to nature and the environment in his work. Discussing his new Earth series the Ethiopian artist said, “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
DIANE ROSENSTEIN, LOS ANGELES
Located in Hollywood, L.A., Diane Rosenstein Gallery represents emerging and mid-career artists who work across all media. “I will show artists who have been exhibiting for 60 years or give artists their first show, it just depends on their outlook. I work with artists who have unique visions and voices,” says Rosenstein. Her four-artist booth at UNTITLED exhibits the work of artists who all have ties to the Bay Area: Farrah Karapetian, KATSU, Jay Kvapil, and Dan Miller. Born in Marin County, Karapetian has a whole installation of “camera-less” photography, or sculptural negatives transitioning to their exposure. Graffiti artist KATSU, who’s based in San Francisco, is a pioneer of painting with drones, and his drone portrait series exhibited conjures up Pop Art imagery. Kvapil’s intensely colored and complexly textured ceramics are on display, as are abstract paintings by Outsider artist Dan Miller who’s part of the Creative Growth Program in Oakland (a non-profit that serves artists with developmental, intellectual, and physical disabilities). “We are showing four different artists who approach art-making from four very experimental points of view. Each of these artists is working with very traditional forms of making art but turning them inside out,” says Rosenstein.
NIGHT GALLERY, LOS ANGELES
Based in downtown L.A., Night Gallery (whose name references the late-night hours they used to operate) is celebrating their ten year anniversary this year. Founded by photographer Davida Nemeroff as a “post-studio space,” the gallery has continually pushed conventional art world boundaries through the emerging and mid-career artists that they showcase and collaborate with. At UNTITLED, their booth is a solo presentation of work by L.A.-based artist JPW3 (a.k.a. John Patrick Walsh III), who’s well-known for engaging with banal found objects and fabricated materials through both painting and sculpture. His practice includes scavenging and collecting very disparate materials which he recycles back into his artworks. Alongside several UV-printed, silver foil aluminum works on display are metal shopping cart sculptures filled with lush, thriving greenery. JPW3’s studio in L.A. is next to a recycling center that’s frequently visited by members of the homeless community discarding shopping carts. In an effort to repurpose the carts into something positive for the community, JPW3 began turning them into sites for edible gardens. The Food 4 Less series is also part of a performance piece taking place at UNTITLED, which centers around the artist’s same material fascinations.
If you're in San Francisco this weekend UNTITLED, ART continues until Sunday. Full details on the UNTITLED, ART site here. And take a look at the art from the galleries at UNTITLED, ART in the module below.