The concept behind Collective Stories, the current show at Mercury 20 (475 25th St., Oakland), is simple. It’s a group show featuring small, affordable works by seventeen of the twenty artists that collectively own the space. Each participant is presenting a handful of pieces accompanied by a personal statement of reflection that reveals the inspiration behind his or her practice, or an anecdote that’s meaningful to his or her artistic identity. The selection represents the space’s communal character, with snippets of personal stories coming together to form a dynamic narrative and display. Of course, the salon-style show also functions as an art boutique for holiday shopping.
Some of the most stunning work in Collective Stories comes from Italy-raised artist Carlo Fantin, who intricately hand-cuts portraits out of black construction paper. In his series, he portrays saint-like female figures surrounded by Catholic iconography and social media symbols, suggestively conflating internet use and religious worship. With expert manipulation of negative space, Fantin cuts the paper into a net of interconnected diamonds that vary in tightness to reveal form, like a re-imagined stained-glass window.
Nick Dong’s work also stands out, partly because he brought the largest contribution to the show, with a composition of 28 enamel-covered graphite sketches. To create the dainty pieces, he archived his drawings under several layers of molten-hot glass that hardened into a smooth, enamel surface. Each drawing-turned-sculpture takes the shape of an antique frame, evoking old family portraits holding murky memories and captured moments. Most of Dong’s usual work is bold, reflective metal sculpture that accentuates form rather than figure. (“En-lightening,” his dazzling, immersive meditation simulator was installed at the gallery this past April, and more recently at Art Silicon Valley.) Although these small works aren’t nearly as eye-grabbing, they offer a more immediately personal connection to the artist.
Ruth Tabancay’s unconventional embroideries also offer subtle intrigue. For her “What Linens Know” series, she embroidered white vintage doilies, handkerchiefs, and tablecloths with coffee mug stains, wine spills, fallen flower petals, and chicken bones. The intention was to memorialize the actual uses of the decorative cloth, which her mother used to make at home, revealing its utilitarian history. In doing so, Tabancay dismantles the distinction between ornamentation and stain, finding the pleasing quality in accidental remnants of household life.
At the end of the show’s run, Mercury 20 will be also be giving away original pieces by East Bay artists Julie Alvarado, Joanna Salska, Fernando Reyes, and Eric Bohr. Anyone who visits the gallery while the show is up can request a raffle ticket. Those who purchase art will receive five tickets. Other artists include Jo Ann Biagini, Kathleen King, Jill McLennan, PK Frizzell, KC Rosenberg, Charlie Milgrim, Mary Curtis Ratcliff, Leah Markos, Kerry Vander Meer, and Jann Nunn.
Free. Through Jan. 24. MercuryTwenty.com