On the Wall

Our critics weigh in on local art.

For complete, up-to-date East Bay art listings, look under Billboard on the home page for the “Select Category” pulldown, then select “Art Galleries” or “Museums.”

Acting Out: Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore — For centuries, no one questioned why all the great artists were men. It was not until the 1970s that feminist art historians began a decades-long effort to give women artists some of the attention they were historically denied. Some devoted their efforts to unearthing forgotten or misplaced women artists. Others have taken a more radical path, arguing that we need to look at art, artists, and artmaking differently, to challenge built-in biases in art history and criticism. This Surrealist photography show reflects both of these struggles and tells the story of a lifelong partnership and artistic collaboration between two women whose work has only recently resurfaced. Cahun and Moore met and fell in love as schoolgirls. Between 1920 and 1937, the couple produced hundreds of photographs of Cahun. In some, she experiments with androgyny; in others, she interprets literary or historical male and female roles. The irony is that while one forgotten artist has been celebrated, the other has been left out of the picture. Someone else actually took these photos, Moore, and she was Cahun’s lover. The current exhibit presents these photographs as products of a collaborative process and as an extension of performance art, which captivated the two women from the start of their relationship. — B.K. (Through July 31 at the Judah L. Magnes Museum; Magnes.org or 510-549-6950.)

The Chess Set — Four thousand dollars for a crying ceramic unicorn head on top of a huge chess piece? Come on. Sculptor Jane Grimm fuels disdain for public art with sixteen human-size ceramic chess pieces that try to take advantage of the boring, gray-tiled lobby of the Oakland Museum of California at City Center Sculpture Court. — D2 (Through August 10 at 1111 Broadway, Oakland; 510-238-2200.)

Currents — Nestled across Frank H. Ogawa Plaza from Oakland’s City Hall is the nonprofit Oakland Art Gallery and 26 selected pieces by the winners of its annual juried open-call exhibition. Guest curator Rosamund Felsen picked nine artists from a group of three hundred entrants; quirky installations and photorealism get the most space. — D2 (Through June 30 at 199 Kahn’s Alley, Oakland; 510-637-0395.)

Guilt Free Zone — Longtime Paulson Press collaborator and Berkeley artist Squeak Carnwath presents 56 busy, patterned, cryptic paintings from two decades of work at Paulson’s gallery in Berkeley. Among the most representative, Good Luck starts with loosely shaped and colored bricks in 27-foot-square watercolor overlaid by black ink line drawings of recurring visual and verbal motifs. “When you think of me, think of Rembrandt; a little light and lot of darkness,” she writes in several pieces next to crudely drawn outlines of hands and bunnies. It’s as though one of Berkeley’s more troubled street people had mastered her psychoses and channeled fears about death, war, and pollution into dense, labyrinthine visual layers. “80 percent of the rivers in China cannot support fish,” says one line buried in Random Events. “Life is short even with 100 birthdays.” — D2 (Through July 16 at 1318 Tenth St., Berkeley; 510 559 2088.)

The Real World — This multiperson meditation on simulacra begins with so-so paintings of books and the like. But then the Bay Area’s Tracey Snelling hijacks the exhibit and plunges it into desperate San Pablo corridors and seedy desert motel rooms, all done in miniature. Snelling’s TV Room offers all the amenities of an iconic hellhole motel: dingy double bed, water-stained wallpaper, dreary drapes, chipped brown dresser with a 27-inch TV playing crappy cable, and that damned Gideon Bible. Occupying maybe one cubic foot including the micro-DVD player, TV Room is so awfully real that even photos taken from inside the model and magnified eight times are indistinguishable from the real. So now we have an enlargement from a photo of a model of a motel room that doesn’t really exist, and yet the platonic rottenness of it all still holds. That’s some inventive simulacra, baby. — D2 (Through July 16; 1060 Heinz Ave., Berkeley; 510-549-2977.)

Sculpture by Bruce Beasley: A 45-Year Retrospective — It takes guts to be Bruce Beasley. Three years ago, the Oakland-based sculptor created Vitality, the monumental abstract sculpture that sits atop the fountain at Frank Ogawa Plaza downtown. While it may not be the artistic pinnacle of his career, to most Oaklanders, Vitality is an introduction to his artistry and temerity. Now a retrospective at the Oakland Museum offers the curious a chance to gain greater insight into the career of this gifted man who adopted West Oakland as his home more than four decades ago. — B.K. (Through July 31 at the Oakland Museum; MuseumCA.org or 510-238-2200.)

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