What’s New in East Bay Art

Our critics weigh in on local art.

Art by Jordan Mello and Gretchen Grasshoff from Insomnia at the Boontling Gallery.

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.”

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.)

Insomnia — Paint fumes and exhaustion pump up the hallucinatory work in the Boontling Gallery’s latest collaboration experiment. Thirteen young, unknown Bay Area artists were given cheap paints, Miller Light, coffee, and five hours from midnight to 5 a.m. on July 6 to decorate the gallery’s tiny eight-by-ten-foot space. Fortunately, the hole lacked any ventilation, so by 3 a.m. all the spray paint and mistint acrylic fumes had shut down the rational parts of most contributors’ brains. Ideas began to flow. Jordan Mello and Gretchen Grasshoff’s anthropomorphic earthworms became cartoonishly perverse, while John Nagel’s heavy-lined, heavy-lidded politician portrait emerged revolting and yet engaging. The sheer density of styles and subjects is overwhelming, so it’s the little predawn touches — delicate snow-covered-trees, maniacal baby heads — that emerge last and are the most rewarding experimental result. Breakdown art, from the moment before total collapse. It promises pure symbols past the art-school pretense. — D2 (Through August 7 at 4224 Telegraph Ave., Oakland; 707-980-1060.)

New Works on Site — Think big: bright colors, iconic forms, iPod posters. Now spin that through the minds of two Oakland-obsessed artists who work together as Justin Artifice and you have 21 Grand’s latest New Works. Oh, and Steve Lambert does some nice stuff about Lawrence Livermore Lab, too. It’s just that Justin Artifice always upstages. Last winter, J.A.’s Geoff Dorn and Tim Martinez painted Sunrise Over Oakland, a twenty-foot-tall photorealist multicolored portscape that seared the Richmond Arts Center with orange and green. This time, their consistent, clear eye strips the city of everything but the jalopy junk trucks that buzz around with axles bent under cardboard, junk, and metal. Photorealist jalopy outlines get the blow-up treatment onto ten-foot-wide canvases of Tyvek wrapped around the gallery. Huge, charged swaths of commie red, sunny yellow, and cartoon blue just outdazzle Lambert’s delicate protest work. Leave the exhibit, and the trucks are all you notice around town. — D2 (Reception August 5. Through August 14 at 416 25th St., Oakland; 510-444-7263.)