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Saturday, July 20, 2024

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ArtArt ReviewPancakes, party favors, and animatronic wolves? 'Fantastico'!

Pancakes, party favors, and animatronic wolves? ‘Fantastico’!

At Casemore Gallery, Lindsey White uses sparkling humor and magic to plumb deeper issues of local artmaking.

A pancake breakfast set the stage for a joyous opening at Casemore Gallery on the occasion of Bay Area-based artist Lindsey White’s solo exhibition, Fantastico! (through August 24). Checker-board table cloths and yellow apron-clad servers dished out all the fixings with added flair next to a looped video of children racing down the stairs as John Candy’s character in Uncle Buck flips an absurdly large pancake over and over and over again. The first floor of Minnesota Street Projects was enlivened with the Bay Area arts community nibbling, swapping stories, and remarking on how more openings should be breakfast-related. Like the liveliness crafted by this community-centric gesture, the exhibition elicits a bright, colorful, and energetic celebration of local arts, while also providing a space to discuss what it means to make that art during this transitional time in the Bay Area. 

The exhibition title pays homage to the beloved party supply store on 6th Street that shuttered its doors after over 60 years of dazzling San Francisco with aisles and aisles overloaded with magic and favors, a reflection of the vibrant community it served. Similarly, the exhibition also contends with the heart-wrenching loss of the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), expanding upon the themes in White’s recent book What? Is? Art?, published by Colpa Press. White was Associate Professor and Photography Department Chair, among other roles, during her over ten-year tenure at SFAI. The book pairs anonymous excerpts from professors sharing their experience in art academia with her photographs of SFAI’s campus after its closure. With all this change afoot in recent years, one could ruminate on these losses and the challenges of arts education, but instead, White curtails the catastrophizing impulse by delivering what we all need to think critically about the future of making art in this community: a belly laugh.  

Lindsey White, ‘MANPLOW,’ 2024. Snow shovel, enamel paint

White is no stranger to the subversive power of humor, which has been a staple in her work, and Fantastico! is no exception. Sinatra’s “My Way” emanates from the gallery, luring the viewer into the exhibition only to realize that the dulcet melody is being belted out by an animatronic wolf sculpture: I did it my way. The unexpected performer cuts through the heaviness of the lyrics, allowing viewers to digest and reflect on this sculpture, singing a poignant yet triumphant coda for these cultural institutions.  

Naysayers, as they are collectively called, have appeared in different forms in White’s work and, as their title denotes, have a habit of speaking out. Here, they take the form of three cartoonish blue bloodhounds, bearing pro-labor messaging on small signs held in their mouths. Scattered in covert nooks throughout the gallery, these impish figurines, resembling the mythological fates, share insight into a means of shaping one’s destiny as an arts worker: “Union Strong,” “Promote Yourself,” “NDAS.” The advocacy already underway in the Bay Area is reflected in the bloodhounds’ personality: an unrelenting drive to track their goal and a bark to warn their people of danger. 

Lindsey White, “Naysayers (Promote Yourself),” 2024. Resin, enamel paint, wood

You Say You’re Unsatisfied How Could You? expands upon the complexities of working in arts academia. A star-shaped cut from a mirror reveals an 80s-style glass-blocked window. A torn paper perimeter sits inside the window, revealing what appears to be a utility bill with hand-scribed numbers and dollar signs. The piece is enclosed by a bright yellow frame with the words  “You Say You’re Unsatisfied How Could You?” painted around the corners of the frame. As the piece is hung, one’s face is obfuscated by the layered holes in the glass, as if the hole sat atop one’s shoulders, generating empathy for the hands budgeting their livelihood and the weight carried with this responsibility. The depth developed in this work speaks to the situation of many arts educators. In What? Is? Art? it is evident that there is a shared passion for teaching, yet there is a lack of support and value of this labor in the economics of higher education. 

Lindsey White, ‘Fantastico’ installation view at Casemore Gallery.

Family portrait places the viewer in another scenario, again using a mirror to put oneself inside the work. Nine photographs from What? Is? Art? Sit inside cut-outs of the mirror, resembling a vintage photo album. The imagery, though devoid of people, captures the vibrant matter left behind on the SFAI campus: the hands that shaped the earnest smile of the ceramic sculpture, the buckets that carry traces of many splatters, the chair’s worn leather from so many backs leaned against it. All of these physical moments of touch, play, maintenance, and creativity become an index of the people who occupied this special place.        

The bittersweet complexities of an ever-evolving community landscape are present in the work and reflect the people who continue contributing to it. White’s work in the exhibition bridges challenging topics via the disarming nature of humor while facilitating productive conversations about the state of higher arts education and the community within and around these institutions. Although these spaces are shifting in the Bay Area, it is clear from the packed tables and buzzing conversations that the community is present and poised to harness the opportunities that accompany change. And what better way to mull over our next move than pancakes? 

LINDSEY WHITE: FANTASTICOthrough August 24 at Casemore Gallery, SF. More info here.

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