Art Looks

SOMArts show kicks off Dia de los Muertos season

SOMArts Day of the Dead 2017 model Carrie Love, photo by Rio Yañez.

ART LOOKS San Francisco takes its Day of the Dead seriously — it’s a sacred moment —  but, in the spirit of the magical holiday that pierces the veil between worlds, we also approach it playfully and full of commemorative verve.

This year, the Memorial & Migration: Day of the Dead exhibit, opening October 18 at the Oakland Museum, includes a tribute to Ghost Ship victims. The fabulous and family-friendly Dia de los Muertos Community Concert at the SF Symphony, November 5 — featuring ensemble La Santa Cecilia and all-female mariachi band Mariachi Flor de Toloache —  brings together spectacular music with colorful decor.

And of course there’s the big Dia de los Muertos procession in the Mission, Wednesday, November 2, beginning at 7pm at Bryant and 22nd Street.

Papel picado installation by Victor-Mario Zaballa

But the annual tradition that kick is all off is the SOMArts extravaganza of artist-made offrenda, plus music, food, poetry, and more. (It’s not for nothing that it won a 2016 Best of the Bay Editor’s Pick.)  This year’s exhibit is entitled “Remembrance and Resistance,” “merging traditional Mexican altars with contemporary art installations, the exhibition presents a superabundant array of perspectives remembering, honoring, and celebrating the dead. Inspired by cherished relationships, current events, and personal and collective histories, more than 25 altars by over 50 participating Día de los Muertos artists build a dense environment of creativity that creates space for meaningful reflection and community engagement.”

This year includes a special tribute to activist and arts booster Ebonny McKinney, who passed away this year, among the colorful and thought-provoking alters and installation. The show, not in its 18th year, will again be curated by arts legend Rene Yáñez and his son Rio. 

It all opens this Fri/6 with a must-attend party, 6pm-9pm, $12-$15 at SOMArts Gallery. This is one of my favorite parties of the year, bursting with local artists and fun, not to mention some sharp social commentary. Pretty sure there will be killer tamales there, too. 

Press release below: 

SOMArts Cultural Center Presents
18th annual Day of the Dead Exhibition celebrates the life of Bay Area arts advocate Ebonny McKinney and all those who dare to dream
October 6–November 9, 2017
Exhibition and programming curated by René and Rio Yañez

Now in its 18th year, the annual Day of the Dead exhibition at SOMArts Cultural Center offers one of the most internationally diverse Día de los Muertos celebrations in the United States. Merging traditional Mexican altars with contemporary art installations, the exhibition presents an incredibly wide array of perspectives remembering, honoring, and celebrating the dead. Inspired by cherished relationships, current events, and personal and collective histories, more than 25 altars by over 60 participating Día de los Muertos artists build a dense environment of creativity that creates space for meaningful reflection and community engagement. 

Chosen by father and son curators René & Rio Yañez, this year’s theme, Remembrance and Resistance emphasizes the importance of mourning in the context of resistance struggles. In the Trump era, the intense focus on political resistance can overshadow the need for collective mourning. Since its inception, Day of the Dead at SOMArts has offered a space for community reflection and remembrance, refusing to forget those who have been lost to police brutality, gentrification and displacement, and environmental destruction. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to honor the dead and reflect on their legacies. What can the lives of our ancestors teach us about resistance and creativity in the current political climate? 

Remembrance and Resistance is dedicated to San Francisco activist Ebony McKinney, known by many for her tireless advocacy to advance equity in the arts through her work with the San Francisco Arts Commission and as co-founder of Arts for a Better Bay Area (ABBA) advocacy group. The exhibition is also dedicated to the generation of Americans known as Dreamers — To young people everywhere who are threatened by Trump administration policies, the exhibition will assert, “You are welcome here.” 

The exhibition unveiling, Friday, October 6, 6:00–9:00 pm, $12–15 sliding scale admission, features music by San Francisco-based Caribbean fusion band LA GENTE and multi-disciplinary performance from the all-female dance group La Mezcla.

Exhibition highlights include painter and printmaker Xavier Viramontes who will contribute silkscreen prints from his “American Hero” series that highlight the invaluable contributions of immigrants to American culture. 

Staff members from the San Francisco Arts Commission and SF Grants for the Arts will memorialize their beloved colleague Ebony McKinney with an altar, providing community members an opportunity to hear Ebony describe in her own words why the arts are so vital to building a society that works for all. 

Highlighting the appropriation of Day of the Dead and Latinx culture to examine the gentrification of the Mission District, artist Ani Rivero Rossi will create a tableau of Día de los Muertos Barbie dolls. Artists Francis Li and Mark Hellar’s interactive installation will encourage visitors to contribute their own photos to create a digital mosaic portrait of contemporary and historic resistance leaders. 

The Black Woman is God co-curators Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green will create an altar honoring the contributions of Black women as social change-makers, artists and activists throughout history. 

Additional programming includes a Mission Salon dedicated to the cultural diversity of the Mission District on Friday, October 20, 6:00–9:00 pm curated by David Kubrin and featuring San Francisco poet laureate Kim Shuck, and the ticketed closing night party Thursday, November 9, 6:00–9:00 pm.

Remembrance and Resistance: Día de los Muertos 2017 Exhibition
Friday, October 6–Thursday, November 9, 2017
Gallery Hours: Tuesday–Friday 12–7pm, Saturday 11am–5pm and Sunday 11am–3pm
Free admission during gallery hours

Opening Event
Friday, October 6, 6–9pm
$12–15 sliding scale admission
Exhibition unveiling features a Día de los Muertos inspired artist market and music by LA GENTE. 

Mission Salon
Friday, October 20, 6–9pm
$12–$15, no one turned away for lack of funds
Experience the cultural vibrancy of the Mission District with an interactive salon curated by David Kubrin and featuring San Francisco poet laureate Kim Shuck. Performances by Trio Cambio, Los Nadies, Josue Rojas, and Musical Art Quintet. 

Closing Event
Thursday, November 9, 6–9pm
$7–10 sliding scale admission
The final opportunity to view and interact with the altars features live music by Candelaria and interactive installations.

Rene Yáñez, founder and former Artistic Director of San Francisco’s Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District, was one of the first curators to introduce the contemporary concept of Mexico’s Day of the Dead to the United States with a 1972 exhibition at the Galería. Each subsequent year he curated a Day of the Dead exhibition either at the Galería or at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. Then, in 1994 and 1998, he curated Rooms for the Dead and Labyrinth for the Dead at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. His first year curating a Day of the Dead exhibit at SOMArts Cultural Center was 1993. 

Active as both a visual and performing arts curator and artist, as well as an outspoken activist, Yáñez co-founded the successful Chicano performance trio Culture Clash. In 1998, he received the “Special Trustees Award in Cultural Leadership” from The San Francisco Foundation for his long-standing contribution to the cultural life of the Bay Area. In 2017, Yañez was the recipient of the Douglas G. MacAgy Distinguished Achievement Award from the San Francisco Art Institute for his leadership in the Bay Area arts community.

Yáñez has curated numerous exhibitions including Chicano Visions (2001–2007), an exhibition hosted by museums such as the de Young Museum (in San Francisco), El Paso Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Notable recent projects include programming produced for the de Young Museum’s Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National and The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. This programming featured Yáñez’ interpretations of the works of Pablo Picasso in anaglyph 3D, as well as a fashion runway show Viva Frida: From the Blue House to the Catwalk.

In 2009, 2011, and 2012, Yáñez created a living altar for the San Francisco Symphony’s Day of the Dead concert featuring a large cast, crew, and suite of musicians, curated Four Juan Five, an exhibition about the San Francisco Mission District at Alley Cat Books, and performed in Guillermo Gomez-Peña’s Corpo Illicito at the New Performance Gallery in San Francisco.

In 2014 Yáñez printed a popular zine, Zine a la Mode over a Pot of Coffee, with a circulation of over 800 copies. His recent work includes a collaboration with artist Patrick Piazza for an installation on the De-Appropriation wall on Valencia street, an exhibit with the S.F. Print Collective about displacement, and Las Chicas de Esta Noche, a drag queen review show at the de Young Museum in collaboration with comedian Marga Gomez. With his collective The Great Tortilla Conspiracy he has participated in art events benefitting the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and the St. Peters Dining Hall.

Rio Yañez, born and raised in San Francisco, is a curator, photographer, activist and graphic artist. As an artist he has exhibited his work from San Francisco to Tokyo and created artwork installations for Jean Paul Gaultier’s touring exhibit The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk. His Bay Area solo exhibitions include Pocho Adventure Club at Galería de la Raza in San Francisco, Cholas to Picasso: The 3D Artworks of Rio Yañez at Asterisk Gallery, Bubblegum Crisis at Ginger Rubio Salon and Pochos & Pixels at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Multicultural Center.

Yañez is a curator of more than 10 exhibitions. As with his curatorial work, a part of Yañez’ visual art practice is dedicated to exploring how Chicano and Asian Youth have used social media to exchange aesthetics and language. In addition to creating graphic art, Yañez is a founding member of The Great Tortilla Conspiracy, the world’s first and only tortilla art collective. As a tortilla artist he silkscreens art and political graphics onto tortillas using edible inks and serves them to eat to the public as interventionist performance art. Yañez’ recent projects include self-publishing board games designed around Chicano pop culture icons and a collaborative series of portraits with activist and performer April Flores.

SOMArts Cultural Center, founded in 1979, leverages the power of art as a tool for social change through multi-disciplinary events and exhibitions. Equipping artists with the space, mentorship and support they need to shift perspectives and innovate solutions, SOMArts fosters access to arts and culture for collective liberation and self-determination.

SOMArts plays a vital role in the arts ecosystem by helping activate the arts citywide. We do this by providing space and production support for non-profit events, as well as fairs and festivals throughout the Bay Area, and offering a robust program of art exhibitions, classes, events and performances that are affordable and accessible to all. SOMArts’ exhibition programs receive critical support from the San Francisco Arts Commission and The San Francisco Foundation, and are sponsored in part by a grant from Grants for the Arts.

SOMArts is located at 934 Brannan Street—between 8th and 9th—within 2 blocks of 101, I-80, Muni lines and bike paths. For public information call 415-863-1414 or visit Stay connected by following us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Wall prevail

"Family Block Party," a mural by Precita Eyes artists located in the Mission on Treat Street. Photo courtesy of Precita Eyes

With her organization’s 40th anniversary gala a few days away, Precita Eyes Muralists founder Susan Cervantes has little time to talk. Still, caught at the organization’s 24th Street storefront by a reporter’s phone call, she meticulously lists sites where one can see Precita Eyes’ murals. 

The 57-year Mission District resident mentions the piece youth artists recently completed at 24th Street and Folsom, where a play of chance sprawls across a low brick wall topped by chainlink. Cervantes says the young muralists painted lotería cards of their own invention that express their feelings about life in the vastly changed neighborhood; El Lowrider, La Tristeza, La Mano, Por Vida. 

Precita Eyes youth artists came back to this wall this summer to to create “La Cultura Cura” after their previous mural was buffed.

It’s a sweet tribute, even if you don’t know the back story, which many Bay Area news junkies do. People fought for this wall.

Earlier this summer, the building owner buffed a previous Precita Eyes youth arts mural on the site. What had once been a cautionary note to would-be gentrifiers — “Our culture can’t be bought,” in script curled around a calavera — had been erased and partially replaced with the most anodyne note possible, before the neighborhood had a chance to react. The would-be new text read, “Be a good person.”

But neighbors will have to somehow remember to be a good person on their own. What happened next demonstrates the power of these murals for Missionites and beyond.

Precita Eyes explained the situation to the building’s new owner, the fact that though this wall technically belonged to him, how it really belonged to the streets, and he agreed that they had better re-commandeer the mural space. 

To pay homage to the random rolls of destiny’s dice that had brought them back to the site, Precita Eyes’ youth artists painted the emotional lotería that you see today. “La Cultura Cura,” [“Culture Heals”] they called it. Hopefully now the message is clear; their work is to stay until further notice. 

Precita artists work on the plans for the “Veggies for the People” wall at the Tenderloin People’s Garden.

This is but one story of multitudes — between five and six hundred, by Cervantes’ count of the total murals that Precita Eyes has completed around San Francisco, the Bay Area, and the world. The group has carried out projects in China, Russia, and Spain.

The Mission is the neighborhood where Precita Eyes’ work is most evident. But in the last year the organization has coordinated a six story tribute to urban gardeners in the Tenderloin at Larkin and McAllister, a homage to local businesspeople in SF’s Lakeview neighborhood, and a graceful tableau dedicated to Latino student pride all the way on the East Coast, at Boston’s Northeastern University campus. 

With her partner Luis, Cervantes gave birth to the mural program in 1977 that continues to be a resource for property owners looking to cover their walls in art. Inspired by Patricia Rodriquez and Graciela Carillo’s Mujures Muralistas project, Precita Eyes is an expression of the thriving Chicano muralismo movement that helped defined the Mission in its previous decades. 

In the early ’80s Susan started a track for young artists when she noticed that San Francisco graffiti had evolved. Its aesthetic touch was no longer dominated by the cholo and gang tags of the Mission. Throw ups had appeared, bubble letters that betrayed the artistic capacity of their creators.

She made some inquiries and tracked down the taggers, wooed them to her idea, and convinced businesses to donate wall space so that the artists could create more permanent, legal wall art that would still assert their right to leave their mark on their streets.

Soon those youth were experimenting with the possibilities of muralismo, “taking it apart and putting it back together in their own style,” as Cervantes says. The first Precita Eyes youth mural site sprawled across a wall at the since-closed Restoration Hardware on Harrison between 23rd and 24th Streets. Soon the young painters were working up designs on roll-down shop gates and laundromats. Their collaborative creations meshed brush work and aerosol, uniting influences from generations of people who have taken to the streets with their art to be seen. 

Josue Rojas was one of these young Mission artists. In 1994 he was 15 and reeling from the death of his father when he entered into the Precita Eyes youth arts program. Today he holds a BFA and MFA in painting and serves as the executive director of Acción Latina, a community arts program and publisher of the Mission’s bilingual newspaper El Tecolote. 

The completed “Veggies for the People” mural.

He credits all this to the murals.

“Precita Eyes changed the course of my life,” Rojas tells 48 Hills in an email. “They trusted me with a wall at the back of a school playground, which was the most trust anyone had put in me. I painted that wall with all my heart. I was hooked and knew I wanted to be a painter for for the rest of my life.” 

He is not the only youth artist that has been inspired to an enduring career. Cervantes says that much of Precita Eyes’ staff got their start as a teenager in the youth arts program. Saturday’s gala auction block will be full of the work of alums. 

After decades of work, this diaspora’s efforts have helped define the landscape of the Mission District and the Bay Area. The youth-created murals are perhaps the most visible sign in the city of San Francisco’s young people, whose families are plagued now more than ever by sky high rents and attendant threats of displacement.

Like its murals, Precita Eyes has had to fight to stay in the Mission. It took a sympathetic landlord and a well-timed commission to paint the 24th Street McDonald’s to land their current space after being evicted from half of their workshop space near Precita Park. (Says Cervantes of their fast food dalliance: “I told the owner, ‘I’ve never been in a McDonald’s. My children don’t go to McDonald’s. Do you still want us to do a mural on your building?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I think it’s part of the culture. I’d like for it to be done anyway, even though you don’t patronize us.’ And I said, ‘Fine, great.’”)

When asked what the future holds for the organization, Cervantes is straightforward. “Life in the future? We’re just going to continue what we’ve been doing really well for the past 40 years.”

Rojas expounds. “Mural creation is a tradition and an integral piece of SF values. It’s imperative that Precita Eyes is around doing mural tours, restoring and maintaining existing murals — but also (equally important) still developing local talent and teaching the next generation of muralists. SF will need skilled, home-grown Mission muralists. Maybe more than we now know.”

PRECITA EYES MURALISTS 40TH ANNIVERSARY GALA Sat/30, Github SF. More info and tickets here

Capturing queer liberation’s legends and lovers

Anne Kronenberg driving newly elected Supervisor Harvey Milk in the SF LGBT Pride parade, 1978. Photo by Dan Nicoletta from 'LGBT San Francisco (Reel Art Press)

How lucky are we to have had Dan Nicoletta among us these past 40+ years? The curious 20-year-old who worked at Harvey Milk’s camera shop just as the gay rights hero was launching into politics would become a supreme chronicler of San Francisco, documenting, over four decades, the politics, nightlife, personalities, and activism that have made San Francisco so fabulous, and also so important. If it happened on the queer scene, Dan was there, snatching the moment for posterity.

Now, a stupendous new compendium of his photography — LGBT San Francisco: The Daniel Nicoletta Photographs — has just been released by Reel Art Press, and Nicoletta will be in town from his recent new home in Oregon for a Thu/24 book-signing and artist talk at the SF Public Library followed by a fabulous star-studded reception hosted by Juanita More at the War Memorial Green Room. (Another signing takes pace at the Castro’s Dog-Eared Books Sun/27).  

It’s an uncanny pleasure to flip through the 200+ beautifully laid out pages and realize just how many of these photos have become part of the city’s — and one’s own — visual DNA. Not just the perfect Harvey Milk photos, one of which became a groundbreaking US Forever Stamp in 2014, but also those of Gay Day parades and Castro Street Fairs, iconic drag queens and artists, transgender hunks and beauties, ACT-UP protestors and fierce club kids, all captured clearly and boldly in an array of photographic styles.

It’s especially striking to note that this was from a time when cameras weren’t ever-present, not to mention easily accessible with instantaneous results, and that even though many faces and moments were “made for the cameras” there was absolutely no guarantee the cameras would show up. And even though the book’s title focuses on LGBT San Francisco, the subjects — from Allen Ginsberg and Sylvester to the AIDS Quilt and the creator of the rainbow flag — reveal how much of this local history has become universal.

I spoke with Dan over the phone about the book, and how it felt to look back on his body of work in advance of his return to San Francisco. 

Club Chaos and Klubstitute float in the SFLGBT Pride Parade, June 25, 1989

48 HILLS LGBT San Francisco is 312 pages long — and I know that that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what you’ve taken and developed over the past four decades, especially with your omnivorous eye. How did you whittle everything down, and do you consider this a kind of “last will and testament of Dan’s photography.” (I certainly hope not!)  

DAN NICOLETTA Putting something like this together involved some parameters that I’m not necessarily wired for, and that’s why I was so fortunate to work with my editor, Tony Nourmand, on this. He really helped me with the shape of the book and gave me the sort of deadlines and structural suggestions that I normally wouldn’t encounter, although my pictures have been used in journalism and gallery displays. This was really Tony’s labor of love as well, and working with Reel Art Press was just wonderful.

About the pictures themselves — I like that word, omnivorous. I shoot now and think about it later, and a lot of this was that think about it later stuff. I keep moving forward, and left to my own devices I would be photographing Beltane or Foresty Camp, or something super-cool like that up here where I live now, in Grant’s Pass, Oregon.

But this project made me say, you know, you have to honor this previous work, honor the heart of your body of work. I said to myself, well, seeing as how you’re 62 and your memory is faltering, why not do it now? And someone wants to produce a beautiful book out of it! But of course I’ll continue to take pictures, and I already have another book in mind that focuses more on my studio photography. 

Harvey Milk In front of his Castro Street Camera Store, 1977

48 HILLS Your Harvey Milk photos are already part of national history, but I think one of the thing that will immediately jump out at readers is the way, in the book, you show them juxtaposed with their direct recreations in the 2008 movie Milk, which you shot on set. Can you tell me some of the experiences of shooting those similar pictures 30 years apart, and some of the emotions it may have brought up. 

DAN NICOLETTA Regarding being on the set of the Milk movie, the courtship happened from my direction [laughs] since they had the formality of union restrictions. Phil Bray was the official Milk set photographer and he happened to be a prince. And Dustin Lance Black, the writer, wanted me there as well. 

They got me on as a “special” which meant I had five days to do an editorial exploration, but once I was there, Phil took me under his wing and taught me the ropes of how not to step on toes, and so it was this whole organic process of learning how to be both a “special” and the primary source of some of these images. There was a bit of vertigo there for everybody. But the producers were so glad that I was there, and it turned into 10 of the best weeks of my life. 

I’ll tell you a story that you’ll love, coming from the music and nightlife angle. We were shooting the scene with Sylverster singing at Harvey’s birthday, which was a complete frabrication but worked within the logic of the narrative, and captures these two really significant forces of the times. And of course Harvey organized the Castro Street Fairs that Sylvester sang at, so it really wasn’t too far off the mark.

It was in one of those ballroom settings at a hotel downtown where they filmed that. And Mark Martinez who played Sylvester was absolutely fabulous, just nailed it. He was working his magic and I was working the periphery of the room and there was something that just happened emotionally. Of all the scenes that we did, including ones that I had actually been a part of, that one just reached down into the core of my being and wrecked me emotionally. I think a big part of it was Sylvester’s music, taking it up to an incredible level of feeling.

So I went out into the hallway and had a good cry, just let it all out. Some of the costume people and film people — we had become good friends at this point — they busted me out there, and asked, are you OK? And they connected with what a powerful moment it was. Something truly magical.

Castro Street Fair, December Wright (middle) and friends, 1976.

48 HILLS Looking through the book, I was hard-pressed to name any big gay moments you hadn’t been there for. What was your method for always being there — was it just through the grapevine, or were you so constantly shooting that you didn’t miss anything? 

DAN NICOLETTA The irony of that inquiry is that I feel that the end result of the book is only a rudimentary synopsis of the gay liberation movement in San Francisco. So I actually feel it falls somewhat short of including all the wonderful people and moments I wanted to include, but the book kept growing to 200, then 250 pages and finally more than 300 so we had to call it quits at some point! Tony and the publishers were so supportive, but also like, OK, we have to stop now. 

The challenge was, how can we honor everything that happened, despite the fact that I wasn’t really that rigorous in my work. I was rigorous by way of what my peculiarities and interests were, and that’s part of the strength of the work. But I didn’t necessarily fancy myself a journalist or a historian, I fancied myself an artist, but in my own, different way. 

The most recent photo in the book is Richard Lusimbo, the very brave activist from Uganda, in 2016. And he was in San Francisco as part of a lawsuit against anti-LGBT missionaries in Uganda, and being hosted by the Rainbow World Fund. When I was in San Francisco, I called up RWF and they arranged a photography session — so there are perks of being connected in the community for 40 years [laughs].

There is one thing that I really regret not including more of in my work — just something that was growing while I was working, and so important to the shape of the movement. And that is the transgender community. I was fortunate to have captured so many fantastic transgender people over the years, from studio photography to the nightclubs and some political actions. But I just feel like I missed the transgender community in some fundamental way, and I am still pushing myself to make up for that. I also really wanted to honor intersex rights campaigners and personalities better, and that will definitely get fixed in my next, studio-based book.  

Castro Street Fair, circa 1976

48 HILLS The book certainly serves as a showcase of your artistic eye, but you also don’t shy away from telling some hard journalistic truths about the gay community. I was struck by your photos of a crystal meth pipe, for example, and of a homeless man named Stretch with a shopping cart full of recyclables, and of an empty recovery meeting room …

DAN NICOLETTA I discovered the maxim that comes from the disabled community, ‘nothing about us without us.’ The default had always been that everything in the book was from the perspective of an insider, and that was generally true of my trajectory. And so, the recovery stuff was my story. I did have the leverage of having lived through speed addiction and all of that stuff, and I knew Stretch, and just like everything else in the book it was my immediate sphere of experience. I felt really comfortable — and that it was necessary to include these issues, very strongly. 

Doris Fish in her play Blonde Sin, June 26, 1980, San Francisco

48 HILLS Of course I loved all the nightlife photos, and you captured almost everybody I can think of, from Doris Fish to Glamamore … 

DAN NICOLETTA That’s a wonderful arc, Doris Fish to Glamamore. It’s funny, because whereas I was somewhat thorough about nightclub photography, the direction was more about the theatrical in life. So whether it was a street fair or a nightclub, my natural propensity was to capture this colorful drama being presented.

A lot of the way the photos turned out were technically tied to the environment. For instance, I personally do not like direct flash photography, but what else can you do in a nightclub? And the way those photos would turn out would in turn become the “look” of the person being photographed — it’s very hard now to look back and imagine nightclubs where everyone wasn’t being hit by this direct light right in their eyes. [Laughs.] 

Another funny thing is that, a place like Club Uranus at the EndUp in the ’90s, those were my people. And yet I only shot in there once. But the pictures turned out so fantastic — that’s the kind of place that it was — that I felt I didn’t have to do it again. I was fortunate enough to get some of these folks in a studio setting as well. But the ball rolled on and you grabbed your camera and went to the clubs and parties and captured what you could. 

At some point however, especially if you take a more studio path, you have to let go of the verité approach and concentrate on studio work. That’s when you let the kids just getting off the bus to our city of Oz with big dreams grab their cameras and go out into the night, capturing that magic. 

LGBT San Francisco: The Daniel Nicoletta Photographs
Thu/24 Slideshow talk and signing at SF Public Library Main Branch, 5:30pm-7pm, free, more info here.
Thu/24 Dan Nicoletta reception at War Memorial Green Room, 7pm-10pm, free, more info here.
Sun/27 Presentation and signing at Dog-Eared Books Castro, 2pm-4pm, free, more info here.

> Need a car to get there? Rent one in your neighborhood on Getaround. Sign up today, and enjoy $50 off your first trip:[Sponsored]



Is SF done with Pocha Nostra? (Is Pocha Nostra done with SF?)

Guillermo Gómez Peña and Balitronica Gómez of Pocha Nostra are feeling increasingly drawn to connect with art and artists outside the Bay Area. Photo by Manuel Vason

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — Logistically and philosophically, being a trans-border radical performance art troupe is not simple. The Bay Area-based Pocha Nostra troupe, led by San Francisco legend Guillermo Gómez Peña, has been dealing with the financial and artistic challenges of staying relevant on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border for some time now — and it seems to be getting even more challenging lately.

Despite preparing for an upcoming “tech exorcism” performance at the Fort Mason Chapel, Fri/19, (titled, with usual Pocha exuberance, “Ex Machina 3.0: A Psychomagic Exorism Of The Tech Industry”) and a “Phantom Mariachi Durational Performance,” (Sat/20), Pocha is having some trouble keeping it together on the northern end of the equation. Luckily, there has always been life beyond the Bay for this group.

Last Thursday night in Mexico City, Pocha Nostra took over the lobby of the Museo de Arte Moderno, an undulating, multi-layered space through which the audience ambulated, taking in the works. Pocha member Saul García López lay flat on his back on the ground floor, covered in corn, depicting transgenic Aztec god Xochipilli. In the center of the lobby, Balitronica Gómez Peña mirrored López’s prone position, nude and oiled up to receive 40 acupuncture pins adorned with the paper flags of corporations the troupe saw as plunderers of Mexico. Gómez Peña intoned from an upper level, ceding the mic to Mexican performance artist Felipe Ehrenburg, whose face had been bound onstage save for his distinctive white mustache.

Xochipilli (a.k.a. Saul García López) reclines during a Pocha Nostra performance at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno. Photo by Caitlin Donohue

The thematics were Mexican, excavating the institutional sources of pain suffered throughout the country. But much of Pocha Nostra’s identity is formed thousands of miles north in San Francisco, a place where loss of community and space has marked the past year. (Galeria de la Raza, which hosted Pocha Nostra, moved the troupe out of its six-year old studio space last month, which Gómez Peña bitterly protested.)

“The main problem in this city of unbearable sameness that San Francisco has become in the past several years is that two-thirds of the critical arts and activist communities have been forced out of the city,” said Balitronica. (They’re in the middle of a fundraising campaign if you’d like to help the troupe bring its members back together for a Mexico City reunion.)

The current artistic climate in San Francisco has Pocha Nostra members thinking outside the Bay in terms of future projects. In addition to the group’s regular appearances in Europe, Canada and elsewhere, Balitronica has dreams of conducted a workshop series in red America, in the fly-over states that are nonetheless home to scattered queer, brown performance artists. All look forward to spending more time in Mexico, where Gómez Peña’s deceased parents’ house in the northern Nueva Santa María neighborhood serves as the troupe’s southern club house.

On the night of the performance at the Museo de Arte Moderno , the museum’s director Sylvia Navarette announced that in the fall of 2017 the institution will be home to Gómez Peña’s first career retrospective.

We spoke to Guillermo Gómez Peña and his partner Balitronica Gómez Peña about the geographic pulls that Pocha Nostra is currently subject to, and inquired as to their plans in case of a Trumpocalypse.

48 HILLS Balitronica’s acupuncture performance was very visceral that night at the Museo de Arte Moderno. Can you tell me about the piece’s history in the group? Does needle duty rotate among Pocha members? What version of it will you do for SF on Friday?

GUILLERMO GÓMEZ PEÑA We began working with political acupuncture in 2003 as a response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We first started working with nude Arab bodies as a metaphor for the wounded territory of the Middle East utilizing 44 needles bearing flags of the countries involved in the much touted “coalition of the willing”… Then in 2004, when the bloody territorial drug wars took Mexico by surprise, we started using flags either of the countries occupied by crime cartels in Latin America or by the states in Mexico controlled by crime cartels. This series of performances has been presented in over 20 different countries and was originally titled Mapa-Corpo or “Body Maps.”

A tray of corporate acupuncture supplies waits at La Pocha's Mexico City performance last week. Photo by Caitlin Donohue
A tray of corporate acupuncture supplies waits at La Pocha’s Mexico City performance last week. Photo by Caitlin Donohue

BALITRONICA Most recently, we have been engaged in activism against the tech industries’ displacement of the working class and bohemians of San Francisco. Our project is titled, “Technotopia 3.0.” In this version of Mapa-Corpo, I will have 43 flags inserted into my body (the symbolic number of the students murdered in Ayotzinapa); each flag bearing the logo of the most insidious tech industries in San Francisco; those responsible for turning this ex-bohemian haven into the headquarters and dormitories for the tech industry.

48 HILLS That same night, the museum of Modern Art in Mexico City announced it would host the first retrospective of Guillermo’s work. Guillermo, how does it feel to be at the stage in your career where you have a retrospective? How are you prepping for that show?

GGP It hurts! (He cracks up.) It is a pain in the ass to be considered an “elder” at 60. I hope that this doesn’t mean that my days are numbered as an artist. At the same time, I feel that it’s a victory, that the most important museum in Mexico is recognizing the contributions of performance artists to critical art discourse. Of course, my retrospective is not going to be a typical exhibit. Sylvia Navarette is one of the most adventurous museum directors in Latin America. In dialogue with her, we are planning to create participatory stations throughout the museums where audience members get to become performance artists for an hour or two. We are also exhibiting a selection of some of my most representative artworks in video and large scale photo-performance, as well as artifacts from my personal collection of props and costumes. I hope the “retrospective” is fun, provocative, and proposes a new participatory model for a contemporary art museum, a living think tank of creativity and madness.

48 HILLS In your opinion who’s gonna win the presidential election in the U.S.: If Hilary wins La Pocha Nostra will … 

BG If Hillary wins, it’s going to be business as usual in the U.S. A capitalist center right democrat with neoliberal tendencies that pays lip service to social justice and who is in cahoots with the military and financial establishments of the country. Perhaps the minimal existing funding for the arts will remain untouched and we will continue utilizing California and Mexico City as the two headquarters for our troupe, La Pocha Nostra.

48 HILLS If Trump wins Pocha will … 

GGP If Trump wins, it will be very exciting and dangerous. Here are some possible scenarios: 

The international community — governments and businesses — would boycott the US, and expel our country from international forums, summits, and world conferences. Many countries would consider [Trump] persona non-grata and forbid him to set foot in their territory. At home, there would be dissent in congress and the House of Representatives, both from Republicans and Democrats. 

In the best of all worlds, if this sci-fi scenario happens, perhaps our apathetic citizenry would wake up. The U.S. media would also have an epiphany and become a true critical moral force. Cartoonists, comedians, conceptual and public artists, independent filmmakers, satirists, and poets would have even more substantial daily material to work with. I’m already thinking of five new performance art pieces … just in case. Women, blacks, Latinos, and queers worldwide would have yet one more concrete and iconic enemy to mobilize and fight against daily. In brief, we could become a politically and artistically interesting country, not your typical dormant “consumer democracy” we have slowly become in the last years. Are we delusional? Maybe, perhaps. We’re … kidding … however …

The "El Sicario" character from Pocha Nostra's February performance in Mexico City "Posnacional: El Performance de Reencuentr." Photo courtesy Pocha Nostra
The “El Sicario” character from Pocha Nostra’s February performance in Mexico City “Posnacional: El Performance de Reencuentro.” Photo courtesy Pocha Nostra

48 HILLS We’ve spoken before about how SF audiences are jaded when it comes to performance art. What tactics do you use before Bay Area performances to make a connection?

BG The main problem in this city of unbearable sameness that San Francisco has become in the past several years is that two-thirds of the critical arts and activist communities have been forced out of the city and now more than half of our audiences are bored techies that are more interested in taking selfies with the “weird performance artists” and texting to their friends that they are actually at a La Pocha Nostra performance art piece than really paying attention and reflecting on the piece.

GGP That’s why our strategies to catch their attention have become radicalized, i.e. The Phantom Mariachi, one of La Pocha Nostra’s most recent inventions (performed by Balitronica): In early 2015 — as the “post-gentrification” era became harder and harder to ignore and more virulent than ever before — La Pocha Nostra began to think of ways to address complex issues facing our Bay Area community in performative, playful and highly visible ways. The persona of the “Phantom Mariachi” was our response. The image features a black Spandex sentai-suited “anonymous” woman (Balitronica) wearing a mariachi hat, high heels, and bearing a barcode that directs onlookers to political statements viewable online.

Other times she holds placards with statements like: “Against the erasure of complex identities, evictions, and suspicious fires.” This bold persona appears as a walking censorship bar. She silently speaks of the devastating erasure of complex identities. She is a symbolic inhabitant of past, present, and future San Francisco. The goal of this real-life super heroine is to inspire people in San Francisco and other cities undergoing similar processes of extreme gentrification to respond with creative and critical commentary to their own local issues. The Phantom Mariachi is relentless. One day you can find her at City Hall or the library taking selfies with the locals, another day she takes tourists by surprise at fisherman’s wharf or appears at a techie conference. We are currently making a film with Chicano filmmaker Gustavo Vazquez titled, “A Day in the Life of the Phantom Mariachi.”

48 HILLS The troupe has always performed on each side of the U.S.-Mexico border, in addition to locations in Europe and other places around the world. What is the main thing that Mexican audiences understand about the border and relations between the two countries that U.S. audiences have a hard time understanding?

GGP I think that Mexicans are fully aware of the U.S. all the time in a way that the Americans aren’t. Mexicans are constantly looking north through media, the Internet, and global pop. But if you browse the newscasts of the U.S. and the daily papers, you rarely find a news item connecting to Mexico. If you are lucky to find one it is always connected to violence, kidnappings, crime cartels, and drugs. Mexico has become “hell on our doorstep.” This mis-encounter of gazes, this permanent misunderstanding between the two countries is a very fertile territory for research for La Pocha. At the same time, we are fully aware that the work we do on one side of the border cannot be reproduced identically on the other side.

"La Viuda Negra" from February's "Posnacional: El Performance de Reencuentr"
“La Viuda Negra” from February’s “Posnacional: El Performance de Reencuentro.” Photo by Herani Hache. 

48 HILLS Give me an example.

BG: One of the current live art images that we have been using in the last three years is the image of a huge pig and cow carcasses from a slaughterhouse intervened by the nude bodies of Saul Garcia Lopez and Nayla Altamirano. In Mexico, the title of this piece is “Adam and Eve in Times of War.” In Mexico and other Latin American countries, audiences understand the metaphor very clearly and we have no problem presenting the performance. However, in the U.S., we haven’t found one producer or cultural institution willing to take the risk of producing such a piece. Not only are they afraid of the hardcore live imagery, but also of the extreme health and safety codes of the U.S..

48 HILLS What can we expect from Pocha Nostra for the rest of the year?

BG We will be touring in Mexico, Haiti, the United States, Lima, and Canada. It’s like the Anthony Bourdain show of performance art. Perhaps our most important immediate project is a workshop and performance that will jumpstart the upcoming Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato.

GGP Sounds exhausting que no? It’s our never-ending tour on the edges of Western civilization. Exhausting and exhilarating. That’s how we like it.

48 HILLS Tell me what you still love about San Francisco.

GGP Besides one another, we still love our dear friends and colleagues who have resisted eviction. Every month we throw a huge performance salon in our loft and it becomes a gathering place for all the survivors of the shipwreck: the small communities of sex and political radicals, aesthetic deviants, and formidable activists that used to be a majority in the city.

BG We also love the handful of dive bars that have survived the suspicious fires and the sudden rambunctious sales of the landlords.

GGP The cuisine is still some of the best in the country. Fortunately, we know many bartenders, restaurant owners, and waiters in the Mission area that respect our activist work against gentrification and who treat us like kings and queens when we are in town.

BG At the same time, it becomes harder and harder to walk the streets in city that no longer likes you.

GGP No kiddin’.

Fri/19, 8-9pm, free
Fort Mason Chapel, SF
More info here.

Incredible portraits of Cleveland

Photos by Matthew Reamer

While what’s going on inside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena continues to fascinate and mortify, it’s the crowd gathered outside the arena that yields a microcosm of contemporary America, in all its vibrant contradictions, complications, and radical styles.

Bay Area-based photographer Matthew Reamer was on the scene, using his mobile portrait studio to capture many of the colorful players. He’s just posted an amazing series on his website (captions coming soon) and featured some of the portraits on his Instagram account.

“Basically the reason I shot the photos was because I found the ratio of media to civilians to be almost comical in its imbalance,” Reamer told me over email. “So I decided to shoot portraits as a way of not getting the same photos that everyone else was getting. The goal, and I think we did an OK job at it, was to try to get accurate cross section of the different kinds of groups you will see here.”

"@andr0gyn0usdet is a native of Flint, MI living in Cleveland. They came down to the Republican National Convention out of general curiosity and to talk to people."
“@andr0gyn0usdet is a native of Flint, MI living in Cleveland. They came down to the Republican National Convention out of general curiosity and to talk to people.” Photo by Matthew Reamer.
"Joyce Sellars has been a Trump fan 'since day one.'"
“Joyce Sellars has been a Trump fan ‘since day one.'” Photo by Matthew Reamer

“According to Reamer’s website: “These portraits are meant to give a glimpse of the type of people one might encounter here at the RNC in Cleveland. The most obvious and dominant group here is law enforcement. But you are also sure to see plenty of delegates (pro- and anti-Trump), open carriers (pro- and anti-Trump), vendors, evangelists, anarchists, and activists of every persuasion.”

"This is Jesse.He is #opencarry at #RNC and hoping to portray gun owners as rational people. He was a very friendly, patient, and well-spoken person. For the most part, the dialogue between people here has been quite civil. "
“This is Jesse.He is #opencarry at #RNC and hoping to portray gun owners as rational people. He was a very friendly, patient, and well-spoken person. For the most part, the dialogue between people here has been quite civil.” Photo by Matthew Reamer
"@realist_negus.93 is #opencarry at #rncincle. He is open carrying to start a dialogue and sees guns as an equalizer between all citizens and our heavily armed police and military. He is not attending the RNC in support of Trump."
“@realist_negus.93 is #opencarry at #rncincle. He is open carrying to start a dialogue and sees guns as an equalizer between all citizens and our heavily armed police and military. He is not attending the RNC in support of Trump.” Photo by Matthew Reamer

Visit Reamer’s website for more

Pulsing onward

Blind Tiger Society comes to Counterpulse. Photo by Elena Zhukova

A renaissance at 25? For almost a quarter century, CounterPulse had been producing “risk-taking art that shatters assumptions and builds community,” providing San Francisco with a rare and necessary experimental arts space. But then — similar to many other arts organizations — it ran into a big problem: CounterPulse lost its lease on its space in SoMa. That meant confronting SF’s absurd real estate market, praying for a little divine intervention.

Blind Tiger Society comes to Counterpulse. Photo by Elena Zhukova
Blind Tiger Society comes to Counterpulse. Photo by Elena Zhukova

But rather than curling up in a fetal position, CounterPulse managed to survive, a testament to its scrappiness and ability to energize others around its mission. It’s relocation to a new venue at 80 Turk in the Tenderloin this year is in large part the result of working with the Community Arts Stabilization Trust, an initiative committed to keeping San Francisco’s arts community vibrant by connecting arts organizations with tools and assistance to own. It’s an ongoing, multi-million dollar, odds-defying effort made possible with an ambitious crowdsourcing campaign and financial support from multiple other partners.

So, what’s new for CounterPulse as it embarks on its 25th year at a brand new location? Well, there’s more space to play. Artistic Director Julie Phelps told 48 Hills, “The expanded space opens the opportunity for us to offer more frequent and longer residencies to practicing artists to devise, experiment, and generally take the risks that true innovation requires.” There’s more seating for patrons too, but the new space promises to maintain the intimacy that’s part of the CounterPulse ethos.

The move also brings CounterPulse to San Francisco’s historic Theatre District, making neighbors of big performing spaces like the Curran (undergoing its own shift), as well as smaller venues like Cutting Ball and the Exit Theatre, which are natural accomplices in engaging community, producing genre-bending work, and supporting independent artists.

Moving into the Tenderloin opens up possibilities for other collaborations, too. Phelps says one planned project with Central City S.R.O. Collaborative will set out to “animate and celebrate the unit block of Turk Street (between Mason Street and Taylor Street) with free arts activities, cultural offerings, community information, and discussion for the residents, visitors, and workers who share the street in a once monthly Block Fest.”

Violeta Luna. Photo by Zen Cohen
Violeta Luna. Photo by Zen Cohen

The upcoming 25th season itself promises to offer up a lot of what CounterPulse does best: unexpected, risky work that’s not afraid to engage politics or challenge conventional forms. April 14-16, you can check out Violeta Luna in The 35th Floor: Another Stor(e)y Up and Above Her Fall, which is largely inspired by the work and life of Cuban American artist Anna Mendieta of “Siluetas” fame. The title references Mendieta’s mysterious death; she fell (or was pushed) from a 34th floor. Luna and her collaborator, Roberto Varea, are longtime partners-in-art with CounterPulse. Luna says it’s “not only remarkable but also moving” to be a part of this very first season at the new space 10 years after they first worked together.

At least one group of artists is nodding to the storied past of CounterPulse’s new home (80 Turk was previously The Dollhouse, a porn cinema). Later on this month, Blind Tiger Society and Khecari join forces for Ring Sour (April 21-23), a double billing of “disparate dances” exploring themes of choice, desire and freedom. Blind Tiger Society’s artistic director, Bianca Cabrera says of Blind Tiger’s contribution, “Dressage is skin, touch, glamour and grotesque. It is women being and doing as they please, undoing as they please and being seen fully.”

In May, FACT/SF presents a piece called (dis)integration (May 12-14) , which was created as a response to Michelle Obama’s use of the word “gypped’ a couple of years ago. “It seems like ‘gypped’ is one of the last remaining ethnic slurs that people feel comfortable using in polite conversation,” says Charles Slender, FACT/SF’s Artistic Director, “which I think is a result of a general ignorance about who and what the Romani people are. I’m excited to utilize this work to look at unexamined racism, system oppression, and to share with folks my family’s story of being Romani immigrants in California.”

Little Seismic Dance Company. Photo by Melissa Lewis
Little Seismic Dance Company. Photo by Melissa Lewis

Later on in May, Katie Faulkner’s little seismic dance company (lsdc) celebrates its own milestone (a 10-year anniversary) with a triple billing featuring two new pieces and one remount. lsdc got its start at CounterPulse a decade ago, and for Faulkner, it’s something of a homecoming. “What I have always so valued about CounterPulse is the way that it demonstrates through its mission, programming, and co-production structure, a complete trust in artists,” Faulkner says. “I look forward to many, vibrant seasons of challenging, messy, rigorous performance in this new space and am honored to be among those breaking it in.”

You can learn more about these and other upcoming CounterPulse shows here or join for a night of “performance and revelry” to christen the new digs at CounterPulse’s grand, magenta-themed housewarming party April 28.

“Like watching your parents have sex”

"Flex (ooh ooh ooh)" by Juán Sebastián Peláez, Galería Carne de Bogotá

ART LOOKS I harbor a sick love for art fairs and have been known to travel across the country on my own dime to cover Art Basel for alternative newspapers whose readers care more about local housing politics than what the elite art market is up to in Miami this year. I have my reasons.

I spent my 20s finagling escalating levels of VIP access at music festivals, and am now too old and spoiled for them. Art fairs, I find, are like music festivals for seniors, with air conditioning and less lines. Both feature free alcohol in the VIP section and offer easy buffets of content for culture journalists like myself. Also, lots of fun people with no clear connection to the subject matter (drag queens, nightlife people, members of the Dazed 100, me) show up to hang. Art fairs are a good time, like.

Miniature art hidden away in a back room at Material Art Fair, curated by Alison Kuo and Stina Puotinen.
Miniature art hidden away in a back room at Material Art Fair, collection curated by Alison Kuo and Stina Puotinen. All photos by Caitlin Donohue.

Last week Mexico City hosted its annual art week, anchored by the 13-year-old Zona Maco in Centro Banamex, a far-flung convention center attached to a horse racing track. We went to its inauguration on Wednesday and celebrity spotted Sikh actor Waris Ahluwalia, a few days before he was barred from boarding his Aeromexico flight because of his turban. Ahluwalia rather bravely refused to leave the country until the airline apologized and pledged to provide training on Sikh beliefs to its employees, and though he warned fans that he might be delayed, it now seems that he will indeed make it for his New York Fashion Week opening of his jewelry line.

I thrilled to the solo exhibitions of local geniuses Debora Delmar Corp and Manuel Solano in Zona Maco Sur, the fair’s young artist section that somehow also featured the work of 50 year old artists. I can’t explain the attraction that DD Corp’s meticulously arranged DUVE Berlin booth held for me — her generic Ugg boots stuffed with cigarette butts vigorously resisting right angles whispered something to me about commercialism’s askew appropriation of feminine reality. Solano’s full body portrait of Alanis Morrisette — presented by DF’s Karen Huber Gallery — that the blind artist had created with help from a guiding hand of another painter hung alongside a TV playing loops of Solano’s performance work from before he lost his vision. For a painter whose work deals in themes of suffering and vulnerability, the context is incongruously inspirational.

Debora Delmar (left) and Manuel Solano (right) at Zona Maco.
Debora Delmar (left) and Manuel Solano (right) at Zona Maco.

In another corner of the fair, four workers meticulously placed reflective hexagons on ceramic, en route to finishing a toilet designed by Yoshua Okón and Santiago Sierra to take the shape of mega mogul Carlos Slim’s Museo Soumaya, a newish institution in town built to house the monopolist’s own art collection. A near-critical consensus held this shitty commentary on art and labor to be the most controversial piece of the week. I’ll concur, but the use of the workmen as human props still makes my skin crawl, regardless of social significance.

Bjørn Melhus, Y Gallery at Zona Maco

In our stoned Zona Maco wanderings, I bumped into German-Norwegian Bjørn Melhus, who had schemed with New York’s Y Gallery to bring a retrospective of more than 20 years of video work to Mexico City. The retrospective made abundantly clear that Melhus is a total freak, having spent decades fashioning himself into hundreds of characters that often interact with each other on screen. I chatted Melhus up while this video of him spying on another version of him played, the latter video-Melhus singing Janis Joplin to a guinea pig on a rope swing. Photo portraits of Melhus’ other incarnations adorned the Y Gallery space.

“It’s like a family reunion,” Melhus told me, happily. “You only take in what you can.” I find it wildly satisfying when artists are as bizarre as their work in person.

Was also into: This look, Rapunzel at home with a light BDSM touch.

Do not want to know what it was like to navigate a convention center in that floor length leather skirt, but am here for this hair color.

Three-year-old Material Art Fair focuses on emerging artists and takes place in Colonia Juárez, a central neighborhood known for its federal government buildings and car tire stores nonetheless showing increasing rates of organic coffee and rent inflation. Past years of the fair, which was founded by local gallerists Daniela Elbahara and Brett W. Schultz with consultant Isa Natalia Castilla, have been the best of any such art mess I’ve ever been to based on the originality and boldness of the artwork, youthiness and general sense of the fun that everyone’s having.

This year the layout was slightly rabbit warren-like (you can see architectural office APRDELESP‘s mockup of the space here), making for a breathless circuit of the art that a friend politely suggested was meant for serious collectors rather than dilettantes like your author. I had to come back a couple times so that I could take in the pieces without being overwhelmed by the hip society swell around me, but eventually I came away with some faves.

"Flex (ooh ooh ooh)" by Juán Sebastián Peláez, Galería Carne de Bogotá
“Flex (ooh ooh ooh)” by Juán Sebastián Peláez, Galería Carne de Bogotá at Material Art Fair

At Bogota’s Carne Gallery booth, Juan Sebastián Peláez’ police shields adorned with decals from your standard corporate bro magnates as Monster, Nike, Apple and Mustang seemed particularly relevant here in a country where armed forces have been bought by narco-corporations. (You can see unadorned versions of the same Plexiglas billboards out in force on any day in the government-heavy Juárez neighborhood.) The title of the piece is a nod to Rich Homie Quan, in particular a song of his that was made to listen to whilst tax evading in your Oakleys.

Another stand-out assemblage of pieces was U.S. trans artist Caroline Wells Chandler’s crocheted “cowbois” and other genderqueer characters. The collection made its debut in the artist’s homeland of Texas, where Chandler was struck by the “but if we let them gay marry, people will want to get hitched to their horses,” line of debate. In response, he created a rainbow of leg-spreading, assless chaps-wearing FTM creatures, most sporting the top surgery scars that Chandler hopes to have one day on his own body.

“Cowbois” by Caroline Wells Chandler, Roberto Paradise Gallery at Material Art Fair

I was, as always, infatuated with LA/Guadalajara Eduardo Sarabia’s “Desert Dreams” ceramics (a piece of which was presented by Artspace at Material.) Sarabia’s work with traditional talavera motifs and narco imagery messes with notions of souvenir and legal/illegal trade in Mexico.

Material assembled a really attractive group of creative movers and shakers from across the globe, and was hailed by some publications as the most important art event of the year. But I have to say that the 20- and 30-somethings pledging that they’ll be back to Mexico City — maybe to move here! — after spending time in 1. their hotel room in the Roma neighborhood 2. the inside of cabs 3. the art fair and official after parties … was a little disturbing. New friends, what you saw/partied with was the international art scene, not Mexico City. (I ranted more about this on 48 Hills last week if you’re interested in an alternative perspective to the New York Times’ “52 Places to Visit in 2016” list.) Material’s crowd is young and I expect it to make efforts to stay more woke.

"Xo.enZYm" by Luis Hidalgo, Materia
“Xo.enZYm” by Luis Hidalgo, Materia and Janet40 group show “Liquify/Retract”

The antidote for this, of course, is to focus on local artists who have a deeper understanding of the capital, even if their work isn’t explicitly geo-tagged. This is what I tried to do outside my convention center treks. On Friday night we watched Chinese New Year fireworks out the windows at Materia, a project space/gallery/occasional acrylics salon on the second floor of a downtown apartment building founded by DF art school grads Alina Mendoza and Matías Reding. Their group show “Liquify/Retract” in collaboration with design site Janet40 focused on digital artists, sight-bending projections and nods to 3D printing dominating the space.

One of the shiny art week things I was most excited about was the fact that Absolut would be giving a shit ton of money to DF’s epoch-blending sculptural duo Sangree to create the first Mexican edition of their art bar series. I snuck into Los Carpinteros’ Miami Beach orb during Art Basel 2012, died for the photos of Mickalene Thomas’ colorful edition in Switzerland (where Solange popped up to perform) and am a huge fan of Sangree’s time-hopping forms. But despite pyramid bars and wall figures that illuminated only when you turned your camera flash on them, this edition seemed a little more minimalist than prior incarnations. Chalk that up to Sangree’s clean aesthetic, or maybe the fact that Absolut thought they could get away with spending less money in Mexico (bastards.) The photos I took in the space turned out gorgeous, though. And besides DJs from the phenom NAAFI collective, we also got to hear from up and comers like reggaeton group Los Xxxulo$ and DJ Phaedra at the bar. And drink cacao cocktails out of gourds, sold.

DF sculptors Sangree were tapped to design an art bar for Absolut.
DF sculptors Sangree were tapped to design an art bar for Absolut a few blocks from Material Art Fair.

Bikini Wax Gallery is another well-known alternative art venue in DF, located in an apartment in the Escandón neighborhood since 2011. It nurtures a frat house vibe, a nice contrast to the fact that its an important venue for fresh contemporary art in Mexico City. That rep was vindicated by its ambitious three-day (non-stop, Jesus Christ) “Eternal Telethon” performance art event last weekend. I came through at the very start — so early I beat the first performer — to see Spanish visual artist Natalia Ibañez Lário‘s presentation of her Instagram gallery project @BEFOREANYONEELSE_ANTESDENADIE.

Natalia Ibañez Lário and DJ Rosa Pistola peform at Bikini Wax Gallery as part of Ibañez Lário’s @BEFOREANYONEELSE_ANTESDENADIE project

I’m fond of paraphrasing a classic John Baldessari via Sarah Thornton quote about art fairs, the one that says that for an artist, attending them is like seeing one’s parents have sex. You know it’s why you exist but that does not mean you want to look at it.

To conclude, art fairs are annoying because art people are annoying. It’s cool when fairs are in developing countries because the local artists are smarter and more relevant and when things go well they get paid off that shit. It’s problematic when they are in developing countries because they provide white people with a comfortable bubbles where they can sample local cuisine (even Zona Maco sold tacos on the convention floor) without having to speak the local language or even expand their musical tastes.

But fairs are also important because to a large extent, their participants are the people who are getting and giving money to create new aesthetics, to make the visuals that in our society are considered the most precious of all. More people should know about art than art people because its effects go past the convention center floor.

Finally, there is an excellent chance that you will get a bunch of free tote bags and, at some point, find yourself at an open bar.

Drawing the Crisis: Tony Cha and Liam Lee on the eviction epidemic

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis

CCA Comics students draw stories from the housing crisis. A 48 Hills exclusive series.

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis

ART LOOKS The Engage: Comics class at the California College of the Arts is comprised of a diverse collection of students from various majors passionate about making comics that engage the world around them.

This year, they teamed with and housing activists from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and the Housing Rights Committee to create comics from first person accounts of San Francisco’s housing crisis.

The students met with and interviewed people who are struggling or have struggled to remain in their homes, and then turned these stories into compelling visual narratives. Justin Hall was the professor of the Engage: Comics class, and Peter Glanting was the Teaching Assistant. 

The following comic is by CCA student Tony Cha and Liam Lee. Click on each image to enlarge! (You might have to click twice). See the whole series here

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis

Drawing the Crisis: Kellyn Borst on the eviction epidemic

48 Hillsa: Drawing the Crisis

CCA Comics students draw stories from the housing crisis. A 48 Hills exclusive series.

48 Hillsa: Drawing the Crisis

ART LOOKS The Engage: Comics class at the California College of the Arts is comprised of a diverse collection of students from various majors passionate about making comics that engage the world around them.

This year, they teamed with and housing activists from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and the Housing Rights Committee to create comics from first person accounts of San Francisco’s housing crisis.

The students met with and interviewed people who are struggling or have struggled to remain in their homes, and then turned these stories into compelling visual narratives. Justin Hall was the professor of the Engage: Comics class, and Peter Glanting was the Teaching Assistant. 

The following comic is by CCA student Kellyn Borst. Click on each image to enlarge! (You might have to click twice). See the whole series here.

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis

Drawing the Crisis: Karlie Cheang and Jack Delacruz on the eviction epidemic

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis

CCA Comics students draw stories from the housing crisis. A 48 Hills exclusive series.

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis

ART LOOKS The Engage: Comics class at the California College of the Arts is comprised of a diverse collection of students from various majors passionate about making comics that engage the world around them.

This year, they teamed with and housing activists from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project and the Housing Rights Committee to create comics from first person accounts of San Francisco’s housing crisis.

The students met with and interviewed people who are struggling or have struggled to remain in their homes, and then turned these stories into compelling visual narratives. Justin Hall was the professor of the Engage: Comics class, and Peter Glanting was the Teaching Assistant. 

The following comic is by CCA students Karlie Cheang and Jack Delacruz. Click on each image to enlarge! (You might have to click twice). See the whole series here.

48 Hills: Drawing the Crisis