Shotgun Reviews

A Pattern Language at CULT // Green Circle Black Diamond at Ratio 3

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. Today we bring you two reviews written by our summer interns: First, Deidre Foley considers A Pattern Language: Michelle Grabner, Angie Wilson, and Lena Wolff at CULT; next, Audrey Weber assesses the exhibition Green Circle Black Diamond at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. We thank these two young writers for their contributions! If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information.

Lena Wolff. O San Francisco, 2014; paper quilt with hand-cut and painted papers; 45 x 45 in. Courtesy of the Artist and CULT: Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.

Lena Wolff. O San Francisco, 2014; paper quilt with hand-cut and painted papers; 45 x 45 in. Courtesy of the Artist and CULT: Aimee Friberg Exhibitions.

As someone who is relatively new to visiting art galleries, my familiarity with quilting immediately ignited memories of home and family, creating a sense of ease while viewing CULT’s current exhibition, A Pattern Language: Michelle Grabner, Angie Wilson, and Lena Wolff. The use of traditional patterns and motifs found in quilting, such as mandalas and stars, combined with the use of unconventional materials, such as paper and undergarments, constructs conversations around themes of gender, home, labor, and community in the exhibition.

Lena Wolff’s O San Francisco (2014) is a symmetrical paper quilt crafted from hand-cut pieces of paper squares, each painted with a red cross. Clean and uniform, the red crosses are precise, while the squares themselves are attached, slightly unevenly, to the quilt’s base. Individual crosses contain the handwritten names of artists or cultural organizations that have played a role in shaping the city’s unique character. United by a common crisis, the organizations listed are spaces that have been absent from the city for many years, recently disappeared, or are currently struggling to stay open. The red crosses are a reminder of what is at risk of being lost because of Silicon Valley’s expansion into San Francisco.

Angie Wilson utilizes the familiar double-wedding-ring pattern in Traditional Queer Double Wedding Ring Quilt (2009), but rather than quilting with traditional fabrics, she uses a spectrum of white to red women’s undergarments in lace, silk, and cotton. Using non-uniform stitching to piece together the fabric, Wilson employs a technique reminiscent of what is called “crazy quilting,” which means the quilt does not follow a pattern—the stitching can be done freely, and fabric can be of different sizes, colors, textures, and prints. Just as characteristics of crazy quilting are integrated seamlessly into a more traditional technique, the title also gestures toward the integration of marriage equality into society.

Neither inviting nor comforting, the pristine white walls and concrete floors of most galleries induce feelings of anxiety for me. However, the artworks exhibited in A Pattern Language create an instant connection with memories of my quilter mother mapping out patterns and fabrics for her next project at her sewing desk. Quilts are for warmth and comfort, but they also communicate a story. Although quilt making has taken on a new meaning in A Pattern Language, the same care and love my mother exacts in the making of her quilts is stitched into the familiar motifs present in those created by the artists, and in each stitch, a piece of a story waits to be told.

Deidre Foley, a San Francisco writer, was an EHSS Summer 2014 Intern for Art Practical and Daily Serving. She will attend the University of San Francisco in the fall.

Barry McGee. Untitled, 2014; paint on panel; 88 elements; 105 ½ x 124 in. Courtesy of Artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco.

Barry McGee. Untitled, 2014; paint on panel; 88 elements; 105 ½ x 124 in. Courtesy of Artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco.

Unconventionally shaped paintings protruding from the walls greet me as I walk into the exhibition Green Circle Black Diamond at Ratio 3. The use of a dark and predominantly gray color scheme by artists including Michael Rey, Laeh Glenn, and Ron Gorchov, coupled with an exploration of the canvas’s shape and depth, becomes a consistent and unifying element among these works in the main gallery. Walking into the second, smaller room, a noticeable change occurs: The artworks become increasingly abstract, and color collides with space. On the left wall hangs a large-scale painting by Al Held from the late ’80s that investigates color and illusionistic space. On the opposite wall is Bay Area artist Barry McGee’s untitled painting from 2014. While the exhibition visibly demonstrates the influence of older painters on emerging artists, McGee’s use of sculptural forms and color in his untitled work bridges the two groups of artists in the exhibition.

McGee’s untitled piece (2014) is a large, red panel consisting of eighty-eight variously sized rectangles with a multicolored and multi-patterned shape reminiscent of a coiling snake in the center. Though I’m immediately drawn to it because of its vibrant colors, it is initially unclear to me how this work fits in with others in the exhibition. Though familiar with McGee’s work from BAM/PFA’s exhibition Barry McGee in 2012, I was initially unable to draw connections to the distinct street-style vibe for which he has become known. The gallerist informed me that McGee’s work was mailed in completely disassembled, and it took them nearly a full night to arrange it as instructed. I soon began to realize that although the style differed from that of his earlier show, the same vibrant colors and patterns present in his untitled work are practically identical to his earlier works.

Looking at emerging artist Jim Lee’s untitled piece (2014), the canvas is notably manipulated. A bend on its right side reveals the canvas’s innards, while the face of the piece is filled with a muddy-gray, lopsided rectangle. On the surface, it appears that the only connection to McGee’s untitled work is the shared title (or lack thereof) and the sculptural appearance of the canvas. However, what becomes clear after spending some time with the show is the decisiveness in which the artists call into question the materiality of their chosen media, unwilling to be bound to tradition or self-imposed styles.

Audrey Weber is a San Francisco writer, and was a summer 2014 intern for Art Practical and Daily Serving.