The best art I’ve seen in 2021


I didn’t write any last year. The was art, and I have had great viewing experiences – often alone, overly emotional, savoring the texture and color. But the local visual arts scene was largely closed, especially our larger institutions. In the end, I wrote more stories about layoffs, leaves and closures in 2020 than about artists presenting new work.

Fortunately, this has not been the case this year. In fact, there was too much going on for me to write about all the beautiful, thought-provoking and exciting things that I saw in 2021. So without further ado, may I present to you: the best art I’ve seen in 2021 * but which I did not mention at the time.

Anthony Discenza’s 1 Gallon Containers Containing Various Liquid Products, Alternately titled “The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories”, 2007; “Un’opera intrisa dei luridi colori dell’arcobaleno di un mondo inquinato (A work imbued with the colors of the rainbow of a polluted world)” 2019; and “$ 1000 gallon containers of various products”, 2019. (Courtesy of the artist and Et al.)

* The 2020 show I’m still thinking about

Anthony Discenza, N ° 3: Variants
In January 2020, I had no idea that the Anthony Discenza show gave me a glimpse into my future. In Et al.’s Mission Street space, the artist accumulated a supply of preparatory-level cleaning supplies, plugged in outlets with ultrasonic pest control devices, and set up a countdown clock measuring the length of time. the exhibition at the top of the wall. The show tapped into a paranoid energy that I was about to fully inhabit – and the three “variations” of the show (represented by three different exhibition statements and three different art lists) came along. represent the very different realities that people faced at the height of the pandemic.

A painting of a blurry photograph under a plexiglass window.
Elisheva Biernoff, “Rose”, 2019; acrylic on plywood, painted on both sides; painted poplar support. (© Elisheva Biernoff; Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.)

The art that made me say “Wow! ” most

Elisheva Biernoff, Start from evil
It was absolutely essential that the works in this exhibition at the Fraenkel Gallery be in display windows. I needed to be protected from my own impulse to get as close as possible to the surface of Elisheva Biernoff’s acrylic paints on plywood, double-sided. Based on photographs found and rendered to the same scale, Biernoff’s paintings realistically capture all the ways that cameras can fail to capture reality; in his hands, fading, out of focus, sun glare and color changes no longer “spoil” an image but make it ethereal.

Sculpture on wooden plinths, a hanging text, a black and white drawing and a large blue and black painting.
Installation view of the work of Lena Gustafson, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo and Maria Paz in ‘Holding’ at pt. 2. (Courtesy of the artists and pt. 2)

Best Group Show I Almost Missed

Lena Gustafson, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo and Maria Paz, Holding
Oakland pt.2 gallery constantly impresses and has put on some of the most exciting exhibitions of local artists the Bay Area has seen in recent years. My only complaint is that the gallery’s exhibition calendar is moving too fast, and magnificent exhibitions like Holding, which only lasted three weeks, deserves to be seen by more eyes. The grouping combined the optically intense paintings of Lena Gustafson on canvas and paper, ceramics and charcoal drawings by Maria Paz, and the delicate mylar assemblages of Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo in an exhibition that gave the impression that she did not had not been carried out by three people, but rather by a beehive spirit – in the best possible way.

View of the installation of “Wangechi Mutu: I Am Speaking, Are You Listening? », Legion of Honor, San Francisco, 2021. © Wangechi Mutu. (Photo by Gary Sexton; image courtesy of San Francisco Art Museums)

Best intervention in a collection of European art

Wangechi Mutu, I’m talking, are you listening?
One of the best moments of the Wangechi Mutu exhibition at the Legion of Honor was the one that everyone got to see without a ticket. In the blindingly white stone courtyard of the museum, where Rodin Thinker sits down, the artist has placed two elongated soft bronze figures under bronze mats. In The ThinkerThe shadow, Shavasana I and Shavasana II were people at rest, exhausted after a long yoga session. But it was also something else: representations of the violence perpetrated against women of color in the name of progress, colonialism and Western thought.


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