Author: Glen Helfand --- Date: 02/27/96 --- Copyright: ThingReviews NYC

Low Cool
February 15 - March 17, 1996
Walter/McBean Gallery
San Francisco Art Institute

On the art world hipness and influentiality scales, San Francisco doesn't often rate very high. Low Cool enters the city back into the groove competition and stands its ground. Organized as part of the San Francisco Art Institute's 125th anniversary, it's an alumni show focusing on artists making the kind of funky, degraded painting, drawing and installation work that's rocking the art world. The show reveals that SF has played a hefty role in developing this aesthetic.

With the exception of the scatologically inclined Paul McCarthy, all the artists are recent graduates. The bulk of the show is composed of multiple image, pop media doodle works. Christian Schumann shows three paintings that take a free range approach to cultural kitsch. They affirm his skill, but also make you wonder how long this kind of work can remain interesting. Taking more stylistic risks with a similar structures, Ruby Neri presents a mural and other multi-panel works. They've got lots of energy, but look intriguingly familiar- sort of a Nicole Eisenmann/Raymond Pettibon/Mike Kelley melt down. Kristin Calabrese's untitled works on paper, however, vary to the point of vanishing identity. But perhaps that's the idea.

The SF Art Institute is well known for its performance and video department, so McCarthy makes a fitting inclusion. He's the aesthetic forefather here, even if his pieces aren't the best examples of his brash, bratty work. (Though Heidi, his video collaboration with Mike Kelley helps establish it.) His large photos and a sculptural "Assortment" are all based in tattered, crusty performance residue. They are a perfect complement to Meg Mack's impressive performance tableau about retail work. Entitled "Night Stocker," the piece includes a larger than life female figure based on a tacky 1970s figurine. She's employed in a convincing service environment fitted with cardboard boxes and a cash register covered in a Gumby-like clay skin. For the opening reception performance, Mack animated this character through a well-choreographed rampage. Way cool.

-- Glen Helfand

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