Michael McAlister @ Andrews Gallery
Looking at Michael McAlister's assemblage art, one can't help but think about Embeth Davidtz's character in the 2006 film Junebug. In it, she plays a Chicago art dealer who specializes in “outsider” art and who's desperately trying to convince a grizzled old North Carolina redneck to let her show his paintings. That's not to imply that McAlister fits that description, but for the works at his solo show, Assembly Required—on view through Dec. 31 at The Andrews Gallery (1002 N. Coast Hwy. 101, Leucadia)—I would imagine that the viewer more often thinks about the oddness of the man than the pieces themselves. Where did he get these strange items? Why did he glue that there instead of here? Perhaps it's not all that uncommon to look at three-dimensional collage and wonder such things, but, it's equally difficult to separate that wonderment from the enjoyment and just take the piece for what it is. The symbolism and individual meaning can often get lost within the oohs and ahhs that come with looking at a McAlister piece, but if viewers can move past these visceral instincts, they'll find much more to enjoy.
Susan Hauptman @ Lux Art Institute
Susan Hauptman, on exhibit at Lux (1550 El Camino Real, Encinitas) through Jan. 9, is notable for her large-scale, somber self-portraits and her haunting still lifes of traditionally “feminine” objects, flowers, lace, crystal and silk, all realized in charcoal and traces of pastel with an insistent figurative detail. These ghosts of representation, however, are not servants of mimetic ends. Rather, they seem to float upon flat featureless surfaces, and their bizarre juxtapositions, as well as their unearthly pallor, seem intended to disturb our conventional associations with the objects of representation themselves. The nature of this disturbance, however, is not always equal to Hauptman's developed aesthetic sense and can lean too easily on familiar tropes: androgyny, the undercutting of feminine beauty and a proud post-modern blankness of emotional expression. In Hauptman's best still lifes, the objects retain their traditional “female” force even as this force is undercut. And her most effective self-portraits never lose the power of natural emotion. Her image of a tight-lipped, sexless stare emerging from an erotic negligee does produce a shallow shock. But a different image, with its troubled eyes, simple dress lines and enigmatic splashes of color, still lingers.
Tara Donovan @ MCASD
Tara Donovan—whose new self-titled show runs through Feb. 28 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's Downtown location (1100 Kettner Blvd.)—is a winner of the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award. To some, this could be a $500,000 fact that potentially colors the perception of her work. But I'd like to think that were I completely ignorant of the Foundation's distinction, I would consider Donovan a genius all on my own. Working with mountains of everyday industrial materials, she's more alchemist than artist—transforming Mylar tape, tar paper and plastic straws into epic vistas of indescribable beauty. Rolls of register tape undulate along the floor, evoking the surrealist geometry of Munch's “The Scream”; a wall that appears to be made of luminous cloud reveals itself to be millions of drinking straws; and endless loops of scotch tape blanket the room like a fogbank. Given that Donovan uses synthetic materials to echo natural form, it's tempting to believe that her work is a commentary on modern life. But I see more a quiet meditation on the infinite, the eternal. It's genius.
Lucy, Darwin and Me @ Art Produce Gallery
You walk in and look up, and it hits you: “Evolution is not progress. Evolution is change.” The same could be said for local artist Michele Guieu's new exhibition at Art Produce Gallery (3139 University Ave., North Park). The product of a geologist father and a biologist mother, Guieu has succeeded in putting together something that's part personal artistic celebration, part science experiment. With its ink-on-paper drawings of animals and cells and accompanying photographs, it's a grand celebration of biodiversity, family and the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. But unlike the subject matter upon which it's based, the show, which runs through Jan. 24, is anything but opaque. Inside the back gallery, amongst large, untouched photographs from Guieu's travels in Senegal, is an encasement of items ranging from a pick ax to dated journals. It seems clear enough from the antiquity that these items are Guieu's father's, and it seems superfluous to have a TV above the glass with the artist explaining them. In fact, it's kind of distracting, and once you leave, there's not much left to decode. One could easily blame the artist's need to spell out everything for the viewer on her predilection for science, but even if the conclusion is not what we hoped, the experiment is tremendous and, at the least, a fitting and unique tribute.
Calder Jewelry @ SDMA
Alexander Calder is most well known for his large-scale sculpture, particularly for his invention of the mobile. It may come as a surprise that he was also the creator of some wonderfully expressive jewelry, a selection of which is currently on display at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park until Jan. 3. Calder brings to this intimate and personal scale the same combination of curvilinear grace and dynamism, the same delight in both primitive abstract form and mechanical playfulness that characterizes his full-scale work, while adding a puckish playfulness that works best in miniature. The work is flamboyant, while never ostentatious; brass and iron are more common than gold, and scraps of glass and ceramic take the place of precious stones. Nor is the work overly polished and refined; the beat marks are still visible in the flattened wire, and one feels the same direct energy of creation that one senses in Anglo Saxon gold or in an Egyptian scarab. Most striking is how deliriously impractical many of the pieces are, especially some of the elaborate necklaces, which spring with fragile fronds of brass and bristle with threatening spikes. These are pieces to wear to a dinner party with Ezra Pound, if not to your second cousin's wedding.