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Eight San Francisco Artists Respond to Surrealist Masterworks
Kate Eric, Ambush at Mal Hollows, acrylic on canvas, 45 ½ x 79 (115 x 200 cm.), 2009.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- Echo is the first exhibition at Frey Norris Gallery to simultaneously exhibit the Surrealist masterworks in the gallery’s Annex alongside artwork from the contemporary gallery. We have suggested a painting or sculpture by eight important Surrealists to eight of our Bay Area artists and asked them to respond or invent around the resonances between their own interests and the content and ideas in the historical piece. The result will be pairings, one historical with one new piece, that synthesize art from 1939 to 2009. This project highlights the often misunderstood or overlooked ideas of the historical artists, demonstrating their foresight in creating art that projects a timeless power and mystery. Similarly, the pairings present contemporary artists with a challenge, creating a bridge that will measure their visions against artwork by some of the most storied artists, writers and thinkers of the last century.

• Wolfgang Paalen’s Combat of the Saturnian Princes III (1939), ostensibly narrates a battle between the sons of the Roman god Saturn (Ceres, Jupiter, Veritas, etc.), and is the third in a series of agile paintings that make use of Paalen’s most famous automatist candle-smoke technique, fumage. This work inspired Kate Eric’s Ambush at Mal Hollows (2009), a kind of schematic of warfare over the course of the seventy years following Paalen’s piece.

• Josh Hagler’s The Trial of Hags the Dancing Clown (Narcissus vs. Sisyphus vs. Sisyphus vs. Sisyphus...) (2009) plays off the mask theme of mutable and animistic identity in Leonora Carrington’s leather and mixed media Red Mask (1950). Hagler’s painting, however, makes use of a digital 3-D model, which serves as a mask of the artist’s own face. A bullet passes through it, a reference to the universally familiar photograph of a bullet passing through an apple by high-speed photography inventor Harold Edgerton.

• Dana Harel’s drawing depicts a world in which ecological progress hints at a change of authority, nature absorbing a person piecemeal to produce a bursting forth of new life. The piece responds to Remedios Varo’s Mimetismo (1960), a composition Varo described as a woman so confined by her domestic surroundings that, in the vein of insect-like Darwinian adaptation, she begins to perfectly resemble the fleur-de-lys patterned chair in which she sits.

• As Leonor Fini reinvented the symbolism and myth of the sphinx as her personal totem, to mirror her own talent for constant self-reinvention, so Susannah Bettag recasts the myth in a gold leaf triptych obliquely portraying the sphinx as a disenchanted youth, perhaps a victim of an unseen lothario.

• Wilfredo Lam’s frequent painted references to Ogun, a Yoruba warrior god brought to the Caribbean, appearing in Santeria rituals, is recast by Rodney Ewing in a meditation on the Port Chicago munitions explosion (in the SF Bay Area), a tragedy that killed about 300 mostly black American soldiers in 1944.

• City from above (1955), Gunther Gerszo’s “architectonic” and mosaic-like abstract painting is revisited in multiple layers of mono-print and watercolor in Michal Gavish’s painting on paper. Gavish’s new work examines the trend of cities expanding massively in the 21st century – depictions of contemporary cities are projected on the basic grid of the Gerszo painting shown both from above and horizontally through details of various streets’ facades.

• An early and enigmatic possible self-portrait by Dorothea Tanning, Beyond the Esplanade (1940), inspires the first ever painted self portrait (with doppelganger) by Iraqi artist Hayv Kahraman, a reflection on her own artistic life and the charged symbolism of courtship in Arabic cultures.

• Mary Anne Kluth conjures Max Ernst’s The Golden Eye (1948) as an Excavation (2009), that humorously and beautifully challenges our assumptions around the ultimate authority invested in scientific observations.

Frey Norris Gallery | Echo | Wolfgang Paalen | Josh Hagler | Dana Harel | Surrealism |

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