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For Art’s Sake

Thanks to my office’s Union Square location (and my job of course), I’m a frequent visitor to 49 Geary. I rarely, however, manage to time my visits to First Thursdays—the one evening out of each month when SF’s downtown galleries roll out the wine-in-plastic-glasses treatment for the city’s aspiring arterati.

Clinton Fein's "Torture"                                                 Chris Tallon's "Six Pack"
                 
Courtesy of Toomey Tourell                                          Courtesy of Steven Wolf Fine Arts

Last week I made a point of timing my visit to Thursday night—figuring it might be extra special since it happened to be the first first Thursday of the year.  I came away with a newfound appreciation for the building itself, which, during the day seems dire in a Being John Malkovich kind of way, but on these special nights allows for a “trick or treating for adults” vibe by virtue of the galleries’ close proximity to each other and the crowds of people snaking through each floor. The most dramatic environmental shift occurred during my path through the fourth floor: I’d overheard people in nearly every other gallery discussing Clinton Fein’s “Torture,” (a cringe-inducing series of photographs staged to recreate the Abu Ghraib abuses using models and fashion lighting) but by the time I reached Toomy Tourell (toomey-tourell.com) to see the show in person, the throng inside the gallery seemed more intent on discussing dinner destinations than the sexual perversion inherent in America’s torture practices. Oddly enough, down the hall at Steven Wolf Fine Arts (stevenwolffinearts.com), the topic was decidedly lighter—L.A.-based artist Chris Tallon lampooning the narcissism of the art world by crafting a “weight room” out of paper. I assume it was Mr. Tallon himself who was decked out in retro workout gear and performing crunches on a mat while watching an instructional video in which he also starred. Truth time: the self-consciousness of standing in the gallery during the performance art aspect of Mr. Tallon’s exhibition made me more uncomfortable than inhabiting the same space as Mr. Fein’s disturbing imagery. Analyze that.