Barry McGee at Berkeley, Evri Kwong at Smith-Andersen

University of California, Berkeley
Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA)

Barry McGee
August 24–December 9, 2012

University of California, Berkeley
Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA)
2626 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94720
Hours: Wed–Sun, 11–5pm;
open till 9pm on L@TE Fridays

Barry McGee is the first midcareer survey of the globally influential San Francisco-based artist, and provides a much-anticipated opportunity to experience his work from the late 1980s to the present. The presentation includes rarely seen early etchings, letterpress printing trays and liquor bottles painted with his cast of down-and-out urban characters, constellations of vibrant op-art painted panels, animatronic taggers, and a re-creation of a cacophonous street-corner bodega, along with many new projects.

McGee, who trained professionally in painting and printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, began sharing his work in the 1980s, not in a museum or gallery setting but on the streets of San Francisco, where he developed his skills as a graffiti artist, often using the tag name “Twist.” McGee’s use of this and other monikers—such as Ray and Lydia Fong—as well as his frequent collaborations can make it difficult to precisely situate the artist’s unique authorship. Using a visual vocabulary that borrows elements from comics, hobo art, sign painting, and other sources, McGee’s work addresses a range of issues, from individual survival and social malaise to alternative forms of community and the harmful effects of capitalism, gentrification, and corporate control of public space. His often-humorous paintings, drawings, and prints—all wrought with extraordinary skill—push the boundaries of art: his work can be shockingly informal in the gallery and surprisingly elegant on the street.

McGee has long viewed the city itself as a living space for art and activism, but his more recent work has brought the urban condition into the space of the gallery. Increasingly, his installation environments express the anarchic vitality of the inner-city street, incorporating overturned cars and trucks, and often spill beyond the frame of the gallery or museum. For McGee, writes Alex Baker in the exhibition catalog, “the creation of chaos is a political act.”

Barry McGee is organized by Director Lawrence Rinder, with Assistant Curator Dena Beard, and is accompanied by a major catalog featuring texts by Baker, Natasha Boas, Germano Celant, and Jeffrey Deitch, as well as nearly three hundred images, many of which have never before been published. The exhibition will travel to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston in April 2013.

Barry McGee is made possible by lead support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and presenting sponsor Citizens of Humanity. Major support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Ratio 3, Cheim and Read, the East Bay Fund for Artists at the East Bay Community Foundation, The Robert Lehman Foundation, Prism, Stuart Shave/Modern Art, and Cinelli. Additional support is provided by Rena Bransten, Gallery Paule Anglim, Jeffrey Fraenkel and Frish Brandt, Suzanne Geiss, Nion McEvoy, and the BAM/PFA Trustees.

Special thanks to Citizens of Humanity for their additional support of BAM/PFA’s grade-school art experience programs.

Press contact: 
Peter Cavagnaro,

*Image above
Barry McGee, Untitled, 2005. Acrylic on glass bottles, wire; dimensions variable. Lindemann Collection, Miami Beach. Photo: Mariano Costa Peuser.

and this is the most typical “plastic alto” segue but this press release had me using search-injun to distinguish between curator Dena Beard and my Dartmouth contemporary Dana Beard (who I often talk about regarding Ozomatli); Beard went to China with eventual U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. I’ve met Barry McGee a couple times and think of him as having some kind of ethnic mixed heritage — is he Chinese?  Evri Kwong is definitely Asian; I think their work is comparable; I took Rob Syrett to Smith-Andersen to check out the pop-up installation of about 200 small drawings by Kwong. I bought this one, of the light switch,

I own this,by Evri Kwong (actual size)

which I think of as “trompe l’oeil” but passed on, due to my budget restrictions of this extant character with gun; Rob pointed out both Kwong’s tools — he says he uses a slightly worn Sharpie — and his distinctive cross-hatch.

I have not been to BAMPFA in years, but hope to get to the McGee shindig. I recall seeing the Maplethorpe there, maybe with Elizabeth Hutchinson. Meanwhile, I will have to ring my old Gunn baseketball frosh-soph teammate Brian Fitzpatrick of CalTrain about the not-so-secret proposal to let Barry McGee tag CalTrain for money. Mark Simon, our old Gunn Oracle guru, wasn’t sure if his “Fitzy” was our “Fitzy” but Brian Evans says this Fitz fits.

Here is link to Evri Kwong with prestigious Lannan.

an extant Evri Kwong character and typical scene, ink on paper, about two inches, you can own by contacting Karen at Smith-Andersen. Hurry!

Rob Syrett has upcoming show in October at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park.

edit to add, Friday night: Terry Acebo Davis, tloml, and artist, was at a doctor’s office the other day and saw a profile on Barry McGee in “California Magazine” and it said he is Chinese so, yeah, I am sticking with my segue. On the other hand, I cannot picture, or would cringe at the thought of Barry McGee and Clare Rojas sitting around some day and they see an article about me and it somehow says I’m Jewish and they go, “Remember that guy? Didn’t you think he was kinda Jewish? It says here, he’s Jewish!” And now I can file this under “ethnicities” which is my code word for “jewish”. I am also realizing that I somewhere wrote “mogen david” for “magen david” and will have to flip that crypt.

edit to add, Sept. 1: Don’t be like me; see the show already, not merely think/write/talk about it. And or read these two more authoritative takes on it, by Chris Perez in SFAQ and Kenneth Baker in The Chron.

edit to add, nearly 8 years later: got a note from Evri and am tempted to try to buy that extant character with a gun, to gift to Robert Syrett, maybe. Also, i’ve only been to the new Berkeley Art Museum once, even though we were given a half membership to PFA for our wedding present, by Minerva Amistoso, who herself is a great photographer.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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