Political art comes to the fore at Catharine Clark Gallery

Published 1:19 pm, Wednesday, June 14, 2017

While all corners of art now seem unavoidably shadowed by politics following the presidential election, the Catharine Clark Gallery was initially unsure about assembling a show focused on political response.

“For us, we were thinking, ‘Well, does it really make sense to have a show that is dedicated to that when so many of our artists are already thinking about these themes?’” says Anton Stuebner, the San Francisco gallery’s associate director.

Yet the seemingly daily intake of “fresh horrors” since President Trump took office, Stuebner says, indicated that many of these existing concerns had come to a head, the culmination of which is now reflected in the gallery’s current exhibition, “Juncture.” The show runs through July 22, featuring work, old and new, in various forms by several artists reflecting on an open-ended theme of politically engaged art.

To start, take Stephanie Syjuco’s “Phantom,” a blackened, thinly transparent American flag that hangs at the front of the gallery’s entrance, created after Trump’s travel ban to express the pall cast over American ideals of inclusivity.

Subsequent works don’t all deal in such political immediacy — though in the Trump era, the tide shifts quickly.

Deborah Oropallo’s “Smoke Stacked,” a video montage depicting a progression of superimposed photos of oil refineries, set to a terrifying score, for instance, adopts an added omen following Trump’s recent move to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement.

Then there’s Oropallo’s “Made in USA,” a nylon rug lined with images of war weaponry and phalluses that considers not only the hand of patriarchy in warfare, but also the changing history of the Afghan war rug it imitates. The Afghan people “started making these rugs with our weapons in them,” Oropallo explains. “Our drones, our air force, and all of that. And what was happening was, the soldiers were then buying them as souvenirs to take back to America, which I find disturbing.”

On a local scope, Indira Allegra’s “Woven Account” features newsprint detailing Bay Area hate crimes (“People think it doesn’t happen here, but it does,” she says) hand-spun into a stretch of cloth. Another featured Allegra work, “Blackout,” uses a similar form of weaving, but with digital rendering, to explore police violence. The specter of politics in her art, however, saw no dramatic shift following the election, she says.

“My world hasn’t changed,” says Allegra, an African American artist based in Oakland. “The only thing that’s changed is that more people believe me now.”

While “Juncture” might have been spurred by the current Trumpian moment, it is not purely framed by it. The takeaway, Stuebner says, is to consider the ongoing nature of these political struggles and conversations.

Brandon Yu is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: byu@sfchronicle.com

“Juncture”: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Through July 22. Catharine Clark Gallery, 248 Utah St., S.F. https://cclarkgallery.com

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