As artists entered Old Crow Tattoo and Gallery last week, they were met with a narrow strip of white wall outlined by blue masking tape. They found their spots — labeled with their names scribbled on used-up BART tickets — and got to work installing their pieces. Over the course of the week, each of the 38 artists in the “Stand Tall Pt. III” group exhibition entered the gallery to personally put up his or her own work, leading up to the show’s opening on Saturday night.
One by one, they transformed the whitewashed walls with paint, pencil, wood, found objects, photographs, metal, plaster, video and every other possible material. Constrained by the size of the space but free to do with it what they wished, the artists created their own small universes. Separated by an inch of white, each strip fits together into one giant work of art that spans the entire gallery and the temporary divider wall in the center.
On Thursday, I entered through the unassuming glass doors to find Alison Lilly and a few members of her crew laying out her two giant pen and watercolor paintings — which she brought from Vancouver — on paper. Lilly paints ghostly nude women taken from 1960s pornography magazines and books.
Across the divider, David Polka was standing on a ladder painting delicate red lines onto wood blocks, finishing up one of his signature tribal paintings arranged on the wall with found objects. Coming from his studio next door, John Felix Arnold III squeezed his giant distressed wooden panel through the doorway to nail it up onto the wall.
At this point, about a third of the artists had come by the gallery, leaving behind their pieces to mix into the show. Graffiti artist Renos had mounted a giant metal tag of his name on a black background with a worn-out wooden baseball bat hanging below. With the potential for a wild and crazy spray-painted wall, his installation was instead contained, clean and simple, making his sentiment even more powerful.
Renos’ work was consistent with the goals of the curators, Terry Addison and Barrett Moore. Building on the last two years’ “Stand Tall” shows, they wanted to develop a cleaner, more tightly curated exhibition that would set forth a declaration of where art is now.
“I added finer elements to the show, where in the past I was looking for things to be a little bit more chaotic,” said Addison. “This year, I wanted things to be a little bit more refined. I was really stoked when people had contained ideas instead of it being like, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna be crazy.’”
The art in the previous two “Stand Tall” shows — especially the first one in April 2010 — was more centered around graffiti and street art, both because of the choice of participants and because the artists were given less time to produce their works. This year’s artists were given months to conceptualize their walls. They also all have significant experience inside galleries.
Almost all of the artists had shown at some point in Old Crow’s three years and were asked to come back to further develop concepts they had set forth in the previous shows. “As the gallery gets older, I’m always down for what’s new, (but) I think it’s important for galleries to be able to grow with the artists,” said Addison.
As the artist installed their work into the show, they continually built on the curators’ vision. “As a survey of what I think contemporary art is, and maybe the perspectives people want to get across in that, I think it’s pretty finished, a finished thought,” Addison said. The curators assigned the spots deliberately, assuring the proper level of contrast among the artists. They also arranged artists who chose to do black backgrounds at either end of the wall and at the center of the gallery, creating a loose visual framework for the show.
One of the last artists to install his work was Githinji Mbire, who owns Omiiroo, a gallery in Oakland. His piece incorporates various materials, like a “detour” sign, a rusted slab of netted metal, a disco ball, graffiti tagging and a sketch of a woman’s face. “It was cool to have him because I knew the way he was going to go about it was going to be a lot different than the other artists,” said Addison. “I knew his thing was gonna be freestyle.” Created based on the idea that “Stand Tall Pt. III” was a group show, the piece also included a mirror, which reflected the pieces across the way.
Mbire possessed an awareness of the other artists and used his piece to pull the show together. The used-up BART tickets, originally practical place markers, reappeared in the final product of “Stand Tall Pt. III” scattered along Mbire’s work. Not only does his piece assert the show’s curatorial mission to bring together these diverse artists, but the BART tickets also show the significance of this show happening here in the East Bay. “Stand Tall Pt. III” reflects the collaborative spirit of Oakland artists as they each create independently but in the context of a broader art community.
Anna Carey is the lead visual arts critic. Contact Anna at [email protected]
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