5 Trends We Saw at SF’s Most International Art Event

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The closest thing San Francisco has to Art Basel, the FOG Design + Art Fair opens at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture for four days this weekend (Jan. 19-22). With 48 international galleries setting up eclectic booths, it’s a fun way to see a broad cross-section of contemporary art in bite-size chunks. 

With its numerous bars and dim sum stations and an appearance by Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and her black fedora-clad husband, Paul, the jet-setting affluence was conspicuous at Wednesday night’s opulent preview party. But whether or not some attendees were bitter they didn’t get an invite to Davos this weekend, the quality of the work speaks for itself. Here are five trends The Standard picked up on.

Laura Quirk’s art approaches the limit of maximalism. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
Eamon Ore-Giron’s “Infinite Regress CVCIV” is much softer, yet the palette is masterful and expansive. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
Angelo Filomeno’s “Islands” series isn’t painted. It’s embroidered! | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

The Use of Color Approached Total Fearlessness

People have said painting is dead for approximately a century, but if FOG is light on anything, it’s photography—or much of anything black-and-white. Intensely polychromatic painting is everywhere, with some spectacular pieces from Laura Quick and Eamon Ore-Giron.

Equally colorful but acrylic-free is Angelo Filomeno’s series Islands, a set of 18 vibrantly hued depictions of rocky outcroppings jutting up from the ocean. Look closely, and you’ll see they’re actually embroidered!

You can’t get more abstract than that. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
But you can get way existential. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

Instagrammable Neon Is Swallowing Its Own Tail

Neon and its cousin, cold cathode, have always been huge in San Francisco, from the Castro Theatre marquee to the “You Are Safe Here” sign at Jolene’s. Lurid and fun, neon is also extremely seductive to anyone with a smartphone. 

Rare is the person who can resist assembling the entire squad in front of a cheeky neon sign for a group pic, but the trend in statement neon is clearly eating itself. Simple pieces like Erica Deeman’s Being are outright existentialist, a far cry from influencer catnip like “Hello gorgeous” or “Please don’t do coke in the bathroom.”

If you thought neon pioneer Dan Flavin was a capital-M Minimalist, FOG snuck in under him like a $1 bid on The Price Is Right.

Statement furniture was probably the No. 1 standout across all 48 booths. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
At times, that extended to housewares, as with Julia Phillips’ tongs from Hades. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
Elmgreen & Dragset’s “On Target, Fig. 12” is a little bit Jasper Johns and a little bit Claes Oldenburg. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

Aggressive Furniture Is Everywhere

“This is my art, and it is dangerous!” Catherine O’Hara’s pretentious pomo sculptress Delia Deetz screams in the original Beetlejuice, not long before some of her abstractions come to life and ensnare several characters. Home furnishings are often exquisitely beautiful, although they’re chiefly intended to be useful—yet FOG has plenty of pieces that dare you to put a coaster down and see what happens. 

You might need Opener, Julia Phillips’s demonic pair of tongs, to pick up your glass.

The trend is witty and playful—think a humongous, fuzzy floor lamp that looks like a wuvable Dr. Seuss character, a geometrically deconstructed rattan chair or the Jasper-Johns-but-make-it-fun Pop Art of Elmgreen & Dragset’s On Target, Fig. 12. A mirrored surface that draws your attention to itself rather than your own reflection? In our narcissistic age, that’s basically a dare, too.

Sarah Lucas, one of the pre-eminent Young British Artists, had one of the few truly provocative installations. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
The base of this vase has been tagged. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard
Mel Bochner’s “Amazing” pokes fun at an inarticulate influencer’s auto-complete. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

Not Many People Are Feeling Especially Provocative

Sarah Lucas has several haunting photographs of tentacle-like legs wrapped around each other, a middle finger to the male gaze. Otherwise, the Young British Artists, this is not. Chalk that vibe up to a timidity that comes from hoping nobody is ever offended, but spiky social critiques are in short supply. There are exceptions, like an American flag expertly bedazzled with anti-theft retail security tags. 

A defiant trio of vases depict Malcolm X and Allen Iverson plus a ton of iconography paying homage to Black culture—the bubbly graffiti at the base is really, really clever—but the jabs are mostly tongue-in-cheek, like the litany of mindless exclamations in Mel Bochner’s Amazing.

Jessica Silverman’s “Elsewhere Over the Rainbow” included pieces from clients who’ve had companion shows to major museum exhibitions. | Peter-Astrid Kane/The Standard

San Francisco’s own Jessica Silverman deserves credit for mounting small-scale companion exhibitions to the major museum’s shows. The gallery’s “Judy Chicago: Making Advances” was a particularly great counterpoint to the de Young’s 2021 retrospective, and visitors to FOG can see a few of the peerless feminist Chicago’s pieces along with those by Sadie Barnette, Woody De Othello and others. The whole thing is called “Elsewhere Over the Rainbow,” and it’s like a group project where everyone did the work, so everyone gets an A.

📍 Fort Mason Festival Pavilion, SF
🗓 Through Sunday, Jan. 22
🎟️ $30-$35

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