A Guide to the Bay Area’s Summer Art Scene

ARTBy 2023-07-20T12:32:29-04:00July 20th, 2023|
  • Remnants (Lo Que Quedo) by Paola de la Calle. Opening at SOMArts July 28th 2023. Courtesy of the artist and SOMArts.

This summer, the Bay Area art scene is replete with many “firsts.” With great joy, Chicana pioneering artists Yolanda López, Amelia Mesa-Bains and Juana Alicia get long-overdue solo exhibitions. Friends and artists, Mario Ayala, rafa esparza, and Guadalupe Rosales will unveil collaborative new works. Patrick Martinez paints his first mural on the ground floor of a basketball community court, and Paola De La Calle seeks inspiration from poetry. These artists engage with visual culture and everyday objects to explore how places of memory are often highly contested spaces, and how hegemonic narratives of history can ultimately be refuted.

Amalia Mesa Bains: Archaeology of Memory

Amalia Mesa-Bains, Transparent Migrations, 2001; mixed media installation; 120 x 216 x 72 in.; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

On view at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive through August 13, 2023.

Amalia Mesa Bains: Archaeology of Memory is the first retrospective of the acclaimed multimedia artist, widely regarded as one of the leading figures of Chicanx art. The exhibition traces more than three decades of Mesa Bains’ celebrated career, via nearly sixty artworks, including several iconic “altar-installations” that reimagine the traditional spiritual practices of the home altar through a contemporary lens. It’s a rare opportunity to experience works like Transparent Migrations, an armoire-based installation incorporating the closet as a site of investigation. The wardrobe — meant to be opened, revisited and rearranged — acts as a conduit for recuperating personal and national histories. Meaning is multiplied and contested the longer one engages with each work. The show is accompanied by an exhibition catalog of essays, which speak to the core of her interdisciplinary practice by addressing topics including ecofeminism, spirituality, and politics of erasure.

In This House We Are All Buried Alive

Paola De La Calle, Bendiciones (Celebramos Sin Ti), 2022. 28×24 in. Coffee, found objects and printed cotton. Courtesy of SOMARTS.

On view at SOMARTS Cultural Center from July 20, 2023 to August 27, 2023.

Paola De La Calle interweaves memory and history to reveal and repair the ruptures of historical amnesia. This House We Are All Buried Alive takes its title from the last line of Maria Mercedes Carranza’s poem “La Patria” (“The Motherland”), a somber view of a ruined nation, which threatens the safety of its citizens with violence and destruction. Yet, where the poem ends, de la Calle’s work begins. In her first solo exhibition, de la Calle leans into her multidisciplinary practice and invites audiences to experience mundane, everyday objects anew, while reflecting on their past, present, and future. The objects, which she collected over the years and include family archival footage and ceramics, tell an unfinished story. Ultimately, de la Calle’s work aims to ignite collective memory and our ability to pick up the leftover pieces in order to shape and tell our own stories.

Me Llaman Calle: The Monumental Art of Juana Alicia

MAESTRAPEACE, 1994. Mural on the San Francisco’s Women’s Building, Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton, and Irene Perez.

On view at the San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery from July 28 to September 23, 2023.

Juana Alicia has been a leading figure of the California mural movement since the 1980s, with her murals gracing the walls of notable sites such as The Women’s Building in San Francisco and at Stanford University. Her first solo exhibition closely examines her Bay Area oeuvre, particularly in the Mission District, as well as a new body of work on the story of La X’tabay, a Yucatec Maya myth. Curator Marco Antonio Flores unearthed rarely seen mural studies and sketchbook pages from Alicia’s personal archives to reveal the care and meticulous work that characterizes her public work. As a whole, the exhibition celebrates the exuberant work of a trailblazing artist invested in art as a public good.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist

Yolanda López, Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe, from the series “Guadalupe,” 1978. Oil pastel and paint on paper, 30 x 22 inches. Courtesy of the Yolanda López Legacy Trust.

On view at the San Jose Art Museum through October 29, 2023.

Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist is a bittersweet homecoming. After a critically acclaimed debut at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, López’ first solo exhibition arrives in the Bay Area — a place the late artist called home for most of her adult life. Portrait of the Artist brings a compendium of 50 of the artist’s most iconic works, from the 70s and 80s, in oil pastel, paint, charcoal, collage, and photography. These include the iconic Guadalupe triptych, where López transforms herself, mother, and grandmother into the likeness of the Catholic virgin mother. Among her early and rarely seen works featured are collage studies, investigating the role of women in society at large, and her MFA thesis, ¿A Dónde Vas, Chicana? Getting through College (1977), depicting herself running through the UC San Diego campus. The SJMA display includes additional works and archival materials that emphasize López’s role as a Bay Area activist and cultural worker. Yolanda López: Portrait of the Artist is a tribute to the trailblazing artist that left an indelible mark within feminist art and the Bay Area.

Patrick Martinez

Patrick Martinez, Promised Land, 2022. Neon on plexiglass, 30 x 36 in. Courtesy of artist and Charlie James Gallery, collection of Gaby Mischev. Photo Credit: Yubo Dong / ofstudio

On view at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco from September 23, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

Patrick Martinez recently unveiled a new public work as part of his upcoming show. The mural, painted over a local basketball court, celebrates the graduates from the local non-profit Alive & Free’s violence prevention and leadership programs. In Patrick Martinez’s largest solo exhibition to date, the Southern-California based artist renders memories and the politics of place visible. The exhibition will include his mixed media landscape paintings, popular neon works, and a newly commissioned sculptural installation, which critically investigates the changing landscape of urban life for Bay area residents, while paying homage to the landscapes lost and destroyed.

Sitting on Chrome: Mario Ayala, rafa esparza, and Guadalupe Rosales

Mario Ayala, Reunion; © Mario Ayala, courtesy the artist.

On view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from August 3, 2023 – February 19, 2024.

Sitting on Chrome: Mario Ayala, rafa esparza, and Guadalupe Rosales is a collaborative exhibition that contemplates the role of the lowrider – ornate customized cars with a lowered body – and considers cruising as a form of resistance and hypervisibility. While all three Southern California artists have individually engaged different aspects of lowrider aesthetics and practices in their work, this exhibition merges their talents to honor and unsettle the lowrider. The exhibition will kick off with a public opening celebration on August 3rd. Additional performances and programming will be scheduled through the run of the exhibition.

Joanna García Cherán is an art historian, writer and cultural worker passionate about art of our time.