SFMOMA exhibit has challenges, rewards 

SECA winner Mauricio Ancalmo’s “A Lover’s Discourse” includes a 16mm film projector, turntable, LP, amp, speakers, rope and found footage. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • SECA winner Mauricio Ancalmo’s “A Lover’s Discourse” includes a 16mm film projector, turntable, LP, amp, speakers, rope and found footage.

Acronyms for some organizations are easily identifiable. Most people know what IBM and KFC stand for — International Business Machines and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

But “SECA”?

Yet SFMOMA  — the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art — in some publicity material about two current exhibitions doesn’t mention that SECA means Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art.

Is it a simple oversight, or is it symptomatic of insularity and of the assumption that everybody should know?

For the record, SECA is a group of SFMOMA supporters who founded a club dedicated to learning about current art practices, and to helping the museum bring new art into its collection.

In 1967, the group established a biennial award in which local artists are recognized early in their careers, with prizes including a SFMOMA exhibition and an accompanying catalog.

Now on view at SFMOMA through April 3 are two SECA shows: one celebrating 50 years of the award, and another featuring works by four 2010 winners.

Judging by recent works, emphasis on communication may be lacking. Their “marking 50 years of engaging with Bay Area artists” is a mixed bag.

SECA winners Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey and Kamau Amu Patton have created installations that are different, yet similar in the way they represent self-absorption and noncommunication.

Geometric shapes, abstractions and such awkward items as Laskey’s loud drone fill a large gallery with a loud, unpleasant buzz.

Where is the art? Perhaps in the three interactive cables on the floor. When the viewer steps on one, the drone intensifies; when the visitor steps on the others, the guard says that they are out of order — performance art?

Ancalmo’s specialty is “found mechanical instruments in film-based installations and kinetic sculptures to form a structural dialogue.”

Jacobsen’s drawings and installations “often incorporate found ephemera to explore reflection and longing.”

Patton, according to the SFMOMA announcement, “synthesizes works in a range of media to investigate the interzone of sound, materiality and perceptual experience.”

The SECA awards process starts with about 250 nominations, narrowed down to 80, then to 30, at which point the SECA curators visit artists’ studios — and select winners accordingly.

The SECA retrospective exhibit is not organized chronologically or by any other obvious criteria.

Yet it contains many worthy works. Notwithstanding its precious title, 2006 award winner Leslie Shows’ mixed-media painting “Heap of Elements for a Body, About to Act or Finished Activity” is among them.

Other notable paintings are Chris Johanson’s whimsical “Figures with Black Presence” and Hung Liu’s striking “Loom” (1992).

Among other former award winners exhibited are: Rebeca Bollinger (1996), Sarah Cain (2006), Squeak Carnwath (1980), Paul DeMarinis (1996), Rosana Castrillo Díaz (2004), Simon Evans (2004), Charles Garoian (1974), Mel Henderson (1967) and Andrea Higgins (2002).

IF YOU GO

SECA Art Awards and 50th Anniversary Exhibit

Where: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and open until 8:30 p.m. Thursdays; show runs through April 3
Tickets: $11 to $18
Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Bio:
Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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