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Bay Area Now 4

Community-based projects warrant closer inspection

The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' Bay Area Now 4 is a real sprawl of an exhibition -- the kind of art show that carries with it the potential to overwhelm in a spatial, sensorial, and even conceptual sense. Many artists seem to have seized this triennial survey as a chance to make a splash, and resulting large-scale installations conquer the walls and floors of both upstairs and downstairs galleries. Aside from the drawings and murals, soundscapes, sculptures, and photographic collages, there lies a host of projects that could easily stand alone as a separate exhibition, a sub-show, if you will, though far from sub-anything in quality or concept.

This handful of strong, participatory programs is well worth the extra minutes of careful consideration required of the viewer. The Bay Area has a long, rich tradition of artistic practice steeped in community involvement, as even the San Francisco Art Institute and California College of the Arts now offer programs emphasizing public and social practices, concentrations conspicuously absent from most formal art school curriculums. Such positive attitudes have left an indelible mark upon these artists' works.

Ted Purves' Momentary Academy is a free public education program, which will run throughout the duration of the exhibition. Embracing the gift economy, Purves has created this elaborate project as a true skill exchange: class offerings range from a creative writing workshop, to an experimental fashion design course, to a seminar on geometry. Purves' recently published book, What We Want is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art (SUNY Press, 2005) outlines the philosophy of his art practice, which coincides with many others' here.

Since 2001, Kate Pocrass has led Mundane Journeys throughout San Francisco. As detailed on the map left for BAN 4 visitors to take away, journeyers may call 415.364.1465 to hear a weekly recording detailing sites of interest; the intrigued pedestrian is provided with directions to various spots about town, as Pocrass points out the visual idiosyncrasies of a frequently overlooked urban landscape. Mundane Journeys, her illustrated guide to San Francisco, is available at bookstores throughout the city, while her next bus tour departs from the YBCA on September 18th.

Helena Keefe's Familiar Audio Tour posits and antithesis to the usually stiffly narrated, drawn-out, surcharged museum audio tour. Working primarily with the family of BAN 4 artists, Keefe set out to create an auditory experience based on the thoughts and feelings of those closest to the artists -- of longtime relatives and friends, not casual acquaintances. The resulting tour provides a very intimate, actual sort of insight into the work, while the accompanying tour booklet, illustrated by Keefe, allows viewers to take their experience beyond the gallery.

Other project highlights include Margaret Tedesco's narration of entire feature-length films, requiring audiences to rely on her own interpretation and presentation of the action through sound. Edie Tsong has set up an elaborate video conferencing connection between her studio and the gallery, where artist and patron trade portraits of one another via fax machine. These collaborations, as simple or elaborate as they may be, prompt viewers to reconsider their own gallery experience while contributing to San Francisco's sense of community camaraderie.

Bay Area Now 4
July 16-November 6 (downstairs galleries)
July 16-September 25 (upstairs galleries)

For more information on the September 18th Mundane Journeys bus tour, visit www.mundanejourneys.com