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(un)Common Ground

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Despite a title like (un)Common Ground, the emerging Bay Area talent included in this group show at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art displays a group mentality. This is not to say that they risk conformity. It's quite the opposite, in fact, because each body of work possesses a style unique unto itself. Rather, the artists compiled by curator Chris Oliveria seem to share a common dialogue, one that, aside from other less obvious factors, may result from their shared identity as Bay Area artists.

Perhaps in spite of or in reaction to globalization's homogenizing sweep, people feel that establishing ties to one's neighborhood, city or region grounds them in a specific place at a certain point in time, giving them a solid perspective from which to view the rest of the world. And if the Bay Area's urban population can so boldly be characterized as politically active, multicultural, hyperaware of current trends while, at the same time, somewhat quirky in an attempt to counter commonly accepted modes of thinking, then the artwork showcased in (un)Common Ground begins to lend form to these qualities.

Identity politics are acted out in David Huffman's anime inspired paintings. Derogative stereotypes of black minstrels and kerchief wearing Aunt Jemimas are re-appropriated and transformed into action heroes in his "Trauma" narratives. These dark-skinned, super-powered robots are cast as the freedom fighters of tomorrow.

Julio Morales takes the multi-culti angle in his view of life on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. His contribution is a wall installation depicting Tijuana's entrepreneurs-street merchants who sell food and wares from their vending carts. Also a common sight here in California, especially in Latino neighborhoods, these street vendors extend their entrepreneurial spirit north of the border, their human presence lending personality to an otherwise generic landscape of cookie cutter housing developments, strip malls and franchises.

Nick Ackerman's paintings on soiled, loose hanging pieces of canvas read as a 21st century ode to Pop art. Lightning bolts, bubbles, waves and starbursts mix, collide and clash in fields of electric color over storybook landscapes. Ackerman's work is probably the trendiest in the show, his carefully calculated "low brow" aesthetic having been elevated to "high art" by the likes of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist back in the sixties. But the work's enduring vibrancy and appeal goes to show that we have yet to exhaust pop culture's influence over our visual vocabulary.

Sculptor Marina Vendrell takes the prize for "quirkiness" with her crocheted yarn and fur Musical Minks. Minks whose pelts have been augmented with kitschy extensions of brightly colored, crocheted yarn, hang from the ceiling. Their tails trail limply, begging to be stroked and fondled. Pulling on the tails offers a nice surprise, for music boxes concealed within the pelts belt out different melodies.

While the works in (un)Common Ground occupy similar territory, their shared sensibility allows the pieces to complement rather than to compete with one another, and an extremely cohesive group show emerges as a result. Other (un)Common Ground artists include Reanne Estrada, Alicia McCarthy, Mark Nobriga, Christopher Oliveria, Jon Paul Villegas and Neil Woodman.

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art is located at 451 South First Street. (un)Common Ground openend July 27 and will run through September 14. Call 408.283.8155 for information.