Anthony Meier is pleased to present What’s that about, a group exhibition curated by gallery artist Saif Azzuz - on view from 1 June - 1 August 2023. Predominantly featuring contemporary Bay Area artists whose practices have intersected with Azzuz’s during his time in the region—such as Teresa Baker, Libby Black, Ernesto Burgos, Cross Lypka, Conrad Guevara, Jennifer Blackmon Guevara, Clifford Hengst, Eamon Ore-Giron, Jay Payton, Grace Rosario Perkins and Lucy Puls—the exhibition additionally includes work by historical figures who share in certain conceptual and material resonances, including Melvin Edwards and Rosie Lee Tompkins.
As evidenced by its title, the exhibition pushes back—through a direct and somewhat humorous acknowledgement—against the all-too-common practice of asking artists to explain what their work is about. By foregrounding the work’s physical properties and eschewing its conceptualization, Azzuz invites a more personal approach to the works on view, prompting viewers through the very absence of an ideational conceit to look more closely, think more deeply, and directly engage with the materials, processes, and emotional effects that cohere in each piece.
In curating the exhibition, Azzuz was consequently drawn to objects that allow for personal reflection. As such, many of the works on view are highly abstract, though while some verge on representation to varying degrees, they all allow space for the viewer to bring their own subjective experience to its interpretation. The maximalist paintings, for example, by Grace Rosario Perkins (b. 1986, Santa Fe, NM, Diné/Akimel O’odham) are imbued with cultural and autobiographical metaphors, and can be mined by the viewer for the text that undergirds their compositions, which becomes nearly obliterated through a process of layering and mark-making. Jay Payton (b. 1992, Atlanta, GA) similarly creates rather autobiographical works, but does so by recontextualizing art history and material culture. In alluding to landscapes and other recognizable forms, Payton’s gestural paintings in oil conjure a sense of familiarity without ever making a direct reference to any one thing. Ernesto Burgos (b. 1979, Santa Clara, CA) alternatively manipulates commercial materials such as cardboard, fiberglass and resin to create organically shaped works that verge on three-dimensionality and change as the viewer’s perspective shifts.
The artists in What’s that about who reference identity or social issues all do so through exceedingly subtle means, exemplified by Teresa Baker (b.1985 Watford City, ND, Mandan/Hidatsa) who uses artificial turf and natural materials to create abstract works of irregular shapes— - inspired by the landscape, Baker's playful use of materials suggests more expansive geographies, where the concept of borders, lines, and space is subverted; and Lucy Puls (b. 1955, lives and works in Berkeley, CA), a longtime professor of sculpture at UC Davis whose work confronts the power of the ordinary through sculpturale installations that combine photographic and material processes with everyday objects. By combining objects and images, Puls scrutinizes the ways in which our engagement with the material world influences our thoughts and, ultimately, drives toward a deeper understanding of the potency of the mundane.
The inclusion of Say It Again (1990) by Melvin Edwards (b. 1937, Houston, TX), part of the artist’s Lynch Fragments series, as well as an untitled quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins (b. 1936, Arkansas, d. 2006, Richmond, CA) broaden the scope of the exhibition generationally. By zooming out in this manner, Azzuz illustrates how such artistic practices that might shun didacticism and identitarian politics—qualities often expected from contemporary artists—can nevertheless transcend history and continue to make meaning now and into the future.
Coinciding with What’s that about, Anthony Meier will present an installation in the gallery’s exhibition window facade featuring a new painting titled Coyote Tales (2023) by Saif Azzuz and a site specific installation by Azzuz and Lulu Thrower titled trickster returns that draws upon the traditional Karuk story of how Coyote, aka Segap, captured fire. The artists re-imagine this figure in present day Coastal Miwok Territory, by portraying them in a repurposed canoe—a family heirloom that last was used in South Fork Gallinas Creek, where Thrower was born—in front of a painting by Azzuz that references the degrading climate, its floods and fires. Wading through the marshes and creeks, Segap shares traditional ecological knowledge—such as cultural fire and the prescribed burns.
About the Curator:
Saif Azzuz (b. 1987) is a Libyan-Yurok artist who resides in Pacifica, CA. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in Painting and Drawing from the California College of the Arts in 2013. Azzuz has exhibited widely in the Bay Area, including exhibitions at 1599dt Gallery, San Francisco, CA; Adobe Books, San Francisco, CA; Anthony Meier Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA; Galerie Julien Cadet, Paris, FR; Pt.2 Gallery, Oakland, CA; Ever Gold [Projects], San Francisco, CA; NIAD, Oakland, CA; Rule Gallery, Denver, CO; Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, New York, NY and forthcoming group exhibitions in 2023 at Jack Barrett, New York, NY and K Art, Buffalo, NY. Azzuz is a 2022 SFMOMA SECA Award finalist and has participated in the Clarion Alley Mural Project and the Facebook Artist in Residence program.
Selected public collections include Rennie Museum, de Young Museum - Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Facebook, North Carolina Museum of Art, Stanford Health Care Art Collection and UBS Art Collection.