There’s a lot of street art in San Francisco, so much so that the art has long since filled the streets and, hungry for additional bare walls, begun to take over the city’s galleries.
Last month, driving by Fifty24 — that’s a modestly proportioned two-floor gallery in San Francisco’s Lower Haight area, a mecca neighborhood for gallerized and otherwise comodified street art — I saw a strange object just inside the gallery’s store-front window. Even from a distance, it was clear what it was: a sculpture modeled on Sutro Tower, affixed with disassembled speaker parts.
The exhibit, titled Rubicon Sun, was a collaboration between David Ellis and Doze Green. (It ran from December 13, 2007, through January 4, 2008. More info at fifty24sf.com.) Both are widely exhibited, and the Fifty24 show was the result of a residency in which they produced individual and collaborative works. The show coincided with the release of their new book, Shaft. Ellis works with paint, sound and installations, among other media and formats, and Green is primarily a painter and muralist whose work is deeply informed by graffiti and collage. (More info on Green at dozegreen.com. He was a member of the Rock Steady Crew of breakdancers and appeared in the 1983 film Wildstyle. At least one other artist who appeared in Wildstyle, Lee Quinones, is an exhibiting artist; I saw several Quinones pieces at PS1 in Queens early last year. More info on Ellis at freshwatercatfish.org; his work was part of an exhibit curated by Christian Marclay at the ICA in Philadelphia late last year.)
The main room at Fifty24 is a narrow, street-level gallery. At the center stood the speaker-tower. It was non-functional, in that the speakers emitted no sound, but by anyone who has lived in or spent time in San Francisco, those speakers might be read to represent the presence of Sutro Tower, which stands silently high above the city, like a totem in a Hayao Miyazaki film. I may be overstating its resemblance to Sutro Tower; the sculpture looks more like if Sutro Tower had been constructed from girders purloined from the Golden Gate Bridge. Below is a close-up of the Tower, and how it appeared from outside:
The Tower’s presence likewise permeated the gallery, as it appeared in several of the paintings — as did, in one collage work, a piece of the menu from Rosamunde Grill, an excellent sausage shop around the corner on Haight Street.
Fifty24 has a second exhibit space, located upstairs, and it included additional paintings and two particularly unusual works. There was in one corner a human-height owl built out of chicken wire, bottles, and other materials. A gallery employee explained that the bottles — which included tea, beer, wine, and water — were culled from what Ellis and Doze had drunk during their residency. The owl had speaker-cone parts for eyes, and when it was plugged into a nearby outlet it emitted a tribal jug-band music.
Pictured here are some of the internal parts that made the sound. There’s a paint can and a sauce pan in there:
Also upstairs, in a small dark room entered like a cave, was a mysterious, oblong, nearly car-size object that resembled a chunk of lava, or perhaps the Horta from Star Trek. Embedded in it, as shown here in this detail, was a rusty old speaker:
The exhibit served as a kind of homecoming for Doze Green. A two-story mural of his has, since mid-February 2007, ruled over the Lower Haight. It’s one block away from Fifty24, over on Steiner Street, just off Haight Street, on the outside of the Lower Hater Gallery (formerly Future Primitive). The alien backpacker, shown below, is the neighborhood’s spectral night watchman. This work replaced a previous mural in the same spot, also by Green. I believe Green collaborated on both pieces with different muralists, and that Ellis had worked on the earlier one.