For the year's fourth guest-curated show at the New American Art Union, Bay Area transplant Jesse Hayward has selected work by eight local artists that explores how installation art has impacted traditional wall-based presentation. Throughout The Hook Up, the work occupies a gray area between painting, sculpture, and installation. Jenene Nagy's "Meadow" typifies the investigation: Her unwieldy, map-like wall painting seamlessly spills into three-dimensional sculpture on the gallery floor.
But if Hayward's title refers to the process of hanging work on the walls, The Hook Up can also signify the insider connections shared by the artists, who all figure prominently in the city's arts community. Jenene Nagy co-founded Tilt Gallery last year; curator and critic Jeff Jahn is co-founder of the local arts blog PORT; and both TJ Norris and Jacqueline Ehlis have curated shows for the New American Art Union this year. Surprisingly, The Hook Up remains an underwhelming collection that hardly lives up to its supposed pedigree.
To Hayward's credit, his selections are smartly arranged, creating connections that pull the viewer through the gallery. The bright kelly green of Jahn's arching, floor-bound sculpture points toward the green expanse of Nagy's "Meadow." Ellen George's dangling vertebrae-like sculpture shows well next to Ehlis' molecular steel orbs. There's even a niche for art historical nods, as Sean Healy's neon-lit "Neighborly" conjures Dan Flavin, and Stephanie Robison's adjacent "Now Available" contains two stitched fabric clouds that evoke Claes Oldenburg's soft sculptures.
Taken individually, though, these pieces suffer when removed from the context of the artists' bodies of work. Moreover, the show is undone by a sense of predictability: It's full of exactly the kind of work one would expect from these artists. And then, sadly, some of the inclusions are just lackluster. Brenden Clenaghen's "Black One," a tiny soot-colored hut that sits on a mirrored perch, disappears in one corner of the gallery. Ehlis' multi-colored steel spheres play like bad garden art. And Hayward's inclusion of Jahn's clumsy Minimalist sculpture, "Where We Go from Here," can only be explained as an act of kindness. It's disappointing, then, that in spite of Hayward's thoughtful curation, the talent here goes wasted: The Hook Up hangs itself on deservedly known quantities and too few surprises.