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Catharine Clark Gallery: Sandow Birk, Al Farrow, James Pollack - 9 Apr 2011 to 28 May 2011

Current Exhibition

9 Apr 2011 to 28 May 2011

Catharine Clark Gallery
150 Minna Street
Ground Floor
San Francisco, CA
CA 94105
North America
p: +1 415 399 1439
f: +1 415 543 1338

Sandow Birk
American Qur'an/Sura 56
2011, Gouache and ink on paper, 16 x 24 inches
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Artists in this exhibition: Sandow Birk, Al Farrow, James Pollack

Sandow Birk with Elyse Pignolet: American Qur’an
Al Farrow: New Reliquaries
Media Room: James Pollack

April 9 – May 28, 2011
Reception Saturday, April 9, 4–6 pm

Sandow Birk: American Qur’an
Collaborative ceramic works with Elyse Pignolet

In Sandow Birk’s continuation of American Qur’an—his ongoing project to hand-transcribe and illuminate the Qur'an with scenes from contemporary American life—the artist presents his newest works on paper. This is his fourth installment of the series, which has garnered significant critical attention in The New York Times, The LA Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, among other publications. Birk embarked on the work for America Qur’an in 2004, and to complete the remaining work, or all 114 suras, it will take two more years.

Birk’s objective for American Qur’an is to create a version of the Islamic manuscript in contemporary English with contemporary American scenes. After spending several years studying the complexities and politics of Christianity in his version of Dante’s Divine Comedy (2001-2004), Birk took notice of the growing American preoccupation with, and often vilification of, Islam. Questioning how Americans could consider the Judeo-Christian religious texts—which originate from the same region of the world—in such opposition to Islam, Birk thought that if the content of the Qur’an were presented as an American story with relevance to American life and society it could become more accessible to non-Muslim Americans and possibly foster reflection about the Qur’an’s relationship to Judeo-Christian texts, beliefs and Western society.

To accomplish this, Birk based his version of the Qur’an on traditional manuscripts—chapter headings are decorated and the pages are illuminated with miniature paintings in full color, using inks, gouache, and metallic paints—and the style of some of his imagery is based on traditional Persian miniature painting and the traditional painting styles of Indonesia, India, and the Middle East. He approaches each chapter, or sura, by working from three sanctioned English translations of the Qur’an, then transcribes the text from these versions in black ink in a contemporary graffiti-like calligraphy that overlays a narrative scene that relates to the text in the sura he is illustrating. Unlike conventional Qur’ans, the illuminated “pages” depict contemporary life in America: Americans working, socializing, celebrating, fighting, and engaging in daily activities, and scenes that are iconic in recent American history: the Katrina flood, Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, illegal Mexican border crossings. The resulting works on paper that combine image and text, each measuring 16 x 24 inches, illustrate the 114 suras of the Qur’an. The project, when completed, will number approximately 300 works on paper that collectively constitute the entire text of the Qur’an.

Raised on the beaches of Orange County and currently living in Southern California, Sandow Birk is a product of West Coast culture. Well-traveled and a graduate of the Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design, Los Angeles, Birk has incorporated references to Southern California and his travels to locations around the nation and abroad in many of his projects. With an emphasis on social issues, frequent subjects of his past work have included barrio life, inner-city violence, graffiti, prisons (PRISONATION Series), surfing, skateboarding, Dante’s Divine Comedy, 9/11 (The 99 Names of God, in collaboration with Elyse Pignolet) and the War in Iraq (The Depravities of War). Often merging fact and fiction and drawing upon art historical and literary precedents for many of his compositions and content, Birk creates salient and humorous works that invite a closer reading of a particular issue. He frequently pursues a subject in depth, and through a multi-disciplinary approach—painting, drawing, printmaking, film and video, and sculpture— supports his ideas. In the past several years Birk’s work has been presented in more than two dozen museum and gallery exhibitions and his work is in as many public and museum collections and was most recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art (LACMA). Birk has received an NEA grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, a Getty Fellowship, and a City of Los Angeles Fellowship. Two of Birk’s major projects, In Smog and Thunder and Incarcerated: Vision of California in the 21st Century, were published as monographs by Last Gasp, and Birk’s version of Dante’s Inferno (which is about to be re-released) was published by Chronicle Books in 2004, and subsequently Chronicle Books published Dante’s Purgatorio and Dante’s Paradiso in 2005. More recently, The Depravities of War was published as a monograph by HuiPress, Makawao, Hawaii and Grand CentralPress, Grand Central Art Center, California State University, Fullerton. In the past few years, Birk has often collaborated with his wife, Elyse Pignolet, who is also an artist. The works made to date in the American Qur’an Series are currently on exhibit at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburg. Birk has exhibited with Catharine Clark Gallery since 1994.

Al Farrow: Reliquaries

Al Farrow’s exhibition of reliquaries, religious ritual objects, and religious architecture builds on his exploration of religious history and violence. Developed from his interest in reliquaries, Farrow has rendered architectural replicas in the form of mosques, synagogues, and churches. His choice of sculptural materials include deconstructed guns, bullets, glass, steel, bone, and found objects from antiquity, such as a vintage Torah cover and pieces of 16th century Italian velvet. Farrow’s unsettling juxtaposition of content—symbolic religious structures with weaponry and history-laden found objects—is both visually stunning and emotionally confounding. The exquisite craftsmanship of each object seduces the viewer into closer examination and then serves to provoke questions about the aestheticism of violence, the relationship between organized religion and war, the repetition of history, and the evolution of battle. Farrow’s broad selection of religious sanctuaries resists a critique of any one specific belief system, but rather pointedly engages organized religion as a whole. New to this exhibition are a series of Jewish ritual objects and Christian “casket” style reliquaries rendered from munitions.

Included in the exhibition is Bombed Mosque, Farrow’s most ambitious piece to-date. On initial view one is overwhelmed by the exquisitely detailed turquoise and gold mosque, complete with numerous arches and crowned with a shimmering gold onion dome or amrud (guava dome). A closer look reveals the details and weaponry that compose the structure: patterns formed by shot and bullet casings with varied patinas, guns forming the archways and minarets, and a trigger standing in as the crescent moon finial atop the dome. On the other side of the structure is evidence of massive destruction. Through deceptively meticulous demolition, the artist exposes a deep chasm in the dome covered in scorch marks and riddled with shrapnel—one can only assume the structure has been bombed. The monumental sculpture, which took more than a year to create, is made with over 50,000 bullets and shell casings and weighs 780 lbs.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Al Farrow has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than forty years. An accomplished sculptor in a wide variety of media, Farrow generally adopts the language of an historical period in his work, updating the imagery or materials to make cogent observations about contemporary society and to reconcile disparate, and on occasion opposing narratives and histories. Past projects have included bowls created in the style of the Mimbres culture, an indigenous people who lived in what is now the southwest and northern Mexico. In the Mimbres Series, Farrow painstakingly painted in the indigenous people’s traditional style using a single reed brush to render images of B-1 bombers, radiation symbols, tanks and other military images. In recent years he has used munitions—bullets, guns, hand grenades, bombs—to make three-dimensional projects that resemble Christian reliquaries, Islamic mosques, and Jewish synagogues. In 2008, Farrow’s work was the subject of a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museum (the de Young), curated by Timothy Anglin Burgard, and accompanied by a monograph also published by the museum.

Al Farrow’s work is included in the public collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the San Jose Museum of Art, 21c (Louisville, Kentucky); the de Young Museum (Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco); and the collection of the Government of the State of Israel. He has exhibited with Catharine Clark since 1994 and has also exhibited with galleries in Washington DC and Brussels. Currently his work is included in the exhibitions at Art Műr, Montreal, Canada; Central Trak, UT Dallas, Texas; Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio; Aeroplastics, Brussels, Belgium; and di Rosa, Napa, California.

Media Room: James Pollack
Curated by Lily Alexander

In the interactive, web-based installation piece on exhibition in the Media Room, James Pollack takes the viewer on a multi-sensorial, mythical journey. During an afternoon at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, Pollack, intrigued by Al Farrow’s cathedral, took advantage of the momentary distraction of the guard to steal an image of the inside of the sculpture. He then transformed this 2-D image into a 3-D space that may be explored by the viewer. The user can journey through the interior of Farrow’s cathedral, powerfully reminiscent of the gothic cathedral spaces of Europe. Inside this echoing vault-like space, haunted by the reliquary spine that resides there, Pollack’s poetic reflections on a world embattled by religion fall upon the viewer, accompanied by the prisms of light that dart through the windows. Pollack uses his digital capabilities to invite the viewer to experience a unique blending of art, poetry, and virtual environments that use our cultural history of both words and images in a post-appropriation age where meaning is made out of a no-holds-barred mode of production framed by the discourse of an open-source software community.

Pollack received his BA in English Literature from Yale University, and is currently a member of the Digital Arts and New Media MFA program at UC Santa Cruz. He was the recipient of the 2009 Yale Innovation in Digital Environments Award, the 2009 Francis Bergen Memorial Prize in Poetry, and a 2010 UC Regents Fellowship in Digital Arts and New Media. His work has recently been exhibited at Brown University's 4th International Conference & Festival of the Electronic Literature Organization, the Java Museum and the MOCA's Virtual Museum.

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