Tonight is First Thursday in San Francisco, the night each month when tons of galleries open visual art exhibits and the streets are filled with people using their brains and their feet to take in the amazing work and have a different kind of night on the town. One exhibit whose reception is tonight is that of Doug Rickard, whose "A New American Picture" is at Stephen Wirtz Gallery downtown. Here's our take on it:
Technology literally gives us a picture of the world, or at least the nation. If you've moved away from your childhood home, for example, as many of us have, an online tool such as Google Maps lets you go back and see whether it's still there and what it looks like -- or at least what it looked like whenever that Google van drove around shooting everything in its path. That's the micro. Rickard moves toward the macro by using the same tools to catalog a cross-section of the nation that's visible to anyone with an Internet connection. In "A New American Picture," he rephotographs images taken from Google Maps' Street View feature.But Rickard doesn't capture the America envisioned by Norman Rockwell or Walt Disney. He uses the vast photo archive "to virtually drive the unseen and overlooked roads of America, bleak places that are forgotten, economically devastated, and abandoned." His collection is powerful. People appear in many of them, their faces blurred by Google to render them anonymous. This action underscores Rickard's point by giving the photos an incidental, for-the-record, official feel where documentation matters more than the individual. It also heightens the sense of loneliness and creates a sense of contradiction. In the above image from Memphis, for example, the face and torso of a man is blurred, yet graffiti on the wall behind him clearly spell out the words "fuck" and "R.I.P Carl." Rickard hits rural locations as well as urban ones, getting similar results. In the above image an older man in Durham, N.C., delivers the same disenfranchised feeling as the image at the top of this post in which a group of youngsters cross a near-empty street in Detroit. Like so many parts of our technology-infused culture, Rickard acts as a curator and decoder, revealing something profound that exists in what otherwise would be a wall of visual noise.
The opening reception for "A New American Picture" starts at 5:30 p.m. at Stephen Wirtz Gallery, 49 Geary (at Kearny). Admission is free, and the exhibition continues through June 11.
For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.