Vik Muniz: "Pictures of Magazines 2"
Sept. 20-Nov. 10 at Rena Bransten Gallery, 77 Geary (at Kearny), S.F. Free; 982-3292 or www.renabranstengallery.com.
Using paper torn from pop-culture magazines and the like, Vik Muniz turns thousands of scraps of information into intricate facsimiles of famous paintings, like Edouard Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Paul Cézanne's The Card Players. Blown up into large-format photos, Muniz's creations become three-dimensional wonders — artifacts of a creative mind whose past projects (like the one involving recycled Brazilian garbage) have established him as one of the world's great visual artists.
"Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography from the Xavier Guerrand-Hermès Collection"
Oct. 5-Jan. 23 at Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission (at Third St.), S.F. $5-$10; 358-7200 or www.moadsf.org.
Three years after its debut at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, this touring exhibit finally — thankfully — arrives in San Francisco. "Desert Jewels" offers a poignant glimpse into the culture and people of North Africa in the mid-to-late 19th century. The early 20th century is also represented by intricate necklaces and other jewelry, and a smattering of photos. But it's the 1800s — a time of significant transition in Morocco, Algeria, and Egypt, when old traditions were colliding with Western inventions (like the working camera) — that really come alive.
"Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy"
Oct. 5-Jan. 13 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St. (at McAllister), S.F. $8-$12; 581-3500 or www.asiaart.org.
Each letter in Chinese calligraphy is a work of art — a road map of lines that ascend, descend, twist, and shout. This exhibit promises to unlock the mystery (and history) of an art form that stretches back millennia. Side by side with priceless manuscripts will be modern renditions of calligraphy. A highlight of the special events promises to be the Oct. 19-21 demonstration by Aoi Yamaguchi, an expert calligrapher from Japan who now lives in the Bay Area, and Christian Cabuay, a Bay Area artist who specializes in a historic Filipino script called Baybayin. The connections between these parallel scripts will give even more context to the legacy of Chinese calligraphy.
Ala Ebtekar and Nayland Blake
Oct. 10-Nov. 10 at Gallery Paule Anglim, 14 Geary St. (at Kearny), S.F. Free; 433-2710 or www.gallerypauleanglim.com.
These parallel exhibits are a double bill of artists who often address issues of "being in between." For Ala Ebtekar, that means between Iran and the United States, where his Iranian heritage intersects with postmodern sensibilities, as in his elaborate Persian texts that are overlain with comic drawings. For Nayland Blake, the "in between" means black and white — a place where he can address his biracial identity, as in his performance where, half-naked, he's fed watermelon and other food by an African-American man. Blake once said, "I think my work succeeds to the extent that it makes people question their preconceived categories." The same could be said about Ebtekar's.
"The Radical Camera: New York's Photo League, 1936-1951"
Oct. 11-Jan. 21 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission (at Third St.), S.F. $5-$12; 655-7800 or www.thecjm.org.
Members of the Photo League — people like Paul Strand, Lisette Model, and Weegee — supported the organization's ethos of putting "the camera back into the hands of honest photographers." That meant photographers willing to take unadulterated street scenes and other unscripted images of the world. This exhibit highlights the timeless work of the Photo League, which was shut down by the U.S. government amid accusations that it was a front for Communists and subversives. Liberal Jews formed the backbone of the group, and their images and stories are revelatory.
"Jasper Johns: Seeing with the Mind's Eye"
Nov. 3-Feb. 3 at SFMOMA, 151 Third St. (at Howard) S.F. $11-$18; 357-4000 or www.sfmoma.org.
Jasper Johns has been a titanic presence in the art world for more than 50 years, and one of his seminal works, Land's End — where letters, brush strokes, and shapes cohabitate in a world of blue, purple, red, and gray — has long been displayed at SFMOMA. This survey gives us the full arc of Johns' career, gathering more than 85 paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures — some donated by Johns himself, who worked with the museum to organize this retrospective. At least one new work will be on view. At 82, Johns is still producing canvases that engage the senses.
Nov. 17-Jan. 15 at 941 Geary, 941 Geary (at Polk), S.F. Free; 931-2500 or www.941geary.com.
You may not know his name, but you've seen his art on buildings if you've traipsed through the Tenderloin, or along mid-Market, or through other San Francisco corridors. The spray paint work of the artist known as Apex (aka Ricardo Richey) is dense, colorful, and full of spirals that submerge and re-emerge. Apex studied architecture in college, and his forms — whether in paintings or sculpture — are like abstract expansions of letters, grids, and other traditional shapes. Parallel to his street art, Richey has exhibited in galleries around San Francisco. His newest show is a chance to take in Apex's complete body of work.
"Royal Treasures from the Louvre: Louis XIV to Marie-Antoinette"
Nov. 17-March 17 at the Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave. (in Lincoln Park), S.F. $11-$15; 750-3600 or www.legionofhonor.famsf.org.
If you want to see the vases that Marie-Antoinette kept during her years as French royalty, you can go to the Louvre in Paris, or you can visit the Legion of Honor for this exhibit, which features a wide selection of decorative objects from France's premier institution of art. Other items on view include jewelry, diamond-and-gem snuffboxes, and a 17th-century mosaic tabletop — made of marble and semi-precious stones like lapis — that portrays landscapes, birds, and royal crowns. The pre-Revolution luxury that surrounded Louis XIV, Marie-Antoinette, and the monarchs between has to be seen to be believed, and this exhibit offers that chance.