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Our critics weigh in on local exhibits 

"2x4." Wallpaper is cool again. Design collective 2x4's first solo museum exhibit is plastered from floor to ceiling with vertical strips of the stuff, each documenting a different design project. Best known for collaborations with star-chitect Rem Koolhaas, 2x4 marries graphic design and three-dimensional environments. Its designs of wallpaper, signs, logos, and books are based on impeccable research and executed with eye-grabbing moxie. A case in point: the collective's schema for the interior of the Koolhaas-designed campus center at the Illinois Institute of Technology, which weaves history and present-day reality into one elegant, visual statement. The building is swathed in mural-size images of the grave faces of the institute's founders; on closer inspection, they dissolve into thousands of cheeky icons depicting student activities. Elsewhere, a series of custom wallpapers for Prada stores features strikingly anti-consumerist imagery: a stadium crowd holding up cards to form pictures of Maoist peasants; diagrams detailing the manifestly un-Prada-esque body measurements of the average American; and a patently fake, Edenic landscape populated by eerie, sexless, candy-colored mannequins. It's hardly the typical image of perfection that makes you want to buy, buy, buy, but then again, Prada shoppers might already be beyond all aspiration. The innovative exhibition design successfully embodies the collective's bold aesthetic and is fun to look at, but unfortunately, its small scale and close quarters make it difficult to absorb the details, which is where 2x4's true genius lies. Through Nov. 27 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free-$12.50; call 357-4000 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed June 29.

"Estuary." Art aficionados don't typically pop into the Crissy Field Center to see what's new -- they're more likely to drop off the kids to learn about cephalopods and snowy plovers. But this month, there is indeed art (made by capable adults, with extensive gallery histories to prove it). The multimedia group exhibit "Estuary" explores, unsurprisingly, wetlands, the neither-sea-nor-land muck that supports a bounty of minuscule creatures and birds. After preliminary kayaking around the Bay Area, three artists set to work: Rebecca Haseltine poured slurries onto Mylar, let the puddles evaporate, then added pigment, crafting meditative scrolls recalling both wetlands and our similarly muddy internal organs; filmmaker Barbara Klutinis created shoreline videos with shifting time sequences; and composer Joan Jeanrenaud (formerly of Kronos Quartet) added cricket chirps and birdcalls to her haunting cello. Through Oct. 30 at the Crissy Field Center, 603 Mason (at Halleck), S.F. Admission is free; call 561-7690 or visit (Michael Leaverton) Reviewed Oct. 12.

"Kianga Ford." Simply a soundtrack and a collection of red velvet couches -- the plush, circular kind found in glamorous retro hotel lobbies -- Ford's installation, Urban Revival, is either the least visually stimulating artwork or the most uncomfortable lounge I've seen in a long time. The pristine couches are arranged in the gallery as if in a nightclub or bar -- tucked into corners or facing each other conversationally -- but with all the lights turned on, bright. When you sit down (gingerly, self-consciously), you'll most likely find yourself staring at your shoes. But it doesn't take long to notice that the gallery is full, not with images, but with sound. Sonic fragments come swooping through unheralded, overlap, and then fade away: ambient sounds from a dance club, African drumming, a church choir, an exercise class, someone singing "California Dreamin'." Each clip transports you for a moment, only to segue effortlessly into the next, taking you somewhere else entirely. It's a dilettante's meditation: bored and lonely in the midst of a crowd and forced to pay attention to your own internal monologue. The installation captures in sound the restless drift of thought while the body idles, cooling its heels on a fancy couch. By making us aware of the split between our private thoughts and our public personas, Ford reminds us of the richness of the psychic and physical spaces we all inhabit, even when we think we're doing nothing. Through Nov. 12 at the Lisa Dent Gallery, 660 Mission (between Second and Third streets), Fourth Floor, S.F. Admission is free; call 975-0860 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Oct. 26.

"New Work: Edgar Arceneaux." Summertime once afforded sun worshippers the opportunity to laze around on white, sandy beaches or swim out in cool, crystal waters -- that is, until they discovered how damaging those darn UV rays were to their skin. Good thing for Los Angeles-based artist Edgar Arceneaux, whose recent exhibit "Borrowed Sun" brought the planetary system's central star indoors, where it could be appreciated from a safer vantage point. Inspired by the artist's passion for language and science and his interest in creating startling connections among words, objects, places, and people, Arceneaux's room-size installation utilizes graphite drawings on vellum, a large-scale concrete sculpture, slides, and film to conjure cosmically inspired free-jazz musician Sun Ra, minimalist artist Sol LeWitt (whose first name means "sun" in Spanish), and 17th-century astronomer Galileo, who proved that the Earth revolves around the sun. Featuring selections from "Borrowed Sun" such as Broken Sol, The Immeasurable Equation, and Cycle a Single Moment, "New Work" runs through Nov. 27 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free-$12.50; call 357-4000 or visit (Joshua Rotter) Reviewed Aug. 10.

"Perpetual Motion/Movimiento Perpetuo." This lovely, haunting installation by Victor Cartagena and Elisabeth Oppenheimer is the culmination of two years of research spent recording people's immigration stories. The collected audio segments float out over a sea of black inner tubes -- some resting on the floor, some suspended from the ceiling -- flanked by wall-size video projections of walking and running feet. On one pair of facing walls are pavement-level close-ups of the feet of well-shod city dwellers, walking at a brisk clip. On the other walls, considerably less-well-off feet run furtively along a dirty passageway. Despite the stark contrast in class and tone, the video loops create a continuous motion, suggesting that the flip side to the creature comforts of city life is invisible, low-wage, immigrant labor. The inner tubes simultaneously refer to the treacherous ocean crossings that many immigrants face and stand in for immigrant bodies and stories, bobbing just below the surface of the sidewalk, beneath notice. Although the video is the only element that moves, the entire piece seems to breathe, giving life to stories that take place in the shadows and often remain there, unheard or untold. Ironically, while the installation creates a beautiful visual metaphor for the immigrant experience, the recordings of the immigrants themselves are difficult to hear. Overlapping with one another and with readings from theoretical texts, the voices of the people who generously recounted their experiences are fragmented and obscured: heard, but still not understood. Through Dec. 3 at Intersection for the Arts, 446 Valencia (between 15th and 16th streets), S.F. Admission is free; call 626-2787 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Oct. 26.


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