Religion's so controversial in San Francisco that spats periodically erupt over the nondescript cross atop Mount Davidson. So it may be challenging for us locals to understand the thrall that Buddhism has held over Thailand's visual arts. In a country of bright flowers and green mountains and sapphire water, what have the people painted and sculpted repeatedly? The Buddha, in bronze and sandstone, in murals and jewelry and temple objects, always smiling the gentle smile that denotes his inner peace and often capped with the unicorn horn-like "Thai flame" that symbolizes his spiritual energy. Yes, you'll see Buddhas aplenty in "The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand 1350-1800," the groundbreaking new exhibit organized by the Asian Art Museum, but the charms of the 87 objects on display don't end there. The exhibition focuses on the classical arts of the kingdom of Ayutthaya, a great artistic center for more than 400 years until its artifacts were demolished by a 1767 Burmese invasion. But some amazing fragments live on in "The Kingdom of Siam," most of them culled from Buddhist temples -- richly carved figures of gods and goddesses, temple doors inlaid with elaborate mother-of-pearl designs. There are some secular trinkets, too, particularly magnificent brocade textiles shot through with gold. See them when the show opens at 10 a.m. today (it continues through May 8) at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 581-3500 or visit www.asianart.org.
-- Joyce Slaton
Success hasn't changed Harvey Pekar. By all accounts he's the same embittered crank as when he was just a Cleveland office drone who scribbled comics at night. His life story told in a beloved biopic, his new acclaim and literary fame -- all of it melts in the face of Pekar's cynicism. Now the singular fella, in town for WonderCon, celebrates the emergence of his latest collection, Best of American Splendor, a chronicle of bad jobs, annoying co-workers, and life's little letdowns. Pekar lets loose at 7 p.m. at the Booksmith, 1644 Haight (at Clayton), S.F. Admission is free; call 863-8688 or visit www.booksmith.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
The Mouth That Roared
When Deep Throat was filmed in 1972 for an austere $25,000, Linda Lovelace was just an ordinary party girl with a history of doing porn loops and an unusual talent. Mere months later Throat was the million-dollar success story that made porn safe for suburbanites. Filmmakers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye) dissect the movie's bombshell impact in the new doc Inside Deep Throat, a combination of archival footage and interviews with porn insiders that continues this week at the Clay Theatre, 2261 Fillmore (at Clay), S.F. Admission is $7.25-9.50; call 267-4893 or visit www.landmarktheatres.com.
-- Joyce Slaton
Technically speaking, great photographic prints come from carefully treated negatives, the bigger the better. Bigger negatives hold more information, which means your picture's going to come out better. Chris McCaw's work in "Travelogue: The Road Trip Portfolio" comes from an impressive 7-inch-by-17-inch-format homemade camera. But technique isn't enough; photography requires a sharp eye for composition, a sense of humor, and good subject matter. In McCaw's case, check, check, and skateboarders. The show is up through March 18 at Fusion Artspace, 531 Howard (at First Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 618-0141 or visit www.fusionartspace.com.
-- Hiya Swanhuyser