"Richard Learoyd: The Outside World"
Sept. 12-Oct. 26, Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary, S.F. 981-2661, fraenkelgallery.com.
The British photographer Richard Learoyd — known for taking highly intimate, one-of-a-kind images while using a camera obscura — turns his lens on the English countryside, where trees, water, hillsides (and the occasional person) become the object of close attention.
Highbrow: Learoyd slaves over the process of image-making, spending hours making a single "direct positive" image — or a print that has no negative. The photos he makes are both physically large and large in detail.
Lowbrow: You don't have to know anything about Learoyd's technique or background to appreciate the studious quality that he produces in image after image.
"Edward Burtynsky: Water"
Oct. 24-Dec. 14, Rena Bransten Gallery, 79 Geary, S.F. 982-3292, renabranstengallery.com
Based in San Francisco, Edward Burtynsky traveled to nine countries over five years to take stunning photos that all relate to water — its use, its influence, its absence. Seen from the sky, farmlands, wetlands, deltas, rivers and mountains become mysterious layers of life and death.
Highbrow: Burtynsky says he searches for "contradictions" and "metaphors" in his images of the natural world, and those images — from oil spills to pristine peaks — are both awe-inspiring and entirely thought-provoking.
Lowbrow: Through Burtynsky's photography, we get to be armchair travelers. He's done all the hard work while we take in the fruits of that labor at whatever pace we choose.
"In Grand Style: Celebrations in Korean Art During the Joseon Dynasty"
Oct. 25-Jan. 12, Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F. 581-3500, asianart.org.
The Joseon dynasty was the Korean peninsula's last major dynasty before modern times, lasting from 1392 to 1910, when Japan invaded its neighbor to the west. For arts and culture, the Joseon dynasty initiated a series of important traditions that get the marquee treatment in this show, billed as "the first major U.S. exhibition to explore the colorfully choreographed ceremonies of Korea's Joseon dynasty."
Highbrow: The 115 works on display — including a jade-and-gold praise book for the dynasty's first king, an ornate throne, and a 150-foot-long royal hand scroll — are considered some of the finest art objects ever to travel from South Korea.
Lowbrow: Royal life — the good life — is always impressive to behold (we love to see how the rich live), and this exhibit of striking objects and striking paintings is no exception.
"David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition"
Oct. 26-Jan. 20, de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, S.F. 750-3600, deyoung.famsf.org.
David Hockney has been an art-world mainstay for more than 50 years, known for pop art that turns simple scenes — like people sitting in a living room, or plants getting sunlight — into colorful expositions about something bigger. And bigger this exhibit is: It's the de Young's largest ever, with 300 works that were personally selected by the British artist.
Highbrow: We get the full arc of Hockney's recent work, including art he's created from mobile devices, and movies that will be screened on multiple monitors. It's modernist Hockney and traditional Hockney in the same, giant space.
Lowbrow: Hockey's art often exudes fun and whimsy, which makes it appealing to all levels of art-goers. (Use of mobile devices for art-making will also be familiar to the viewer.) His work appeals — like the music of the Beatles — to all age levels.
"Live Archive: Jason Lazarus"Nov. 21-March 23, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F. 655-7800, thecjm.org.
Whatever Jason Lazarus spotlights in photos or found items — whether writing on a wall in Chicago's Cabrini Green housing project, or a tree that Anne Frank looked at in Amsterdam — expresses deep meaning that would have been easy to overlook. The everyday art around us is one of Lazarus' specialties, and this exhibit finds that art in such things as Occupy Wall Street protest signs.
Highbrow: Lazarus connects the dots between impulse actions — like words uttered in a moment of fury — and the way those moments can have lifelong significance.
Lowbrow: Lazarus' work can be totally hands-on. In some of his exhibits, he makes art that people can carry around during the exhibit. How cool is that?
"Joshua Meyer: Rustle, Sparkle, Flutter, Float"
Nov. 7-30, Dolby Chadwick Gallery, 210 Post St., S.F. 956-3560, dolbychadwickgallery.com.
Using a knife instead of a brush, Joshua Meyer paints canvases that seem like they were scraped into existence. The scrapes and shifts of paint create beautifully abstract works. Except that within Meyer's art are figures — people put together with other scrapes of paint. His work always intrigues.
Highbrow: Meyer's semi-abstractions force the viewer to explore his canvases for beginnings and endings. They're there and they're not — an ambiguity that Meyer hopes his audience is as enthusiastic about as he is.
Lowbrow: Meyer's painting style and his splashy colors beckon viewers with ease — a kind of eye candy that makes for an easy first impression.
"Anders Zorn, Sweden's Master Painter"
Nov. 9-Feb. 2, Legion of Honor, 100 34th Ave., S.F. 750-3600, legionofhonor.famsf.org.
In 1911, then-U.S. President William Howard Taft invited Swedish painter Anders Zorn to the White House, where Zorn painted Taft's official portrait. The portrait is still there — a masterwork that typifies Zorn's international prominence. This retrospective reminds us why Zorn and his paintings still matter in the world of art.
Highbrow: With his formal approach to portraiture, Zorn is part of a continuum of classical European painters that stretches back to Titian, da Vinci, and Giotto.
Lowbrow: Zorn's name may have receded from popular American culture, but his paintings — typified by Caique Oarsman from 1886 — feel as fresh today as they undoubtedly did a century ago.
"Word to Mother: California Coming Home"
Nov. 9-Dec. 7, White Walls, 886 Geary, S.F. 931-1500, whitewallssf.com.
The London artist known as Word to Mother frequently creates scenes that carry an underlying message of "fuck society." Celebrity culture has been one target of his wrath. And now comes his critique of the look-at-me-I'm-on-social-media culture. The works here reflect on Word to Mother's 1996 visit to California, when technology and social media were in the background, not the foreground as they are today.
Highbrow: Word to Mother has an academic background in illustration and animation. The odd figures he draws are the end result of someone who's studied many genres of art and art history.
Lowbrow: Pop-culture references are easy to find in his work. And the graffiti and street-art style that Word of Mother perfected in public spaces is still a formidable part of his art.