The past has a way of catching up and seeming new again. So it is with a large number of notable visual-art exhibits in the coming months, whether it's paintings from Georgia O'Keefe, photography that plays on 19th-century stereotypes, or decades-old ink blots that are as timeless as ever.
"Mauricio Ancalmo: Krap Etag Nedlog Reve"
Feb. 1-March 1, Ever Gold Gallery, evergoldgallery.com.
The artwork of Mauricio Ancalmo is weird, fun, and enthralling. At one of his last San Francisco exhibits, at YBCA's "Bay Area Now" in 2011, his Dueling Pianos: Agape Agape in D Minor incorporated two player pianos, two hangars, a word processor, rolling pin, and paper rolls — producing music that stirred the senses and the imagination. The weirdness and fun continue with Ancalmo's new exhibit.
"Lalla Essaydi: New Beauty"
Feb. 6-March 29, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, jenkinsjohnsongallery.com.
In the 19th century, Orientalist painters were widely celebrated in Europe for their vivid depictions of Muslim women in sexualized states of undress. These exoticized images are still prevalent, which is one reason why Lalla Essaydi's modern photos of beautiful women posing in intimate Islamic settings are so provocative. Essaydi's women are surrounded by Islamic calligraphy and, in some new works, by bullet casings that at first glance seem like jewels. By disrupting stereotypes, Essaydi's images are a 21st-century bookend to outdated exoticism.
"Two Geologies: Stephen De Staebler & Danae Mattes"
Feb. 6-March 1, Dolby Chadwick Gallery, dolbychadwickgallery.com.
In 2012, the de Young Museum had an inspired retrospective of Stephen De Staebler's sculptured figures, which confirmed his status as one of the Bay Area's pre-eminent artists. Behind the scenes, De Staebler's widow, Danae Mattes, helped organize that exhibit. This exhibit puts Mattes on the same level as her husband. Like De Staebler, Mattes creates art that is intrinsically connected to earthly layers and formations, as with her paintings that seems to crack, fade, and flourish all at the same time.
"J.S. Weis: Liquid Hymn"
Feb. 7-March 8, 1AM Gallery, 1amgallery.com.
Imagine artwork from the Audubon Society melding with psychedelic art of the 1960s, and you have a sense of the new canvases from Oakland's J.S. Weis. Animals emerge from a flotilla of colorful matter that resembles the earth or its atmosphere but is hard to pinpoint. It's all very mysterious and all very intoxicating.
"Bruce Conner — Inkblots"
Feb. 12-March 15, Gallery Paule Anglim, gallerypauleanglim.com.
A simple splash of black ink, next to another, next to another, produces a unique amalgam of shapes and sizes. In certain hands, it's a Rorschach test. In the hands of artist Bruce Conner, it's a kind of language pattern, with vertical lines of tiny, connected crenellations, vertices, and other curious contours. Like the Rorschach test, Conner's blots are open to interpretation, but their form is more recognizable, and their beauty is much more obvious.
"Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah"
Feb. 13-June 29, Contemporary Jewish Museum, thecjm.org.
During the Jewish celebration of Passover, Jewish families everywhere read from a text called the Haggadah, which describes the Jewish people's ancient slavery and subsequent exodus from Egypt. The Haggadah that Arthur Szyk illustrated in the 1930s is considered one of the most illuminating and artistic ever created. Even without accompanying words, Szyk's illustrations instantly convey the epic scope of suffering, escape, and determination that are so central to the Haggadah's telling and retelling.
"Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keefe and Lake George"
Feb. 15-May 11, de Young Museum, deyoung.famsf.org.
Georgia O'Keefe is so closely associated with New Mexico, where she lived on and off (mostly on) for 50 years, that her early artistic period in upstate New York is largely a footnote in her public perception. This exhibit acts as a kind of corrective, displaying 55 works from her time at Alfred Stieglitz's Lake George property. Not surprisingly, the natural world — including flowers, trees, and water — found their way onto O'Keefe's Lake George canvases, but so did manmade structures, as in Lake George Barns from 1928.
"Public Intimacy: Art and Other Ordinary Acts in South Africa"
Feb. 21-June 29, YBCA, ybca.org.
The recent death of Nelson Mandela renewed international attention on South Africa, where a post-apartheid nation is still struggling to integrate all of its citizens in the country's rising economic fortunes. This exhibit — a collaboration with SFMOMA — emphasizes artistic work from the past five years, and promises to show "the ways that artists have explored interpersonal relationships, encounters, and exchange in everyday social life in South Africa." Photography is a particular focus, with images from such stalwart South African photographers as David Goldblatt and Zanele Muholi.
"Walter Robinson: Sic transit gloria mundi"
Feb. 22-March 29, at Catherine Clark Gallery, cclarkgallery.com.
A doughnut that spells "God." Tree-shaped air fresheners that feature the word "napalm." A six-pack of "Capitol Hill Billy Goat Ale" whose tops have a suckle and a dome straight from the Washington, D.C., skyline. Underneath the artful ribbing, Walter Robinson raises serious issues about what he calls "the subconscious and biological human imperatives hidden beneath social, political, religious, and capitalist packaging." Robinson's forte is navigating that fine line between comedy and tragedy.
"Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records"
April 19-July 27, Oakland Museum of California, (510) 318-8400, museumca.org.
Record collectors have long known that album covers are some of the best art around. This exhibit presents not just covers but interviews with record collectors, listening stations that let groups of people listen to the same song, and even live music. It's old school and new school, revolving around an analog product that is still hanging on to its place in the culture.