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Our critics weigh in on local exhibits

"Downtime: Constructing Leisure." Just in time for summer vacation, this group exhibition examines the various ways in which we understand and use leisure time. Josh Greene's clever Individual Leisure Grants -- $500 awards to individuals to pursue leisure activities in the Bay Area -- is an irreverent riff on the arts foundation grant and a heartwarming document of how people envision and plan their time off. The French art collective Bureau d'Etudes contributes a detailed diagram and video exposing the membership and history of Bohemian Grove, the Sonoma County retreat of an exclusive, all-male club whose members include every Republican president since Herbert Hoover. Mungo Thomson's slide show of post-9/11 photographs (culled from the Internet) of people at the top of the Empire State Building is a recognition of New York City's altered landscape and an unexpectedly fascinating survey of the conventions of tourist photography. But the exhibit's highlight is Steven Shearer's untitled piece, a prefab tool shed from which a one-minute guitar solo emanates once every hour. In the context of an exhibit about free time, it's a poignant comment on the survival of garage band dreams within the limited time we squeeze in for fun. Although the show as a whole suffers from some unevenness, it's a refreshing look at how we live life off the clock. Through May 14 at New Langton Arts, 1246 Folsom (between Eighth and Ninth streets), S.F. Admission is free; call 626-5416 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed April 27.

"GlamMore." This coy, satirical exhibit examines people's impressions of luxury and elegance. The huge show includes work by Mail Order Brides/M.O.B., a Filipina-American ensemble of high-camp thespians, and Galya Rosenfeld, a fashion designer with a techno-mod sensibility. By turns comical and critical, "GlamMore" is appropriate for the haute bourgeoisie and the snickering pragmatist alike. Through May 5 at the California College of the Arts, 1111 Eighth St. (at Wisconsin), S.F. Admission is free; call 551-9213 or visit (Nirmala Nataraj) Reviewed April 13.

"The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand 1350-1800." 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 this 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. Through May 8 at the Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 581-3500 or visit (Joyce Slaton) Reviewed Feb. 16.

"Made Modular." In the optimistic days of midcentury modernism, the homes of the future promised all sorts of useful trappings -- robot housekeepers, self-cleaning bathrooms, and gourmet meals that could be whipped up with the push of a button. Sadly, these innovations still haven't become reality. Even so, the advances of another forward-looking dream, prefab architecture, are slowly coming to fruition. This exhibition investigates this trend, showcasing models and proposals for boundary-pushing prefab homes in America and abroad. Among the ultramodern pods is the winner of Dwell magazine's contest to design an affordable home for mass production. Through April 29 at the AIA San Francisco Gallery, 130 Sutter (at Montgomery), S.F. Admission is free; call 362-7397 or visit (Jane Tunks) Reviewed April 13.

"Monuments for the USA." The folks at the California College of the Arts have commissioned more than 70 artists to design their own colossal -- and genuinely provocative -- American shrines. Because these are just proposals rather than full-size assemblies, the artists can exercise their visions without concern for skyrocketing budgets and meddling politicos. Thomas Hirschhorn's The Road Side Giant Book Project may look like an enormous volume perched alongside a highway interchange, but it's actually a library that also houses daily discussions about philosophy and art. Aleksandra Mir's The Great Ears (East & West) proposes a pair of ears made out of white marble, one on each coast, that would, according to the artist's statement, "make us aware of what goes on in the world and protect us from evil threat, like ears do." Through May 14 at the Wattis Institute's Logan Galleries, 1111 Eighth St. (at Hooper), S.F. Admission is free; call 551-9210 or visit (Jane Tunks) Reviewed April 13.

"New Work: Marilyn Minter." A single ice-blue eye looks uninterestedly into the distance, surrounded by a thick layer of cosmetic lacquer somewhere between the colors of blood and flamingo. It's a beautiful image, but not a happy one: Has the eye been made up to look injured? The photorealist painting in question, LA to NYC, leaves the viewer confused, but unable to look away. It and a slew of other glittering, color-drenched, large-scale photographs and paintings comprise this show, which will probably net the New York artist a raging horde of devoted S.F. fans. Through July 24 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is free-$10; call 357-4000 or visit (Hiya Swanhuyser) Reviewed April 13.

"Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective" and "Robert Bechtle Prints." The middle-class slopes of Potrero Hill and the suburban roads of Alameda don't exactly scream with picturesque possibility, but painter Robert Bechtle has spent his life turning them into art. Using the mundane as fodder for his masterpieces, Bechtle finds riveting subjects in the most ordinary of things. The everyday-ness of his paintings brings with it a familiarity that is tangible, but the uncanny exactitude of his lines, shadows, and sun rays is what makes his landscapes so realistic and inviting. A Bay Area native with an artistic career that spans half a century, the 72-year-old painter is now having his first major retrospective here in town. "Robert Bechtle: A Retrospective" runs through June 5 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St. (at Mission), S.F. Admission is $6-10; call 357-4000 or visit "Robert Bechtle Prints" runs through April 29 at Crown Point Press, 20 Hawthorne (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is free; call 974-6273 or visit (Hiya Swanhuyser) Reviewed Feb. 16.


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