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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's forte is the marriage of 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.

"Beyond Plastic." To say something is "plastic" usually means it's fake, but this group show turns fake into a virtue. In almost all of the sculptures and wall pieces, plastic and its cousins (vinyl, latex, nylon, etc.) masquerade as other materials, with mixed results. Among the standouts are Julia Latané's vinyl sculptures of lichen and fungus, whose Dr. Seussian shapes and colors cleverly exploit the contradiction between natural forms and man-made materials. Julie Allen's floppy cakes made from assorted balloons are funny and sad, like a deflated birthday party. And Robert Strati's simple wall pieces (each identically titled Fold) are enigmatic and unexpectedly charming. Constructed of clear packing tape stretched in strips over a curving wire form that literally folds over on itself, the works have a rough, handmade quality that evokes line drawing and belies the sterility of their materials. Less impressive are works that rely too heavily on the seductiveness of plastic itself. Benicia Gantner's pretty vinyl cutouts of trees, flowers, and snowflakes are mounted on lushly colored plexiglass, but they're much too pristine; they never transcend the loveliness of their surfaces. Similarly, Connie Harris' Sugar -- cubes of colored glitter encased in square, clear plastic covers -- comprises enticing objects but feels a little too prefab, like something you might find on sale in the home décor section at Target. Sometimes, it seems, plastic is still just plastic. Through Sept. 10 at Limn Gallery, 292 Townsend (at Fourth Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 977-1300 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Aug. 31.

"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 his passion for language and science and his interest in creating startling connections between 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.

"Power Ties." Photographer Luis Delgado cleverly investigates the physiognomy of leadership in this larger-than-life installation. Like clones of Mount Rushmore, statues of past presidents, captured in giant photographs, gaze impassively from opposite sides of the gallery. Each figure is composed of two images, a face and a bust, and the two halves are mismatched, exquisite-corpse style, so that no portrait appears in its original entirety. Instead, each image is a combination, not only of two personalities, but of two time periods and styles of dress. So a face that looks like Gerald Ford (but could be William McKinley? I admit, I don't know all my presidents by sight) appears atop a cravat more befitting John Adams. These small dissonances bring out similarities among the faces -- Delgado has wisely omitted the most recognizable mugs like Lincoln and Washington -- resulting in an installation that overwhelms and surprises us with sameness. All the craggy, presidential visages start to look alike. The overall effect is a bit like a fun-house hall of mirrors, in which every image is grotesquely distorted, yet familiar. As if in recognition of this effect, Delgado has placed a mirror in an elaborate gilt frame dead center between the rows of presidents so you can add yourself to the pantheon. Perhaps appearing "presidential" is more about the frame than the man. Through Sept. 10 at SF Camerawork, 1246 Folsom (between Eighth and Ninth streets), S.F. Admission is free; call 863-1001 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Aug. 31.

"Recent Paintings: Ada Sadler." In Ada Sadler's "Bathtubbie" series, she photographed and then painted, in exquisite detail, small, square portraits of simple tub toys (duckies and froggies) perched on the lips of sinks. It was whimsical, but perhaps too whimsical? Problem solved in "Recent Paintings," her current solo show, in which she photographs and then paints, in exquisite detail, small, square portraits of ... chairs. And not even interesting chairs, like an electric or a Barcelona, but the ordinary metal and plastic jobs found in university hallways. UC Davis Chair #6 is, in fact, a chair from UC Davis, much like what you would sit on outside a professor's office. Ditto for UC Davis Chair #5 and UCLA Chair #2. But it doesn't matter what Sadler paints. The shafts of sunlight piercing the darkened rooms, the drifting shadows, the unique angles -- it is all stunning, nearly photorealistic, as if you were looming over said chairs, contemplating a moment of repose. Through Oct. 1 at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery, 210 Post (at Grant), Second Floor, S.F. Admission is free; call 956-3560 or visit (Michael Leaverton) Reviewed Aug. 31.


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