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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.

"Irreconcilable Differences." Despite the single name, leonardogillesfleur is a pair of artists (Leonardo Giacomuzzo and Gilles-Fleur Boutry), and their current exhibit is all about collaboration, as embodied in a custom bicycle built for two. The sleek, black, professionally altered velocipede is casually propped on one of its two kickstands in the middle of the gallery floor. There's only one catch: The two sets of seats, pedals, and handlebars are headed in opposite directions. At first glance, it's a cheap one-liner; you need only describe such a vehicle to appreciate its utter incompetence. So why go to the trouble of actually fabricating it? Because, as stupid as it sounds, actually seeing two bike chains pointing in different directions while anchored to the same set of gears expresses complete and utter deadlock in such a visceral way that the absurdity is palpable. The only other element in the show is a slide projection of the artist duo actually attempting to use the bike, perched atop the seats and handlebars. She's in a black evening gown and heels; he's in a red shirt and sneakers. They're obviously bound for different destinations, but going nowhere. Although leonardogillesfleur are known for video work, it's fitting that this image is as motionless as their useless bike. Rather than the sanguine picture of productive partnership (and romance) suggested by a "bicycle built for two," leonardogillesfleur remind us that unity does not ensure agreement. Through Oct. 15 at Mission 17, 2111 Mission (at 17th Street), Suite 401, S.F. Admission is free; call 336-2349 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Sept. 28.

"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 the artist's passion for language and science and his interest in creating startling connections among 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.

"Toys Take No Prisoners." If you spend as much time as artists John Casey, Dave Higgins, and John Rogers fabricating scatological monsters and skeletal Mickey Mouse figurines, or staging World War III battles with G.I. Joes and Hot Wheels, then clearly, you are a geek. But that's a good thing. This small but imaginative exhibit of artworks-cum-toys is surprisingly affecting, despite being crammed into display cases on the back wall of Super 7, a store dedicated to Japanese anime and pop ephemera. Casey's shriveled little figures look like twisted versions of shrunken apple-head dolls; Beantown Boy has two angry-looking heads where his arms should be. The figures are ugly and pathetic but laced with small hopeful details -- one little guy's grotesquely oversize hand has fingers tipped with gold. Higgins' Atom Boy is a sculpture of the early Japanese anime character Astro Boy as an antique: a jointed toy with the springs exposed and a surface patina of age and use. This aged appearance quietly subverts the ever-youthful, super-shiny surface of such comic book characters. Unfortunately, the artist's other efforts -- including the aforementioned Skully Mouse -- are less nuanced, little more than Tim Burton-esque collectibles. Rogers' photographic tableaux of toy tanks and soldiers stopping at the minimart project the horror of military invasion into the benign world of child's play (and vice versa). He also contributes a stack of metal children's blocks that have been shot through with a .45. Cheery. Through Oct. 8 at Super 7, 1630 Post (at Laguna), S.F. Admission is free; call 409-4700 or visit (Sharon Mizota) Reviewed Sept. 28.


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