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The Writing on the Wall 

Art form or art crime?

TUES 8/16

We see graffiti all over town, from compelling, murallike political manifestoes to highly stylized tags. In fact, the new Central Freeway overpass -- not even completed -- is already covered with vibrant swaths of paint. While there's no question that these pieces are impressive in their own right, they occur on private property, and are thus considered prosecutable acts of vandalism. The lecture "Graffiti: Urban Scrawl or Artistic Freedom" ponders the cultural ramifications of this metropolitan art form, with local activists heralding a grass-roots arts movement while their civic counterparts express frustration at the millions spent (wasted?) yearly on graffiti abatement. The evening starts with historian Jim Prigoff's extensive slide show of street art from around the world, and continues with a panel discussion featuring representatives from both sides of the spray can. Street artist Apex and filmmaker Ben Morgan, who directed Quality of Life, an independent film about San Francisco graffiti culture, face off against Mohammed Nuru from the city's Graffiti Advisory Board as well as other anti-graffiti activists. Hear the debate at 6:30 p.m. at the Commonwealth Club, 595 Market (at Second Street), Second Floor, S.F. Admission is $7-20; call 597-6700 or visit
-- Jane Tunks

Bathroom Camera
When you gotta go

THURS 8/11

One of the scenes that make Cabaret such a perfect film is the moment at which Michael York's prim character realizes how far from home he is in 1930s Germany: A beautiful girl steps up next to him at the urinal. Breaking every rule known to masculinity, he drops his eyes to ascertain that, yes, she's using her penis to pee. It's cute, because he doesn't beat her up or call the Nazis. In contemporary life, anyone with an even slightly rebellious gender setup risks ridicule or violence when entering a public restroom. This is the situation addressed by a new documentary, Wrong Bathroom, which also makes use of the humor inherent in both mistaken identities and toilets; director Shani Heckman says it "blows the stink out of the stall on this civil rights issue." The evening features readings, music, and a screening at 7 at El Rio, 3158 Mission (at Cesar Chavez), S.F. Admission is $6-15; call 282-3325 or visit
-- Hiya Swanhuyser

Recharging Pop
Something old, something new

ONGOING 8/10-9/24

In the '60s, artists such as John Clem Clarke, Bob Stanley, and Archigram expanded pop art's reach by combining it with surrealism, Beat, funk, and Americana, according to curator Steven Wolf, whose "Pop Spelled Backwards Is Pop" presents an "alternate" (Warhol-free) survey of the era.

Also showing is Ghost Signatures, a video by Jose Ruiz, whose work is a boon to municipal employees (like the ones who'll be speaking at the Commonwealth Club Tuesday; see "The Writing on the Wall" above): He paints over graffiti, masking the offending tags, creating art by erasing it. Both exhibits continue through Sept. 24 at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, 49 Geary (at Kearny), S.F. Admission is free; call 263-3677 or visit
-- Michael Leaverton

Say Something Funny

SAT 8/13

Today is San Francisco Home Movie Day, duly christened by Mayor Newsom. Perhaps you're without plans. Time to round up your old videos for a free cleaning and screening, and watch rare gems collected by archivists (such as 1961's The Witches Sabbath and 1958's San Francisco in Cinemascope), starting at noon at the San Francisco Media Archive, 275 Capp (at 18th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call 558-8177 or visit
-- Michael Leaverton


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