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Winter Arts: Art 

Wednesday, Jan 7 2015
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Haight Street Rat

For three years, the only place to see Banksy's art up close in San Francisco was Chinatown, at the southwest corner of Commercial Street and Grant Avenue. Peaceful Hearts Doctor — which featured a heart, doctor, peace sign, and a stethoscope — was Banksy at his best. But even as the building's management put up plexiglass to protect Peaceful Hearts Doctor, vandals and taggers defaced the work, and in the past year, it was finally removed. No more street-level Banksy.

Until now. Between Jan. 21 and July 11, you can almost snuggle the work that's now called Haight Street Rat, which originally fronted the top of a building at Haight and Belvedere streets. The re-emergence of the rat is a major highlight of the winter art scene in the city, but it comes with conditions. The art space 836M will showcase Haight Street Rat in its Montgomery Street window from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day, so artgoers will have to see it during those hours, and they'll have to see it from the street, not inside the gallery. Given the experience at Commercial and Grant, it makes sense to keep some distance between Haight Street Rat and the viewing public. That we get this Bansky work at all is a small miracle. Art activist Brian Greif, who is making a documentary about Banksy's street art and the profiteers who exploit it, saved Haight Street Rat from destruction, and rejected huge financial offers to keep the work in the public domain.

(Just a few blocks from 836M is another Banksy work he left during his San Francisco visit in 2010. Go to the northwest corner of Broadway and Columbus and look kitty-corner, where Banksy's anti-war message, "If at first you don't succeed — call an airstrike," still graces the top of a building.)

For Haight Street Rat, expect crowds to gather on the sidewalk at peak viewing hours — which will likely include lunchtime. And expect Greif's Saving Banksy cameras to be there, capturing a scene where a famous piece of street art sits in a gallery on the edge of the Financial District, far from where it first appeared in the middle of the night. Art will beget more art. Banksy himself might smile at the thought.

Jan. 21-July 11, 836M, 836m.com.

"Lamp of the Covenant: Dave Lane"

The Contemporary Jewish Museum's unique building, a beautiful repurposing of a PG&E power substation by architect Daniel Libeskind, gets an interior sculpture that's every bit as interesting. Dave Lane, often described as "an outsider artist," has repurposed 6 tons of steel into a 90-foot sheath of globes, light bulbs, old tools, and other objects that will hang over the museum's central lobby. Like the eternal light that can be found in every synagogue, Lane's gigantic lamp can be seen as a symbol of higher connection — both literally and figuratively.

Feb. 1-ongoing, Contemporary Jewish Museum, thecjm.org.

"Vanessa Marsh: Everywhere All at Once"

The nighttime stars that hang overhead in Vanessa Marsh's photographs are the kind that always inspire awe and wonder. The man-made power lines and wind turbines that also criss-cross Marsh's skylines are something else entirely. The juxtapositions in "Everywhere All at Once" make for dissonance and, at first, disbelief. But the more time you spend with Marsh's work, the more time you feel like a witness to a magical spectacle.

Feb. 5-28, Dolby Chadwick Gallery, dolbychadwickgallery.com.

"Tama Hochbaum: Silver Screen"

Like apparitions from a golden era of Hollywood, the faces in Tama Hochbaum's photo exhibit are haunting and alluring. Greta Garbo looks embalmed. Lillian Gish seems high. Fred Astaire is completely in shadow. For "Silver Screen," Hochbaum used a phone camera to take images of movies that her mother relied on for entertainment in the last years of her life. The close-ups bifurcate the films into snippets that are like synaptic clues to bigger ideas. As Hochbaum has noted, "Memory itself is the subject of my photography."

Feb. 12-March 21, George Lawson Gallery, georgelawsongallery.com.

"Seduction: Japan's Floating World"

The art that glamorized Japan's red-light districts between the 17th and 19th centuries was rarely base or crass. Instead, it was a lot like Courtesan promenading under cherry blossoms, a hanging scroll from the early 1800s that shows a woman in a bulbous kimono whose manner and dress complement the flowers over her head. Katsushika Hokuun's scroll is one of more than 60 works that pinpoint the district called Yoshiwara, where sex workers entertained clients in an atmosphere of theater, dance, and other art forms that ensured visitors would — one way or another — leave entirely satisfied.

Feb. 20-May 10, Asian Art Museum, asianart.org.

"Chester Arnold: Heaven and Earth"

People who first discover Chester Arnold's paintings often see a resemblance to the paintings of Pieter Bruegel, the great 16th-century Flemish master who portrayed the working class at play and at work. In his upbringing in Germany, Arnold did see Bruegel's canvases, and the overhead perspective and earthy colors that Arnold brings to Small Time Operation from 2012, which shows people working in the upper reaches of a mine, are very Bruegelian. But Arnold is an amalgamation of many influences, and his work stands out on its own for intricate scenes that are frequently outdoors, as in The Ascension Part 1: Half Way Up from 2014, where a rope dangles from a tree that's festooned with sharp branches. There are no people at all in The Ascension Part 1: Half Way Up. Arnold has said he likes his work to "celebrate and question our presence in the world." That it does.

Feb. 21-April 4, Catharine Clark Gallery, cclarkgallery.com.

"Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces From the National Galleries of Scotland"

Another "loan exhibit" from a major European museum, this one from the National Galleries of Scotland, "Botticelli to Braque" gives San Francisco art-goers an up-close look at paintings that are canonical, some of them exhibited for the first time in the United States. Among the highlights: John Singer Sargent's Lady Agnew of Lochnaw from 1892, with its velvety layers of whites and lavenders; Paul Gaugin's Three Tahitians from 1899, with its kaleidoscope of skin and skyline; and Botticelli's The Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ Child, circa 1490, with its quintessential angelic flesh tones.

March 7-May 31, de Young Museum, deyoung.famsf.org.

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Jonathan Curiel

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