Triple Base Gallery on 24th Street recently unveiled its new artists in a flat-file project that allows a standing exhibit of hundreds of works on paper from 16 artists. The show ended December 19, but the pieces are still at the gallery in files.
Among some of the most interesting work presented was that of Matt Gonzalez, the progressive leader who shaped much of the political landscape in San Francisco from 2000 to 2004.
What has always been striking about Gonzalez — politically, socially and otherwise — has been his staunch refusal to separate art from life. As a small but significant measure of this impact, Gonzalez was the first elected official in San Francisco to open his office to artists to put on monthly art shows.
The practice he initiated of opening City Hall to art and artists — merging art and politics — has become so popular that it is now common for many officials to host art shows in their offices. This victory of non-separation represents a reappraisal of the political landscape that needs to grow.
With relatively little attention and a host of small successful gallery showings at Adobe Books, Lincart and Johansson Projects, Gonzalez has produced more than 500 intimate small-scale collages over the last six years. Many are in the spirit of Kurt Schwitters, using only found materials collected on his walks through the city or poached from invitations he receives by mail.
The works can be found on the walls of other artists, including Bay Area figurative legend Theophilus Brown and the well-known Mexican painter Gustavo Ramos Rivera.
Gonzalez’s primary palette is stuff that other people throw away. The works themselves are meditations on value, meaning and social norms. As a body, the work recalls the Phillip K. Dick saying, “Divinity is found in the trash substratum.”
The visual impact and gravity of his work is such that Gonzalez should not be denied a second career as an artist, and may be remembered someday more in that vein rather than as a politician.
The work is composed of images and discarded packaging, the disambiguation of old meanings through minor resurrections of color, compositions and forays into textures and curiosity.
The innocence of many of the pieces is striking and noticeable, inviting the spectator to see something with new eyes — similar to the way a child might be fascinated by a color or an object it instinctively reaches out for on the sidewalk, only to have an adult quickly shoo it away to enforce the conceptual reality of what is “allowed.”
Gonzalez’s work reinvigorates this moment, but stops the hand of authority before it can get a complete stranglehold on our innate sense of wonder.
Gonzalez’s reappraisal of this moment and his willingness to pick up the forgotten, unseen and rejected is a meditation on compassion. It displays an intimacy with things other people don’t want to be reminded of, as if to say, “But look how great this is if you only get rid of your idea about it!” In this way the pieces are balanced by a sense of humor and the inherent questions that they pose about late capitalism, status and prescribed values.
Some of the pieces belong in the philosophical company of Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, two of the most famous members of the Situationist International, and possibly as a continuation of their famous critique “The Society of the Spectacle.”
The pieces are a playful critique of modern society and throwaway culture. Gonzalez pays attention to ideas and things left in the margins, and rescues them from oblivion and unconsciousness in such a way as to show us the ghost of modern living that lurks outside our doors.
Gonzalez goes further than Jorn and Debord when he appropriates the Situationist concept of the “Drift” — a deliberately poetic and uncalculated exploration of the city — and catalogues it by creating artifacts of experience, an archaeology of everyday life created from discarded images and messages that he juxtaposes into small works of art.
The perspective is one that might be welcomed in a zen tea house — getting rid of the concepts of the past by presenting them without the garbage of conditioned thinking.
One notes that Gonzalez’s work in every field has always retained a trace of the outsider. In some sense he has made a career of representing people without a voice.
Paul Occam grew up in San Francisco and has known Matt Gonzalez for 10 years. He’s interested in the intersection of art and politics — usually they don’t meet, but when they do, it’s always notable. At present, Occam writes legislation for local municipalities, mostly environmental.