Shai Kremer, Concrete Abstract & Notes From the Edge, Robert Koch Gallery

I am always on the lookout for art that celebrates the landscape and texture of the city in unique ways. Shai Kremer’s solo exhibition at Robert Koch Gallery in San Francisco, Concrete Abstract & Notes From the Edge, fits this goal perfectly. Through choice of setting and compositional techniques, Kremer presents views of New York that are outside the usual iconography of the city.

Shai Kremer Concrete Abstractions
[Installation view. Image courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery.]

In Concrete Abstract, Kremer looks at the reconstruction efforts at the World Trade Center site. The large-scale photographs feature overlaid images of the construction at the site between 2001 and 2012 and look quite abstract and fantastical even as they reveal real elements such as girders, concrete columns and pipes.

Shai Kremer, Concrete Abstract #5: World Trade Center 2001 - 2012
[Shai Kremer, Concrete Abstract #5: World Trade Center 2001 – 2012 (2013). Pigment ink print. Image courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery.]

On one level, a viewer aware of the fact that these are from the World Trade Center site can look for elements that one expects in a large-scale construction project, as well as reminders of the destruction and recover efforts that preceded. However, one can also look at all the layers together to reveal and imaginary future city on an immense scale not yet realized, something out of Metropolis or any number of dystopian urban films. In Concrete Abstract #5, shown above, the concrete skeleton of the floors of the building with their columns become a three-dimension grid of city blocks, with the overlays providing the individual character of each block, some bustling with movement, others looking a bit forlorn.

In Notes From the Edge, Kremer focuses on details and landscapes at the periphery of the city, with the familiar shapes of the Manhattan skyline visible in the distance. The famous cityscape becomes a background to help frame the true subjects of the pieces.

Shai Kremer Waterfront, Brooklyn 2010 pigment ink print
[Shai Kremer, Waterfront, Brooklyn (2010). Pigment ink print. Image courtesy of Robert Koch Gallery]

Kremer explores a variety of locations and elements in this series, ranging from the decaying structures on the Brooklyn waterfront shown above to the clean lines and geometry of the Liberty State Park memorial in New Jersey. There is a painterly quality to the photographs which makes the foreground elements seem like an imaginary projection onto the real city. In making real images of the urban landscape seem more fantastic, Kremer unites this series with the pieces in Concrete Abstract. Taken together, we imagine a city as an unimaginable hive of activity at its core and quiet haunted decaying spaces at its edges.

Kremer’s work in both series is technically strong and demonstrates how simple but unexpected elements can be combined to make views of the city that are unique and celebratory without being overly romantic. This is a quality that makes for great urban art (and great art in general).

The exhibition will remain on display at Robert Koch Gallery through Saturday, June 15. If you are in San Francisco this Friday or Saturday, I strongly recommend checking it out.

In the shadow of the bridge

When nothing else is happening on a quiet weekend afternoon, I will often go for a walk through our neighborhood, South of Market (SOMA) and South Beach. Our neighborhood is in many ways more like New York than the rest of San Francisco, with its old industrial buildings, dilapidated piers on the waterfront, and new condo developments. But perhaps that adds to the sense of familiarity, and of “home”, amidst the concrete.

Our walk usually begins on Townsend Street, heading east towards the waterfront. This area is dominated by AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. But while crowds head towards the stadium in the summer, we often head in the opposite direction. There is a little park at the end of Townsend along the Embarcadero, where I often see older Eastern European folks. Across the park is the cul-de-sac that marks the end of Delancy Street, a name reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Here I often stop at a small cafe – it has a large garden that can be enjoyed on its own or for the glimpses of the bay it affords.

There are some books I only seem to read when I’m out at places like this, rather than at home. One such book is The Cat: A Tale of Feminine Redemption. I will stop and read a chapter while enjoying a coffee and the views. Though sometimes I opt for one of our free weekly papers instead. I like the idea of being contrary, reading esoteric books while a major sporting event is going on nearby. But in a large, cosmopolitan city, there are always people doing their own thing. One is never really alone.

Beyond the cafe is the southern portion of the Embarcadero, which contains glimpses of a seedy and crumbling past while being revitalized with the stadium and frenzied development.

Heading south along the Embarcadero, one approaches the Bay Bridge. Commercial buildings, as well as residential complexes, have sprung up in its shadow. I enjoy seeing these buildings fit comfortably beneath the bridge:

Some of them have appear older, more reminiscent of the 1970s or even earlier, while huge new high rises are going up all around them.

I then often turn back inward from the waterfront on Bryant Street. This is generally a wide street that crosses SOMA and the Mission District, but here it is a narrow alley between the steep approaches to the Bay Bridge and a residential block.

Again, the feeling is more of a residential section of New York, perhaps Riverdale in the Bronx, or the Upper West Side. Of course, the fact that this block interests Delancy Street adds to this impression.

Longtime residents and admirers of San Francisco often look down upon this area, but I find it a comforting place to walk and explore. Certainly, there is familiarity coming from New York, which has always defined “city” for me. And perhaps the sense that I am finally living the city life that I should have done long ago – I am finally home.

The narrow streets and tall buildings abut the hill and the approach to the bridge, with a complex array of staircases and ramps. I often find an excuse to climb at least one, such as this that connects the lower alley section of Bryant Street to the main section that begins on top of the hill.

At the top, one is amazingly close to the freeway and byzantine ramps that feed onto the bridge:

Heading back down the hill towards the west, one can take a detour through South Park, which has nothing to do with the popular cartoon. Instead, it is a small park surrounded by two-story residences that feels more like a neighborhood in Brooklyn. Although it is not far from the this section of freeway we featured a few weeks ago, such things seem invisible and far away. But step outside this oasis, and one is back in the “concrete jungle” and the streets that lead home.