cover image Epicenter: San Francisco Bay Area Art Now

Epicenter: San Francisco Bay Area Art Now

Chronicle Books, Mark Johnstone, Leslie Aboud Holzman. Chronicle Books, $40 (276pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-3541-1

San Francisco might be better known for being part of the alternative-lifestyle vanguard than for being a ""hotbed"" of creative accomplishment, but this well-intentioned volume makes a case for the city's thriving visual art scene. Featuring intelligent essays by local curators and over 250 color images, the book outlines a brief history of Bay Area art from the beatnik era to the silicon age, with the main developments being ""Funk,"" an earthier variant of Pop art that used techniques of assemblage, and a West Coast version of Abstract Expressionism that flirted with an angsty figurative strain. Short profiles of artists currently working in the greater Bay Area make up the bulk of the page count; there are names both familiar (Bruce Conner, Richard Misrach) and new. The staples of the global art market are all represented: identity politics, late-generation conceptualism, decorative abstraction, even semi-anonymous public artworks for airports and college campuses. The picture that emerges, then, is not so much one of earth-shattering regional originality, but of work that could probably exist anywhere. With its dedication to art outside the New York-L.A.-London axis, this book is both ambitious and compelling-but for art appreciaters hoping to uncover a vibrant, deeply regional aesthetic, it's also a bit disappointing.