San Francisco Bay Guardian

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 Critic's Choice

San Francisco Bay Guardian
by Lindsey Westbrook


Thomas Chang, Belinda Gray, Sharon Wickham at Andrea Schwartz Gallery

THOMAS CHANG'S PHOTOGRAPHS of anonymous empty chairs and couches seem at first as though they could have been shot in any office lobby or airport lounge. Then you start to notice the other furniture in the rooms, such as the vertical metal poles and wall-mounted TVs, and if that doesn't tip you off, then the titles (Voyeur's Lounge, Lap Dance Chair) certainly will. It's surprising how spooky a vacant strip club can look in the bright light of day. The rooms have a subtly malevolent vibe, like a Twin Peaks set. The head-on photographs put us in the position of neither dancer nor patron, but of awkward visitor/voyeur with nothing to watch and not even any darkness or crowd in which to hide.

Whereas Chang takes photos of environments with their usual subjects mysteriously absent, Sharon Wickham zooms in on her subjects, almost completely removing them from their environments. Wickham roams San Francisco's sidewalks in search of abandoned furniture. Totally decontextualized and in fuzzy focus, the discarded sofas and mattresses in her pictures almost come alive, taking on distinct personalities of their own. Wickham helps them along with humorous titles: for example, She's Gone (a love seat that's missing a cushion) and Courting (a couple of sofa cushions in a libidinous position). Her photos include elements of lighthearted goofiness, but the effect is overshadowed by an even stronger sense of melancholy; viewing her row of images is a little like walking past the cages at the pound, wishing you could take all the puppies home with you and knowing that you can't. Gloomy, muted light and a monochromatic color palette warn of impending bad weather; the rain isn't going to make this sad, lonely furniture any more adoptable.