Since 2003, the San Francisco-based FOR-SITE Foundation has centered “art about place,” mounting affecting exhibitions at Fort Mason Chapel (2017’s “Sanctuary,” examining “the basic human need for refuge, protection, and sacred ground” through a series of contemporary handmade rugs), Fort Winfield Scott (2016’s “Home Land Security,” which activated former military structures in the Presidio), Alcatraz Island (2014’s ”@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz”), and other sites. With its latest, “Lands End,” opening to the public on Sunday, the setting is San Francisco’s historic Cliff House, a former restaurant and ballroom built in the mid-19th century. There, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, 26 artists from 14 different countries are using painting, photography, sculpture, sound, and other media to respond to the climate crisis.
“It was an appropriate venue from a number of perspectives,” says curator Cheryl Haines, the founding executive director of FOR-SITE and principal of Haines Gallery. “From inside the building, you feel you’re cantilevered out over the edge of the ocean. It’s a very energized space, and it makes you acutely aware of how important the sea is to our existence here; how fragile and changeable it is.” All of that “opens your mind to greater issues, and the fact of a global connectivity,” she adds.
So too was she inspired by the variety of approaches and concerns represented in the show. “I’ve known their work for quite some time,” Fernández says of the other artists “Lands End,” “so it’s interesting when we intersect. For example, Andy Goldsworthy’s piece and mine are at opposite extremes, right? Mine is about an abundance of water and his is about scarcity and dryness. But this is very much what the conversation around climate change is—extremes, and all the complexities in between.”
To engage those ideas without getting preachy or teachy was a priority for virtually every person in the show, Sherwood included. “I don’t really believe in didacticism in art—I think that’s horrible,” she says. What she seeks out instead are ways to intrigue and provoke, which in her case often begin with imagery related to food. Take the jewel-like, cast-resin desserts in Confectionery Marvels and Curious Collections, for instance: “They are kind of hypnotic—I made these porcelain and gold leaf cake stands for each one,” she says. Get in close enough, though, and you’ll see the signs of rot: Each goodie is covered in dead butterflies, moths, bees, and wasps. Nature isn’t healing so much as eagerly, messily reclaiming what once belonged to it. “One of the strongest properties of art is that you can create an immediate physical reaction and connection,” Sherwood continues.