Culture



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Touch of Gloss

K Gallery Adds Polish to the Arts Scene


    Sure, it’s plenty artsy, from the architecture to the shops to the high proportion of practicing artists who live here. But Alameda has never been a destination for gallery-hoppers.
    There’s certainly sophistication in the air, with stylish restaurants and cool cocktail bars. But we tend to consume our paintings with our coffee. Cafes are a prime spot for showcasing art; it’s harder to get us to destination galleries.
    The latest addition to the art scene, K Gallery, takes Alameda’s trendiness up a notch. The gallery, part of glossy new live/work and arts center Rhythmix Cultural Works, offers a big-city experience in our small town.
    Like the Frank Bette Center for the Arts and the short-lived Alameda Arts Center, Rhythmix Cultural Works is a labor of love financed by an inheritance. Rhythmix founder Janet Koike is an artist, dancer and musician. In 1998, she founded Rhythmix, a world percussion ensemble, as well as Rhythmix Cultural Works, a nonprofit. Her intention was someday to make them the nexus of a community arts space. An inheritance from her father allowed her to make that dream real.
    K Gallery, located on the ground floor of Rhythmix, is the next step in turning Koike’s dream into reality. Koike hired Kate Kline May as gallery director, giving her a free hand in curating shows.
    May is clear about how K Gallery complements the city’s culture.
The successful 4-year-old Frank Bette Center has a strong community focus. “It’s more about the process of creating, and nurturing the skills to create art,” says arts administrator Erica Agyeman. K Gallery will focus on presenting artists in a professional gallery setting, filling the niche vacated by the Alameda Arts Center.
    There’s definitely a need in Alameda for this kind of arts space, says Pat Colburn, the founder and first president of the Alameda Arts Center. “Having galleries that showcase the arts brings a value to the public that some people might not be aware of.”
    Colburn says she found strong community support for her project, but it was crushed by the high rent on its downtown space.
    Koike’s inheritance—and the rents from seven live/work units—take some of that pressure off K Gallery, allowing May to concentrate on the art itself. Not that sales wouldn’t be nice. The art is, for the most part, priced very affordably, under $2,000.
    May’s roots in fine art go back to her first film, Alice Underground, which won the San Francisco International Festival Bay Area Showcase. She works as a commercial photographer, specializing in luscious images of fruit and food, and her art photography has been shown internationally. Her 1997 documentary, Shakespeare’s Children, chronicled her work producing the Bard’s plays with a group of Berkeley High kids. It was shown in 13 national film festivals and on PBS/KQED.
    But don’t worry that May plans to ram Art That’s Good for Us down our throats. She’s very aware of Alameda’s unique culture, and her own aesthetic is more in tune with real-world tastes.
    You won’t see abstruse intellectual exercises at K Gallery.
    May has spent most of the past year working her contacts to bring some of the top artists in the Bay Area to the chic brick-and-concrete complex. At the same time, she’s designed the exhibition schedule to get Alameda residents into
the gallery—and to get them excited by what they see.
    May says, “I know the general audience, whether in Alameda, San Francisco or London, will respond instantly to something they recognize as relating to the visual world.” Her list of shows proves that this requirement still provides plenty of range for artists and media. “I’m trying to show how many different ways the figurative art form can be interpreted,” May says.
    For example, the August show, The Locals, included Soul, an installation by Clint Imboden. A ceiling-high walk-in pavilion was comprised of chest X-rays hung side-to-side and top-to-bottom. The images were immediately recognizable as parts of the human body, but with a translucent curtain enclosing shadowy space, their mystery and elegance transcended their content.
    The November show, Four Masters of Origami, is designed to appeal especially to the Island’s large Asian-American community. Origami is the ancient Japanese art of paper-folding, familiar to most of us through kids’ art projects. The idea is to make a complex shape by folding a single, uncut sheet of paper. But if you’re thinking “crane,” you’re so out of date.
    Origami is in the throes of an international renaissance, with heated competitions, expensive commissions and wild innovation. Practitioners who devise original patterns are known as “origami composers,” and they’re constantly trying to outdo one another.
    Robert Lang, one of the four composers in the K Gallery show, was the subject of a recent New Yorker profile. He brings his former professional life as a laser physicist to bear on the art, and he wrote a software program to design super-complex patterns, such as a rhinoceros beetle.
    The show includes works by local origami masters Bernie Peyton, Linda Mihara and Peter Engel. Peyton is a Harvard-trained bear biologist with a whimsical approach to the art. In addition to lots of bears, his folded works include a tall cactus with a face, and a frying pan full of long-necked clams. Mihara is a third-generation composer who specializes in connected cranes, intricate creations in which multiple cranes form a greater shape, such as a kimono, all from a single sheet. The multi-talented Engel is a writer, graphic designer, architect and artist, who’s recognized not only for his designs but also for authoring Origami from Angelfish to Zen.
    While origami appeals to those with a mathematical turn of mind, as well as to those who enjoy traditional crafts, at bottom, May says, this show is still about beauty. “It’s very visual,” she says, and it meets her primary aesthetic criterion: “Can I sit and look at that for three minutes?”
    With May giving Alameda culture a creative spin, K Gallery deserves a long look, indeed.

    Masters of Origami opens Friday, Nov. 2, with a 7 p.m.–9 p.m. reception. K Gallery is on the first floor of Rhythmix Cultural Works, 2513 Blanding Ave. Hours are 6 p.m.–9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, see www.rhythmix.org.

—By Susan Kuchinskas
—Photography by Lewis Smith