Two New Exhibits Carry Chilling Narratives

Just in time for All Hallows' Eve come several exhibits as haunting as the journey of a midnight ferry.

Alexandre Singh, film still from The Appointment. Courtesy of The Artist Galerie Art. Concept and monitor image provided courtesy of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.


Published: October, 2019

Just in time for All Hallows’ Eve come several exhibits as haunting as the journey of a midnight ferry.

A Gothic Tale, a newly commissioned film and mixed-media installation at the Legion of Honor by Alexandre Singh, draws inspiration from the Gothic literary tradition of 19th century Europe, as well as San Francisco’s place in the cinematic history of film noir—think Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo  

A Gothic Tale is Singh’s first solo presentation in a West Coast institution. Staged in the Legion of Honor’s galleries of medieval art, A Gothic Tale introduces Singh’s imaginative universe through his debut short film, The Appointment, a playful thriller that unfolds with the fatalism of film noir.  

Embracing the twisted and fantastical traits of Gothic literature from E.T.A. Hoffmann to Roald Dahl, the film is a darkly comic tale of doubling and mistaken identity. Henry Salt, an enfant terrible of letters, wakes from a nightmare to find a disturbing entry in his diary: “12 o’clock at the restaurant La Folie.”  

But whom is Henry meeting, and why doesn’t he remember making this appointment? When no one shows, Henry becomes obsessed with solving the mystery. Charging through a series of surreal encounters, he discovers that the truth is more disturbing than he could have possibly imagined.  

Conceptualized and designed by Singh with art historian Natalie Musteata, A Gothic Tale begins with a selection of works from the Fine Arts Museums’ encyclopedic collection that embody one of the key tropes of the Gothic tradition, the doppelgänger.  

In this eerie presage to the film, works that appear to be duplicates, such as prints of Roman tombs by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and biblical scenes by Albrecht Dürer, will be exhibited in a striking scenography of mirrored walls in which the works of art, and viewers alike, are endlessly reflected. Together, these works resonate with the founding and history of the Legion of Honor, itself not only a copy of the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur in Paris but also a funerary structure, located atop a former cemetery and built to commemorate the fallen soldiers of World War I.  

A Gothic Tale’s installation of works from the collection pays tribute to the legacy of the Legion of Honor’s groundbreaking curator Jermayne MacAgy,” said Claudia Schmuckli, curator of contemporary art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “In the 1940s, MacAgy revolutionized the practice of exhibition making through her innovative installation designs, that emphasized transcultural and transhistorical narratives.” 


Fraenkel Gallery Stages Anniversary Exhibition 

Fraenkel Gallery is staging Long Story Short, an exhibition and book marking the gallery’s 40th year.  

Featuring 60 photographs spanning almost 18 decades, Long Story Short is both an unconventional slice of photography’s rich history and an x-ray of the gallery’s idiosyncratic approach to the medium.  

On view from October 24 through January 18, the exhibition examines photography’s essential role in the evolution of art over the last 180 years and highlights links between the medium’s early pioneers and multi-disciplinary artists of today.  

Long Story Short begins with an anonymous daguerreotype, circa 1849, of a young woman holding a daguerreotype in her lap and continues with pivotal photographs by Charles Aubry, Carleton Watkins, Eugene Atget and E.J. Bellocq.  

The story develops with photographs by Berenice Abbott, Alfred Steiglitz, Man Ray, and lesser-known 20th-century works by Helen Levitt, Romare Bearden, Diane Arbus and William Eggleston. The evaporation of walls separating photography and other media is reflected in more recent works by Sophie Calle, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Mel Bochner, Wardell Milan, Elisheva Biernoff and Liz Deschenes—artists whose work is not strictly, or not at all, photography.  

As Jeffrey Fraenkel explained, “Long Story Short is essentially images about which we know almost nothing. Here, in the thick of our digital era, we still believe that the sliver of photography’s tasty pie, a tight group of objects that includes works by established masters as well as flea-market finds. Viewers may recognize many of the names, but most of the images will be surprises—and quite a few are anonymous. They demonstrate how the physical presence of artworks can affect a person in the deepest ways.        

Long Story Short aims to convey that visceral sense of experiencing a work of art for the first time, in ways that defy words.

Follow Paul Duclos’ Cultural Currents online with his blog at: