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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
A RAKE'S PROGRESS: Artist Lewis deSoto prepares his installation for 'End of Desire' at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.

Friday's Finest

First Fridays celebrates its third anniversary with a strong set of gallery offerings

By Michael S. Gant

THIS IS supposedly the year that 3-D makes a big comeback at the movies. If the technique scores at the box office, maybe another famous multisensory tactic from the 1950s will return as well: Smell-O-Vision. For art lovers, the wait is already over at the SAN JOSE INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ART, where Lewis deSoto's installation End of Desire fills the nostrils with a tantalizing scent.

In the darkened main gallery at SJICA, a wooden pathway beckons the viewer toward a panel of gold-painted wood on the far wall. A faint aroma of chocolate fills the air, growing stronger with each step; a quick look down confirms the source of the olfactory allure: the floor of the gallery has been spread with a carefully groomed layer of cocoa-shell mulch.

The format resembles the raked gardens of Zen Buddhism, with the gold panel representing the prize of enlightenment, which can be achieved only by recognizing, not denying, the pleasures of the senses, among which chocolate rates very high. I couldn't help but also think of cocoa and gold as the very materialistic prizes that so many sought in the New World, a connection subtly reinforced by the artist's resonant name.

This retrospective by the Bay Area artist also features some of his conceptual sculptures, photographs (deSoto started as a photographer) and digital prints based on the color imagery of Hermann Hesse. For the first time, the gallery has devoted its entire space to one artist, and deSoto's work is weighty enough to justify the decision. As part of the South First Fridays art walk on Feb. 6, the artist will drive down in his art car: a heavily modified Desoto called Conquest.

The deSoto show is one of several strong offerings at this, the first First Friday of 2009, which marks the third anniversary of the evening gallery showcase.

The San Jose MUSEUM OF QUILTS & TEXTILES, taking its cue from the explosion of interest in Chinese art occasioned by the Bejing Olympics, presents "Changing Landscapes: Contemporary Chinese Fiber Art." Four dozen artists will be represented with 45 pieces, which range from silk wall hangings to sculptural forms in tightly packed yarn. Twenty-four of the participating artists will be at the gallery on Friday, and again on Sunday (Feb. 8), 2–4pm, for the official opening reception.

At MACLA, Eugene Rodríguez's "Another Country" shows off the multimedia skills of a young Bay Area artist. In addition to etchings and videos, Rodríguez works in oil and wax on various surfaces, from linen to aluminum panels. This old-fashioned encaustic technique imparts a softness to his images, almost as if they were in the process of fading away even as they confront the eye. And La Banda Played On is a complicated, jigsaw-paneled portrait of picnickers being serenaded by mariachis. The use of wax adds to the nostalgic feel, as if we are seeing this semipastoral scene through a scrim of memory.

Up the street, ANNO DOMINI hosts the first West Coast show for New York artist Jeremiah Maddock. An obsessive worker of detail, Maddock paints over the surfaces of old book covers using ink made from discarded ball-point pens and desiccated markers. Some of his densely patterned pieces have the look of tribal narratives daubed on bark skin. Anno Domini will also present the lyrico-trance performance-art music of San Jose's DeatHat.

Also adding to the First Friday mix will be CAFFE TRIESTE, showing the local "Drive-by Cityscapes" of photographer James Dewarance; SLG ART BUTIKI, presenting cartoon graphics by Andy Ristano (who will also perform with his band; SPACE 47, making its walls home to a witty, sideways tree trunk called "Tag a Log" by Christopher Sícat; SOUTH FIRST BILLIARDS, with a solo show of satirical works by Michael Foley; and KALEID GALLERY (actually on Fourth Street, but who's counting?), presenting new works by Steve Borelli and Woody Miller.

  SOUTH FIRST FRIDAYS takes place the evening of Feb. 6 along South First Street in San Jose.

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