It may have the same name as Todd Solondz's black comedy about family dysfunction, but Happiness, a juried group show judged by London independent curator Sherman Sam, is complex, provocative, and diverse. Ranging from stylized realism (Steven Barich, Timothy Buckwalter, Jane Fisher, Elizabeth Johnson, Anna Ludwig, Mike McConnell, Rico Marcelli, David Ryan, Julianne Sterling, and Pamela Zwehl-Burke) through abstraction (Chris Ashley, Lisa S. Kang, Tim Ryan, Marilyn Wong, and Lika Yurkovetsky) and conceptual/multimedia work (Robert Abrams, Adam Green, Eric Larson, Helen Lee, Klea McKenna, Jill McLennan, Dominic Nguyen, and Lauren Parent), this show is a snapshot of various types of quite high-functioning current art practice, and a good exhibition to inaugurate (not discounting recent curated shows) Pro Arts' move downtown to the former Oakland Art Gallery.
Some highlights from the thirty-odd pieces include Steven Barich's graphite drawing, "Apophenia Sphere," from his show at Rowan Morrison in July; apophenia is the perceptual error of seeing illusory patterns or meanings within visual chaos (an art reviewer's occupational hazard, of course), and the globular Chinese scholar's stone atop its carved pedestal that seemingly morphs into pixelated digital artifact or crossword puzzle expresses the arbitrariness of meaning in the floating world of signifiers. Chris Ashley's lyrical abstractions, "Loch Doghra," Eternal Throne," and Forkhill," may be enigmatically entitled, but they hold the eye authoritatively; their swirling blue and green interlocking shapes are reminiscent of Frank Stella's baroque cutout pieces, while the dripped paint tracks hint at the effort behind easy-looking abstraction. Tim Ryan's heavily impasted "Barren" paintings and Lika Yurkovetsky's adjacent ethereal, hard-edged floating forms in "Gog Magog" and "English Garden" make for a nice contrast in visual weights and textures. Jane Fisher and Rico Marcelli work within realism, but idiosyncratically, Fisher portraying a prize-winning steer at its moment of glory, and Marcelli representing an apartment door with its ageless brass number, peephole, and mismatched jambs. Multimedia works of note include Eric Larson's untitled collages on paper mimicking woven rug patterns and, lending the show its title, Adam Green's "Happiness," with the word rendered in large capital letters of scaly overlapping potato chips on the wall, above others fallen to the floor — and still tempting, even well past their 2008 eat-by date.
Happiness runs through January 14 at Pro Arts at Oakland Art Gallery (150 Frank H, Ogawa Plaza, Oakland). ProArtsGallery.org or 510-763-4361.