The Richmond Art Center is a great beacon of light and culture in a city that's often the subject of news that is less than flattering. Three exhibits up now in its three galleries present not only an antithesis to the prevailing narrative of Richmond but also compelling reasons why it's so great to appreciate art in the East Bay. Without a hint of contrivance, the shows organically mesh to portray the pluralistic voice of the community.
In the Main Gallery, Wanxin Zhang: A Ten Year Survey creates a city of life-size ceramic people who wish to teach us something of our own past. San Francisco artist Wanxin Zhang uses the massive clay figures to marry historical Chinese references with contemporary Western culture. Each one is infused with information: From the bottom of their feet to the top of their heads, the figures contain a dizzying amount of detail, transmitting a specific artistic end. Join the artist at a workshop on May 5 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Across the hall in the South Gallery, In Conversation: June Schwarcz and John Chiara presents a landscape of inscrutable sculpture and metallic photography, full of mystery and alchemical beauty. Curated by Muriel Maffre, this unique pairing of two artists who transform their material with such mastery leaves us wondering what genre of art it is: Sculpture? Photography? Painting? Yes. June Schwarcz' non-utilitarian vessels seem to be ceramic, but are actually painted metal — inexplicably weighty and yet ethereally weightless. John Chiara uses a camera obscura to produce his epic photography, developing his simple landscape images on sheets of ilfochrome paper that he then frames to hang on the wall. The effect of the conversation between the two artists is revolutionary in its elegance and mysteriously simple beauty.
What is so striking about the third exhibit in the Community Gallery, the floor-to-ceiling The 47th Annual WCCUSD Student Art Show, is not the amount of work, but the quality. The rich compilation of work by kids from across Contra Costa County demonstrates an astounding tradition of local visual arts education. These kids are clearly in good hands, as evidenced by their work which rivals many professional artists. In this day and age, what a pleasure it is to see such a long-standing tradition of quality student art!
Editor's note: The previous version of this story got wrong the material onto which John Chiara develops his photographs. It is on sheets of ilfochrome paper, not sheets of thin metal. This version has been corrected.