A pair of Blue Oyster mushrooms, seen in the documentary "Fantastic Fungi" (Photo/Courtesy Greta Zagarino-Greta Rose Agency)
A pair of Blue Oyster mushrooms, seen in the documentary "Fantastic Fungi" (Photo/Courtesy Greta Zagarino-Greta Rose Agency)

Art around the Bay this month: hate speech, sacred texts and shrooms

For me, as a native New Yorker, September has always signaled the start of the busiest cultural season. The Bay Area is no slouch either in that regard. Here are three top picks for art events in the South Bay, East Bay and San Francisco.

Make Art, Not Hate

“The First Step is Silence” by Nancy Current
“The First Step is Silence” by Nancy Current

Last spring, the Peninsula JCC in Foster City put out a call for artists to submit works to illuminate the subject of hate speech. Art poured in from all over the country, and from as far away as Israel.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, “On the Consequences of Hate Speech, III” opens at the PJCC Art Gallery. An iteration of an earlier New York show also curated by Jewish Art Salon members Robin Atlas and Nancy Current, this exhibit includes some 55 works by about 20 participating artists, including Current, Atlas and Bay Area artists Ruth Waters and Pearl Kruss. It will be at the gallery through Nov. 24.

PJCC Cultural Arts Director Kimberly Gordon described the selections, which include paintings, sculptures, graphics and even some jewelry, as “timeless and intensely personal.”

“So many artists drew from their personal histories and are interested in how the current political climate manifests,” Gordon said. “It is a very striking show.”

The exhibit is one arm of a multidisciplinary program of PJCC events running through the winter called “Words Hurt, Words Heal.”

The gallery show opens with a free public reception at 6:30 p.m. There will be a panel discussion moderated by Rabbi Lavey Derby at 7:30 p.m., followed by a gallery tour. Advance registration recommended.

“On the Consequences of Hate Speech, III” Sept. 11 through Nov. 24, Peninsula JCC, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City. pjcc.org/programs

Art ‘Beyond Words’ at GTU

Whereas hate speech instigated the art in the PJCC show, the new fall show in the Doug Adams Gallery at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley is inspired by sacred texts.

Opening Thursday, Sept. 5, it features four artists from different faith traditions. Works relevant to Judaism include David Maxim’s oversized sculptural paintings “The Rib” and “Esau” and Meg Hitchcock’s work in which letters from the Torah (translated into English) transform into an English interpretation of a Quranic surah, or chapter.

Hitchcock, who received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and now lives and works in New York’s Hudson Valley, seems fascinated by the very forms of written language, arriving at her art by cutting out letters — often from different holy texts — and combining them to make intricate designs. The effect is to emphasize the commonalities found in diverse scriptures.

Maxim, a San Francisco artist, veers toward the visual depiction of stories and passages from the Hebrew and Christian bibles. Scripture is tremendously dramatic, among other things, and his monumental works incorporate sculptural elements, made from crossbeams, pulleys, ropes and hinges, that allude to the hidden workings of stagecraft.

Also in the show are Mohamed Hafez, who creates intricate Middle Eastern streetscapes integrating Quranic calligraphy, and Bay Area artist Eleanor Creekmore Dickinson, who offers life-sized reproductions of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that imagine the carefree time before their expulsion. The artists will appear at a panel discussion in the gallery on Oct. 27 from 5 to 7 p.m.

“Beyond Words: Art Inspired by Sacred Texts,” Sept. 5 through Dec. 13. Doug Adams Gallery, Graduate Theological Union, 2465 LeConte Ave., Berkeley. gtu.edu/events

In the beginning, there were fungi

And let us not neglect the natural world.

“My passion for capturing imagery that inspire wonder and awe … for subjects that are too slow, too fast, too small or too vast for the naked eye to see, is what led me to filmmaking,” says nature cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg, whose feature-length documentary “Fantastic Fungi” will have its Bay Area premiere in a one-night-only screening at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco on Oct.10.

Schwartzberg, who started his celebrated career doing time-lapse photography in Northern California, described the upcoming event, at which he will share the stage in a post-film discussion with famed mycologist Paul Stamets, as “a homecoming.”

Berkeley’s Michael Pollan, best-selling author of a 2018 book on psychedelics, is one of the film’s interviewees. This stunning film explores the power, beauty and complexity of the fungal world (also known as the mycelial network), its place in the biosphere and the hope it offers for solutions to humanity’s many environmental and medical challenges. It features actress Brie Larson as the voice of the mushrooms.

The film is being released in tandem with “Fantastic Fungi: How Mushrooms Can Heal, Shift Consciousness, and Save the Planet,” a new book from Northern California publisher Earth Aware Editions. I’ve previewed the film, and think this may be the one case where I can allow myself to describe a work of art as “mind-blowing.”

“Fantastic Fungi,” 7 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Castro Theatre, S.F. $25-$35, VIP including pre-film meet-and-greet $150. fantasticfungi.com/castro.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s former culture editor.