As the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art prepares to shutter its South of Market location for the next three years, during which it will spend almost half a billion dollars to more than double its size for the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, the museum’s restaurant on Third Street closes out its more modest exhibition program with nine acrylic-on-canvas paintings by Chris Shaw, on view through June 3, 2013. Admission is free.
Best known locally for his rock posters, Shaw has used his swan-song time slot to present a series of vividly colored Madonnas, each based on Madonnas by such 15th century artists as Bellini, Botticelli, and Ambrogio de Predis. For Shaw, the Madonna is just another propaganda icon, a vessel to be filled up with whatever one is trying to sell. In Shaw’s case, his Madonnas have set aside the Christ Child for a Kalishnikov, a bottle of Colt 45, and an orange squid, whose mantle resembles the Pope’s peaked mitre and groping tentacles suggest a fallen priest’s restless reach.
While the Madonna with the Kalashnikov, to say nothing of the one wearing a suicide bomb vest, are the most obvious eyebrow raisers, Shaw’s most subversive paintings are probably his Madonnas of Science. One holds a magnet, another peers through a microscope, and another cradles an armillary sphere, Shaw’s representation of what we think we might know about dark matter. And of course there’s a Madonna containing a Higgs-Boson particle, replacing the son of God with the newly discovered God particle. Chris Shaw at the SFMOMA