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Cary Leibowitz’s pink insecurities in full view at CJM

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Comedy is a big part of Cary Leibowitz’s art. (Courtesy Cary Leibowitz /Invisible-Exports)
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In a window front on San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Lane, next to the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s big blue cube, there’s an enticing glimpse into the exhibition inside: It’s a pink wall, decorated with a horizontal line of 14 square, 16-inch, pink panels, each with a hand-lettered message. Two in the center read: “Do These Pants Make Me Look Jewish?” and six on each side say: “Stop Copying Me.”

It’s a fun introduction to “Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show,” the first comprehensive career survey and solo museum exhibit of work by the 53-year-old pop artist from New York, also known, since the 1990s, as “Candyass.”

Baby blue and Pepto Bismol-pink walls provide the backdrop for the show, which is filled with cartoon-lettered paintings and objects with insights worthy of standup comedy acts and psychotherapy sessions: “I Love My Crappy Job/I Hate My Crappy Job,” “Please Don’t Tell Anyone You Saw Me,” “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Mediocre,” “I’m a Jew How ‘Bout U?!!,” “Faggy Faggy Boom Boom.”

The show, which includes more than 350 works from 1987 to the present, is composed of paintings, fabric pieces, installations, ceramics (with felt tip lettering), photography and ephemera; most items boast text with an appealingly childlike scrawl.

At the center is an eye-catching installation called “Gain! Wait! Now!” It’s a pyramid of sorts made of many aluminum garbage cans that all have the same picture: chunky Leibowitz, wearing a suit, at his 1976 bar mitzvah.

One particularly fun wall piece, showcasing Leibowitz’s pop culture passion, is a circle of knit caps that say “Fran Drescher Fan Club.” Another less overtly self-deprecating painting says, “Modern Art Sucks …. You’re Fat.”

In catalog notes, curators say Leibowitz’s “comic, text-based works with an emphatically gay and often Jewish perspective address issues of identity, kitsch, modernist critique and queer politics.” His gallery calls the work “the product of a riveting and consistent practice — driven by anxieties, neuroses, and premonitions of difference — that transform self-doubt and social skepticism into something much larger than niche art-world critique: a heartrending and intimate meditation on our inescapable secret doubleness.”

Visitors also can take home a piece of the action: $49 Fran Drescher caps, $29 mugs that say, “I Brake for Pastrami Sandwiches” and $250 signed Official Candyass “Sissy” foam footballs are available in the gift shop.


IF YOU GO

Cary Leibowitz: Museum Show
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and to 8 p.m. Thursdays; closes June 25
Admission: $12 to $14
Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org

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