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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.”

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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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