Thursday, July 24, 2014

Column on the new curator at the Asian sparks great discussion - on facebook

One of the upsides - and downsides - of Facebook is that so much of the dialogue happens "over there" instead of "here." So with permission - today's column about Dr. Tianlong Jiao, the new curator at the Asian and the ensuing conversation.

Some objected to this appointment, believing that the Asian should place more focus on current Asian art.

I agree that the Asian focuses on ancient Asian art and I am glad for it. It's the only place in Northern California to see works of antiquity, where there are tons of galleries showing the latest hot-shot trend setter, Asian or not. Where else can you go to see Tang ceramics, 17th century Japanese screens, Korean stoneware ancient beyond counting. There are enough contemporary works in the museum to please all but the most demanding art viewer. All one has to do is look.

  • Nancy Ewart I wonder if that's where the donor money is - always important! The Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown is the place for cutting edge and contemporary (IMHO)

    Michael Yochum The Chinese Cultural Center does not show really important contemporary Chinese artists. It is not an important venue. I like it, but really major artists would not exhibit there.  The Asian needs to connect with contemporary Chinese art. This appointment, at least academically, seems to focus on ancient Chinese art.

    And, I do not think you have major Chinese donor $$ directing this choice. 
  • Nancy Ewart Dr. Jiao has quite a background; I don't know what he worked with in Hong Kong or Honolulu but he's certainly qualified to bring in more contemporary art if that's what the museum choses. Personally, I like the Asian's mix of ancient and contemporary.

  • Nancy Ewart They also may not have the physical space to mount a show of contemporary Chinese art. Their ground floor galleries aren't that big and I can't see them moving around the upstair galleries in any significant way for large, modern pieces.

    Cindy Shih Maybe an opportunity for San Jose or Oakland... Unfortunately for us.

    Michael Yochum Certainly they are space constrained. And I agree, there is nothing to suggest that Dr. Jiao will not bring contemporary art too. There have been some good exhibitions at the Asian that, critically, drew audience. There have also been some odd choices recently, notably the somewhat bizarre "Phantoms of Asia" and the current "Gorgeous". Why not a straight forward exhibition that introduces us to important artists rather than woo hoo exhibitions that try to manufacturer connections?

  • Nancy Ewart I was talking to a friend of mine who does PR for various museums. She tactfully pointed out that SFMOMA has the power. Possibly some of the less than successful shows put on between SFMOMA and the various museums have been due to big guy on the block over riding other voices and choices. It's SFMOMA's power that pushed through this "woo hoo" exhibit as part of their "On The Road." Lay the blame, if you must, on SFMOMA.

  • Nancy Ewart I think the mentality behind "Gorgeous" - to combine modern/controversial with traditional worked in a couple of cases but in several cases, the modern just did not hold up. Unless you are a dedicated advocate for all modern all the time (ie, our local big name critic), the modern looked shabby, garish and, in some cases, ridiculous. IMHO

    Michael Yochum The Asian could be mounting interesting exhibitions - both modern and historical - without resorting to silly gimmicks. Example: they showed mock ups of Hiroshi Sugimoto's pagodas in "Phantoms" - clearly not his best work. When his photography was showcased, that happened at the DeYoung, not the Asian. Why?

    Me: Why should they? If you look through the museum, there are many contemporary works but maybe not cutting edge enough to suit you.

    Nancy Ewart to Michael Yochum - Maybe SF needs a new museum of contemporary Asian art? I don't think they have ever been big on photography - maybe that goes over better at the de Young? I am sure that when SFMOMA opens, they will have shows of contemporary Asian art. Why take the one resource we have, north of LA, and turn it into a space for art that can be seen in 100 different places?I also think they have had many shows over the last years which combined ancient and modern - the calligraphy show for instance. But it seems like you want the Asian to be what it's not - a focus on contemporary (and transitory) instead of a space for the ancient and timeless.

    I value the quiet contemplation of a masterpiece which is an experience that I have often had at the Asian. I don't want to see louder, more intrusive, noisier art (if indeed you can call some of it art). Leave that to other places. In the final analysis, the Asian will do what it feels is right to build the connection and support the museum. Our chatter is but noise - signifying nothing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Cancer, the Crab

Cancer - The Crab: June 21 - July 22

Cancerians love home-life, family and domestic settings. They are traditionalists, and enjoy operating on a fundamental level. They love history, and are fascinated with the beginnings of things (heraldry, ancestry, etc.). The moon is their ruler, so they can be a bit of a contradiction and sometimes moody. However, they are conservative, so they'll be apt to hide their moods from others altogether. They have a reputation for being fickle, but they'll tell you that isn't true, and it's not. Cancerians make loyal, sympathetic friends. However Cancerians need alone time, and when they retreat, let them do so on their terms.
Zodiac images from The Getty

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Huntington opens 5,000 square feet of gallery space devoted to American Art

I know what library/art collection I am going to visit the next time I am in LA.

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, well known for its collection of British art, has dramatically expanded its American art display by adding more than 5,000 square feet of new gallery space. The five new rooms in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art will feature nearly 100 works of 20th-century art in an area previously used for storage.

The reopening of the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art includes new installations of works from The Huntington collection, including Robert Rauschenberg’s Global Loft (Spread) (1979), at right. It is featured in this room with loans from the Rauschenberg Foundation. Photo by Tim Street-Porter.

Another room spotlights the work of Edward Weston, who selected and printed for The Huntington 500 pictures concentrating on images that he had shot between 1937 and 1939, when he was on a Guggenheim grant. The new installation focuses on some of his finest landscapes of California and the West, including images of Death Valley, Yosemite, Point Lobos, and the Sierras.

“The installation marks the first time The Huntington has displayed photographs in its permanent installation of American art,” says Smith.

More at:

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday links: Degas, Malevich, Terry St. John, National Museum of Women in the Arts...

 DEGAS, Edgar. L'absinthe.1876

Edgar Degas seems never to have reconciled himself to the label of "Impressionist," preferring to call himself a "Realist" or "Independent." Nevertheless, he was one of the group’s founders, an organizer of its exhibitions, and one of its most important core members. Like the Impressionists, he sought to capture fleeting moments in the flow of modern life, yet he showed little interest in painting plein air landscapes, favoring scenes in theaters and cafés illuminated by artificial light, which he used to clarify the contours of his figures, adhering to his Academic training.

The Ballet Class by French impressionist painter Edgar Degas, born July 19th, 1834: +Musée d'Orsay

From the 1870s until his death, Degas's favourite subjects were ballerinas at work, in rehearsal or at rest, and he tirelessly explored the theme with many variations in posture and gesture. Here the class is coming to an end – the pupils are exhausted, they are stretching, twisting to scratch their backs, adjusting their hair or clothes, an earring, or a ribbon, paying little heed to the inflexible teacher, a portrait of Jules Perrot, a real-life ballet master.

Over 80 other works by the painter are also on view at:

As Degas strove to represent the female body with greater truth, women engaged in the intimate rituals of both the bath and the brothel became his frequent themes. During the 1870s, when novels by J.-K. Huysmans, Edmond de Goncourt, and Émile Zola focused on the flourishing profession of prostitution, Degas too studied the world of the maisons closes, and made about fifty smudged drawings in greasy ink on glass or metal plates which he printed as monotypes.

Malevich at Tate Modern: Kazimir Malevich (1878–1935) was a radical, mysterious and hugely influential figure in modern art, who lived and worked through one of the most turbulent periods in twentieth century history. Tate Modern presents the first major Malevich retrospective for almost twenty-five years. This groundbreaking exhibition draws on the world’s greatest collections of his work to offer an expansive view of his career in its entirety. Having come of age in Tsarist Russia, Malevich witnessed the October Revolution first-hand. His early experiments as a painter led him towards the cataclysmic invention of Suprematism, a bold visual language of abstract geometric shapes and stark colours, epitomised by the Black Square. A definitively radical gesture, it was revealed to the world after months of secrecy and was hidden again for almost half a century after its creator’s death.

Kenneth Baker critiques YBCA's "Bay Area Now." The critique is mostly negative but he does spare a few kind words for Summer Mei Ling's "Into the Nearness of Distance."

"But BAN7 has a few memorable moments. Summer Mei Ling Lee's "Into the Nearness of Distance" (2014), brought by the Chinese Culture Foundation, has a transporting, yet not escapist, effect." ...."Lee's soundtrack happens to blend well with the teeth-on-edge expressionism of Marilyn Wong's nearby paintings and drawings, selected by Creativity Explored."

The hodge-podge of work reminded of the last exhibit that I saw at YBCA - a well intentioned but disorganized show of works from South Africa. There was too many pieces, too badly organized and many were extremely self-referential to the specifics of South African politics.

Retrospective of Terry St. John at Dolby Chadwick

Bay Area artist Terry St. John, who is 79 and paints out of his Oakland studio, has a new solo show at the Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco that brings together his decades of work and influences, from the Bay Area Figurative painters to his plein air studies, his female nudes and his move toward abstraction.


The National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C., has created Total Art Videos to complement its current exhibition "Total Art: Contemporary Video", on view through October 12. The site features mini biographies and works from the 10 innovative artists in the exhibition (Dara Birnbaum, Kimsooja, Mariko Mori, Mwangi Hutter, Alex Prager, Pipilotti Rist, Michal Rovner, Margaret Salmon, Eve Sussman/Rufus Corp., and Janaina Tschape), interviews, and video clips and mini documentaries. The site is a wonderful introduction to the exhibition and an excellent resource.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014


Today we celebrate the birth of one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art. From the Guardian essay by Robert Hughes (Link below) : ".. though not always a realist, he is the first god of realism after Caravaggio. And why so many people love him, since he was so seldom rivalled as a topographer of the human clay. 

Yet for all that has been written about Rembrandt, we have remarkably little certainty as to what he thought about the domain of his genius, the art of painting. He did not theorise. Or if he did, his ideas about art itself have been lost - except for six words, whose meaning is still disputed by art historians. 

He aimed in his work, he wrote to one of his patrons, the Stadtholder, who employed his friend Constantijn Huygens, to produce die meeste ende die natureelste beweechlickheyt - the greatest and most natural movement."

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait leaning on a stone sill, an etching
Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 
AD 1639

Rembrandt, the rival of Raphael and Titian

Rembrandt here portrays himself in Renaissance attire, taking inspiration from two sixteenth-century works, Raphael's Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, and Titian's so-called Portrait of Ariosto, now in the National Gallery, London. In Rembrandt's day both these paintings were owned by an Amsterdam collector, Alfonso Lopez, and in 1639, the same year as this etching, Rembrandt made a sketch after the painting by Raphael (the sketch is now in the Albertina, Vienna).

By following the example of these earlier artists, Rembrandt probably wanted to be seen in the same context, and were it not for the historical anachronism, it would be tempting to describe the resulting self-portrait as 'Romantic'. Rembrandt depicts himself fictionally, in the nostalgic garb of his Renaissance heroes - not just those from Italy, but with echoes of northern European self-portraits by artists such as Albrecht Dürer and Lucas van Leyden. He took this approach several times in the 1630s, and part of his intention was presumably to produce an image that was a worthy emulation and even improvement on its artistic ancestors, especially those in Lopez's collection that were widely known in Amsterdam.

Rembrandt's style is here rather detailed, and he brilliantly evokes the textures of his velvet cap and his hair, which to judge from other self-portraits of the period he has here lengthened - it was normally trimmed at the level of his ear.

E. Hinterding, G. Luijten and M. Royalton-Kisch, Rembrandt the printmaker (London, The British Museum Press in association with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 2000) 
List of paintings:
List of etchings:
The Getty bio: 
Tribute by Robert Hughes:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Week of Birthdays starting with Artemisia Gentileschi

Lots of amazing artists born this week in July - David Hockney, Whistler, de Chiricio,
Artemisia Gentileschi, Pisarro. 


Born July 8th 1593, Died 1653) Artemisia Gentileschi was the most important woman painter of Early Modern Europe by virtue of the excellence of her work, the originality of her treatment of traditional subjects, and the number of her paintings that have survived (though only thirty-four of a much larger corpus remain, many of them only recently attributed to her rather than to her male contemporaries). She was both praised and disdained by contemporary critical opinion, recognized as having genius, yet seen as monstrous because she was a woman exercising a creative talent thought to be exclusively male. Since then, in the words of Mary D. Garrard, she "has suffered a scholarly neglect that is almost unthinkable for an artist of her caliber." 

  Born into a family of artists, she trained under her father as the art studios of the time were closed to women artists. Although she lacked other kinds of formal training, by the time she was 17, she had painted one of the great masterpieces of Baroque art, "Susannah and the Elders." 

Orazio painted frescos with the artist, Agostino Tassi, whom he asked to teach her daughter perspective. During these lessons, Tassi raped the 18 year old Artemisia, and promising to soon marry her, continued to demand her sexual favors. When her father found out, Tassi was arrested for rape, and Artemisia was thrust into the middle of a celebrated rape case which received considerable publicity and ruined her reputation. Tassi was convicted, but released by the judge, who also ordered Artemisia to be tortured as a means of proving her honesty. The transcripts of the trial are still available today.

Artemisia's accusations against Tassi were corroborated by a former friend of his who recounted Tassi's boasting about his sexual exploits at Artemisia's expense. Tassi had been imprisoned earlier for incest with his sister-in-law and was charged with arranging the murder of his wife. He was ultimately convicted on the charge of raping Gentileschi; he served under a year in prison and was later invited again into the Gentileschi household by Orazio! It is no surprise that she became estranged from her father. 

During and soon after the trial, Gentileschi painted Judith Slaying Holofernes (above) (1612-1613). The painting is remarkable not only for its technical proficiency, but for the original way in which Gentileschi portrays Judith, who had long been a popular subject for art. One month after the long trial ended, in November of 1612, Artemisia was married to a Florentine artist, Pietro Antonio di Vincenzo Stiattesi, and they moved to Florence, probably the next year. While there, she had a daughter named either Prudentia or Palmira. In Florence, Gentileschi returned to the subject of Judith, completing Judith and her Maidservant in 1613 or 1614. Again, Gentileschi's treatment of the familiar subject matter is unexpected and original.

The Lute Player

The cause and timing of Artemisia's death is not known, but she most likely died in 1652. Unfortunately, however, the rape trial, her unconventional life as a female painter, and her numerous paintings of powerful women struggling against male dominance did not endear her to the male aristocracy. Several derogatory epitaphs were published about her in 1653, such as: "By painting one likeness after another/ I earned no end of merit in the world/ While, to carve two horns upon my husband's head/I put down the brush and took a chisel instead."

 Judith and Her Maidservant

Her first art exhibition was held, incredibly, in 1991 at the same Casa. It is worth noting that up until her rediscovery in the late 20th century, many of her works had been attributed to her father or largely ignored by critics and art historians.

James McNeill Whistler ( and Camille Pissarro ( were both born on July 10 

Whistler etchings at Lines and Colors:

 I don't think that Hockney is the best artist in the group but his work is certainly colorful and popular. 

He painted this work in 1963, the year he first visited LA.

"All art is contemporary, if it's alive... if it's not alive, what's the point of it?"

Giorgio de Chirico, born July 10 in 1888, created what he called "metaphysical" paintings