Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Merry Month of May - the Oakland Museum Reopens

Koi Pond. Sculpture by Bruce Beasley, Tragmon, 1972, Photo by Rue Flaherty

The koi still swim lazily in the pool, flashing through the greenish waters with sparkling dots of gold and red. The turtles still look for the sunniest rock around and the loggia still wraps around the museum, inviting viewers to sit a while and think about what they’ve seen.

For what they’ve just seen – and experienced – is a marvelous transformation. When the Oakland Museum opens on Sunday, May 1st, after a two-year, 62.2 million renovations, the museum will be the most user-friendly and interactive space on the West Coast. There’s no tip toeing around and speaking in whispers here and there’s also no aura of elitist arrogance either. The transformation goes beyond the brightly colored walls or light filled galleries.

Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, 1868, Oil on canvas. H: 36 in, W: 54 in. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, gift of Miss Marguerite Laird in memory of Mr. and Mrs. P.W. Laird.

Instead of a simple chronological organization, the works of art are now arranged by concept and theme. The museum acknowledges Oakland (and California's ethnic diversity) by having the wall text written in Chinese, Spanish and English. There are feed back booths where visitors are encouraged to leave comments. There is even comfortable seating so that viewers can sit and look at the works of art, rather than being forced to stand to the point of discomfort; for older folks, the disabled and even families with lively children, this is a priceless addition.

Poets, artists and even the public have contributed to the newly written wall texts. The wonders of technology have been utilized to allow visitors to immerse themselves in a variety of experiences – from the creation of a work of art to a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of California history.

Lucia Mathews Lucia K. Mathews, Oranges (Portrait of a Red Haired Girl), 1910. Watercolor on paper, 25.5 x 18.25 inches, with Furniture Shop frame, 41.25 x 34.25 inches. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California; gift of Harald Wagner.

 "It's about the human experience," Rene De Guzman, the museum’s senior curator said, in a recent interview in the Oakland Tribune. "That was the original mission of the museum, to be a place 'for the people,' for social engagement and public discourse. Not some ivory tower, but comfortable, welcoming, to reflect the notion of being comfortable with art and ideas.

"With that in mind, the renovation has been this great collaborative process," he said. "We've literally gone out and asked people what they want in a museum, and one of the things they said is that they wanted a place to sit down sometimes. So here you go."

New exhibition spaces will feature the museum’s new acquisitions on a rotating basis. There’s a complete gallery devoted to Dorothea Lange and another section titled “Esto Es Mexico” where the display tells the story of two cultures in collision in early California history.

The Gallery of California Art, now light filled and enlarged, is showcasing the most comprehensive collection of California art in the world, from the earliest 19th century landscape paintings through more contemporary artists like Elmer Bischoff, Manuel Nieri and Richard Diebenkorn. The museum has also reached out to local artists like Ernest Jolly whose work explores the relationship between organic forms and man made structures in shape, sound, and light. In this, they are way ahead of museums like SFMOMA whose directors have, in the past, largely ignored emerging local artists.

Ernest Jolly, The Alchemist Suite, Mixed Media, 2010

Created in 1969 as a museum for the people, the Oakland Museum remains true to that vision. Revamped, rethought and renovated, it’s a stunning rebuttal to Gertrude’s old adage about Oakland that “There is no there, there.” Sorry Gertrude, In 2010, there certainly is a There, THERE!

The museum will open with thirty-one hour of free events. The festivities begin at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 1, on the street in front of the new Oak Street entrance with a Native American Ohlone blessing, a marching band, Project Bandaloop performing a spectacular aerial dance, and more. And the non-stop celebration continues through 6 p.m. Sunday, May 2.
http://museumca.org/
http://ernestjolly.com/home.html
http://www.insidebayarea.com/oaklandtribune/localnews/ci_14933461

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A tale of two museums

The Berkeley Art Museum seeks new proposals for their new museum after the $145 million former proposal was scrapped.


John King at SF Gate writes: Here's a surprise: SFMOMA isn't the only local cultural institution seeking an out-of-town architect to design its new home.

There's also a "help wanted" sign at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, which is planning a move to the old University of California printing plant at Center and Oxford streets in downtown Berkeley. Letters went to 10 architectural firms early this month and all 10 have responded with initial proposals. The institution hopes to narrow the list to three and name its designer in June.

The Daily Cal reports: Leaders from the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive have decided to relocate the museum to the former UC Printing Plant after a plan to build a completely new museum was deemed too expensive. ($145 million was deemed a tad expensive for these recessionary times).

City Councilmember Susan Wengraf said moving the museum to the proposed location would be more economically practical than demolishing the current building and constructing a new one.

"The adaptive reuse of an older building is the greenest thing you can do," she said. "It's very exciting that the new director is interested in pursuing that idea."

New Oak Street Entrance to the Oakland Museum.

After a year long renovation The Oakland Art Museum iis poised to reopen this week with thirty-one hours of continuous, round-the-clock, free public programs  (courtesy of Target).

Created in 1969 as a "museum for the people," OMCA is reviving its foundational premise by developing innovative exhibition and programming strategies, setting a new paradigm for the way a museum engages the public. Visitors to the reinvented Museum will find multiple entry points for exploring the state's past; learn about the natural, artistic, and social forces that continue to shape it; and investigate their own role in both its history and its future. 

Part of the feedback OMCA had gotten was that "people had a hard time connecting themselves to what they were seeing," says Louise Pubols, chief curator of history. "Sometimes they didn't see any stories (that represented them) at all. We took it to heart."

It will be interesting to follow these two institutions in the coming decade. Oakland, for all its problems, seems to have a vision for what their museum can do and who they want to connect to.

Also: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/23/PKLE1CVE71.DTL&type=art

Friday, April 23, 2010

Reinventing Ritual: Contemporary Art and Design for Jewish Life, on view April 22 – October 3, 2010

 Jonathan Adler. Utopian Menorah. 2006 (Theme: Building)

For most of us, the morning ritual consists of falling out of bed, stumbling to the bathroom, putting on the water for coffee and reading the paper - or the Internet. Some of us check our e-mail first thing. Some have to walk the dog. But the current exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum takes the idea of routine, thoughtless ritual into a more spiritual dimension and links objects made by contemporary artists and designers with the ancient rituals of Judaism.  It is designed to invite visitors to consider their own rituals and create dialogue through a series of questions asked through the exhibition like: What are the rituals that you perform as you wake up in the morning? Are rituals different from a habit or routine? What do you remember about rituals you participated in as a child?  Have you continued or modified those rituals for your family?  Do you have a sacred space in your home? How did you make it sacred?

Judaism is one of the oldest, if not the oldest surviving monotheistic religion. Jewish rituals, customs and scholarly traditions have allowed it to survive centuries of persecution so the ritual items in the exhibit take on an importance beyond their design - they are a spiritual link with the past. The objects presented in the show reflect contemporary concerns and artistic viewpoints.

The show is arranged in four thematic nodes: Thinking, Covering, Absorbing, and Building. These themes focus on ritual as physical action related to specific acts such as eating, drinking, counting, smelling, lighting candles, and praying, essentially grounding them in things shared by all people -- food, clothes, the environment.


Studio Armadillo. Hevruta Minuta. 32 knitted skullcaps. 2007 (Covering)

Ritual is central to Jewish lived experience and practice. Rituals are performed to celebrate or mark life’s passages, to bless the food that that they eat, and to sanctify the space in which they pray. Jewish texts and laws require rituals, although specific customs and practices vary in different parts of the world and have evolved and transformed over the centuries. Contemporary Jews seeking renewed relevance in their relationship to Judaism have expanded and invented new ritual practices. Rituals can be celebratory and raucous or somber and meditative, solitary activities or group experiences. The impact of a ritual on those engaged in it is not easily articulated, but it transforms and changes the participants in the process.

Martin Wilner. Sephirot III, 2007 (Thinking)

The exhibit features 60 innovative works in diverse media including installation art, video, drawing, metalwork, jewelry, ceramics, comics, sculpture, textiles, industrial design and architecture created between 1999 and 2009.  Since the 1990's, Judaism has been revolutionized by feminism, environmentalism and much more and the current exhibit reflects that reality. “The Museum has really been at the forefront of thinking about ritual objects and their contemporary significance,” says Connie Wolf, Executive Director of the CJM. “Reinventing Ritual builds on what we’ve created – looking across the spectrum at traditional objects and rites and bringing in both new and familiar artists to think in fresh ways about the role of ritual in our everyday lives.”

Helène Aylon, All Rise (2007) (Thinking)

Many of the objects can be viewed through the prism of social phenomena  – feminism for example being one of the greatest sources of new ritual practices. With Fringed Garment (2005), American fiber artist Rachel Kanter pushes the boundaries of traditional sex roles by combining a kitchen apron and a prayer shawl (until recently worn only by Jewish men) in a more practical form designed for a woman. Kanter writes, “If I wanted to wear a tallit, it should be made for me and speak of my experiences as a spiritual Jew, a woman and a mother.”

Rachel Kanter. Fringed Garment. 2005 (Covering)

A sculptural installation by past CJM Invitational artist Helène Aylon, All Rise (2007), addresses the patriarchal tradition that allows three males to pass judgment in the Jewish Court but forbids women to judge. Aylon’s installation is an egalitarian vision of the future: a courtroom that administers feminist halakha (Jewish law). “I think of my work as a ‘rescue’ of the Earth and G–d and Women—all stuck in patriarchal designations,” she writes.

Alan Wexler. Gardening Sukkah.(Building)

The exhibition also includes a resource area that provides information about traditional and contemporary Jewish ritual. Several works in the exhibition also have an accompanying video-label that provides further insight into the process, ritual, and concept behind these works. These video-labels are portions of a commissioned video featuring commentary by rabbis, artists and the exhibition’s curator. The excerpts provide insight into the show’s themes and an explanation of the highly symbolic rituals of Judaism and more.

All images courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Check their website for hours and a list of accompanying programs: http://www.thecjm.org/
or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between 3rd & 4th streets), San Francisco.  

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More Spring Rotation items from the Asian

Kado kado no | Issa, tr. Daniel C. Buchanan

At every doorway,
From the mud on wooden clogs,
Spring begins anew.

Streaming Light (Ryuki), 1974. By Honma Kazuaki (Japanese, born 1930). Bamboo and rattan. AAM #2006.3.844.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Opinioned Wednesday

 In which I indulge my inner curmudgeon, grumble, criticize but end on a note of appreciation


Balenciaga at the De Young: Do we really need another designer clothing show at the De Young? I thought that the Westwood show was the most pretentious piece of bull puckey that I'd seen in a long time - ugly clothes capped by a video with the designer pontificating about the universal importance of her clothes. Really? Ripped leather and hideous, unwearable clothes are of philosophical importance? At least Balenciaga's designs are elegant but really, how many clothing shows do we really need? If the De Young wants to focus on textiles, why not textiles from Indonesia or ballet costumes from the Ballet Russe?

"A major retrospective of Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga, one of the last century's most noted couturiers, is scheduled to open at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in Spring 2011, museum officials announced today."

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spring Open Studios

It was a beautiful day, just perfect for going to the park or the beach but it was also the weekend of Open Studios. Looking at trumps the more prosaic pleasures of a lazy day in San Francisco - or at least it did yesterday. For various reasons, I wasn't participating in the Spring Open Studios this year but I knew how hard artists work to get their studios ready for visitors. It would have been rude and remiss of me not to go. Besides, Robert Vo, a new member of SOMA Artists Studios was helping put things together for the weekend, including curating the work which is now hanging on the gallery walls. He's not only my next-door-neighbor at the studio but a thoroughly nice guy. Such hard work and niceness deserves reward.The space looked gorgeous and I heard that Friday night was a blast.
SOMA Artists Studios: 689 Bryant St, SF. 
Unfortunately the web site hasn't been updated in a while but many of these artists can be contacted here: http://www.somaartiststudios.com/

Renee Eaton. Rose Garden 1

John Fitzsimmons, Earth Angel 1. 

There is a fairly new art space up the hill at 340 Bryant. It's not very accessible for those of us on foot but there are parking spaces in front for those going by car. The building is tucked underneath the Bay Bridge and yet, from certain angles, you can see the bay and a dusty hill dotted with bright orange California poppies. My blogging friend and mentor, Anna Conti, had introduced me to Sandy Yagi last fall and I was very curious to see her work in person. There's a reason her blog is titled "Beyond the Comfort Zone" because the combination of Mary Shelly meets Albrecht Dürer would be beyond many people's comfort zone. Images of dancing skeletons, anatomically perfect skulls with lizards in the brain cavity don't begin to describe her exquisite technical skills, macabre subject matter and yes, sense of humor. I think that her work is the most unique that I've seen in quite some time; she certainly stood out during my Open Studios walk this weekend. 


 http://sandrayagi.blogspot.com/?zx=8a179a32f9cccedd

other artists at 340 Bryant St:
Karl Roeseler - charming Matisse inspired lino prints
http://www.karlroeseler.com/

Florence Gray
http://southbeachartists.com/artists/florence/artist.html

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Diebenkorn Show coming to the Thiebaud Gallery

The information is not up on the website yet but I got the flyer in today's mall. The Thiebaud Gallery will be showing paintings and drawings from the collection of Christopher Diebenkorn (April 20th through June 26, 2010) This show and the upcoming reopening of the Oakland Museum with it's superb collection of Bay Area painters are making me one happy art goer.


http://www.paulthiebaudgallery.com/

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Helen At Berggruen

Bias Blue, 1965, @ Helen Frankenthaler

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships? Well, no, but it's the name and the work of an artist who has carried the banner of original abstract painting high for almost 50 years. To be young, talented, and ambitious in the NY of the 1950's was not such a gift if you were also a woman. But if you were all of the above, and smart/and or lucky enough to fall in with the most influential art critic of the times (Clement Greenberg), marry another one of the giants of American Painting (Robert Motherwell) and not fall prey to the shadows that consumed many of the women artists of the time, you too could still be a "name" in the art world. 


Granada, 1953. @ Helen Frankenthaler

Her technique of staining or soaking color into unprimed canvas was different enough to bring critical attention but it's the quality that continues to command respect - the lyrical watercolor aesthetic that harkens back to John Marin and Arthur Dove. Her breakthrough painting, Mountains and Sea (1953) came after a year spent studying and assimilating Pollock's work. This piece made her reputation and established her signature style.

Orange Underline, 1963. @ Helen Frankenthaler.

Her fluid, intuitive visual language - poured paint on unprimed canvas - does not photograph well. In photographs, you miss the shock of paint against the off-cream of the canvas, the halo effect of the colors, the blurred edges. I think that her work remains popular because it makes no demands on the viewer beyond appreciating the dreamy, creamy colors.

In the introduction to "Helen Frankenthaler, A Paintings Retrospective" (E.A Carmean, Jr), the author asked her what viewers should learn from her work. Ms Frankenthaler responded, "in my art I've moved and have been able to grow. I've been someplace. Hopefully, others should be similarly moved."

I enjoyed her lyrical pieces in the exhibit but I wasn't sure that that she had been anywhere other than where she first started, back in 1953. Some of the pieces are more shapeless than lyrical and some of the colors are muddy and indistinct. Even Polllock came to a stuck place in his drip-and-pour process. Ms. Frankenthanler has been at it a long time and it's natural that not all the paintings are up to the highest standards. If she were a lesser-known artist, she might be less indulged and that's not a bad thing. The show could have done with a more rigorous selection process with a few of the weaker pieces put in the back room. That would have made the huge, wall sized paintings stand out more.

Nevertheless, to have a solo exhibit of an artist of this stature here in the Bay Area is a grand treat.There aren't many living artists of the second-generation of abstract expressionists still around and fewer still are women. Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner are all gone so the fact that Frankenthaler is still going strong is something of a miracle.

http://www.berggruen.com/
Essay on Robert Motherwell and the Humanism of Abstraction at Venetian Red:
http://venetianred.net/2010/03/29/robert-motherwell-on-the-humanism-of-abstraction/

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mercedes Benz



Ode to Janis over at Plainfeather's Blog.
http://plainfeather.blogspot.com/

I remember seeing her with Big Brother and the Holding Company at some grotty little bar off Union Street way back in 1966? (or something like that). That was the first time I'd seen a light show, the first time I got chatted up by a hipster and the first time I felt the the love, power, the magnificence and the underlying tragedy that was Janice.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Interview with Linda Ellia, creator of Notre Combat- plus more links

Kenneth Baker interviews Linda Ellia, the creator of the current show at the CJM:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/08/DD9H1CPG89.DTL&type=printable 

http://zswound.blogspot.com/2009/08/erasure-projects-linda-ellias-fight.html

http://brokeassstuart.com/tag/linda-ellia/

http://www.artforhumanrights.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=63&Itemid=71&lang=en

http://www.moreintelligentlife.com/content/fine-performing-arts/daniel-arizona/struggling-mein-kampf

A tribute to Howard Zinn

A tribute to the life and work of professor, political activist and historian Howard Zinn will be held Monday at the San Francisco Concourse. Guests will include author Alice Walker and actor Danny Glover.  Excerpts from Zinn's final work, "The People Speak" - a documentary interpretation of Zinn's classic "A People's History of the United States" - will be shown.
The tribute for Zinn, who died in January, begins at 4 p.m. The concourse is at 635 Eighth St., San Francisco.
News From the Bay Area Arts Scene

This article appeared on page F - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Work of Art" to debut on June 9th.

Good News? Oh really? I think I will reserve judgment

"Good news. Work of Art, Bravo’s new reality show debuting 11 p.m. (ET/PT) June 9, will not embarrass the art world. The series pits 14 artists in competition for $100,000 and a solo show at The Brooklyn Museum and if what I saw at yesterday’s press screening and premiere is any indication, the only obstacle in show’s road to success is its time slot. The pilot is hilarious."

http://www.artfagcity.com/2010/04/08/bravos-new-reality-show-work-of-art-defies-skeptics/

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chinese Ink at the Cantor Art Museum, Stanford

Pan Tianshow. Clearing After the Rain (circa 1962) Hanging Scroll, Ink and Colors on Paper. courtesy Cantor Art Museum

Review by Anna Conti at BAAQ: http://baartquake.blogspot.com/

Day Around the Bay

(the image is of The Rose, NOT at SFMOMA but at the Whitney in New York)
Conversation on Jay DeFeo at Open Space, SFMOMA's blog:
http://blog.sfmoma.org/tag/jay-Jay DeFeo



 The Imagine Bus Project
Presents Kachina Doll Exhibition

Featuring Young Artists from: Malcolm X Academy Starr King Elementary School, Sunnyside Elementary School
Opening Reception Friday, April 9th, 6-8pm
Exhibition Dates April 9, 2010-May 5, 2010
TIBP Gallery
342 9th Street, Suite 201
San Francisco, CA 94103
415.252.91
http://www.imaginebusproject.org/ 

Kitsch Gallery is hosting SFAI's annual spring show, which is sponsored by the Student Union and in collaboration with Design and Technology 220.
Opening reception of the Ir{rationalist} between 5-10 pm, April 9
Kitsch Gallery
3265 17th Street, Suite 204
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 864-2127
http://kitschgallery.blogspot.com/

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

French Artist Linda Ellia Turns the Page on History by Inviting 600 People to Transform One of the Most Inflammatory Books of the 20th Century


In 1924, after his failed attempt at a coup, Hitler was imprisoned in the old fortress at Landsberg. He was treated as an honored guest, given a room with a view, showered with gifts and visits from the party faithful and admirers. It was there that be began dictating the book, later known as “Mein Kamph” or, “Our Struggle.” Turgid and ponderous, it was not a best seller until Hitler came to power when it became politic, even obligatory for every family to have a copy prominently displayed. According to William Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich), few, including foreign diplomats, read it at the time.


 It’s possible that the world might have been spared the horrors to come if they had done so, understood the message and acted against it. For in Mein Kamph, Hitler laid down his blueprint for the new world order – German supremacy under his absolute dictatorship, Lebensraum (Living space) and “racial purity, “ that is, a call for the destruction of everybody who wasn’t of “pure” Aryan blood.

 Images from the project Notre Combat by Linda Ellia; one of six hundred works on paper; artist: Antonia Aimini; 8 ¾ x 5 ½ inches; Paris, France; 2007. Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
We now know what that lead to.

 Notre Combat by Linda Ellia; one of six hundred works on paper; artist: Maxime Rebière; 8 ¾ x 5 ½ inches; Paris, France; 2007. Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Eighty-one years later, in 2005, French painter and photographer Linda Ellia held in her hands a French translation of this book.  Born in Tunisia to a Sephardic Jewish family, Linda Ellia moved to Paris with her family at age eight to escape the increasingly violent antisemitism of 1960s Tunisia. (Over a millions Jews have had to flee Arab countries since 1948; some went to Israel, the other ones embarked on a new Diaspora). She knew the dangers of anti-Semitism first hand. The book was heavy with in her hands, an Ebola virus of hatred and heavy with the memory of the murdered millions.


Notre Combat by Linda Ellia; one of six hundred works on paper; artist; Philippe Marchand; 8 ¾ x 5 ½ inches; Paris, France; 2007. Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
  

Compelled to respond, she grabbed a large red marker and drew on one of pages. She named the drawing Alie (wings).

“I felt such pleasure, that I continued on about 30 pages, “ says Ellia. I covered them with my words, with my drawings, with my paintings. I cut them up. It was them that I thought about the others. Why not share the experience that I was in the process of living.”

Over the next three years, Ellia distributed the pages of Mein Kamph to people from all walks of life, first to the people around her home, later to ever-widening circles from school children, artists to every man or woman on the street. The reactions were many – some curious, some emotional, some outwardly racist. As the pages came back, she decided to use them to recreate the book. Instead of a message of toxic, lethal anti-Semitism, she would create a memorial to creativity, to tolerance; to affirm life, rather than destroying it.


From the project Notre Combat by Linda Ellia; one of six hundred works on paper; artist: Jean Dobritz; 8 ¾ x 5 ½ inches; Paris, France; 2007. Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
 

Simone Veil, a concentration camp survivor, the President of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah (Holocaust), a lawyer and a politician was profoundly by the project and became its godmother.

In her forward to the book Notre Combat, Veil writes, “What should we do with such a book? Ban it? Some would still pass it around on the sly. Forget it? It would be an insult to the millions who died because of it. Burn it? It would be resorting to the methods used by the Nazis during the auto-de-fés of Kristallnacht. Linda Ellia’s luminous intuition was to turn this book into a memory vector. …This past is too burdensome to be silenced and whether we want it or not, the Holocaust is our common heritage and we must confront it. Linda Ellia’s work is an expression of this confrontation. It summons us to never forget what was.”



From the project Notre Combat by Linda Ellia; one of six hundred works on paper; artist: Jean Dobritz; 8 ¾ x 5 ½ inches; Paris, France; 2007. Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
  
Lifted by Veil’s support, Ellia doggedly pursued contributors and the project began to build – more and more people agreed to take a page home and work on it. Friends and family also helped to take pages to the far corners of the world. “A chain reaction was formed globally,” says Ellia. “And suddenly I had amazing messengers from all around the world helping me. The project became almost a performance – proof that it is possible to take up arms against trauma.” The pages began to steadily fill the mailbox.

Contributions came from professional artists, a school classroom in Spain, a café drifter, a merchant in Tel Aviv, and many others. Artistically, the work is uneven but this is not an exhibit can - or should - be judged by the "normal" artistic guidelines. The multiplicity of artists had lead to a multiplicity of perspectives, from mournful to angry to some that were even funny as they skewered Nazi propaganda images of Jews. Many pages in the display are loosely organized by common themes. A wall of pages depict Hitler in one form or another and in another section, a case includes images of participants painting over the words. The exhibit also includes a complete, unaltered copy of “Mein Kampf,” on loan from the Holocaust Center of Northern California, a decision that was reached after a great deal of discussion between the artist, the museum and the Holocaust Center. 


It was particularly moving to read how this edition of the book came into the collection of the Holocaust Center. This volume is one of the few remaining copies of a special presentation edition of Mein Kampf that was given to the forty-three Gauleiters (district governors) of the Third Reich. Hermann Göring, commander of the German air force, enshrined one of these presentation copies in his home. In 1992, Julia M. Thomas of Pacifica, California, donated this copy to the HCNC. Ms. Thomas inherited the book from her father, who was in the United States Army during World War II; it was retrieved from a burning of Nazi books, probably in Kassel, Germany. In donating this volume to HCNC, Ms. Thomas wrote that her father “want[ed] the book to be kept in security . . . so that it will never fall into the hands of people wishing to use it for evil purposes. . . . [It should be preserved to] alert the world to the dangers of ignorance and bigotry.”

To touch the book is to touch evil but to look around at this exhibit speaks of tolerance, courage and the power of creativity. For me, the last two images in the exhibit, also contributed by Ellia, are almost unbearably poignant and painful – a lock of hair and a real gold tooth.

In “The Last of the Just,” French author Andre Schwarz-Bart wrote about the legend of the Just Men, the tradition of the Lamed-Voy. According to this story, the world reposes upon thirty-six Just Men, men who are simple and often unaware of their station. But “If just one of them were lacking, the sufferings of mankind would poison even the souls of the newborn and humanity would suffocate with a single cry. For the Lamed-Voy are the hearts of the world multiplied, and into them, as into one receptacle, our all our griefs.” In his novel, the last of his Just Men perishes at Auschwitz. But I nominate Ellia as a new generation of the Just, one who has born witness to the malefic evil generated by the man who wrote this book and by those who followed him.  By engaging with it and encouraging others to engage with it, she has produced a work of cathartic power and symbolic reclaiming.


From the project Notre Combat by Linda Ellia; one of six hundred works on paper; artist: Wallas Gustave; 8 ¾ x 5 ½ inches; Paris, France; 2007. Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Notre Combat on Vimo: http://vimeo.com/9524745
CNN Interview: http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-409423 

Contemporary Jewish Museum: http://www.thecjm.org/ Through June 10, 2010
Bay Area Holocaust Survivors respond to Mein Kamph: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2010/02/17/ellia.DTL

Thursday, April 1, 2010

When all else fails...

blog about your work in progress. For the first time in a long time, I don't know where I'm going as a painter. In the past, I've always had an idea, sometimes incoherent but still some idea, of what I wanted to do as a painter and how to go about it. For lately, I have to say that I haven't a clue. I'm not unhappy with this work but then, I'm not happy either. I am still working - and hope to continue working - on my sporadic paintings of people in restaurants, bars, coffeehouses.

For instance, this is one of them that I've tentatively titled "Tête-à-tête." Of course, it's a lousy photo because my camera is old and my photo skills marginal but it's not bad. I'm not sure it's any good either and if it's not good, how to make it so. I seem drawn to more simplicity of line and form but I don't want my pieces to look like an amateur's idea of anatomy. I suppose I could go the way of Robert Coldescott and try make really really good "bad paintings" but I'm not as skilled as he was.


This one I like better - I like the intense red against the blue and the hint of crude painting works in this piece or, I think it does but I sure could be wrong.


Usually I have SOME idea if a piece is decent or not but this one has me completely puzzled. The palate is far more muted than my usual colors but I like the paint texture. When I go to work on it, I just can't decide what to do - leave it as is or what....In a way, I like it but I'm not sure that I should. That is, maybe I can't recognize mediocre when it's one of my pieces. It's certainly more traditional than some of my other pieces but lately I have been veering toward more traditional painting so that's nothing new. This is when I miss my old teacher and critique group the most; N'Ima could bring a new vision to the most tired old piece. I always left the class, recharged and full of energy. Now, I find myself wondering all the time if I'm just a 3rd rate painter and should accept the fact. Of course, looking at all the good work that I do look at in the course of my journalism "day job" doesn't help. Some days it really seems like I'm the proverbial little old lady, showing my boring pieces to people who are polite enough not to tell me that "the Emperor has no clothes."