Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Sky In Motion

túrána hott kurdís by hasta la otra méxico! from Till Credner on Vimeo.

Explanation: Still need to come up with a good new year's resolution? Consider one appropriate for 2009, the International Year of Astronomy; just look up -- experience, learn, and enjoy the changing sky. This 4-minute, time-lapse video is composed from a series of 7,000 images highlighting much of what you could see. Arcing through the sky in a stately reflection of planet Earth's own rotation are Moon, Sun and stars. But the sequence also features satellites and meteors streaking overhead, clouds moving along the horizon changing in a beautiful iridescence, and beaming crepuscular rays.

Found elesewhere but with my answers: I ask myself the questions from the end of Inside the Actor's Studio, which came from two French television shows by Bernard Pivot, because I like to follow how the answers change over time:

What is your favorite word? Creativity followed by compassion.
What is your least favorite word? Torture, followed by politician's lies
What sound or noise do you love? The sound of the sea
What sound or noise do you hate? The music/noise from the upstairs neighbors
What turns you on? Art. Friendship.
What turns you off? Ignorance. Cruelty.
What occupation would you like to try? Dancer.
What occupation would you least like to try? Any of my former ones.
What's your favorite curse word? Shit.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you reach the pearly gates? Welcome. Listen to the silence of the spheres.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So Long 2008

On the last day of the year the transiting Sun hits my natal Sun, which sits at the nadir of my chart and opposes my natal Saturn. As a result, I’m not one for going out and raising hell on New Year’s Eve. Of course, the whole world celebrates my birthday so there's plenty of celebration to go around.

In my younger days, I worked all the weird shifts in admitting or the emergency room, and inevitably I’d not only have to deal with the the most obnoxious patients around, I'll also get sick.

I got the message: I’m supposed to have a contemplative New Year’s Eve, and I generally do, now that I’m older and wiser. That is, I have as quiet a New Year's Eve as my neighbors will allow.

I like the Japanese custom of cleaning house on New Year’s Eve so you can start the New Year with a fresh slate. Today I cleaned house, straightened up my studio and tomorrow I'll be at the Asian, ringing in the New Year Japanese style (see below). I'm going with a couple of friends and we will ring the bell together and send up fervent prayers for a better 2009.

Then, I'll be spending New Year's Eve with a friend, both for the company and to escape the louts that live above me and will certainly be partying until dawn. May they have the mother of all hangovers!

This year, it’s not just me who’ll be feeling Saturn’s influence on New Year’s Eve; the whole world will, as Saturn will be making a station at 21 degrees 45 minutes of Virgo before going retrograde.

So long, 2008; it ain't been fun to know you.

Ring in the New Year - Japanese Style

23rd Annual Japanese New Year

Bell Ringing Ceremony

A unique, fun, and family friendly way to ring in the new year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008
FREE with museum admission
Children 12 and under always admitted free!

10:00 am–2:00 pm: Art Activities
11:30 am: Bell Ringing Ceremony

Everyone is invited to participate in the auspicious Japanese tradition of striking a temple bell. This popular event offers the community a memorable opportunity to reflect peacefully upon the passing year.

As in past observances, a 2100-lb., sixteenth-century Japanese bronze bell originally from a temple in Tajima Province in Japan and now part of the museum's permanent collection will be struck 108 times with a large custom-hewn log. According to Japanese custom, this symbolically welcomes the New Year and curbs the 108 bonno (mortal desires) which, according to Buddhist belief, torment humankind.

It is hoped that with each reverberation the bad experiences, wrong deeds, and ill luck of the past year will be wiped away. Thus, tolling heralds the start of a joyous, fresh New Year.

There will be a short performance of Japanese folk songs preceding the ceremony. Then, Zen Buddhist priest Gengo Akiba Roshi will conduct a blessing and begin the bell ringing. Akiba Roshi is director of the Soto Zen Buddhism North American office. He is also Zen teacher at Oakland's Kojin-an Zendo.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Shows to catch before the end of the year

Femina Potens: Oh oh oh Christ! Religious Iconography
Artists who glorify beauty with religious iconography in their photography, paintings, and mixed media artwork.

Triangle Gallery: Three artists who work on Paper

The Shape of Things: Paper Traditions and Transformations at the Museum of Folk and Craft.
The history of cut, folded and molded paper

A Tribute to Bruce Conner at Gallery Paule Anglim

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nancy's Lists

Best Art Videos:

Best Coverage of Art Miami

Art Fag City's Top Five to top everybody else's top ten:

Best science project on line: Colossal Squid Exhibit + Build Your Own Squid (After you build your squid, you can follow her or her adventures. Mine is called Juno and she's now 4 days old. The "adventure" interface page is a little boring with the same old creatures up every time but the whole site is simply fantastic. More about squids than you ever knew.)

One of the better economics blogs out there:

Most powerful documentary on line (and this was a hard one to chose): A Walk to Beautiful: PBS's documentary on the women of Ethiopia, crippled by childbirth injuries and their struggle for reconstructive surgery:

One of the Best Non-Religious Christmas Songs ever - and a tribute of Ms. Kitt who has left us.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Seasons' Greetings

A mother. A child. One of the oldest images we have of protection and tenderness. May you be protected. May you be treated tenderly. Namaste!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Franz Kline at Thiebaud in North Beach

This small but marvelous exhibit shows the roots of Kline's larger black and white paintings. The father of black and white painting came from a background that was as grim as any in Dickens'. Orphaned as a boy, a poor student, crippled by a bout with rheumatic fever which caused his early death, he led a brutal, hardscrabble life for years. His breakthough came in 1950 with a show at the Egan Galley of the work for which we now know him for -the stark, dynamic and large scale dramatic paintings. These small spontaneous pieces on old phone books - given to Thiebaud as a gift - encapsulate in minature that raw force. Franz Kline once said, "If you meant it that much when you did it, it will mean that much."
Yes, it does still mean that much.
April Kingsley, "The Turning Point." p. 372

Roland Petersen at Hacket-Freeman

Semi-abstract backgrounds intermingled with geometric forms, all slathered with thick paint like icing. As a painter, I found myself wondering whether he used any mediums to thicken his paint; as a critic, I was seduced by his clean bright colors and skillful handling of landscape and figuration.

A rare selection of early paintings and works on paper by Roland Petersen.

To December 24th.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Best Christmas Present Ever

Yes Virginia, there is art in schools - Project fully funded! YES!

Winter Solistice

Spinning as the year turns..

One of my favorite essays on spirituality comes from Amy Martin. Here is how it begins:

. .we are spinning. like the sufi mystic who whirls as a spiritual practice, this planet rotates on its axis. we see this every morning, as we spin toward the sun and it appears to rise, and in the evening it appears to set. the moon spins on it's axis and orbits around us, and we spin together as we orbit around the sun. the sun spins on its on majestic axis as it orbits around the black hole at the center of this magnificant galaxy we call the milky way.

....and at the most elemental level are the spinning atoms that coalesce to make all of matter, including you.

.....circles inside circles inside spirals in the sky. all of it, supported by the dark.

.....from darkness we come to darkness we go. billions of years ago, the universe exploded into being. it is still racing into the infinite, as the red shift attests. the big bang, the great push that happened when another cosmic cycle began, full of all the potential of the universe- just like the winter solstice moment of light being reborn. the big bang, the sound of the universe, the om, the gong, the heartbeat of the drum. the big bang, sperm and egg meeting in the dark feminine body to create you, full of all the potential of the universe.

.....we are stardust, you and i, made of the same matter that begat the universe. our bodies sanctify spirit, giving this loose conglomerate of molecules a place to spin and coalesce out of the dark womb, into light, before returning to darkness again.

.....this is no mere metaphysical musing. it's the most basic tenet of physics, the first law of thermodynamics: matter and the energy that infuses it is never created, nor destroyed, but only changes forms.

.....breath now and inhale the very same molecules of air that jesus, buddha, and allah did hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

.....i invite you to stand beneath the infinite sky some night this season. breathe deep of the night air, and be not afraid. look into the immeasurably vast cosmos and know that your soul's energy is a forever piece in this intricate celestial matrix of light and dark.

thanks to amy martin for this piece.
please check out her site.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Umbrella: The End of an era

Umbrella was one of the best alternate book publications out there - either on line or off. But the sad news came through the Book-Arts mailing list; the editor has cancer and has gone to a hospice to wait for the end. I'm am stricken by this news; Judith was one of the first to publish my altered books, had the most interesting mail art shows, the best reviews and an editorial eye that seldom made a mistake. The whole archive is now up on line and when you go there, send a prayer of gratitude to Judith for all her hard work in the arts for the last 31 years. Instead of locking down her website, she's offering the archive up as a free resource. May her passing be peaceful and pain-free.

From the Editor

To my subscribers, institutions, collectors, artists, friends:

One would not have imagined a disease chasing me down the end of the road, but it happened in August, diagnosed in September, analyses were done by experts, and I came home on the first of October to hospice at my home. To say that I was in a state of shock would be a euphemism. It all came too fast.

As soon as I walked into the house, my life completely changed. I was no longer a writer, editor, publisher, traveler, choc-o-holic, insomniac; I was a cancer patient. I have acute myeloid leukemia. And in the interim between October 1st and as I write this, I have been organizing my archives, throwing things away I never would have otherwise, and preparing myself for the last journey. This is the most difficult editorial I’ve ever written to you, and it will be my last.

In the past, you have learned about alternative spaces all over the world, itineraries of trips that I have taken that have led me to exotic and creative places. You never bargained about learning about Fluxus, mail art and archives, video art, sound art, performance art, rubber stamps, and so much more that was fecund in those early years.

Frankly, it took a lot of work, a lot of reading, a lot of traveling, but the task was as fruitful for me as it was for you. With the technology we went from Composer I to Composer II, to computer. It was a learning curve for me, but I always wanted Umbrella to “look good.” When you saw that light blue issue in the mail, you knew what it was. The whole field of artist books became my life and I wanted to share it with all of you. Although marginal at the beginning, it has grown into a movement, a new chapter in art history, one which is recognized by art historians, artists, and all of you. It has become almost too much now, with so many conferences, book fairs, and symposia to attend. And as usual, it has spread globally.

Obsessed with umbrellas and parasols, it allowed me to create a huge collection of “umbrelliana” which has overwhelmed both my domestic and storage settings. I learned more about textiles, fashion, kitsch, marketing, performance art, multicultural innovations with the object umbrella, encountering artists who used the image to intrigue me as well as to whet my appetite. It has been an easy image to collect in paper ephemera as well as almost 200 three-dimensional umbrella objects. From a tiny Chinese lace umbrella to a 19th century silk parasol, from 333 antiquarian books to countless artifacts, the collection has grown over the past 30 years.

In the ensuing two months I have been in hospice, I have missed sharing with you all the art news, umbrella news, and mail art news for this issue. With this issue I say goodbye, knowing full well that you can always read back issues, do database research in all the issues from vol.1 no. 1, with Umbrella being a free journal for all to read, from 1978 through 2008. This has been made possible for posterity thanks to Indiana University and Sonja Staum-Kuniej at IUPUI.

It is with heartfelt thanks that I recognize all the contributors, even those who sent just snippets of information that I could use for the next issue. Interviews with intriguing artists have been Googled as number one under the artist’s name. Perhaps that is because I chose obscure artists, but why not? And we went from no covers to spectacularly beautiful color covers as the technology allowed us. The printers took extreme care in making Umbrella a handsome and readable publication. No less gratitude is due webmaster, Jim Hanson, who made the electronic issue of Umbrella clear and well-designed transition to the new technology.

Through the years, from the beginning, I have depended upon all the libraries, colleges and universities, public libraries, private collectors, museums, and galleries that supported me in this 31-year endeavor. But it is also the artists, friends, and colleagues, who have allowed me to produce Umbrella. Without you, it could not have happened.

— jah

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

They say it's your birthday!

Happy Birthday, Beethoven

End of the year riches

Islamic art at the Asian
Franz Kline show at Thiebauld
Roland Petersen at Hackett-Freedman
Hartman at Triangle Gallery

I fell like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland - must rush or I will be late! More later!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Phone Controlled Art in San Jose

From SFist - but too much fun not to repost (I just wish there was a better photo). The 88, a luxury highrise in San Jose (how adorable!) has a piece of public art outside its building, one that you can control using your mobile communication device.

The piece, created by Jim Conti and found at San Fernando and Second Streets in Downtown San Jose, is called Show Your Stripes. Because it contains lots of neon-ish stripes in it. According to CBS 5, it works like this.

To try it out, first call 408-287-0128. After the tone, enter any three digit combination including "#" and "*". Then, press "0" and hang up.

Here are some of the codes:
*25 - Xmas Dance
*14 - Valentine's Day Beat
*88 - The 88
*** - Ship's Wheel
168 - Green with Red Bolt
182 - Happy
193 - Rainbow Chase
194 - RGB Down
197 - Rainbow Sweep
228 - Yellow Sweep

268 - Brackets Out
311 - Cyan Sweep
323 - Red Pulse
341 - Slow Easter Sweep
486 - Arrows Going Down
555 - Green Warp
526 - Red with Blue Sweep
541 -Easter Sweeps
565 - Green Pulse
766 - Snow Falling
919 - Blue Flutter
927 - Mom's B-Day
931 - Rainbow Left to Right

The piece was officially dedicated last month, so we're late to the game on this one. But still: Show Your Stripes and... well, actually, that's the only thing would move us to take a trip down there. Kudos, San Jose! But seriously, South Bay, this is a great way to generate some attention to your downtown skyline.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Support the arts


Teachers ask for classroom project materials.
You choose a project to bring to life.
Students learn and thank you with letters and photos. is a simple way to provide students in need with resources that our public schools often lack. At this not-for-profit web site, teachers submit project proposals for materials or experiences their students need to learn. These ideas become classroom reality when concerned individuals, whom we call Citizen Philanthropists, choose projects to fund.

Proposals range from "Magical Math Centers" ($200) to "Big Book Bonanza" ($320), to "Cooking Across the Curriculum" ($1,100). Any individual can search such proposals by areas of interest, learn about classroom needs, and choose to fund the project(s) they find most compelling. In completing a project, donors receive a feedback package of student photos and thank-you notes, and a teacher impact letter.

Locally: Holiday Fair at SF Center for the Book
Fri Dec 12 6pm-8pm - Sat Dec 13 12pm-5pm
Do your holiday shopping at the Center. We'll have gifts for sale by a wide variety of printers, bookbinders, book artists, and other craftspeople, as well as 2009 calendars from members of the Pacific Center for the Book Arts. Browse the artist's books and journals, handmade and decorative papers, calligraphy and book making supplies, holiday cards, and lots more. See below for a list of participating vendors. Vendor tables are sold out for this event.

From Greg Dewar's N-Judah Chronicles: Holiday Bazaar

If you take the N down Irving Street, by now you've noticed the "Yes We Can" house. Now, the mural alone is cool, but even cooler is the fact that the folks who own the house have sponsored some really nice community events this year.

Earlier they had a fun "Summer Solstice" celebration, and now, for the holidays, they are hosting an "Underground Bazaar" with crafts made by local artisans on Sunday, December 14th, from noon to 5pm.

Not only can you find some potentially fun handmade items to give away for the holidays, you can also meet some of your neighbors and enjoy a fun Sunday afternoon in the neighborhood. Here are the details:
Underground Bazaar December 12th from 12pm to 5pm
25+ Talented Artisans offering their Personal, Hand-Made Treasures!
Pillows, Clothing, Jewelry, Toys, Notebooks, Painted Shoes,
Note Cards, Soaps, Wall Art, Accessories, Candles ... ALL hand made!
*NO charge to attend*
Complimentary Mulled Wine, Hot Chocolate & Cookies

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More from the Simon Collection at the Legion

This should be a "must see" for the holidays. The show compasses two millennia and three continents in a few small rooms. Each piece is not only exquisite but historically important. The show features about 150 works, ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to 19th century France. This is only a small selection the collection which is going to be housed in a new museum on Berlin's "Museum Island" later in the decade.

Head of Nefertiti Egyptian, Tell el Amarna, New Kingdom, Dynasty 18, reign of Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten, ca. 1345 B.C. Limestone, H 28.7 cm Gift of James Simon, 1920 Egyptian Museum, Berlin
Lion Relief from the Processional Way in Babylon, Neo-Babylonian, King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 B.C.), 6th century B.C. Colored, glazed clay bricks, partially in relief, glazed additions G1. 306. Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst Munich, German. 1.18 x 2.42 m

The Priest Nichiren in the Snow on Sado Island, from the Life History of Nichiren Series, by Utagawa Kuniyoshi––the majority of James Simon’s Eastern art collection was lost at the end of World War II. Happily, the collection of Ukiyo-e was saved and remains in Berlin. This woodblock print, circa 1831, reveals Kuniyoshi’s brilliant sense of color and design and is one of a series of ten prints created in honor of activist priest Nichiren.

The Gold Medallion with Portrait of Alexander the Great (3rd Century A.D.) was part of a rich treasure trove uncovered by archaeologists northeast of Alexandria in 1902. The circular pendant portrays the Hellenistic ruler Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 B.C.) brandishing a spear and protective shield.

Queen Tiye, the mother of Akhnaton. The reproduction does not do justice to this piece. It's about the size of my thumb but carved with astonishingly realistic detail. Unlike other periods of Egyptian art, the Amarna period allowed artists to individualize their portraits beyond the canon and in this tiny but powerful piece, the Queen's forceful personality still speaks across the intervening centuries. The original bust of Nefertiti is too fragile to handle but the replica is beautifully done.
Eduard and James, who made their fortunes as cotton purveyors, gave one-third of their sizable annual income to charity, supporting both social causes and the museums of their city. In all, they gave about 20,000 objects to the State Museums of Berlin, among them important ancient artifacts from excavations that James supported in Egypt and Babylon.

James Simon, who was a patriotic German as well as a Jew, died in 1932, a year before Adolf Hitler came to power. Simon belonged to Prussia’s Jewish community which was destroyed by the Nazis. In addition to its incalculable human cost, the Holocaust also obliterated knowledge of the key role Jews played in enriching German cultural institutions.

Simon also played a key role in developing Berlin’s museum landscape. He had a close relationship with Wilhelm von Bode, the museum director largely responsible for bringing the museums of the German capital to a position of worldwide eminence. To raise Berlin to the level where it could compete with museum centers like Paris and London, Bode systematically used a combination of public funding and the generosity of private patrons, many of whom were prominent Jewish art collectors.

In 1916, Simon approached Bode again and said he wanted to donate his entire collection. Simon’s second endowment, which he completed in 1920, was a rare event. In the tumultuous period following the war, few patrons were willing to part with as much of their art as he was. All in all, he gave the Berlin Museum over 20,000 pieces and thankfully for us, most of it survived both the Nazi "purge" of anything they deemed Jewish and the violence of WW II.

Thanks to James Simon, the Berlin Egyptian museum has one of the world's richest collections of ancient Egyptian art from Tell el Amarna, and the Pergamon Museum in Berlin has a world-famous reconstruction of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate and its processional way. In addition to the model for the bust of Nefertiti, the Legion of Honor show includes clay brick fragments assembled into the form of lions that led the way to the Ishtar gate. It's hard to believe that this was the work of one individual. His generosity and insight into saving the art of the past have given all of us a priceless gift.

References: Sacramento Bee, 11/28/2008
Atlantic Times, December 2006
SF Sentinel, Nov 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Not a happy Monday

Steven Winn leaves the Chronicle: Another sign of the times; I always enjoyed his writing. Now, the only regular critic we have left is Kenneth Baker.

The other art news of the day is that the Presidio Trust's "revision" of the Fisher Museum at the Presidio is just as much of a fiasco as the older plans.

The Trust’s newest proposal would still place a huge contemporary art museum at the center and top of the historic parade ground on the Presidio’s Main Post and leave the Trust’s massive, upscale hotel and movie theater plans largely unchanged.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


The National Endowment for the Arts has just issued Women Artists: 1990-2005 : , a 17-page study about the status of women in the arts. The title of the report is mildly deceptive, in that Women Artists really tracks the challenges faced by women across all the creative professions -- including, among other things, "actors," "writers and authors" and "announcers." Also unfortunately, "visual artists" are inexplicably lumped together in the survey into a single category with "art directors" and "animators." However, the report does make some valuable points:

* The category of "art director, visual artist or animator" is the closest of all the creative professions to achieving gender parity -- it is 47.4 percent female. For the curious, the field with the lowest concentration of women was "architect," with only 22.2 percent. By far the highest concentration of women was to be found among "dancers and choreographers," at 75.9 percent.

* The median annual earnings for women listed as "art directors, fine artists and animators" is $29,000. Median earnings are $36,000 for men in the same fields. Thus, on average, women in the visual arts earn 81 cents to a man’s dollar.

* Despite being equally represented in the field, female "art directors, fine artists and animators" are far more likely to have only part-time employment. According to the NEA’s findings, close to 40 percent of women are part-timers, as opposed to just about 20 percent of men.

* Women Artists reports that earning discrepancies increase for older women -- quite substantially so. "In 2003-2005, women artists aged 18 to 24 earned $0.95 for every $1 made by young men artists. This ratio fell to $0.78 for artists aged 35 to 44, and to $0.67 for 45-to-54-year-olds. Women artists aged 55 to 64 earned only $0.60 for every dollar earned by men artists in that age group."

* The median age of women working in the "art director, visual artist or animator" category is 41 -- five years younger than the median age for men, which is 46. Strangely, the trend among architects is the opposite: The median age for women is 38, six years younger than the median age of 44 for men. (A guess would be that this is due to the relatively recent inroads females have made into architecture, having increased their representation by nearly seven percent in the brief time span covered by Women Artists.)

* The percentage of what women artists earn relative to men varies regionally. In the report’s words, relative to what men make, "female artist earnings were highest in New York and New Hampshire (85 percent in both states), followed closely by Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, where the ratio was 84 percent."

* And yet, perhaps the quirkiest generalization from Women Artists is the following: "women artists tend to concentrate in low-population states." As percentages of the total, the number of women artists is highest in Nebraska, where it approaches 60 percent, followed by similar high concentrations in Iowa, Alaska, New Hampshire and Mississippi. The percentage of woman in the creative labor pool is lowest in California (42.6 percent), Michigan (42.9), New Jersey (42.9), Florida (43.3), Texas (44.2) and New York (45.8).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday Grab Bag

Demise of the critic per Roger Ebert:

A newspaper film critic is like a canary in a coal mine. When one croaks, get the hell out. The lengthening toll of former film critics acts as a poster child for the self-destruction of American newspapers, which once hoped to be more like the New York Times and now yearn to become more like the National Enquirer. We used to be the town crier. Now we are the neighborhood gossip.

The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it….

Good take from Roger Ebert (makes me even more glad that there are so many good internet sources to read). But what makes me not so glad is to see the celebrity culture alive and well in the art world. Essay by Linda Yablonksy on just that issue:

With excellent commentary by Edward Winkleman:

The Museum of Contemporary Art in LA is in deep financial trouble. The NY Times thinks that it’s because they put “art ahead of money but maybe it's just because they were poorly managed (sound familiar?)

Tyler Green of Modern Art notes has been reporting on the situation for some time

Liz Haber at Venetian Red has a great article on Goldsworthy’s “Spire” at the Presidio. After reading her article, I think I understand the piece a lot better. She’s also got a good essay on the current hot topic du jour – the return of plundered art.

John Haber on Gilbert and George at the Brooklyn Musuem in NY. I sure wish we had a critic of his caliber looking at the art scene in SF. I always learn about new ways to look at an artist after reading his reviews but even Mr. Haber can’t make me want to go to any of G&G shows.

To end on a non-art note, here's a report of a joyous impromptu concert on our often joyless N Judah line.

*Image of the Eleven Headed Avolokiteshvara from the current exhibit at the Legion

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Leonardo and Mantegna at the Legion

It's not often that we have two exhibits of this quality in the same place and at the same time.

Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings form the heart of the Renaissance master’s artistic legacy and continue to fascinate and challenge viewers today. A select group of eleven drawings, as well as one of his most celebrated notebooks, the Codex on the Flight of Birds, is on view at the Legion of Honor from November 15, 2008, to January 4, 2009. Previously exhibited at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Leonardo da Vinci: Drawings from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, marks the first time that this remarkable group of drawings has been loaned to a U.S. exhibition by the Biblioteca Reale (Royal Library) in Turin, Italy. This small-scale traveling exhibition presents the first opportunity to view these drawings together, outside of Italy. (from the press release)

"The shadow of a great genius is a peculiar thing. Under Rembrandt's shadow, painters flourished to the extent that we can no longer distinguish their work from his own. But Leonardo's was a chilling shadow, too deep, too dark, too overpowering." (Sister Wendy Beckett).

The exhibit of drawings is small but exquisite and a reminder - if we needed reminding - why his work is still looked at today with equal parts of appreciation and reverence. To study his delicate but sure line line, his luminous faces, even the way the most casual sketch is positioned on the paper is worth a year of graduate work in the most prestigious art school.

This other exhibition honors the cultural legacy of James Simon, perhaps the most important patron Berlin has ever known. Over 100 works, borrowed from nine separate museums, spanning from the 3rd millennium BC to the 18th century AD, grace the special exhibition galleries at the Legion of Honor from October 18, 2008, to January 18, 2009. Highlights include the Egyptian, New Kingdom bust Queen Tiy, a lion relief that once lined the Processional Way in ancient Babylon, Andrea Mantegna’s The Virgin with the Sleeping Child, and a 19th-century woodblock print by the great Ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kuniyoshi titled The Priest Nichiren in the Snow on Sado Island.

The The State Museums of Berlin and the Legacy of James Simon
October 18, 2008 — January 18, 2009
Leonardo through January 4th, 2009
SF Legion of Honor

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beach Towels?

Sign of the times or a new use for art images?

For only $50 you can buy a beach towel with an image by Alex Katz, Wiley, Elizabeth Peyton, Jeff Koons (now that does not surprise me), Ed Ruscha, et al.

Actually, the Alex Katz towel doesn’t look half bad and once I read that the proceeds from sales will support Art Production Fund's mission to support major civic artwork projects, while half of all proceeds generated from sales of Koons' towel will also support the Koons Family Institute, a resource of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, I decided to be less snarky.
After all, Renaissance artists painted marriage chests and produced Madonna's to order with the patron specifying the quality of lapiz lazuil and how much gold leaf should be used. What we are producing is along the same lines, although far more transient.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hewett Collection of African American Art

The collection, put together by a African-American couple of modest means, was built over a lifetime of collecting. Vivian and John Hewitt were married in 1949 and began collecting immediately. They used wedding gift money to buy art on their honeymoon and never stopped throughout their married life.

"Art enriches life, enlarges life, expands life," says Vivian Hewlett and this somewhat small but comprehensive exhibit is an eloquent testament to that belief. Located on the third floor of the museum, the exhibit features 54 works assembled over a half-century, from 1949 to 1998, and offers not only important twentieth-century art but also a survey of African-American culture and society.

The exhibit includes works by Romare Bearden, regarded as one of the greatest American artists of his generation, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the first African-American artists to achieve acclaim in both America and Europe. Contemporary artists are also represented, among them Jonathan Green, a 1980s graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The works by Tanner are not first rate, in my opinion. There are three pieces and while they round off the collection in a historical sense, they don't add much artistically.

Romare Beaden is represented by several juicy color lithographs and collages. It was a real pleasure to be able to get up close and see how his collages fitted together like the most intricate puzzle. "Jamming at the Savoy" (1988) sings like a jazz riff with light and dark shimmering in the piece. The sole Jacob Lawrence piece, "Playing Records" captures the essence of hipster cool.

Ann Tanksley (b. 1934) was one of the artists that I was completely unfamiliar with and I found her work completely captivating. Her palate glows with color. Her simplified forms are influenced by the Mexican Muralists but her palate is pure Matisse.

This is an intimate collection of small- to medium-size pieces that could be displayed in an average size house. Taken as a whole, they show a wide range of artistic responses to African American life in the last 50 years. There are some pieces which reflect the grimmer aspects of that experience but the but the emphasis is on joy and the resilience of the human spirit. I couldn't help thinking of Timothy Buckwalter's recent comment when he was able to see the Fisher Collection. According to him, the collection could have come out of any art magazine of the 70's and didn't have much of a personal focus beyond testosterone. The Hewett's collection is the antithesis of that - the life time's labor of love for two people who loved art and were intimately involved in the vibrant African-American artistic culture of the last 50 years.

There has been a series of gallery talks on Wednesday; the remaining ones are:
Nov. 26: Classical African Sculpture and Cubism
Dec. 3: The Voice of Jazz as Artistic Muse
Jan. 7: African American Art Not Mainstream? Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting!

The Museum of the African Diaspora is located at 685 Mission Street at Third Street in San Francisco. Museum hours are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (closed Monday & Tuesday) and Noon – 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. For more information, details on gallery talks and a map of the area, visit or call (415) 358-7200.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thomas Ingmire at SFCB: What to get for Christmas

If you live close enough to attend this event at the San Francisco Center for the Book, then this is a must see! Thomas will be presenting original work, discussing his methods and tools, demonstrating some calligraphy and will have prints and small originals for sale. Thomas Ingmire is one of the foremost masters of modern calligraphy and a leader in the current revival of that most ancient art form. He was the first American elected to the English Society of Scribes and Illuminators. His work has been in galleries all over the world and his hand made books are exquisite examples of the art. If you want to see more of his work, the Harrison Collection at the SF Public Library has a wonderful collection of his (mostly) older pieces.

The uniqueness of Thomas Ingmire’s art work lies in its relationship to the traditions of calligraphy. Elected in 1977 to the English Society of Scribes and Illuminators, Ingmire was the first American and first person outside of the United Kingdom to receive this honor. Teaching since l978, he has conducted workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and several countries in Europe as well as in Japan and Hong Kong. The recently published Codici 1, edited by Ingmire, reveals insights into his teaching and working philosophies on modern calligraphy. Please check the following websites:,,

San Francisco Center for the Book, Tuesday, December 2nd, 7 - 9 pm, Book Arts Salon, free.
SFCB, 300 De Haro Street, SF, 415-565-0545,

Monday, November 24, 2008

For the Birds

"Language of the Birds" is a permanent installation by San Francisco artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn. Etched into the concrete below the books, strung among two stoplight poles and one streetlight stanchion, are words that appear to have fallen from their pages. Located on a small traffic island at Columbus and Broadway, the project was unveiled on Sunday, complete with performance art, marching bands and many speeches by SF's famous (and maybe infamous) literati and politicians.

"This is not a typical public works project," said Ed Reiskin, director of the city's Department of Public Works. "It's the first time performance art has been part of public art."

According to local artist, Goggin, "All of this text has been taken from books that were written by local authors over the last 150 years."

"North Beach-specific authors," added Keehn, 44. "We have the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats, Chinese poets and Italians. We wanted to illuminate the culture and history that you find in this neighborhood."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grace x 2

Eva Lake has a good piece on Grace Hartigan up at her blog as well as a post in honor of unions. I know that a lot of artists think of themselves as above the mundane business of organizing but really, our lives would be a lot better if we had an organization that spoke for our interests and gave us some security to boot. This everybody for himself or herself individualism sounds great in theory but in practice, ends up with one or two big winners (Hirst, Schnabel, Koons) and hundreds of "loosers." It should be (somehow) "all for one and one for all."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Martin Puryear at SF MOMA

Puryear was born in 1941, the son of a postal employee and an elementary teacher. He originally wanted to be a scientist but earned a Fine Arts degree at the Catholic University of America. After graduating, he joined the Peace Corps and spent time in Sierra Leone where he taught a variety of subjects but also developed a profound respect for the craftsmen that he met. After his two years in the Peace Corps were up, he moved to Sweden and studied at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. Eventually he returned to the US and earned a Masters of Fine Arts at Yale in 1971. All of this varied experience eventually led to his accomplished handling of natural (and some not-exactly natural materials) as well as his approach to sculpture with roots in Scandinavian Design, Minimalism and African Art.
“Though he would be the last to deny that in past years the art world, like most things American, has been disfigured by racism, Puryear does not find his own blackness an impediment. "Right from the start, I thought, No one can keep me from being an artist." He speaks of feeling the inaccessibility of Africa. "There is an incredible pain," he says, "that we black people feel at not being able to reach back and touch the country of origin the way that every other hyphenated American can and does. Being there made me realize how inescapably American I was—not African. You know you must embrace your identity as an American, not wallow in the idea that you're some kind of displaced, tribal person. Here you have responsibilities to your Americanness as well as your blackness."”
Robert Hughes wrote that Puryer is “A master of both modernism and traditional crafts, he creates sculptures that are a synthesis of beauty but free of cliché.” I couldn’t agree more (not that I’m tempted to disagree with Robert Hughes, the doyen of art criticism and my personal idol. Puryer’s work is well displayed at SF MOMA. For once, the museum has given a traveling show enough room for the pieces to breathe and claim their psychic space. Each piece shows a respect for the craft and the skill to use materials as diverse as various woods, leather, brush, carvings, tar, wire and mud.

“Puryear has always been troubled by the art/craft division in American culture. "At bottom it's a class issue really," he says. "‘Art' means thought; ‘craft' means manual work." But it's never so simple, for craft means thinking with (not just about) material. "In Japan you'll never see that kind of snobbery; potters and carpenters are honored there as living national treasures." (review by Robert Hughes, Time On Line Archive). . As one who loves science fiction and the creation of imaginary worlds, I couldn’t help but think that some of these beautiful objects could have come from alien Amish-farmer folk from one of the 28 new planets discovered outside our solar system. He combines organic, biomorphic shapes with those what hint at something more familiar but are unfamiliar enough to puzzle and engage you. I found myself looking and then, looking again at work that's serenely beautiful but not boring, exquisitely crafted but showing the hand of the maker.

Through January 25, 2009

Hugues, Robert: Time interviews on line

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grace Hartigan

This was one of those days when I started out with a laundry list of things to do - See the Puryear exhibit at SF MOMA, check out the Hewitt Collection at the AMAD, buy paint, work in the studio. This is the day when good intentions went awry. I read about Grace Hartigan in Timothy Buckwalter's blog and went off in search of information about her life.

“Now as before it is the vulgar and the vital and the possibility of its transformation into the beautiful which continues to challenge and fascinate me,” she told the reference work “World Artists: 1950-1980.” (obit: NY Times)

She burst upon the New York art scene in the 1950s, acclaimed for her brilliant, large canvases, which critics said displayed a "raw vitality, emotionally explosive color, excitement and anguish."

"What I had, what was my gift, I was a colorist," she said in 1987. "You can't learn that from anyone. I have what might be called a startling virtuosity."

She was one of the seminal figures of Abstract Expressionism, a real breakthrough artist," said Robert Saltonstall Mattison, a professor of art history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., who is her biographer. "She has never changed her work to be in fashion, but her work has changed. In the mid-1950s she began moving away from total abstraction, and since then, there have always been figurative elements in her paintings,." Mr. Mattison wrote. So, why isn't she a household name like Pollock, DeKooning and the other male painters of the 1950's?

Apparently, her cardinal sin was to get married and move to Baltimore. But, she never spoke against sexism in the art world. However, until 1951 she signed her work George Hartigan. She claimed this had nothing to do with subverting sex discrimination but rather with a "romantic identification with George Sand and George Eliot." In an interview, Hartigan claims, "I find that the subject of discrimination is only brought up by inferior talents to excuse their own inadequacy as artists."

In a famous essay, Nochlin explored why there aren't more famous women artists - or why this is perceived to be the case. Hartigan seems to fit in the category of one of the most common - a woman who didn't understand the forces against her and lashed out against those who pointed this out. Yet, the obit points out that she became an alcholic, partially due to the difficulties of dealing with her ailing husband and probably other issues that she refused to face. Still, she kept on painting and was an great teacher. She's earned her place in the art history books. Let's see if she gets there by the next time Janson is reprinted.,0,2146934.story

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Andy at the Presidio

One of the books on the philosophy of art that I return to time and again is Suzi Gablik “The Reenchantment of Art.” Published in 1995, her attempt to outline how to restore our "to our culture its sense of aliveness, possibility and magic” remains as relevant today as ever.

One of the interesting artists Gablik posits as an example of “reconstructive postmodern practice” is Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy goes out in nature and creates artwork with found natural objects such as twigs, leaves, icicles, etc., and then photographs them before the wind, rain, sun, etc., reclaim them.

Goldsworthy’s spire on the Presidio has been written about by many SF art bloggers. I went out there last week to see for myself. The spire is not that easy to find but once you get there, the path upwards is clearly marked. A lot of people have climbed that hill and the dry bush around the site is marked with trails. Once you get to the top of the hill, you can’t get close as a large chain link fence fences off the site. The tree is in a depression and the whole area is torn up with huge chunks scooped out of the ground and large machinery obviously in place for the next day’s work.
I found it appropriate that a man who has based his life on creating art out of nature’s ephemeral material really doesn’t appear to give a damn if anybody sees it or not. In fact, in various interviews, he appears to hope that his spire will disappear from view. The art of the transitory sounds poetic on paper but in practice it’s a lot less satisfactory for the ordinary viewer. It's also ironic that all this transitory work is carefully documented by photography but then, that also may be transitory in 20 or 30 years time. We don't know how long those materials will last either.

“Over time the spires will change from an extroverted, outgoing sculpture to an internal,
quiet work within the forest” — something, he said, you may be able to spot through the trees, but maybe not. “Or maybe they’ll take it down,” he added.

In an essay on John Haber’s blog (Chelea 2007) , he quotes Danto’s essay on “The Artist as Prime Mover." While Danto is referring to Peter Fischli and David Weiss, the essay could just as easily refer to Goldsworthy:

“The prime mover makes art indiscernible from "ordinary things" and then withdraws from the creation, just as Fischli and Weiss never quite enter the frame. Like the physical world, it has components as elemental as fire and water, but also laws as elementary and impersonal as chemistry and physics. Like the real world, too, it seems senseless but always threatens to end in a catastrophe—and it surely trashes the artists' studio along the way. Not that Danto believes in a last judgment, whether in art or life. Anything can become art, he has argued, and the work's tires and old shoes might confirm that thesis as well.”

I went, expecting to be moved a great deal more than I was. I loved the movie "Rivers and Tides" and gained probably a very idealistic view of Goldsworthy. But afterwards, when I was looking at my photographs, I started questioning the value of what he was doing - making art in (mostly) obscure places, from (mostly) transitory materials and not appearing to care if it lasts or not. Except that he does care because each piece is carefully documented. Maybe I'll feel different when the piece is finished; in the meantime, I have a lot of impressions that I haven't sorted out.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Arthur C. Danto's The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World was published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The essays first appeared starting in 1993, mostly in The Nation.


Books by Andy Goldsworthy include A Collaboration with Nature, Stone, Wood, and others. A DVD, Rivers and Tides, is also available.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bill Martin, RIP

Bill Martin, whose paintings combined “surrealism and 19th century American landscape painting” (Kenneth Baker, SF Chron) passed away on October 28th from complications of lymphoma. I took a class from him ages ago and wish that I could have taken more. Our styles could not have been more different but he was a gentle man and a great teacher.

Mr. Martin was a beekeeper and avid player of the Chinese game Go. He loved to paint the coastal flora of Mendocino and the dramatic landscape he saw from the window of his home on the headlands overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He usually painted on round or semicircular canvases, which he felt gave the viewer a greater depth of view. His work was shown at museums around the country and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Among other places, his paintings can be found in the collection of the Oakland Museum and at San Francisco International Airport. (From the obit at SF Gate - link below)

"There seem to be two distinct but compatible directions in my art. The first is concerned with the depiction of imagined realities. The other is the depiction of perceived realities. By observing the existing subjects I am drawn to paint, I find new underlying currents in my own subconscious. Thus in my art I explore the conscious, subconscious, and the intercommunication between."

~ from an interview in the introduction to "Lost Legends"

Mr. Martin published three books: "Paintings 1969-1979," "The Joy of Drawing" and "Lost Legends." In recent years, his son said, he concentrated on paintings based in nature but dealing with metaphysical notions of mortality and "the life after life."

Mr. Martin's life will be celebrated from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Mendocino Arts Center, 45200 Little Lake St., Mendocino, CA 95460. Donations in Mr. Martin's memory can be made there.

His On Line Gallery: (images from the gallery)
Bill Marin also maintained an excellent Internet site to teach oil painting.
Full obit at the SF Chron web site:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Public Sculpture in SF

I had just gotten back from a walk through the Embarcadero to photograph the sculptures there when I read the article at SF Gate:

"Heads up, literally: A new plaza is premiering in downtown San Francisco with artwork that is anything but corporate and slick

The location is the open space alongside 555 Mission, a 34-story office tower developed by Tishman Speyer. The nearly complete high-rise is slick green glass, but the artwork is something else: "Moonrise Sculptures: March, October, and December" by Ugo Rondinone, an enormous trio of mottled aluminum heads that are like goofy cousins to Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

I can't resist pointing out that while one's opinion of the art work might differ from mine, this is yet ANOTHER missed opportunity for the developers to patronize a Bay Area artist. Why is it that when the "glittering prizes" of public art commissions, museum shows and patronage are passed out, eveybody looks outside the Bay Area. We must might have some good sculptures here but I guess we won't see them at this plaza.