Monday, May 26, 2008

Friday, May 23, 2008

Hotei at the Berkeley Art Museum

After I turned in my final class paper yesterday, I was feeling rather disoriented. I've put in a lot of work this semester and while I've really enjoyed it, I also felt like somebody pulled the rug out from under me - no more assignments due for a whole summer. So, I decided to go over to Berkeley. I haven't been in ages and I was saddened to see how Telegraphy Avenue continues to go downhill. I remember when it was fun but it's not fun now and the human flotsam and jetsam on the streets is tragic. I walked over the University Art museum to check out the galleries and collections. I revisited the Hans Hoffman galleries and, not for the first time, wished that we had better examples of his work. The push-pull in these pieces is more like clunk! thud! The polka-dotted pieces by Jennifer Bartlet are not her best work either but I did love the Hotei.

One of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune in Japanese popular legend, Hotei is commonly depicted as a cheerful, large-bellied monk who carries a sack full of good things to distribute to everyone he meets. In a Zen milieu, he is often associated with Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. In Hotei in a Boat, Hakuin charmingly depicts the smiling figure of Hotei popping out from his big round bag, as if the god were one more treasure emerging from its bottomless depths. Hakuin has been one of the major figures in Japanese Zen Buddhism over the last three centuries, having revitalized the Rinzai sect and revived the use of koans (riddle-like catalysts for thought, such as Hakuin's own "the sound of one hand clapping") in Zen practice. A deft and prolific painter, Hakuin used his painting and calligraphy both as a personal, ritual activity and as currency, presenting numerous paintings as gifts to donors and potential patrons. Hotei was a favorite subject for Hakuin, the deity's happy generosity equated with the joyful spreading of Buddhist teachings.

Image and description from the Berkeley Art Museum Web Site

Friday, May 16, 2008

Three Blue Eggs

I was looking out my back window the other day and just happened to look down. There was a bird's nest in the tree below my back porch. The first time I looked, there was only one egg, but the next day there were three. Every time I open the window on the back porch, even if I try to be very quiet, Momma Bird hears me and flies off squawking. She lands on a branch a few feet from the window and scolds me the whole time I'm taking the photo. Do you suppose she wants me to sign a photo release or give her copyright fees?

I had planned to get a bird feeder today to make sure that there is some bird seed for but my energy withered in the continuing onslaught of our heat wave.

Seriously, I know that she's protecting her young from the evil bad in the sky (c'est moi!). So, I try not to disturb her too often. She's still sitting on the nest and I have no idea how long it takes eggs to hatch. Stay tuned for further developments!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Robert Rauschengerg

American pop artist Robert Rauschenberg has died in Florida at the age of 82.

He was known for his use of odd and everyday articles, which earned him a reputation as a pioneer in pop art.

Rauschenberg first gained fame in the 1950s with his "combines", which brought together three-dimensional objects and paint.

He was also a sculptor and choreographer, and won a Grammy for "best album package" in 1984 for Talking Heads' Speaking in Tongues.

Among his most famous works was 1955's Bed, created after he woke up in the mood to paint but had no money for a canvas.

His solution was to take the quilt off his bed and use paint, toothpaste and fingernail polish instead.

Robert Hughes famously announced the hidden-in-plain-sight gay content of "Monogram."

"If one asks why it became so famous," Hughes wrote, "the answer can only lie in its power ... as a sexual fetish. The lust of the goat, as William Blake remarked, is the glory of God; and this one, halfway through the tire, is an image of anal sex, the satyr in the sphincter."

But Hughes' reading would appear to explain the comic effect of "Monogram," including its power to bait over-interpretation, more than it accounts for the fascination of the object. Even today, "Monogram" reads more persuasively as an icon of artistic daring and liberty than of anything libertine.

In interviews, he tried to unmake the critical cliché that said he worked in rejection of the so-called abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. "I've never accepted the aesthetic limitation of doing something to the exclusion of something else," Rauschenberg said in 1997. "I just backed off from abstract expressionism because they had their space and I didn't feel at home in it, even though I didn't have a home."

He may have felt that way then, he certainly knew the sting of real poverty. But the May 2006 exhibit "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines" presented an artist who made the street-level material world of '50s Manhattan his home. He could not see why his art should be impermeable to anything he found, bought, remembered, thought or felt.

Yet no one can look carefully at "Robert Rauschenberg: Combines" and fail to notice recurrent images and objects, from taxidermy to road signs, pockets, ties, shirt sleeves and even parachutes.

Rauschenberg acknowledges a fictive self-portrait in the photograph of a man in a white suit at the bottom of MOCA's own untitled freestanding 1954 combine. But might it also make reference to Alec Guinness' sinister 1951 movie comedy "The Man in the White Suit"?

Artworks as inclusive as these inevitably make us wonder about the depth of the artist's own knowledge of what he has made. Should we value Rauschenberg's work for bringing to light a tissue of unconscious linkages beneath the surface of everyday life and memory? Can we even agree that he did such a thing or that an artist

Rauschenberg's combines continue to burn brightly for us because they keep questions such as these alive in us, despite all the fog effects of cultural celebrity and the art economy.

Early on some critics denigrated Rauschenberg's work as "Neo-Dada" because it found license for its extreme openness in the example of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and his admirer, John Cage (1912-1992). But Dada sprung from revulsion for the culture that devolved into World War I. And although Rauschenberg worked all sorts of topical details into his work, some momentous, some not, his work continues to radiate a love of the real, in all its perishability, utterly different from the Dada spirit.

“I usually work in a direction until I know how to do it, then I stop,” he said in an interview in the giant studio on Captiva in 2000. “At the time that I am bored or understand — I use those words interchangeably — another appetite has formed. A lot of people try to think up ideas. I’m not one. I’d rather accept the irresistible possibilities of what I can’t ignore.”

He added: “Anything you do will be an abuse of somebody else’s aesthetics. I think you’re born an artist or not. I couldn’t have learned it. And I hope I never do because knowing more only encourages your limitations.”

Quotes from Robert Hughes and Kenneth Baker
Obit from the NY Times:
Jed Pearl - not in favor of :

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Manolo Valdez

Retrato con tocado rojo. 1996, Oleo sobre tela (191 x 126 cms) from the website noted below. This is very similar to what I saw at the Campbell-Thiebaud Gallery- a huge painting on burlap, roughly painted with a lot of the raw fabric showing through. I didn't care for it much then but I'd love to revisit the work and see what I think now.
Once a part of the anti-Franco underground art team Equipo Cronica, known for its politically loaded, appropriated imagery, Valdes was the subject of an upcoming museum survey at the Guggenheim Bilbao, Oct. 18, 2002-Jan. 12, 2003. (Art in America, 2003)

Now, these I really like - bookcases! Near and dear to the heart of any bibilophile. (images from the web). I was surprised to find so little about Valdez on the Internet - maybe if I spoke Spanish, I'd have better luck. There's an article in Spanish at this website with some great images:

Manolo Valdez at the Civic Center

I remember seeing some of his paintings at the late Campbell-Thiebauld Gallery on Chestnut Street. Then, as now, he was Interpreting Velazquez's Las Meninas and the Infantes of 17th Century Spain. I don't know if he intended his paintings to reference the largely tragic lives of these little girls, unhealthy from birth due to centuries of inbreeding. If so, he didn't succeed - or at least - not in my opinion. The paintings worked better in reproduction than in reality for the ones that I saw were very crudely painted on burlap canvas. At the time, I thought that the crude presentation didn't work with the subject but since I only saw them once, this could be quite a superficial impression. In any case, we now have several huge bronze sculptures at the Civic Center; I understand that they have been nicknamed "The Cowbells," and I can see why. I see traces of cubist influence in the angled face of the first image but the others have these wild headdresses which expand and dissect the space around each piece. No 17th century Spanish Infante wore a wig like that but it's a marvelous and inventive device to add more visual interest to a rather stylized sculpture. I like the straightforward face of the woman in the middle whose wig reminded me of those worn by Ancient Egyptians. They are fun and a nice addition to the rather bleak plaza. When I googled Valdez's name, I found pictures of these images from cities all over the world so we are part of a international show which extends from Helsinki to Barcelona and now, San Francisco.

SF Mike has a great write up at his blog (Civic Center) about the ribbon cutting ceremony, which was attended by a ton of local politicians. The day I went, the huge bulky sculptures were being "guarded" by a couple of SF's finest - to keep them from being stolen? If they want to prevent any tagging, the cops would have to be out after midnight and I'd hate to think of the overtime bill for that.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Robert Hugues and the Shock of the New

As I wrote in my LJ journal, my area is filling up with art galleries catering to the hipster crowd. Most (if not all) of the art is either mediocre or pretentious or youthful posturing. When I was young, all of us art students carried paperback books where the author was prominently displayed - Hesse, Satre and the Kama Sutra were favorites, if I remember correctly. Nothing has changed but the names. Robert Hughes said it better in "The Shock of the New."

"The period has been full of conceptual art, but conceptual art makes for utterly droning TV. On the other hand, there are a few - a very few - artists of the "neo-expressionist" generation whose work continues its efforts to take on the burden of history, to struggle to explain our bizarre and terrible times to us in memorable visual terms, and one of the most complex and rewarding of these talents, uneven though he can be, is surely Anselm Kiefer."

No less so is Paula Rego, a painter I'd hardly heard of until a few years ago because she was scarcely known in the US - but how strongly put together, how viscerally and deeply felt, are her renderings of bad parental authority and of the psychic nightmares that lie just be low the supposedly sweet surface of childhood! Rego is a great subversive without a trace of the dull, academic conceptualism that renders the more approved American radical-feminists of the 80s-90s so tedious - and she draws superbly, which her sisters across the Atlantic have either forgotten or never learned to do. Like Kiefer, but unlike most painters at work today, she does art with a strong political content that never turns into a merely ideological utterance. It used to be that media-based, photo-derived art looked almost automatically "interesting". It cut to the chase instantly, it mimicked the media-glutted state of general consciousness, it was democratic - sort of.

"The high priest of this situation was of course the hugely influential Andy Warhol, paragon of fast art. I am sure that though his influence probably will last (if only because it renders artmaking easier for the kiddies) his paragonhood won't, and despite the millions now paid for his Lizzes and Elvises, he will shrink to relative insignificance, a historical figure whose resonance is used up. There will be a renewed interest - not for everyone, of course, but for those who actually know and care about the issues - in slow art: art that takes time to develop on the retina and in the mind, that sees instant communication as the empty fraud it is, that relates strongly to its own traditions. It doesn't matter whether the work is figurative or not."

"Sean Scully's big abstracts retain much more than a memory of experienced architecture, but they relate to the human body too, and there is something wonderfully invigorating about the measured density with which their paint brings them into the world. Not everything of value is self-evident and there is no reason in the world why art should be. Nor is it true that instantaneous media, such as photography and video, should or can deliver "more" truth than drawing. All you can say is that they offer a different sort of truth. This is an issue with which an artist like David Hockney has been struggling for years, and it's fascinating to see how he has given up on the photographic collages he used to make in favour of pure recording in watercolour, of which he is such a master."

"Styles come and go, movements briefly coalesce (or fail to, more likely), but there has been one huge and dominant reality overshadowing Anglo-Euro-American art in the past 25 years, and The Shock of the New came out too early to take account of its full effects. This is the growing and tyrannous power of the market itself, which has its ups and downs but has so hugely distorted nearly everyone's relationship with aesthetics. That's why we decided to put Jeff Koons in the new programme: not because his work is beautiful or means anything much, but because it is such an extreme and self-satisfied manifestation of the sanctimony that attaches to big bucks. Koons really does think he's Michelangelo and is not shy to say so. The significant thing is that there are collectors, especially in America, who believe it. He has the slimy assurance, the gross patter about transcendence through art, of a blow-dried Baptist selling swamp acres in Florida. And the result is that you can't imagine America's singularly depraved culture without him."

"He fits into Bush's America the way Warhol fitted into Reagan's. There may be worse things waiting in the wings (never forget that morose observation of Milton's on the topo-graphy of Hell: "And in the lowest depth, a lower depth") but for the moment they aren't apparent, which isn't to say that they won't crawl, glistening like Paris Hilton's lip-gloss, out of some gallery next month. Koons is the perfect product of an art system in which the market controls nearly everything, including much of what gets said about art."

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Five up-and-coming artists from the caca site

Fecal Face founder picks top 5 artists

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Fecal Face Web site and gallery creator John Trippe has been promoting and working with Bay Area artists since the late '90s. When asked to name his five favorites, he provided the list below. "It isn't easy narrowing it down to just five," Trippe says, "but these are the first five artists that come to mind."

Alexis Mackenzie

Alexis Mackenzie was raised in Iowa and now calls San Francisco home. Primarily known for her intricately detailed collages, Mackenzie has shown her work in galleries throughout the United States and abroad. Her art has also been featured in publications such as Neomu magazine, Volumen, Faesthetic and Mesh. Mackenzie received a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2003 from Tufts University School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Mackenzie will have a solo show in August at POVevolving in Los Angeles, followed by a group collage show in September at Five Points Arthouse in San Francisco. For more on Mackenzie, go to

Tiffany Bozic

Artist Tiffany Bozic grew up on a farm in Arkansas and now lives in Oakland. Her work, which includes richly pigmented acrylic on wood panels, has been showcased in galleries throughout the United States and Europe. Bozic also spoke at the 2007 "Semi Permanent" international arts and design conference in Sydney. Her work has appeared in a handful of publications, including Flaunt, Fourteen Hills and Alarm. In 2006, Bozic participated in the California Academy of Sciences Artist in Residence program, a yearlong collaboration with Rich Mooi, curator of invertebrate zoology and geology at the academy. The exhibition featured large-scale painting and sketches based on Bozic's vision of the life-and-death drama that unfolds beneath the sea. Bozic will have a solo show May 24-June 21 at the Kinsey/DesForges Gallery in Culver City (Los Angeles County). For more on Bozic, go to www.

Monica Canilao

Monica Canilao was raised in Redwood City and has been living in Oakland for the past seven years. Canilao says the time she has spent in the East Bay has played a major role in building who she is and what art she creates. Her interests in home, community and the passage of time are expressed in the large paper and fabric structures, installations and sculptures she creates. Canilao has exhibited her work all across the country, as well as in London and Australia. She is a graduate of the California College of Arts and Crafts, where she received a bachelor of fine arts degree in illustration. She recently published a 240-page book, "This Is Home," featuring her artwork and photos (www. Canilao is part of the "Combine" group show opening Friday at BLVD Gallery in Seattle and will be in a show with Kyle Ranson at Space 1026 in Philadelphia beginning Aug. 1. For more on Canilao, go to www.monicacanilao. com.

Andrew Schoultz

Hailing from Milwaukee, Wis., Andrew Schoultz moved to San Francisco in the summer of 1997 to pursue art and skateboarding. Through the years, Schoultz has established himself as a heavyweight in the city's contemporary art and mural scene. One of his most well-known local murals, a 2002 collaboration with Aaron Noble titled "Generator," is at 18th and Lexington streets in the Mission District. A graduate of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Schoultz has exhibited in galleries across the globe and is featured in the book "Ulysses: Departures, Journeys, & Returns: The Artwork of Andrew Schoultz," on Paper Museum Press. Schoultz is currently preparing for a June exhibition at the Volta Art Fair (@ Art Basel) in Switzerland, and a September show at Roberts & Tilton Gallery in Los Angeles. Schoultz's work also will be shown Sept. 4-Oct. 25 at Marx & Zavattero Gallery in Union Square. For more on Schoultz, go to

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bye Bye Hunter's Point

Hunters Point artists split on Props. G and F

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Images from the Floating World

Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating: caring not a whit for the pauperism staring us in the face, refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world . . .
—Tales of the Floating World (Ukiyo Monogatari),
approx. 1661, by Asai Ryoi

Today, I met for the first time one of the local (Food) bloggers whose blog is an absolute delight:

It turned out that she’s a Navy Junior just like me and that there were so many parallels in our lives that we joked that we might have been twins, separated at birth. We had decided to meet in front of the Asian early in order to escape the crowds, which was a smart idea. We scooted in, just ahead of bus loads of kids and tourists but the two rooms devoted to the paintings of the Floating World were fairly empty and we could enjoy the magnificent art in relative peace.

There were two pieces that stood out and both were by Hokosai. Both pieces had images that owned the rectangular space and had a presence within that space, instead of “just” floating upon the white background. I loved the crowded screens of Togawara Street life, the half-naked lower class figures cavorting around in a dance or carrying a litter but when you stood at one end of the room and looked over all the pieces, these two really stood out for their graphic line and strength.

The second room had more of the same plus a whole line up of very sexually explicit prints. The door had a big sign warning about the content so I was very curious. The prints were what I’ve seen before – huge male genitals, people engaged in sexual congress and some showing a completely causal attitude toward intercourse, including courtesans who were drinking tea or smoking a pipe while engaged in the business of the moment. I found them funny and was rather sorry that some of the older teenagers that we saw being herded through the museum weren’t allowed to see how another culture treated sexual imagery – in a much more casual and matter-of-fact way.

We were both captivated by a video showing in the lobby. Narrated by David Attenborough (?), it was about the restoration of a 17th century paper screen, which had probably been used in a brothel to advertise the charms of its women. What was equally fascinating were the comments about the real life of these women. Sold by their families at a very young age, the beautiful images in this exhibit concealed the harsh reality of the girls' actual experience, portraying the illusion of an affluent and glamorous life. In reality, the women were in debt to the brothel owners, imprisoned, mistreated and thrown out to starve when they were no longer young and beautiful.
It was customary for women imprisoned in the brothels to be allowed to leave their "prisons" only once a year to see the sakura cherry blossoms.

No matter how gorgeous the gowns or how glamorous the facade; beneath it was a world of debt, obligation, poverty and oppression. The life of a courtesan was brief and her end was almost always tragic. But - like many eras that were harsh and cruel, artists created amazing art, graphic designs that are still fresh and strong today. I can imagine what it must have been for Monet or Van Gogh or Toulouse-Lautrec to see these prints for the first time. They were a revelation that created an artistic revolution.

(Images from the Asian Museum Web Site)

Additional Resources: