Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Goddess in Ancient Afghanistan

"Nowhere in antiquity have so many different objects from so many different cultures -- Chinese mirrors, Roman coins, daggers from Serbia -- been found together in situ," Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, the Russian archaeologist who made the historic find at Tillya Tepe in 1979, wrote in National Geographic in 1990. The inscription on the National Museum of Afghanistan states, "A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive."What is shown in the exhibit is the best of the Afghanistan past. I sincerely hope that they can build a future that honors this tradition. The outlook right now isn't too good and the art is probably safer now in the West than being returned to Kabul but I hope that time will bring an end to the conflict and the return of democracy to this war- torn country.

The Begram ivories are the smallscale equivalent of Gandharan sculpture, with curvaceous ‘goddesses’ in chiton. These ivories, believed to have come from a royal palace, along with the art of neighbouring Gandhara, are the link between Greek and Roman art and the Buddhist and Hindu art and shows how connected Afghanistan was to influences coming from both east and west. She is the kind of beauty that inspired poetry like this:

"O my idol! A cloud from Paradise
Has bestowed an emerald gown on the earth.
Deserts are like blood-stained silk
And the sky has the fragrrance of musk.
With a mixture of musk and red wine
An artist has drawn an image of my love on the desert.
The world has becom peaceful
For both the tiger and the deer.
For such occastions. we need a sun-faced idol,
And a moon. leaning on a cushion of sun.
We must have an idol with cheeks like rubies,
And red wine to match the cheeks.
The world has become a peacock,
With roughness here and smoothness here.
Mud smells of roses,
As though kneaded with rose water."

-- Daqiqi of Balkh


Treasures of Afghanistan At the Asian

If SF has one world class museum, it’s the Asian. In "The Treasures of Afghanistan", the Asian continues its tradition of beautifully mounted exhibits of both artistic and historical value. They come from a part of the world we still know too little about due to decades of war and instability, but reveal how affluent and sophisticated this region was, straddling the trade routes between East and West, and taking cultural influences from both.

Long thought to be lost, the collection of Afghan gold from the National Museum of Kabul has survived decades of war. Among the hidden treasures were Bronze Age gold pieces, hundreds of ancient coins, and the famous "Bactrian hoard," a collection of some 20,000 gold, silver, and ivory objects from burial plots at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan.

Workers involved in the transfer swore secrecy and designated "key holders" for the vaults. They kept their covenant through civil war and Taliban rule at enormous personal risk.

The exhibit focuses on four main archaeological sites. Fullol is the oldest and gold vases found at this Bronze Age site are used to illustrate Bactrian sophistication c. 2000 BC. The gold was mined locally, but the decoration of the objects show that already at this early date the first recorded Afghans were reaching out to their neighbors and beginning to establish the trade links that would one day become the Silk Road. Although we tend to be preoccupied by the Afghan treasures that were saved from the Taliban, the vases provide a neat statistical illustration of how the treasure fared overall. Only one of the silver vases and three of the gold vases are still part of the Kabul Museum collection; another silver vase has been identified with an antiquities dealer in London and negotiations for its return continue. The surviving vases owned by the Afghans are in the exhibition and show the cultural background to the region, which later produced the Oxus Treasure.

Aï-Khanoum was founded at the end of the 4th century BC by Greeks who had come to conquer the area with Alexander the Great: rather than retracing their steps, they chose to settle in the area and founded a city. The polis was established along Hellenistic principles, and its public buildings were prime examples of Hellenistic architecture: Greek temples, a stone theatre, a palace, and a gymnasium. It was probably the ancient Alexandria on the Oxus described by the geographer Ptolemy, which flourished under the Seleucids until around 250 BC, when the region declared independence. Eucratides made the city his capital and renamed it Eucratideia in the early 2nd century BC, but 50 years on it had already been abandoned.

Aï-Khanoum was excavated by the French in the 1960s and 70s, but badly looted in subsequent decades; locals dug trenches through the site looking for more of the fabled Bactrian gold, and when they failed to find it dragged away the carefully hewn architectural blocks to re-use as building material. Once one of the best-preserved Hellenistic cities in the world - an eastern Greek Pompeii - little more of Aï-Khanoum survives than the exquisitely carved architectural elements in the exhibition.

The highlight of the exhibition must be the 1st-century BC Bactrian gold from the hoard found by Viktor Sarianidi at Tillia Tepe in northern Afghanistan in 1978. At the time the country was occupied by Soviet troops, and then closed to the world by the Taliban, so few archaeologists got to see these rare treasures before they were spirited off to a vault. The six princely tombs from Tillia Tepe illustrate the funerary wealth of the period and its extensive trading links: a bronze mirror was made in China, the ivories came from India, and much of the jeweler is Graeco-Roman in design if not in origin,

Five women and one man were each interred in their own sepulchers around a monumental temple-like structure. The sheer mass of their wealth in the necropolis must reflect the identity of a ruling family. The temple originated in the second millennium BC and was repeatedly rebuilt, marking it as an important point of religious focus in the area. The items in the burials show extensive trade links once again, but the deceased are more mysterious: the current suggestion is that they were actually nomads.

The aim of ‘Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures’ is to raise funds to rebuild Kabul Museum and to raise awareness of the fascinating history of that great country. In time, when Kabul Museum is secure the objects will return there and the Afghans will also be able once more to appreciate their own ancient culture.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul
Through January 25, 2009

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Open Studios Recap

Open Studios was exhausting but fun. I’m happy that my strategy of selling a lot of small pieces cheaply paid off big time. I think that my work is worth a lot more but people won’t or can’t pay higher prices. So, why keep everything stacked up in the closet because I can’t sell it for what it’s worth? Why not just let some of the pieces go to a good home – which is what I did. There are artists in our space who won’t come down on their prices but I’m not one of them.

It’s a heck of a lot easier to sell a lot of $5, $10 and $20 pieces than one $200 piece. I loved selling all my small pieces; not only did I make money, but got my name out there to a lot more people. I sold all my cards, most of my small pieces, several unframed watercolors and a couple of works on canvas. Go ME!

Both days were slow and Saturday was especially difficult as the studio temperature was in the 80’s and we were all exhausted from the reception the night before. We even had fewer people shuffling through the studio so I’m doubly happy at how much I made. Of course, our usual free loaders were not happy that we've cut back on the wine and cheese. In fact, one of them told me that we were "lucky to have people look at our art" and that he was unhappy that we'd already run out of wine. Ah. Poor baby!

There’s a lot of discussion in the art blog sphere about the economic meltdown and what it means for artists. One of the best commentary and discussions is on Edward Winkleman’s blog where he’s posted several pieces on pricing art.

I read a description of the business of contemporary art as the foam on the top of a (overpriced) latte. It is the first thing to go when wealthy people suddenly don't feel so wealthy. I seriously doubt many collectors finance the purchase of a work of art. I would guess that very few middle class people, even upper middle class people who appreciate art and might go to galleries on a regular basis, buy art. I also think that they don’t turn out for Open Studios unless the artist already has a “reputation,” a gallery and lots of reviews.

“Art may be necessary for the society at large, and for artists it's necessary to make it, but let's face it, it is not necessary to own it. And this is why the art market suffers so dramatically compared to the rest of the economy. Look at the early 90's vs. the late 80's...galleries closed en masse. And this has the potential to be much worse. It remains to be seen, but the shakeout has the potential to be far-reaching and long lasting. I don't think discounts and cost cutting will make much of a difference in this situation.” (Anon from the discussion boards).

But I intend to survive and making friends thorough the blogsphere is one of the ways that I do this. My time on both days was make much more enjoyable by the constant flow of friends, many of whom bought my artwork (always a sign of good taste). Mike and Tony (his partner) came by and bought a gorgeous piece by Flora Davis. Mike’s the creator of the blog, Civic Center and an all around fun and crazy guy.

Then, the fabulous Julie of tangobaby showed up and bought one of my early figuration pieces. We had done one camera walk through the Mission and plan on more, once I recover from the weekend. My computer had died on Friday and I was completely distraught about losing my lifeline to the greater world and even more frustrated that I didn’t have time to get it fixed. Well, as it turns out, Julie’s guy, the guy that she calls “the boy” on her blog runs an excellent Mac training and repair service.

I put in a call on Sunday night and I got a call back on Monday morning from “the boy” who moved matters along beautifully. Later that day, his two delightful associates, Eric and David showed up at my door. They look way too young to know so much but they diagnosed the problem (video card vs. dead monitor), drove me to the store, helped me pick out the correct monitor, brought it back home, installed it and La Voila! Athena is up and running again.

So, as far as I’m concerned Open Studios was a success. I sold a lot of work, met a lot of people, drank some wine, laughed a lot, shared my point of view about art to anybody who would listen and found great help for my sad Mac. I hope that I've made some new friends, shared part of my heart with old friends and for two days at least, showed anybody who would stop and look and listen that artists aren't some bizarre people making arcane work that nobody can understand. For those who couldn't make it - not to worry. I intend to be around for a long, long time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Artwork of Flora Davis & John Kuzich

Above And Below The Surface
The Artwork of Flora Davis & John Kuzich
November 12, 2008 - January 17, 2009

Working like a Zen alchemist, Flora Davis creates her own patined surfaces by applying an eclectic mix of chemicals and compounds to copper, brass, aluminum and steel. Through multiple applications she achieves an amazing range of patterns, textures and colors. These are then cut up and applied to geometric box shapes. Involved in Buddhist mindfulness meditation, Davis works intuitively and sees her work as surface oriented.

Flora Davis
Artist Statement

"Over the years, my Buddhist practice has reinforced the way I approach art making, which is to begin with an open mind/no mind. I may have an idea of what I want to create or an inspiration, yet I will allow my mind to become soft, and let the materials dictate the process of the unfolding creation. My work is thus spontaneously made.

I find my subject matter and inspiration in nature, such as in the textures and patterns on rocks, a field of blowing grass, or monolithic rock formations in Yosemite Valley. I am not interested in representing reality, but the beauty I experience in reality. My work is therefore abstract, as I strive toward simplicity of forms and shapes and textures.

For many years my materials were quite literally made from nature. I used clay, wax, sand, charcoal as my medium, adding leaves and sticks as accents. Gradually I began to add metals, and by 2002 they took over completely. Why did metal as copper, steel, aluminum, brass become my new fascination? I am not sure, other than they gradually grabbed my attention as I learned, through multiple application of ingredients, to work an amazing range of patterns, textures and colors on the surface. The "ingredients" range from kitchen staples like salt, water, vinegar, and baking soda, to cleaning products like bleach, ammonia, and Comet cleanser, to other agents such as sawdust, muriatic acid and commercially produced metal surfacers."

Reception For The Artists
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gallery 645
at Michael Thompson Framing
647 & 645 7th Street
San Francisco CA, 94103
Telephone - 415-861-5717

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lighthouse for the Blind & Open Studios this weekend

Great review of the opening show for the Lighthouse for the Blind over at:

I wanted to go but was overwhelmed with last-minute work for Open Studios. I will be open this weekend, October 24, 25 & 26th. The reception is Friday the 24th from 6-10 and then, we will be open both Saturday and Sunday from 11-5.
689 Bryant at 5th, San Francisco

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Material Color (review and a bit of a rant!)

Joanne Mattera (image from her website)

from Two Coats of Paint:

In the Newark Star Ledger Dan Bischoff reports that "Material Color" at the Hunterdon Art Museum brings together abstract art made out of color -- not paint alone, but color that has become an almost three-dimensional object in itself..."'When we were hanging the objects in this show I kept wanting to lick everything,' says curator Mary Birmingham. And no wonder -- so many of the artists here pour first and peel later (that is, they pour paints onto glass or plastic, let them dry, then peel them off and either reapply them to a surface or turn them into thin sculptures).

This is the kind of show that makes me realize just how provincial SF can be and how often narrowly focused on the frat boy/tattoo "artist" of the moment. We get cartoon art, tattoo art, art on toilet lids and skateboards, open plagiarism of 60's political posters, work that is really too crude to be up on gallery walls - and all accompanied by a chorus of praise from our local blogging scene. I read a post today about what a studio is for, which included critiques from other artists. If that's happening here, I sure haven't seen it nor have I seen much work that I felt was both intelligent and provocative. Of course, SF is turning into a Disneyland for the rich and it sure shows in our local arts "community." There are serious artists still around but I think that they are more and more marginalized unless they are also trust fund babies. Who else can afford to live here?

There's an excellent review up at Joanne Mattera's website plus images (the two here are from her website)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Katherine Sherwood at Paule Anglim

Sherwood derives much of her painterly vocabulary from an occult book: Lemegeton or the Lesser Key of Solomon and the Angiograms after her cerebral hemorrhage in 199. She merges the two into a distinctive style, using calligraphic emblems, thickly poured paint and collage. Her images come from the junction of medieval magic and modern science, using contrasting signs to express meanings both seen and unseen. The larger pieces in this show are somewhat dry and don't express the complexity of older work. In this case, bigger is not better. Her smaller pieces work better and continue to draw the viewer into her unique vision.

14 Geary
October 1 – November 1, 2008
image from website
Sherwood's website:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brian Rutenberg at Toomey-Tourell

The small gallery resonates with his intense, vibrant colors and textured surfaces; it's one of the most beautiful shows of abstract art that I've seen in a long time. I'd seen photos of Rutenberg's art but the reality is much deeper, spiritual even, with layers of intense colors, played against dark forms. Rutenberg says that the inspiration for his complex pieces come from many sources - his native Carolina landscape, poetry, the shapes of words, and his studies of Neolithic and Celtic art. His comment, "An eye, told not what to see, sees more," speaks to an intense engagement with the philosophy, materials and methods of painting.

"I love that, that merging of, of language and image. So I love the idea of that last line: "At every instant I expect/what is hidden everywhere." The idea that, that a painting can make the invisible visible, and that, at every minute, something could change or shift or dazzle your eye" BR

49 Geary St, San Francisco

Excellent write up at the gallery website
Artist's website with videos explaing the why's, the how's and the where-fore's

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The mother of all bling returns

If Chululy wasn't gaudy enough for you, guess what's coming. Well, I should be more respectful. I think that Ancient Egyptian art is gorgeous and far more "authentic" than that made by Mr. C. But really. Does the De Young need a continual diet of blockbuster exhibits to stay in the black?

The Mother of All Museum Exhibitions is coming to Golden Gate Park’s de Young Museum in June 2009. It’s Tutankhamun! It’s on! That’s right, the King of Bling is coming back to San Francisco for the first time in 30 years.

Well, maybe not King Tut himself:

“Tutankhamun’s mummy and the inner sarcophagus are still located in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The outer sarcophagi and shrines are at the Cairo Museum. Neither the mummy nor any of the sarcophagi have ever traveled.”

But this show, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, is going to be way better than The Treasures of Tutankhamun, which is what what people were able to see the last go around three decades ago. (from SF Citizen)

Some links:,9171,349108,00.html

Saturday, October 11, 2008

At the SF Public Library

Resources at the SF Public Library: This is such a marvelous place that I'm always surprised that more of us "arty" types don't know about it. Sure, the new (now not so new) library was poorly designed. There's less space for books than at the old Main Library and the Rotunda carries sound which can be very distracting when a group of kids is visiting the place. But better they visit and learn about the free resources available to them than out making mischief!

I'm an antique buff and I'm constantly consulting Maloney's. Now, I can't afford to buy what I covet but it's always fun to know what something is worth. Maloney's covers just about every topic you can imagine and is constantly updated. i
f you want to add to your collection, or to dispose of an item, or to simply establish its value beyond the worth you yourself attach to it, you will need Maloney’s. Maloney’s Antiques & Collectibles Resource Directory, now in its 7th, rev. edition is the undisputed No.1 resource for collectors, dealers in antiques, attorneys, insurance companies, authors, lecturers and anyone with an interest in collectibles and personal property. It does not give definitions or illustrations, but provides the names and addresses of more than 20,000 collectors, buyers, dealers, experts and appraisers, clubs, societies and associations, museums and centers of specialized research. Many of these entries include websites and e-mail addresses. It also lists reproduction sources, repair/restoration services and suppliers of parts. For some collectibles it provides information on antiques buying trips, internet and gallery auctions, specialized periodicals and computer software for collectors.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I love the book arts. Therefore, I was delighted by the show featuring the work of Robert Sabuta, the wizard of pop-up artists and a living example of the erasure of the line between craft and art with their unparalleled artistry and innovation.

The show features 60 colorful and fanciful illustrations and intricate pop-up books drawn from 11 books. His first published pop-up was The Christmas Alphabet (1994), followed later by The 12 Days of Christmas (1996), both of which have become best selling holiday classics. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-up
(2000), has been considered his masterpiece. Its linoleum-block print medium adheres to the style of the original W.W. Denslow illustrations, yet the intense visual power of the pop-up is all Sabuda’s.

August 31 through November 9, 2008
Main Library, Lower Level, Jewett Gallery
100 Larkin Street (at Grove)

Related Adult Programs:

History of Pop-Up Book-making with demonstration
Thursday, October 23, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Latino Hispanic Community Room,
Main Library, Lower Level,
100 Larkin Street (at Grove)

Friday, October 10, 2008

A change is gonn' come

After this week, it seemed time for a little righteous music

Bob Marley - Get up Stand up

People Get Ready

People Get Ready - Chambers Brothers

Time Has Come Today - Chambers Brothers

A Change Gonna Come (Sam Cooke plus sign language by mrearsk...

Sam Cooke Remix - Barak Obama

Rowan Morrison: New work by Raylene Gorum

Located on a rather inconspicuous corner of Berkeley, the store is an artistic and visual treat. Inside is a contemporary art gallery and artist's bookstore which also specializes in fine art books and self-published zines. Their upcoming show is an exhibit of new works by New York Artist Raylene Gorum.

"Volume Too"
Tapings and Prints by Raylene Gorum

She will be exhibiting selections from her well-traveled sketchbooks as well as what she refers to as "Tapings", large landscapes created using a wide variety of “tapes": such as hardware store varietals, custom manufactured editions, vinyl, and handmade silkscreen-textured adhesive panels. The Tapings, assembled upon translucent drafting film embellished with ink and watercolor, draw on themes of fantastical urbanity and its tenuous relationship to the natural landscape. What makes these collage pieces so intriguing is Raylene’s knowledge and confidence in Architectural draftsmanship.

"Volume Too" is a series of such Tapings in which Gorum engages in a dialogue with the acclaimed Japanese woodblock print artist, Hiroshige.

Both artists 'draw with a knife', producing their works by precise cutting (he to wood, she to tape), and share a celebration of color. Gorum quotes compositions from Hiroshige's prints of travelers in Edo period Japan, exchanging villagers with modern characters in distorted American vistas.

Opening Reception: Saturday October 11th, 7pm - 10pm
October 11th - November 15th

330 40th Street (at Broadway)
Oakland, California, 94609

image from their website

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


October, 24, 25, 26
689 Bryant At 5th

SF Lighthouse for the Blind Art Show

For a full report and more marvelous images, go to SF Mike's Civic Center blog. It's too bad that our local paper doesn't review art shows like this which combines both art and heart. Some of the art that I've seen is a lot better that what's touted as the next best thing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Art of Democracy

Art of Democracy is building a network of exhibitions and events that will all take place in the fall of 2008. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Puerto Rico, Muncie, and several more locations are planning exhibitions. Join us as we work to amplify artistic voices willing to speak out in this dangerous hour.

The so-called Patriot Act gives the FBI the authority to issue national security letters to ordinary American citizens that can order them to unconditionally comply with demands for information while forbidding them to discuss the order with anyone - including family members or an attorney - without the prospect of facing jail time.

How will you feel if you get a national security letter from an abusive agent of the government – and you can’t even tell your best friend? Will you feel better knowing you said nothing while it was still legal to dissent?

The art is a mixed bag of decent graphics, good intentions and strong emotions. However, as art, well, some of it's not very good. But in this instance, I'm willing to waive some of my artistic criteria for the sake of the message. Whether it will reach anybody not already convinced is hard to tell. None of it has the power of Edward R. Morrow's documentary on migrant workers which shocked my generation. The music lacks the punch of "A hard rain's gonna fall" or "We shall overcome." But it's a different time, different mores. We are closer than we know to having our civil liberties taken away so I'm glad that it exists at all.

Talking Heads: Life during wartime:

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Art of Democracy: War and Empire at Meridian Gallery

(c) Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib 72, 2005
Collection of American University Museum, Washington DC

According to Peter Selz, art historian and author of Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond, "Not since the 1930s, facing the Great Depression and the impending danger of a Fascist New World Order, and the 60s with a previous illegal and immoral war, has there been such a great outpouring of political art. At the present, a great many artists, working in media, old and new, have again picked up their brushes, cameras or computers to protest against a foul war, destruction of the environment, obscene fiscal gains and abnegation of constitutional rights to express their rage and speak to the public."

Artists across the country, animated by response to events of the last seven years and mobilized over the past two years by Art Hazelwood, a San Francisco-based printmaker, and Stephen A. Fredericks, president of the New York, Society of Etchers have organized a series of forty exhibitions entitled Art of Democracy. The exhibitions, spanning the United States from Washington State to New Hampshire, including Puerto Rico, will analyze what went wrong within this millennium with an America that was admired not so long ago.

I'm sorry that I did not get to this sooner. As one who remembers the 60's all too well and the eloquent poster art of the time, I've been disappointed in whatever political art work I have seen. It has often been a carbon copy of earlier work, altered for today's consumer culture- recycling the images solely for profit without the original content and without acknowledging the original artist. However, the fact that this art is mostly to be found in galleries and university museums is a telling comment on how the times have changed. In the 60's, posters were all over the place - up on walls, in the free newspapers, even on t-shirts! I know that having an image of Angela Davis on a t-shirt is hardly an appropriate piece of political commentary on the Black Panther party and the political struggles of the time but at least the images were visible. The dialogue was - however juvenile at times - open, engaged and passionate. But then, the 60's, for all it's flaws, was a time of optimism and hope.

What I do find interesting is that none of these shows have been reviewed on our paper. I guess "educating the public" is de rigeur when it's a critique of a glass-blowing hack like Chiluly or the latest fashion show but not when it's difficult art about a painful subject. Check out their website for a list of related shows and events.

Meridian Gallery: September 4- November 4, 2008
Image from the website

Friday, October 3, 2008

First Weekend of Open Studios

San Francisco Open Studios 2008

A citywide annual art event featuring nearly 1,000 artists. Opening party preview on Saturday features a buffet dinner and live auction ($40-$115). Collectors Public Preview Exhibition takes place Sunday (free). Go to Web site for details and complete schedule. 6:30-10 p.m. Sat., 4-7 p.m. Sun. SomArts Gallery, 934 Brannan St. (415) 861-9838. SF

SOMA Arts - "my" studio will be open to the public on the 24th (reception), 25th and 26th. If you live in the Bay Area, please drop by. Wine, cheese and lots of art - all free!

Banned Books Week

There are a lot of events around this that have been going on for the last month or so. Fun stuff and things to make you think. Now, as much as ever, we need access to books that make us think, make us question and present other points of view.

Vagabond Scholar has a great post up here:

SF Center for the Book exhibit and list of events here:

Listings of events state by state:

The British newspaper the Guardian, which has absolutely wonderful book coverage, has a post inspired by Banned Books Week here in America. Take this slightly bemused quiz about books that have been banned in the U.S. and around the world to measure the degree to which you've exercised your freedom to read:

By some fluke, I scored a 10 out of a possible 12 (I'm crushed, crushed I tell you at the cruelty of the Guardian. Maybe we can ban them?)

Middling. You’re in favour of freedom of speech, but you’re not going to be printing samizdat literature any time soon, are you?

This weekend, L.A. Times books editor David L. Ulin urged us to think about Banned Books Week as more than just a celebration of challenged books that we like. "What happens when our ideals require us to defend a piece of writing that is reprehensible, that stands against everything we stand for?" he asks, continuing:

It's easy to condemn those who would remove "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" from a library, but what about "The Turner Diaries" or "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"? Or for that matter, "Tintin in the Congo," which Little, Brown dropped from its "Tintin" reissue series last fall after controversy arose about the book's racist overtones?

These are not just academic questions; they are the heart of the matter, regardless of where you stand on the ideological divide. How do we defend one book without defending all? Such a notion can't help but make us uneasy, but then, that's one of the most essential things books can do.

If you've made your peace with defending dangerous or even heinous speech, and if you were dubbed "a brave champion of liberty" after acing the Guardian's quiz, another front remains. For the second year in a row, the American Library Assn. is celebrating Banned Books Week in Second Life — the freedom to read needs defending, it seems, in our virtual worlds too.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

McGaw and Thiebaud Gallery - walks in North Beach

Thomas Albright describes McGaw’s style as “expressionistic, with angular forms and dissonant color combinations.” I’d say that this is very true of his exhibit at SFAI. The brochure that accompanies the show claims that his painting expresses his “keen interest in the history of European painting, “ and a “carefully modulated deployment and adroit crystallization of….figure, color and pictorial architecture. “ I’d say that this is art critic speak for work that’s figurative, very influenced by the color palate of the 60’s and could have benefited by some serious editing. Although I appreciated the technique, I felt that a lot of the work was up just because, as a teacher at the SFAI, he had an open forum. How many people will struggle up those steep hills to view the show except those who already know and like him and/ or his work? But putting up work because you have a license to do so doesn’t impress the viewer who is not already connected to him. If the work had been edited down to pieces that evoked genuine emotion, the show would have been a lot stronger.

But there is always the beautifully designed courtyard, the fountain and the students who get to enjoy this harmonious corner of what's left of the old SFAI.

At the bottom of the hill is the Charles Campbell Gallery (formerly Campbell-Thiebaud) which is now closed. I spent an interesting internship summer there and knew at the time that the guy who was running it wasn't up to Charlie's standards. It was a far cry from the glory days when anybody who was anybody in the SF art scene was shown here. Better the gallery close than see its reputation and standards decline. But it still saddens me to see such an important part of SF's art history closed. Sic transit gloria mundi

However, the tiny Thiebaud Gallery right around the corner is still keeping the faith. The current show “25 Treasures” shows an eclectic selection of art – from Bay Area painter Joan Brown (represented by a quirky and charming, self-portrait) to Matisse, Rousseau, Gorky and assorted other artists. It’s easy to walk by the unobtrusive storefront galley but it’s worth taking the time to go in and look.

Then, to make this really an "old" North Beach experience, stop by the US Cafe. It's been revised by new owners but it's still Italian and still serving the best pesto pasta in the city.

Bruce McGaw at the SFAI: Sept 23-October 4th

Twenty-Five Treasures
Paul Thiebaud Gallery (SF)
718 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
September 9, 2008 - November 8, 2008

(images from the website)

Thomas Albright, “Art in the San Francisco Bay Area: 1945-1980. University of California Press. 1985