Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Asian Art Museum: RIng that bell

Ring out the old, ring in the new at the 24th Annual Japanese Bell Ringing Ceremony.
As in the past, 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. Located in the foyer of the museum, people line up and in groups, strike the bell together. 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.

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that lets go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.
Atisha (11th century Tibetan Buddhist master)

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.

Numbered tickets to ring the bell are assigned to visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis in South Court beginning at 10:00 am, when the museum opens to the public.
No advance reservations are accepted. 108 groups of four to six people will be assembled to strike the bell
Thursday, December 31, 2009
FREE with museum admission
Children 12 and under always admitted free!
9:30–11:00 am: Bell Ringing for Asian Art Museum Members
10:00 am–2:00 pm: Art Activities
11:00 am: Bell Ringing Ceremony

Mindfulness and the Buddhist Way:
Eightfold Path:
Four Noble Truths:
108 Mortal Desires:
 Images courtesy of the Asian Art Museum/photographer J. Yin

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Few of My Favorite Things from 2009

I had a great Christmas - not many gifts because my friends and family don't "do" gifts. But I went to a friend's house for a delicious dinner where I ate too much, enjoyed the fabulous view from her apartment in North Beach and...well, ate too much. Plus wine! VINO! This has been the best year yet in retirement with my on-line journalism opening the doors that I always failed to open in the past.

Every Monday, I wake up and think - I don't have to go to work today! I hear the tales of the psychotic bullies that still rule UC and rejoice that I am no longer being ground under their feet. Nobody now is taking the credit for my work or has the power to make my life miserable just because they get their jollies that way. When I was still part of the peon workforce, I had supervisor after supervisor who dumped their job on me and then, took all the credit. Even when the doctors that I worked for SAW me do the work, they ignored that little fact and praised and rewarded the dishonest jerks who were at the top of the greasy pole.

I don't make much money from being an art critic; on-line papers are not the best paying places but the emotional and intellectual rewards are, for me, fantastic! I get to preview every museum show in the Bay Area. I get daily e-mails from artists and organizations, tons of information and more images that I can process in two lifetimes. But the best part is meeting all the great people - the bloggers, the museum people, the curators and behind-the-scenes assistants, the gallery owners and the artists. I don't have to apologize for having a brain or a passionate interest in art. I don't have to hide who I am or pretend to be stupid for fear of threatening some supervisor with no brains or ethics. I can do without my upstairs neighbor and his loud music. He's young, rich, inconsiderate and dumb but I can deal with it because there are so many more wonderful things in my life. I know that it's been a dreadful year for finances and wars that seem to go on forever and politics that are the same old, same old. My savings have taken a hit as well but I can manage because I'm lucky enough to live frugally.

I came to San Francisco over forty years ago to be an artist. I'm still painting and now, I'm learning how to be a journalist. There may not be a Santa Claus but for me, miracles do happen. 

Moore on Paintings
"The many great paintings of the world, all make the point as clear as possible: The soul cannot thrive in the absence of art. If you don't want the pleasure of art, you are not human; and if you are not human, you don't have a soul."

Frank Lobdell at the Cantor Art Center: Drawings from life

Vjrabhairava Tanka from Bhutan - Asian Art Museum

Scarab broach from the Cartier Exhibit: FAMSF (Legion)

David Park - Bathers II (1955/56) SFMOMA (75th Anniversary Celebration)

Amish Abstractions: FAMSF (De Young)

Friday, December 25, 2009


“One act of beneficence, one act of real usefulness, is worth all the abstract sentiment in the world.” ~ Ann Radcliffe

If you can make only one offering this season, make it to this group. Julie (of Tangobaby) told me about them when she was trying to help a homeless family earlier this year. The story didn't turn out as she hoped but in the meantime, she met these women who are doing so much with so little.
Read the full story here: Tangobaby, Not Full Circle 
Image by Julie Michelle/used with permission 

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Stand By Me

Repairing the World

Another year is almost over and 2010 is racing toward us, full of dreams, hopes, wishes and more than it's share of disappointment. It seems a good time to point the ancient tradition of Tikkum Olam. "Tikkun olam" (literally, "world repair") has come to connote social action and the pursuit of social justice. The phrase has origins in classical rabbinic literature and in Lurianic kabbalah, a major strand of Jewish mysticism originating with the work of the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria. May we do our share of world repair in the days to come.

The term "mipnei tikkun ha-olam" (perhaps best translated in this context as "in the interest of public policy") is used in the Mishnah (the body of classical rabbinic teachings codified circa 200 C.E.). There, it refers to social policy legislation providing extra protection to those potentially at a disadvantage--governing, for example, just conditions for the writing of divorce decrees and for the freeing of slaves.

In reference to individual acts of repair, the phrase "tikkun olam" figures prominently in the Lurianic account of creation and its implications: God contracted the divine self to make room for creation. Divine light became contained in special vessels, or kelim, some of which shattered and scattered. While most of the light returned to its divine source, some light attached itself to the broken shards. These shards constitute evil and are the basis for the material world; their trapped sparks of light give them power.

The first man, Adam, was intended to restore the divine sparks through mystical exercises, but his sin interfered. As a result, good and evil remained thoroughly mixed in the created world, and human souls (previously contained within Adam's) also became imprisoned within the shards.

The "repair," that is needed, therefore, is two-fold: the gathering of light and of souls, to be achieved by human beings through the contemplative performance of religious acts. The goal of such repair, which can only be effected by humans, is to separate what is holy from the created world, thus depriving the physical world of its very existence—and causing all things return to a world before disaster within the Godhead and before human sin, thus ending history.

While contemporary activists also use the term "tikkun olam" to refer to acts of repair by human beings, they do not necessarily believe in or have a familiarity with the term’s cosmological associations. Their emphasis is on acts of social responsibility, not the larger realm of sacred acts--and on fixing, not undoing, the world as we know it.

The phrase "tikkun olam" was first used to refer to social action work in the 1950s. In subsequent decades, many other organizations and thinkers have used the term to refer to social action programs; tzedakah (charitable giving) and gemilut hasadim (acts of kindness); and progressive Jewish approaches to social issues. It eventually became re-associated with kabbalah, and thus for some with deeper theological meaning.

Thus, over time tikkun olam went from being part of the religious technology of medieval mystics to a standard part of the vocabulary of contemporary North American Jews. Its goal shifted from dissolving history to advancing it.But the phrase “tikkun olam” remains connected with human responsibility for fixing what is wrong with the world. It also appears to respond to a profound sense of deep rupture in the universe, which speaks as much to the post-Holocaust era as it did in the wake of the expulsion from Spain and other medieval Jewish disasters.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A good day for art in the Bay Area

Noguchi sculpture in front of a Lobdell Painting (image courtesy Cantor Art Center)

It's a good day for art in the 'hood: Stanford gets a Noguchi - as usual, Baker gets the scoop:

I remember visiting the Noguchi museum and garden in NY years ago and being enchanted with his art; this doesn't look like one of his better pieces but I will reserve judgment until I see it in person.

 and the De Young gets to keep some of the prize items in the  New Guinea/ Oceanic Collection

Now, what I want to know is how I can be on the cutting edge of getting this type of information? I love being an arts journalist and, while I know that I have a long ways to go and much to learn, it's frustrating to only find out the important things after the fact. I'm more than happy to be writing about art in a more "official" capacity but it's certainly clear that art bloggers (at least those not on the national level) don't get no respect.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SFMOMA: Dispatches from the archives

A few weeks ago, a new exhibition opened at the Koret Visitor Education Center called Dispatches from the Archives. Organized by Stephanie Pau, it's part of the museum's 75th year anniversary celebration. She organized ephemera from the past eight decades of the museum’s printed history—exhibition posters, mailings, publications, and design objects.  Ms. Pau chose to include things not just for their aesthetic qualities but for the stories they told—of the artists, projects, and innovative programs SFMOMA has hosted from its inception.

SF MOMA: The Anniversary Show - Celebrating 75 years

If you are to make one New Year's resolution this year, it should be to go and see this important, thoughtful show. And, to make this an even more enticing idea, looking at all this glorious art is non-fattening, life enhancing and even (sometimes) mind blowing.

The Anniversary Show at SF MOMA celebrates 75 years of the institution's history by tracing the art and individuals that have made it what it is today. Throughout the coming year, the museum will present a series of exhibitions under the heading "75 Years of Looking Forward" illustrating the story of the artists, collectors, cultural mavericks, and San Francisco leaders who founded, built, and have animated the museum.

Above: The original building at 401 Van Ness where the museum was housed from 1935 to 1995. Below, Pollack's Guardians of the Spirit, bought for $500 by Grace Morley in 1945)

Co-organized by Janet Bishop, SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture; Corey Keller, associate curator of photography; and Sarah Roberts, associate curator of collections and research, and assembling some 400 works of art, "The Anniversary Show" highlights both the significant and the idiosyncratic while considering the moments when SFMOMA helped shape the understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art locally and worldwide. The exhibition relates many behind-the-scenes stories as it chronicles the events that shaped SFMOMA and established the commitment to innovation, artistic collaboration, and community engagement that the museum maintains in the present moment.

"The Anniversary Show" begins on the second-floor landing with an introductory selection titled San Francisco Views, 1935 to Now. Featuring some three dozen works of art, this presentation sets the stage for the exhibition with images of San Francisco created by a host of artists in a variety of media. Ranging from Gabriel Moulin's 1935 photograph "San Francisco" to a 1962 painting by James Weeks titled "Looking West" from "Spanish Fort—Baker Beach", to a 1998 drawing by Rigo 98 titled "Study for Looking at 1998 San Francisco from the Top of 1925", and a poster by Martin Venezky titled "San Francisco Prize Poster: Harvey Milk Plaza, 2000", this grouping of works reveals the many ways the city has inspired artists over the last three quarters of a century.

The first gallery in the exhibition focuses on the local, national, and international impact of local patron Albert M. Bender. Bender's personal interests in Mexican modernism, photography, and the art of the Bay Area gave an initial shape to the museum's core collection. His early gifts included many highlights of the collection, such as "Trees in Snow in Front the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Valley, California" (1929) by Ansel Adams; Frida Kahlo's "Frieda and Diego Rivera" (1931); Diego Rivera's "The Flower Carrier" (1935); and "Two Shells" (1927) by Edward Weston. Bender not only gave art to the museum, but also established a fund to buy what he called "contemporaneous" art. Bender's support for living artists and his passionate engagement with both his own local art community and those more geographically and culturally distant are values that SFMOMA still embraces today.

In an adjacent gallery, the exhibition explores the tremendous legacy of the museum's founding director (1935–1958), Grace McCann Morley, her efforts to build the modernist collection, and the fervor with which she pursued her conviction that art was an essential part of everyday life. This is a long overdue acknowledgment of the single most important figure in SF MOMA's history. It was her gumption and drive that enabled the museum to flourish in the middle of the Great Depression. Key acquisitions led by Morley are showcased, including works by Constantin Brancusi, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Yves Tanguy, among others. Her typewritten notes and correspondence, displayed in the first two galleries, is an important addition to understanding the early days of the museum.

The exhibition then considers the dialogue between American modernist painters and photographers through the story of Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Morley working together to bring about an important 1952 acquisition of photographs from the estate of Alfred Stieglitz. Photographs by Stieglitz, Charles Sheeler, and Paul Strand are juxtaposed with paintings by O'Keeffe, Helen Torr, and Arthur Dove to demonstrate both the shared and distinct artistic concerns of the circle of artists associated with Stieglitz.

The following gallery illustrates the little-known activities of the museum during World War II, when the museum offered a wealth of diverse programs in support of the community. Exhibitions protesting the war took place alongside screenings of educational films meant to prepare citizens for the possibility of air raids, and the museum provided special programs to find work for artists and offer respite for servicemen during this trying time. Morley was able to obtain a loan of Guernica which was shown at the museum during the war.

Jackson Pollock's "Guardians of the Secret" (1943) stands at the center of the next gallery, which considers Morley's exhibitions program and the lengths she went to in order to show the work of the most advanced and, in some cases, most unfamiliar artists she could find. In addition to the remarkable story of the 1945 Pollock show, the gallery will tell the story of a 1941 Alexander Calder exhibition that Morley discovered in late September and managed to install at the museum by November 4. More surprising is the selection of bright watercolors by Rhodesian schoolboys that Morley brought into the galleries as a benefit for a school she had visited in that country (now Zimbabwe) in 1956.

The next gallery chronicles the early history of the museum's engagement with architecture and design objects, an extension of Morley's impulse to sensitize the public to the presence of good design principles in commonly used objects and in the built environments of home and city. Underpinning much of the museum's programming in the early decades was Morley's conviction that art was an essential part of everyday life. Perhaps the highest profile expressions of this agenda were the museum's television programs 'Art in Your Life' and 'Discovery'—the first ever television programs devoted to art—clips of which can be viewed on a vintage television in this gallery.

David Park
The museum's collegial relationship in the 1940s and 1950s with the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute) provides the focus of the following gallery. Faculty and students—among them Charles Howard, Robert Howard, Adaline Kent, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Minor White—regularly exhibited their work at the museum and supported the museum's activities by bringing students to study works of art in exhibitions, teaching classes in the museum's education program, and designing posters and brochures. Both the museum and the school were founded under the auspices of the San Francisco Art Association, and the museum served as the venue for the association's annual exhibitions for three decades. In the 1950s participants included Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn, and David Park, and Bay Area figurative painting surfaced within the context of these shows.

The next gallery celebrates a group of artists who deliberately disregarded traditional boundaries between media and whose work is central to SFMOMA's collection: Robert Rauschenberg (whose work SFMOMA acquired through the passion and generosity of the museum's great patron Phyllis Wattis) and two San Francisco Beat artists, Bruce Conner and Jay DeFeo. The following Anderson gallery highlights the museum's American Pop art collection, anchored by a major gift from local collectors Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, a group of works that includes such favorites as Rouen Cathedral Set V (1969) by Roy Lichtenstein and Land's End (1963) by Jasper Johns.

Conceptual art in the Bay Area is at the focus of the next gallery, illuminating the critical role of media art with groundbreaking work by Howard Fried and Bruce Nauman. Multimedia works by Eleanor Antin, Terry Fox, David Ireland, and Tom Marioni and a grouping of photographs by Mike Mandel and Larry Sultan further illustrate the heterogeneity of this complex field. The exhibition then focuses on Postminimalism, a major strength of the museum's collection and exhibition program. The gallery includes seminal works by Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, and Richard Tuttle, as well as artist Dan Fischer's exacting drawing of Tuttle working at SFMOMA on the occasion of his 2005 retrospective.

Two important ongoing exhibition series, "New Work" (launched in 1987) and the "SECA Art Award" (begun in 1967), are the subject of the following galleries, underscoring the museum's continuing commitment to contemporary art. Additional galleries focus on unique facets of the museum's programs: the architecture and design department's outstanding collection of wood chairs and visionary urbanism, and the photography department's extensive holdings of snapshots and other forms of vernacular photography.
 All images courtesy of SF MOMA

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Think Global, Shop local and support your local artists.

I strongly suspect that anybody who reads this blog can't afford a fraction of the bling now on display at the Legion. As for me, I think that if I actually had twenty million dollars, I'd be ashamed to spend it on a rock to hang around my neck, no matter how shiny and glittering. I confess that I do own a tiara; it's rather tarnished now but I couldn't give it up for anything. It was given to me by my dear (now departed) friend Bobby Campbell, one of the founders of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. We worked together at Davies, during the nightmare days of the first wave of the AIDS epidemic when nobody knew what to call the disease, much less how to cure it. We were on a shopping expedition to Cliff's on Castro Street - to cheer ourselves up after a long weekend stint. It was rhinestone and I think cost all of $2.99; after I previewed the show at the Legion last week I pulled it out of storage and shined the rhinestones for old time's sake. Naturally they will never glitter like the Star of South Africa but they shine for me because I remember my dear friend, his indomitable spirit and all the laughs we had together.

Many of the artists who post at BAAQ have been struggling through the recession just like the rest of us. While I'm a part of the group, I'm not promoting myself but suggesting that any of them would be more than glad to sell you a piece or two of art - toys can be broken, clothing goes out of style, today's pop song is tomorrow's trash but a good piece of art is a joy forever. Check out the names on the side bar and send them an e-mail; I'm sure that they will be glad to hear from you (if you are a sincere buyer). If anybody who reads this wants to post a link to a local shop or artist, please feel free to do so in the comments section. It goes without saying that all SPAM will be deleted. That's certainly NOT in the Christmas spirit

Greg Dewar has a ton of suggestions on local artists, local craft stores and how to shop with a conscience while getting nice things for Christmas..

Julie, who writes the blog Tangobaby and is now a member of the photo group, Caliber, also sells her photographs through Tedda Hughes on Polk St.

Cartier Tiara, 1925/image courtesy of the FAMSF

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The continued underevaluation of art bloggers

Interesting post with even more interesting comments up at Sharon Butler's Blog, Two Coats of Paint:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Asian Art Museum: Revisiting the colleciton

 Ritual vessel (zun or gui) in the shape of a rhinoceros, probably late 1100s–1050 BCE. China; reportedly Shouchang, Shandong province. Shang dynasty, late phase (1300–1050 BCE). Bronze. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60B1+.

With three floors full of stunningly beautiful and historically important artworks, and an exciting show on the ground floor, it's easy to overlook the smaller pieces. I am particularly fond of the netsuke but this piece also caught my eye. It's featured on the website in this month's Asian museum membership drive, Alas, you don't get a reproduction as a membership gift, although that's not a bad idea, as the small size and engaging expression remind me of the Met's very famous and very popular blue hippo which has been featured in several different reproductions, from small ceramic figures, ties and even a coloring book.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Saturday Grab Bag

Don't shop the chain stores! Think global, shop local and support your local artists:
Mission Holiday Block Party: 

The Whitney 2010: Three guess as to where most of them live. Is the art world still centered on NY? You betcha!

Interesting discussion panel at Art Miami on the role of art bloggers - moderated by Joanne Mattera.

I think that it's dangerous to be reading the NY Times on a rainy day in SF but I see that they agree with me on big museums. I knew that I was right!

Friday, December 11, 2009

RIP to the man who made the mummies dance: Thomas Hoving dead at 78

Colorful and controversial former Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Hoving died in his Manhattan home yesterday of cancer; he was 78 years old. Hoving headed the museum between 1967 and 1977. More than anyone else, he brought the Met (with other museums tagging behind) out of the stone ages, making it a vibrant, exciting and controversial institution.Under his leadership, he wrote, “the most sweeping revolution in the history of art museums had taken place.”
NY TImes

Charlie Finch, Art Net Magazine
"A diamond square peg in a dusty round hole, Tom Hoving did more to change the cultural landscape of New York and the contemporary art world than any single human being, even Andy Warhol. You can read the details in his memoirs, which he courageously penned recently for Artnet Magazine, but let us consider what Hoving hath wrought. The blockbuster museum exhibition was his creation. Before Tom arrived, the Metropolitan Museum had all the sex appeal of a monastery.

"The major auction purchase? I give you Velásquez’ Juan de Pareja (1650), a newly minted 20th-century rediscoveries of Tom. Race and class cultural controversy in an art context? Tom's show "Harlem on My Mind," pissing people off decades before Mapplethorpe and Serrano."
ArtNet Magazine

An appreciation by Richard Lacayo (Time Magazine)

Culture Girl: Culture Girl

Wall Street Journal: Met Director made art the main event
Wall Street Journal

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Museum of Craft and Folk Art Christmas Sale: 50x50x50

Here's another in my sporadic series of "support your local artist" or think global, shop local. The Museum of Craft and Folk Art is having a Christmas sale, featuring fifty pieces by fifty local crafts people and all under $50 each.  With items ranging from jewelry and glass to ceramics and kid’s toys, you can get unique, handcrafted gifts for everyone on your list! If you can’t make it to the store, you can shop via their ETSY shop on line.

A percentage from the sales will go to the “Craft Emergency Relief Fund. The Craft Emergency Relief Fund is committed to supporting the careers of craft artists throughout the United States. Through business and career-strengthening programs, emergency relief support, advocacy and research CERF helps professional craft artists strengthen and sustain their careers so that they can thrive and, thus, contribute to the quality of life in our communities.

Museum of Craft & Folk Art
51 Yerba Buena Lane
San Francisco, CA 94103

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mexican Museum Reopens in Ft. Mason on December 19th

Anticipating a move to downtown San Francisco The Mexican Museum at Ft. Mason closed down a couple of years ago, Unfortunately, the funding never came through and the museum has been in limbo for at least four years. But Garrett McAuliffe reports that the Mexican Museum will open its doors for the first time since 2006 with a show highlighting the Christmas traditions of Mexico.

"Funding from the city has begun to trickle in, money marked for development as the museum inches closer to a permanent move downtown at Yerba Buena Gardens. But that project is still years from completion. In the meantime, the ten-member board has worked hard to resuscitate the museum's tentative existence at Fort Mason, and bring some of its 12,000 works back into view relying on personal resources and the support of volunteers."

"We are finally in a very good space where we are working in a positive way with our partners," said Mario Diaz, co-chair of the board. "Our priority now is to get the collection in front of the eyes of the public."

Under a short-term lease extension, the Mexican Museum has already reopened its store La Tienda and will debut its new exhibit on Saturday, December 19th, a huge step forward for the non-profit after it recently appeared they would have to move their entire collection at great expense.

Read more:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grab Bag: Fisher in 2010, Contemporary Torah and Joanne Mattera in Miami

At part of their 7tth Anniversary celebration, SF MOMA will show 300 works from the Fisher collection next year. Baker has the scoop.

Dialogue with the Torah at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

 Dialogue with the Torah
Is it or isn't it art: Joanne Mattera
New piece up at: SF Museum Examiner

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

National Museum for Women in the Arts: 12 Days for Good

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Four Directions, 1994. Lithograph with linocut collage, 44 1/2 x 30 in. National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts was selected as one of 12 nonprofit organizations to compete in Avon’s 12 Days For Good: The Online Holiday Charity Shopping Event.  Not only will NMWA receive 20% of your purchase total as a cash donation, but we’re also in the running for a 12% bonus of the money raised by all 12 charities combined.  The charity competition starts Friday, November 27th, and ends Tuesday, December 8th.
You can shop the full range of Avon’s product line including:  home decor, fashion, jewelry, kids, bath, body, and beauty products.  Also, check out the “Really Good Gifts” list that you can download at to help guide you to some of the best gifts to give this season.  Orders totaling $30 or more will receive free shipping.

Here’s how it works:

1. Visit  Click on the “Shop for the National Museum of Women in the Arts” link to open a special dedicated shopping page in Avon’s Online Store.
2. Click the “Shop my online event” button
3. Complete your purchase online.
Shopping, saving, and doing good couldn’t be easier this holiday season.  Thanks for your support!

About the Author: Susan Cuff is NMWA’s Member Services Associate.
National Museum for Women in the Arts

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where are the women, Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Cartoon from the New Yorker Magazine - if you can't read the caption, it says, "The subject of tonight's discussion is: Why are there no women on this panel?

Carol Diehl of Art Vent has some astute comments on the status of women after watching two 60's films, "Contempt" and "Viva Las Vegas." I remember all too well the causal sexism of the period but what shocks me and continues to shock me is how many younger women reject "feminism." Somewhere along the way these young women got the (incorrect) message that feminism is a bad thing, something they don't want to be associated with. Why did this happen? I find it very frustrating.

I fell like telling them that it "it ain't over yet." When I worked in a huge medical center in California, I was shocked at how ruthless and vicious women were to each other - esp. younger (pretty) women on their way up the corporate ladder. The men didn't have to worry about keeping us "old bags" in our place. They had women to do that for them. A lot of women "got it" when they turned 30 and were now deemed too old but they sure did a lot of damage on their way up. I was talking to a gallery owner in SF the other day who firmly believes that women artists now have as much opportunity as male artists. A cursory look at who is who and who makes what in the art would should dispel that illusion but somehow it keeps on ticking. Sexism - the gift that keeps on giving.

How do you counter such lethal ignorance except by continually keeping the dialogue open. Younger women who think that feminism is dead and that they are "above" such things are in for a horrible surprise - every tiny gain from jobs, housing, child care and health insurance (!) is under attack.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Oh Woe! $140 Million Dollar Berkeley Museum a No-Go

Given the current economic mess, this is a wise decision. We have 12%+ unemployment and UC's Regents have just raised student fees by 32%. As a painter and an art blogger, of course, I'd love to see a new museum but, lacking a new WPA, sometimes there are other priorities.

What I'd like to see is a good floor plan of the inside of the museum. The Bay Area has several "new" or "newish" museums and they do a poor job of displaying the art. The new Jewish Contemporary Museum has an expensive, stainless steel gizmo attached on one side of the old building. It has two floors, one of which is used for a gift shop. Now, that doesn't seem like a very good use of expensive space. Furthermore, the fancy architecture can't be seen because it's crammed along side a small alley with large buildings on either side. So, what's the point? As an artist, of course I'd prefer that there be more space for art. As an art historian, I wish that what art they have could be better displayed. The same goes for the current Berkeley Art Museum. Outside it looks like a huge concrete bunker. Inside - it looks like a huge concrete bunker. Traditional paintings are overwhelmed in this cold space; even works of contemporary painters like Howard Hodgkins don't show well when hung against a huge concrete wall. Not even Hans Hoffman's huge flamboyant pieces show up that well when they have to compete with the vast atrium space in the middle of the museum. Our new De Young Museum still looks like a Stalinist prison from the outside and the inside foyer is three ceilings high. Where is the room for the art? Anybody else care to comment?

Toyo Ito's visiton for the new home of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive whould have cost $143 million. Photo: Kuramochi / Jeanne Collins & Assoc.

BERKELEY, CA.- The University of California, Berkeley’s plans for a new Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) are being modified due to lingering economic uncertainty, museum and university officials announced. Several intriguing concepts for a new BAM/PFA home are under review and a detailed plan is expected to be unveiled early next year, said Lawrence Rinder, the director of BAM/PFA, which is one of the largest university art museums in the United States in both size and attendance. Rinder emphasized that the university and BAM/PFA will remain committed to building a new facility on university property at the corner of Center and Oxford streets, on the edge of Berkeley’s burgeoning theater and arts district.

“Our goal has not changed,” said Rinder. “We will create a remarkable new home for the museum. I’m confident we will find an innovative and affordable solution that advances our mission to inspire the imagination through art and film.”

He pointed to continued commitment from lead donors and trustees of BAM/PFA, who are embracing the decision by campus and museum leadership to modify the building project.

“The creation of a new home for the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in downtown Berkeley continues to be a crucial step in UC Berkeley’s longstanding commitment to the visual arts and to engagement with our broader community,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. “While the architectural plans will change, what will not change is our shared goal of building a dynamic, welcoming, and seismically safe new museum at the corner of Center and Oxford streets.”

“Art is educational for students and children of all ages. We’re determined to achieve our goal of a new museum in downtown Berkeley; I couldn’t be more excited about our future,” said Barclay Simpson, chair of the BAM/PFA Board of Trustees.

A structural analysis found that BAM/PFA’s current space on Bancroft Way was seismically inadequate and led to the 1999 relocation of the Pacific Film Archive Theater to temporary campus quarters that it still occupies. A partial seismic retrofitting of the museum in 2001 has enabled BAM/PFA to stay open during planning for a new facility.

Toyo Ito & Associates, a Japanese architecture firm known for its innovative concepts and structural approaches, was brought on in 2006 to design a new museum. Toyo Ito’s design for BAM/PFA met with critical support and enthusiasm in arts and architecture circles and efforts were underway to raise private funds to pay for most of the $200 million campaign.

However, university and museum leaders said that, in the current economic climate, modifying the project’s proposed scope and expense by moving on to a new design is the only way to ensure BAM/PFA remains on track for a new museum.

Lee Rosembaum of Culture Girl has a piece up

Saturday, November 21, 2009

De Young: Amish Abstraction - Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown

The artistry of the Amish tradition will be on full display at the de Young when the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) presents Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown in the Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Textile Gallery. The exhibition, which opened November 14, 2009, features 48 full-size and crib quilts that showcase the diversity of the Amish quilt tradition, as well as the connoisseurship of collectors Faith and Stephen Brown.

 Double Nine Stitch quilt: image courtesy of the FAMSF 

A sect born out of the bloody religious wars of the 16th century, the people who would become the Amish looked to the New Testament as a literal guide for life. Their rejection of infant baptism, practice of non-violence and a belief in the complete separation of church and state lead to centuries of persecution. Their on-going search for religious freedom leads them to North America – the first migration in the mid-1700’s, the latter in the early 1800’s. Originally they settled in Pennsylvania but now communities are located in dozens of other states and Canada.

Even today, the Amish are a highly conservative and closed society that prohibits a variety of what they see as worldly frills -- from automobiles to zippers. For the Amish, the cardinal virtues are humility, simplicity and practicality. They are a private people who reject most of what we call modern and live their lives in more traditional, pre-industrial ways with a focus on their religious beliefs, a complex of beliefs, which we might consider restrictive. Yet, they do not. For most Amish, aligning oneself within the group provides freedom to live and work within a community which is supportive and fulfilling.

The earliest dated Amish quilt appears to have been made in 1849, and the next dated one comes from the year 1860. Exhibition curator Jill D’Alessandro of FAMSF explains, “Although Amish women first learned quiltmaking from their ‘English’ [non-Amish] neighbors, they quickly developed a unique sensibility of their own, coupling distinctive choices of quilt patterns and fabrics with unusual spatial arrangements.” Robert Hughes notes that "the work of Amish quilt makers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, between about 1870 and 1950 was one of the finest aesthetic forms in America." The quilts in the exhibition originated in communities throughout Pennsylvania and the Midwest and date from the 1880s to the 1940s, the height of Amish quilt production.

On first encountering Amish quilts, the Browns recall, “We were amazed by the bold graphics and striking colors, the very opposite of what we had expected. And we couldn’t get over the way some quilts seemed to anticipate abstract artists such as Josef Albers, Victor Vasarely, Frank Stella, Mark Rothko, Sol LeWitt, and Ellsworth Kelly, among others.” Looking at modern art has prepared us to appreciate their bold designs yet we should not look upon the quilts as simply works of art. They were made to be both aesthetically pleasing and utilitarian and, yet, still had to adhere to the code of the Ordung, an oral tradition of religious rules governing Amish social customs and moral life. The Amish dislike of “worldliness” meant that they rejected figurative or elaborate floral design elements in favor of large geometric color fields. But their skill is always in view – the tiny precise stitches, intersecting the geometric squares in unwavering and complex quilting curves. The rich palate of saturated colors mirrors the restrictions placed on the order of clothes but is all the stronger for that. There is visual wit and whimsy within the boundaries laid down by their religious beliefs; the work is neither boringly rigid nor lifelessly formal.

The dark colors that dominate their quilts do not project gloom but are stunningly beautiful, with rich glowing colors set off by bands of black fabric. A decade or more of feminism now permits us to acknowledge what was previously devalued as “women’s work” for the Amish adhere to rigid gender roles and the quilts are always made by women. We see the quilts as anonymous but everybody within the community knew who made them. Given as wedding gifts or as a special memento, the maker was hardly unknown and the quilts cherished and brought out for those special occasions (which is why the quilts in the gallery are in such superb condition).  The Amish quilts are not what has been stereotypically branded as “womanly” – there is nothing sweet, pastel or flowery about these bold geometric abstractions. Their beauty also reflects what was the norm in pre-industrial societies where there was no separation between creator and community, function and design. They are the antithesis of mass production, all made by women, proud of their skills, who had no intention of becoming professional artists. They are a product of a culture that is thrifty, pragmatic (within the context of their beliefs) and shaped by the literal belief that God, in Miles van der Rohe's phase, is in the details.*

Exhibition Dates: November 14, 2009–June 6, 2010

A new, fully illustrated catalogue, titled Amish Abstractions: Quilts from the Collection of Faith and Stephen Brown, accompanies the exhibition. The publication features contributions by three quilt experts: Joe Cunningham, a well-known quilt artist, author, and lecturer; Robert Shaw, a former curator at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont; and Janneken Smucker, a doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware specializing in quilts from the Amish and Mennonite traditions.
 * Other references: Robert Hughes. Amish, the art of the quilt / text, Robert Hughes ; plate commentary, Julie Silber. New York. Random House, 1990

Symposium on Saturday, December 5th:
A symposium titled, Amish/American: Quilts in Context, will be held at the de Young on Saturday, December 5, 2009 from 1–4 pm in the Koret Auditorium. Join us for an in-depth look at the art of Amish quilts through the eyes of a diverse panel of speakers. Each presenter will talk about a different aspect of the Amish quiltmaking tradition. Collectors Faith and Stephen Brown will make introductory remarks. Speakers include Joe Cunningham The Quiltmaker's Quandary; Jonathan Holstein, On Collecting and Its Consequences; Janeken Smucker, Gifts of Humility, Objects of Pride; and Robert Shaw, American Quilts: The Democratic Art. Tickets are on sale now and admission is $10.
Tickets are available at Seating is first-come, first-serve.
Article along with side show up at:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Asian Art Museum: Tibetan Arts and Crafts Trunk Show

Trunk Show and Sale
Traditional Tibetan Crafts
Friday and Saturday, November 20 and 21
10:00 am–5:00 pm

The Asian Art Museum store welcomes the Tibet Artisan Initiative and Dropenling Handicraft Center of Lhasa, Tibet, for a special two-day sale of dolls, toys, textiles, and other traditional items hand crafted by Tibetan artisans living in Tibet. The Dropenling (“giving back for the betterment of all sentient beings”) Center helps support the Tibetan artisan community. This event benefits both the Asian Art Museum and Tibetan artisans.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art: Afterlife, new life for old materials

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor: No Name (Scrap Foot) and No Name (Scrap Fists). image courtesy of the artist and David Salow Gallery, LA

Later this week, I will be reviewing an upcoming show on Amish Quilts but it's fascinating to see these two very different takes on textile art (although the Amish apparently don't really consider their quilts art) and reusable materials. The Amish create works of beauty that can be utilized in a practical way while these artists take similar materials and create art works which can delight but are completely unusable for everyday life. The contrast is fascinating and the cultural questions around museum objects vs utilitarian works could probably fill a book or two. The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) presents "Afterlife", a group exhibition of works created to breathe new life into re‐purposed materials and objects. Guest curated by Kathryn Funk, "Afterlife" will be exhibited in the ICA’s Main Gallery and Cardinale Project Room from November 7, 2009 through January 23, 2010. The show includes sculpture, video, and multi‐media work.

The artists represented in "Afterlife" take advantage of cast‐offs from our contemporary lives. With a conscious eye to the materiality of the chosen discards, items from the street, junkyards and second‐hand stores are transformed into fresh, inspired creations that give rise to thoughtful consideration and interpretation.

“Even before the green recycling revolution took hold, artists were reusing and re‐purposing found materials,” says "Afterlife" curator Kathryn Funk. “When an object has been discharged from its original purpose it still carries some association with its past. When that association is altered it takes on new meaning,” explains Funk. Exploring new meanings and new lives of discarded and re‐used materials is the central focus of the artists’ works on view in "Afterlife".

London‐based artist Claudia Borgna has been collecting and using plastic bags as an inspired muse in her art for several years, carefully gathering and using them after each installation or performance in a different configuration. Borgna’s work will be on view in "Afterlife and Night Moves" – after dark video art programing presented in the ICA’s front windows.

Mark Fox‐Morgan uses paper – a tree by‐product— cast as beams for his massive house‐like structure. The beguiling skeleton appears remarkably strong despite its extremely fragile nature, thus calling into question the nature and exploitation of its source. Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor and Lisa Kokin find inspiration in materials scavenged from flea markets and thrift stores. Higgins O’Connor uses discarded fabrics of all sorts and stitches together life‐sized anthropomorphic stuffed animal creatures. Kokin uses books and the book format; dissecting, reassembling and pulping them to express new ideas and her own personal, political and cultural views. Charlotte Kruk salvages and sews product wrappers side by side to create new textiles in the form of wearable art. Robert Larson gathers and dissects tossed cigarette packages and match books to make visually stunning constructed paintings of rich color patterns, hues and textures, with the dissected paper material.

The ICA was founded in 1980 by a group of local artists who were interested in creating a venue to exhibit contemporary art. At that time, there were a small number of non-profit organizations in downtown San Jose that showcased the work of local artists. However, they were primarily artist run galleries. The ICA distinguished its exhibition program by hiring a professional curator to lead the organization and the gallery quickly gained a reputation for curatorial excellence. That remains true 29 years later.

Visit :

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The ideal museum viewing experience?

Regina Hackett yearns to view works of art with nobody around. I sympathize with her annoyance with noisy and rude crowds but her wish would end public museums - if nobody comes, the doors close. As much as one might want art to be an elite viewing experience for moi, moi, moi, the reality is that if the public is not engaged (and maybe engaged at a higher decibel that the in crowd prefers), none of us (i.e., the great unwashed) will have the museum viewing experience. Somebody has to pay the rent and while foundations, grants and benefits provide the most money, the rest comes from the public. Instead of wishing that we would all just go away, maybe there could be classes in viewing etiquette - no shoving, shouting or chewing gum while in the presence of masterpieces.

Of course, maybe shutting the public out is what she really wants; in that case, I'm not the least bit sympathetic.

The next week is full of interesting things to see, places to go and events to attend. Read more at:

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Open Studios - the last weekend.

By the time the last weekend of Open Studios came around, I was exhausted. Doing my own open studios the week before had been exhilarating but the drain on my energy was enormous. Still, I was given a chance of a ride to Hunter's Point, thanks to Anna Conti and Sandy Yagi (see BAAQ for Anna's piece on Sandy) and I was not going to pass that up. Most of my friends with cars are artists too and by the time Hunter's Point weekend comes around, we all just want to veg out. Hunter's Point really is accessible only by car. One could take the 19 Polk but that's a long, long ride and not something I want to do. It's a shame that the city hasn't provided better public transportation out there. But, all that aside, it was a beautiful day and I was happy to go along for the ride. There wasn't even that much traffic and Sandy was able to get a good parking spade at the side of Building 101. I mention this because when we went it, she immediately saw Richard Bolingbroke's studio which turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit.

They are friends and so I got to listen in on two other artists talk about technique, inspiration, pricing (his large watercolor pieces cost about $1000 to frame which is why they aren't framed!)  and all the things that "us" artists do talk about. But I am never tired of shop talk and looking at Richard's watercolors and monoprints could keep me entertained for hours. I was stunned by his facility with watercolors since I've taken a couple of classes and know how extremely difficult the medium can be.

His watercolors are exquisite but powerful - no wimpy washes here. The older pieces are patterns of flowers and other symbols combined into intensely colored pieces of depth and complexity. His new work is deceptively simple - less flowers and more "real" objects which present their own technical challenges. The simpler the image is, the less room you have to make mistakes. His new pieces have a more subdued and delicate palate but are beautiful meditations on "ordinary" objects, combined into extraordinary compositions. He is also a master draftsman and opened drawer after drawer, full of drawings, portraits and in one case, drawings of skulls that left me speechless. There's been an interesting discussion on the Asian Art Museum blog about skeletons and skulls and I couldn't help thinking that Richard's pieces were a superb addition in a long tradition. I wanted to pry him with questions about paper, materials and technique but the studio was filling up with (hopefully) eager customers so I will hold off for another time.

SF has lost so many artists' communities in the last decade so I was happy to hear that 101 Hunter's Point is now a historical site. That gives the artists some protection against ruthless eviction and development hell. Richard said that they had just spent thousands of dollars on a new roof, windows and painting so the old place looked quite spiffy. I was also pleased to revisit some of my older favorites such as Linda Hope, Thea Schack and Elizabeth Tana. As always, I saw too much good art to take it all in. It would be wonderful if there were some way for "us" artists to have a space, centrally located, where we could have a version of Open Studios every week. Art in storefronts is a start but I would like to see the city open up one of those shuttered downtown buildings and let us hang a different show every month of the year. Maybe we could draw lots to see who goes first but it would be a way to show art from artists who often only get the chance to show one weekend of the year. Packing in hundreds of good artists into a month long exhausting art event just doesn't do justice to the richness and complexity of our community.

Older interview with Linda Hope about Hunter's Point and issues around development:
Richard Bolingbroke:

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ohlone College: Into Pergamon: The Art of Rob Anderson

Skillful and passionate, Rob Anderson's drawings, drawn from a direct observation of the Pergamon Altar, remind us just how powerful and beautiful Hellenic art can be and how difficult it is to really master academic drawing. This type of drawing used to be standard practice; I don't know how much it is any more but, given the crude and anatomically bizarre human figures that I often see in "realistic" paintings I suspect that it's not taught as much as it should be. Late twentieth century art has rejected what is carelessly termed "academic painting" but all of the masters of the first three decades of the 20th century studied academic art, from Picasso up to and including De Kooning who received a rigorous traditional training in his native Holland. It seems logical that artists understand the rules of anatomy and figure drawing. They are, after all, the basis of Western art.

My blogging friend Kloe also works with imagery inspired by classical Greece, showing that in the hands of a skillful and engaged artist these images can still speak to us of grace and mystery. 

Ohlone College
43600 Mission Boulevard
Fremont, CA 94539-5847
Up until February 6th, 2010

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Oh to be in Philadelphia!

There's a knock out exhibit of Gorky in Philly which should cause a radical revision of his importance in modern art. As Richard Lacayo writes in Time Magazine:

"Is there another life in American art to compare to Arshile Gorky's? His arc from struggle to breakthrough to tragedy is slow, then swift, then dazzling and finally devastating. In the seven or so years before he took his life in 1948, he produced some of the greatest, most explosive works of the 20th century, a synthesis of Surrealism and abstraction that unlocked voluptuous new possibilities for painting and opened the way to Abstract Expressionism. It wasn't a long life, but it was lit by fire."

Fallon and Rostoff:

"To see the drawings (and the gorgeous and bold handling of line in them)–sometimes multiple drawings–preparatory to paintings is wondrous, at once belying the idea that the paintings are casual and improvisatory abstractionist expressions and belying the idea that the paintings are static reproductions of the drawing ideas."

Arshile Gorky, The Liver is the Cock’s Comb, c. 1943. Oil on canvas 73 ¼ x 98 in. Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York, Gift of Seymour H. Knox, 1956.,9171,1933224,00.html

Saturday, October 31, 2009

At the Asian and the De Young: Ghoulies and beasties and things that go bump in the night

The Buddhist protector deity Penden Lhamo (detail), approx. 1700-1800. Tibet. Thangka; colors on wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B62D32.

More great "scary" images vis this thread at the Asian Art Museum blog:
Of course, what's scary to us is not scary in other cultures. The demons and frightening images in so much Asian art represent protective deities whose ferocious aspect is not to threaten us but to drive off evil demons and destructive thoughts that prevent enlightenment.

L: Anthropoid coffin of Irethorrou. R: Visualization of Irethorrou showing two amulets on his forehead by Sarah Hegmann of eHuman, Inc. using Osirix software. (FAMSF)

Mummies are another object from an ancient culture that has come to represent the complete opposite of their original purpose. From Herodotus to Hollywood, mummies have fascinated us. Medieval doctors used mummy wrappings in their medicine (along with other, even more obscure and ineffective ingredients). When Napoleon invaded Egypt in the 18th century, he brought with him a host of scientists who were determined to unlock the secrets of Ancient Egypt, including how mummies were manufactured. Nineteenth century travelers didn't feel that their journey was complete unless they could bring back a mummy (or two or three) for the family castle. In the 1920’s the curse of Tutankhamen became a media sensation. Art from Egypt has influenced artists from Ancient Greece onward and Karloff's love for his princess has become the favorite cheesy movie for Halloween night viewing. 

The dry air and desert sand of Egypt probably preserved the first mummies, but as Egyptian civilization became more sophisticated, so did their methods of preserving the dead. Here, as in so many areas, the Greeks Herodotus and Diodorus, understood the process centuries before the Europeans did. There are three different methods, from the cheapest to the most expensive. In the low-cost version (the Wal-Mart of Mummification, if you will), the intestines were cleaned and the body was placed in natron, a natural salt drying agent. In the second type, the corpse was injected with oil of cedar before it was placed in the bath, although modern authorities question the word “cedar” indicating that there is some doubt as to how this “oil” was employed.

The third type, the most elaborate and the most expensive as used during the New Kingdom – the time of the heretic king Akhenaton and the boy king Tutankhamen. All of the internal organs, except for the heart and kidneys, were removed. The brain was drawn out through the nostrils and the viscera were removed and all these organs were put in canopic jars, The empty body cavity was cleaned and anointed and natron was applied as in the other two methods. Eventually, the body was cleaned, and wrapped in fine linen, torn into strips and wound around limbs and body. For kings, queens and the upper class, jewelry was placed into the body cavity and the whole edifice was then placed within the mummy case(s), painted, gilded and launched into eternity.

What is it about Egypt that fascinates us so? Is it because we see ourselves in them? This was a society so in love with life that they wanted to continue its pleasures after death. Their art still has the power to fascinate and charm us. Or is it the tantalizing mysteries of mummies, which, now due to the power of modern technology, can teach us more about them and enable us to somehow, touch a part of our collective heritage?

At the De Young, the exhibition Very Postmortem: Mummies and Medicine (Opening on Halloween!) explores the modern scientific examination of mummies. Among the artifacts on view will be a very-well-preserved, 2,500-year-old ancient Egyptian mummy, known as Irethorrou. CT scans done by scientists at Stanford Medical School shed light on Irethorrou's physical attributes and the cause of his death. The scans provide depth and scientific background to the exhibition and contribute to a three-dimensional "fly-through" of the mummy as well as a forensic reconstruction of his head. The exhibition also includes a variety of ancient artifacts that date from 1450 B.C. to A.D. 150.
More reading: Barbara Mertz: Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs. A popular history of Ancient Egypt.
Exhibit at the Boston Museum of Art (to give the blog a less regional focus):

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Burma and Thailand

More background information from the blog: Right Reading, written by Tom Christensen:

Burma and Siam: a bit of history

The current exhibit up at the Asian is different in many ways from the preceding exhibit - different countries naturally, different histories (especially during the crucial 19th century) and a completely different artistic aesthetic. But here's a bit of historical background from the museum's website which makes the show even more interesting. Unlike Japan, which modernized rapidly and was conducting its own wars of expansion against China and Russia, both Burma and Siam had to fight off European colonial designs on their territory. Siam (or Thailand) was successful but Burma was not.

King Mongkut or Rama IV (1804-1868)

Most people know about Siam from the movie "The King and I. " While Anna Leonowens was an imaginative writer, her portrayal of King Mongkut was colored by her Victorian prejudices. She and the king most assuredly did not fall in love and the people of Siam still resent the way he was portrayed in her book, the play and the ensuing Hollywood movies.

"King Mongkut or Rama IV (1804-1868) was a Buddhist monk for many years before succeeding to the throne in 1851. As a monk, Mongkut studied widely, even learning English. He traveled around the country, becoming acquainted with ordinary people in a way most princes never could have. Eventually, he undertook a reform of Thai Buddhist doctrine and practice. As king, he modernized many aspects of his kingdom’s life while fending off threats from the British and other European colonialists."

King Mindon (1853-1878) of Burma
Burma is another country that has only made the news when there's yet another tragedy connected with the current regime. What makes this even more tragic is how hard the Burmese fought to gain their independence from the British, who annexed the country in the 19th century and turned it into a province of the Raj.

1824-1826, however, the Burmese lost the first of three wars to the British, and had to give up their recent conquests. The kingdom and its leaders were stunned. After being defeated a second time in 1852, and being forced to cede the vital port city of Rangoon and the entire southern section of their realm, they rallied and set out on a program of modernization, introducing Western knowledge and technology."

"As part of the effort to turn over a new leaf, King Mindon (1853-1878) founded a new capital, formally extolled as “City of Gems” and “Land of Victory,” but known to outsiders as Mandalay. The building of a new capital was a bonanza for artists and artisans, and a number of the art objects displayed here must have been made for Mandalay."

"All of the efforts of King Mindon and his court fell short. The next king floundered, and in 1885 the Burmese lost a final war with the British. The king was exiled, and Burma reduced to a colony—just one part of British India. While Buddhist ritual objects were of course still needed, the demand for adornments for courtiers and palaces disappeared overnight. Patronage was disrupted, but artists found new customers among rich merchants and foreigners."
Kipling could write of the British soldier, looking wistfully toward Mandalay, assuming that the Burmese wanted the soldier to return:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

But the Burmese nationalists most certainly did not want the British there. British rule imposed a ruling class and an economic policy which further oppressed the common people. In fact, they were so hated that some in the Burmese nationalistic movement wanted to ally with the Japanese in WW II, assuming that if the Japanese won that war they would gain their independence. In any case, Burma did gain its independence after WW II but the ensuing decades have been difficult ones, both politically and economically.
Emerald Cities at the Asian: The arts of Siam and Burma-through January 2010

Friday, October 23, 2009

Asian Art Museum: Emerald Cities -Arts of Thailand and Burma

"In the 19th-century Siam and Burma—two neighboring kingdoms in Southeast Asia—were renowned for their golden-roofed temples, lush gardens, and handsomely adorned palaces. Emerald Cities is the first major exhibition in the West to explore the rich but little known arts of Siam and Burma from this period. Many of the 140 stunning artworks—including gilded ritual vessels, mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, colorful paintings, manuscripts, exquisite textiles, delicate ceramics, and more—were recently acquired by the museum from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and are on display for the first time."

The Asian has provided a wealth of information on their website, They even have put free lectures on iTunes that you can download for your iPod. The museum's mission, as stated by director Jay Xu, to enlighten, educate and entertain is something they take seriously. I will be reviewing the show in greater depth as soon as I recover from Open Studios (Reception tonight - ekkkk). But I can tell you, dear reader, that it's another beautifully organized, elegantly presented exhibit with a catalogue that's a "must buy." The museum's blog has some wonderful videos about the labor-intensive process of conservation which took five years (7500 hours) to restore and repair the neglect of decades of weather, fragile materials and war. Burma, alas, was the victim of another one of Britain's 19th century imperialist "little wars" which is the subject of one of the insightful essays in the catalogue.

The Asian Art Museum Blog is another resource with current entries on Burmese puppets, a tribute to Doris Duke, links to films on the current government of Myamar (Burma) and videos on conservation.

Tom Christensen, the publications designer for the Asian has an insightful post on designing a book dealing with the arts of this region. It's interesting that he chose Perpetua for the typeface which was designed by Eric Gill, the subject of a current post here.
"A challenge in this book was to come up with a design that is compatible with the decorative, sensual, spiritual, and ornate character of the art, without resorting to a proliferation of dingbats and flourishes—without creating too busy a page, full of gratuitous distractions"
Asian Art Museum: October 23 - Jan 10th, 2010