Friday, May 29, 2009

Folk art, naive art, outsider art: A 440 Gallery

The little gallery tucked into the corner of the hallway at 49 Geary has gone through several owners in the last couple of years. But all of the galleries have displayed fascinating art and the current incarnation is no exception. The owner, William Latham, is displaying two artists who straddle that perplexing area that is commonly tagged as folk art, but in this case is really outsider art, although coming from visionary and religious traditions in the African American community.

Definitions of art, as Eugene W Metcalf points out in his article, “Black Art, Folk Art and Social Control, “ are highly political. This is especially true for the African-American community whose humanity was so long denied by the wider white culture. Art has been seen as a product that represents what is valued in society, so, for previous generations of African-American artists, to be thought of as cultured meant adopting the prevailing style of European culture. Folk art was seen as primitive, barbaric and uncivilized and that standard was applied to all people who created art that didn’t fit the mainstream – whether that art was quilts from Appalachia, pottery, ironwork – anything outside the recognized forms of Academic Eurocentric painting and sculpture. As art historians have been discovering, African-American (and other people of color) had their own vibrant living artistic traditions but while the art was beautiful, it was made for utilitarian purposes and, until recently, not classified as "art." However, this makes the issue more complex for folk art, naive art and outsider art can’t be solely classified by aesthetic terms and taken out of historical context.

Both Leon Kennedy and John Abduljaami are African-American, part of the community but not folk artists. They are not formally trained, work outside the academic tradition and take little or no interest in producing art for galleries and museums. What they make has no utilitarian value. But their works are powerful and intensely personal and can't be pigeonholed into outmoded categories. Both men have potent visions of the world, as it should be, rather than as it is. Listen to their voices. Go look at their art. However you define it, it's something quite special.

A440 Gallery, 49 Geary, San Francisco, Ca

Eugene Metcalf. Black Art, Folk Art, and Social Control. Winterthur Portfolio, 1983
Sharon F. Patton, African American Art, Oxford, 1989

Leon Kennedy at A440 Gallery

"Using markers, crayons, and paint, renown Oakland folk artist Leon Kennedy creates vibrant visions of God's glory on wood, canvas, old bed sheets and other found objects. An ecstatic spiritualist and self-taught outsider, his message is about the power of faith, our limitless minds, and love. "

Two of his famous portraits, of Harriet Tubman and Dr. Martin Luther King, were featured in the year long exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore: Race, Class, Gender ≠ Character from October 1, 2005- September 3, 2006. "Throughout history, visionaries have dreamed of a world where their characters are not judged, their creative potential is not limited, or their livelihoods are not proscribed by factors of race, gender, or economic circumstance."

John Abduljaami at A440 Gallery

In a West Oakland lot at 2205 Magnolia, just off West Grand, sculpture artist John Abduljaami lets the wood be his guide. He's there almost every day working from 9am to 5pm. Sometimes he sees a bird. Other times it's a dog, a cowboy on horseback, a rat or a walrus. "Then I start drawing with the chainsaw," Abduljaami told Spark in an interview.

Abduljaami's fascination with wood began when he was a child. Living in a makeshift home that he describes as a shanty, Abduljaami's family depended on a wood-burning stove and heater for cooking and warmth. His father regularly toted wood home at the end of the day. By the time Abduljaami was 11, he was sneaking the family's best butcher knife to carve his figures, much to his mother's consternation. Later, Abduljaami had a job cutting wood, which was where he learned how to use a chainsaw. He came to this point in his life through some difficult ways but what he creates now is full of life and life-affirming.

at A440 Gallery, 49 Geary

Monday, May 25, 2009

MFA and Morandi

When I wander through these shows, I always wonder where the students will be in 10, 15 years. What sort of market is there for huge installations like the one put up by Suzanne Kehr or John Melvin? I’m not a fan of installation or conceptual art but I respected their efforts while finding them big big, shiny and ..well, big and shiny. That always speak to me of “doing the MFA” thing to impress your peers and your teachers. But everybody has to follow his or her own muse and the SFAI is famous for letting students do just that.

The paintings were more interesting – I particularly liked Randall Miller’s Tooker-like figures of middle-aged men in a clumsy embrace and Minervini’s neon-pink and candy colored palate paired with strong geometric forms.

JD Beltran did a more thoughtful (and appreciative) job of covering the show:

Julian Myers at the SFMOMA blog has a nice essay on the origins and meaning of MFA shows - putting it in a wider context and linking it to the early days of the salon in 19th century Paris. He compares MFA shows to a secular Bar Mitzvah for artists, which is a very astute observation.

After that visual noise, it was a pleasure to ‘escape” to the Italian Cultural Center where they are currently hosting a small show of Morandi drawings from the Estorick Collection.

Although still little known outside a small circle of admirers, Giorgio Morandi is one of the most admired Italian painters of the 20th century. He lived in Bologna all his life and mainly worked in a tiny room containing a bed, writing desk, drawing table and bookcase. He rejected the size, bluster, novelty and often fatuous taste of contemporary art, preferring to focus on contemplative paintings of humble objects such as vases, bottles, jugs and boxes. Painting with a subtle and muted palate, Morandi infused these ordinary articles with an inner light, the simplicity that the Japanese equate with Wabi-Sabi.

“It takes me weeks to make up my mind which group of bottles will go well with a particular colored tablecloth. Then it takes me weeks of thinking about the bottles themselves, and yet often I still go wrong with the spaces. Perhaps I work too fast?”

Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco
425 Washington Street, Suite 200
San Francisco, California 94111 - USA
Tel. (415) 788 7142 | Fax.(415) 788-6389
Thursday, May 07, 2009 - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All proceeds from the sale of the Morandi catalogues and other IIC events in the month of May will be donated to the victims of the earthquake in Abruzzo.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tribute to the SFAI at Togonon Gallery

I was utterly delighted to see Julius Hatofsky's work up at Togonon Gallery. He was one of my teachers at the San Francisco Art Institute and the one that I remember the most fondly. The show at Togonon gallery is celebrating a decade or more of the SFAI and featuring many other wonderful artists in their 2nd floor gallery.
Of course, I love Hatofsky's rich and expressive abstracts but other artists include Deborah Remington, Peter Foraks and Leo Valledor among others. The show is timed to coincide with the San Francisco Decorator Showcase exhibition entitled the "History of the San Francisco Art Institute." It will only be up through May 25, 2009 while the current show at Togonon Gallery closes at the end of the month. This show will be followed by a photography show, featuring David Johnson and Jack Fulton, both with ties to the SFAI.

Togonon Gallery - through May 30th.
77 Geary Street, 2nd Floor

Thursday, May 21, 2009

RIP: David Ireland

He died of pneumonia Sunday after suffering for several years from dementia. He was 78.

"You can’t make art by making art" has been a guiding principle in the work of David Ireland, one of California's most important and critically acclaimed artists working in the challenging arena of conceptual and installation art. "Ideally my work has a visual presence that makes it seem like part of a usual, everyday situation," he says. "I like the feeling that nothing's been designed, that you can't tell where the art stops and starts."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Enrique Chagoya at Electric Works

Born in Mexico City and raised in California, Enrique Chagoya can claim, with accuracy to be a product of both cultures. He attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico. There he worked on several rural development projects, which formed his interest in political and social activism. Later he immigrated to the United States and attended the San Francisco Art Institute, earned his MA and MFA at UC Berkeley and is now a professor at Stanford.

His most successful work is his postmodernist take on the Mesoamerican codex. His narrative drawings, in a horizontal, scroll-like, format are sometimes done on paper that recreates Native American bark paper. He combines images from Ancient Mesoamerica, Central American folk art, surrealism and American pop culture including cartoons and comic books to celebrate Mexican folk ways while criticizing contemporary American culture. George Bush and minions are fair game; Western imperialism is eviscerated. In this, his work reminds me of another artist, Matsuma Teroka, who combined traditional Japanese woodblock prints with diverse images from contemporary American culture to create work that also makes a critical commentary on certain aspects of 20th century life. In Teroka's work, McDonald's meets Hirosage and you will never look at either the same again. Chagoya's graphic drawings are cruder than Teroka's but just as effective.
Chagoya portrays the collusion between European and Native peoples in a complex, multi-layered, non-linear format. He criticizes the culture of contemporary America in the most caustic and derogatory way but is most successful when he lets go and lets the images speak for themselves, rather than forcing them into rigidly political statements. He is ambivalent about American culture while using its diversity in provocative and humorous ways. Given the rich tradition of Mexican political posters that his work evokes, it's a shame that he doesn't turn an equally critical eye on the corrupt governments of South and Central America and their harsh and brutal treatment of their own people.

The pieces at Electric Works are somewhat different in focus and scale. For this show, they commissioned eight fully functional slot machines, the latest release in their large-scale multiple series.

The theme of this work is 2012, the end-year of the ancient Mayan 5125 year calendar,
a time of great portent. Replete with his unique imagery, subjects in the machine's graphics include materialism's discontent, environmental catastrophe and, possibly, the end of the world as we know it.

Electric Works: 130 8th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Open: Monday-Friday 11 AM – 6 PM, Saturday 11 AM – 5 PM
Opening night photos up at SF Mike’s blog:
Profile on Spark:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Asian Art Museum Blog goes LIVE

The clever and hardworking Tom Christensen of Right Reading has done it again. The blog is full of fun pieces and teasers for upcoming shows like the upcoming show: Lords of the Samurai which opens June 12th.For more than six hundred years, Japan’s government depended on a warrior class known as the samurai. As a result of the prowess and loyalty of these fighting men, the highest political authority belonged to the shogun, their ultimate leader. The shogun wielded immense power despite expressing deference to the emperor, who was recognized as the head of the country. Samurai means “one who serves,” and these men served powerful feudal lords known as daimyo, who governed regional domains throughout Japan. It was by balancing these lords of the samurai against each other that the shogun retained power.In a warrior culture, even the dogs wear armor -no cuddling these iron covered little bodies!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sisters Uptown and Sisters Midtown!

Femina Potens and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts are different venues, showing different kinds of art, sometimes experimental, sometimes challenging, sometimes just plain fun. Art is subjective. It can be challenging. Sometimes it is about process; sometimes it is about the end result. Sometimes it’s about poking fun at institutions. Sometimes it’s about saying out loud what is not considered “right to say” in “polite company.” The women who run Femina Potens and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence take risks, create fun, raise consciousness and continue San Francisco’s tradition of the “city that knows how.” In the Castro, Femina Potens is hosting: A Touch of Pleasure

Step through the doors at Femina Potens Art Gallery to experience a wonderland of art works and installations including objects d'art from the early days of "Bound for Pleasure" to more curent films and paintings of women's sexuality. Femina Potens is a progressive art space, dedicated to showcasing queer, women, trans, and kink artists - both in the work that they show, as well as the events that they host and produce. This small DIY art gallery -- run mostly from volunteers and a whole lot of TLC -- succeeds where many art spaces in SF fall short.

May 2 to 31, gallery hours Thursday to Sunday noon - 6:00 pm.
2199 Market St, SF.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are moving uptown.

YBCA is proud to the feature Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in the Room for Big Ideas as we explore the Big Idea, Ritual and Redemption.

The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc. have been employing satire and high drama to shed light on serious issues since 1979. From a humble beginning in the Castro, America's first order of 21st century nuns formed to improve the socio-cultural, spiritual, educational, and artistic experiences of the communities in which members live, work, and have creative interactions. Each individual Sister is artist and subject, priestess and counselor, nurturer and provocateur in the human quest for a joyful life.

We are blessed to be able to share our vast archives with the public as part of Ritual and Redemption. From the Rosary In A Time Of Nuclear Peril to the exorcism of Pope John Paul II to the taking of our vows and painting of our white face, Sisters have been creating rituals, blessings, art, literature, and general debauchery designed to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt for the past 30 years.
Saturday, May 16

And for the really off-beat, bizarre, mind-bending stuff, out of this world art (or something that wants to be the in the vicinity of..) check out the MFA show at CCAC. JD Beltran at SF Gate (one of my new favorite art bloggers) has a good review and photos here:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

First Thursday and Spring Open Studio

I won't be able to get to see any of these shows until next week because I am doing Open Studios this weekend. If you are in the area, drop on by and say hi.

689 Bryant St (Bryant at 5th) in San Francisco
Reception Friday 6-9 PM
Open Saturday and Sunday from 1 -6

First Thursday list from Marisa Nakasone at SF Examiner:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ellsworth Kelly

Hot off the press - Elsworth Kelly will be interviewed at SF Moma tomorrow. If you get a question in to their blog by Wednesday (today), there's a chance he will answer it!

Where are the women x ??

SF’s very own art critic has done it again – opened mouth, inserted foot. In a recent column he listed a number of Bay Area Artists that he feels were not appreciated in life. Look at the list – do you see any women there? Furthermore, except for Carleton Watkins and Selden Gile, you could justifiably argue that all of these artists were (and are) appreciated in their lifetimes, have gallery representation, fetch high prices at auction and are in the history books.

Carleton Watkins (1829-1916)
Selden Gile (1877-1947
Sargent Johnson (1888-1967
Ansel Adams (1902-1982)
David Park (1911-1960)
Wayne Thiebaud (b. 1920)
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993)
Robert Arneson (1930-1992).
David Ireland (b. 1930).
Bruce Conner (1933-2008)

Imogene Cunningham

But if you limit yourself to this list, you’d never know that the Bay Area also produced a lot of women artists who have yet to receive their due. Even Jerry Saltz (in 2007!) knew enough to point out how underrepresented women were at MOMA. Yet here we are in 2009 and our resident art critic can't even rake up a few women's names for his list. Oh well, maybe it was a slow day at the Chronicle. Nevertheless...
Bernice Bing

N'Ima Leveton

One articulate response to this slanted view of art history came via JE Beltran’s column at SF Gate from SFAI’s curator and art historian Terri Cohn:

How does one define "underappreciated"? Ansel Adams hardly seems to qualify in this respect, as he is a household name in much of the world, and his talent was well recognized during his life. Ironically, most of the Bay Area artists who have been "underappreciated" in the Bay Area--including those Mr. Baker did not mention--have gotten some or a great deal of recognition elsewhere in the US, as well as in Europe and Asia. I guess

Joan Brown, Viola Frey, Jan DeFeo, Bernice Bing, Ruth Asawa, Imogen Cunningham, Jo Hanson, Imogene Cunningham, Ruth Bernhard (all deceased except Ruth Asawa, who is in her eighties), and so many others, don't qualify as either underappreciated or successful enough to make Baker's list.

It is just unconscionable in 2009 to publish such an article, that reinforces--with pictures!!--the status quo. Another missed opportunity. We're still waiting for those acknowledgments to be made--by the Chronicle's main art critic, no less--of artists of all sexes, duly noted for their accomplishments.

Or how about Ann Adair, Maxine Albro, Ruth Armer, Sue Bitney, Dianne Blell, Marianne Boers, Helen Bregner, Mary Fuller MCChesney, Alyceann McCaffrey, Edna Stoddart... Ever heard of any of them? In Guys and Dolls, the character played by Brando sings "Luck be a lady tonight" when he goes to roll the dice. I guess if you are a woman, the roll of the dice will seldom bring you the lucky seven.

I'd like to add my late teacher and friend N'Ima Leveton to the list. She lived and worked in SF for many years before moving to Mendocino. She was a student of Hans Hoffman, a life-long artist who communicated her passion for art to a generation of students. Yet, she is only remembered by those of us who knew and loved her. Does this make her less of an artist because she's not in the history books - and probably will never be? How many women fall into the same category? And how long is it going to take before the situation changes?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Opening tonight at SF Center for the Book

Curated by Thacher Hurd, this is the second in a series of children's book exhibitions. This show explores the creative process in the work of six critically acclaimed illustrators: Elisa Kleven, Remy Charlip, Maira Kalman, David Macaulay, Chris Raschka and Brian Selznick.
I think that writing and illustrating children’s books has to be one of the hardest things to do. You need to draw, as it were, from within a child’s mind and to be in touch with things as children see them. But you also have to be a good enough enough of an artist to capture the child's interest and stimulate his imagination. But when the books are done right – as these artists demonstrate – the result is enchanting and insightful.

Of course, if you go tomorrow (May 2nd), you can see both the exhibit and catch their garage sale. There will be letterpress paraphernalia, metal type, press furniture, bookcloth, metal type, and any other sale items we find before then. Everything priced to sell!

David Macaulay has written some of my favorite illustrated history books. I never get too old to appreciate his “behind the scenes” books on how things work. As an artist, I particularly appreciate this comment from his speech when accepting the Caldecott Award in 1991:

“I honestly think all of us would be better off if everyone took the time to draw, if for no other reason than the better we see, the more inevitable curiosity becomes.”

Chris Raschka has said, "I always try to treat the book itself as the artwork. I don't want you to stop while you're reading one of my books and say, 'Oh! What a gorgeous illustration!' I want you to stop at the end of the book and say, 'This is a good book. "

I’m sorry to say that I don’t always follow his advice. I found myself stopping to look at the beautiful and clever illustrations and thinking that this art work – overlooked in the mainstream art scene – is often a lot better than what I see on gallery walls.

The artists describe their creative process
links to various artists web sites:

Opening reception: May 1st
Showing through- Fri Aug 07
San Francisco Center for the Book: 300 De Haro St.