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