Friday, June 11, 2010

Summertime Tasks

Arthur Bowen, Pacific Parnassus (1905). FAMSF

Tomorrow, I am off to Southern California to start the next stage of the Moving Mom project. It's fraught with all the usual difficulties of family issues compounded by a lack of internet access. So, I will probably not be checking in, unless I can escape to a Wi-Fi outlet sometime in the next couple of weeks. Nevertheless, I will be thinking of all of you and hoping that you will be enjoying all the wonderful art, both public and private, that San Francisco has to offer. 

In the meantime, enjoy SF MOMA's compliation of Matisse resources:

I will expect a full report when I get back. There will be a pop quiz on Friday (date and subject to be decided). 

Ars Longa! Vita Brevis

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reviews of Bravo's Art "Reality" Show

To misquote Joseph Welch, a lawyer in the Army-McCarthy proceedings, on a more famous occasion, one can only say, "Sir, have you no shame?" Lee Rosenbaum of the blog Culture Grrl nails it and even Jerry Saltz, one of the "judges" will hide the DVD from his wife, art critic Roberta Smith. (thanks to Matty Boy for the correction on the quote).

 Bravo TV
Jerry Saltz: "...But maybe being sick to one’s stomach comes from whatever it is that drives someone like me to even appear on a reality-TV show at all. I know that after the first time I watched the show, the line that kept going through my mind was Erik’s, when he looked at the camera and said, “I’m never going to get laid again.” In truth, my wife has been too busy to see the show. Note to self: hide the DVD."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summertime links

Culture Grrl Takes on the New TV "Art" Reality Show
You go grrl! This sounds even worse than I feared. From her website:

Here are few excerpts from the trailer:
One artist/aspirant to another: Was there a vibrator in your piece? 
De Pury (straight faced): The vibrator changes everything. 
Rohatyn (angrily): You give performance art a bad name. [Does it usually have a good name?] 
Saltz (cuttingly): I actually don't think you are an artist. [How many great artists have heard that from the critics?]

Don't take my word about this. You can watch the trailer yourself, and see if watching judges make artists weep is something you really want to spend discretionary time with. You'll first have to endure the commercial message that precedes the trailer for the show.
More at the link:

Women at MOMA - Is this too little, too late? Or better late and incomplete than never? 

Speaking of women artists - Eva Lake has a marvelous exhibit up, collages featuring a whole cast of strong, intelligent or famous (maybe not so famous) women:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Impressionist Paris: CIty of Light at the Legion

From Mucha to Manet, Degas to Daumier, early photography and advertising posters, lithographs and woodcuts, the current exhibit at the Legion is an utter delight from start to finish. Over 180 works, dating from 1850 to 1900, are on display: prints, drawings, photographs, paintings and illuminated books.

“This exhibition gives us a special opportunity to show off some of the Fine Arts Museums’ greatest treasures from its holdings of 19th-century French works on paper, including an outstanding group of new acquisitions that will be shown here for the first time,” says exhibition curator James A. Ganz. “It is conceived as a journey from the dark alleys of ‘Old Paris,’ at the dawn of the Impressionist era, to a world of color and light, culminating in a gallery of vibrant French posters from the turn of the 20th century.” Each section of the exhibit is organized by theme - from the opening tragedy of the Franco-Prussian war to the culminating triumph of the Paris Expo of 1889, which introduced the Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in the world at that time. 

Alphonse Mucha, JOB, 1898. Color Lithograph

The curator, James Ganz, has opened up the pyramid skylight for the first time in ages and staged the entrance like one of Paris' many gardens of the Belle Époque.  But, as you turn to  enter on the right, you come face to face with a huge blow up of a photograph of one of the many medieval parts of 19th century Paris. The only thing missing is the smell (thank heavens). You are immediately transported back to a time of war (Franco-Prussian, 1871), the Commune (also 1871), political upheaval and social inequality, unparalleled creativity and artistic innovation. Paris could rightfully claim to be the cultural capital of Europe and anybody who wanted to be anything flocked to the city, a city which (according to Baudelaire), changed more quickly than the human heart.

Charles Marville, Rue des Sept Voles. 1865. Albumen silver print. Collection of the Troob Family Foundation.

The first gallery that you enter contains photographs and lithographs of a period that is probably the most unknown to us. Paris was bombed during the Franco-Prussian war and the conclusion of that war not only led to the downfall of the Third Empire but the bloody and brief revolt known as the Commune. Paris was torn apart again and the revolt brutally crushed.  To this day nobody  knows the full extent of the death toll. Photography was a young art, but the small format photos speak eloquently of a city in runs, a city called by one observer, "a city of the dead." Reading the commentary on the many pieces by Daumier on display is a quick course in 19th century French social and political history. They show a fiercely critical attack on the "have's" of the period with an equally powerful sympathy for the "have-nots" combined with insults that put our current political slanders to shame.

Georges Seurat, Study for The Circus Parade. 1886-1887. Conté Crayon.

By 1871, much of the medieval city had already been destroyed by the building projects under Napoleon III.  Now, with the wide boulevards designed by Baron Haussmann, the gas lights that gave Paris the title of "City Of Lights," there was a cornucopia of pleasures for every taste and every budget. There was the opera, the cafes, brothels, circuses and the ladies who strolled the boulevards and the grande horizontals for those with the money. It was the world of Zola's Nana and Manet's Olympia - sex for sale - and the artists in the exhibit have captured every nuance, using every one of the new techniques to their fullest extent. The modern artists of the day rejected the old fashioned ideals that the artist should present moral tales from history and mythology. Contemporary art looked at the life on the street or the life through the keyhole (voyeurism being one of the themes of the exhibit), not allegories of gods and goddesses.

Toulouse-Lautrec. The Seated Clown. 1896. Color Lithograph with crayon and brush.

James Tissot, Ladies of the Chariots, 1885. Etching and Drypoint. 

Georges Seurat, Eiffel Tower. 1898, Oil on panel

 It is fitting that the show should contain several of the most iconic images of Paris. The Eiffel Tower, painted with pointillist precision, by Seurat (1889) is a tiny masterpiece. Only 9 1/2" x 6", it - like the rest of the work in this superb exhibit -- proves that work of art doesn't have to be huge to be immensely powerful.

Impressionist Paris at the Legion of Honor
June 5th through September, 26, 2010

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Coming to your TV set: So You Think You're An Artist?

Cast of the new reality show/Reuters/Bravo TV

Forget summer returns. Art is now being turned into the next reality show. "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist", which debuts on cable channel Bravo on Wednesday, June 9, pits 14 very different artists against each other in weekly challenges and awards the winner a $100,000 prize and a solo exhibition.

The question is, can highly personal, visual art be judged like a gourmet dish or a ready-to-wear collection? And is the rarefied world of art ready for a reality TV make-over? Another question the producers dodge is how the "artists" REALLY were chosen. Can we trust their judgment on art when, when, judging by the above photo, the artists are all young, attractive and quite photogenic. What - there are no good artists over, say, 50? No older men or women? Louise Bourgeois would have never made it through the first round; neither would most of the artists whose works now grace our museums and whom we value - the list is endless.

"The whole point of the show is that there is no right opinion. Everyone has their own subjective view. But it is amazing every week that there is a consensus about the quality of the work, and what's good and what's not," said Dan Cutforth, one of the executive producers. So, does this means that the show has already been taped and the "contest" already decided?

"Good art really moves people and inspires a reaction. You know it when you see it. The old chestnut 'I don't know much about art, but I know what I like' is true," he told Reuters. How about some..oh, I don't know.. .smidgen of art history or background as to why people like what they do. How do you define good art - by only a reaction? Whose reaction? And what kind of reaction?

"Work of Art" comes from the same Magical Elves production company that blended personality and the process of fashion design in "Project Runway", and helped lift the lid on how food goes from good to great in "Top Chef." 

In the first challenge, contestants ranging from 23 to 62 years-old are randomly paired off and asked to produce a visual work that captures the essence of their partner. A three-person panel of judges decides who has responded best to the challenge, and who will go home. In future episodes, the contestants must create unique pieces in mediums such as sculpture, photography, collage and industrial design.

"When we started reaching out to the art community, we were worried that people would be against the idea of a reality show. What we found was that people were pretty receptive," said Cutforth.

Or maybe they were desperate for a way to make a living; let's face it - if a contestant "wins" one of these shows, he or she has a shot at sales, a gallery and a huge step up in the competitive art scene. Artists don't live in an ivory tower, or, at least, those who have to pay the rent and put food on the table don't. I don't blame them for participating in this but it certainly can lead to a further degradation of any method of judging what's good and what's not. Far too often now, we judge solely by price; if a piece of art sells for a lot of money, it must be good. No sales equals bad art. By that standard, Van Gogh was a failure as were many artists whom we now value.

More than 2,000 people from oil painters to conceptual artists and silk-screen experimenters applied to take part, reflecting the hunger for a larger public canvas for an often misunderstood form of expression. But will the show encourage more people to seek out art or simply be satisfied with what may be a visual version of McDonald's?

"One of our goals for this show is for people to realize that art is all around them. It shouldn't frighten people to have opinions," said Jane Lipsitz, Cutforth's Magical Elves business partner.

"People perceive art as being possibly elitist and a rarefied world. So it would be amazing if we were to bring art more into the mainstream," she said. Unfortunately for this laudable goal, the artists presented in the PR photo look, for the most part, young, attractive and today's version of hip. They don't look unique but more of the glossy, standardized model that we get on every other TV channel. Maybe the show will prove me wrong. I was appalled by the idea when I first read about it and I haven't seen anything that makes me feel otherwise. Or at least, not yet.

The TV show has been embraced by some professionals. Mixed-media artist Jon Kessler and photographer Andres Serrano are among the guest judges, while the permanent panel is made up of New York gallery owners Bill Powers and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz. What? No 800-dial-in-your-choice-for-this-evening's-contestant? Any bests as to whether they will have a text messaging option set up by the end of the first week?

Art auctioneer Simon de Pury acts as mentor to the contestants, and the series winner gets a prestigious solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, the second-largest art museum in New York City.

"I think the art world is definitely risky. It would be very easy for people to think this show is not for them. But I think people who actually watch will be sucked in," said Cutforth.

I will watch. After all, it's summer and the TV pickings are slim. But I'm withholding judgment, which one does anyway with a new show. It just seems wrong that something that can be as life-affirming and soul satisfying as art is turned into a spectator sport in this fashion.

One wonders what Louise would say.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Au Revoir, Louise, Mistress of Spiders

Artist Louise Bourgeois, whose sculptures exploring women's deepest feelings on birth, sexuality and death were highly influential, died Monday at the age of 98. She had continued creating artwork — her latest pieces were finished just last week — before suffering a heart attack Saturday night, said the studio director, Wendy Williams.

Working in a wide variety of materials, she tackled themes relating to male and female bodies and emotions of anger, betrayal, even murder. Her work reflected influences of surrealism, primitivism and the early modernist sculptors such as Alberto Giacometti and Constantin Brancusi. She exposed painful truths, in herself, in her family history, about all of us, separating out inner anxieties from the usual social mask that we wear to create work that is often screams ominous warning about the ugliness in the human condition.

"I really want to worry people, to bother people," she told The Washington Post in 1984. "They say they are bothered by the double genitalia in my new work. Well, I have been bothered by it my whole life. I once said to my children, 'It's only physiological, you know, the sex drive.' That was a lie. It's much more than that."

The Nest, 1996. SF MOMA

Public recognition came late in life. Born in France in 1911, she married the American art historian Robert Goldwater in 1938 and moved to New York. She worked first as a painter and then, after 1940, as a sculptor. But it was not until she was 70, in 1982, that New York's Museum of Modern Art presented a solo show of her career.

"This is not a show that is easy to digest," New York Times critic Grace Glueck wrote. "The reward is an intense encounter with an artist who explores her psyche at considerable risk."
In his book "American Visions," Time art critic Robert Hughes called her "the mother of American feminist identity art. ... Bourgeois's influence on young artists has been enormous." He noted the key difference in her use of sexual imagery: She explores "femaleness from within, as distinct from the familiar male conventions of looking at it from the outside, from the eyeline of another gender. ... Surrealist fascination with the female body becomes, so to speak, turned inside out."

"My best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat and useful," Bourgeois wrote. As for men, she arguably never recovered from her father's betrayal. For ten years, his mistress was the Englishwoman employed to teach his children.

"You see, I always hated that woman," she told The Washington Post. "... My work is often about murder." In "The Destruction of the Father" — a 1974 installation that appeared at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008-2009, in a traveling retrospective — Bourgeois re-created a youthful fantasy of her father being dismembered and devoured by his family.

"She smashed a taboo," said Christopher Knight, The Times' art critic. "Bourgeois was the first modern artist to expose the emotional depth and power of domestic subject matter. Before her, male artists had only nibbled around the edges, and women just weren't allowed."

In "Dangerous Passage," from 1997, Bourgeois drew upon memories of her childhood, strewing a cage with symbolic objects: an antique child's swing on one side; broken bones on the other.

Her room-size 1991 sculpture "Twosome" combined a flashing red light, two steel cylinders and a motor that propels the smaller cylinder in an out of the larger one. The materials suggested a machine, but the movement evokes sexuality, or birth.

In 2007, she depicted the effects of aging on her own body in a series of 11 large panels called "Extreme Tension."

In an email exchange in early 2008, The Associated Press asked Bourgeois what advice she would give young artists just starting out.

"Tell your own story, and you will be interesting," she responded. "Don't get the green disease of envy. Don't be fooled by success and money. Don't let anything come between you and your work."

"You have to be very aggressive to be a sculptor...I want it my way," she said. "It is difficult to be a woman and be likable. This desire to be likable is a pain in the neck."

Art historian Robert Storr has praised Bourgeois as "among the most inquisitive and best-informed artists of her generation. No analysis of her work or its internal dynamics that sidesteps this fact, or fails to consider the unique mix of intuition and erudition, psychological compulsion and sheer intelligence that has guided her, can possibly claim to measure the full range of its meanings."

But when asked how she wanted to remembered in art history books, she responded: "I'm not that interested in art history. I was married to an art historian and had enough of it. Art history is one thing and being an artist is another. I know I'm part of history, just a tiny stone in a very big wall."

Her husband died in 1973. She is survived by two sons, Alain and Jean Louis, as well as two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. A third son, Michel, predeceased her, Williams said.

Currently, her work is being shown at Gallery Paule Anglim through June 12th.
(images from Gallery Paule Anglim Web Site)

SFMOMA will be showing Brigitte Cornand’s Louise Bourgeois Trilogy on three consecutive Thursdays in August, something to look forward to. Rest in peace.

2007 dedication ceremony for her Crouching Spider piece at the Embarcadero (with some great photos of both the spider and Ms. Bourgeois)