Saturday, July 31, 2010

To Dye For: A World Saturated With Color - opens at the De Young July 31st

Judith Content. 2003. (Marisma "Salt Marsh). The techniques in this one piece include wrap-and fold-resist dying, discharged, pieced, quilted, appliqued silk @ FAMSF
"To Dye For" is not a mystery novel to help pass the dog days of August but the latest in a long line of textile related exhibits at the De Young. Featuring tie-dyed textiles, this is not the amateur tie-die of the hippie era but a insightful cross cultural and historical look at this technique. The show features over 50 textiles and costumes that include a diverse array of resist-dye examples from the FAMSF's comprehensive collection.

Tie-dye is just one example of the resist-dye method, an inclusive term used for the process of dyeing textiles to form patterns by preventing dye from reaching specific areas of the cloth. Methods of resist dyeing include tie-dye, stitch-resist, batik or wax-resist dyeing, stencil-resist, mordant-resist, ikat (warp- or weft-resist dyeing), as well as other techniques.

Read more at:

Friday, July 30, 2010

Anselm Kiefer at SFMOMA (part 2 of 3)

Death Fugue, a poem written in a German concentration camp by Paul Celan:

death is a master from Germany
his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets
his aim is true . . .
he plays with the serpents and daydreams
death is a master
from Germany
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamite

Margarete, the golden-haired ideal of Aryan womanhood, and Shulamite, the cremated Jewess who is also the archetypal Beloved of the Song of Solomon, interweave in Kiefer's work in a haunting and oblique way.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Upcoming - Anselm Kiefer at SF MOMA (more to come)

Anselm Kiefer, Shulamite, 1983. Oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, straw and woodcut fragments on canvas 114 x 145 in. Fisher Collection SF MOMA (image courtesy of SF MOMA)

What started out, under Hitler, as a memorial to the Nazi army dead, becomes in Kiefer's masterpiece, an evocation of a concentration camp oven with a seven-flame fire burning at the altar at the end. The sand, the straw, the dark, heavy materials and the huge size of the piece overwhelm the viewer. The experience of this piece is both emotional and physical - a testimony to Kiefer's moral vision as well as his willingness to tackle the painful past.

Death Fugue by Paul Celan

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at sundown
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink it
we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are flashing he whistles his pack out
he whistles his Jews out in earth has them dig for a grave
he commands us strike up for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink in the morning at noon we drink you at sundown
we drink and we drink you
A man lives in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when dusk falls to Germany your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith we dig a grave in the breezes there one lies unconfined.

He calls out jab deeper into the earth you lot you others sing now and play
he grabs at the iron in his belt he waves it his eyes are blue
jab deeper you lot with your spades you others play on for the dance

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
we drink you and we drink you
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

He calls out more sweetly play death death is a master from Germany
he calls out more darkly now stroke your strings then as smoke you will rise into air
then a grave you will have in the clouds there one lies unconfined

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at noon death is a master from Germany
we drink you at sundown and in the morning we drink and we drink you
death is a master from Germany his eyes are blue
he strikes you with leaden bullets his aim is true
a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
he sets his pack on to us he grants us a grave in the air
he plays with the serpents and daydreams death is a master from Germany
your golden hair Margarete
your ashen hair Shulamith

Trans. Michael Hamburger

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thomas Eakins at LACMA

Thomas Eakins, Wrestlers, 1899. Oil on canvas, 62 x 72 x 2 in. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Cecile C. Bartman and The Cecile and Fred Bartman Foundation. Photo: © 2007 Museum Associates/LACMA.
Although Eakins is now considered one of the great masters of nineteenth-century American art, his work, surprisingly, has not been extensively exhibited on the West Coast. During his lifetime, the artist showed close to home, primarily in Philadelphia and nearby New York City. Not until the end of his life, in 1915, did he display on the West Coast, at the Panama- Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.

After his death, Eakins’s widow, in a concerted effort to sell some of the extensive oeuvre that remained in her possession, organized traveling exhibitions of his paintings. The 1927 West Coast tour of twenty-five paintings was the first and last showing of Eakins's paintings in Los Angeles—until now.

Although I have problems with the way the show is displayed, it's well worth the trip. Eakins's work doesn't need a "steampunk" version of the rigging and ropes which were placed around the show's advertising banners; the visual clutter detracted from exhibit. I had just viewed the Fisher Collection at SFMOMA which is organized and hung so beautifully that it sensitized me to how a show looks when it's hung badly. I wouldn't say that the Eakins show was hung badly; it just wasn't hung well enough for a museum of LACMA's stature.

The introductory banner of John L. Sullivan was nice but it really didn't mirror Eakins's vision which was far darker and internal. I also appreciate that they avoided any of the controversies around his sexuality and let the works speak for themselves.  A wall text -- there is no catalog -- attests that modern sports signaled a new economic possibility for leisure time and a novel means of class mobility. (The wrestlers have sunburned faces and hands, meaning they're probably working-class young men.) Those social effects are still in force today. (Christopher Knight, LA TImes).

 I doubt if I will be traveling to Philadelphia any time soon where Eakins's masterpiece, "The Gross Clinic" has been restored and will be on display until 2011. The last time I was in the East Coast, all of the Eakins's paintings that I saw were in need of serious cleaning. The 19th century varnish had darkened so much that you couldn't see a lot of the painting through the murk and none of his drawings or the photographs that he used were on exhibit.

So this show is a much needed look at at one of American's genuine Old Masters. One of the things that I liked about Eakins is that his work is not controversial for the sake of being controversial; there's no sense of "look at what I did, see  how modern and transgressive and just oh-so-chic" I am. He certainly had the ego and used it, sometimes to his own detriment, but the grand standing that so often passes for talent in modern art is just not on display.

Organized exclusively for LACMA by Ilene Susan Fort, the museum’s Gail and John Liebes Curator of American Art, the exhibition celebrates the museum’s acquisition of Eakins’s last great sporting painting, "Wrestlers "(1899)—one of the single most important American paintings acquired in the history of LACMA.

Featuring around 60 oil paintings, drawings, watercolors, photographs, and sculpture by the great American master, the exhibition serves as a rare opportunity to examine for the first time the entire range of sporting images by this iconic American artist.

“Eakins considered the body amazingly beautiful and a remarkable mechanism of movement,” said Fort. “In his images from the late nineteenth-century of the athletic figure in action, Eakins created a new modern American hero; the sportsman—who can still be admired today by athletes and sports enthusiasts, as well as connoisseurs of great art.”

Manly Pursuits is organized chronologically, from the 1870s to 1899, and thematically by type of physical endeavor.

1870s: Rowing, Sailing, Hunting and Coaching : Although sun and fresh air pervade these river scenes, Eakins recorded the races with the precision and mathematical interest of a scientist. On view with their related paintings will be the large-scale perspective drawings in which he calculated the position of boats, oars, waves and even reflections.

His most colorful and impressionistic scene, "Fairman Rogers’ Four-in-Hand" was the sole example Eakins devoted to the upper middle-class activity of coaching (the art of driving horse-drawn carriages). It also was perhaps his most controversial sporting canvas since in it he attempted to depict the movement of the horses and wheels with photographic accuracy—an impulse many critics found to be at odds with the art of painting.

1880s: Swimming and Photography:  Eakins devoted his sole sporting canvas of the 1880s to this subject. Swimming (1884-85) was also one of the major paintings in which he demonstrated his new interest in photography. On view will be photographs that helped Eakins compose the scene along with his scientific studies of human anatomy and posture and his experimental motion photographs.

1890s: Boxing and Wrestling:
Eakins’s last sporting images feature boxers and wrestlers and showcase the new indoor spectator sports that attracted the attention of middle and working-class enthusiasts. These paintings, some of which rank among the artist’s largest canvases, are ironically among his least known endeavors in the sporting genre.

Review by Christopher Knight (LA TImes) - interesting comparison of Eakins with Courbet:

How LACMA got the painting:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Grub Steet, 21st century style

From Cloe Veltman's Lies Like Truth:

"But what I've come to realize lately is that under these circumstances, arts journalists are starting to look more and more like artists in terms of the piecemeal way that they are scratching out their existences in order to practice their craft. Like the actor who waits tables for a living or the folk singer who temps in a law office to make ends meet, these days, journos are having to hold down all manner of part- and full-time jobs that have nothing to do with the media in order to continue doing what until a few years ago would have been regarded as a profession. Now, arts journalism is for many a vocational sideline."

I suppose the bad new/good news on this is that it allows people like me - a working artist, passionate about the arts, educated, opinionated yet still able to look at alternate points of view - a chance to be an "arts journalists." In the good old days that she laments, we would never had had a chance to get more than a letter to the editor published. Forget about getting a real job; we didn't have the degrees from the name schools, the contacts and for the most part, weren't the right gender. Now, thanks to the Internet and on-line sites like the which I write for, we get to break the "old boys" (and some girls) monopoly on art journalism and let in some alternate opinions.

What passes for "art journalism" in our local print media, is mostly focused on a narrow slice of minimalist or conceptual art. The alternate press tends to cover their version of the "new" old boys club and write about art that they consider trendy. But there's a huge encyclopedic world of art that would never be written about if it weren't for us "volunteers.".  Bay Area Art Quake covers a wide range of the local arts scene. Bloggers like Christine Cariati and Liz Hager of Venetian Red write about topics as diverse as Byzantine art and medieval painting, to name a few. The list of those who volunteer their time and energy to cover the arts is endless (see side bar for a few links). Thank heavens for them.

When journalism started out in the 17th century, it was called "Grub Street" for a reason. Even seasoned writers like Daniel Defoe barely survived. Journalists had a reputation for hack writing and many still deserve that reputation (Faux News anybody?).

It seems like things have gone full circle. The NY Times and the LA Times still have sections for arts coverage but most papers give more space to the latest movie or Brangelina than they do to a gallery or museum opening. Maybe we have been spoiled by living in the golden age of newspapers but it sure ain't your father's newspaper any more.

Artists in every field always subsidized their art; it's always been a rare artist who made a decent living. The lengthy discussion over at the Arts Journal points out one thing - neither artists or those who write about them have much financial clout. As the song says, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing."

In this case, the swing is swag and there are no or little advertising revenue for the arts, much less arts journalism. Given that, well, while I lament the situation, although not as much as Ms. Veltman since I would never be one of the journalists that gets a salary, I'm glad that there are enough of us around keep on writing about what we love so much.

From Lies Like Truth:
Since the media industry is what optimists call "going through a period of transition" and pessimists call "in the shitter," arts journalists have increasingly found themselves losing their jobs, and, whether on staff or freelance, working harder for less money. Nothing about this is new and it seems unlikely as far as I can tell, that things will change much for the next five to ten years.
But in general, arts journalists are slipping through the funding cracks: Arts funders typically don't fund arts journalism; they want to support artists exclusively. And media-oriented foundations and fellowship programs seem to be far more interested in supporting areas like investigative, education, science and political journalism as well as media entities that serve underprivileged communities than getting behind arts journalists.

It is the nature of the world that some professions are no longer useful to society and therefore become extinct. For example, pianists used to make a good living as employees of cinemas, playing for silent films, but this job barely exists today. It's going to take a lot of educating to make people see that quality journalism - and quality arts journalism in particular - still have value in today's world. But there's no guarantee that this will happen. If the funding mechanisms necessary for supporting the profession don't develop soonish, it won't be long before arts coverage is solely practiced by moonlighting waiters and nighttime corporate security guards. But unlike their colleagues in the novel writing, standup comedy and singer-songwriter worlds, it's unlikely, at least in the present situation, that these hobbyist arts junkies will have even the small light of grants, fellowships, residencies and other forms of patronage to sustain them through the dark hours.      

Also check out the comments section where they point out the lack of funding for anything other than a small section of new artists:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

SFMOMA Artists Gallery, Wondrous Strange: A 21st Century Cabinet of Curiosities

Leslie Frierman Grunditz, SeanO
 Organized by curators Maria Medua and Renée de Cossio of the SFMOMA Artists Gallery, Wondrous Strange takes the Renaissance idea of a "cabinet of Curiosities" and updates it to a surrealist version for the 21st century.  By combining ideas from steam punk, oil punk, DIY, and the Burning Man communities, the show attempts to present a complex combination of themes as diverse as evolutionary biology, history and anti-history, progress and decadence.

Muenning, Older than a dream
Wondrous Strange, the exhibition’s title, is derived from Midsummer Night’s Dream, and uses the wondrous and the strange as propellants for the imagination. Featuring works by more than a dozen Bay Area artists, the exhibition includes photography, sculpture, and painting.

The space at Ft. Mason has been transformed in to a Wunderkammern, or wonder room. Similar to the original cabinets of curiosities, the display method dissolves the distinctions between culture and science, and craft and fine art inducing awe, especially in children. The sixteenth century’s cabinets of curiosities, precursors to today’s museums, were encyclopedic collections of specimens from the natural world, as well as man-made artifacts. These cabinets served as educational resources for artists and natural philosophers of the early modern period in Western Europe.

Come in costume for the opening reception on Thursday, July 22 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Dress as time travelers, looking to the late 18th thru the early 20th century as sources for inspiration—prizes will be awarded for best costumes.

Step into the Long Now Museum to see prototypes for the monument sized 10,000 Year Clock that the organization is building as an icon to long-term thinking. Clock engineers will be on hand to explain the intricacies of the mechanisms and to discuss the fluid nature of time itself. Other time-based aspects of the project including the micro-etched Rosetta Disk and Bristlecone Pines living at the Clock site will be on display.

Just back from the LA Art Walk, the Golden Mean a.k.a. the Snail Art Car will also make an appearance. Created by Oakland blacksmith Jon Sarriugarte and his wife Kyrsten Mate, this transformed 1966 VW Bug shaped like a snail, transports 6 comfortably and has the added advantage of shooting flame from its feelers.

Also from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the punk band The Grannies will perform outside the gallery. The Grannies claim to have met in a police station in the Mission while being held for petty crimes involving Wild Turkey, electricity, naugahyde, Top Ramen, and Drano, among other things.

There will also be burlesque performances by the Burley Sisters. Fierce and sexy…the Burley Sisters delve into the psyches of different characters, and explore their relationships to each other and to their histories, interacting with and seeking to provoke the audience.

Inside the gallery, locally based opera singer and San Francisco Conservatory bound tenor Jonah Hopton will delight you with arias and art songs by Fauré, Massenet, Scarlatti, and Bellini.

On Saturday, August 28 from 2 to 4 p.m., the Artists Gallery will hold a closing event in honor of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s birthday. A key figure in German literature of the late 18th and early 19th century, Goethe is best known as the author of Faust. Goethe is of particular interest because of his work often describes the practical and the poetic in conflict.

Activities will include color theory exploration for children and a curator’s talk by Kathy Aoki. Aoki will also lead a curator’s talk on the Tomb Room, A Special Exhibit on Loan from the Museum of Historical Makeovers and provide an introduction to the Gwen Stefani Memorial Temple and archeological dig.

SFMOMA Artists Gallery, Building A, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco
Gallery hours: 11:30 a.m. –5:30 p.m.; Tues. through Sat.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

MOMA: Matisse: Radical Invention

While I am happy to be living in San Francisco and can't complain about the wonderful art on view here, there's no doubt that New York has it all and then some. Right now, MOMA is hosting a show that is tempting me to break my rule never to travel in the summer.

Bathers by the River (@ MOMA)

The Museum of Modern Art’s extraordinary “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” is not your garden-variety Matisse exhibition. It contains few signs of the artist who said a painting should be the equivalent of a soothing armchair. By the end of this show you may wonder if that Matisse ever really existed, despite his much-quoted, overinterpreted words to that effect.  

On view from July 18 through October 11, 2010, at The Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition examines paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints made by the artist between his return to Paris from Morocco in 1913 to his departure for Nice in 1917. Over these five years, he developed his most demanding, experimental, and enigmatic works: paintings that are abstracted, often purged of descriptive detail, geometrically composed, and dominated by blacks and grays. Comprising nearly 110 of the artist’s works, "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917" is the first exhibition devoted to this period, thoroughly exploring Matisse’s working processes and the revolutionary experimentation of what he called his “methods of modern construction.”

Roberta Smith at the NY Times:
"Radical Invention” offers a view of a driven, even tormented Matisse, who second-guessed himself, rethought and reworked his images and often left them looking bracingly fresh and conditional, even unfinished. We see an artist increasingly interested in making clear not just his painting process, but also a kind of emotional concentration that, while hardly Expressionist, did not exactly exemplify the Olympian detachment habitually attributed to him.

Christopher Knight at the LA TImes:
 If the world is coming apart at the seams and society's provisional fabric is being shredded, how does an artist respond? With anger? Analysis? Denial? Disinterest?

That's a question that thrums through a breathtaking exhibition.  And in the case of its subject, the great French painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954), the answer is not so simple.

But if you can't travel, there is always the web (plus no hassling with crowds)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Free Family Day at the Asian

I decided to take my own advice and take advantage of the free day at the museum. I got together with a group of friends who are my "alternate" family here in San Francisco. We didn't get started as early as I would have liked and the line outside the museum made my heart sink. There appeared to be a Spanish-speaking preacher bellowing at painfully high decibels at the other end of the Civic Center Plaza.  However, the guards and museum staff were polite and well organized and the line moved quickly. The atrium was crowded but I noticed that they didn't have much of a line in the cafeteria so we opted to eat lunch first. We didn't follow the adage of "eat desert first" because the food at the Asian is so delicious. Besides, we were going to eat desert later at a pastry shop on Church St. so we really were not denying ourselves.

The Asian has a wonderful cafeteria and I've never been disappointed with anything I've eaten there. I love the way that the space is organized with an eye to the aesthetics of a room as well as its functionality. It was still a bit too windy to eat outside on the patio so we found a table and chowed down. I had the Shanghai dumplings and the eggplant salad - both of which were delicious. I meant to take photos of my friends' dishes but they finished them before I remembered to pull out my camera! I'm still learning to use my new camera and haven't quite gotten used to the idea that I can actually take photos here.

Then upstairs on the escalator, past the dreary view of the Tenderloin and up to the galleries on the 3rd floor. I had to stop and pay my respects to Ganesha and drop a few coins in the slot; it's always a good idea to remember the God of Good Luck. I said a prayer for my family and my sister especially who is dealing with my elderly mother. I said a prayer for Julie. who used to write the blog "TangoBaby" and now writes the blog, "Julie Lives Here." She's trying to make it as a free- lance photographer and I know that it's tough. Then, I said a prayer for all sentient beings, for peace, for wisdom and for stamina to make it through the museum before my energy gave out!

 The exhibit commemorating the first Japanese/American contact is still up and it's fascinating. I loved the "Friendship" dolls. There were a couple of young girls who obviously wanted a couple of those dolls for themselves. If I were a bit younger, I'd covet one of them myself. There will be a lecture on "San Francisco, Japan's First Gateway to America" on Thursday, July 22 (7-8 PM) and I think it will be fascinating. Ken Ikemoto, a member of the museum staff wrote an excellent essay for the Asian's blog:

 I always like to pay my respects to the memory of the old library. I spent many a delightful hour in that old building and I'm glad that parts of it are still integrated with the new facility, i.e. the above photo of the ceiling which fits in beautifully with the Southeast Asian galleries.

 The Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, 1000–1100. Cambodia; former kingdom of Angkor. Metamorphosed volcanic rock. The Avery Brundage Collection, B66S2 and B66S3. (image courtesy of the Asian; my photography skills could not possibly do justice to this.)

At this point, the upper floors of the museum were getting full but the people, most with children in tow, were very well behaved; in fact, I'm always impressed by how well most of the kids at the Asian museum DO behave. I saw little of the out-of-control behavior, running around the priceless exhibits or inattentive parents that I've seen in other museums. Nobody was rude enough to bring a huge baby stroller (which I saw at SFMOMA) and blithely push it around with careless disregard for objects on plinths or stand alone sculpture.

However, I did carefully nudge one young little lady away from the back of one of the free standing statues. She was beginning to climb up on one of the stands. I was terrified that she would pull the whole thing on top of her. Mom was on a cell phone (not allowed but people do it anyway) and wasn't paying attention. The guard saw me carefully urging the toddler away from the piece and came over and spoke to the mother. Mother was not best pleased but the guard was polite but insistent and the cell phone was put away.

Bowl from Eastern Iran/Mishapur: geometric horse. Three-footed dish with horse and cheetah. 800-1000 (photo mine which is not hard to guess because the quality is mediocre)

I have always been impressed by the guards at the Asian.  Unlike the guards at some other museums, they do not present a grim and hostile face to the public. They will stop inappropriate behavior before it becomes a problem and will answer questions respectfully. In fact, all the staff at the Asian - from the front desk to the volunteers are a joy to watch. One lady was telling the story of the Monkey King and had engaged a group of kids, from toddlers to seven and eight year old's. Her joy was so contagious and her enthusiasm so infectious that the whole motley crew, including the parents, were enthralled and cooperative.

Try taking notes at SFMOMA with a pen, however tiny. The guards immediately take it away from you and force you to use a soft tiny pencil which smears so badly that you can't read what you've written. Yet, they seem to ignore kids running around unattended, climbing on pedestals or even being too close to the art works. I never dared to ask any one of them a question; their hostile manner is completely off putting.

I am always enraptured by the elegant grace of this statue; in fact,  I would say that this gallery is full of my favorite pieces but then, I'd be lying because there is SO much beauty in the museum that I could not possibly chose piece or era one over another.

Buddha Amitayus. China. Quin Dynasty (1736-1795). He is the Buddha of infinite life, grants longevity, and facilitates attainment of perfect wisdom.

The Shanghai Lounge on the Second floor was full with everybody happily taking part in all the activities. The interns were helpful and everybody, both parents and kids, appeared to be having a great time. One wall displayed some great woodcuts, made by Artspeak interns which emphasized the role that wood cuts have played in promoting social change. The art work was donated to the Asian Museum and to Shanghai #2 Girls School. Later, the wood cuts will be shown at a free speech art space on Valencia Street.

 I always enjoy looking for new additions to the collection and I am particularly impressed by modern Korean painting. The best of them combine an ancient sensitivity with a knowledge of modern art to create works that are dynamic, fresh and appealing.

Below: Egg Woman II. SoHyun Bae (Korean). 2003. Mixed media on canvas. gift of the artist. Image courtesy Asian Museum.

SoHyun Bae splashed and dripped pigments on overlapping layers of Korean rice paper to create this image of a Korean woman wearing her country’s traditional dress (hanbok) and carrying a basket of eggs on her head. Bae, who studied religious philosophies while a graduate student in theology at Harvard University, says that the series was inspired in part by themes from Jewish mysticism, and that it also derives from her personal experience as a child in Korea. Bae remembers the frail and tiny “egg woman” coming to her home with an enormous basket of eggs balanced on her head. To her, the egg woman seemed to symbolize the plight of women on their walks through life. Egg Woman II is part of Bae’s Wrapped Shards series. Her works often draw on the theme of women and Korean handicrafts. Here, she portrays the multiple images of the woman’s head and body as if they are broken into shards, but the careful arrangement of the Korean rice paper poetically wraps the shards. The idea of wrapping refers to the patchwork (bojagi) craft tradition, an integral part of daily life of Korean women throughout the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910).

I thoroughly enjoyed my "family" day at the museum and wanted to stay for the afternoon lectures but my energy and that of my friends were beginning to lag. We left the museum to the sound of Korean drumming upstairs and exited into a noisy Civic Center Plaza where the preacher was still berating his followers. I stopped to take a few photos of the Three-Headed, Six-Armed Buddha who is showing a few signs of wear and tear. One arm is missing and I hope it's being repaired (*see SF Mike's note in the comments section about this). I wasn't that impressed with him when it was first installed but he's grown on me. (I still think he looks like a figure out of a Harry Harryhausen movie, ready to launch mayhem at City Hall. Or maybe that's just wistful thinking on my part). We caught the F Line, got off at Church St. and ate our pastries while reminiscing about the day - a perfect Sunday in San Francisco.

Mike, who writes the blog, Civic Center, visited the museum and wrote up a lovely post about the basket collection and another on the exhibit around the uneasy relationship in the 19th century between Japan and the United States.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Friday Wrap-Up - Free weekend for SF Museums

David Hockney at the SFMOMA - part of the Fisher Collection currently on display.

If you are a Francophile or love Impressionist painting, there are two glorious shows in town - one at the De Young and the other at the Legion. But if you want something different, then there's plenty in town to satisfy all tastes.

Target is sponsoring free admission to six San Francisco museums with family-friendly art making events and performances. From the Fisher Collection at SFMOMA, crafts built around the exhibit featuring Maira Kalaman at the Contemporary Jewish Museum to tours of Art of the African Diaspora to Zeum, it's a great weekend to get out and about. Even if you don't have a family, get a group of friends together and sample this cornucopia of artistic riches.

Friday, 5-8:45 PM at the De Young:

Saturday: 10 AM-5 PM at the Asian Art Museum: Asian Art Museum

Sunday: 11 AM - 4 PM at the Contemporary Jewish Museum: Contemporary Jewish Museum

Museum of the African Diaspora:,


Enrique Chagoya at Galería de la Raza: On display are 38 etchings, codices, serigraphic prints and drawings created over the past decade. The exhibition includes works inspired by the format of political satire and editorial cartoons that reference current events, works that poke fun at the politics of the artworld, and multi-panel visual narratives presented in the tradition of the accordian-folded books of the Aztec codices.
Galeria de la Raza: 2857 24th Street, San Francisco, United States, 94110

Museum of Performance and Design:  "Toy Theaters, Worlds in Miniature"
Twenty-one rare toy theaters from around the world. Christine Ciarti, one of the co-founders of the blog Venetian Red, wrote an earlier and very comprehensive post on this topic:
She has also reviewed the current show (with a gorgeous image that only hints of the show's riches):
Review by: Anna Conti up at BAAQ:
Veterans Building / 401 Van Ness Avenue / 4th floor/open Wed - Sat, 12 - 5pm
ps: I went to see the show today and it deserves every word of praise.

 SFMOMA Artists Gallery (Windows at street level at 147 Minna and 150 Natoma) features the work of Oakland-based artist, Jesse Hazelip.  Using animals synonymous with the American frontier, such as the buffalo, the bison, and the Great Blue Heron, Hazelip intricately drafts, renders, and recreates these creatures into hybrids at monumental scale, incorporating mechanisms of war like World War II bomber airplanes and artillery.

Sandow Bird at The San Jose Museum of Art

The San Jose Museum of Art will present a special screening of Dante’s Inferno (2007, 88 minutes) on Saturday, July 17, at 12 p.m., at Camera 12 Cinema, 201 South 2nd Street, San Jose. The program, part of the San Jose Museum of Art’s “Creative Minds” series, will include a Q&A session with artist Sandow Birk, writer and producer of the film. The feature length movie was made with hand-drawn paper puppets in the tradition of “Toy Theatre,” a European style of puppetry from the 1700s. Tickets are $10 ($6 for Museum members), which includes admission to the Museum on July 17. Tickets are available at

"Before Sita Sang the Blues" at the Cartoon Museum
The first comprehensive exhibition of award-winning cartoonist and animator Nina Paley, creator of the critically acclaimed animated feature Sita Sings The Blues. This retrospective will feature a selection of Paley’s syndicated comic strips, illustrations, and a series of prints, paintings and behind-the-scenes materials from Sita.

Paley will attend a screening of "Sita Sings the Blues" at 7 p.m. July 20 to benefit the Cartoon Art Museum and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The show will be at the Delancey Street Theater (600 The Embarcadero, S.F.).
through - Oct. 24. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun. $3-$7 (5 and younger free). Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission St., S.F. (415) 227-8666.

Bernice Bing. Mayacamas.

Luggage Store: Rehistoricizing Abstract Expressionism in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1950s-1960s” which includes a gorgeous piece by Asian-American artist Bernice Bing. (through July). Read more at the San Francisco Examiner:
Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market St., San Francisco
12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; closes July 31
Contact: (415) 255-5971,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I am fascinated by history, by cartography, by the myths that we made of times and places, myths that seem sometimes more real that reality. So, I'm really looking forward to this book. Inspired by Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities is a mapping project that takes place in three media: a book to be published by the University of California Press in November 2010, a series of six broadside maps to be issued by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art during the last six months of 2010, and a series of six public events at locations around the city in conjunction with those broadsides.

What makes a place? Infinite City, Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant reinvention of the traditional atlas, searches out the answer by examining the many layers of meaning in one place, the San Francisco Bay Area.

The maps document everything from murders to treasures to queer history, labor history, urban renewal, and butterfly species in San Francisco; toxins and food history, African American and shipyard history, environmental preservation, right-wing and military sites in the Bay Area; and neighborhood and local histories within San Francisco, including the coexistence of day laborer migrants and super-localized gang kids in the Mission, Fillmore Street's dense histories, and more.

She explores the area thematically—connecting, for example, Eadweard Muybridge’s foundation of motion-picture technology with Alfred Hitchcock’s filming of Vertigo. Across an urban grid of just seven by seven miles, she finds seemingly unlimited landmarks and treasures—butterfly habitats, queer sites, murders, World War II shipyards, blues clubs, Zen Buddhist centers. She roams the political terrain, both progressive and conservative, and details the cultural geographies of the Mission District, the culture wars of the Fillmore, the South of Market world being devoured by redevelopment, and much, much more.

The maps are lush visual works. Several of the twenty-one maps were done in collaboration with artists, and the book includes essays by Solnit and various writers on subjects related to the maps. Breathtakingly original, this atlas of the imagination invites us to search out the layers of San Francisco that carry meaning for us—or to discover our own infinite city, be it Cleveland, Toulouse, or Shanghai.

at the Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA at 7pm:

Broadsides will be available at The Green Arcade, 1680 Market @ Gough St. SF


Saturday, July 10, 2010

SFMOMA Presents the Fisher Collection: Calder to Warhol

SF MOMA presents the Fisher Collection, or, all's well that ends well. I was out of town last month so I missed the press preview. However, one of the first things I did on my return was to get over to SFMOMA and see what all the shouting has been about. The museum is celebrating its 75th year and this collection gives them another reason to break out the champagne.

Anselm Kiefer. Melancholia. 

The current exhibit, an introduction to the treasures of the Fisher collection, presents 160 works by 55 artists. This sweeping exhibition, entitled Calder to Warhol: Introducing The Fisher Collection, offers an extraordinary preview of the depth, breadth, and quality of the Fisher holdings, with works by Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Sam Francis, Philip Guston, Anselm Kiefer, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Wayne Thiebaud, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Lichtenstein, Reflections

Anybody who has followed the saga of the Fisher's and their art knows about the long and acrimonious battle over his wish to have a museum at the Presidio. Conservationists and wiser heads prevailed to stop it. It wasn't just a case of NIMBY but serious issues over questions of traffic, a huge footprint and, frankly, some distrust of what would happen "after" all the shouting died down. SF's supervisors were anxious to keep the collection in the city and passed a resolution in 2007 to that effect.

 Chuck Close, Agnes Martin.

Still, the ultimate fate of the collection was unknown until the Fishers finally announced that the collection would to to the museum, by means of a 100-year renewable loan. Maybe it was an intimation of mortality that made Don Fisher agree to this for he passed away a few days later, in September 2009. In any case, the collection puts the museum on the map as a major destination for lovers of modern art.

 Andy Warhol, Nine Multi Colored Marilyns.

With few notable exceptions, the pieces are huge, bold and brassy, with a focus on the blue chip artists of the last decade or so. It's beautifully organized and hung, thanks to the curator, Gary Garrels.

Alexander Calder, Double Gong.

The entire fourth and fifth floors of the museum, including the Rooftop Garden, present a distillation of the Fisher Collection. The Fifth Floor gallery is full of light and airy Calder mobiles. One of the pieces, a charming freestanding sculpture evokes the aquarium of the title with a few witty twists and scrolls of wire. Calder could have given lessons to any minimalist sculptor on elegant simplicity. Major works by Serra, Richter and Kiefer, Lewit and Bourgeois are also on display. After all that, you will need a big cup of Blue Bottle coffee to tackle the rest of the show.

Ellsworth Kelly, Red/Green. 1968

The Ellsworth Kelly pieces are textbook examples of his statement that paintings should be the wall, art as a geometric idea and not an emotion. In contrast, Kiefer's enigmatic and emotional  pieces display an evocative Teutonic angst combined with an awesome list of painting materials.

Anselm Kiefer. Sulamith

The exhibit is organized in sections, alternating concentrations of works from a single artist with groups of works by others with a shared perspective. Throughout the exhibit, the pieces are beautifully paired against one another - a thickly textured Sam Francis (Middle Blue, 1959) matched with the more open brushwork of a 1989 Joan Mitchell; Diebenkorn's Ocean Park #67 on a wall where it can visually lead to the gallery full of Agnes Martin's pieces. One of those paintings, (Wheat) with its subtle rectangles of cream, parchment and a glaze of creamy yellow is possibly one of the quietest and most beautiful pieces in the show.

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #67

The fourth floor is too full of good pieces to list but one in particular - a great Cleas Oldenburg "Apple Core, " exhibited on the fourth floor foyer, adds a much needed taste of wit to the more ponderous pieces in the collection.

 Oldenburg - Apple (courtesy of Mike of Civic Center Blog Fame - check out his blog for an up-close and honest look at how Fisher got his billions:

SFMOMA has announced plans for a vast addition to the museum and they are currently looking for an architect. When the new wing opens in 2016, it will include a 60,000-square-foot Fisher Wing and allow a far more extensive display of the collection.

"At this momentous time in SFMOMA's history, we are not only celebrating 75 years of accomplishments and innovation, we're also looking forward to a new era of growth and community service that will be greatly enhanced by the museum's presentation of these outstanding works of art from the Fisher Collection," said SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra. "Our collaboration with the Fisher family will give visitors access to some of the finest modern and contemporary masterpieces, placing SFMOMA among the greatest museums for contemporary art and elevating the cultural profile of the city as a whole. As the first unveiling of Doris and Don's incredible gift to the city of San Francisco, this exhibition will introduce the public to an incomparable group of iconic works that will inspire and educate generations of visitors in the years to come."

Frank Stella, The Chase, Third Day, 1989

I think that Grace McCann Morely. the museum's first director would be well pleased. 

SFMOMA: From Calder to Warhol. On display through September 19.(all images except Oldenberg's "Apple," courtesy of SFMOMA)

Friday, July 9, 2010

The World Cup, 2010

The Guardian on line is featuring a whole series of the weird and wacky images from the World Cup so far. The photos are funny but the captions are hilarious. I can't possibly recreated them here (plus copy right issues) but go, enjoy and laugh.

BTW, I think that Paul the Psychic Octopus is predicting another Spanish win? At least, that's what Carlos, the guy at my local taco place says. In any case, I'll be there with the rest of the local crew, drinking beer, eating chips and enjoying the action.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The World Cup

Well, it can't be all art, all the time! I am working on a post on the Fisher show which I saw on Monday but in the meantime, I am drawn to less intellectual pursuits. I am a recent convert to soccer so I don't really have a clue as to who will win on Sunday.

Diego Forlan (he's more than a pretty face) - from the losing team but still a class act.

But how could I resist? Resistance is futile! In every place I went to, the Latino staff had the TV on and were glued to the set, along with every body else in the room. And, as Matty Boy pointed out, the fans are friendly - I got tips, I got gossip, I got more food offered to me than I could possibly eat. As an older woman in America where being old and chubby is the new evil, to be treated with such friendly courtesy was charming and disarming.

Now, I've never been a fan of American football. The lumbering hulks never appealed to me plus I loathe the politics of football, both collegiate and professional. The politics of world soccer may not be any different but I don't know, and in this case, ignorance is bliss. But the aesthetics of soccer are something I do find appealing - the lithe bodies, the gorgeous physiques not hidden by layers of padding and (let's face it), the handsome men. Some of them are actually intelligent, speaking several languages and involved in significant charity work. Matty Boy's neat posts got me interested in soccer but it's the game that finally pulled me in.

The Dutch are totally capable of coming from behind, they have extraordinarily opportunistic and capable players in Sneijder, and I think they have the capacity to beat Spain (and I suspect that the bulk of the fans in the stadium will be wearing orange on Sunday as well.)

Matty Boy:

Diego Forlan:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Happy Birthday, Frida

Nicholas Muray, Frida Kahlo with Idol #1, Mexico, ca 1940

For better or worse, Kahlo’s painful life and unique paintings have produced a romantic, feminist mythology of suffering and defiance in the face of physical and psychic pain. “Balzac has invented everything,” Colette wrote and he might have even invented Kahlo if she had not done so herself. Born to a Hungarian-Jewish father and a Spanish-Indian mother, Kahlo was a rebel even before the traumatic accident, which, at 18, left her with grim life-long medical problems. During her long recovery – which, in some ways, lasted the rest of her life – she used her art to express her pain.

She had met Rivera before her accident and was attracted to him, but it was during her convalescence, when she painted her first self-portrait, that they became friends and later, lovers. Like Jane Eyre, she could say “Dear Reader, I married him” and their tumultuous marriage lasted until her death (with one intermission for divorce and remarriage). Her marriage to the elephantine and womanizing Rivera was both a blessing and a curse. She is reputed to have said, "There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst." They were mutually unfaithful, tormented each other and yet, inspired and supported each other.

 The Broken Column, 1944

According to her biography, it was after her miscarriage in 1932 that she began to paint the works which would make her famous. Combining the folk imagery of Mexican retablos, the grotesque details of suffering present in 17th century Spanish polychrome religious art and surrealism, she portrayed feminine suffering in ways that had only previously been seen in the more extreme examples of religious art. Think Grünewald, think Northern Renaissance paintings of Christ on the cross, think of the cruelty and delight in pain of Meso-American art, translated into 20th century visual poetry.

As Hayden Herrera points out in her Biography of Frida Kahlo (1983), art was a solace. It was a way to say, “I am still here.” She turned her physical being into an icon of both masculinity and femininity. The unibrow, direct gaze and traces of mustache (less in real photos than the paintings) played up what she saw as the male aspect of her personal. But her vibrant clothing, flowing skirts, elaborate hair styles and jewelry were based on the traditional clothing style of the women of the Tehuana region of Mexico, who were the real figures of authority in their society. Nevertheless, although she claimed the authority of women in control, she also slavishly adored her over sized and unfaithful husband. (Sanford, The nerve of Frida Kahlo, NY Review of Books; Herrera, Chapter 8).

The Two Fridas, 1939, Oil on canvas, Collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City

Her painting repeatedly refers to the pain of her attachment to Rivera. Among the most famous of those is “The Two Fridas,” from 1939, about the time the couple briefly divorced. On the left, Frida is dressed as a bride, her heart open and a cut artery dripping blood onto the dress. On the right, the everyday Frida is strong, her heart is healthy and she holds a cameo of Rivera as a child, a symbol that her union with him is far deeper than that of a marriage. In numerous paintings, she cradles him, paints him as a quasi-religious icon or indicates, in paint, that he was the center of her life.

Much of her work was inspired by surrealism, a tag that she rejected when Andre Breton tried to recruit her into his circle. Yet, her work is replete with imagery from the subconscious and full of psychic pain as well as feminine strength (something which was lacking in in the male surrealist's view of women as either demon or muse). In "The Broken Column" (1944), she portrays her naked torso, with a metal rod in place of her spine and thick straps and nails holding her body together. In "The Little Deer" (1946), her face is attached to the body of a deer, which is bleeding from nine arrow wounds. And in "Without Hope" (1945), ailing in bed, she appears to be vomiting animals, fish and a skull.

Yet, it was not all paint, blood and suffering. She enjoyed life passionately – even during her many illnesses, she had enough joie de vie to say, “It is not worthwhile to leave this world without having had a little fun in life.”

"I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality," she claimed. And on another occasion, she noted. "I always paint whatever passes through my head, without any other consideration."

That was not strictly true. Her art reflects all sorts of influences, some European like Cubism and, yes, Surrealism - the predominant art style of the day. Other influences are are Mexican, not only that of her husband, but also of Aztec and Roman Catholic iconography. Given her many illnesses and surgeries, it is not surprising that she was obsessed with death. She was very Mexican, but her mixed heritage contributed to her originality.

She produced only about 200 paintings – primarily still life's and portraits of herself, family and friends. She also kept illuminated journals and did many drawings. It was during her and Riviera’s 1933 visit to America that she developed her signature style. While convalescing in Henry Ford Hospital after a traumatic miscarriage, she began to graphically convey her desolation and pain through her art.

During the last decade of her life, Kahlo’s health continued to deteriorate. She drank and took drugs to alleviate the pain and the works from this time are darker, with rougher surfaces. Yet, her caustic humor and playful wit could still charm. Just before her death, she incorporated the words Viva La Vida (Long Live life) into a lush, richly painted still life of watermelons.

Viva la vida. 1954. Oil on masonite. 59 x 50.7 cm. Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City, Mexico.

She died in her sleep in 1954 at the age of 47, apparently from an embolism. There was a suspicion among those close to her that she had found a way to commit suicide but others reject the idea. Her last diary entry read: 'I hope the end is joyful - and I hope never to come back - Frida.'" Tucked away in the retrospective is an anonymous newspaper photograph of her state funeral. Rivera is there, his sadness evident. He only outlived her by three years.

Frida Kahlo: July 6, 1907 - July 13, 1954

Tribute to Frida:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

This land is your land, this land is OUR land

For me, it's not about the psuedo-hype of faux patriotism, the waving of guns and threats left, right and center. It's about respecting what we have inherited and remembering that this land is OUR land - not BP's, not the mega-corporations, not the clear cutters and the bottom fishers, not the tea baggers version of "their" American.

Woody Guthrie, writing in another difficult time, said it best and Pete and Bruce (with a little help from his friends), sing it with sincere conviction.

But could anybody nail it better than Molly? "Here's to everybody who gets together with everybody else to fix whatever-it-is, and has fun doing it — citizen activists are the soul of this country."

Happy birthday, America! Two-hundred twenty-seven years old (in 2003 when this piece was written) and still ready to boogie until we puke. What a great country. Another glorious year in the land of the free and the home of the brave, with only the usual idiocy attendant.

As you may recall, we are fond of celebrating in this space not the majesty, not the glory, but the sheer improbable bliss of life in a free country. Every Fourth, we reserve this space to praise not the mighty, but to recognize the general, ordinary goodness — and slight absurdity — of all of us regular citizens. Our motto is the poet Marianne Moore's observation, "It is an honor to witness so much confusion."

The full piece at:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Maira Kalman at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Woman with Face Net. Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.

I had to admit that I drew a blank when the press release from the CJM landed in my in-box - Maira Kalman? Who was she? Well, it turns out that I knew her work through my love of children's books but I was unaware of the scope of her talent - from the whimsical and ironically astute covers and drawings for The New Yorker, to her blog at the NY Times, "And the Pursuit of Happiness,"  to her books for children. Kalman¹s art appears everywhere in the foreground of today¹s visual culture, illuminating contemporary life with joy and humor, intelligence and insights, curlicues and question marks. Viewing this show was a great way to deal with the horrific stress of moving my mother to a retirement facility and getting her house ready for sale. What made this show even more delightful was the chance to meet the artist. I was part of the second-sting group of journalists, those of us who write for the "alternate" publications. There were several very young journalists, some apparently still in high school and then there was me, many many years out of high school. We were a nervous and awkward lot (well, me anyway) but she could not have been nicer or more generous with her time and I found myself wishing for a one-on-one conversation.

Among her books for children are such classics as ""What Pete Ate, A-Z" and "Swami on Rye," full of her visual puns and delightful illustrations. Her books for adults showcase the same mind-bending wit, inventive typography and colorful, faux-naif illustrations. The exhibit presents many of her books, including the Illustrated "Elements of Style."

Who but Kalman could come up with such funny and yet profound texts and illustrations to what is sometimes a daunting style book. "Wondering irresolutely what to do next, the clock struck twelve, " and "be obscure clearly" are just two of her delightful visual puns.  She also invented (if that's the right word), an opera for the "Elements of Style", to be performed on "eggbeaters, Rolodex, clattering tea cups. saucers, bells, slinkys and jars of buttons." 

Dog Reads Book, 1999. gouache on paper 17 1/4 x 13 1/2 inches  Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.
Born in Tel Aviv but living in New York since the age of four, Kalman comes across as the best type of New Yorker - witty, astute, and bubbling over with ideas. She speaks of her work as a form of journalism. She knew early that she wanted to be a writer and started keeping journals at the age of 18, but the form of what type of writing evolved more slowly. Now, hers is a daily discipline of creativity based on photography, travel, research, walking, talking, and open observation. She loves distraction and has several projects going at once, reaching constantly into her own "Cabinet of Curiosities" for inspiration. Abundant depictions of fashion, food, art, and architecture represent life’s great pleasures. At the same time, rubber bands, pieces of moss, bobby pins, and snacks stake claims for smaller forms of satisfaction.

 New York, Grand Central Station, 1999, gouache and ink on paper .15 3/8 x 22 1/4 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Julie Saul Gallery, New York.

The exhibition features a selection of original works on paper that span 30 years of illustration for publication. Also on view are less widely seen works in photography, embroidery, textiles, and performance. As a context for this survey, Kalman has created a special installation, furnishing the gallery with chairs, ladders, and “many tables of many things,” drawn from her collections and indicative of how she sees the world both inside and outside the studio.

Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz. New Yorkistan, 2001. gouache and pencil on paper
20 x 14 3/4 inches. Collection of Erica and Eric Schwartz

“People of all ages are immediately drawn into the whimsy, fun and intelligence of Kalman’s work,” says Connie Wolf, Executive Director of the CJM. “Kalman is a delightfully original commentator on contemporary American society, and she inspires us to open up the way in which we see the world. The exhibition and the unique programs we are planning are an invitation to come experience Kalman’s mad passion for the everyday and to make you look at art, culture and life from a new perspective.” If I had one critique to make of the show, it would be of the endless repeats of a small video showing her learning to play the accordion - the song is delightful but maybe it should not be on endless repeat?

Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World): Works on paper, books and ephemera. Through Oct. 26. Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F. (415) 655-7800.