Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pretty, pretty pictures

Some images from the up-and-coming shows. One of the choice treasures of the fall season is already up at the Berkeley Art Museum -three galleries, 112 masterpieces from Japan

 Lotus in Rain. Ink on Silk. Clark Family Collection - now on display at the Berkeley Art Musuem

 Pietro Antonio Rotari (1707–1762), Young Woman with Bonnet and White Shawl, Holding a Book, Known as "The Virtuous Girl," 18th century, oil on canvas. Marei von Saher, the heir of Jacques Goudstikker. CJM. Opening in October.

And, naturally, a few images from the season's blockbuster- Post-Impressionism at the De Young:

Gauguin. Nature Mort a la eventail.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fall's already here?

After last week's brutal heat wave, it's hard to believe that fall is here. Can it be? But a look at the calendar confirmed it. The kids are back in school and September is around the corner. From the art listings that fill up my in-box, we are in for a great fall season.

Currently Showing:

Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas,” August 4, 2010 through January 2, 2011. This exhibition explores 500 years of visual cultures and histories of the water deity widely known as Mami Wata (“Mother Water”) through the diverse array of traditional and contemporary arts surrounding her — sculpture, paintings, masks, altars, and more from west and central Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States. www.museum.stanford.edu.

"Flowers of the Four Seasons: Ten Centuries of Japanese Art From the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture." One of the fall's best shows is already up. Featuring 112 works, the exhibit ranges in date from the late Heian period (794–1185) to the twenty-first century. It includes all major areas of artistic endeavor in Japan—screens, scrolls, wood sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and works in bamboo The collection, divided sections for the exhibition, comprises serious, scholarly and orthodox art on the one hand, and humorous, playful and bizarre works on the other.  Through Dec. 12. Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

See earlier posts for reviews and images: http://cheznamastenancy.blogspot.com/

Opening later in September:

Do you know the way to San Jose? If not, you should because the 2010 01SJ Biennial is one of the Bay Area's interestingly quirky art events. This year's theme, "Build your own world," looks to be another visionary, creative collaboration between artists, architects, computer programmers and other makers and doers. Sept 16-19. www.01sjorg

"HARVEST." What have you gathered? Responses from the community of Tenderloin based artists about their lives. 134A Golden Gate. Sep 1-Nov 30. nom-tlchd.org

The season's blockbuster:

"Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces From the Musée d'Orsay." The second of two grand loan exhibitions from Paris. While the first show (which closes September 6) concentrated on the precursors of the Impressionists, this exhibit showcases on 100 impressionist paintings by the masters of the movement - Monet, Renoir, Bonnard, Seurat, Toulouse-Lautrec and the rest of the usual (and some less usual) suspects. Sept. 25-Jan. 10. De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. (415) 750-3600, www.famsf.org.

The Legion continues the 19th century Impressionist focus with show titled "Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism,"  which is a look at the Japanese print over two centuries and its enormous influence on the development of 19th and 20th century art. Oct 16 -Jan 9, 2011. www.famsf.org.


"One Night Stand: A Mills MFA Group Show." The up-and-coming art talents from the 2011 MIlls College MFA class are offering their work for under $50. Last year's discovery was Monica Lundy, the Jay DeFeo Award Winner. Who knows what talent will come of of this year's showing? Buy now and support your local artist. Oct 8, 6-9 pm. Branch Gallery. www.branchgallery.com

"Masami Teraoka" at Catherine Clark. Teraoka's earlier work, framed in traditional style Japanese screen painting,  juxtaposed AIDS, McDonald's, the Western invasion of Japanese culture and other relevant themes of the 80s' and 90's. His new work - a triptych in the style of Renaissance altar painting that revisions the Last Supper as a Papal stag party - criticizes the Catholic Church's continuing sex scandals and pedophilia. "The Inversion of the Sacred." Catherine Clark. Oct 2 - Nov. 13. cclarkgallery.com

"Radical Light: Alternative Film and Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945-2000." The Timeline: A show of ephemera accompanying the forthcoming book and screening series devoted to experimental film and video. Through April 3. Berkeley Art Museum, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. (510) 642-0808, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu.

"Beyond Golden Clouds: Five Centuries of Japanese Screens." An in-depth survey of the screen as a unique format for painting in premodern Japan. Named after clouds as a predominant motif (also present in many of the screens in the Clark exhibit), this special exhibit presents 41 seldom seen, large scale folding screens, dating back to the late 16th century as well as pieces by more contemporary artists. Oct. 15. Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. (415) 581-3500, www.asianart.org.

"Reclaimed: Paintings From the Collection of Jacques Goudstikker."  In 2006, after working with a team of art historians and legal experts, Goudstikker's heirs were finally able to reclaim 200 paintings from the Dutch government. The paintings, mostly Northern Renaissance masterpieces, were originally stolen by Herman Goering and it took decades for the heirs to get them back.   Forty-five of the paintings, plus documents and photographs will be on display, starting Oct. 29-March 29. Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco. (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org.

"Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera Since 1870." An investigation of the camera as a tool of spying, secret pleasures and public witness that has shaped contemporary life and sensibility. Ever think that somebody is spying on you? Maybe you are not being paranoid - as the cult hit X-Files proclaimed, trust no one.  Oct. 30. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org.
"Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century." A major career retrospective of the innovative and influential French photographer whose photographs have passed into our vocabulary as cultural icons. Oct. 30. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org.

"Yoshua Okón, 2007-2010." The Bay Area's first look at a Mexico City video-maker's outrageous satires of contemporary life. Oct. 30-Feb. 6. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St., San Francisco. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org.


In vino veritas? "How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now,"  which examines the marketing, architecture and industry of the product of the grape. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., San Francisco. (415) 357-4000 Opening Nov 20-April, 2011. www.sfmoma.org.

"Chiaroscuro Woodcuts From 16th Century Italy: Promised Gifts From the Kirk Edward Long Collection." A rare chance to study a unique innovation in graphic arts, nearly forgotten in the modern world. Nov. 3-Feb. 27. Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University, Palo Alto. (650) 723-4177, www.museum.stanford.edu.

"The More Things Change."  The first survey of 21st century art collected by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The 75th Anniversary show was all about how the museum got to where it is now. Now that we know the way they were, the museum will show us they are going. The Fisher Collection was a great first chapter. I can't wait to see the next chapter. Nov. 20-Oct. 16. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., San Francisco. (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Faye Robinson

I am interrupting my usual art reporting to write a note of love and appreciation at the passing of a very special lady. When I returned to church several years ago (never mind the eclectic nature of my beliefs), Faye was always warm and welcoming. Whenever I needed to talk to somebody full of down-to-earth wisdom, I knew that I could turn to her. It was her advice that helped me get through my last difficult years at UC for malicious and treacherous bosses were no secret to her. She was our "birthday lady”, making sure there was a birthday cake for coffee hour on the last Sunday of each month to celebrate with members. Who can forget her lead in to sing Happy Birthday, “Everybody ready? OK. Give it a one, a two, a three!” and sing it happy!"

She has been ill for some time so I haven't been able to see her and I knew that she was reaching the end of her life. She came out of a time when African-Americans were treated very badly and had every reason to be angry and bitter. Yet she never lost her dignity, her compassion and her all-encompassing love. In many ways, she was the mother of our congregation and the mother that many of us wished we had. She died peacefully at home with her family around her. We were asked to have a prayer ritual for her in the church courtyard that day and, as it happens, when we were remembering our beloved sister, she passed from us. I - and many others - will miss her dreadfully.The earth is the poorer for her passing.

Where ever you are, you are at rest and no longer in pain. Be with the God that you so deeply believed in. Go in peace.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Flowers of the Four Seasons: Ten Centuries of Art from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture

Saitō Ippo: Flowers of the Four Seasons, late 18th–early 19th century, Japan (detail); ink and colors on gold leaf; six-fold screen; 36 3/4 x 95 1/4 in.; Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture.

There's a lot of hype in the art world. Heck, I've done it myself, carried away by the energy of the moment. I've looked back later and known that I was uncritically enthusiastic about a piece, an artist, a show, that upon reflection didn't hold up.  "Treasure" is another word that's so often misused but this really is a treasure of a show. In fact, it's so good that I would put it in a short list of the "must-see" shows of the fall, next to the up-coming exhibit of post-impressionist artists opening soon at the De Young.

Room after room is full of exquisite, joyous, beautiful, fascinating art, starting with an early statue of Daitoku myō-ō, one of the Five Great Kings of esoteric Buddhism (the earliest piece in the show), free standing screens, hanging scrolls, ink painting, ceramics by a living treasure of Japan to bamboo pieces that have evolved into stunning three-dimensional sculptures.

The collection is the work of one man. Willard C. Clark's passion for Japanese art and culture has resulted in a collection that ranges from the late Heian period (794–1185) to the twenty-first century, including all major areas of artistic endeavor—screens, scrolls, wood sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and works of bamboo. Indeed, each piece in the collection, having been personally selected by Mr. Clark, reflects his own refined and exquisite taste.

 Yamamoto Baiitsu: Plum; Bamboo and Pine (Three Friends of Winter), late Edo period (detail), ink with flecks of gold paint on paper, one of two six-panel screens; 60 9/10 x 142 7/10 in. (detail); Clark Family Collection.

Clark studied architecture at UC Berkeley and animal husbandry at UC Davis in the early 1950s. He started his art collection with modestly priced purchases of art on his several visits to Japan from Hawai’i where he was stationed as a young officer in the United States Navy. After his release from the military in 1963, he took charge of the family business, quintupled its size, and embarked on an even more successful venture exporting bull semen overseas. As Clark’s businesses grew, so did the size and scope of his immense art collection.

In 1995 he founded the Clark Center, a museum for Japanese art, to better protect these precious works and to make them available for public viewing. From 2002 to 2003 highlights from the collection traveled to five cities in Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka, where they were admired by thousands of visitors. Given the Center’s relative remoteness (Hanford is 45 minutes from downtown Fresno), too few in the United States have had a chance to view this important collection. The BAM/PFA exhibition will change this by presenting to the public the most significant pieces from each of the key areas of the collection.
 Occupying three main galleries, this exhibition is one of the largest displays of Japanese art in the museum’s history. The artworks are arranged by themes that elucidate the beauty and special characteristics of Japanese art and culture, as well as the unique nature of this collection.

 Artist unknown: Daiitoku myōō, second half of 13th century; colors on wood; 53 9/10 x 25 1/5 x 36 in.; Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture. Daitoku myō-ō, one of the Five Great Kings of esoteric Buddhism, is dramatically rendered in wood. With a three-faced fierce countenance and multiple arms, he sits astride a kneeling bull, radiating the commanding power associated with the deity,

Much of the Flowers of the Four Seasons exhibition comprises work from the Edo, or pre-modern, period (1603–1868). The hanging scrolls and folding screens on display portray a variety of subjects; playful images of urban life, the elegant diversions of nobility, portraits of Buddha, natural and idealized landscapes, flora, birdlife, and other animals. The overall effect of this variety of imagery is a remarkable view of the artistic creativity in Edo Japan. 

Wood and polychromy Buddhist sculptures, dating from the Heian period to the Kamakura period (1185–1333), are the oldest pieces in the exhibition.

 Fukami Sueharu: Firmament, 2005; porcelain with pale bluish glaze; 18 1/8 x 22 3/8 in.; Clark Family Collection

Another portion of the exhibition focuses on late-twentieth century bamboo sculpture. Japanese farmers and artisans plaited bamboo for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that bamboo began to be thought of as a sculptural medium in its own right. Flowers of the Four Seasons highlights signature works of some of the most significant modern bamboo sculptors including Ueno Masao, Mimura Chikuhō, Nagakura Ken’ichi, and Uematsu Chikuyū. Contemporary artist Fukami Sueharu’s collection of light blue ceramic sculptures, with sleek edges and softly contoured planes that evoke sword blades or ocean waves, round out the exhibition and demonstrate that Clark’s interests encompass both the past and the future of Japanese art. 

Mimura Chikuhō: Hope, 2004; bamboo; 11 x 15 1/5 x 13 in.; Clark Family Collection.

Public Programs:
On October 31st, Willard G. Clark, founder of the Clark Center, will converse with Amy Poster, Curator Emerita of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, about his lifelong collecting of Japanese art. Afterward, he and Ms. Poster will offer an informal walk through of the exhibit.

 Through January 2011
Berkeley Art Museum
2625 Durant Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94720
All pieces copyright the Clark Family Collection
Images courtesy of the Berkeley Art Museum
Many thanks to Peter Cavagnaro for his invaluable help

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Robert Hughes and the Mona Lisa Curse

In The Mona Lisa Curse, Hughes traces the pernicious rise of the commercial art market back to 1963, when Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous portrait was exhibited in New York. The Mona Lisa, says Hughes, was treated “as thought it were a film star. People came not to look at it, but to say that they’d seen it.”


At Sotheby’s on Tuesday an anonymous bidder bought a bull in a tank of formaldehyde for £10.3million. The world’s most expensive cut of beef was cooked up, inevitably, by the artist Damien Hirst, whose “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” sale of 223 new works fetched £111.5million, a record for an auction dedicated to one artist. The illustrious Australian art critic Robert Hughes, however, isn’t buying the hype.

This is partly because Hughes – who presented The Mona Lisa Curse, a one-off polemic broadcast on British TV – considers Hirst’s work flashy and fatuous. Indeed he has described one of the British artist’s sharks in formaldehyde as “the world’s most overrated marine organism”.

But Hughes’s central beef with Hirst’s headline-grabbing success is that it illustrates how today’s mercenary art market has made the price of a work of art more significant than its meaning. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/3560841/The-Mona-Lisa-Curse.html

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Alexandra Blum: Silhouettes and Conversations at the De Young Artist Studio

When I visited the De Young on Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Blum. A lot of people are intimidated by art, artists and the whole process of making art. Her method - to trace a person's silhouette while talking to them about their experience at the De Young - is designed to alleviate all those anxieties. Not only is she personable and charming, she's also an accomplished artist. I didn't have that much time to talk to her because other people kept coming in and interrupting us (the nerve!). The artist-in-residence room at the De Young is a large, well-lit space and she's made the most of it with a display of her work along one wall. There are three large Plexiglas booths along the other wall with an constantly changing exhibit of her pieces.

Alexandra Blum. "Girl." 2009. Monoprint, photograph @ Art Hazlewood

From the artist’s statement: "My images are derived from childhood memories, images, fables, and myths. Characters float in fantastic color- saturated worlds. I process and distill ideas and images with each pass through the press. The colors build, are covered, and reformed into new shapes, as the image disintegrates and evolves, like the recall of a dream."

Closing reception August 29, 2010


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cantor Arts Center: Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human rivers
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Langston Hughes, Rivers 
Mask, Yaure, Cote D' Ivoire, 1970'
Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University presents “Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas,” August 4, 2010 through January 2, 2011. This exhibition explores 500 years of visual cultures and histories of the water deity widely known as Mami Wata (“Mother Water”) through the diverse array of traditional and contemporary arts surrounding her — sculpture, paintings, masks, altars, and more from west and central Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, and the United States.

 Roudy Azor, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Lasirèn-Twins and the one who follows the twins, making three (satin, beads, sequins). 1980's

Her name means "Mother Water" in pidgin English, a language developed (like Swahili on the east coast of Africa) from various native languages combined with English to provide a common language for communication and trade. Africans forcibly brought to the Americas as part of  slave trade carried with them their beliefs, practices, and arts honoring water spirits such as Mami Wata. Reestablished, revisualized, and revitalized in the African Diaspora, Mami Wata emerged in new communities and under different guises, among them Lasirèn, Yemanja, Santa Marta la Dominadora, and Oxum. 

Often associated with making money, her powers extend beyond economic gain. For her followers, she also aids in concerns related to fertility, to childbirth and infant mortality. Yet she is also dangerous for a liaison with Mami Wata often requires a substantial sacrifice, even a family member or celibacy. Her powers are curative and also, provide an avenue for women to become powerful as priestesses. Some of her associated deities protect women against abusive men and one image in the show shows Mami Wata strangling Mobutu, the former brutal dictator of Zaire so she is also used for political comment. His limitless powers combined with the deaths of so many in his family and his own solitary death reflects for Mami Wata's devotees the jealous and possessive side of her nature which leads those who are abusive or faithless to a catastrophic fall. 

John Goba, Sierra Leona. Headdress for the Mami Wata Jolly masquerade. It employed multiple elements from Indian and Hindu culture. 1980's
Mami Wata is a complex symbol with so many resonances - mother, sex symbol, spiritual guide, protector and sometimes warrior woman. For contemporary artists, she inspires work imbued with symbols of the African Diaspora linked back to Mother Africa.  generating, rather than limiting, meanings and significances. Two of the more fascinating installations in the exhibit are complete altars, one to Mami Wata and the other to Santa Maria la Dominadoro, the saint who who helps women escape from abusive relationships. One to Mami Wata in her form of joy and love is an immaculate but complex tableau of soaps, perfumes, sweet powders, shells and even a small guitar to honor Mami's love of music. The altar to Santa Maria la Dominador is darker but no less complex - crosses, Catholic saints and African deities combine to provide protection against brutality and violence. The small videos accompanying these altars make it clear that this is a living faith. "Mammy-wota...You can always tell them, because they are beautiful with a beauty that is too perfect and too cold. Chinua Achebe."

Dona Fish. Ovimbundu People, Angola. 1950-1960's. Wood, pigment, metal, mixed media. In Angola, Mama Wata is known as Dona Fish (Fish woman). This work was kept in a house as "decoration" but it evoked fear and accusations of witchcraft.
Part woman, part fish, Mami Wata merges the elements of both. She may also take the form of a snake charmer, sometimes in combination with her mermaid attributes and sometimes separate from them. She can exist in the form of indigenous African water spirits known as mami watas and papi watas or assume aspects of a Hindu deity or a Christian saint without sacrificing her identity. These indigenous African water spirits are linked in a complex system of beliefs and practices, which are linked, but not always shared with Mami Wata.
Abdal 22. Kinshasa. Democratic Republic of the Congo. 1989. Mami Wata as a light-skinned, western style femme fatale, complete with mirror and a come hither look - mad, bad and dangerous to know. 
 Beautiful and seductive, protective yet dangerous, sacred and yet earthy, Mami Wata is celebrated throughout much of Africa and the African Diaspora world.  With 100 works portraying Mami Wata, the exhibition introduces the water spirit’s iconic persona, then reveals a widespread presence and popularity of this water spirit in religious and artistic practices around the world, and finally concludes with Mami Wata as artists’ muse today.

 What is the exhibit about? " It’s about glitter and tears, bawdy jokes and baskets of flowers, miracles and mysteries, money in hand and affairs of the heart. It’s about standing at the edge of the sea at dawn and watching a world re-born. In that world no one walks; everyone dances and swims; everyone, that is, who has taken the plunge into Mami Wata’s realm. " Holland Cotter, NY Times 

Over half a millennium, Mami has surfaced in many guises, a synthesis of all the cultural influences that that washed up (and sometimes washed over) Africa. She continues to evolve as part of a living culture as this exhibit makes abundantly clear. 

Henry John Drewall. "Mami Wata. Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas. " Fowler Museum at UCLA. LA. 2008 (all quotes from this book) 
Images courtesy of the Cantor Art Center
Holland Cotter. NY Times. Mami Wata - a Diva of the deep
West African Diaspora Mami Wata Vodoun

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Memphis Minnie - Hoodoo Lady Blues

Back in my youth, I used to belong to a blues band (several, in fact) We never got very far but I think we were more interested in playing than in climbing the ladder to fame and fortune. I learned a lot about early blues singers and Memphis Minnie was my idol. I wanted to be a Hoodoo Lady and while I never quite achieved that goal, I didn't do too badly. After all, I survived thirty years working for the Evil University Empire and lived to have a second career as an artist and a journalist. Anyway, Anna and I are off to Stanford to view a show on African Water Goddess so it's only logical that I should post something from one of the great Goddesses of the blues.

From my upcoming essay on Paul Klee:

"The beautiful, which is perhaps inseparable from art, is not after all tied to the subject, but to the pictorial representation. In this way and in no other does art overcome the ugly without avoiding it."

Paul Klee, diary entry #733 (December 1905)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Greetings from the People of Earth

Greetings from the People of Earth from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

In 1977, taking advantage of a fortuitous alignment of planets, NASA dispatched two spacecraft named Voyager into space. These probes, now the farthest human-made objects from Earth, carry with them a unique recording, the Voyager Golden Record. Compiled by a team under Dr. Carl Sagan, the Golden Record holds images and sounds, ranging from pulsar beeps to x-ray photographs, the songs of whales and human heartbeats. In addition, the Golden Record holds spoken greetings from the people of Earth, recorded in 55 languages both dead and alive.

This video montage is a meditation on these recordings, our loneliness, and the herculean, courageous task of SETI. The now-distant voices -- all of whom make statements of earnest peace, curiosity, and goodwill, our best human attributes -- are paired with images of the night sky from their countries of origin. It seems they are shouting out into the void; indeed, the people on the Golden Record (and perhaps our entire civilization) will be long gone by the time the Voyager probes pass within range of another star system.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday Crusing the Internet

The "Art of Shanghai" exhibit at the Asian is closing soon so I went over to revisit some of my favorite pieces. I really wish they had more room for painting like the one below as well as more posters from the Cultural Revolution. I sat through half of a disappointing lecture by a visiting Chinese scholar on the art of Shanghai, held in the gorgeous room that used to be the old catalog hall for the San Francisco Public Library

While he droned on in Chinese, with the necessary lapses for the translator, all the images I saw projected were long distance shots of lots and lots of museum buildings. There was no critical analysis. I might as well have read a guide book.  However, kudos to the young translator who handled the situation very well. Jay Xu, the Director of the Museum, was sitting next to me and at one point I leaned over and told him, "I should have studied Chinese in college instead of French." He laughed but I did find myself thinking, "Well, maybe it's not too late."(Note to self- do you really need another long term project?)

I'll post a link to iTunes when the lecture is up but, trust me, it's rather boring. However, the Asian Art Museum does have a lot of interesting lectures up and they are worth checking out.

Boring is the last thing you could say about Zheng Chongbin, whose painting "Dimensions of Ink" is one of the most stunning pieces in the show. Shanghai born, he studied in China before traveling to the U.S.where he received am MFA from the SFAI in 1991. He now spends his time between China and the U.S.. His work reflects influences from both cultures - Chinese Ink meets Franz Kline!  His work is abstract and yet, resonates with subtle reminders of traditional Chinese landscape painting. He paints with ink on paper but uses acrylic and fixer to create a sense of depth and darken the blacks for greater contrast.  When I heard him talk, he spoke of how traditional Chinese painting - particularly contemporary traditional painting - can suffer from washed out colors and lack of spacial depth. Now, there's a talk that's worth listening to - insightful, analytical and yet, with an artist's passion for his craft.

Good Grief - Another day, another child prodigy ( I wonder what happened to the last one; if I remember correctly, she was only four when her father started shilling her works around)


He's Britain's most talked-about young artist. His paintings fetch hefty sums and there's a long waiting list for his eagerly anticipated new works.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2010/08/13/international/i045018D25.DTL#ixzz0wh92rPuz

So you think you are an artist. Uh huh. Oh yeah. It's really too bad that making art is turned into another reality show. I suppose it was inevitable but it further cheapens any real understanding of art and the artistic process. Since most high schools have had to cut out art (and music and dance) and anything resembling creativity due to endless budget cuts, it's probably the only way that a lot of people will ever come in contact with art -- and what a sad commentary for our times.

Regina Hackett is not impressed (nor am I
Jerry Saltz's recap of the finale

Great review of the series  "All over Coffee" (in one of my favorite blogs "Lines and Colors):

Friday, August 13, 2010

The art of making books and books as art

SF is the epi-center for calligraphy, small presses, hand made books and the galleries that showcase both art forms. There are dozens of organizations, fairs, and classes to satisfy the most passionate book lover. Regardless of the popularity of the electronic book, the traditional book form of paper between covers has a protected place in the hearts of readers. The book has been the body of human thought for many centuries and those who cherish the written word also cherish the book. But the form of the book is also a place for new and experimental forms of art, one that explores the boundaries of the familiar rectangle to create an object d'art.
San Francisco Center for the Book is showcasing Los Angeles Loteria: An Exploration of Identity (through September 19th).

"Traditionally, Loteria is a game of chance played with 54 cards that represent significant Icons in Mexican culture. Aardvark Letterpress Co-owner Cary Ocon and designer/artist Rick von Dehl had been refining an idea for a letterpressed Los Angeles version of the game of Loteria for two years. For Aardvark, the idea was to ask artists to select and interpret some part of the Los Angeles experience in their own style. In this spirit of collaboration, Ocon and Persky refined and developed the full scope of Los Angeles Loteria, forming it around the Aardvark Letterpress business model: a crossroads of Los Angeles, a family place, a model of democracy, a melting pot. SFCB @ 300 De Haro St, San Francisco (photos courtesy of SFCB/Aardvark Press)

Andie Thrams, In FORESTS, Volume XXIII - How Altered is Vision, 2010
Bedford Gallery: 'Unbound: A National Exhibition of Book Art'

Many artists in "Unbound" have produced books that are creatively hand-built and bound, while others have embraced the book as medium to explore alternate forms. Employing printmaking, painting, ceramics, textile, video and other media, they created works ranging from 1 1/2 by 2 1/2 inches to 100 by 50 inches. Some made single or limited-edition art books; others used books as their medium, taking apart the covers, pages and spines of books, and transforming them into two and three dimensional pieces.

"Book Art" is a synthesis of form and content and provides us a bridge between the traditional book and contemporary art," Lederer says. "Artists' books engage us in their meaning through a myriad of elements (versus just text), including words, image, materials, shape, form and color. The creative opportunity for structuring and packaging book art is endless - from pop-ups to sculptural housing."
Bedford Gallery, Lesher Center for the Arts 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. (925) 295-1417. www.bedfordgallery.org.

Book arts organizations: http://www.sfbookarts.com/organizations/

If anybody wants to follow a contemporary writer and book designer, check out the blog "Right Reading." Written by Tom Christensen, who also writes and designs books for the Asian Art Museum, it will follow his process on his new book from start to finish - from writing, to choosing the type, designing the pages, the cover and everything in-between.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Annie Harmon, Mary DeNeale Morgan and Marion Kavanagh Wachtel

Mary DeNeale Morgan, "Near Point Pinos"  Oil on masonite, 30 x 36"
Courtesy of Trotter Galleries, Carmel
Full article up at : http://www.examiner.com/x-13996-SF-Museum-Examiner

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers

Just because I needed a little lightness after writing the Kiefer Essay

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Anselm Kiefer at SFMOMA (part 3 of 3)

 Anselm Kiefer, Wolundlied (Wayland’s Song) 1982. Oil, emulsion, and straw on canvas
with lead wing and gelatin silver print on projection paper (SF MOMA, Fisher Collection, photograph ©Liz Hager)

Kiefer’s work is a search for transcendence and our place within the cosmos through engaging with the most horrific event of the 20th century. In his attempt to make art overtly spiritual, Kiefer uses his version of symbolic images, which reference the occult, the Kabala, and Germany’s bloody past. As befits the work of a powerful first-generation postwar German artist, his work combines elements of self-reproach, agonizing memory, and the need to engage with the ghosts of militarism, Antisemitism  and the worship of violence.  According to Robert Hughes, “he is one of the few visual artists in the past decade to have shown an unmistakable greatness of vision.”

Born in Donaueschingen in southwest Germany in 1945, a few months before the end of the war, Anselm Kiefer was the child of a devastated country. He grew up as Germany recovered from the disasters of war. As he matured, he observed how Germany largely avoided dealing deeply with the Nazi past in the boom of the postwar economic miracle.

In 1964, before deciding to pursue art, Kiefer began to study law. Even as a very young man (Kiefer was 20 at the time), he was drawn to the larger philosophical questions, the relationship between history, philosophy and religion and how to engage with the moral dilemmas of Germany’s Nazi past.

As a law student, he was intrigued by the theories of Carl Schmidt (1888-1985).  Schmidt's philosophy “explored the most fundamental challenge of law and government; to reconcile the inherent tension between the concepts of free will, authoritarianism and spirituality.” He formulated a world-view that mankind is self-interested and therefore, governments must be authoritarian for the sake of progress. Schmidt joined the Nazi party in but his interest in esoteric traditions, secret societies, the Jewish Kabala and Freemasonry soon caused him to be distrusted and forced from his post. 

For Kiefer, Schmidt’s texts introduced him to esoteric theology while pondering the dilemmas posed by his ideas. “I was interested in people like Schmitt,” the artist has said, “Because they got caught between the power of government and the power of God.” (Heaven and Earth, Auping, p. 28)

His increasing desire for solitude lead him to the Dominican monastery of La Tourette. He spent three weeks living there as a guest of the monks, “just thinking quietly – about the larger questions.” (Heaven and Earth, p 29).  This marked a turning point in his life; soon thereafter he abandoned his law studies and turned to art.

Although not officially a student of Joseph Beuys, Kiefer sought him out in and has acknowledged the spiritual influence of the older artist. Kiefer was inspired by Beuys's interest in deploying an array of cultural myths, metaphors, and symbols as a means by which to engage and understand history, an understanding even more important as Germany entered the prosperity of the 1960’s and sought to bury her past, without coming to grips with it.

Anselm Kiefer, Die Meistersinger, 1981. Oil, emulsion, and sand on photograph, mounted on canvas. @SF MOMA

But, as Robert Hughes pointed out, Kiefer is utterly different from his mentor. Beuys was as much a performing artist as shaman, given to transitory and Zen like events (talking to a dead hare, sweeping a pavement). Kiefer shuns publicity, lives in an isolated village, is more of a traditional painter rather than conceptual artist and produces staggeringly complex pieces that overwhelm and then, engage the viewer.

Rising to prominence in the 1980s alongside “neo-expressionist” painters such Baselitz, Kiefer’s art was influenced by the tradition of both German symbolism and pre-WW II German expressionism with its focus on societal critiques. Kiefer has said that he has always wanted to deal with large issues in his art; he has dared to quote from the fascist architecture of Albert Speer and the German myths and legends so beloved of the Reich. His work has been intensely controversial and, simultaneously, intensely popular.

Kiefer attempted to open up the wounds of Germany’s past that were still festering from the unexamined infections of anti-Semitism and rabid nationalism. He has been accused of trying to glamorize the Teutonic sagas and racism that led to the Holocaust in the first place. His early work is still controversial. The 1975 photographs of Kiefer giving the Sieg Heil salute in front of various historical locations have been categorized as neo-fascist, and a sinister nostalgia for Hitler. Simultaneously attempting to mock, criticize and parody Nazism is a difficult business and it’s doubtful whether Kiefer succeeded. Perhaps only Mel Brooks, in his iconic "Springtime for Hitler" parody could successfully mock the Third Reich and Kiefer, for all his talent, lacks the comedic touch.

He is much more successful in his response to the poet Paul Celan’s haunting meditations on the Holocaust. Celan, a concentration camp survivor evokes the death camps, the black sky, burning fields and omnipresent color of lead, which became one of Kiefer’s predominant materials. In an 1983 painting, both the title and the subject are taken from a concentration camp poem by Celan. Shulamith was the Jewish woman whose black hair turned to white ashes by burning in contrast to the golden locks of hair belonging to the German ideal of womanhood, Margarete. The cavelike interior is based on the Nazi memorial funeral hall for German soldiers (the 1939 Hall of Soldiers); the walls and ceiling are blackened and far in the back a small fire burns--the altar of the Holocaust, a dungeon-like temple whose interior resembles the crematoria where millions died. 

Shulamith. 1983. Oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac, straw and woodcut fragments on canvas
114 x 145 in.

Kiefer’s use of lead (both as color and material) in his work is a deliberate choice. The medieval alchemists used lead as a catalyst in their attempts to turn dross into gold. It was a basic ingredient in the search for the Philosopher’s Stone. Later alchemists such as Paracelsus viewed alchemy as a spiritual discipline and alchemical rituals as metaphors for transformations. Lead is also the symbol of creativity since it has been associated, since antiquity, with Saturn, the outermost planet known in the medieval cosmos and “the domain of artistic inspiration.”

In Auping’s essay on Kiefer, he is quoted as saying “For me, lead is a very important material. It is, of course, a symbolic material, but also the color is very important. You cannot say that it is light or dark. It is a color or non-color that I identify with. I don’t believe in absolutes. The truth is always gray.”    (Auping, 39). 

Melancholia,1990-91. lead airplane with crystal tetrahy 126 in. x 174 in. x 65 3/4 in. (320 cm x 442 cm x 167 cm). Collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Donald and Doris Fisher. Kiefer's lead-winged creation with a crystal tetrahedron on its left side recalls the ravages of the air raids of World War II

Kiefer also does not believe in permanence. His monumental  works have disintegration and decay built into them and emphasize meaning and morality. They do not exalt power,  the Aryan ideal of classical, “white” masculinity or the Nazi fantasy of a 1000-year Reich. By confronting skeletons of modern German society, he seems to live up to the radical avant-garde stance taken by those artists branded as degenerate in the 1930’s by the Nazi government.

In the tumult of today’s world, we need a language to understand tyranny as well as escape from it, Zen tranquility as well as Wagnerian force. Picasso, according to Dore Ashton, is supposed to have once asked (rhetorically), “What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes of he’s a painter, ears if he’s a musician or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he’s a poet.” And then he answered his own question, “Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world…”

Your Golden Hair, Margarete. 1981. Oil and straw on canvas

Kiefer holds up a mirror to Germany, and, by extension, to the world, showing us our wounded body and broken spirit, and reminds us of the suffering that we have both caused and experienced. His works evoke secular altarpieces, a contemporary Grünewald with the body of history’s suffering victims nailed to the cross of war, rather than the body of Christ. His enormous landscapes evoke the battlefield after the war -- barren, with mysterious fires burning in the muck but with the distant hope of redemption through a search for our place within the cosmos.

also cross-posted at Venetian Red (slightly different version): http://venetianred.net/
Anselm Kiefer, Heaven and Earth, ed. Michael Auping
Robert Hughes. Germany’s Master in the Making. Time, Dec 21, 1987. and also see Robert Hughes, Nothing if not critical.
Carl Schmidt: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Schmitt

Monday, August 9, 2010

Art on Bravo "Reality" TV

The TV show that seems to give art and artists an even worse rap in our culture than they already have....

Brevity cartoon from comics.com

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Upcoming: Klee, Keefer, Hauntings in Berkeley and water Goddesses at Stanford

Art viewing, research and writing in progress:

A new show at the Cantor Art Center in Stanford, featuring Africa art that honors the Goddess of Water.

A reprise of an  early Klee show at SFMOMA (opens August 8th)

Part three of my long essay on Anselm Kiefer at SFMOMA

French philosopher Jacques Derrida meets Berkeley: Hauntology at the Berkeley Art Museum

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Homage to Tibet at the Berkeley Art Museum

 I managed to find a video of the Tibetan writer and musician, Techung, who will be performing at the museum on August 8th.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Monica Lundy in Portland; Richard Bolingbloke in Hayward

Up and down the coast, it's a good month for art watchers. Textiles at the De Young, Pixlar in Oakland, Eakins in LA and early California Art in Moraga. Often what's in the galleries is not that interesting, especially during August when summer is winding down and the fall shows are still on the horizon. But Monica Lundy and Richard Bolingbloke are the exception. Both artists are well worth taking the time to see; what they create is skillful, insightful and memorable visual magic.

Monica Lundy will be opening in Portland at the Ogle Gallery on August 5th. She is 2010 recipient of the Jay DeFeo Award in painting and sculpture, and has also been selected to participate in the upcoming exhibition “Cream: From the Top”, which features recent MFA recipients from around the Bay Area.

Since I do look at so much art work, sometimes it's all a blur of conceptual/ installation/video/ media pieces that are (sometimes) intellectually interesting but not emotionally engaging. That's why I found Ms. Lundy's work so unique and stunning. It's not only technically accomplished but her portraits of inmates in old California mental asylums and prisons exerts a powerful pull that is part compassion, part revulsion. I wanted to know about these people from the past - they spoke to me of forgotten tragedies, buried beneath layers of race, class, and gender. 

 From her artist's statement:
I am attracted to obscure California histories. For this body of work, I conducted research at the California State Archives in Sacramento, combing through historic documents and archival photographs. As a result, the parallel ideas of “inmates” and the “asylum” have emerged in the forms of oil and gouache portraits of female inmates and the application of wet clay to the gallery wall. ....http://www.monicalundy.com

 Richard Bolingbroke will be opening at Sun Gallery in Hayward on August 13th:

Richard Bolingbloke, The Guardians. Watercolor on paper, 40x40. 2003
Richard Bolingbloke is another artist whose work I "discovered" during Open Studios. Like the round of MFA shows, going through open studios can merge into a blur of physical and visual fatigue. Sometimes I trudge from studio to studio, seldom seeing something that grabs my attention but trying to honor each artist's hard work and energy. Richard Bolingbloke's work stood out. His watercolors are masterly, with exquisite patterns of flowers and other symbols combined into intensely colored pieces of depth and complexity.

In his artist's statement, he writes, "These paintings are visual keys that illuminate mysteries. Using ritualistic processes that allow me to connect with an inner, less-visible reality, I explore some of the paradoxical and magical aspects of life....These paintings are an effort to open myself to this vision of a universe both seen and unseen. Take time to look deep into these paintings and you will discover your own keys, your own insights, your own magic."

Reception:  Thursday, August 5th, 6-9pm
August 5th through September 30th. 310 NW Broadway, Portland, OR. 97209

RICHARD BOLINGBLOKE: "NOT SO STILL LIFE"  at Sun Galley, Hayward, California
Opening Reception: Friday, August 13, 4 - 7pm - August 4 – 28,  2010

1015 E Street
Hayward, CA  94541 
(510) 581.4050
Gallery hours
Wed., Thurs., Sat.: 11-5pm, Friday: Noon-6pm