Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Treasure Trove of Picassos Surfaces and sets off alarm bells

 Painting of a hand (undated)
"Une découverte majeure" (a major discovery) read the headlines on Liberation Magazine as the news broke of a treasure trove of Picasso's works, coming to light in a very unusual, some might say bizarre way.

 The mystery began when Claude Picasso -- son of the artist and head of the foundation named after him -- received a letter from a man who said he owned original Picasso pieces and wanted to have them verified for authenticity.

Picasso convinced the man to bring the collection to Paris, saying he would be unable to verify it from photographs. The man arrived by car with the paintings in a suitcase and laid them out on a table.

Still life glass sand

"I felt a great surprise, naturally, lots of emotion at the discovery of pieces with which we were not familiar. But also a deep disturbance," he told French daily Liberation. "Many of these pieces were not dated, which means they never should have left the studio." (methinks there's a bit of class snobbery here; heavens forbid that a lowly working-class guy be the recipient of Pablo's generosity. Also, if they were stolen during Picasso's lifetime, wouldn't he have known and reported the theft to the police?)

 Retired electrician Pierre Le Guennec (pictured outside his home in Mouans-Sartoux, France) claims Picasso gave him 271 artworks.

The man in question was Pierre Le Guennec, an electrician in his seventies who worked on Picasso's property in the south of France during the 1970s. He told Reuters Television that Picasso's wife gave him the artworks.

"It's Madame (Picasso) who gave them. But if Madame gave them, Monsieur was aware of it. She wasn't going to do it just like that, was she?" he said, speaking through a gate in front of his property. "What did you want me to do with them? ... They stayed in a box with other boxes that I have, from my job." Le Guennec has denied stealing the paintings and told RTL radio he decided to ask about their value as a possible inheritance for his children.

Experts estimate the nine Cubist collages alone to be worth €40 million ($53 million). The 71-year-old electrician managed to have the works authenticated by the artist's estate in September, but the estate subsequently sued for possession of stolen goods and the works were seized last month by the Office Central de Lutte contre le Trafic de Biens Culturels, the French art-trafficking squad. Unwilling to risk losing the works, Picasso's heirs successfully appealed to a judge to have the works placed under lock and key, where experts can study and care for them. "We have questions, legitimate questions about where the paintings came from," Claudia Andrieu, legal counsel for the Picasso Foundation, told Reuters Television. "We are discovering new pieces, completely unknown pieces that had never been printed in any book." (And isn't the Picasso family just itching to get their fingers on this and add to their fortune?)

 Papier colle pipe et bouteille (Copy paste pipe and bottle)

Among the works are nine extremely rare Cubist collages, a watercolor from Picasso's Blue period, several painted hand studies, some 30 lithographs and over 200 drawings, as well as portraits of the artist's first wife, Olga Khokhlova.

While the artist was known to dash out sketches on napkins at restaurants and make spontaneous gifts to friends, he would not have separated with such a large store of work, his son told Liberation. Claude Picasso stated that, in his opinion,  " It doesn't hold up." Pablo Picasso was both hugely prolific and sometimes generous with his work, but was he generous  to give hundreds of his early works -- an invaluable collection -- to his electrician?

Neither Le Guennec nor his wife, who also spoke to AOL News and also laughed several times during the conversation, seemed concerned that they were rapidly becoming the subject of an international story.

Ms. Le Guennec said the box of Picassos had sat in the garage of her home for 30 years. But Mr. Le Guennec recently underwent major surgery, and they began to worry about their children’s inheritance, she said. And the box came out so she could authenticate its contents.

“We don’t have anything left now,” she said, but added, “We have our lawyer.”       

"I have a little idea why Picasso gave us this gift, but I'm not sure," Le Guennec said. "For me it was just a gift. He was a marvelous man. I didn't know if it was worth one franc or a hundred francs at the time."

When asked if he was concerned that people might wonder if he stole it, Le Guennec said no.
"People can think whatever they want to think," he said. "It doesn't bother me."

Good essay indicating that this is the art news of the year. Note the comment about the spiteful behavior of the Picasso heirs, already trying to exploit the work before it's been analyzed. The comment also pointed out that not only did Picasso give away "lesser" works during his life time but the estate settled several claims after his death by gifting art work to the claimants. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-news/8

Images from AP Wire Services

Monday, November 29, 2010

The late geat Leslie Nielsen: 1926 -2010

I remember going to see Airplane with two friends and laughing so hard that my sides ached and I gasped for breath. Thanks for the laughs!

Oh, and by the way. *I* will never call you Shirley.



Saturday, November 27, 2010

Netsuke at the Asian

Bittermelon (aka Jennifer Yin) calls them charms for Edo era Samurai cell phones in her post on the Asian Art Museum's Blog. She is referring to netuske, tiny exquisite pieces of decorative art, designed to be used as fasteners for purses or containers. It's always a delight to revisit parts of the Asian museum and see what new pieces are on display and their collection of netsuke seems to be endless (and an endless source of new treasure for me to covet!).

I think the closest Western equivalent would be snuff boxes. These tiny decorative and utilitarian boxes were an indispensable accessory for every man of birth and breeding from the 18th century through the middle of the 19th century. But they never came in the variety of forms that the Japanese loved to create,

Since Japanese clothing didn't have pockets, netsuke functioned as toggles (fasteners), used to secure a purse or container suspended on a cord from the sash of a robe.  The museum’s labels explain:
An inro (literally “seal casket”) is a small tiered container that a man would suspend from the sash of his kimono on a silk cord. A netsuke threaded onto this cord would serve as a toggle, and a movable bead (ojime) would keep the inro closed. Inro were used not only to hold seals (sometimes called “chops”)—which function in East Asian cultures in much the same way signatures do in the West—but also to hold other small items such as medicines.

Grandfather and grandson

Because traditional Japanese garb lacked pockets, objects were often carried by hanging them from the obi, or sash. Inrō were suited for carrying anything small. Consisting of a stack of tiny, nested boxes, inrō were most commonly used to carry identity seals and medicines,

Recently, ceramic artist Edmund de Waal won the National Book Tokens new writer of the year award with "The Hare with Amber Eyes."  It follows the history of 264 Japanese netsuke, objects crafted as belt toggles for kimonos, which he inherited from a great-uncle. The hare of the title is the whitest and finest of the collection, acquired by Charles Ephrussi in the late 19th century, when the opening of Japan's borders let a flood of japonaiserie into European homes.

There is even a poem (probably more than one), written about netsuke:

A Case of Netsuke, by Mary Jo Salter

Wise, size of a peachpit, nut-
brown, wizened, intricate,
      the Badger Dressed in Lotus Leaf  
stands tall in his sheet: ................a museum-case of obscure
Japanese bibelots. Each
a tangible anecdote, they reach
      first to us from English tags:  
Starving Dog, Herdboy with Flute,  
Dutchman with Moneybag, or Stoat......
they speak to us of a lost life we may have lived once, though  
it’s daunting we should think so—
      for what could we have had in common  
with Seated Demon or Drunken Sprite?   .....*

Uniquely Japanese, these superb little objects of wood, ivory and ceramics, as well as dozens of other materials, run the gamut - the peasant, the fisherman, the beggar rubbing shoulders with the scholar, the samurai, the warrior, as well as an enchanting collection of animals, fish, insects and benign deities and ferocious gods. There are representations of food (as in Jennifer's post), tea bowls, flowers and even couples doing what couples are wont to do. The images above - all from the Asian Art museum are only a tiny fragment of their collection. The variety is endless and should be seen in person to be fully appreciated.
*Selections from Mary Jo Salter, “A Case of Netsuke” from Unfinished Painting. Copyright © 1989 by Mary Jo Salter. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.


Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday Wrap Up - California Dreaming

I love San Francisco and really have no desire to travel. I lived all over the world in my younger years and enjoyed the challenge of new places but these days, I prefer my familiar neighborhood and marvelous friends. However, sometimes the temptation to get on that airplane and fly, fly fly the not-so-friendly skies is pretty strong.

What tempts me? Not wine or chocolate or even the ambiance of foreign parts. It's the art - particularly old master art. San Francisco is woefully lacking old master pieces; the Legion has a number of marvelous paintings but their collection is so small and never seems to have anything new. I suppose they don't have the money to buy any of the old master paintings and no collector (as far as I know), has gifted a Renaissance or Baroque piece to the museum in ages. They have a wonderful graphic collection but it's really not accessible to the public unless there's a show.

LONDON.- The drama of the Baroque comes to Edinburgh in part two of The Art of Italy in the Royal Collection. The 31 paintings and 43 drawings selected for the exhibition reflect the great stylistic diversity of the period, which gave birth to the powerful realism of Caravaggio, the revolutionary naturalism of the Carracci and the cool classicism of Poussin and Domenichino. Highlights of the exhibition include two works by Caravaggio, The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew and Boy Peeling Fruit, both previously thought to be copies of lost originals. Recent research by Royal Collection curators and conservators has resulted in the re-attribution of these paintings, which are now generally recognized by experts as by the master himself.

Oh, and the Courtauld is showing Cezanne's card players (three videos here):
Courtauld Institute

Madrid: The Museum is once again displaying the magnificent pair of paintings of Adam and Eve (1507) by Albrecht Dürer, following two years of intensive restoration to their pictorial surfaces and supports. Despite their importance, for 283 years, years (with the exception of the brief reign of José Bonaparte), since their arrival in Madrid in 1655, both panels were considered to be "nudes" and thus kept in spaces not open to the public.

The very fact that they have survived at all might be considered somewhat miraculous given than in 1762 Charles III’s moral qualms led him to include them on a list of "indecent" paintings to be destroyed. The intervention of the Court Painter Mengs saved Dürer’s panels as he was able to convince the monarch that both paintings "were very useful for his pupils to study." With this didactic purpose in mind, thirty years later the two panels were taken to the Academia de San Fernando where they were stored away and could only be seen without restrictions during the reign of José Bonaparte (1809-1813), when they were hung in the Sala de Juntas. Curiously, the story of the concealment of these paintings did not end with their entry into the Prado in 1827, and until 1838 they were kept in the closed room where nudes were housed, at which date they were finally incorporated into the display of works on view to the public.

New York, London (with maybe a side trip to Amsterdam) and then, Madrid. Well, a woman can dream, can't she? But the cost and the intrusive security measures and the plain discomfort of flying keep me at home. Maybe one of these days?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Holiday Shopping outside the mall

Think outside the box - the big box stores that is.
 “Fruit Jello” by Camille Holvoet - Creativity Explored

"Making plans to take advantage of Black Friday shopping deals? We'd rather not, personally, that's why we have the Internet and a stack of Amazon gift cards. But if that's your kind of thing, you might want to start queuing up now because one Lori Davenport has already set up camp in front of the St. Petersburg, Florida Best Buy. As she says, "it's not about being first or any sort of firstness, it's about our own personal firstness...it's about the experience of what this brings to you." (SFist)

It brings you a week's worth of hard nights out on the pavement in front of Best Buy and a brief, if embarrassing, shot at Internet fame. That's what it brings to you.

But if you want to opt out of the buying frenzy, avoid the hysterical crowds and support local artisans, try some of the following craft fairs. The current economic crisis is an unavoidable reality for many organizations as well as individual artists. It has been devastating to a wide array of services, in great part because the availability and wealth of granting agencies has greatly diminished. As a result, individual contributions are a vital artery of support. Your support, now more than ever, is the life-blood of the local arts community, no matter how large or small the gift. The list below is just a sample of what's available, outside the big box stores - the events listed are either local, benefit artists who are not represented elsewhere or non-profit arts organizations that need our support, now more than ever. (Michelle Mansou, Roots Division) 


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nathan Oliveira : 1929-2010

 - I always have wanted to be an abstract artist, but it had to be about something very particular. - Nathan Oliveira

Nathan Oliveira died at his home in Stanford, California, on Saturday, November 13. The cause was related to pulmonary fibrosis, according to DC Moore Gallery, which represents the artist.  Had he lived just a day longer, he could have attended the 90th birthday party of his great friend and fellow artist Wayne Thiebaud, held at San Francisco MOMA the following day.

Born in Oakland in December 1929 to Portuguese immigrant parents, Oliveira graduated from California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland with a BFA and MFA, and then spent several years teaching and focusing mainly on printmaking. In 1950, he studied with Max Beckmann at Mills College in Oakland, which was a defining experience for his artistic development. For a few years in the mid-1950s, he joined several San Francisco artists including Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, Elmer Bischoff, and others who met regularly to draw from the model. He moved away from the group as his interest in the solitary figure developed, though, and never considered himself to be one of the Bay Area figurative painters.
Nineteen Twenty-Nine, 1961 (Smithsonian Art Museum). 

One of the leading American artists of the twentieth century, Nathan Oliveira maintained an obsession with the abstracted human figure. For most of his career, he worked outside the prevailing fashion for abstract art but also outside the standards for representational art. His figures are mysterious, inhabiting an ambiguous space.

His best figurative work invites reverie and introspection. As Thomas Albright said, "In any event they speak eloquently of time and decay, destruction and perishability, and of a will to endure and to create that persists in spite of these things."

 Spring Nude, 1962, Oakland Museum
In the early 1990s, Oliveira began to paint geometrically abstracted figures that he called his Stelae series, which occupied him for nearly a decade. His most recent paintings are large canvases of solitary human figures depicted in a palette that is dominated for the most part by reds, golds, and oranges—colors that resonate with an intensity and a deep spiritual affinity that Oliveira sought to convey in his work.

Over the years, Oliveira had a number of major exhibitions of his work, including Nathan Oliveira Print Retrospective, 1949-80, California State University, Long Beach (1980); Nathan Oliveira: A Survey Exhibition 1957-1983, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1984); Variations in Time/Nathan Oliveira/ Monotypes and Monoprints, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (1997); The Art of Nathan Oliveira, San Jose Museum of Art (2002); and Nathan Oliveira: The Painter’s Bronzes, Palo Alto Art Center (2008). He also had many exhibitions at the John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, as well as solo exhibitions at DC Moore Gallery, New York.

Nathan Oliveira is survived by a sister, Marcia Heath of Milbrae, CA; and three children, Lisa Lamour of Fresno, CA; Gina Oliveira of Kihei, HW; and Joe Oliveira of Palo Alto, CA.

Thomas Albright. On Art and Artists (p 82)
John Seed. Forgetting the Self. http://www.johnseed.com/oliveira/oliveira2.html
Obituary from Kenneth Baker: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2010%2F11%2F19%2FBALF1GDK7T.DTL
KQED SPARK Interview: http://www.kqed.org/arts/programs/spark/profile.jsp?essid=4696
NY Times: www.nytimes.com/2010/11/19/arts/design/19oliveira.html
Collection at SFMOMA: http://www.sfmoma.org/artists/918/artwork?artwork=53

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Karita Mattila: Aria from Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5

I did not go to see the Makropulos Case  -  I am not fond of dissonant music and Janacek is not to my taste. I listened to some parts of it along with other compositions of Janacek and decided that I can put appreciation of him on the back burner for now.

But the opera and Ms Mattila are getting quite the buzz among local opera lovers. Mike (owner of the blog Civic Center) has a marvelously comprehensive two-part post up on both the composer and the soprano Karita Mattila that's not to be missed. I've posed a utube video of Ms Mattila singing Bachianas Brasileiras #5 from a composer that IS one of my favorites, Villa Lobos.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wine, Women but alas, no song with a little coda to hot sauce at the end.

Yesterday I attended the press preview of the new show on wine at SFMOMA. Judith H. Dobrzynski has doubts - I share them with her in the comments section

SFMoMA's Wine Exhibit: Shall We Drink To Celebrate Or Forget?
"Now comes How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, opening on Saturday. It seemed only right to weigh in. Do we applaud, for the same reasons, or think it's pandering and pop"

My edited comments to her about the exhibit (plus addendum)  - with a longer review to come:

Dear Ms Dobrzynski: The museum is and isn't pandering and I suspect your mixed feelings were shared by most of the press at the preview. It's a complex show with some fascinating information but overshadowed by the long, wordy, and pretentious opening speeches. This was combined with an appalling lack of historical accuracy about wine, the wine business and indeed, wine culture, whatever that means. What went unsaid - or at least openly unstated (IMHO) - is that wine is a billion dollar business and that the museum wants to reach out to a new demographic group as well as add some dollars in their bank account.

The wall fresco is portraying the 1976 event when California won three best prizes against French competition is amusing,  But not as amusing as its recreation in the movie, Bottle Shock with Alan Rickman at his campy best as the British wine dealer who set the contest up. One major inaccuracy is the museum's contention that the 1976 judgment didn't change the status of California wines. But it most certainly did! TIME Magazine published George Tabor's article about the event that changed the way the world perceived wines from American and put Napa Valley on the map. Chateau Montelena's Chardonnay was memorialized at the Smithsonian soon after the historic event. 

 I am a Philistine in that I liked the wine glasses while finding them just too chi-chi consumerist for words and was irritated by the inevitable gift show. as  I also found the wine labels stylish examples of miniature art. Unfortunately, I don't know if there is a way around the fact that wine culture, at least in Northern California, is bound up with a certain life style or appeals to those who aspire to that life style, which requires money. Sometimes lots and lots of money. In fact, I would have respected the exhibit a lot more if I felt that the museum was more honest but there was a lot of intellectual terminology being tossed around. But, as they say, your mileage may vary. Sometimes you get in vino veritas and some times you don't.

Furthermore,  I could have done without the snarky museum staff member who told me to read the wall labels in response to a question.

 'Black Rosy,' by Niki De Saint Phalle Court. Courtesy of The Brooklyn Museum

The other news du jour is that the Christian Science Monitor discovers that women artists are discriminated against. Oh gasp! The horror! How very unusual! I think that I've read a variation of this article every year for the last 40 years and have yet to see significant change.
Christian Science Monitor

Fellow Blogger Matty Boy posted about hot sauce and started a nice little comment thread with several hot food aficionados weighing in. In  case you were wondering, Sriracha IS a food group.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anna visits the Verdi Club..

Anna Conti writes about a visit to the Verdi Club -

"This past Monday I went over to the Verdi Club to see "Don't Call Me Retard," one of Arline Klatte and Beth Lisick's monthly storytelling series - this one benefiting Creativity Explored. The storytellers were teachers and students at the Mission art studio that serves artists with developmental disabilities. Or, as one of the speakers described the place, "a safe haven for the vulnerable."
read more at: http://baartquake.blogspot.com/

I walk by Creativity Explored all the time and keep meaning to go in and talk to them. It's on my list for next year when I am not going to school three days a week! My heart goes out to the young man with Prader-Willi Syndrome. I used to work for the Department of Endocrinology at UCSF and we saw a lot of patients with that disease.

Creativity Explored


  Venus Just After Sunset  Credit & Copyright: Tunç Tezel (TWAN
 In the predawn sky, Venus is about 4 degrees from the bright star Spica in Virgo the Maiden. How long after sunrise can you continue to see Venus in the sky? With binoculars, you can see it in the daytime. Venus rises at 4:39 a.m. Mars sets at 6:02 p.m. Jupiter sets at 1:54 a.m. Saturn rises at 3:23 a.m.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Asian Art Museum in Economic Mess?

Oh no! Maybe it's time to redo the Fung Shui of the site or evoke Ganesh, the Elephant Headed God of Good Luck. I hope that this is not true; unfortunately, as a "humble blogger" I have no access to the real story. When the old library was bought to be turned into the new Asian I was shocked as I thought it was to be an addendum to the new museum. I was disgusted and offended by the ensuing controversy over the Piazzoni murals and wondered about what seemed to the ruthless nature of the (then) management.

I have never liked the location and have always believed that the museum - and the collection - would be better served by a location in Golden Gate Park. A lot of the comments to the original article at SF Gate do mention how unpleasant it is to run the gauntlet of the drunk, disorderly and demented denizens of the Civic Center. It's also disappointing to take the escalators up to the 2nd and 3rd floors and be treated to a bird's eye view of the Tenderloin - that is, when you are not looking down at the gravel roof of the rest of the museum. The Ganesh at the top of the escalator is delightful but the city scape behind him is one of the dirtiest and most crime ridden parts of the city.

I also think that the rooms for the permanent exhibits are too small, too dark and too crowded. It's hard to see even a fraction of the art but I suspect that's also a political decision as well as one necessitated by the historical nature of the building. They could not tear it down and start over so the Beaux Arts columns, the grand central staircase, even the painted and decorated ceilings had to be kept. Another one of the reasons given for moving the museum was to gain more space for the collections and by gum, those collections will be on display. All of them. All of the time.

But as I went to exhibit after exhibit, got to know some of the staff, I began to respect what they were trying to do. I have never had any problems appreciating the beauty of Asian art and culture. Although I feel that it was better displayed in the old location, with the windows overlooking the park, I always find a new treasure to look at and covet. Their publications are marvels of book design and elegant writing. The cafe serves delicious food and their programs are an enjoyable mix of outreach to the younger crowd with plenty of more intellectual lectures for us "older folk." I even like the redo of the balcony where the Piazzoni murals used to be!

I will be following the story as best I can as I think the Asian is a beautiful, world-class museum with a marvelous staff, great programs and beautiful art. Ganesh deserves better; we deserve better and most of all, the Asian deserves a generous deal from its donor base (any Asian billionaires out there?). Somebody also needs to whip down the pit bulls of the banking industry. Haven't they gotten enough? For us to lose this jewel would be crushing.

San Francisco's Asian Art Museum is in dire financial straits and could be forced into bankruptcy if it can't work out a new deal with its lender by Friday, according to knowledgeable sources.
Our sources say the troubles started in 2005 when the museum's directors, hoping to hedge against rising interest rates, restructured $120 million worth of loans to try to save millions of dollars. But now rates have hit rock bottom, and their lender, JPMorgan Chase, says it plans to close the Asian Art's line of credit as of Friday - in which case, the museum would lose $20 million that it put up in collateral.

That money reportedly is insured, but one source following the developments said losing the collateral would nonetheless spell calamity for the museum. It would still be on the hook for the $120 million in loans, but the repayment timetable would be sped up to five years from now. We're told the museum's current endowment amounts to just $60 million.

"They could only keep up with the payments for maybe a year or a year and a half before they would have to close their doors," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not cleared to discuss the negotiations publicly. The museum's directors have hired bankruptcy lawyer Bruce Bennett - who helped restructure Orange County's $10 billion debt a few years back - to try to buy the museum extra time to turn around its finances.

Asian Art reps also plan to huddle with Mayor Gavin Newsom's people today in hopes of getting help with another line of credit. However, one city rep, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "Nobody is using public money to bail them out."

It's quite a reversal of fortune for the museum, which relocated to the restored old main library in Civic Center in 2003 with the help of a $42 million city bond measure. According to its board minutes, the museum had a balanced budget as recently as June 2009 and was racking up record attendance.

Since then, however, attendance has fallen sharply and the place hasn't seen any donor gifts in a couple of years. Even a ballyhooed exhibit to coincide with the opening of Shanghai's world trade expo in May failed to draw the anticipated crowds. (I wrote several posts about this exhibit. I had some criticisms of it but it was still well worth seeing and every time I went, the galleries were full of people.)

The museum's management did not return our repeated calls seeking comment, and board directors we spoke with either appeared to be in the dark or weren't talking.

"I'm not in a position to give you the information you are looking for," said Robert Duffy, vice president of the Asian Art Museum Foundation. Bennett, the bankruptcy lawyer, did not return our calls. A spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase promised to look into the matter late Friday, but did not get back to us by deadline.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/11/14/BAVK1GBDHD.DTL#ixzz15OOv3N1f

If Brown's column is correct, the management at the Asian angered Larry Ellison. He offered them a substantial donation but they turned him down, stating that they wanted their donor "face" to be Asian. Not a smart move for when they later needed more money, there was no way Larry would fork it over.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

H.A. Rey and Margret Rey, creators of Curious George

One of the things that struck me about the exhibit was how exquisite the watercolors are. Even the drawings and watercolors of small animals, often displayed along with a the four- color mock ups for later printing, are lovely. I wanted to take them out and play with them! Another thing that fascinated me was how the Rays made art part of their lives. The exhibit contains the cards they they made to send to each other and watercolors of their "new life" in NY. One of the more delightful watercolors is a 1950's NY street scene with H.A dragging his disobedient dog along and Margret, dressed to the nine's in a very stylish outfit. All of tiny figures were painted with the most amazing detail and skill and the pieces have a lovely whimsy and charm.

H. A. Rey, cover of dummy for La Rue: Découpages à colorer (unpublished), Paris, c. 1938, pen and ink, color pencil, and crayon on paper. H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi.

Final illustration for “He crawled into bed and fell asleep at once” Published in The Original Curious George (1998). France, 1939–40 Watercolor, charcoal, and color pencil on paper
H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi

After having arrived at the house of the man with the yellow hat, George felt very tired “after a good meal and a good pipe.” Here the little monkey crawls into bed in a room that may bear some similarities to the Reys’ quarters at the Terrass Hotel in Paris.


By early February 1940, during the first winter of World War II, as the Reys were trying to figure out a way to reach the safety of America, they embarked on a new project that may have seemed like the perfect antidote: a lift-the-flap book titled How Do You Get There? Featuring bright watercolors, the book’s simple premise—each destination can be easily reached if the appropriate means of transportation is used—stands in stark contrast to the difficulties the Reys experienced as they were approaching foreign embassies, banks, and exchange offices in an effort to flee France.

The illustrations were finished by April 1940, with the couple’s British and French publishers promptly agreeing on the publication terms. Despite these successful negotiations and H. A. Rey’s intense efforts to complete the drawings at such a stressful time, How Do You Get There? would not be published in Europe. The Reys likely carried the drawings for the book when they fled, and had it published soon after their arrival in America.

H. A. Rey’s Journal for 1938
Print and pencil on paper (so tiny you can hold it in the palm of your hand.
H. A. & Margret Rey Papers, de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection, McCain Library and Archives, The University of Southern Mississippi

In the opening for October 15–16, H. A. Rey noted one of his many visits to the zoo in Bois de Boulogne. The inscriptions “Klappbuch” (lift-the-flap book), “Garage,” and “Schnecke” (snail) indicate that he was working on illustrations for Anybody at Home? (1939). Also mentioned is a “sick visit” (“Kranken Besuch”) to a certain “Enoch.” The name, often cited in the journals, may allude to Kurt Enoch (1894–1982), a prominent publisher in Europe and later at Penguin Books in New York. Also a Hamburg Jew living in Paris at the time, Enoch published H. A. Rey’s first book in 1923—a collection of lithographs inspired by the writings of Christian Morgenstern (1871–1914), Germany’s great poet of the grotesque.

The exhibit is full of their intelligence, wit and charm. The story of Curious George who started out as Fifi is amazing but not as amazing as his creators who dealt with the lemons of anti-Semitism by making lemonade. 
All Images courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Saturday, November 13, 2010

CJM: Curious Georges Saves the Day

The Contemporary Jewish Museum presents Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey, an exhibition of nearly 80 original drawings that reveal a dramatic story of escape and survival. Curious George, the impish monkey protagonist of many adventures (who will make a special, costumed appearance on November 14th at the exhibition opening), may never have seen the light of day were it not for the determination and courage of his creators: illustrator H. A. Rey (1898-1977) and his wife, author and artist, Margret Rey (1906-1996).

 Final Illustration for "This is George; he lived in Africa"

Both were born in Hamburg, Germany, to Jewish families and lived together in Paris from 1936 to 1940.  H. A. Rey (né Hans Augusto Reyersbach) had no formal art training, but in the early 1920s designed and lithographed circus posters in Hamburg.  Margret Rey (née Margarete Waldstein) studied art and photography at the Bauhaus School and then worked in advertising firms and photographic studios in Germany and England in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The two first met in Hamburg before Hans departed for Rio de Janeiro in 1925, to work for a relative.  They were married in 1935, after Margret joined him there, following Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany. 

Despite the difficulties, the Reys were prolific in France, publishing seven books from 1937 through 1939 (three in both French and English) and completing the manuscripts and drawings for at least four others later published in America.

Final illustration for “George climbed up until he was in the sunshine again, high above the rain cloud” Raffy and the 9 Monkeys (1939)

Hours before the Nazis marched into the city in June 1940, the Reys fled on bicycles carrying drawings for their children’s stories including one about a mischievous monkey, then named Fifi.  Not only did the Reys save their animal characters, but they were saved by their illustrations when authorities found them in their belongings.  This may explain why saving the day after a narrow escape became the premise of most of their Curious George stories.

After their  escape from Paris, it took the couple four months to reach Lisbon. They traveled across France, Spain and Portugal, often by bike! After reaching Lisbon, the couple was able to catch a boat to South American and finally reached  New York in the fall of 1940.

In all, the Reys authored and illustrated over 30 books, most of them for children, with seven of them starring Curious George.  Whether falsely alarming the fire department while experimenting with a telephone, going up in the air with a bunch of balloons or a kite, or falling in the water after a failed attempt to fish with a mop, the little monkey known as Curious George is always in trouble, both propelled and undone by his insatiable curiosity and appetite for adventure.

While the idea of the monkey’s narrow escape from danger was introduced in the first Curious George story created by the Reys in France, the concept of “saving the day” is only used in their later books written while in the safety of the United States.  By the time the man with the yellow hat comes to his rescue, George’s capers have already been mitigated with some poetic justice, which may be understood as emblematic of the important role the character had played both in saving the Reys’ lives when fleeing Nazi Europe and later helping them rebuild their careers in the United States.  In turn, the little monkey born in France acts out the fantasies of many immigrants: he lands an acting job in Hollywood soon upon arrival, advances research by traveling in a spaceship, and makes it to the front page of newspapers, all the while becoming thoroughly Americanized.

The exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum offers visitors a rare opportunity to view nearly 80 original drawings and vibrant watercolors of Curious George and other characters. Many of these works have never been displayed before.  Preparatory dummy books, vintage photographs, and documentation related to the Reys’ escape from Nazi Europe, such as H. A. Rey’s journals (the tiniest notebooks with the most minuscule handwriting) detailing the couple’s perilous journey to freedom, are also included.  Internet reproductions don't do justice to the exquisite detailing of the images and the sophisticated mastery of watercolor and gouache.

In addition, the exhibition features an interactive timeline, accessed via a touch-screen computer, about the Reys’ life in France from the late 1930s through their fateful escape in the summer of 1940.  Visitors will be able to view additional pages of H. A. Rey’s journal detailing the couple’s journey to safety, images of illustrations by H. A. Rey, photographs taken by Margret Rey in France, documentary photography related to early World War II in France, historic video, and listen to an interview with the couple.

"This wonderful exhibition has something for all ages," says Connie Wolf, Director and CEO of the Contemporary Jewish Museum. "Children will love seeing and learning about their favorite storybook monkey, and adults will be fascinated by the Reys’ personal story of escape and survival.  Art was what saved them and allowed them to rebuild their lives. There's quite a powerful narrative behind one little inquisitive monkey."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shanghai Ai: Your Seat at His Protest "Crab Fest"

 The reality behind the glittering facade of the Shanghai Expo and China's economic growth is that this is still a dictatorship and those who speak out can pay a heavy price.

"Ai Weiwei's way with words and double entendres may owe something to his family heritage: He is the son of the well known Chinese poet, Ai Qing (a pen name), who was jailed for political activities and was "best known for criticizing the Chinese government through his poetry," according to this account, drawn from the book Censorship: A World Encyclopedia.
Wish you could have attended the protest "Crab Fest" that was hosted in absentia by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei at his soon-to-be-demolished Shanghai studio?"

Link to Vimo video

Ai Weiwei Celebrates Dissident Liu Xiaobo Nobel Prize Win 

Supporters of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei have thrown a party at his studio in Shanghai - an event he could not attend after being placed under house arrest.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bay Area Museum news and views -Midweek edition

18th Annual Alameda Museum Exhibit of Alameda Women Artists (AWA)
Alameda is a thriving haven for artists” and you are invited to enjoy some of Alameda’s most talented artists at the “18th Annual Alameda Museum Exhibit of Alameda Women Artists (AWA)”. This exhibit, silent auction and associated events contribute to Alameda’s rich heritage in the arts and have been popular annual attractions every year. Proceeds from the auction benefit the Alameda Historical Museum and the AWA, to nurture and promote the arts in Alameda.

Artists Reception on Saturday, November 13th - 1:30 to 3:30 PM (the public is invited)
Silent Auction ends December 4th, 2010

Alameda Historical Museum 2324 Alameda Avenue (right off Park Street)
Hours are Wed.-Fri. - 1:30-4:00 pm - Sat. 11-4:00 pm, Sun. 1:30-4:00 pm (510) 521-1233

Asian Art Museum
You can study traditional Japanese painting at the Asian and be inspired by their current exhibit of Japanese screens: Nihonga: Japanese Traditional Painting

Nihonga (Japanese style painting) painter Fumiyo Yoshikawa demonstrates traditional techniques using handmade papers, gold leaf, various mineral pigments, and animal glue solution. Create your own nihonga.
Thursday-Sunday, November 11-21

 Tony May, Book Mobile Shadows (SJICA)

If you know the way to San Jose, The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (SJICA) will be presenting the works of San Jose artist, Tony May.

By presenting carefully curated pieces from public and private collections, May’s own archive, new works and recreations of past temporal or site-specific projects that have been lost over time, the exhibition brings long-overdue recognition to May as a Bay Area art treasure in his own right.  An exhibition opening reception will be held at the ICA on Friday, November 12th from 6pm – 8pm. 
Friday, November 12, 2010 through Feb 2011
6pm - 8pm

Monday, November 8, 2010

Candles by Cavafy for Senor Cuban ----

Because he shares my love of this most elegant poet. Like him, I would have loved to learn Greek so I could read it in the original. In fact, somewhere at home I have a recording of various plays and songs in Ancient Greek - or what they assumed ancient Greek sounded like. The magnificent Irene Papas chants a couple of the pieces but alas, no Cavafy. In this versions, Katia Dandoulaki recites and Alexandros Hatzis sings the poem of Constantine Cavafy "Candles".
Music: Yiannis Petritsis


The days of our future stand in front of us
like a row of little lit candles --
golden, warm, and lively little candles.

The days past remain behind us,
a mournful line of extinguished candles;
the ones nearest are still smoking,
cold candles, melted, and bent.

I do not want to look at them; their form saddens me,
and it saddens me to recall their first light.
I look ahead at my lit candles.

I do not want to turn back, lest I see and shudder
at how fast the dark line lengthens,
at how fast the extinguished candles multiply.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1899)

As a sequel from yesterday's post on contemplation, today's "As Time Goes By, " discusses one particular American version which has nothing to do with achievement, creativity or compassion but almost solely with acquisition to stuff.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ithica by Constantine Cavafy (read by Sean Connery)

What better way to spend a rainy Sunday than reading and finding Internet treasures? Maybe it's the rain that has made me feel so contemplative or maybe it's the enforced day of rest because I'm been going at a very fast clip (and glad to do so).

The two photography shows that I've seen in the last week - Julie Michelle's and Henri Cartier-Bresson have made me think of journeys, physical ones and those of the imagination. I think about my own journey here, more than 40 years ago and where that has taken me. Unlike Odysseus, I'm no hero and never wanted to be, but like Odysseus, I wander through uncharted seas - although my seas are of the mind, not physical ones. I have been shipwrecked on islands full of treacherous monsters and sailed through rocks that threatened to crush me. Yet, I keep sailing on and fully intend to do so as long as I can.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
 "..... The Greeks and their destiny. In the end, though, is Cavafy not also suggesting this same idea that our destiny is probably nothing else but the inner journey of meaning itself, no matter "where" we find ourselves? For as many of you will recall, Cavafy, the great poet of foreign lands and times past, never in fact traveled to these places that he was writing about. Writing his epic historical and romantic poetry, he lived alone for 25 years, working as a clerk in the employment of the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt, in Alexandria. Indeed, when I think of him working by day in a government office and at night writing poetry of such passion, well, not unlike how I think of Mandelstam writing in prison, I am almost overhelmed by this triumph of the human spirit.

The foreign lands, the exotic goods, the unending oceans and the heroes of antiquity--these were all lands he visited in his exquisite imagination. Dreaming of Ithaka, I think it is true that what really matters is what happens in the breathing and seeing/blindist heart. "

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Museum News and Views, Saturday Edition

What a week! An election, a new governor and no more Meg Newman (for now),  more Republicans for Obama to deal with, the Giants win the World Series and MUNI/BART go down for a massive fail on Wednesday. But your trusty art reviewer and viewer struggled onwards (outwards? face downwards but hopefully not in the gutter!)

 "Sam" by Julie Michelle. Part of the I Live Here show at SOMArts.

I made it to Julie's show which was even better than I hoped. The new moon was in Scorpio on opening night, which was appropriate for this project as it deals with the citizens of SF, their pasts, their presents, their hopes and dreams, their fears, their loves, their problems - the where I came from, where am I now and where am I going?

Julie started it when she was laid off, certainly a life changing event and one that is presided over by Scorpio, ruled as it is by Pluto, the god of the underworld and the dark places of the soul where creativity is born. But Scorpio is also the sign of renewal and this show will give you a real sense of the amazing resilience of so many people here. Their stories and their faces are mesmerizing.

Go and see the images, read the stories, laugh, cry, sigh, admire the poetry and love the city that draws so many different people from so many different parts of the Globe. Julie photographs them and lets them tell their own stories but it is her talent and compassion that bring forth such inspired responses. Most people freeze in front of a camera and stumble over their own biographies; Julie doesn't judge, doesn't edit but asks questions from the heart. People open up to her in an amazing way and the results of that are on the wall for all to share.

" ...."And how could you not read a story that opens: "Three big things happened to me when I moved to San Francisco: I found myself; I met the love of my life; and I got breast cancer." (If you can make it to the end of Sonia's story without both crying and laughing, you're a far stronger person than I am.)"  Keith Laidaw, http://www.kqed.org/arts/multimedia/article.jsp?essid=27738

correction on the link for Julie Michelle's show, "I Live here." http://iliveheresf.com/

Her show of the denizens of SF is paired with Chris Rusak's velvet/shinny black surfaces, text based paintings. Using text, Rusak expands the vision of the I Live Here:SF project by manipulating participants’ stories to demonstrate the inner structure of the city’s collective experience. His printmaking is a metaphor for the story-collecting process of photography.

SOMArts: 7th and Brannan - www.somarts.org/

Museum laugh of the week: What picture is more gay! Eakins or Cadmus? Is! Is not! The debate rages (?) on and those involved get their knickers in a twist (as it were).

Thomas Eakins. The Wrestlers (LACMA) 

"Curators at LACMA and the Columbus Museum of Art are wrestling over The Wrestlers (above). As you may know, the CMA deaccessioned Thomas Eakins’ The Wrestlers in 2005, allowing LACMA to buy it the following year. Earlier this year LACMA curator Ilene Fort published a scholarly article in the American Quarterly suggesting—as an aside—that Midwest homophobia might have prompted the sale of the Eakins masterpiece. Now CMA curator Melissa Wolfe begs to differ, reports Eric Lyttle in The Other Paper, a Columbus weekly. The Eakins sale proceeds went to buy the Philip and Suzanne Schiller collection of American modernism, which, according to Wolfe, “has an extremely homoerotic component to it—more so than the Eakins work.” After that, the gloves were off." ....

“Anyone who’s really a scholar working in this content knows (Fort’s hypothesis) is an invalid comment. I didn’t think anyone would take it seriously.” —Melisse Wolfe, CMA

“I think everyone in Columbus is overreacting.” —Ilene Fort, LACMA

Wolfe faults Fort’s scholarship as “sloppy” and detects “a West Coast stereotype of the Midwest that is erroneous, tired and worn out.”........more at....


A new face at SF MOMA: SFMOMA Appoints Robert W. Lasher as New Deputy Museum Director, External Relations 

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announced the appointment of Robert W. Lasher as the museum's deputy director, external relations, a newly created position. Starting on November 1, 2010, Lasher will supervise a new External Relations division, overseeing the museum's Development Department and Marketing and Communications Department. He joins SFMOMA's two current deputy museum directors, of curatorial affairs and of administration and finance, serving under Director Neal Benezra on the museum's senior leadership team.


Free Admission to the Legion of Honor on Veteran's Day

In honor of all of those who have served the country, the Legion of Honor offers free admission on Veterans Day to all veterans and active military personnel with military I.D.

On November 11, 1924, Adolph and Alma Spreckels gave the California Palace of the Legion of Honor to the people of San Francisco in honor of the California men who died in World War I. Eighty-six years later, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco continues to honor veterans with unique public programs.


Opening Tuesday, November 9th: Student Exhibit at SFSU:

Juried by their peers, this 21st annual exhibition features students’ latest work in video, photography, textiles, metal arts, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking and more. The jury also selects works from the University’s collection of watercolor and oil paintings by the late Leo D. Stillwell Jr.

Reception: Tuesday, Nov. 9, 4–6 p.m.
Gallery hours: Wednesdays–Saturdays, 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

(Note: closed for Thanksgiving break Nov. 24–27)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Julie Michelle: " I live here" opening at SOMArts this Friday

Julie Michelle

@ Julie Michelle

I met Julie almost two years ago when I started leaving messages on her now-defunct blog, Tango Baby.  Then, we met in person and I was even more impressed by her intelligence, passion and energy. I remember one walk through the Mission where she saw things that I had never noticed in my 30+ years of living here. I learned more about my neck of SF and how to look for delight at the turn of every corner; that one walk was a whole semester of art appreciation packed into an afternoon - plus lunch at an Indian restaurant that I'd been too chicken to go into by myself. Art + food + great conversation = a great way to start a friendship.

I admired her compassionate heart and respected her attempt, ultimately heart breaking, to help a homeless mother and her three children. Julie didn't have much in the way of resources but what she had, she gave completely.

I am in awe of her talent and very honored to have her as a friend. She even invited me to participate in her project but I was too camera phobic to say yes. But lots and lots of other people did say yes, Yes and again YES! This show is the result of all those who participated, so say yes, and go.

There's no doubt where I'm going to be this Friday night. 

This is an exciting show not only because of the high caliber of the photography, video, and installation work in the show, but also because it is the first Commons Curatorial Residency that SOMArts has awarded. This ongoing, community-based photography and creative writing project investigates the myriad cultural and personal nooks and crannies of San Francisco as well as the lovely, lively, kooky, exiting, and entertaining inhabitants therein.

With this award Julie Michelle has composed an exhibition that shares the spirit and fascinating layers of this city through the words and faces of those who live here.  This ongoing, community-based photography and creative writing project investigates the myriad cultural and personal noooks and crannies of San Francisco as well as the lovely, lively, kooky, exiting, and entertaining inhabitants therein.

It has already received lots of attention, being featured or listed at: The Bold Italic, SF Station, SF Fun Cheap, Flavorpill, SFist, Fecal Face, Muni Diaries, SFBG, SF Weekly, SF Gate, 7×7, and more.


Wonderful interview which show's Julie's talent and warm and compassionate heart and the back story of how she got started.


Friday, November 05, 2010 from 6:00 PM - 9:00 PM (PT)

SOMArts , 934 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94103