Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell 2010

Conquer the demons of the old year to make room for the new. Will 2011 be better? Probably not - as Dickens said, "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." Still, savor the brief moment of optimism as the new year begins, the transitory shinning bubble of hopes, dreams and wishes that just might become true. 
You never know. 

Image from the current show at the Legion, which closes in January. 

Cherchez la femme: women of courage

Judy Chicago. When I heard her recently, I was reminded again of her courage and feminist convictions. You think that the comments section at SF Gate are full of venom and bile? Try looking up some of the charges leveled against Judy in the last three decades. Yet, she's still here, she's still speaking out and she is still inspiring.
Since the 1970's, Judy Chicago has been keeping the faith. Along with Mariam Shapiro, she was one of the founders of "Womanhouse", a ground breaking instillation. She created "The Dinner Party" and battled to see that it got a permanent home. Every generation of women has to "reinvent" the wheel because our history is lost, over and over and over again. Judy Chicago is a one-woman marching band, trying to prevent that from happening.

Marei von Shaer - the daughter-in-law of Jacques Goudstikker - the family that would not give up and eventually won their case, a battle for the restitution of looted art which (hopefully) will allow other claimants to reclaim their stolen property The Goudstikker story is a tale of tragedy, greed, bigotry and great injustice, redeemed by courage and perseverance. It is a great story, but the ending is bitter-sweet for the principals never saw justice done, and indeed, the price of justice has been very high. It took the Nazis two months to loot the family's belongings. It took the family sixty years of determination to recover a fraction of that. And the battle continue (for now, notably with our own Norton Simon museum and it's two looted Cranach paintings.)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cherchez La Femme: Grace McCann Morley

Everybody is doing the "best of 2010" shuffle - the 10 best books, the 10 best movies, the 10 best food items, high heeled shoes - you name it and somebody has it on a "best of" or "worst of" list. Instead of the ten (and what's with the magic number of ten), I'm going to list the women in, around, living or (alas) dead who impressed me this year.

Grace McCann Morley:

When I started writing my articles on the lack of women artists at SFMOMA, it never occurred to me one of the most striking omissions was that of Grace Morley, the first director of SFMOMA (1935-1960). She built the museum from the ground up, bought the paintings that provided the keystone of the collection, defended her purchases and created a vibrant place for culture. I've lived in San Francisco for forty years, been a practicing artist and an avid museum goer and I'd never heard of her.

So, why has it taken SF MOMA so long to honor her? She was the key figure in the development of the museum, establishing the SFMA (the early name of SF MOMA) as a major American museum. She also founded UNCECO's museum division after WW II and after leaving San Francisco, moved to India where where she helped found Indian's National Museum.

Not only that, but she got paid less than her male peers. According to Kara Kirk, who is the only one to write anything in depth on Morley, her starting salary was $2,400 a year, just under half of the sum being paid at the time to the director of the Minneapolis Museum of Art -- and a fraction of Alfred Barr's $9,000 starting salary at MoMA.
I also did two or three articles at the blog - do a search of you are interested)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Images

Kawanabe Kyosai, Crow on a Snowy Plum Branch, ca. 1880–1910.
Woodcut with mica, 37.6 × 51.6 cm (1413⁄16 × 205⁄16 in.)

The winter storm
Hid in the bamboo grove
And quieted away (Basho)

Hiroshige, Evening Squall

Chilling autumn rains
curtain Mt. Fuji, then make it
more beautiful to see

Both images are from the current show at the Legion in SF (closes mid-January 2011).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Post-Christmas Miscellanea

Next week, I'm going to try and sort out my impressions of the various museum shows that I've viewed and reviewed in 2010. I don't want to make this another one of the "Ten Best" lists because I don't think I can whittle the list down to ten. I also think that even shows that weren't so well reviewed had something interesting or important to say. 

And sometimes, the museum's "side dishes" to a poorly reviewed show were more tasty than the art on display. I should also add that I don't think it's the "duty" of a museum to hand you everything on a platter, silver or otherwise. If you don't like a show, feel it's incomplete or inadequate, why not think about how it could have been made better, do some research on the topic or just meditate - for a minute - on how darn difficult it must be to put these shows together. 

A Cuban in London's must read post on the status of bloggers in the official world (clue, lower than cockroaches) and his passionate rebuttal:
Rochefoucauld Grail (in French), “King Arthur Fighting the Saxons,” Illuminated manuscript, c.1315-23, Photo courtesy Sotheby’s

 Unfortunately for the future of many museum collections (and those who love the art work), the Asian isn't the only place struggling with finances. Homa Nasab reports on financial problems at the the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (R.J. Ritman Library).

"this spectacular collection is threatened with dissolution as the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica is in conflict with the Friesland Bank. A PETITION (there is a link to the petition at the website) has been put forth by the Center for History of Hermetic Philosophy of the University of Amsterdam to “ask the Dutch government and the Friesland bank to do their utmost to ensure that the collection will be saved and will remain available for the international scholarly community.”..

"the Library was forced to sell one of its most valuable works, the early 14th century (c.1315-23) Rochefoucauld Grail. The oldest surviving account of the legends of King Arthur was put up for auction by Sothey’s, on December 7th, to benefit the BPH. Also known as The Amsterdam, Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica Manuscript, the three volume illuminated manuscript exceeded its pre-sale estimate of £1,500,000-2,000,000 when sold for £2,393,250. The text’s fourth volume is divided between the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the John Rylands Library in Manchester."

An art stock exchange - given how well the "other" stock exchange has worked, is this such a good idea." My opinion - drive the money changers from the Temple as in this painting by El Greco. l guess fine art has always been a commodity but this proposal makes me wonder if there is ANYTHING in our world that can't be put on the sale block? I also suspect that most artists, unless they are also a ruthless shark, will be getting a raw deal.

From The Art Newsletter: "As the notion of art as an asset gains momentum again, the first stock exchange for art—on which clients can buy shares in works from galleries—is due to launch in Paris "in the next few days" according to its website. Based on a stock market model, Art Exchange will offer collectors the chance jointly to own works of art with shares available from between €10 and €100. Participating galleries are currently selling works valued at €100,000 or more, although the exchange intends to lower this figure once the company is established. “Given that we are doing something new, we had to create confidence and credibility in the investor and this is done through having high-class art works,” said Caroline Mat thews, the director of operations at Art Exchange. Matthews also hopes the caliber of works available will encourage naysayers to invest through the exchange. “For some people, mixing fine art and finance goes against their principles, but perhaps they will see things differently in the future,” she said." (in other words, forget your principles, go for the doss?)

The NY Times follow up on the continuing case of Picasso's art, the electrician and the heirs. Nothing to see here folks, just keep on moving - now wouldn't it be just amazing if the "lower class worker" turns out to be telling the truth? What a concept!

Sharon Butler at Two Coats of Paint reports on the firing? resignation under duress? of two of LA's respected art critics. I'm sorry to see this because I enjoy reading good art criticism but I guess the unwritten subtext is that pretty soon there won't be anybody writing about art except us no-account, no-brainer bloggers. 

"According to Jori Finkel at the LA Times, critics Doug Harvey and Christopher Miles, both known for a lively sort of intellectual brinksmanship in their writing (and for curating and making art on the side)will no longer be writing for the LA Weekly."

Chole Veltman reports on an attempt to bright up a blighted area of mid-Market.

A whole series of posts on the sometimes dishonest practices of the big auction houses. I was reminded of this earlier this year when I attended a talk given by a very charming auction house employee on the restitution of stolen art. When I brought up the issue of a piece of art that was still in contention between the heirs and the museum, he waffled all over the place and never gave a direct answer.

A new Google toy: Ngrams - It’s site (with a downloadable application) that lets you access Google’s book-scanning database to chart the number of mentions of words and phrases in English-language books by year of publication.Just remember when searching for the most famous names, that there are lies, damn lies and statistics. Number of mentions does not guarantee quality, only fame and she's a fickle bitch at best.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Tracking Santa

Santa Claus has departed the North Pole and NORAD is tracking via satellites as he makes his yearly trek around the globe. By noon, NORAD had locked on the flying object, complete with reindeer. Rudolph's red nose allows them to more accurately track this all-important flying vehicle. 

NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command, have been tracking Santa’s flight since 1955 after a Sears Roebuck & Co. ad for children to call Santa accidentally included the number to the command’s operations hotline.

As children called in, the commander checked the radar to provide updates on Santa’s location and the tradition was born.

This year, you can follow Santa via Google, put an application on your iphone and if you can't figure things out, there's a Google help page. Meet the 21st century.

As I was writing this, Santa's next stop was the Sudan. Now that's certainly a location which could use copious amounts of good will on earth and peace among men.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Journey of the Magi (TS Eliot)

Although this poem is far from the exalted and breathless tales in the New Testament, I love it. It's more somber, more reflective, more appropriate (to me) in this, our midwinter. I suspect that the medieval artists, whose paintings I am posting here, would resonate with the emotions if they had the freedom to do so. Theirs was a cold and bitter world, full of class divisions, poverty, war and suffering, political oppression and religious bigotry - much like our own. A few days ago, I was cleaning out the back of a closet and came across a sack of books that I hadn't looked at in 30 years. They were full of the optimism and hope for the future that so many of us had in the 70's for we were going to change the world for the better. The first decade of the 21st century draws to a close and I am not particularly optimistic for the future.

Madonna and Child. Italian. 1485, Jacopo del Sellaio

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and
And running away, and wanting their
liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the
lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns
And the villages dirty and charging high
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears,
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a

temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of


With a running stream and a water-mill

beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped in

away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with

vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for

pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so

we continued

And arrived at evening, not a moment

too soon

Finding the place; it was (you may say)


 The Adoration of the Christ Child by Master of the Retable of the Reyes Catolicos. 15th century.

All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
But no longer at ease here, in the old
With an alien people clutching their
I should be glad of another death.

Rodrigo de Orsina the Elder, Adoration of the Magi.
All images from the Legion of Honor data base. 
Legion of Honor

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Master of the Lanckoronski Annunciation at the Legion

Master of the Lanckoronski Annunciation (Italian, Florentine, second quarter 15th century

In the Gospel According to Luke, Archangel Gabriel, God's messenger, announced to the Virgin Mary that she would bear God's Child. Gabriel (left) swiftly enters the courtyard to make his announcement. This is one of the earliest pictures to portray the illusion of a body in movement. The courtyard has all the elements of Renaissance perspective. 

All of the lines accurately converge on a single vanishing point. Scale, however, is to be a bit off. Gabriel and the Virgin are too large relative to the architecture. The golden rays and the white dove on the left make this picture very special. Not only do they represent the Holy Spirit, but they also offer a single light source. For the first time we see a shadow behind the Virgin, a confirmation of the period's acceptance of humanity and realism in art. Artists of the Renaissance were able to take religious themes and put them in a setting familiar to contemporary society.

The three lilies are an attribute, or symbol, of the Virgin's purity and the trinity.

A similar painting at the Met has been now recognized as the work of Pesellino, executed while he was apprenticed in his grandfather's studio. The artist known as Pesellino was born Francesco di Stefano in Florence about 1422. Following the death of his father, before 1427, he was raised by—and later apprenticed to—his maternal grandfather, the painter Giuliano d'Arrigo, called Il Pesello, from whose name the diminutive, Pesellino, is derived. Giuliano d'Arrigo died in 1446, leaving his workshop to his grandson, who may have shared it briefly with Zanobi Strozzi, recently arrived in Florence from Fiesole. In 1453, Pesellino formed a business partnership with the artists Piero di Lorenzo and Zanobi del Migliore, and in 1455 he accepted the commission for the only documented painting by him that survives, an altarpiece of the Trinity now in the National Gallery, London. Pesellino died at the age of thirty-five in 1457.

Over the course of his brief career, Pesellino successfully adapted to his own the styles of several major artists, primarily Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi. Fra Angelico was the preeminent Florentine painter during Pesellino's formative years, and Pesellino seems to have enjoyed a short-term partnership (1446—48) with Angelico's sometime assistant Zanobi Strozzi. By 1450, he had swung decisively into the orbit of Fra Filippo Lippi, producing the works of art by which he is best known and most appreciated today. Pesellino's self-conscious efforts at blending these disparate strains of Florentine painting proved to be highly influential for the following generation of artists in Florence, who more often than not based their own efforts on Pesellino's example rather than on those of either of his predecessors.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice

The word “solstice” derives from the Latin sol (meaning sun) and statum (stand still), and reflects what we see on the first days of summer and winter when, at dawn for two or three days, the sun seems to linger for several minutes in its passage across the sky, before beginning to double back.

Indeed, “turnings of the sun” is an old phrase, used by both Hesiod and Homer. This time remains at heart an astronomical event, and quite a curious one. In summer, the sun is brighter and reaches higher into the sky, shortening the shadows that it casts; in winter it rises and sinks closer to the horizon, its light diffuses more and its shadows lengthen. As the winter hemisphere tilts steadily further away from the star, daylight becomes shorter and the sun arcs ever lower. Societies that were organized around agriculture intently studied the heavens, ensuring that the solstices were well charted.

Above all other rituals, reproducing the sun’s fire by kindling flame on earth is the commonest solstice practice, both at midsummer and midwinter. Thomas Hardy, describing Dorset villagers around a bonfire in “The Return of the Native,” offers an explanation for such a worldwide phenomenon:

“To light a fire is the instinctive and resistant act of men when, at the winter ingress, the curfew is sounded throughout nature. It indicates a spontaneous, Promethean rebelliousness against the fiat that this recurrent season shall bring foul times, cold darkness, misery and death. Black chaos comes, and the fettered gods of the earth say, ‘Let there be light.’ ”

Text extrapolated from the NY TImes

Saturday, December 18, 2010

And of course, the show at the Legion of Honor:

Arthur Szyk : artist, Jew, Pole/ Joseph P. Ansell.
The art and politics of Arthur Szyk / Steven Luckert.
Justice illuminated : the art of Arthur Szyk / Irvin Ungar
The new order / by Arthur Szyk ; introduction by Roger W. Straus, Jr.
 Child of the Century. Ben Hecht

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Scribe

In “The Scribe,” an elaborate piece painted in Paris in 1927, Szyk depicts a man dressed in medieval garb, sitting at a draftsman table and clutching a calligraphy pen. It all looks very Middle Ages, yet Szyk throws in a few jolting 20th-century references, such as a faux Picasso painting in the background.

The picture is a mash-up of modern and medieval “as if to show the world of the Renaissance is bumping against modernity,” Ungar notes. “You have planes and automobiles, two cherubs holding up the U.S. dollar.”

The medieval tropes fit right in with the Szyk approach. Adds Ungar: “During his lifetime, people said [Szyk] was the greatest illuminator in the style of the 16th century, illuminating text like monks in the Middle Ages.”

Arthur Szyk at the Legion of Honor

Seder Plate - part of Szyk's Haggadah
 A master of miniature painting and calligraphy, Szyk brought his unmistakable style to subjects as diverse as biblical stories, literary classics, and political caricature and cartoon. Like the medieval illuminators whose work inspired him, Szyk used intricate borders, decorated capital letters, calligraphy and bright colors to bring his subjectsto life.  His densely textured symbolism brings to mind surrealism, while some of his grotesque images are reminiscent of Durer. Other influences include Beardsley, Bakst , Indian miniatures as well as medieval illustrations. 

Although a section of the exhibit displays Szyk's political art - an important part of his career - the Legion exhibition places his work firmly within the realm of fine arts—a major milestone in returning Szyk to his rightful place in the art world .

A self-described “soldier in art,” Szyk was a committed activist-artist, advocating for religious tolerance and racial equality for minorities, especially for Jews and black Americans. Fleeing from the Nazis, Szyk and his family settled in the United Stated in 1940. There, Szyk announced, "At last, I have found the home I have always searched for. Here I can speak of what my soul feels. There is no other place on earth that gives one the freedom, liberty and justice that America does."

Szyk loved three countries: Poland, the land of his birth; the United States, the land of his ideals; and Israel, the land of his people. These nations and their rich histories—particularly their struggles for democracy and independence—filled him with pride.

As a young man, Szyk developed a political consciousness that was influenced by his teacher, Teodor Axentowicz, the Polish nationalist painter and illustrator. As a contributor to the satirical Polish journal Smeich, Szyk drew on themes of antisemitism, worker abuse and the German militarism - themes that were to occupy him throughout his life. 

 As a “citizen soldier of the free world,” Szyk saw much to celebrate in other countries, too, particularly countries that had won their independence and championed democracy. He created stamps to celebrate the anniversary of the African nation of Liberia. He twice illuminated the history of Canada. Szyk even created a 51-painting series commemorating Simon Bolivar, the “George Washington of South America,” though he himself had never traveled to the continent. Most famously, his Visual History of Nations series pays tribute to many founding members of the United Nations.

Yet even his beloved America had its flaws of racism and political paranoia. As a Polish Jew who had fought against fascism in his native land in the 1920s and 1930s, Szyk had associated with Communist groups. For this ancient “sin,” Szyk came under the scrutiny of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1951. The stress from the witch hunt induced a series of heart attacks and he died that same year, at age 57.

Simon Bolivar at Junin (historic battle during their wars for independence

Arthur Szyk: Miniature Paintings and Modern Illuminations at the Legion of Honor. 
December 4, 2010 to March 27, 2011

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Arthur Szyk at the Legion of Honor

I fell in love again today with a man who illuminated my childhood dreams and fantasies. I adored his illustrations when I was a child, eagerly pouring over Hans Christensen Anderson's Fairy Tales, The Arabian Nights and the Canterbury Tales. I didn't know that he was a tireless fighter for justice, a political cartoonist of the highest order during WW II and a man who combined amazing skills with 20th century political acumen. I will write more later but for now, enjoy some of his work:

Arthur Szyk, A Polish Patriot, A Jew, An Naturalized American Citizen whose cartoons against the Nazis and rallies for war bonds were so effective that Eleanor Roosevelt called him  "Roosevelt's soldier with a pen." A Voice for Freedom and Artist Extraordinaire.

Arabian Nights
Canterbury Tales

From Anderson's Fairy Tales

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

EcoArchive: Meditations on Time and Nature at Intersection for the Arts

Intersection for the Arts
There is a lot of ecologically related art showing in San Francisco right now. Andy Goldsworthy has a show at Haines, documenting his artistic practice and an on-going installation at the Presidio but an equally interesting - and challenging show - is at Intersection for the Arts, in their new gallery at 925 Mission.  Located on the ground floor of what used to be the Chronicle building, the huge space has a raw, unfinished ambiance that fits in well with the current show. Co-Curated by Patricia Watts, the founder of ecoartspace which addresses environmental issues, the works attempt to look at the current state of our own planet through documenting human actions, interactions and destructive practices. The show attempts to raise our awareness of ecology and the exhibit works if you give yourself over to it. The show is not one that you can breeze through, full of pretty or at least recognizable pieces. Each section of the exhibit requires time, sometimes a great deal of time, to watch the videos or to understand the real meaning of the photographs and sculptures.

Cynthia Hooper is presenting three visually stunning videos. Each pulls the viewer in with their beauty and then, shocks with the realization of what he (or she) is really watching. The images are both hideous and beautiful, portraying the real meaning of how we are corrupting the earth. Her work is a poetic and meditative look at landscapes transformed, often negatively, by us. The installations come with headphones but the viewing experience would be improved if there were a couch or at least a chair for the viewer.

Jessica Skloven, Chronicles of a Place Unknown, Iceland, Summer 2008

At first glance, Jessica Skloven's work looks like abstract paintings. But they are really series of photographs of Iceland, done during the summer of 2008.  Images of the harsh, barren but fascinating landscape fill the frame from edge to edge.

Matthew Moore is a farmer living outside Phoenix, the last of four generations to live and farm on the same land. His Lifecycles documents, through time-lapse photography. the different types of foods grown on his family farm outside Phoenix. Who would have thought that watching a time-lapse photo of broccoli growing would be so fascinating?

Sam Easterson. Burrowing Owl

Sam Easterson's ongoing project The Museum of Animal Perspectives (MAP) features wildlife imagery that has been captured using remote sensing cameras on animals, spiders, and insects. Upon entering the gallery, two of these videos greet the visitor; the one with a Tarantula is not for the arachnid phobic!

Other artists in the exhibit include Tamara Albaitis sound works, Mark Baugh-Sasaki's sculptures, Karl Cronin, experimental performance artist, Chris McCaw's time lapse photography using vintage gelatin silver black and white paper and Chris Sicat's found and reclaimed wood, covered with graphite.

It's the season to be jolly but while you are maxing the plastic to the max, have a thought for the planet. It's the only one we have and in a time of increasing environmental problems caused by man's thoughtlessness, carelessness and greed, shows like EcoArchive attempt to bring mindfulness and care for Mother Earth into our consciousness.

Andy Goldsworthy: Incidental Objects: Sculpture, drawings, photographs and video. Through Dec. 24. Haines Gallery, 49 Geary St., S.F. (415) 397-8114
Kenneth Baker's review at the Chronicle:

Patricia Watts ecoartspace ( is a platform for artists addressing environmental issues. Founded in 1997 as an art and nature center in development, ecoartspace was one of the first websites dedicated to art and environmental issues. New York City Curator Amy Lipton joined Watts in 1999, and together they have curated numerous exhibitions, participated on panels, lectured at universities, developed programs and curricula, and written essays for publications.

Intersection for the Arts: 925 Mission Street at 5th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Gallery Hours: Tuesdays - Saturdays 12-6PM. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Gallery Closed 12/24 - 1/3, Re-Opening 1/4.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

USA fellows 2010 announced

Allison Smith, part of installation at SFMOMA
Two of the 2010 grant winners work here in the Bay Area. I like Allison Smith's work - quilts, needlework all put together in an intelligent conceptual framework.  I am not at all familiar with Ms. Green's work but that type of installation and media work is not my taste. Still, Congratulations! Two of the nine winners are located here and they are both women. That's not too shabby. Now, off to check to see if either one has been reviewed by the esteemed art critic in our local fish wrapper (the one he writes for, not the one I write for).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Bye Bye Brenda Star

One of my youthful crushes is retiring from the business. No more late nights or looming deadlines for globetrotting reporter Brenda Starr. Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich and artist June Brigman said they've decided it was time to end their work on the seven-day-a-week strip which appears in about three dozen newspapers. The final episode of the soap opera cartoon created by the late Dale Messick will be published Jan. 2. 

 The loss of Brenda Starr marks the second starring a strong female — and redheaded — character for Tribune Media Services. The Chicago-based company announced in June that Annie, which debuted in 1924, would be no more. Let's hope that is not portent for the way that women's rights, in or out of the workplace, may be headed. Out with the strong, intelligent woman and in with the scantly dressed, bubble headed bimbo?

Brenda Starr was a rarity in the world of comics, with a strong female lead role and a female-dominated creative team, originating in a time when the workplace wasn't as friendly to women (and just how friendly is it now?)

The redheaded comic heroine, whose first appearance came in a June 1940 Chicago Tribune insert, is putting the notebook away for good next month. Tribune Media Services, which owns Brenda Starr, announced Thursday that it's ending the feature's newspaper syndication.

"It's been an incredible privilege to be able to live life through this medium all these years," said Schmich, who has written the comic for 25 years. "I'm a reporter, above all, so I always use Brenda in a funny way to report things."

When Brenda, who works for The Flash, went to India or Mount Everest on an adventure, Schmich studied as much as she could about those places. The strip was also a way to comment on the changing industry — like with the Internet star character of Rat Sludge, a thinly-veiled caricature of Matt Drudge — and the roles of working women.

Dale Messick, creator of the redheaded comic heroine "Brenda Starr"

Brenda Starr "girl reporter" has evolved from what Schmich describes as a "weepier, girlier ditzier" character where most plot lines revolved around her love life to a (slightly) more serious character, closer to what a reporter would be today.

"Brenda was always aware it could be difficult in the world and the newsroom to be a woman, but she always made it work," Schmich said.

The change in character has also been reflected in the way Brenda has been drawn, from accessorized and brightly-colored fitted skirt suits in the early decades to more functional slacks and jackets in more recent years.

"She's a little more down to earth, probably dresses more for function," said Brigman, who began drawing the strip in 1995 after a illustrating comic books for DC, Dark Horse and Marvel, including the latter's critically lauded "Power Pack" series. "She has style and she just doesn't look as flamboyant."

But that doesn't mean the strip has been completely tame.

Both Brigman and Schmich say their favorite character was The Flash's gossip columnist, Gabby VanSlander, a smart, gossipy and bold woman who's often depicted with a cigarette.

"She was a lot fun. She was so outrageous," Brigman said. "We also got mail complaining about this character smoking. But she was so stubborn. Despite all the anti-smoking (campaign) out there, she was never going give it up."

The strip's reach — spanning seven decades of global adventures — is obvious.

But Brenda fans rest assured, she won't be gone for good. The comic strip may be gone but the merchandizing - and probably dilution of the strip's strong feminist message - will continue.

Images & Information: AP Wire Services.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Exit 2010, galloping to the end

 James McNeill Whistler, Old Battersea Bridge, 1879. Etching with
drypoint, part of current show at the Legion

Wow - the year is galloping to a close. What is the stage direction -- exit left (or in the case of the US), exit right, pursued by a bear? It's been quite a year for me with the first half taken up with moving my mother to a senior facility and getting her house ready for sale.

That meant dealing with a lifetime of "stuff," which included four closets overflowing with expensive clothes, a shoe collection that rivaled Imelda Marcos' and enough jewelry to drape every member of the House of Windsor with bling and have gew-gaws left over. Everything in the house reeked of cigarette smoke. We had to have the house professionally cleaned and then, repainted - and it still hasn't sold. Oh well, maybe we will become renters. There is only so much one can do in this crappy housing market.

What has been a joy and a constant amazement is how my life has changed since I became a blogger and last year, a journalist, writing for the I don't have any illusions about those who run that site or any expectations for my fellow journalists. When I read what a lot of them have written, I understand the dismay of "old fashioned" journalists at the low standards, poor writing and sloppy reporting. But the Examiner's lack of oversight has allowed me to set my own standards (high, I hope), and build my own reputation, I don't get a free pass because I work for a respected newspaper. Unfortunately, those are few and far between. I get in because I work hard to cover shows fairly, make nice to the behind-the-scenes people that do so much of the work (that's not difficult because they are NICE people) and keep up a schedule of several posts a week. I even interject a bit of humor now and then and I am decidedly not a cheerleader for every art whiz-bang show that opens in the Bay Area.

I've planned several "treats" for my faithful (and not so faithful) readers. There will be a report on Judy Chicago's talk, a piece on the Arthur Szyk show at the Legion, a look at the various shows with ecological themes around town and for a grand finale, another batch of revisiting the collection with a look at Annunciation and Nativity paintings at the Legion. I'd also love to find some images of Saturnalia but the Bay Area doesn't have much in the way of Greek and Roman art. If anybody knows of any, just e-mail me at I think that 2010 won't be complete with a statue of a frolicking nymph or a drunk Dionysus.

Utagawa Hiroshige, Kinryzan Temple in Asakusa, from the series One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo, 1856. Color woodcut with “lacquer” and embossing,

So, Happy Hannukah, celebrate Saturnalia, look for the upcoming posts and enjoy the season. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Elizabeth Edwards: 1949- 2010

Oh no! - just saw this. Another one of the good people gone from the planet:

 Elizabeth Edwards 1949-2010
She was a strong woman who fought her own cancer while giving other people fighting cancer encouragement and love. Her battle was ongoing for six years and it took her this morning December 7, 2010.  Godspeed you wonderful Mom, you wonderful person, you did what you could to fight the fight. You dealt with your husband's betrayal with dignity and courage, giving me even more reason to respect you. 

She made all of us "liberals" proud and gave new dimensions to what it meant to be human, to be progressive and to have a care beyond her family --if there were more like her, I'd have more faith that we can save the planet.

New Design for blog...

I changed the template and like an IDIOT did not save my old format. I am not sure I really like it - it's clean and uncluttered which is what I like. I also like the white background as it shows the art work off better but as for the rest...the jury is still out. Any comments or suggestions? The font function is kind of off - I prefer Verdana as it's clean but the template keeps defaulting to Ariel. Anyway, I'm glad to get rid of the yellow background color but I'm not sure about the rest.

Judy Chicago on Frida Kahlo - December 12 at the CJM

Face to Face: Judy Chicago on Frida Kahlo

Judy Chicago, whose multi-media project The Dinner Party is among the most influential, will be discussing her new book Frida Kahlo: Face to Face. The book is both an exploration of Kahlo's work, and a conversation between Chicago and Kahlo, both of whom promoted the relevance and centrality of women's voices in 20th century art. A Book signing follows. 

In my on-going exploration of feminist art, I went looking at for Judy at our SFMOMA. I was not surprised to find that the museum has very few works by her, and (as far as I can see), nothing from the iconic, ground-breaking, still controversial Dinner Party. It showed here in 1979 at the old SFMOMA on Van Ness, was exhibited around the country for about 10 years and then, was in storage until 1977 when it found a permanent home at The Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art in Brooklyn, NY.

This major project created a firestorm of criticism (mostly by the mainstream media) while speaking to the hearts of those of us not invested in maintaining the status quo. Her gender politics, sometimes abrasive personality and focus on sexual imagery to represent women, as well as bringing to the fore the millions of women who have been written out of history are as controversial now as they were in 1979. There still seems to be little understanding of the complexities of the 70's and feminist art is STILL "written out" or seen as marginal or irrelevant. What's the famous quote - those who don't know history are domed to repeat it?

David Evett pointed out in a 1981 review that the Dinner Party, like Nude Descending a Staircase, forced viewers to think about their basic assumptions regarding art. Critics like Hilton Kramer were obsessive in their criticism of the piece’s attraction to the masses, mostly women and certainly not part of the NY art establishment. So much for disinterested artistic theory but again, so much for the theory of high art, created by mostly males, always individualistic who worked in oil or carved marble.

Of course, some of the conflict between high art and lowbrow kitsch came from within the feminist movement itself. Judy Chicago wanted The Dinner Party to be viewed as high art. When studying china painting prior to starting the project, she saw herself as a “serious” artist as opposed to the housewives who were taking the class to fill up their free time.

Yet, in a recent interview, she went on to say, “What I have been after from the beginning is a redefinition of the role of the artist, a reexamination of the relation of art and community, and a broadening of the definitions of who controls art and, in fact, an enlarged dialogue about art, with new and more diverse participants.”

Because feminists had (and have) an interest in challenging elitist systems of value, the fact that the Dinner Party was inaccessible for most of the last two decades speaks volumes about the place of feminist art. The use of the female labia as the central iconography of the piece speaks to the need to examine it as a serious work placed with its historical setting, with ramifications beyond the 70’s. Berger’s theory on the gaze is as relevant then as now – the difference between the naked and the nude. The Dinner Party’s pudenda imagery is nothing if not naked, proudly and defiantly so, and all the more “shocking” because the work was created by a body of (mostly) women, using the “womanly” crafts of pottery, china painting and embroidery. Portrayals of male and female genitalia abound in art but as part of a larger image; this was the first time that the part that had discretely veiled was so openly displayed without apology.

Her book on Frida is mentioned at the Huffington Post as one of the best books to give for Christmas (or give it to yourself): "The first choice is the ultimate coffee table book about Frida Kahlo, written and designed by Judy Chicago. Everything about this book is appropriately over the top, and what else would you expect from one larger-than-life artist writing about another with an even bigger personality?"
Interview in Ms Magazine:

Co-presented with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts     
Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 4 PM
Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission Street (between Third and Fourth streets)
San Francisco, CA 94103
,   or call 415.655.7800.

ADMISSION: FREE with regular admission of $10 general; $8 students with ID and seniors; youth 18 and under free.

Please note: On Sunday, Dec. 12, Admission to the Museum is free for SF Public Library cardholders with one guest.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

 Pelican by Nicolette Toussaint, watercolor (currently showing at the Artists Alley) 

Today's post at the is a huge wrap up of links to my essays on either Japanese art or the influence of Japanese art on the west plus an introduction to a new (to me) artist.

SF Arts and Museum Examiner

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Japanesque: The influence of Japanese art on the west

Dow's teaching inspired many artists to study Japanese design and create Japanese themed woodcuts.  Their work reflected Arts and Crafts theories which encouraged artists in a hands on approach and to make work that was both decorative and useful. When I went to see the show at the Legion, I've started at various points in the exhibit because there is so much art work and each piece is so mesmerizing that I would burn out long before I reached the last gallery. The show is organized chronologically so the first gallery is the Japanese print, the middle galleries are European artists who were influenced by Japanese prints and the last gallery showcases the work of Dow and his students. What is astonishing is how fresh these prints look today, unlike some of the other artistic "fads" of the early 20th century,

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith, Moonflower and Hawkmoth, 1917–1918. Color woodcut on Japanese paper, 22.7 °— 20.1 cm (815⁄16 °— 715⁄16 in.)

Alice Ravenel Huger Smith was a well known, South Carolina based artist. For a short period, from 1917 to 1919, she produced woodcuts that successfully combined the Japanese aesthetic with flora and fauna in settings of the South Carolina low country. On many of them, including Moonflower and Hawkmoth, she used a red seal in the shape of a stylized double S-curve, an obvious reference to her last name but also suggestive of Charleston’s location at the confluence of two rivers.

Frances Hammel Gearhart, After the Rain, 1919. Color woodcut, 22.4 °— 16.5 cm

In Southern California, the sisters May and Edna Gearhart returned to Pasadena in the 1910s after studying with Dow in New York at Teachers College. Pasadena was by then home to an active art community.  May and Edna were joined by their sister Frances to hear Dow lecture in Los Angeles in 1911 and may have been visitors to the studio he maintained there for a month during his first western sojourn. By 1919 May was living and sharing a studio with Frances, the Gearhart sister who truly took up the color woodcut and excelled in its production. (May was an innovator in color etching, and her subjects and compositions also reveal Dow’s influence.)

These are just a few artists among the many in this generation. who looked to Japan for technical inspiration but to their own stunning and diverse California landscape for subject matter. They were joined by others who came west for the landscape, the climate, and also for the prospects offered in burgeoning art communities before and after World War I.

Helen Hyde studied briefly in Paris, from 1891 to 1894 before returning to her native San Francisco where she discovered Chinatown and began using that as a subject for her etchings. In 1899, at age thirty-one, she sailed to Japan for the first time and was immediately taken with its people and culture. Fenollosa, who was working there on a history of ukiyo-e, probably directed her attention to color woodcuts; she later met in Tokyo the Austrian artist Emil Orlik (1870–1932), who provided her with her first tools and showed her how to cut wooden blocks.

Between 1902 and 1910 Hyde designed woodcuts that would later be carved and printed by Japanese craftsmen in her employ in the traditional system of Japanese print production. She was a resident of Tokyo then, living in a home that was outfitted with a studio and filled with a large collection of Japanese textiles that she used to dress her models.

Hyde’s Moon Bridge at Kameido of 1914  is another direct quotation of a Japanese artist’s design—Hiroshige’s depiction of the same bridge in Precincts of the Tenjin Shrine at Kameido , complete with flowering wisteria branches. Hyde exhibited her prints in galleries across the United States and enjoyed widespread recognition and commercial success. Among other honors, her prints were awarded a bronze medal at the 1915 Panama- Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Bertha Lum, A Rainy Twilight, 1905. Color woodcut on Japanese paper, 16.7 × 24.2 cm

By the 1930's the increasing conflicts between the United States and Japan had caused things Japanese, including art and design, to fall out of favor. In the post-war period, Western artists looked to Zen calligraphy and spontaneous brush painting for inspiration. The spontaneous nature of Zen painting and the emphasis on gesture and "the now" were more in tune with the prevailing artistic zeitgeist.

 Frank Morley Fletcher, California 2—Mount Shasta, 1932. Color woodcut on Japanese paper,
28.8 × 40.6 cm (115⁄16 × 16 in.)

But for more than seventy years, from 18670 through the first decades of the twentieth century, the color wood cut exerted a huge influence on Western art. From Manet, though Van Gogh and Gauguin to Arthur Dow and his followers and even today with contemporary master Tom Killion,  Japanese art has catalyzed innovations and explorations in modern art.

All images @ Legion of Honor/California State Archives
Information from the catalog for the exhibit: Japaneseque. The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism by Karin Breuer
Exhibit at the Legion through January 9, 2011
Legion of Honor

Friday, December 3, 2010

Japanesque: The Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism

Arthur Wesley Dow

In 1896 the artist Arthur Wesley Dow designed a poster for an important exhibition of Japanese prints organized by his friend Fenollosa in New York. Dow had met Fenollosa some years earlier, after studying in Paris and Pont-Aven, where he had been introduced to Japanese art. Fenollosa found a kindred spirit in the young Dow, who had already been exposed to “modern art” as practiced by French artists such as Gauguin and, more important to Fenollosa, had also discovered the art of Hokusai. In 1890 Dow wrote to Minnie Pearson, who would soon be his wife, “It is now plain to me that Whistler and Pennell whom I have admired as great originals are only copying the Japanese. One evening with Hokusai gave me more light on composition and decorative effect than years of study of pictures. I surely ought to compose in an entirely different manner.”

 By the late 1890's, Dow was well known as a teacher and writer about design and it was though Dow's teaching that California artists were most influenced by Japanese prints. Dow influenced an even greater number of students through his landmark book Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers. First published in 1899, it subsequently went through twenty editions. Heavily illustrated with diagrams and designs, many of them based on Japanese models, the book revealed the importance of line, color, and nπtan (a Japanese term describing the relationship between light and dark areas) to compositional structure.

One of the delights of the current show on Japanese prints at the Legion is the gallery showcasing the work of American, particularly California artists. There were several women artists represented who I had never heard about. These woodblock prints came from the archives of the California State Libraries and some have not been shown in public for several decades. Once the show is over, they will go back into the archives and disappear from public view. I have no idea how the public can access private viewings of this art work so go and see them while you still can. Given the current state of California's finances, it would not surprise me to hear that they've been sold to finance the State's debt. Stranger things have happened.
Catalog from the Japanese Print in the Era of Impressionism

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Happy Hanukkah

 I loathe rap but the Maccabeats, coming to us out of Yeshiva University, have made me change my mind. In celebration of the season, they just brought out a new track for Chanukah, based on Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" and Mike Tompkins' a cappella version. It's rap, harmony mixed with gentle humor, a bit of goofiness and it's utterly delightful.

I’ll tell a tale
Of Maccabees in Israel
When the Greeks tried to assail
But it was all to no avail

The war went on and on and on
Until the mighty Greeks were gone

I flip my latkes in the air sometimes sayin ayy ohh spin the dreidel
Just wanna celebrate for all eight nights singin ayy oh, light the candles

full lyrics at the website Lyrics: David Block and Immanuel Shalev