Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy 2012!

Out with the old, in with the new

I am constantly reminded of Charles Dicken's line from "A tale of two cities, " "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. " We had fantastic shows but we also had a couple of duds.

SFMOMA followed their show on the Stein family collections with a huge, boring exhibit of black on black "drawings" by Richard Serra. The main thing on view in that exhibit was ego.

The SECA show at SFMOMA was disappointing  and the show to promote marriage equality was not every effective. The book was a lot better (sounds like a lot of movies that we see!).

While the Asian Arts Museum rose like a phoenix from the ashes of last year's financial doldrums with several amazing exhibits, they also chose to spend a lot of money on a new logo. While I tried to be polite, I just don't get it nor did a lot of Bay Area bloggers. But the important thing is what's inside the building, not the signage on the front doors.

The SF Arts Commission reeled from stupid decision to scandal as news broke that they had chosen former dog murderer Tom Otterness for a huge project to make sculptures for the Central Subway - which is another scandal but not an artistic one. Eventually, the commission "fired" him but because of legal issues, still had to let him keep a substantial portion of the grant money. Lots of SF artists were asking why the "SF" Arts Commission couldn't chose a local artist!

The SF Arts Commission also asked their director, Luis Cancel to resign. Apparently he was spending too much time away from the desk, presumably at his second home in Brazil (maybe dancing the Bossa Nova?)

$477,000 in grant money for a SF arts group was given to a LA? The audit is ongoing (I assume?).

The Commission has appointed a new Director of Cultural Affairs, Tom De Caigny comes to the position with many years of experiences, lastly as executive director of the Performing Arts Workshop, DeCaigny will officially assume his new role leading the $10 million agency responsible for championing the arts in San Francisco on January 9, 2011. I wish him luck because he will need it.

Lastly, I just read that John Buchanan, the Director of the FAMSF (both Legion and De Young) died yesterday of cancer.

"John deserves enormous credit for his vision," said Neal Benezra, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, in an e-mail. "He brought a succession of important exhibitions to San Francisco, including opportunities for our community to experience masterworks from the Musée Picasso and renowned examples of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism from the Musée d'Orsay. John was a valued colleague and I will miss him tremendously."

My condolences to his family; he will be missed.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking back at the year in art.

"God created the Maharajas to provide a spectacle to humanity” wrote Rudyard Kipling, and the Asian did justice to his observation in their next big show, "Maharaja, Splendors of Indian's Royal Courts. There wasn’t an object in the show that wasn't embellished, inlaid with gems and gold, looped with sapphires and diamonds or outlined with pearls.The gaudy display was a reminder that today's 1% aren't alone in ignoring the misery outside their mansions.

The FAMSF gave us a feast of European art - from Pissarro to the splendors of the old masters to the subtle skill of 17th century Dutch painting in the Von Otterloo collection. 

Pissarro is probably the least well know of the impressionists and the show displayed his humanistic look at family, friends and the working people of the day as well as his political radicalism.

The behemoth blockbuster of the year was the two-museum tribute to the Stein family. Most of us know of Gertrude, the contrary, cantankerous and sometimes charming women who is notorious for saying 'There is no there, there" when referring to Oakland. Using a wealthy of archival material, the show brought to life her and Alice and a multitude of the famous and infamous of the Parisian avant-guard for decades.

Right across the road, at SFMOMA was an eloquent tribute to the family as art collectors. Seldom have so few bought so much art with so little money. It's difficult to say which is more amazing - the low prices paid for now priceless paintings by Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse or the Steins' (particularly Sarah Stein's) courageous support of art that was then new, provocative and revolutionary.

Across the bay, the Berkeley Art Museum hosted two unique shows, the first West Coast exhibit of the work of Kurt Schwitters and "Create," a show of art made by artists with disabilities.

"Create" highlighted the extraordinary contributions of three of the foremost centers for artists with disabilities, all located in the Bay Area: Creativity Explored (San Francisco), Creative Growth Art Center (Oakland), and NIAD Art Center (Richmond, CA).

As I said at the time, "It's really a shame to call them "artists with disabilities" because they are artists first, and mentally challenged second. Yet, to ignore their condition is to make light of the difficulties they face.

Thanks to the lack of a safety net, the disabled roam our streets, beg on the sidewalks, mutter to themselves, are messy, dirty, frightening. They challenge us to define what it is to be human. They test the limits of what we can do, can afford to do, have the will to do. Unfortunately, they can't always communicate how extraordinary they can be, with help, with encouragement, with love and a support system."

The MoAD brought us a rare look at original works by Romare Bearden, the vibrant quilts of the Siddis, part of the African diaspora in India and "Textural Rhythms," swing, jazz and be-bop in fabric and thread,

The CJM brought us the work and tragic life of Charlotte Salomon, considered among the most innovative artists of mid-century Europe whose work defies categorization, and continues to influence artists in unusual ways.

In the galleries: Hosfelt bought up a rare look at works by Jay De Feo. Next year, a major traveling retrospective of Jay DeFeo's work, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, will be presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the autumn of 2012.

These are a few of my favorite things from the rich offerings from my favorite city by the bay. If I listed everything I liked along with a few things I disliked, the post would be too long to read - and it's long enough already. 

But none of this would be possible without the people behind the scenes at the museum.

I especially want to give a shout of thanks to the following: Jill Lynch, Robin Wander, Cheryl McCain (FAMSF) and Peter Cavagnaro at the Berkeley Art Museum, Libby Garrison and Robyn Wise at SFMOMA. As a member of the third tier of the press, I am immeasurably grateful for your help.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The best in 2011

 Coin Deities, Collected in the 1930's
 Margaret Mead: Upon the hundreds of stone altars of Bali, there lay not merely a fruit and a flower, placed as visible offering to the many gods, but hundreds of finely wrought and elaborately conceived offerings made of palm leaf and flowers, twisted, folded, stitched, embroidered, brocaded into myriad traditional forms and fancies. There were flowers made of sugar and combined into representations of the rainbow, and swords and spears cut from the snow-white fat of sacrificial pigs. The whole world was patterned, from the hillsides elaborately terraced to give the maximum rice yield, to the air which was shot through with music, the temple gates festooned with temporary palm-leaf arras over their permanent carved façade, to the crowds of people who, as they lounged, watching an opera or clustered around two fighting cocks, composed themselves into a frieze…Their lives were packed in intricate and formal delights...

 The witch Rangda. 1800 - 1930 (?).
 There were so many fantastic shows this year that I hardly know where to begin - but why not being in the beginning with "Bali, Art, Ritual, Performance,"  at the Asian. I think it was the first big show of the year, bringing museum goers a multi-dimensional look at an island that has long fascinated Westerners.

Their complex culture, a mixture of native beliefs and Hinduism may now be a performance more for Western tourism but enough remains to give a idea of what once was - and still is to some degree - a living culture. The exhibit didn't go into detail about the Dutch conquest. That would have been so brutal and bloody that it would have overwhelmed the exhibit. But for an honest look at the brutalities of the Dutch conquest in the 16th century, read Michael Kondl's "The Taste of Conquest. The rise and fall of the three great cities of spice."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Louie, Louie

According to various sources, including the late, great James Beard (New Fish Cookery, @1976), the dish was invented by one of the fin du siecle chefs at the Palace Hotel. Or maybe the St. Francis Hotel. or maybe the Bohemian Restaurant in Portland, Oregon. Anyway, who cares!
image: Wikipedia Creative Commons

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri), The Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1607-10, Oil on canvas, 143 x 115cm, National Gallery of Scotland. 

I am not a big fan of Dowd but today's column on Dickens and "the Christmas Carol" is a good one. She makes the point that Dicken's story still resonates with many of us because of our own childhood experiences of rejection, abuse and misery. 

The official Christmas story is of a child who comes to redeem the world; the reality is that Jewish baby, born of poor parents,  would today be one of the world's beaten, scorned, insulted or ignored. 

The miracle is that some do remember the real meaning of the Nativity and reach out with compassion, help and tolerance. Try to celebrate that message of Christmas and not the bellow of consumer greed, intolerance or ignorance that screams loudly to block out the cries of the suffering world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Changes at Chez NamasteNancy

My writing and other projects are keeping me so busy that it's not economically feasible to maintain a separate space for painting. I'm cleaning up, sorting out and moving my art to my home where I can put it up and enjoy it.

As the solstice dawns, I will be closing one chapter in my life and opening another. If the past is prologue, then the new chapter should be full of challenges, joys and some sorrow, new acquaintances and old friends.

So, let us turn the page together.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Vaclav Havel

The playwright who became a protester who became a president, Vaclav Havel, has died today. There is already much on the blogosphere about this Czech great, and there will be more in tomorrow's papers. But if you only read one thing connected with him, then I'd advise you make it the address he delivered to the Czechoslovakian people on 1 January 1990, which I've copied below. It was only a few days after his election as president, yet triumphalism and celebration is there little. Instead, Havel dwells on the horrors his country endured in the Twentieth Century, and — crucially — how they were permitted to come about. It is one of my favorite speeches, and it speaks now, as well as words can, of Havel's achievements and legacy:

Saturday, December 17, 2011

National Trust On Line

Brueghel the Younger’s masterpiece 'The Procession to Calvary ' at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire.  Completed in 1602, and amongst Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s finest works, it shows Christ carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion, set in a contemporary Flemish landscape. The painting was saved for the nation earlier this year following a successful fundraising campaign led by the Art Fund and the National Trust.

From great works of art by Gainsborough to the ordinary cotton underpants of a Midlands grocer, details of over 700,000 objects in the care of the National Trust go online for the first time. Now anyone with an interest in historic objects or old curiosities can have virtual access to collections from over 200 historic properties. The website also includes details of collections in storage, items that are too fragile to display, or on loan to other museums, making it one of the largest online resources for historic collections in the world.

The National Trust cares for some of the UK ’s greatest works of art as well as the personal collections of many famous former owners such as Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter and George Bernard Shaw.

There are artistic treasures from stately houses but also thousands of everyday items from modest homes, mills, cottages and workplaces. All the paraphernalia of life – with many quirky, unusual, retro and bizarre objects – come together to form ‘time capsules’ of life across the centuries.

Some of the fascinating objects now viewable online are
• Laudanum bottle at Castle Ward
• Costume decorated with beetle wings for actress Ellen Terry at Smallhythe Place
• Sewing machine used at the tailor’s shop from the 1970s at the Back to Backs
• Brueghel the Younger’s masterpiece 'The Procession to Calvary ' at Nostell Priory
• Early anti-ageing ‘Rejuvenating’ machine at Overbeck’s
• Lavishly furnished Georgian dolls’ house at Uppark
• Photograph from 1912 of the family’s servants at Erddig
• Bible reputed to have been used at the execution of King Charles I at Chastleton House
• Pair of Aertex underpants at Mr Straw’s House
• French 18th century painted sedan chair at Snowshill

The National Trust Collections website is drawn from the Trust’s national inventory - it has taken nearly fifteen years and the work of hundreds of Trust staff, volunteers and contractors to research, catalogue and photograph the collections and develop the database – and work is on-going.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Culture Grrl (aka Lee Rosenbaum ) may leave the blogsphere.

As noted here:

..."One of the parts of my edited Finnish interview that didn't make it onto the program concerned the unremunerative nature of this solo enterprise. I have just totaled my dismal take for 2011. I'll share it with you---slightly less than $1,400 (including donations and ads), for a year out of my finite professional life. What am I thinking?

Blogging has been a labor of love and it's in my blood. I believe (as I told the Finns) that it's important, and I'd like to think that CultureGrrl has been regarded as such by its devoted, sophisticated niche audience.

So here's the Grrl's last gurgle:

If 100 readers are willing to donate $20 each within the next three weeks to express appreciation for last year's edition of CultureGrrl (or if a different combination of readers and benefactions achieves the same monetary goal), I'll continue. Given the size of my audience, that's a relatively modest goal. But it seems unlikely to be realized, in light of the record so far."

She has the connections to get behind the pretty facade of many a museum and opened the doors of public scrutiny to a lot of less-than-stellar behavior. It would be a shame to lose her concerned voice and once my Paypal account recovers from a number of December charitable donations, I will put my money where my mouth is. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of money give but surely somebody out there does? It's the Internet's dirty little secret - all this great information, breaking news, articles, op-ed pieces, good journalism (and bad) -but nobody is paying the writers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dancer - Works by Mark Lightfoot at Market Street Gallery.

After last week's debacle at SFMOMA, it was a pleasure to see this show. Not many local artists work with three dimensional imagery. Flora Davis at SOMA Arts (689 Bryant St. ) is one but I really don't know any others.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2011 Eclipse

Thoughts after viewing the 2010 SECA Award Show

I am working on a couple of longer posts but I found this on Sharon Butler's "Two Coats of Paint," and felt that it spoke to what I have been thinking about this year's SECA awards.

"My favorite quote from all the post-Miami anti-artworld posts that have gone online this week is this excerpt from Charles Saatchi's Comment in the Guardian.  "If I stop being on good behaviour for a moment, my dark little secret is that I don't actually believe many people in the art world have much feeling for art and simply cannot tell a good artist from a weak one, until the artist has enjoyed the validation of others – a received pronunciation. For professional curators, selecting specific paintings for an exhibition is a daunting prospect, far too revealing a demonstration of their lack of what we in the trade call 'an eye.' They prefer to exhibit videos, and those incomprehensible post-conceptual installations and photo-text panels, for the approval of their equally insecure and myopic peers. This 'conceptualised' work has been regurgitated remorselessly since the 1960s, over and over and over again."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

2010 SECA Awards

Established to recognize Bay Area artists of exceptional talent with an exhibition, accompanying catalog, and modest cash prize, this year's award recipients are Mauricio Ancalmo, Colter Jacobsen, Ruth Laskey, and Kamau Amu Patton. The artists have been preparing for their SECA award exhibition, which will open at the museum on December 9, 2011, and will remain up though April 2012.

 Mauricio Ancalmo

The Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art (SECA) Award program is based on nominations made by members of the local arts community and SECA members. Next, they review applications from more than 200 artists and make studio visits with approximately 30 finalists led by SFMOMA’s SECA Art Award curators and open to all SECA members. Lastly, one to four artists are selected by the curators.
Colter Jacobsen

After the who, the how and the whatever, the introductory speeches soon veered off into the insider language of art speak, sadly reminiscent of art school hyperbole. The best part of the introduction was sitting next to Mike of Civic Center blog fame and trying not to giggle at his irreverent comments.

I also got distracted by watching the shimmering reflection of Jim Campbell's installation piece on the black bands of the Botta staircase. But the art speak simply turned me off and, as it turns out, didn't remotely describe what we saw later. I know about art speak; I can do it myself. I was well on my way to an MFA when I decided that end of the art business wasn't for me.

 Ruth Laskey, Twill Series, Imperial Purple

For me, Ruth Laskey's work showed the most real skill and genuine potential. She employs traditional weaving techniques to expand on the "painterly tradition of geometric abstraction." The pieces reminded me of needlepoint on linen, except that she weaves the background as well as the geometric image in a complex and intricate process. The geometric  pieces are exquisite and meditative. Although they are beautifully framed and mounted, their small size and delicate, monochromatic color are not qualities that work well in SFMOMA's huge galleries.

Mauricio Ancalmo combines various found mechanical instruments in film-based installations and kinetic sculptures to form a structural dialogue that is both poetically and philosophically inspired. Do you want to have this translated into English? His Rube Goldberg machine is an old fashioned turntable, hooked up to a projector that projects a loop of found film around the three and a half walls of a small room built within the gallery. There's music of a sort. The piece is mildly amusing although I got a bit of vertigo trying to follow the rapid image as it revolved around the room. The piece is titled "A Lover's Discourse" and if this is the state of loving communication, no wonder the divorce rate is so high.

Colter Jacobson
Colter Jacobsen's "meticulous drawings, watercolors, and installations often incorporate found ephemera to explore reflection and longing." The very young and very sweet curator described his work as "mundane and mysterious." Want a translation? The mundane and mysterious piece was a snail, made of found pieces. Other items were a watercolor on the inside of a book jacket, and other small images, looking rather like postcards - except that real postcards are more interesting. Trust me when I say that the reproduction of his pieces looks better than the originals. Because he uses so much found material, it's difficult to tell what's original from what is his creation.

Ruth Laskey, Black Twill Series

Kamau Amu Patton synthesizes works in a range of media to investigate the "inter-zone of sound, materiality, and perceptual experience."  Please don't ask me to explain this because I haven't a clue. The room had black something on the walls and black strips on the floor with an obtrusive wall of noise blanketing the room. The free form, free standing sculptures had a lovely simplicity but I can't speak to their originality.

Kamau Amu Patton. Form 1

I wondered if the guards were going to have to keep people from stepping the patterns on the floor. I did ask the very nice guard if the sound portion work would be difficult to deal with on a daily basis. She very tactfully responded that it was just up so it wasn't a problem...yet. But imagine having to stand all day surrounded by "noise" and ask kids not to walk on the installation piece on the floor.

Barry McGee has covered the last wall of the 5th floor gallery with his patented bright geometric squares. At least they are colorful.

What does this art say to me? Am I thrilled, provoked, enlightened, amazed, intrigued?

One member of the press (Susan Cohn, San Mateo Business Times) was asking the curator about how this art relates to people who are not already art insiders.  The curator was tap dancing around the question, throwing up art speak like white caps on a windy day but the long and short of it is --- it doesn't. It doesn't matter that one of the artists uploads his sound installations (think dull roar of traffic heard from a distance) to the Internet.

 I thought that maybe the younger generation would "get it" but Susan said that she has two boys and they don't understand this art nor do they care.

But her unanswered question is an important one. The fact that the curator couldn't answer it without resorting to her previously memorized sound bites says volumes about the art and whom it relates to. It's art by insiders, for insiders and made by people who understand very well the language of artistic success and how to manipulate it.

I always fight my own tendency to dislike so much of what passes for contemporary art. especially conceptual art. I am aware of my own prejudices and know that I am not the best judge. But the bulk of this work is simply not interesting enough to force me to struggle with my own bias.

In fact, work like this continues to deepen the divide between the elite who go to museums and the rest of us. This bothers me because I care about art. Maybe educational programs will cross some of that divide. But you have to show those of us who are not art insiders that it's worth crossing that divide.

The show is largely the visual equivalent of art speak where big, pseudo profound cliches cover the page but mean nothing. I'm glad for the artists who have now made a huge career leap but sad that, after such an extensive process,  SECA thinks that these are the best we have to offer.

*Images from SFMOMA, lines in quotes from their press release.
Article from the NY Times: SECA Award

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Montreal Massacre

Montreal Massacre
Thank you to [personal profile] raincitygirl for reminding me of the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre.

On 6 Dec 1989, twenty-two years ago today, Marc Lépine murdered 14 women in the name of "fighting feminism". Twelve of these women were engineering students, another was a nursing student, and the last was a school clerk. Lépine also injured 10 more women and four men. The Montreal Massacre, or the École Polytechnique massacre, is what Canadians immediately think of when they think of school shootings, but as [personal profile] raincitygirl pointed out in her post, the case is not well-known outside Canada.

In memory:
Geneviève Bergeron, 21 - civil engineering
Hélène Colgan, 23 - mechanical engineering
Nathalie Croteau, 23 - mechanical engineering
Barbara Daigneault, 22 - mechanical engineering
Anne-Marie Edward, 21 - chemical engineering
Maud Haviernick, 29 - materials engineering
Maryse Laganière, 25 - budget clerk in school's finance dept
Maryse Leclair, 23 - materials engineering
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22 - mechanical engineering
Sonia Pelletier, 28 - mechanical engineering
Michèle Richard, 21 - materials engineering
Annie St-Arneault, 23 - mechanical engineering
Annie Turcotte, 21 - materials engineering
Barbara Maria Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31 - nursing

ETA: Lessons of the Montreal Massacre: Why women must fight to be what they want. A really good article from two years ago, on the 20th anniversary, which interviewed a few of the survivors.
"We are not feminists."

A young, incredulous Nathalie Provost said those words to Marc Lépine 20 years ago Sunday. It was a bid to save her and her fellow students' lives – the women Lépine had isolated in a university classroom before opening fire on them with a semi-automatic hunting rifle. [...]

"I realized many years later that in my life and actions, of course I was a feminist. I was a woman studying engineering and I held my head up."
If you've never heard of the Montreal Massacre, I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article--though I'll warn you that some of the "controversy" section might make your blood boil. Here in the US, we don't even have that slender protection.
"Even as we mourn the 14 women killed at l’École Polytechnique, this government is taking the last remaining safeguard off the very weapon that murdered these women," Ms. Turmel said. "The Conservatives are recklessly dismantling the only positive thing to come out of the tragic events of Dec. 6." (Globe and Mail)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Fundraiser for Julie and Lee

I first met Julie through her blog "Tango Baby" and later, followed her adventures in SF through her blog and later book, "Julie lives here."

I met Lee at one of Julie's openings and thoroughly enjoyed his tales of going to college in New England as well as his quirky sense of humor.

Last month, Julie came home to Lee who had suffered a massive stroke. His rehabilitation will be long but he's already shown signs he's a fighter. "Today with help he took a few steps" Julie announced to us on Saturday while we helped her pack up their home.

This road to recovery is more than what insurance will cover. There are medical bills from his initial emergency room/ICU visit, they will need to move into a more Lee friendly home at some point, Julie is trying to run his companies while packing up their life and staying with friends in the meantime. The fact that so many people have come forward to offer help speaks volumes about the impact Lee and Julie have had on so many people.

Please if you can help it would be appreciated.

There will be a fundraiser Sunday December 18 from 3pm - 7pm at the San Francisco Motorcycle Club, 2194 Folsom Street, San Francisco, CA 94110.

There will be a few fundraisers to help them get through this so check back on a regular basis.

Sunnyvale Pottery Studio Christmas Sale

Barbara Brown, Ikebana vase. @the artist (used with permission).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Creativity Explored

 Bag by Badia Forbes. @ Creativity Explored

We are a couple of days past Black Friday and Cyber Monday but if you haven't finished your Christmas shopping, haven't why not put organizations like Creativity Explored on your list of places to shop? You won't have to worry about bullets or pepper spray and you'd be helping a wonderful organization as well as buying art works at a very reasonable price.

Creativity Explored was founded in 1982 by Florence and Elias Katz, pioneers in the field of working with people with developmental disabilities. For 30 years,  Creativity Explored’s innovative and respected programs, structure, and culture have served as an organizational model worldwide in the field of art and disability. They are committed to supporting people with developmental disabilities in their quest to become working artists, and to promoting their work as an emerging and increasingly important contribution to the contemporary art world.

 Wrapping paper and note cards by Evelyn Reyes. @Creativity Explored

Located in SF's Mission District, their gallery sales have have provided an income for the CE artists. For some, art has become a viable career path and for others, increasing recognition for their contributions to the contemporary art world. The Berkeley Art Museum recently added 16 works by Creativity Explored artists to its permanent collection of more than 14,000 objects, Thomas Pringle, a CE artist, is included in the Pro Arts 2012 Juried Annual Exhibition of the best new artists in the Bay Area.

Let Creativity Explored introduce you to Natalie Spring. She joined Creativity Explored just over a year ago. Natalie used to be shy, her group living situation made her feel sheltered, and she wasn’t really doing much with her life.

Now, Natalie creates artwork at Creativity Explored four days a week and lives in her own apartment with her cat, Indigo. She is one of our most articulate artists and speaks openly about herself, her past, and her art.

"I like to draw horses. There’s something elegant about them. I also do clay and wire work, and I’ve gotten into screen printing lately.

When I’m at Creativity Explored I feel like I’m home. There’s such a warm feeling from everybody. I’m making all these friends all of a sudden!

The art. The artists. I like it all. I feel like I’ve become a different person. I’ve become happy."

 Selena Perez, @ Creativity Explored

 Make them happy, make YOURSELF happy by supporting this amazing organization. The Annual Holiday Art Sale at Creativity Explored is an art lover’s shopping extravaganza, one in which you can buy a multitude of art are very affordable prices. The studio is filled with original prints, paintings, drawings, ceramics, sculptures, and textiles by over 120 artists — including unique pieces set aside for this special occasion. Many artworks have even been marked down. Like all Creativity Explored exhibitions, one-half of the proceeds from the sale of every artwork go directly to the artist.

Creativity Explored, 16th St. between Guerrero and Valencia

You can also shop on-line at their Cyber Store:

Opening Weekend
Friday, December 2, 2011
6:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Saturday & Sunday, December 3 & 4, 2011
12:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Automata: Mechanical Wonders of the Nineteenth Century at SFO

Pierrot écrivain (Pierrot writing) c. 1875 . Vichy . France. wood, wire, metal, fabric, glass, paper, hair, porcelain. The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of Mechanical  Musical Instruments and Automata. Morris Museum, Morristown, New Jersey

If you are stuck out at SFO this holiday season, this exhibit can help you pass the time. The new exhibition features exquisite mechanical figures and musical machines from the 19th century.

Before the Industrial Revolution, automata were created mainly as one-of-a-kind scientific experiments, political or religious theater, and given as diplomatic gifts. Eventually they became promotional devices to attract sales. French manufacturers later incorporated mass-production technology to produce musical automata, musical dolls, clockwork singing birds, and tableaux méchaniques (mechanically animated scenes) to meet the increasing demand for these new forms of entertainment.

From the mid-1800s to the 1900s, automata served as parlor entertainment. Many skilled artisans were required to manufacture these clockwork machines. They were not considered toys for children, but rather items of social privilege and status - which didn't prevent me from wanting to play with them!
Continue reading

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving addendum: No turkeys here

I almost left out this post by Mark Bittman (NY Times) - enough links to blogs to provide a year of thoughtful reading:

Happy Thanksgiving

Today, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner includes any number of dishes: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. But if one were to create a historically accurate feast, consisting of only those foods that historians are certain were served at the so-called “first Thanksgiving,” there would be slimmer pickings. “

Read more:First Thanksgiving

Five feasts in American art from the Smithsonian

From Tom Christensen's fascinating blog, Right Reading:

"In honor of Thanksgiving, here’s a painting of an American turkeycock by the great Mughal painter Mansur (from my forthcoming book 1616: The World in Motion). Mansur was the greatest Mughal painter of natural history subjects..." and an ongoing series of posts on his book which will be published in February 2012 (I believe).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Busy times at Chez Nancy's

I've been busy reviewing art and even posted a new food recipe up at my food column at the

I want to do a longer piece on Bernini and more on the Venetian painters who are up at the de Young - heck, whole encyclopedias have been written about Bernini and Titian. Do you think I could be contented with just one column?

Vegetarian pot pie

Later in the week, I'll start my promotion pieces for local art fairs and community centers. There are so many local art centers that are desperately trying to survive. Financial support is being cut back in all areas but remember the motto "art saves lives. Feeding the soul is important in desperate times.

Of course, feeding the soul is great but so is feeding the bank account. So if a few more of the 300-500 people who stop by my blog daily would click on one of the above links, this artist, writer  and blogger would be very grateful.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Lalla Essaydi at Jenkins Johnson

Jenkins Johnson is hosting Essaydi's first one-woman show on the West coast. The show includes work from three recent series: Les Femmes du Maroc (2005-2008) Harem (2009) and Les Femmes Du Maroc Revisited (2010).

The first time I saw one of of Lalla Essaydi's photographs was at a show at the Museum of the African Diaspora ( MoAD ). That photograph was of Arab women, dressed in a cream or white gown, veiled, and posed against a light beige background. The piece was fairly small - maybe 11" x 12" - and the whole surface was covered with Arabic script, written in what I later discovered to be ink made with henna. It was stunningly beautiful, elegant, mysterious and very intriguing.

Her recurring theses are Islam, feminism, and female resistance to Islamic customs that demean and oppress women. By shrouding the women in the customary burkas, draping them in cloth or, as in the case of some of the photos in the current show at Jenkins Johnson, posing them in an Moroccan palace where their gowns merge with the elaborate tiles and architectural details, Essaydi purports to criticize Western Oriental fantasies. 

As even the most casual viewer of Western painting knows, painters from Delacroix to Ingres to others less famous have used the harem to indulge in paintings of voluptuous women, lolling around in states of undress, just waiting for their lord's command. The forbidden nature of the harem was part of its lure for Western audiences, and part of the erotic appropriation as well.

The Harem series is highly colored and set within the elaborate architecture of the Moroccan palace Dar al Basha. The artist created the fabric that her subjects wear, gowns that are patterned on the elaborate tiles and carvings of the palace. As in her other works, the models merge into the background and each piece is covered with hand written Arabic calligraphy.

This series is, among other things, photographs taken inside a harem with some personal family history. Essaydi was obsessed with the place and didn't understand that obsession with until family members told her that her father had grown up in that harem.

The Pasha had been her grandmother's guardian, divorced her from her husband and kept the mother and son in the harem - the custom of the time then as now. So, she was channeling some psychic memory of her family's past.

Essaydi want to "wanted to present a harem area that's not in the Western or Orientalist tradition. It's something real and painful - it's life for these women, their kids and family. It's not always a beautiful odalisque laying down, ready for consummation."

"I am writing. I am writing on me, I am writing on her. The story began to be written the moment the present began.” Translated from the original Arabic, Essaydi’s personal writing attempts to subvert traditional Muslim gender stereotypes through the presence of the written word.

By using a sacred Islamic script, Essaydi mounts a small act of defiance against the oppression of women in the Middle East, a region where women today account for two thirds of the region's illiterates. (Arab Human Development Report 2002, p.52).

The artist grew up in Morocco, lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and now lives in New York City. “In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses — as artist, as Moroccan, as Saudi, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite the viewer to resist stereotypes,” she has said.

 Les femmes du Maroc. Le Grand Odalesque

The stylistic simplicity in Essaydi's work prevents it from becoming merely decorative but does not support the weight of her political statements. The subjects of her gaze are covered with her indecipherable and personal calligraphy, But while they do not solely present an oriental tinged sexuality to the viewer, they still have no voice of their own. Nor does her calligraphy illuminate what might have been their voices, for it is untranslatable.

Essaydi's large scale photographs are sensual, stunningly beautiful. But I don't buy the theory that she's transformed the work into an act of rebellion - either against the male gaze, outdated theories of Orientalism a la Edward Said or as an act of rebellion against Muslim oppression of women. It's still an Arabian Nights fantasy, women posed in gorgeous settings, passive, beautiful. The occasional saucy glance at the viewer is not an act of defiance, but a sexy and demure "come hither."

 Les Femmes du Maroc #16

Their elegantly draped bodies do not challenge male privilege. They are sexual commodities, presented to the voyeuristic eye.

LALLA ESSAYDI: LES FEMMES DU MAROC. Through Dec Jenkins Johnson  Gallery, 464 Sutter St, San Francisco
All photographs courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Richard Misrach at the Berkeley Art Museum

Today, I went to see the Misrach exhibit of photos taken after the 1991 Berkeley/ East Bay Fire. To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the fire, BAM/PFA and the Oakland Museum of California are presenting forty photographs from the series, including fourteen large-format images. The shows are the result of Misrach's donation of 33 prints to each museum earlier this year, and mark the first time the series has been publicly exhibited; it was only five years ago that Misrach began to make prints from his nearly 200 negatives of the fire's aftermath.

 To be honest, I didn't expect to be moved but I was, almost to tears in some places. The show brought back memories of walking down Post Street on a breathlessly sultry day and wondering where the black flakes were coming from that were covering the side walk.

Later that day, I heard about the catastrophic fire and went with friends to Twin Peaks to see the ominous cloud engulfing the East Bay.

I remember the confusion and the heroic efforts of the fire and police departments - people who were later vilified by the likes of the mega-millionaires that I worked for at the time. I remember the finger pointing and also, the genuine sorrow of those who had lost family members and all, a life time of of memories.

I think that the home of Adele Bischoff, the wife of the late painter Elmer Bischoff, was burned out, losing years of paintings and drawings.

The blame game went on for some time - egged and abetted by our local media that had found a topic that they would spin to their heart's content.

I am glad that Misrach waited 20 years. His rationale for the long delay was also rooted in the philosophy that he said drives all of his work: his images are for the historical record, not reportage. “I don’t want to be part of the media spectacle,” he said. “I want to transcend the news.”

For those who lived through the destruction, the memories can still be painful - powerful images of child's tricycle half melted by the heat, a fire blacked staircase, bowls of pet food left by some optimistic pet owners, a tranquil blue swimming pool reflecting the charred remains of a tree.

The large (some 5' or 6' by 5' or 6')  images are visceral, gut wrenching in their portrait of the destruction. The photographs are all the more effective for showing the devastating aftermath. One wall of the exhibit is lined with smaller photographs, which pull you into the frame by their smaller size. His skill proves that you don't have to photograph sturm and drag to convey the extent of the disaster.

The fire was one of the worst in California’s history, killing 25 people, injuring 150 others and destroying about 3,500 homes — one every 11 seconds.

At a gallery talk that Mr. Misrach gave at the Berkeley museum on Oct. 12, Curt Karplus, 80, rose and asked how many survivors were in the room. He and his wife had lived only by leaping from the balcony of their Hiller Highlands home. “We jumped, and within two seconds the house went up like a matchbox behind us,” Mr. Karplus said.

Both exhibitions include handmade elegy books inviting members of the public to leave their memories of the fire, or simply sign their names. The books will become part of each museum's permanent collection. The Oakland Museum even will have a story booth where people can share their fire tales.

The exhibition, “1991: The Oakland-Berkeley Fire Aftermath: Photographs by Richard Misrach,” is being shown at both museums. The Berkeley presentation closes February 5 and OMCA's closes on February 12.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bernini's "The Medusa" at the Legion

This piece is so delicately beautiful and the level of craftmanship is so high that it has to be seen to be believed. At the press preview today, John Buchanan, the Director of the Museum, hinted that there will be more exchanges between the Capitolini Museum in Rome and the Legion. No details yet but keep tuned to this space ...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sandy Yagi at Modern Eden, SF's mistress of the macabre

Sandy Yagi at her opening at Modern Eden. 
Elegy 24 x 20 oil on panel 2011 @ Anna Conti

Contemporary culture, human folly and an obsessive curiosity for the macabre provide the fuel for Sandra Yagi’s new oil paintings for Primal Renderings. Her work is inspired by the natural sciences as well as by the classical drawing techniques of the old masters. Think medical anatomy meets Bosch meets Salvador Dali, presided over by such masters as late Gothic painters such as Van Eyck. 

Sandy Yagi. Trepanation  24 x 18  oil on panel  2011

Driven by the need to explore the human psychological condition, Yagi uses images  such as cutaway skulls to portray our basic human drives.
Yagi was raised in suburban Denver Colorado, the oldest of a typical suburban middle class family. From an early age, she loved science, especially biology, and drawing. But her Japanese-American parents were more traditional and insisted that she get a "useful" education in business. For them, the liberal arts did not provide enough security.

Like a dutiful daughter, Yagi put art aside and obtained obtained a Masters in Business Administration. For 27 years, she worked at major financial institutions.

Sandy Yagi. Lizardbrain #2  Oil on panel, 19.75 x 19.75, 2011

But she never forgot her early dreams of becoming an artist and never ceased to make art. As she rose in the corporate ladder, Yagi moved to LA and then, to SF which became her artistic home. 

Leaving the corporate world in 2008, Yagi became a full time artist. She now works out of her studio in San Francisco's South Beach area.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anonymous Was A Woman 2011 awards

Anonymous Was A Woman announced the ten artists selected to receive the Foundation’s annual award. The “no strings” grant of $25,000 enables women, over 45 years of age and at a critical juncture in their lives or careers, to continue to grow and pursue their work. 

Lauren Katzowitz Shenfield, director of the program, explained, “Anonymous Was A Woman Awards are synonymous with important recognition in artists’ personal and artistic development. The financial gift helps artists buy time, space, materials, and equipment, often at early stages of a new project, and, sometimes, recover from traumatic life events. In itself, the Award helps artists feel recognized and honored by other distinguished women who seek no credit for the role they play.”

 Linda Besemer - Slabs and Sines - Galerie Jean Luc and Takako Richard - Paris - 5 September - 17 October 2009

Besemer produces abstract paintings without any kind of support for the paint. The largest of her current works are solid skins of acrylic paint up to two metres long by one metre wide and a centimetre thick. She hangs them in such a way that they drape and sag under their own weight. A series of smaller pieces she call ‘Slabs’, each about the size of a sheet of notebook paper, hang like more conventional pictures, but only because the body of paint, at about 25 cm, is all the more unconventionally thick. Their rubbery quality is particularly seductive, resembling the plastics used to shape the ergonomic grips of appliances. This association with touch is one of the ways Besemer makes her Formalism sensual. Academic arguments about the ‘object quality’ of painting get turned into a sneaky impulse to reach up and test the weight of one of these chunks of colour with your own hands. Of course, having that impulse forbidden only makes it all the more delicious

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November is gender issues month in San Francisco?

San Francisco must have declared November the month to deal with gender issues - Woodman and the "Air I breathe" at SFMOMA looking at gender, feminism and marriage equality. Jenkins' Johnson is showing Lalla Essaydi's photos of  women covered with Arabic calligraphy, Sandy Yagi just opened at Moden Eden Gallery.  SOMarts just opened "Man as object" - apparently it's full of NSFW videos.

I can hardly wait to write about each one. Forget about turkey. This is a lot more interesting

But first, off to vote.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Appeal for Ogatsu Inkstone Craftsmen

I have bought supplies from John Neal for over 20 years so can vouch for his honesty; there are a lot of scams out there but this is not one of them. 

From John Neal: The massive earthquake and tsunami which hit North East Japan on March 11th of this year devastated many coastal fishing towns. Ogatsu was one of them. Famous for its 600 year old history of handcrafted inkstones, the town was directly hit by the tsunami and suffered extensive damage. In addition to their homes, the craftspeople lost their livelihoods as their workshops, tools and equipment were also swept away. Two craftsmen of a total of 20 lost their lives; one was a master craftsman. There are 20 additional skilled artisans connected to the industry.

Craftsmen, local people and volunteers managed to rescue some of the Ogatsu stone and inkstones which were swept away. The inkstones are being restored and, as they become available, are being sold in one or two galleries in Kyoto and Tokyo. This month, the craftsmen are moving into a temporary communal workshop, but without the infrastructure for their craft, the way forward will not be easy. Before the tsunami Ogatsu produced 90% of Japanese inkstones, which were renowned for their quality and beauty. The industry will not be able to rebuild itself to such a level again without support from the general public, calligraphers and artists. (If you have purchased the Shakyo-Ken Inkstone with its small deep well, you have an Ogatsu inkstone:

At present the craftsmen are living in temporary accommodation. The local government is giving what aid it can to all those who have lost their homes and livelihoods, but resources are stretched thin. 

John Neal is helping Christine Flint Sato collect donations. Ms Flint-Sato, who has contributed several articles to Letter Arts Review on Japanese ink sticks and brushes as well as calligraphy in Japan, will forward the donations to the head of the ink stone craftsmen's union. All amounts are welcome.

Please include your email address so the receipt of your donation can be acknowledged and a subsequent report on the effort can be sent. Please note that these donations are not tax deductible.

Those in the USA, Canada, and the UK should send checks in their own currency to John Neal, 1833 Spring Garden Street, First Floor, Greensboro, NC 27403. Make checks payable to JOHN NEAL and write "Inkstone Relief" elsewhere on the check. The "payable to" must have only JOHN NEAL.

Those in Japan please contact Christine Flint Sato on , and she will send you bank details for transferring money directly in Yen.

Volunteer work in Ogatsu:
Crafting Inkstone:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Woodman at SFMOMA

I am not a huge photography fan but the show blew me away - very intense, very surrealistic, photos of secrets, an elusive dialogue with self.

Francesca Woodman was born in Denver, Colarado in1958 but lived most of her brief life in New York. Having taken her first photograph at thirteen, she committed suicide in 1981 at the age of twenty-two. However, in the few years before this she had created a powerful body of photographic work that continues to influence artists today.

Woodman’s small silver gelatin prints explore gender and self but are not portraits in the traditional sense. She photographed herself in empty, decaying interiors as a ghostly presence, half-revealed, half-concealed. There is the sense of danger lurking in these debris strewn rooms, family secrets that she will somehow channel, as a spiritualist medium claiming to channel the voices of the dead. She merges into the photo, using the body as both object and subject, both the focus of the voyeur's gaze and hiding from that gaze. 

She is the voyeur, she is the disembodied viewer and yet, at the same time, the one who creates the object viewed. Self, not-self, objective, subjective, woman and artist, fetish props of clothing, exotic, erotic.

at SFMOMA..(image courtesy of SFMOMA) 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts at the Asian Art Museum

Unfortunately we didn't get the Rolls Royce but we got a silver covered carriage.

While wandering through room after room full of over-the-top conspicuous consumption, I wondered about the mind set that allowed these men (mostly men) to spend so lavishly on themselves while millions outside the palace lived in misery. Suppose some of this money spent on jewelry and objects had been spent on schools, hospitals, scientific research - even roads, irrigation and agriculture? Their selfishness and greed condemned the majority of Indians to starvation and poverty and the parallels with our masters of the universe are sad and sobering.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power at the de Young.

Giorgio da Castelfranco, called Giorgione. The Three Philosophers.  ca. 1508-1509.  Oil on canvas.  Gemäldegalerie of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

I still haven't finished the review for the show on the splendors of the royal courts of India but in the meantime, I got to preview this show which is stunning. 

Frankly, while the Indian art dazzles, I didn't feel an emotional connection to all that flashy, ostentatious consumption. Their self-indulgent life style, financed on the backs of the oppressed Indian peasant, looks too much like today's Wall Street Masters of the Universe. Plus ca change, plus ca le meme chose.

I realize that Renaissance art was the conspicuous consumption of its day but somehow it doesn't annoy me the way all that bling at the Asian did. Nevertheless, the show at the Asian is superb and there is a lot to say about it but not right now.

The de Young Museum is hosting another not-to-be-missed show - a worldwide exclusive presentation of 50 paintings by sixteenth-century Venetian painters Titian, Giorgione, Veronese, Tintoretto, Mantegna.

All on loan from the Gemäldegalerie of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, this exhibit features outstanding examples of the work of these artists, the most celebrated holdings in the collections of the Gemäldegalerie.

Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts.

 Baubles, bangles,
Hear how they jing, jing-a-ling-a,
Baubles, bangles,
Bright, shiny beads.
Sparkles, spangles,

The Asian Art Museum opened its doors to the dazzling world of India's legendary maharajas (Sanskrit word for "great kings") with the U.S. premiere of Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts.

The exhibition, organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, presents nearly 200 important artworks from the glittering world of India's rulers over three centuries.

 Maharaja is the first exhibition to comprehensively explore the world of the maharajas and their unique culture of artistic patronage. Maharaja is accompanied by an extensive schedule of public programming, including a film series featuring a guest appearance by esteemed producer James Ivory, live music and dance performances, artist demonstrations, multimedia and docent led tours, and more.

The show at the Asian is a dazzling display of conspicuous consumption. It should leave the thoughtful viewer with some serious questions - what is the role of religion in maintaining social order, how can a ruler justify living in such extreme luxury while the majority of his or her subjects live in abject poverty, what parallels are there between the conspicuous consumption of Indian royalty and our own society?
Full Review to come at the