Monday, January 31, 2011

Egyptology Blog

At present, this is probably the best source for breaking news about Egypt's archaeology sites and museums:

Damage and disaster at the Cairo Museum

For years, I've felt that it was unwise to return anything and everything that Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) claimed "belong to Egypt." He's gone around to Western museums, shopping bag in hand, demanding this, that and the other - often with very little documentation for his allegations. Anybody with even the slightest knowledge of Middle Eastern governments (with the exception of Israel) knows that regime change is always difficult and usually volatile with looting and mass riots. 

I'm not claiming that the Egyptians don't have a case. Of course, they want a better life. I doubt that they will get it and there's a serious danger that the government that replaces the current one will be more repressive and totalitarian. In fact, Egypt may get a version of the theocracy that currently rules Iran, Gaza and Lebanon. 

In the meantime, Egypt's - and the world's - priceless heritage is being destroyed. I lived in Cairo as a kid and got to visit the place dozens of times; in fact, my father's aide-de-camp always knew where to find me. I was at the museum, dreaming over the tiny boats (now damaged), the miniature houses showing people going around their every day chores or just wandering around, mentally transported back to ancient Egypt. My two favorite books as a child were about ancient Egypt. Long before Indiana Jones, I wanted to be an archaeologist. As a young woman, I taught English in Cairo (and other Arab countries, including Turkey) so watching the backwards slide in the Middle East is a sobering reminder of just how easy it is for a region without a democratic tradition to move backwards.

"Devastating footage from Al Jazeera posted on Twitter and Flickr now shows significant damage and destruction in the Egyptian museum.." It's heartbreaking.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ghost Ship, Morning

Ghost Ship, Morning. 2011. Acrylic, water color, pastel, gel medium.
Until I saw Jennifer Ewing's exhibit and then, Hesse's boats at the Berkeley Art Museum, I hadn't thought too much about my current series of boat paintings, that is, was there any deeper symbolism or was I simply fascinated by the shapes and playing with color?

For instance, I know what I want to accomplish with my ongoing series of restaurant paintings - I'm fascinated by the way people interact in public spaces, or the private space that people create around themselves in public.  I make up stories about my figures or wait for them to tell me their stories. Maybe that's why the series moves so slowly because the more I work on these, the more they speak to me.

I can hear you saying to each other - "hears voices, does she?" and back off carefully. Well, actually yes, I do. Not voices telling me to hurt other people or drive the English from France like Joan of Arc but, I suspect, the voice that a writer hears when he or she is telling a story. I've become a writer as well as a painter in my later years but I don't write fiction. So, I think that my figures are the equivalent of fiction and I listen for their voices, a narrative in visual form.

But in other cases, I just go along as the spirit moves me and then, later, have the "ah Ha!" moment when it all starts to make sense. I had not considered the symbolism of ships and boats. They deal with travel and journeys but it's also about baggage and cargo, what kind of baggage (cargo) am I carrying and how am I navigating over the deep waters of late middle age? Given how tumultuous my life as been, I find it interesting that so many of these paintings are so very calm. The one that I finished last year, "Moss Landing, Estuary" was completed after I returned from getting my mother packed and moved to a senior facility. It was an incredibly difficult time for my sister and me. We had to deal with a horrible mess and a woman who didn't want to go and made us suffer every minute of the day, yet the painting is calm and peaceful.

Go figure.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In which I get to combine my three loves: art, history and foodl

The Performance of a Crusade Play at King Charles V's Feast (detail), Master of the Coronation of Charles VI, Paris, about 1375–80. From Great Chronicles of France (Grandes chroniques de France). Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Ms. fr. 2813, fol. 473v

Fascinating essay at the Getty Blog (which reminded me again of their brilliant exhibit). They've included recipes for Marinated Leeks in Mustard Vinaigrette, Grilled Fish Fillets with Yellow Sauce (Poivre Jaunet), French Country Sausage (Saucisse a Cuire)

You can also download the full recipe pack, complete with notes.

"In the French Middle Ages, as today, banquets were opportunities for the well-heeled to entertain guests in style.

The set-up was simple: boards placed on trestles topped with white cloths, wine diluted with water in clay vessels, meats on five-day-old slabs of bread serving as rustic plates. Forks were absent. Meals began and ended with hand-washing and a prayer.

Food and entertainment, however, were lavish. Peacock, heron, and swan were frequently on the aristocrat’s menu. Spices from exotic lands, such as saffron, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and cinnamon, reflected hosts’ wealth and their ties to far-off realms. Dancing, singing, short plays, and readings from lavish manuscripts full of romantic intrigue and knightly derring-do—such as those featured in the exhibition Imagining the Past in France, 1250–1500—accompanied entremets, or tidbits between courses."

The Story of Adam and Eve (detail), Boucicaut Master, in Concerning the Fates of Illustrious Men and Women, about 1415. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 63, fol. 3
 Everything you wanted to know about medieval food and cooking (except how to do the dishes and maybe we'd better leave that to the imagination. No running water, no scouring power except sand and no soap. There are numerous PDF downloads with complete texts of the papers - from the basic elements of medieval food to a very interesting paper on poor nutrition and alcoholism among the Mongols, leading to infertility and early death.

This is an older website for medieval cooking. It lacks some of the bells and whistles of the Getty Site but it is more comprehensive.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Koons don't get no respect

So, in today's post, we go from the sublimely talented Eva Hesse to one of the myriad clown princes of contemporary art...

 EPA. From the Independent..

From Jon Carrol:
This space has had occasion to quarrel with alleged artist Jeff Koons before. A while ago, some may remember, Koons appropriated an image from West Marin photographer Art Rogers, a couple with eight puppies, and turned it into some charmless plastic creation. He did not give credit to Rogers and, when asked to do so, declined.

Koons felt, to quote the New York Times, that "the sculpture was intended as a parody of the kind of trite, mass-produced sensibility that the photograph represented." Now, as it happens, the Rogers photograph was hardly mass-produced. It was part of Rogers' ongoing preoccupation with the quotidian life of West Marin, where small triumphs and minor milestones are celebrated with documents of appropriate solemnity.

(The puppies weren't that solemn, which was appropriate; on the other hand, anyone who's had to raise eight puppies simultaneously is aware that there are an awful lot of not-lighthearted moments. It's kind of like having triplets; if it weren't for the honor of the thing, you'd rather not.)

In any event, Rogers sued Koons and won, and then won the inevitable appeal, and the case was finally settled with an undisclosed amount of something very like cash being transferred from Koons to Rogers. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eva Hesse, opening at the Berkeley Art Museum on Wednesday

Eva Hesse: Studiowork, 1968; fiberglass, polyester resin, and plastic (clear) tubing; 3 7/8 x 5 3/4 x 5 3/8 in.; gift of Mrs. Helen Charash, 1979.

Often there is a romantic aura around artists who die young. Their work is over praised and when looked at in a more sober light, does not hold up well. But that's not true of Eva Hesse. Her death at an early age of 34 denies us the full trajectory of her career but what we have is amazing. 

 Born in Hamburg in 1936, Hesse and her family escaped Nazi Germany to the US in 1939. The rest of her story is well known - her parent's divorce, her mother's suicide when she was ten, Hesse's own divorce and struggles with being a woman artist in a male-dominated field. 

She studied art at the Cooper Union and Yale, before returning to New York to become a painter. In 1964 she and her husband, the sculptor Tom Doyle, moved to Kettwig an der Ruhr in Germany, working in an abandoned textile factory. Here, amid the scraps of material, cord and corroded machine parts, and against the cultural backdrop of cold war politics, Hesse created her first sculptures. They were witty and sexually suggestive, inspired by the erotic surrealism of Marcel Duchamp and Hans Bellmer.  She pursued her ambition to become a great artist with single-minded determination. Hesse readily absorbed the influences of Surrealism, Conceptualism and Minimalism, always filtering them though her own distinctive sensibility to produce a unique and highly individualistic body of work.

Her career spanned just ten years. The materials that she used were very fragile - something that she knew at the time. In a way, she built the fragility, transparency and unique nature of her materials into her creations. Their transitory being is part of their effect, an effect that is proof that you don't have to make huge sculptures of steel to make powerful works of art. In fact, her work is more powerful in that it whispers and entices you to come nearer to hear what she is saying. Hesse was aware that she was producing works that were ephemeral, but this problem was of less concern to her than the fact that she simply wanted to work with these particular materials. As she stated in an interview with Cindy Nemser in 1970, “Life doesn’t last; art doesn’t last.”

Shortly before her death, Eva Hesse described her subject as ‘the total absurdity of life’. Indeed, one of the chief characteristics of her work is her sense of humor, sometimes pretty obscene as when she mocks her own fetishistic creations that dangle like fat, bizarre tubers from the gallery walls.

The pieces that are being shown at the Berkeley Art Museum are pieces from her studio practice. The objects, of all sizes, range from raw material experiments to works that are ready for public display. They are the equivalent of the sketches that a painter would make, prior to staring a large project - the experiments of making thought and ideas visible and visual (think mock ups in plaster by Rodin or Degas). The exhibition contains many works from BAM/PFA’s own collection, part of a major gift made in 1979 by Hesse’s sister, Helen Charash; the Berkeley presentation includes a special selection of works from the collection that are too fragile to travel. 

 In this exhibition, the first grouping of work that you encounter are "spirit boats," shaped and molded from a myriad of delicate materials. These were pieces that Hesse often gave to friends and which have never been shown publicly. They are displayed on a low table, similar to one shown for works-in-progress in photographs of Hesse's apartment, carefully lit and quite exquisite.

The second gallery displays work that is more familiar - braided latex strips and obscene fleshy globes hanging suspended in nets - even in sketchy form, they speak of fetishist fantasies and a comical, sardonic look at the male genitalia. Small molded pieces of latex are displayed in another case; they could be dug up from some prehistoric cave, or clumps of amber washed up from the Baltic or neolithic goddesses in forms that speak ambiguously of female genitalia. 

She struggled with being a woman in the art world, a decade away from feminism. In Lucy Lippard's book on Hesse, there are pages and pages from her journal and letters where she tries to deal with the slights, the insults and the discrimination. Yet, she never publicly complained. To do so would have made matter worse. In a letter to a friend, she is quoted as saying, 'The best way to beat discrimination in art is by art. Excellence has no sex.' Nevertheless, she was ambiguous about what a lot of her art meant and denied that being a woman had anything to do with her art making. The push-pull of these conflicts can be seen in many of the small objects on display.

These small but sensuous experiments created in her studio can be seen as “a collection-in-miniature of Hesse’s art”, says art historian Briony Fer, in a new book on the sculptor published to accompany the show. “I don’t think it is too much of an exaggeration to see their combined effect as a small bomb exploding the category of things called sculpture.”

The show bowled me over but then, I've been an ardent admirer since her large retrospective at SFMOMA some years ago. For those used to today's over sized sculptures, large enough to seat a party of 100 while beating you over the head with phallic steel rods, their smaller size, delicacy and fragility might take some getting used to. But get closer, listen more carefully to what she has to say. It's worth hearing.

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is the first of only two United States venues presenting Eva Hesse: Studiowork, on view from January 26, 2011 through April 10, 2011. The exhibition, which will have traveled to London, Barcelona, and Toronto before arriving in Berkeley, is the result of new research by renowned Hesse scholar Briony Fer and is curated by Fer and Barry Rosen, director of The Estate of Eva Hesse. The curator in charge for the BAM/PFA presentation is Phyllis Wattis MATRIX Curator Elizabeth Thomas. 
Images courtesy of the BAM/PFA

Sunday, January 23, 2011

LA Funk and Fun ( grab bag)

This place was about two blocks from our hotel. It's been around since god was a child, and the decor is strictly bare bones, with old battered tables, sawdust on the floor, working phone booths! and a huge, working class clientele. It serves great french dip sandwiches and a eclectic menu with prices that people earning minimum wage can afford.

This batch of photos @ Anna Conti - used with permission

Booth on Olivera St. part of the oldest section on LA @ Nancy Ewart

These boots are made for walking (and sore feet and a bad back?) @ Nancy Ewart

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ethopian Collard Greens

After a hot morning going in and out of the little galleries in a decaying part of Culver City, it was a delight to sit and eat. We were on our way to LACMA, got caught up in slow traffic in what must be the North African enclave in LA, looked around and realized that we were surrounded by one Ethopian restaurant after another. If (or when) I go back to LA, this is one of the areas that I'd love to explore. In fact, I found what I glimpsed of the ethnic enclaves and LA's funky side to be as fascinating as the art in museums. 

We took a much-needed pit stop and since two of our party are vegetarians, the food was perfect. Served on a "place" of Injera bread, these greens and the accompanying tomato salad, yellow dal and lentils saved the day.


This dish is simple and delicious. Use spring greens in place of the collard greens if you are unable to get the real thing.

450 g / 1 lb collard greens
60 ml / 4 tbsp olive oil
2 small red onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2.5 ml / ½ tsp grated fresh root ginger
2 green chillies, seeded and sliced
150 ml / ¼ pint / 2/3 cup vegetable stock or water
1 red pepper, seeded and sliced
freshly ground black pepper

Wash the collard greens, then strip the leaves from the stalks and steam the leaves over a pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes until slightly wilted. Set aside on a plate to cool, then place in a sieve or colander and press out the excess water.
Using a large sharp knife, slice the collard greens very thinly.
Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onions until browned. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry with the onions for a few minutes, then add the chillies and a little of the stock or water and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the greens, red pepper and the remaining stock or water. Season with salt and pepper, mix well, then cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4.

One of the recipes that I found called for the greens to be spiced with niter kebbeh and I think that's the "secret ingredient." You can make it yourself or you can be lazy (like me) and buy what is really ghee from your local Indian Market. In my case, that is Bombay Bazaar where I also bought the cardamon and good cinnamon. I had the rest of the spices in my kitchen and just added them as per the recipe. I folded the butter into the cooked greens and chowed down. It was a delicious change from my usual southern style greens with lots of pork and peppers.

Spiced Butter (Niter Kebbeh)

2 lb. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons minced garlic
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cinnamon stick (approximately 1" long)
1 whole clove
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

In a large saucepan, melt the butter slowly over medium heat; do not let it brown. Then bring butter to a boil. Stir in the onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered and undisturbed for 45 minutes. Milk solids on the bottom of the pan should be golden brown, and the butter on top will be transparent.
Slowly pour the clear liquid into a bowl, straining through cheesecloth. It is important that no solids are left in the niter kebbeh.
Transfer the kebbeh into a jar. Cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator.

Saturday Happenings at the De Young, Ft. Mason & "Cream" Opening

From Golden Gate Park to Ft. Mason, the city is full of great art-related things to see and do. 

 De Young Museum: Jennifer Ewing: Spirit Boat Directions, January 5–30, 2011,

Ms Ewing is finishing up a month as part of the Artist-in-Residence Program in the Kimball Education Gallery. Since 2005 she has used the theme of “Spirit Boats” as a metaphor for her own journey in paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures and installations. Ewing started the Spirit Boats series of mixed media paintings after her father passed away. Creating the paintings made her feel closer to her father, and helped her grieve over losing him.

She has divided the gallery into the four elements of water, air, fire and earth. The west wall is symbolic of water and supports a spirit boat harbor. Boats hung in space to the north represent the element of air. The east wall features paintings and drawings with the spirit of fire, while the south represents the element of earth and hosts a sculpture that connects the earth and the air. 

Ewing explains, “For me a spirit boat represents healing, as a vehicle for passage into a more peaceful and comforting place, hope, as a life boat in a storm, and taps into universal mythologies and archetypes of this powerful symbol that can serve as an ark or totem for reclaiming the spirit. The boat is an easy form to recognize as a metaphor of transformation and working with it keeps me lighthearted and buoyant.”

Visitors are encouraged to explore their own paths by making boats in the form of a drawing, collage or sculpture. 

The closing reception for Spirit Boat Directions is Friday, January 28 from 6–8:30 pm. Ewing is available to provide assistance and instruction during gallery hours.

At the Artists Gallery, Ft Mason:  Mirang Wonne, Jenn Shifflet, Kathryn St. Clair (through February 24). Three Bay Area artists who observe the world around us but interpret it using very different media.
 Mirang Wonne, Sunlight 2602, 2010; burnt stainless-steel mesh on top of acrylic paint on paper; 26 x 26 in.; photo: Don Felton, Almac Camera 

Mirang Wonne creates drawings on stainless-steel mesh by burning the surface with a torch. The silver-colored metal surfaces, with colorful acrylic paintings just below it, bear some resemblance to Asian calligraphy and brush painting created on long paper scrolls. She favors motifs from nature and has developed her own style of execution that distinguishes the work.

Jenn Shifflet, Blush Petals, 2010; oil on panel; 36 x 22 in.; photo: Dana Davis; courtesy Chandra Cerrito Contemporary 
 East Bay artist Jenn Shifflet's work could also be compared to Asian art, but with a decidedly Pop art twist. Her rich and developed palette and her interest in a very contemporary kind of line make the paintings fresh and irresistible.

 Kathryn St. Clair, Abstract Wetlands, 2008; oil on canvas; 36 x 36 in.; photo courtesy the artis
Kathryn St. Clair also looks at the landscape, rendering it in colors that both convince and soothe the eye. She is adept at spotting idyllic scenes that are abundant near her home in Sonoma County. 

Opening tonight: CREAM from the top: through March 5, 2011

Now in its ninth year, the enormously successful CREAM from the top exhibition will be presented in January 2011, for the first time at the Performance Art Institute. CREAM from the top draws from the thriving communities of nine Bay Area MFA programs, gathering those candidates who have risen to the top of their respective classes. Creator and curator, Kathryn Weller Renfrow, consistently selects the strongest and most compelling emerging artists, allowing the Bay Area to discover them for the first time. This year's exhibition features the largest number of artists to date, and will expand throughout the spacious galleries at 550 and 575 Sutter Street.

The Performance Art Institute is located at 575 Sutter Street in downtown San Francisco. PAI's The Library is located across the street at 550 Sutter Street.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

We interrupt the flood of posts about LA to bring you updates on some local news:

Chloe Veltman writes about the changes at KDFC. The comments are interesting. Both writers are concerned about reception and programming and those are my concerns as well. I'd like to hear more complete pieces and maybe even a weekly opera but I don't want to see the station turned into a vehicle for new music (i.e., music that most of us can't stand on a regular basis.) If all else fails, I've got my huge classical collection to turn to but it has been lovely to work from home, with the radio playing softly in the background.

Judith  Dobrzynski's take on the financial problems at the Asian Art Museum:

Plus an astute comment from the WSJ website on the article:
Quote from J Dobrzynski's's article, "If they do their job well, they shouldn't have to gamble on high finance. "

Comment from a reader: "But they didn't have to gamble, now did they? In 2000 the debt was fixed-rate and 30-year. The AAM refinanced in '05 not because they had to, but because their financial advisers, J.P. Morgan Chase and MBIA, advised them to. It's a familiar story: the people whose job it was to give them sound financial advice proposed a refinance that looked like it would save them money. When the advice turned out to be unsound, the advisers profited. And the Wall Street Journal scolds them for carelessness."

"Yes, it was stupid to take advice from the people who would profit from their loss. But in the world of a few giants that is high finance, finding a financial adviser who was NOT related to their lender was probably impossible."

LA, Noir, Ethnic and Funky (LA #9 of )

These posts on LA have turned into a series. I haven't reached the end yet so just a warning...!

One of the members of our group had to buy a pair of shoes so we visited a shoe store in Culver City. The shoes were obviously cheaply made and the store was for the working class, but the ladies in the store couldn't have been more charming. I wish I could have taken a photo of the young Latino male who was guarding the door as he had an absolutely striking face (gorgeous too!). But he was very much on his dignity and I didn't dare. 


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cezanne at the Getty

Of course, the Getty is filled with thousands of pieces of art but for me, it was worth visiting for two painters. These are men that (and millions of other people) consider our special masters. The first is Cezanne, the second, Van Gogh.

During the last thirty years of his life, Paul Cézanne painted the same objects--the green vase, the rum bottle, the ginger pot, and the apples--over and over again. His interest was not in the objects themselves but in using them to experiment with shape, color, and lighting. He arranged his still lifes so that everything locked together. Edges of objects run into each other; for example, a black arabesque seemingly escapes from the blue cloth to capture an apple in the center; the sinuous curves of the blue ginger pot's rattan straps merge with other straps on the body of the bottle behind. Giving form and mass to objects through the juxtaposition of brushstrokes and carefully balanced colors and textures, he gave the painting a sense of comforting stability. 

Cezanne, Still life with apples. French, 1893 - 1894
Oil on canvas. 25 3/4 x 32 1/8 in.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Norton Simon Museum

The Norton Simon Museum was originally the Pasadena Art Museum. Designed by Pasadena architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey of the firm 'Ladd + Kelsey', that museum was completed in 1969. The distinctive and modern curvilinear exterior facade is faced in 115,000 glazed tiles, in varying rich brown tones with an undulating surface, made by renowned ceramic artisan Edith Heath. Unfortunately, the Pasadena Museum ran into financial difficulties (sound familiar?) and when Norton Simon came knocking, they were receptive to his offer. Billionaire Simon had risen to become one of the pre-eminent art collectors in the world and had been looking for a location for his already huge art collection.

 Garden at the Norton Simon Museum
In 1995, the Museum began a major renovation with the architect Frank Gehry. The redesign resulted in more intimate galleries, improved lighting, increased rotating exhibition space, an entire floor devoted to Asian art, and restored access to the gardens. The gardens were redesigned by Power and Associates to house the 20th century sculpture collection in an engaging setting.

Vincent Van Gogh. The Mulberry Tree.

The museum is exquisite. Both LACMA and the Getty are great museums but they are also huge and overwhelming. Like Goldilocks said of her porridge, this one is just right - not too large but not too small either and a collection of stunning beauty and scope.  The museum has two levels. The Main or Upper Level houses European and American Art from the 14th to the 20th century. The Lower Level is home to an extensive Asian Art Collection with South and South Asian sculptures, antiquities and architectural features. The temporary exhibit galleries are also downstairs. There are three sculpture gardens, two accessible from the Main Level, one from the Lower Level.
On the Main Level, there is a 300 seat theater. If you have time, any of the four orientation films shown throughout the day will give you additional insight into the collection. One is a 30 minute documentary about Norton Simon and his passion for art, the other three are 20 minute segments from the PBS special Sister Wendy at the Norton Simon Museum. Naturally, there is a well stocked bookstore and the guide to the museum is the most complete one of several guides to different museums that I bought on my visit.

The galleries on the main level are all in a row, so you can walk up one side of each wing and down the other and see everything. The exhibits are chronological though, so if you want to compare art from the same time period, you'll need to view each room before moving on to the next. Or you can just move as the spirit takes you.

Francisco de Zurburan's Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose (1633)

 The Impressionists collection is very popular and it's easy to understand why. In two or three well organized galleries, you can see paintings by Matisse, Renoir, Van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cezanne and Degas, with multiple examples of each. The museum has over 100 works by Edgar Degas, including drawings, paintings, sculptures and the bronze modèles he used as studies for his larger sculptures. But the old master collection is not to be sneered at; it has robably the most impressive group of Rembrandt paintings on the West Coast, 17th century Dutch landscapes and a room full of medieval art, Madonnas, and other devotional paintings.

Degas, After the Bath, Pastel, 1890.

The museum owns 45 Picasos from early pre-cubist drawings to bronze sculptures and the well-known cubist icon, Woman with a Book. About a dozen pieces by the artist are on display at any one time. But what is even more remarkable is the small but select group of early 20th century Russian paintings made during the heady early days of the Russian Revolution before Stalin crushed the early idealism. 

The Rodin collection in front of the museum entrance is another stellar standout. Not only does the Norton Simon have one of the 12 copies of Auguste Rodin's six-figure Burghers of Calais, but they also have several of Rodin's studies of the individual figures that he created before compiling the six men into one sculpture. The Burghers of Calais was commissioned by the city of Calais to honor the sacrifice of six wealthy citizens who hostaged themselves to the King of England in 1347 to free their town. In the final sculpture, the six men are in ragged clothes with nooses around their necks. Before creating the composite piece, Rodin sculpted each man alone, first unclothed and then clothed. You can see Rodin's development of these individual characters in those studies on display around the front garden. 

The lower level has the Asian art galleries, including several sculptures from Southeast Asia which were apparently acquired in a somewhat illegal way. * Unfortunately, that's nothing new and at least we can be glad that later purchases were acquired by more legal means. When I was there, the Hiroshige show was on the verge of closing but the permanent collection is worth a separate visit because, as in the galleries above, the rooms are packed with treasures. Some of the finest works in this part of the collection are bronze and gilt-copper alloy deities from Nepal and Tibet around the 13th century. These include a large standing figure of the goddess Tara, a beautiful figure of Indra in regal recline, and a Nepali Bodhisattva of the early Malla period.

*"Hell, Yes, It Was Smuggled!"
Lucian Harris for The Art Newspaper Lucian Harris for The Art Newspaper,

The Norton Simon Museum

The museum is an exquisite and beautifully designed masterpiece. Starting in the shaded circular parking lot through the walkway up to the museum where Rodin sculptures are grouped on the lawn, there is nothing that is not perfection.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Boy, 1606-1669. Oil on canvas
25-1/2 x 22 in. (64.8 x 55.9 cm). @The Norton Simon Foundation

The boy in the painting has often been identified as Rembrandt's son, Titus, because his face is rendered in sensitive, intimate detail, as if depicting a beloved family member. Although research suggests otherwise, the painting is still often called Titus.

 In its unfinished state, this exceptional picture offers invaluable insight into Rembrandt's working method. Over the rich, dark ground, the body and costume have been indicated merely with a few broad, sure brushstrokes. The collar, hair and head have been developed further, with layers of scumbles and glazes, while the face, particularly the eyes, has been fully modeled and highly finished. The child's face, bathed in an even, frontal light, radiates from the velvety darkness of the background. This unusually straightforward presentation reflects and enhances the engaging charm and openness of the ingenuous child, who eagerly presents himself to the viewer.

A mysterious animal, perhaps a pet, sits on the boy's shoulder. Some experts identify it as a parrot, others, a monkey. According to Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., National Gallery of Art curator of northern baroque painting, it may be that the unfinished, cut-down painting is related to an anecdote described by the Dutch theorist Arnold Houbraken in his early 18th-century biography of Rembrandt: The artist, while painting a group portrait of a husband, his wife, and their children, decided to include an image of his pet monkey because it had just died and he had no other canvas on which to paint it. The family objected and the group portrait was left unfinished. Although Houbraken's anecdotes may not be entirely accurate, this one may account for the curious animal on the boy's shoulder and the unfinished character of this remarkable image.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The LA river (a mighty stream no longer)

LA is built on an alluvial plain and the river formerly wandered through the basin. But it's now heavily channeled away from it's natural riverbed to prevent flooding. However I saw at least two places where the river had broken through the concrete walls and water was cascading down the side of the culvert, making a nice little waterfall. 

Now, if this had been ancient Rome, the river would have been channeled through aqueducts to provide water for gardens and fountains, Instead, it's become an open sewer (in places) and groups are trying to promote wildlife reserves and get the river cleaned up. I found it picturesque but the water level seemed sadly low for January and a reminder of what LA used to be before it became the concrete walled metropolis that it is now. 

In front of LACMA - SO LA!

Downtown LA

Disney Center at sunrise, LA, Jan 2011. @ Anna Conti (used with permission).

Anna and David are early risers (which I'm not) so this photo is another one from Anna's amazing collection. I never expected to be impressed by skyscrapers or modern architecture but there really is something vibrant and jazzy about the downtown. Parts of it are still skid row as we had occasion to find out but the rest of the area is electric with great buildings, interesting museums, a fantastic downtown market modeled on the Mexican mercado, plazas, places to eat and even a bus system that looked pretty active (at least for the downtown area). Anna says that the Starbucks in the downtown area was hopping, even early in the morning. I don't know because I never got up that early. I was conserving my energy for the day to come because each day was packed to the hilt with museum going and gallery viewing.

On the night that we arrived, we walked through LA's Chinatown that wasn't too far from our centrally located hotel. A long trudge down one of the major streets brought us to the courtyard that Anna photographed (see below). What struck me was how empty the restaurants and sidewalks were. At 6 PM or so, San Francisco's Chinatown is bustling with activity. Plus, nobody seems to live in "their" Chinatown; here (in SF), you are always aware of the families living in the spaces above the stores, children playing in the courtyards, old men gossiping on the park bench.

LA's Chinatown, for all it's age, looks like a manufactured business area, with little of SF's sense of lived in being. But there wasn't time to go back during the day and I'm interested in further exploration (once I recover from the trip).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

LA Chinatown

Once we arrived and checked in the hotel, we all decided to shake the travel stiffness out by a walk (a long walk) through LA's Chinatown. The stores had the same sort of merchandise that you can find in SF's Chinatown - herbs and teas for every kind of human condition - you can cure your gall bladder disease, men can replenish their "vitality," cure pimples, cholesterol and of course, the ubiquitous teas for slimming. There were shelves of garish tourist junk, prepared food and restaurants - even acupuncture clinics and a Chinese center for elders.Many shops were closing up for the night which I found surprising. SF's Chinatown goes 24/7 but this place looked like they rolled up the sidewalks at sunset. Still, we didn't have the time to explore the place thoroughly and I'd love to go back. Some of the older and smaller courtyards looked fascinating and who knows what unknown treasures lurk in the shadows. After all, it's Chinatown.

@ Anna Conti - used with permission. 
Fifty years ago on the sunny Saturday of June 25, 1938, California's Governor Merriam and a host of dignitaries dedicated Los Angeles Chinatown's Central Plaza in a gala Grand Opening ceremony. 

Originally, New Chinatown consisted of many notable restaurants, shops, an herbal store, a grocery store, a bean cake factory, a Chinese deli and offices. In 1938, these long-time establishments were all moved from Los Angeles' Old Chlnatown, not quite a mile away. What led to this sudden mass relocation into Los Angeles' Little Italy, and the need for establishing a new Chinatown?

The first Chinese was recorded to be in Los Angeles in 1852. Continuous settlement began in 1857. By 1870, an identifiable "Chinatown" of 200 or so was situated on Calle de Los Negros - Street of the Dark Hued Ones - a short alley 50 feet wide and one block long between El Pueblo Plaza and Old Arcadia Street. These early, mostly male, Chinese were mainly laundrymen, market gardeners, agricultural and ranch workers, and road builders. Despite the heavy discrimination in the late 19th century, Chinese held a dominant economic position in the Los Angeles laundry and produce industries for several years of this period. Consequently, old Chinatown flourished, expanding eastward from the Plaza across Alameda Street and eventually attaining a population of over 3000. The Exclusion Acts inhibited any real growth for many years.

In it's heyday, between 1890 to 1910, Chinatown could count 15 or so streets and alleys, and perhaps 200 building units. It had sufficient size and sophistication to boast of a Chinese opera theater, three temples, a newspaper (for a while), and later, its own telephone exchange. Old Chinatown was a residential as well as commercial community. The slow increase in the number of women would lead to the establishment of families with children. During this time, most of today's leading Chinese family and district associations, Chinatown institutions were founded, and church missions were organized, which began the process of community acculturation. Old Chinatown, with restaurants, curio shops, and "strange" entertainments, even became an attraction for the early, pioneering breed of American tourist.,_Los_Angeles

Reprinted from The Los Angeles Chinatown 50th Year Guidebook, June 1988: The Golden Years of Los Angeles Chinatown: The Beginning by Suellen Cheng and Munson Kwok, Chinese Historical Society of Southern California

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Live from LA

I've been in LA all week - came down with a bunch of friends to support an artist friend (Sandy Yagi) and see as much as I can see. So far, I've walked through downtown LA which is full of new buildings and museums and is cleaner and much better managed than SF. We've been to the Norton Simon Museum and the Getty, both of which make our local museums look like provincial nothings. The traffic is as expected but the city is not as I expected. It's exciting, vibrant and full of more things to do than I have the energy for. The local art scene is full of a wide range of galleries and people who (gasp) actually BUY the art. The art in the museums is astonishing, with a depth and breadth in the collections that SF simply can't match.

Norton Simon's beautifully designed grounds and building made me sad for what the De Young could have been. We could have had a beautiful building instead of the metal lump that we do have, with it's inadequate space for traveling shows, overpriced cafeteria and boring landscaping. SF's museum guards should come down here and learn manners and better ways to deal with the public. LA even has public transportation and some of it, so I hear, is very efficient.

Once I get back home, I'll write in more detail about my trip but it's been an eyeopener. I love SF and could not stand LA's heat or traffic but in many ways, LA has SF beat.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Words matter

The old adage was that "stick and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me. " Maybe that was true when the saying was coined but it's not true now. We have seen a lethal coarsening of political verbiage in the United States. Political insults are nothing new; go back to the Andrew Jackson's campaign for president to read some insults that make today's rhetoric look like a nursery rhyme. Men brought guns to his campaign speeches or the political campaigns of Lincoln and Douglas (to name a few). But American was still a frontier society and men lived by hunting. However, we sure aren't now and the politicians urging violence against their opponents are beginning to reap a horrible harvest, one which threatens us all.

From William Jefferson Clinton's speech after the bombings in Oklahoma:

Words matter: [W]hat we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or reduce our passion from the positions we hold -- but that the words we use really do matter, because there's this vast echo chamber and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike. And I am not trying to muzzle anybody. But... no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.

Look, I'm glad they're fighting over health care and everything else. Let them have at it. But I think all you have to do is read the paper everyday to see how many people there are who are deeply, deeply troubled.... By all means, keep fighting. By all means, keep arguing. But remember words have consequences as much as actions do. And what we advocate commensurate with our position and responsibility, we have to take responsibility for. We owe that to Oklahoma City...
 More at:

Friday, January 7, 2011

Some better news on the Asian's financial difficulties

Ganesha, Hindu Deity of Luck. @Asian Art Museum

The Asian still needs it's own Hideyoshi, although one hopes that if it does obtain such a patron, it would work out better than Hideyoshi's patronage of the tea master, Sen no Rikyu. (Rikyu died after committing ritual suicide for reasons that are still mysterious.) Maybe the upcoming Year of the Rabbit will be more financially beneficial than the outgoing Year of the Tiger? But it's not over until it's over. The proposal still needs to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

From the Asian's Pres release: Mayor Newsom, City Attorney Herrerra, City Controller Ben Rosenfield, President Chiu and Asian Art Museum Foundation Announce Proposal to Restructure Foundation's Debt…

The new deal makes the city liable for the Asian's debt - you can just imagine how well that's going down .......

 "If the bank didn't help work out a fair restructuring of the debt, "the City will be forced to take steps to protect the Museum and the public," the city attorney added.
In the new agreement, JP Morgan Chase agreed to issue new, 30-year fixed-rate bonds at 4.60 percent to replace the existing variable-rate bonds, which had a 23-year term. The bank also agreed to forgive 17 percent of the loan, trimming the debt from the current $120 million down to $99 million.
Read more:

What is the old adage about a banker's heart? I still think somebody at JP Morgan had an eye on parts of the collection and was hoping to clean up at a forced fire sale.
"Last month, San Francisco city attorney David Herrera sent a shot across the bow of both JP Morgan and MBIA in the form of threatening letters about their involvement in the museum’s financial crisis.

In the letter to JP Morgan, Herrera — who is running for mayor of San Francisco — said the investment bank had a conflict of interest as it was the primary architect of the current financing and serves or has served as the foundation’s underwriter, remarketing agent, swap counterparty, investment portfolio manager and letter-of-credit provider.

Herrera said the bank has reaped at least $13 million from the foundation in fees and other charges related to its roles."

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Julien Breton - Kaalam - from kaalam on Vimeo.

Calligraphy in Tokyo

I love this! I have often wished that Western calligraphy had the same respect that it does in the East. It used to. I've seen books which were the standard for teaching handwriting back in the 19th and early 20th century. I took handwriting when I was in school but when I approached the SF Untied School district with a plan for teaching handwriting - as a volunteer and for free! - I was turned down. No wonder we get chicken scratches in place of handwriting and no wonder nobody can read them.

Now, we are lucky to get hand written notes, much less those written elegantly. San Francisco has an active calligraphy group but unfortunately for those of us with no cars, classes are held at night and across town. The study of calligraphy has shrunk to a small group of devotees.

Nearly 3,000 people gathered in Tokyo on Wednesday from as far away as Brazil to break out their calligraphy brushes for an annual new year's ritual to bring in 2011.

Traditionally, people across Japan use ink brushes and paper to write out their resolutions, wishes or auspicious Chinese characters to commemorate the start of a new year.

Participants, who ranged from those barely old enough to write all the way up to 80-somethings, were given 24 minutes to complete their calligraphic portrayals of the year ahead.

"I first came since my nephew had been coming a few times, and now I've come 13 times in a row," said 60-year-old Yasuko Ikeda after finishing her piece, executed using a thick, horse-hair brush and ink made from charcoal.

The Chinese characters selected for people to write ranged from "New Year" to "Vibrant Nature."

"I hope that, as I wrote, I can get through this year without catching a cold or getting sick," said Yuki Oogane, 12, who wrote the Chinese characters for "Healthy Child."

This year, a group of students from a Japanese language school based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, also took part.

"It is a different experience because we don't have that in Brazil. It was different and new," said Kevin Kenji Ishii, 16, when asked about practicing calligraphy in Japan.

Calligraphy is a revered art in many parts of Asia, with the act of writing Chinese characters believed to sharpen the mind and improve concentration.

Japanese has three systems of writing. Hiragana and katakana have characters for each syllable, with katakana used for foreign words, while the Chinese characters are used to represent full words.

The calligraphy pieces are collected and ranked by judges according to strict rules which evaluate the calligraphers' skills. Prizes will be awarded on the 23rd of January.

(Reporting by Chris Meyers; editing by Elaine Lies)

© Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So long, farewell, it's been great to see you (shows closing this month)

 Henri Rousseau. The Snake Charmer @ at the De Young.
 There is a whole gaggle (?), cornucopia (?), anyway, a whole lotta art goodies coming up on the horizon but before they come, it's time to say good buy to the art that has graced our area for all to brief a time. So shake your booty and get over to see these treasures before they go away.
Hiroshige. Moon, Pine - at the Legion of Honor

De Young
Van Gogh, Cezanne and beyond: closing January 18
To Dye For, A world saturated with color: January 9
Pat Steir's take on Japanese Prints
Japaneseque: January 9th

Henri Cartier-Bresson: January 30th
Paul Klee: January 16
The Anniversary Show: January 16

 Asian Art Museum
Beyond Golden Clouds: January 16

Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Volver: January 16

Oakland Museum
Pixar: 25 years of animation: Jan 9, 2011:
Cantor Arts Center
Chiaroscuro Woodcuts from 16th-Century Italy: Through February 27, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

Let there be chocolate

I am going to LA next week with a great group of friends. The agenda includes visits to the Getty and other points of interest and I cannot wait! An astrologer friend told me that I would travel this year and I didn't believe her. It's great when something nice happens so, to celebrate, I made this dish from the recipe at Cafe Fernando. Sometimes only chocolate will do.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cherchez la femme: women in the arts

Elder Voices, 2001. @ The artist

Pia Stern: I first saw Pia Stern's work in one of Sister Wendy Beckett's little books. This one was titled "Peace" and Sister Wendy's essay sent me in search of more of Ms. Stern's work. "Stern shows us two ways of being; the physical, answerable only to accident, to wind and time; and the spiritual, answerable to inward truth. One is free-flowing, the other is fixed, grounded in more than its own small compass -- in God." *  Since that time, I have sought out her work and I have never felt disappointed. She shines light on the darker parts of the heart as well as the deeper dimensions of the soul.

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

Julie Michelle: Her warmth and caring come though so that even the "camera-shy" tell their stories beautifully.  SF's own winners and loosers, dreamers and poets, familes on the street and those who might (some day) be "big names" are all illuminated by her insightful photographs:

Linda Ellia: Responding to Mein Kampf: Eighty-one years after the original publication of Mein Kamph), French painter and photographer Linda Ellia held in her hands a French translation of that book, the blueprint for the Nazi new world order - their new world, our nightmare. Born in Tunisia to a Sephardic Jewish family, Linda Ellia moved to Paris with her family at age eight to escape the increasingly violent antisemitism of 1960s Tunisia. The book was heavy with in her hands, heavy with its murderous ideology and heavy with the memory of the murdered millions.

Compelled to respond, she grabbed a large red marker and drew on one of pages. She named the drawing Alie (wings).

“I felt such pleasure, that I continued on about 30 pages, “ says Ellia. I covered them with my words, with my drawings, with my paintings. I cut them up. It was them that I thought about the others. Why not share the experience that I was in the process of living.”

Shanghai: Art of the City: Or looking for the women who were not there! I got so frustrated by the near misses of this show and the way that it (unconsciously I hope) bought into the misogyny of Chinese culture that I went looking for the missing half of the equation, in this case, the women! This was one show where what was missing led me to some very fruitful research and what I found inspiring is how the women survived. It was their courage, their resourcefulness and their perseverance in the face of poverty and degradation that I honor.

What do the following have in common – foot binding, prostitution, the silk industry, concubines? They all have to deal with the reality of women in Shanghai and they are all omitted from the current exhibit at the Asian. Shanghai, The Art of the City, presents such a cleaned up and ready for its close-up image that you would never guess that it was a byword for decadence, corruption and violence.

The exhibit would have gained immeasurably if there had been an open acknowledgment of the status of women during the 150 years covered by the show.

Film Series at the Asian - a spin off from the Shanghai exhibit and the part that they got right. It's a rather sad commentary on this ambitious exhibit that the part that is the most informative is /are the film series. Opening with "Triad,"  staring Gong Li, and continuing with a comprehensive look at Chinese films of the 20's on up (and it's a miracle that any of the films survived).

* Sister Wendy Beckett. Meditations on Peace. Dorling Kindersley. .London, NY. Stuttgard. 1995, p 34