Monday, August 29, 2011

Carnation Mush

A bit of SF history was revealed when the building next to this one got torn down. Now, does anybody know more about "Carnation Mush?"

I have walked by the building that covered this sign for almost every day of the forty years I've lived in the neighborhood and never gave it much thought. But I was walking by a slice of SF history.

Judging by the age of the other buildings on this stretch of Market St., between Van Ness and Valencia, it was probably built between 1907-1910. Even before the big one in 1906, SF had suffered many major fires and I'm guessing that this was part of the rebuild after the 1906 earthquake. I don't think it would possibly predate 1906 as all this part of the city was reduced to rubble. When I have time, I'm going to the archives at the Main library and see what I can find out.

Until it was closed, it was an antique store of sorts. For years, on my way to and fro, I would see an elderly man sitting in the doorway, accompanied by his cat and sometimes I would stop and chat. But in those days, I was too young to appreciate the value of local and oral history - so I never asked him any questions. I wish I had because I am sure there is a story behind those dusty bricks.

Given that I haunted antique stores and was always looking for some little treasure of books or furniture, art or jewelry.  I must have thought that there was nothing there worth buying - assuming you could find anything in the first place. 

The room beyond was in darkness but I could see huge wooded crates piled up as high as the rafters with an occasional chair or chest of drawers pushed up against the wall. The place was dusty and in disarray and showed no apparent signs of organization. I never saw anybody go in and I imagine that it would have been impossible to buy anything.

I don't know when the elderly man left but the building has been boarded up for at least two decades. There were huge gaps in the boards and I am sure that many generations of pigeons roosted in the place. The local homeless were squatting inside for a while until the lower floors were boarded up with steel panels to keep them out.

According to the neighbors, the state had to search forever to find a surviving relative. Apparently they finally did find one who gave permission for the place to be torn down.

Pam (of Zommie Station) and I found the same information about Carnation but nothing more specific about mush:

"Cereal Mills were close relatives to flour mills and most familiar to our area was the Albers Bros. Milling Company. Albers began in Portland and moved north to Tacoma and Seattle. It was purchased by the Carnation Milk Company of Seattle when Carnation was unsuccessful in stopping Albers from using the trade name "Carnation Mush." Albers was able to keep its local mills going right into the 1960s and 1970s by concentrating on pet and animal foods. Today, owned by the Nestle Corporation, they are still in the animal food and cornmeal business but do not have a mill in Washington."

I wonder if what they were referring to as "Carnation mush" was what we now call cornmeal mush or hasty pudding? It was certainly a stand by in my family kitchen, an inexpensive and quick meal. Corn, water or milk and salt was mixed into a thick tasty pudding that you could serve plain or top with maple syrup or brown sugar.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Four Saints in Three Acts - no pigeons, no grass and that's a fact!

“Gertrude was wonderful to set to music because there was no temptation to illustrate the words,” Thomson, an American composer who was an expat in Paris along with Stein in the 1920s, once remarked of his chief collaborator. “For the most part you didn't know what it meant anyway, so you couldn't make it like birdie babbling by a brook or heavy, heavy hangs my heart.”

I'm not a music critic nor do I pretend to be but I confess that I was mostly underwhelmed.

Since the libretto was by Gertrude Stein, I didn't expect logic. In fact, one of Gertrude's charms is her lack of formal logic but one of her charms is the rhythm of her prose. Alas, for the most part, both rhythm and diction were lost in this production. 

YBCA divided the presentation into two uneven acts, padded by (IMHO) a mumbling, boring, dreary prelude by Italian composer Luciano Chessa (who teaches at the SF Conservatory). The curtain opened on a black stage, with a chorus of singers dressed as monks in black who proceeded to chant in unintelligible whispers for what seemed an eternity. Even the presence of a supposed notable multi-media performance artist (Kalup Linzy) didn't enliven the gloom.

His facial features don't improve when blown up 40 feet on a back screen projection and the slow motion clouds were lovely but quickly got tedious. My favorite part of that part of the production was when the shinny floor covering slithered down off the stage across the front of the proscenium.

If nothing else, that proves that YBCA has a state-of-the-art theater mechanics.

The "Gertrude" part of the production was much more lively and interesting, although still marred by sloppy diction. The only exception was Eugene Brancoveanu (Saint Ignatius) whose "solo" of "Pigeons in the grass, alas" was the best part of the show as was his warm, thrilling baritone. Compère (John Bischoff) and Commère (Wendy Hillhouse) act as the Masters of Ceremonies had good comic timing and Ms Hillhouse, in particular, belted out her arias with feeling. 

Nicole Paiement conducted with passion and the orchestra was flawless. Some of the stage business was funny - the tango segment was genuinely witty. But why clothe St. Ignatius in red and turn him into a surgeon and then, some sort of torture victim? Mr. Brancoveanu has a physique that can wear red but why mess with the original staging?

We had St. Therea wheeled around the stage in an open-four poster bed, St. Ignatius playing a surgeon and later, a torture victim. The ending, with St. Ignatius strapped to a torture chair, wrapped with cables while miming electric shock was not funny -

and that's a fact.

Mike Strickland (one of the bad cops in black in the production): 

Josh Korman's review:

Most astute and thorough commentary (found via SF Mike)
Patrick Vaz: The idea of continuing the avant-garde performance tradition association with 4 Saints is not in itself a bad one, but they would have been better off leaving 4 Saints alone..(read the whole thing as it's fantastic).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Films at the Asian, zines in Golden Gate Park and a new window for YBCA

It's been a crazy week at Chez NamasteNancy with some very bad family news. So, I'm a bit late in getting the word out about Tuesday's film at the Asian. If you live in the Bay Area and can make it, "Talking to the spirits" looks to be fascinating.

Michael Wiese, director of "Talking to the spirits."  His publishing company, MWP, founded in 1981, has become the leading independent publisher of books on screenwriting and film making, with a current line of more than 130 titles.

photo courtesy Divine Arts Media

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Mourners. Tomb sculptures of the Dukes of Burgundy

A group of nearly 40 of the greatest masterpieces of medieval sculpture have been making a pilgrimage across the United States.

Carved by Jean de La Huerta and Antoine Le Moiturier between 1443 and 1470, the unique devotional figures, known as “mourners,” were commissioned for the elaborate Gothic tomb of the second Duke of Burgundy. Crafted with astonishing detail, the alabaster sculptures exemplify some of the most important artistic innovations of the late Middle Ages. They were meant evoke the funeral processions of the dukes, events that brought together various elements of Burgundian society: nobility, clergy, and upper class lay persons. Their rotund alabaster simplicity was a moving contrast to the ornate tomb architecture. Originally placed in arches beneath the main body of the tombs, they can only now - and only for a short time - be seen in the round.

John the Fearless and mourner
During the French Revolution the tombs were moved and damaged, but by the early 19th century they had been reassembled and installed in Dijon's Musée des Beaux Arts.

Philip the Bold and mourner
As the French museum at Dijon is currently undergoing restoration, it was decided that the sorrowing group would be liberated from the duke's tomb and sent on a pilgrimage around the United States. San Francisco is the last stop on the eight-city tour, and anyone who cares about the art of sculpture should pay them a visit, for each is a small masterpiece, prefiguring the Renaissance in their eloquent simplicity.

 The Mourners: Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy represents the only time that these figures will be seen together outside of France and provides an unprecedented opportunity to appreciate each sculpture as an individual work of art.

For most of the 14th century, Burgundy was the wealthiest kingdom in Europe and the dukes of Burgundy the most powerful princes in the Western world. Their wealth derived from the merchant classes of Lyon, Bruges and Ghent and their capitalistic acumen, rather than the traditional medieval reliance on farming. The dukes' revenues outstripped those of the French kings (their close cousins and political rivals). 

Ruling from their capital at Dijon, the Dukes of Burgundy were enthusiastic patrons of the arts. Among their most memorable commissions were elaborate above-ground tombs, which combine recumbent effigies of the dead surrounded by a series of mourning figures, represented a cross-section of both clergy and ordinary, but upper class, people.

The tomb of Philip the Bold (reigned 1363-1404), designed by the great sculptor Claus Sluter and others in the early 15th century, provided the model for this type of monument. Sluter is best known for his Moses Well, still at the Carthusian Order's Charterhouse of Champmol in Dijon. (An order of hermits, the Carthusians were founded in the early 11th century by St. Bruno and may today be best known for the liqueur Chartreuse, produced under their supervision.)

The sculptures are small but convey powerful emotion. Their heavy draped garments envelop their bodies, yet each simple swelling form conveys a sense of the individual as well as a sophisticated knowledge of human anatomy. Originally carved for placement in niches surrounding the lower tier of the tomb, it is clear that the sculptors did not stint in detail. Back as well as front is completely carved. The faces are almost all covered with overhand cowls or folds of cloth. Yet each conveys individuality with careful touches of pose and gesture and even accessories.

The artists’ attention to detail extends to specifics of clothing, belts, buttons, purses, decorative borders and even seams in the cloth. A couple of figures hold finely carved rosary beads, and one Carthusian monk is shown actually reading from his open book. Virtually all the faces, other than those that are covered, are demonstrating their deep grief; some are totally self-involved, while others look out at you for some sign of comfort.

In his famous chronicle, “The Waning of the Middle Ages,” Johan Huizinga called the  “the most profound expression of mourning known in art, a funeral march in stone.” If he was exaggerating, it was not by much.  We know nothing of John the Fearless yet the mourners transcends their original task to glorify princely splendor and reminds us that grief at loss is timeless and universal.

The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures From the Court of Burgundy” was organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon under the aegis of Frame (French Regional and American Museum Exchange). (Besides the 37 mourners centrally presented, three more that were separated from the group long ago and are now owned by different museums are also on view in a separate vitrine. One last stray has yet to be found.)       

Website where you can see the images in the round:

Opens at the Legion on Saturday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Weekend Picks for SF and the Bay Area

There is no singing the summertime blues around Chez Nancy. Well, I will make an exception for the days when my clueless upstairs clods keep me awake past 3 AM with their clomping and stomping. But I just get myself out the door anyway and enjoy the cultural riches that abound - while plotting revenge.

I realized that if I listed everything - like the Schwitters' show and the two Stein shows and what's up and coming at the Legion and the two new shows at the De Young, I'd run out of space and try your patience. So, I'm just going to limit this to two ..or three...or four.. or...

Tiger barong (barong macan), approx. 1900–1930 (top). Mas, Gianyar. Wood, pigments. National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, the Netherlands, 2407-51

At the Asian Art Museum: Bali closes on Sept. 11, so beat the crowds and catch some stellar programs while you can. Living legend I Wayan Wija -- one of the world's best shadow puppeteers -- performs this Thursday at MATCHA for just $10, again on Aug.25 with a different presentation, and demonstrates Aug. 17-28. Watch a screening of Talking with Spirits on Aug. 23 followed by a filmmaker Q&A, and a shadow puppet making demonstration Aug. 31-Sept. 11.

I thought this was one of the most vibrant, exciting shows that I'd seen in ages and gave it 5 stars:
The Asian is offering a reduced admission fee (code is BALI5)

Why did Gertrude Stein and I decide to write an opera about saints? Simply because we viewed a saint’s life as related to our own. In all times the consecrated artist has tended to live surrounded by younger artists and to guide them into the ways of spontaneity. And thus to characterize one’s gift is indeed to invite “inspiration” and just possibly, through art, make “miracles.” — Virgil Thomson

At Yerba Buena: Three Saints in Four Acts
One of the most important alliances in the history of American opera began in Paris in 1927 when the young, little-known composer Virgil Thomson invited fellow expatriate artist Gertrude Stein to write a libretto he could set to music. In 1934, back in the United States, the curtains finally rose on Four Saints in Three Acts, an experimental milestone in 20th-century music as well as a Broadway hit in its day. Considered radical for its convention-defying format, Four Saints remains a cornerstone of avant-garde theater—one that brought the zeitgeist of bohemian Paris to America and helped usher modernism into mainstream culture.

I have tickets for Sunday's matinee and I can hardly wait!

Review by Janos Greben at the SF Examiner:

An inside look by local blogger, Mike of Civic Center fame who is one of the supernumeraries in the show:

 Warren Gee. @artist/Creativity Explored

At Creativity Explored:  Structure, a new exhibition at Creativity Explored Gallery, represents all of these variations on a theme — illustrating how one concept can relate to nature, science, geography, architecture, music, language, and much more. Opening Reception: Thursday, August 18, 2011, 7:00 pm to 9:00 PM. 3245 16th St, San Francisco.

The San Jose Museum of Art’s popular series “DIY Art” continues on Saturday, August 20, from 1 to 3 p.m., with a session on “Drawing Comic Books.”  Visitors of all ages will learn the fundamentals of creating comic books, from storyboarding and writing to layout and draftsmanship. Richard Becker, author and illustration of the book "How to Draw the Marvel Heroes," will instruct. Comic book costumes are welcome.  The program is free with Museum admission of $8 ($5 for students, seniors, and youth ages 7-18; free to members and children under 6).

The Oakland Museum continues to honor John Muir's legacy by preserving a unique collection of butterflies:

At the Exploratorium: Girls Science Institute
This four-day workshop for girls ages 10-12 will cover Newton’s Laws, forces and motion, and engineering through exploration of the lives of women who impacted the field, hands-on activities, and creative expression. $240 members/ $275 nonmembers. For questions please call 415-561-0376.
3601 Lyon Street. San Francisco, CA 94123

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mermaid Fountain at Ghiradelli Square

Fountain by Ruth Asawa, watercolor by Nancy Ewart.

Friday, August 12, 2011

70 Years of Archie Comics and the Green Lantern at the Cartoon Art Museum

Even though this cartoon strip came after the original creator served in WW II, it's still so very innocent and naive. Reality never intrudes in Archie's world. He may be seventy but he's still got all his hair, his freckles and hasn't gained an ounce of weight. Furthermore, he's still dithering between Betty and Veronica.

The Archie stamp features Archie sharing a chocolate shake with brunette Veronica Lodge on his right and blonde Betty Cooper on his left. Offering an idealized portrait of American adolescence, Archie existed only in comic-book form before debuting in newspapers in 1946. A typical small-town teenager with a knack for goofing things up, 17-year-old Archie Andrews is often torn between haughty Veronica and sweet Betty.

Read more at:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Michael McMillen: Train of Thought' at the OMCA

I liked the show a lot better than I thought I would; usually conceptual and installation art leaves me cold but this was interesting, thoughtful, quirky and edgy with a high level of craftsmanship and a mordant sense of humor. 

Michael C. McMillen: "Train of Thought," the current exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) is a retrospective look at the career of Michael C. McMillen, an internationally renowned Southern California-based mixed-media artist. The exhibition features large-scale multisensory installations, assemblages, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and films that invite viewers into McMillen's imaginary world. Read more at:

(really infuriating that the Examiner template cuts off the top and bottom of almost all images) 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen

Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
Woody Guthrie

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Studying with Hans Hoffman

 “Hofmann's ability to handle paint, to fuse the action of painting and drawing into a single, immediate gesture, carried colored pigment into the viewer's presence with the force of a bomb. . . . Hofmann's genius lay in his ability to expand our dimensional experience of the pictorial surface.”—Frank Stella, 1999

Going back in time to study with one of the most influential teachers of modern art would require a time machine and I am afraid that we haven't built one yet. But the next best thing is right here in the Bay Area. UC Berkeley has a huge collection of Hoffman paintings and almost always has one gallery exhibiting work.
After all, the Berkeley Art Museum was founded in 1963 by following the donation to the university of forty-five paintings and $250,000 from artist and teacher Hans Hofmann. Their on-line data base also has a large number of Hoffman images; the archive is not very searchable but the images are fairly large and the captions are comprehensive.

"In preparation for "The Tides of Provincetown: Pivotal Years in America’s Oldest Continuous Art Colony 1899-2011" The New Britain Museum compiled a link list of online interactives and research materials. If you've ever wondered what it was like to take classes with legendary art teacher Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, check out this video which was included on their list. I'm looking forward to seeing the exhibition, which focuses on Provincetown's legacy as an art colony and includes over 100 artists from Charles W. Hawthorne's founding of the Cape Cod School of Art in 1899 to the present day. Apparently it's the most comprehensive survey of the art colony completed in over 40 years. I'll put up a list of participating artists shortly."

Reviewed in The Boston Globe.

"The Tides of Provincetown: Pivotal Years in America's Oldest Continuous Art Colony 1899-2011," The New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, CT. Through Oct. 16, 2011."

Now, I have to confess that I was not that impressed by the last show at the BAM (2008?).  The "push pull" theory usually means a square is plopped down in the middle of loose, abstract brushwork. It was probably revolutionary for the time and he was certainly an influential teacher but I wish I liked his work better. However, they are colorful enough to stand up to the dead gray color of the museum's walls and powerful enough to counteract that echoing space in the middle of the building. Maybe it's time for another retrospective - as if the overworked staff at the BAM doesn't have enough to do! Sometimes I wonder what pieces I would chose if I were to put up a show from the permanent collection - it's probably a good thing that I won't ever get the chance.

 Games, videos and other resources:
images from the Berkeley Art Museum archive.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Battle over the Barnes heats up again..

With its new building scheduled to open in Philadelphia next spring, the Barnes Foundation has met another challenge to its impending move from suburban Lower Merion, Penn. On Monday, Montgomery County Orphans' Court Judge Stanley Ott presided over a hearing requested by a citizens group that argued he didn't have all the evidence when he approved the museum's relocation of its multibillion-dollar art collection in 2004.

The Friends of the Barnes Foundation said Ott was misled by the actions of the attorney general's office, which has oversight over charitable trusts and had "failed to serve as a neutral party." The "Friends" group is still trying to keep the collection intact and unmoved, according to the will of museum founder Dr. Albert Barnes, who died in 1951.

Ott had determined years ago that the citizens group has no legal standing in the case, according to the Barnes Foundation attorney. (The ongoing struggle over the renowned collection of Impressionist to modern art masterpieces was well-documented in the 2009 film, "The Art of the Steal.")

The foundation closed the doors to its neo-classical house museum in June.
The Barnes' move into Philadelphia is seen by some as a boon to the city's expanding "Museum Mile" of cultural attractions that will aid in the maintenance and accessibility of the collection. Pew Charitable Trusts, The Lenfest Foundation and The Annenberg Foundation offered $150 million for the Barnes to build a new gallery and an endowment when the relocation to Philadelphia was approved.

A ruling is expected in about one month.

Read more: AP Wire Services
on the Net:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Kurt Schwitters: Color and Collage at the Berkeley Art Museum (part 2)

The multidisciplinary nature of Schwitters’s output, which can make a career survey look like a group show, may be one of the reasons he remains an little known figure. His sole American retrospective, at MoMA, was 25 years ago. Representative samplings of his art have since rarely been on view, there or elsewhere.

Yet he has had a huge effect on post-World War II artists and is revered by many. Two of the collages in the show are from Jasper Johns’s collection; two others are owned by Ellsworth Kelly. ...And a Schwitters effect, however indirect and unrecognized, can be spotted in much contemporary work. (Holland Cotter, NY TImes)

Part two of the review of the show in Berkeley:

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

“Kurt Schwitters, Color and Collage” at the Berkeley Art Museum

Peter Bissegger: Reconstruction of Kurt Schwitters's Merzbau, 1981-83 (original ca. 1930-37, destroyed 1943); 154-3/4 x 228 3/8 x 181 in.; Sprengel Museum Hannover. Photo: Michael Herling / Aline Gwose, Sprengel Museum Hannover (c) Peter Bisseger.

Kurt Schwitters, Color and Collage” which opens Wednesday at the Berkeley Art Museum is the first major overview of the legendary German artist’s work presented in the United States in twenty-six years. The exhibition includes approximately eighty assemblages, sculptures, and collages made between 1918 and 1947 that elucidate the relationship between collage and painting—as well as color and material—in Schwitters’s work.