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.