Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bucky Fuller at SFMOMA

"To boldly go where no man has gone before," might have been Buckminster Fuller's motto, which is well demonstrated by the current show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). While not a retrospective, there is more than enough to overwhelm the first time visitor.

While three-quarters of the exhibit comes from the museum's own collection, it also draws upon the massive Fuller archive -- including 4,000 hours of film -- acquired by Stanford University Libraries in 1999. The Stanford material includes drawings, plans and items such as a 1966 Popular Science magazine cover touting a "low cost sun dome you can build easily," right in your own backyard.

 "The Whole Earth Catalog," published in 1968 was dedicated to him; the museum has one of the original catalogs on display under glass at the exhibit. There are prints and photographs of numerous items inspired by him, including of David de Rothschild's recycled Plastiki sailboat, North Face camping tents and Kaiser's geodesic dome, all of which testify to his long-lasting legacy.

Glass domes, pill dispensers and Jambox speakers are arrayed along a cutout of the San Francisco coast in photographer Frank Hülsbömer’s still-life constructions pay homage to the influence of his ideas in the more mundane areas of life.

Included in the show is designer and sustainability advocate Yves Béhar’s One Laptop per Child project, a.k.a. a $100 laptop, alongside images showing the remarkable change the initiative has brought to education systems and underprivileged schoolchildren in countries like Rwanda and Peru.

The exhibits also include a study model of Thom Mayne’s 2007 San Francisco Federal Building, which incorporates a “living skin” of automatically adjusting windows said to be influenced by Fuller.

Colorful drawings and two elaborate models convey a visionary, never-built project by San Francisco's Ant Farm design collective. The idea was to develop a geodesic-domed Convention City in Texas in time for the 1976 U.S. Bicentennial, with an arena for real-time political debates.

Fuller's most popular design, the geodesic dome, is everywhere -- from colorful versions on playgrounds to Montreal's Expo 1967 to Florida's Epcot Center. But the mechanics of his projects are less important to museum exhibit curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher than his broad vision and passionate belief that smarter design could help change the world.

Visitors to the exhibit can watch an excerpt of “Everything I Know,” a small portion of the 42-hour marathon film that he made in 1975. “We couldn’t find a player that could handle 42 hours of video,” said Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, the exhibition’s curator. On the monitor behind her, the video played and Fuller said, “My information stimulus from the brain is always terminal, so all my inputs are finite.”

Infinite would be a more apt description of the man, along with visionary, creative, perpetually curious and a believer that humanity's hope rested not with organizations of any type but rather with individual human beings. His vision was that we, who reside on the planet he named "Spaceship Earth," could be provided with the necessities of life.

However flawed his projects were in execution, his belief in collective creativity and idealism is a vision that we need now more than ever.

 Opened March 31 through July 29, 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays and Fridays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m. Thursdays

 The Utopian Impulse: Buckminster Fuller and the Bay Area: Through July 29. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 151 Third St., S.F. Museum admission: $18. Call (415) 357-4000.

More information: The Stanford Libraries searchable database includes material from the university's extensive Fuller archive:

On May 1, as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, SF filmmaker Sam Green will regale audiences at the SFMOMA with a "live documentary" presentation, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, featuring a live score by Yo La Tengo.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

ArtHaus's exhibit takes the digital images to a new high

 Carmella by Helen Breznik. courtesy ArtHaus/the artist

If you want to know why ArtHaus was voted the best art gallery in the Bay Area in 2012, just visit the current exhibit of the '1st International Mobile Photo Exhibit.' now up through June 20, 2012. Located in "south of the slot," one of San Francisco's emerging trendy areas, ArtHaus presents an unobtrusive facade to the street but once you enter, the experience is a powerful one. The current show should put photography made with cell-phones on the art map.

 ArtHaus Gallerists James Bacchi and Annette Schutz sponsored the show, curated by founder of the Mobile Photo Awards, Daniel Berman. Berman founded the awards to promote and harness the global phenomenon of mobile, or cell-phone, photography and art. For the show, 26 photographs were chosen out of over 2,200 submissions. Fifteen awards were given for formal photographic merit in categories including art and architecture, landscapes and self-portraits, while 11 app awards were given for the skillful use of various camera photo processing applications.

Curvaceous by Heather Craig. courtesy ArtHaus/the artist

 Photography has come a long ways from the days of the daguerreotype and Matthew Brady.  Contemporary photographers are freed from the darkroom, the need to for chemical processing and laborious printing.  Now, according to Heather Craig, one of the winners of the contest, with the iPhone, they have an entire art studio in their pocket.

The new techniques are not without their detractors. Just as the Impressionists were mocked and thought not "real" painters, so those who use the new media are looked down up by those who came up the hard way, learning all the intricate techniques of various cameras, film stock and papers.

Since the beginning, photography has been complicated by the medium's focus on realism. The camera phone has made it possible to pass over that philosophical hurdle by merging the lines between photography, realism and fine art.

Double Dutch Nuns by Jose Chavarry. courtesy ArtHaus/the artist.

The new media also has its techniques, which aren't necessarily easy to master. The show has dozens of photographs made using a whole encyclopedia of photo aps and beautiful they are too. There are multiple categories such as landscapes, self-portraits and street photography as well as categories in digital art and software enhanced abstraction.

Heather Craig on Curvaceous (one of the winning images, "I’ve been a photographer for most of my life, and it’s quite simply an extension of who I am. It is a need as much as a desire, and I’ve come to realize that for me the muse often comes from the act itself, not necessarily a particular outcome. If I’m feeling artistically stuck, I just need to shoot…anything…and eventually I find the magic again."

Works range from realistic as in Jose Chavarry's Henri Cartier Bresson inspired photo of two Dutch nuns skipping rope to the romantic abstract landscape "Tidal Impressions," by Pat Shourds. Cindy Patrick's "Waiting for the Perfect Wave," is a 21st century tribute to the intense color saturated values of 1950's Kodachrome. Jennifer Braewell's image of large mouth swallowing a flamingo, "Ornamental Food," is both funny and surrealistic. Sam Berkowitz's "I am Sam," is right out of German Expressionism.

No matter what the inspiration, each of the works exhibited in the show presents a unique and individual take in a multiplicity of techniques and inspirations. New technologies are not always quickly accepted. Shows like this should help bridge the gap between what was, what is and what can be by presenting the infinite possibilities between technology and human creativity.

ArtHaus has been invited to take the exhibition to the 2012 SF FINE ART FAIR, May 17-20, 2012 where it will be presented as a special exhibition and panel discussion at this international contemporary fine art fair.

Mobile Awards Photo Blog:

ArtHaus. 411 Brannan Street. (between 3rd Street and 4th Street). San Francisco, CA 94107. 415-977-0223

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The 1968 exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California

Flag draped coffin at the exhibit 1968. Oakland Museum. photo by Nancy Ewart

In his novel, "In Search of Lost Time," Proust, dips a Madeline into a cup of tea to awaken his memories of the past.

'The 1968 exhibit,' the new show at the Oakland Museum of California devoted to that tumultuous year does not use anything as fragile as a cookie - you are sucker punched at the entrance with a Huey, the helicopter that was used in Vietnam.

A highlight of the exhibit, the UH-1H helicopter, or Huey, was assembled by more than 25 veterans for the Minnesota Historical Society, which organized the show. Painted Army green, its doors are emblazoned with red crosses, designating its use for medical evacuation.

The helicopter is set within a typical American living room of the period, compete with the ubiquitous green couch, shag rug, Danish modern furniture and TV set where an avuncular Walter Cronkite pontificates, "We are mired in stalemate."

 Guardsmen, 1968 Democratic Party Convention, Chicago. @Oakland Museum

 This is made even more poignant by interviews with survivors, run from a TV set located inside the helicopter. Nearby is a flag draped coffin with wall text that informs the visitor of the ever-increasing death toll. The interviews tell of the sense of comradeship and belonging in the face of danger. As one of the soldiers recounts, "War was everywhere, an imminent peril pressing on the soul."

Some visitors to that portion of the exhibit openly wept for Vietnam is still the great wound in the American psyche.

Vietnam had become, as Michael Arlen puts it in a wall panel, "The central fact of American life, the force that was changing shape beneath everything else in that period. "

Bobby Kennedy Funeral Train images. Oakland Museum of California

 Two other portions of the exhibit also pack a powerhouse of grief and regret - videos and memorabilia of the murders of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Listening to snippets of their speeches is another painful reminder of what America lost in that fateful year.

The 1968 Democratic Party Convention in Chicago is portrayed, where Uncle Cronkite famously lost his cool as the newsmen were assaulted on the floor of the convention, calling the floor security "thugs."

Next came the never-ending backlash and Nixon winning the election.  After that, the rest of the exhibit was anti-climatic. How do you follow those soul destroying, life changing events?

The ubiquitous peace symbol which was on everything from lunch boxes to car decals. . 
photo Nancy Ewart

 The silly, the fatuous, the vivid pop culture, Black Power, and Women's Lib are well represented.  Remember beanbags, Star Trek, the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey?' They are all here along with piles of "everyday stuff," consumer goods, molded furniture, orange shag rugs, embroidered blue jeans, transistor radios and ice buckets, the first electric typewriter.

Selectric Typewriter. photo Nancy Ewart

The end of the show is staged in the same living room but with a full sized-replica of the Apollo 8 Command module. Television reports of the launch and mission unfold while the image of the "Earthrise" is displayed accompanied by an audio of the crew reading from the Book of Genesis.

 There are three lounges in the galleries of art and history. There is one related to media where viewers can watch TV shows and movies, a design lounge and a music lounge with a trivia quiz. T

A website,, that is integrated into the exhibition experience, allows visitors to browse additional content and easily share their experiences with others by posting personal stories, observations, and photos of the year on the website.

 The show is exhausting and chaotic, rather like 1968 was for those who lived through it. The year began in tragedy with the Tet Offensive where the reality of the war broke upon America, and unfolds month-by-month, ending with the transitory optimism of Apollo 8.

The year 1968 was a turning point for a generation coming of age and a nation at war; and throughout it all, the Bay Area was at the forefront with an emerging California counterculture. Tune in, turn on and drop out - after the failures of 1968 and 1969, a lot of my generation felt that there was nowhere else to turn.

 My recommendation is to have a cup of coffee in the light filled lunchroom, watch the koi lazily swimming in the pool below and go back through the exhibit again. 1968 was arguably one of the most important years in American history; with this exhibit, you don't have to have been there to be there.

 On view March 31 through August 19, 2012, in OMCA's Great Hall, The 1968 Exhibit was developed by the Minnesota History Center, in partnership with the Atlanta History Center,

 My flicker images of the exhibit:


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Le chat noir - le paw deux

Beautifully done - a subtle and funny poke (paw) at film noir and French new wave.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday night boogie at the de Young

The Fashion Slaves - tonight at the de Young. Photo: Pat Johnson
It's Friday night and you just got paid? Well, if not, no matter because many of the Friday night events at the De Young are free! You can see a fashion show, watch a film or boogie to music by the Fashion Slaves who perform originals, including "Suffer for Fashion" and "Loud-Mouth Girl" along with their version of "Going Down."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Blessings

The Wild Geese

Wendell Berry
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Weekend Picks. Maharaja, Walker Evans, Herstory, de Staebler

Asian Art Museum: 'Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts' opened in October and now, sadly, it's time to say goodbye. I can't believe that six months have passed!

Kipling wrote that "East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet" but the Asian Art Museum has done an excellent job of bridging that particular gap with their current exhibit, 'Maharaja: The Splendor of India's Royal Courts. '

"Maharaja reveals the extraordinary culture of India's kings. It showcases different aspects of royal life through rich and varied objects from India and the West," said Jay Xu, Director of the Asian Art Museum. "With lavish artistry and exquisite craftsmanship, each object in the exhibition tells a story within a broader historical context of royal life and ideals, patronage, alliances, and court culture."

Curated by the museum’s Qamar Adamjee, “Maharaja” spreads over three large galleries on the main floor.

The show glitters with more dazzling jewelry than the crown jewels at the Tower of London. Take the Patiala necklace, designed (or rather re-set) for the Maharaja of Patiala between 1925 and 1928 by Cartier. The largest commission ever filled by the Parisian jewellers, it consists of five strands of huge diamonds, with the light yellow 234.61 caret De Beers diamond as its central pendant.

Don't let the dazzle distract you from the a history lesson that is an integral part of the exhibit. Maharaja follows two thematic arcs: the religious and secular duties of India's rulers, who hailed from separate and competing fiefdoms; and the worlds of the maharajas themselves as they evolved from autonomous leaders to "native princes" under British control after the Sepoy Mutiny in 1858.

This coming Sunday is also a Target free Sunday with free general admission and a lot of family programs.

Original review:

African-American barber shop. 1930's.

Cantor Arts Center. This weekend is the last time to see the exhibit on American photographer Walker Evans (1903–1975), whose direct and unsentimental images of life on small-town streets, New York subway riders inspired generations of photographers and helped shape contemporary art.

The 125-plus-piece exhibition opens with three modest self-portraits taken in Paris (1926) and a small collection of formal, modernist studies of New York skyscrapers (late 1920s). This is an artist finding himself, doing the things he's been told are important. But once he got beyond these predictable exercises in narcissism and conventional wisdom, Evans found his footing, roaming the streets of New York City to see what his camera could find, taking anonymous portraits of New York subway riders.

The exhibit includes some of Evans's most indelible images were shot in 1936 in a settlement just north of Greensboro, Alabama. In particular, Evans and author James Agee spent several weeks at the four-room cabin of cotton sharecropper Floyd Burroughs and his wife, Allie Mae, whose image was featured in Evans's 1938 American Photographs exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, and again in 1941 for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which featured Agee's text and 31 of Evans's photographs from the 1936 trip.

Explore the exhibit on line at:

Pacific Art League:  40 Watts: Illuminating Herstory is a collaborative exhibition among the Northern California, Peninsula and South Bay Area chapters Women's Caucus for Art (WCA) to celebrate the Women's Caucus for Art's 40th Anniversary.

Reception Fri, Apr 6, 5:30-8:30pm

Norton Gallery, Pacific Art League
668 Ramona Street
Palo Alto, CA, 94301

de Young Museum: Matter + Spirit: The Sculpture of Stephen De Staebler

For more than 50 years, Stephen De Staebler (1933–2011) created figurative sculptures primarily from clay—a medium derived from the primordial earth. Drawing inspiration from fundamental childhood experiences with nature, a transformative adolescent encounter with mortality, and adult studies in the histories of art and religion, he explored and extended a tradition of human representation that includes the religious monuments of ancient Egypt, the Renaissance humanism of Michelangelo’s finished and unfinished figures, and the modern existentialism expressed in the works of Alberto Giacometti. Matter + Spirit, installed in the American art galleries, includes 55 of De Staebler’s works.

 If he had lived in ancient Greece, he would have been another Phidias, one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece. De Staebler's slabs of fused clay and other materials are modern in technique but ancient in feeling. The works created exist at the confluence of memory and spiritually, a particularly Northern California feeling toward nature that transcends geographic boundaries.