Sunday, July 29, 2012

I am not a big sports fan but there have been some fun moments in these Olympics. Spoilers I guess but these really aren't surprises if you've glanced at any news in the last couple of days...


The sheer "take that, you Yanks" of Danny Boyle's opening ceremony, especially the extended homage to National Health Service (!).

There was a lot of what I think the Brits refer to as "taking the piss." Good for them - glad to see that they aren't adding to the over-the-top expensive theatrical artifice that's become the norm. 

The corgis running dramatically in slo-mo during the James Bond/Queen skit. 

Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig. 

Carrying the torch - Wesley from Harry Potter has sure grown up.

The parade of nations. SHUT UP, TV announcers.
- Michael Phelps

And the American gymnast who didn't qualify (WTF). 

Sun Yang, the Chinese swimmer who won the gold for the 400 m Men's Free Style, and the power and elegance with which he (seemingly effortlessly) out-swam his competition. 

I saw a bit of Women's weightlifting preliminaries and these ladies are not, like, super-big. They are compact and muscular and they have so much freaking power. Go powerful women, GO. 

 Human eye candy from every country on the planet. If I were younger I'd probably be drooling. Or planning better workouts.

The only thing missing was a little blue police box mysteriously appearing somewhere in the stadium.

In summation. Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig. Daniel Craig

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cindy Sherman at SFMOMA

Is Cindy Sherman ready for her close-up?

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) thought so and organized a traveling retrospective, which just opened at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).

Curated by Eve Respini at MoMA, the show brings together more than 150 photographs from the mid-1970’s to the present.

155 of the 170 works shown in New York fill half of the fourth floor at SFMOMA. A wall of large murals, Sherman’s latest body of work, greets the viewer at the entrance. The exhibit is organized thematically but the earliest work is in the beginning.

The complete series of ‘untitled film stills’ and ‘centerfolds’ take up the first two galleries. Next come the 2007-08 fashion photos with Sherman in various disguises dressed up and wearing Balenciaga. The exhibit moves through all her themes - Playboy centerfolds, historical portraits, vicera and bloody body parts, clowns, Hollywood starlets and their failed ambition and a film entitled "Paper Dolls."  The exhibit ends with her society portraits, hung against walls painted Kelly green.

The ‘untitled film stills,” first presented at the Metro Gallery in SoHo in the winter of 1981 are arguably the most provocative and interesting part of her body of work. When she was 23 and just out of Buffalo State College, she started playing dress up - her favorite childhood game - but now with purpose and intensity. The results were the 70 some odd photos called "Untitled Film Stills."

The format is a modest black and white small size that imitated B-movie stills. She represented herself in 1940’s and 1950’s dress as the typical women of that era – housewife, glamor girl, anonymous woman. The stills are so “real” those who know nothing about her work think (as one women did when I visited) that they were real. "Who took these photos?" she asked.

The answer is - and was - Cindy.

For Sherman is always in costume, a one-woman performance act where she is the main character, the director, the photographer, and the make-up artist. She is the star of her own show.

The idea that identity depends on props and costumes is an old theatrical truism. But when taken off the stage and placed into artfully staged tableau, the camera, her camera, lies. 

Another series presented in depth include Sherman’s 1981 series of 12-color photographs known as the "centerfolds."  Originally commissioned by Artforum magazine, these send-ups of men’s erotic magazine centerfolds depict characters in a variety of emotional states, ranging from terrified to heartbroken to melancholic.

With this series, Sherman purportedly played into theories of the male gaze but reversed the dynamic by (as usual) making herself both object of the gaze and the photographer.

It’s possible to "buy" the theory that this portion of her body of work was a protest against the resurgence of the idea of woman as passive, helpless and sexually available to any male with enough money in his pocket. That theory would work if the photographs showed any depth of feeling. Instead, they objectify woman as much as any girly magazine and encourage the viewer to be complicit in this exploitation.

They are also a modern take on photography as performance art, self-aware, ironic and, equally cognoscent of the market forces driving the art market.

For her headshots from 2000-2002 (sometimes called Hollywood/Hamptons), the artist conceived a cast of characters of would-be or has-been actors (in reality secretaries, housewives, or gardeners) posing for headshots to get an acting job.

Sherman’s subjects here are not mock stereotypes, but potentially real people – victims of the identity mechanisms that she has made a career of exploring. In fact, as the show moves from gallery to gallery, her lack of empathy and compassion becomes disturbing.

One gallery is filled with photographs of viscera and bloody body parts, including a penis. These looks like outtakes from the latest Hollywood gore fest. I can't image what this is supposed to represent but, unlike the thriller, it lacks thrills, chills and isn't even remotely illuminating.
Her 2008 society portraits feature women “of a certain age” from the top echelons of society who struggle with today’s impossible standards of beauty.

Her failed actresses, her over-the-hill wealthy matrons are presented without a scrap of compassion or, indeed, real understanding. One of the wealthy women, dressed in red and with a face like beef jerky, could give Lady Macbeth a lesson or two in ruthlessness. They are certainly grotesque and macabre but so what? These women are victims of the gender and identity issues that provide the springboard for her career.

The PR around these photographs claim the work to be psychologically honest and provocative. What they are is caricatures of women who are already caricatures.

When asked the question, “Critics like to discuss the male gaze and the objectification of women in relation to your work. Did you think about that stuff?“ Sherman responded, “I was totally unaware of that” (“How I Made it.” By Mark Stevens in NY Magazine on April 18 2008). On another occasion she said, “I wonder if maybe it’s all a lot of crap. Maybe the work doesn’t mean anything. When they’re writing about it, they’re just finding whatever to attach their theories to. I just happen to illustrate some theories” (“Cindy Sherman: From Dream Girl to Nightmare” by Glenn Hefland). Furthermore, “Sherman herself insists that, while her work is drawn upon her particular experience of womanhood, she is not a feminist and has no political agenda” (“A Woman of Parts: Interview with Cindy Sherman.” By Noriko Fuku in Art in America).

 Sherman has said that “[T]he work is what it is and hopefully it’s seen as feminist work, or feminist-advised work, but I’m not going to go around espousing theoretical bullshit about feminist stuff.”

Sherman is a player in an ancient art form. Like the Greek actors, she wears many masks, plays many parts. But the Greeks had dramatists like Aeschylus and Sophocles to show us the many faces of man (and woman). Humor, pathos, tragedy were all part of that drama. In Sherman's plays, the monologue is one-dimensional and often, cruel.

There is no Cindy Sherman,” writes curator Eva Respini in her catalog essay, “only infinite characters who reflect the countless mediated images that bombard us daily.”

That's true enough. It's also true that she is talented, technically accomplished and knows how to play the art game. Enjoy the photographs for their glossy surface but don't think they criticize the objectivation of women or critique the male gaze. They reinforce the image of women as victims, fools or there for sexual use when young and to be mocked when old. No wonder she's so popular.

Somewhat shorter version:

SFMOMA; From July 14th to October 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Wild Women Don't Get The Blues

I am working on my 3rd or 4th draft of the essay on Cindy Sherman. My task is not helped by finding an interview where she explicitly repudiates any "feminist" reading of her images.

After reading that statement, I can only assume that she was looking for the biggest bang to get the biggest buck and in that she succeeded. But it does not make me respect her at all; the more courageous women who were producing art at the same time that she began have mostly been relegated to the back seat of art history.

The work of the much despised term "feminist" artists like Hannah Wilke, Adrian Piper and Eleanor Antin who used their bodies to make more radical and hard hitting commentaries on Western women in the 20th century have been relegated to the sidelines of "women's history."

Pia Stern, an artist and a friend of mine pointed out a recent article in Art News (April 2012) on Calude Cahun: "All by Her Selves  Photographing herself in provocative disguises, Claude Cahun was a forerunner to Cindy Sherman and Lady Gaga." So Sherman isn't even that revolutionary in her decision to use her body to make statements - it's hard to say of what, other than a love of dressing up and role playing. 

But she ends up with a museum show while the others do not.

Pia's web page: 

It's our loss and an example of both politics and museum hype. The artist who is not particularly critical of society ends up with money and praise while the true radicals are dismissed with faint praise. So while I am rewriting this darn piece, I am again left with the feeling of sad disgust at museum politics.

But all is not lost while we have the songs by this group of mostly African- American musicians who really did have hard times but made joyous music.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Cindy Sherman at SFMOMA

From "Untitled Movie Stills." courtesy SFMOMA

Writing a review of the new Cindy Sherman retrospective at SFMOMA has proved to be surprisingly difficult. 155 of the 170 works shown in New York fill half of the fourth floor at SFMOMA and it's more than enough to take in. She's ready for her close up but are we?

I think that one of the reasons I am having such a difficult time writing this review is that Sherman's work does not resonate with me. The original work is nowhere near as provocative or revolutionary as the work of Hannah Wilke or Eleanor Antin, to name just two. She obviously knows how to play the NY art game well enough to make it in the art world but I found her work hollow and the hype ridiculous.

The film stills are still the most interesting part of her body of work. It's the one series of photos where she wears all the faces of modern Eve and actually pulls it off. This work came out of a decade which saw the fragile gains of feminism steadily chipped away. So, it's possible to "buy" theory that the body of work protested the prevailing resurgence of of the idea of woman as passive, helpless and sexually available to any male with enough money in his pocket.

Sherman dresses herself in various outfits - the housewife, glamor girl, anonymous woman. The idea that identify depends on props and costumes is an old theatrical truism, but when taken off the stage and into a diorama representing real life, gains in intensity the more you look.

She is always in drag, a one woman show where she is the main character, the director, the photographer, the make-up artist. The theatrical illusion, the performance art supposedly makes a profound statement about the fluidity of sexual identity, gender and age stereotypes, about the unconscious fear that women feel public and the sense of menace. The work is and is supposed to be far from erotic.

In that she succeeds. But then, as a woman, I'm not the audience who would find images of women in peril sexually appealing.

The other thing that bothers me is the cruelty of her work. Her failed actresses, her over-the-hill wealthy matrons are presented without a scrap of compassion or, indeed, real understanding. One of the wealthy women, dressed in red and with a face like beef jerky, could give Lady MacBeth a lesson or two in ruthlessness.They are certainly grotesque and macabre but so what?

The gallery filled with photographs of viscera and bloody ooze looks like outtakes from the latest Hollywood gorefest. I can't image what this is supposed to represent but, unlike the thriller, it lacks thrills, chills and isn't even remotely entertaining.

Hiding behind masks is as old as theater. But the Greeks had dramatists like Aeschylus and Sophocles to show us the many faces of man (and woman). Here in SF, we have even better drag performers - funnier and more revealing because they are less pretentious.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cindy and Lee and May Ray

I have a serious case of procrastination going on. I have cleaned the apartment, reorganized some book shelves, straightened up my art space..and I still can't sit down and write these piece. I loved the Man Ray/Lee Miller show, liked or rather appreciated the Cindy Sherman show but two major shows in one week is too much.

After Lee Miller left him, Man Ray used this photo of her eye to reassert his possession, at least visually, by writing his name on the curve of the eye lid. I can't see it but it must be there because the her son, who led the press tour on Friday, told us it was there.

I think I need a piece of pie.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Misadventures on waffle making

I love waffles, love the crispy texture and all those little pockets which are just perfect for capturing butter and syrup. But I have not been able to find a waffle maker that's small enough for one person. Everything is just too big.

I subscribe to a list from an Amish store in the Midwest called "Lehman's" and have bought a number of items from them. They are old fashioned, with goods that are sturdy and basic -- just my kind of stuff.

So when I saw the old fashioned waffle iron on their website, I thought I had found  a winner. It's small, made of cast iron, and you bake the waffles on the top of the stove. How could I lose?

Ah ha ha...little did I know that the little waffle iron was possessed by an evil spirit. You know, the one that causes you to burn your favorite recipe that you've made a 100 times or makes the cake or bread flop when you just know you've followed the instructions to the letter.

Yeah. That one.

I followed the directions, made my batter from a recipe in Joy of Cooking and let it sit on the counter because I wanted a more sour, tangy waffle. I seasoned the cast iron three times, following some info that I found on various websites.

None of my attempts worked. The waffles were either raw in the middle and stuck to the pan, burned on one end and raw in the middle...and stuck to the pan.

Or they were somewhat remotely eatable...but still stuck to the pan. I had to soak the pan for a couple of days to clean out all the waffle fragments.

Obviously my waffle making abilities are seriously inadequate. I think that I will continue my search for a more modern waffle iron and have the occasional waffle at the local diner. They aren't perfect but I don't have to clean up afterwards.

You can't have everything.

The Amateur Gourmet's loving tribute to Marion Cunningham, the author of "Joy of Cooking" and her fantastic waffle recipe.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Vive La Belle France

Best scene from Casablanca - La Marseillaise

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Weekend Picks: Intersection, Crown Pt Press, San Jose, Stephen Wolf Fine Arts

Everybody is all excited about the Sherman exhibit which I am still thinking throug. Actually, I liked the "other" exhibit on the 4th floor better. For me, "Stage Presence," was far fresher, exciting, fun and engaging. Stage Presence shines a spotlight on theatricality in the art of the last 30 years, presenting works in various media that defy the traditional divide between the visual and the performing arts. The notion of performance appears here in a range of guises, from the camp spectacle and subversive humor of 1980s works. I ran into Mike Strickland, blogger of Civic Center fame (link on side bar) and for once, we agreed.

Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

 Eric Stall. Citroen installation

Intersection for the Arts: "Motion Graphics: In and Beyond the Street," a group exhibition that looks at a diverse range of street art and the practice underlying social engagement and artistic work in the public sphere.

The work is uneven. One wall piece looks like the flying spaghetti monster met Chef Boy-Ar-Dee but the video of artists working in the Tenderloin is very good. A couple of the pieces were graphically interesting but their connection with the exhibition theme escaped me. Unfortunately, I lost my notes so I'm typing from memory - and obviously the memory isn't what it used to be.

Penelope Houston, Untitled. image courtesy Steven Wolf Fine Arts.

Steven Wolf Fine Arts: This show takes a look at the colliding worlds as punk musicians made art and artists made music. I was never into the punk scene - working too hard, for one thing. But two of my favorite actors, Alan Rickman and Donal Logue are shooting a film about the famous (or infamous) NY club CGBG. Apparently the club, long defunct, just had an anniversary, which made the show doubly interesting.

Elmer Bischoff’s Two Women in Vermillion Light (1959)
The San Jose Museum of Art: "Local Color" highlights works by such artists as Alexander Calder, Elmer Bischoff, David Levinthal, Nathan Oliveira, Anne Appleby, and Richard Misrach. Drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, Local Color explores the role of color in art and encourage visitors to look at color as content.
The exhibition comprises approximately 50 paintings, photographs, sculptures, and prints spanning the last six decades.

“Color may be a vehicle for pure pleasure, for shaping the rhythm of a composition, or for invoking a particular emotional tone,” said Rory Padeken, curatorial assistant at SJMA and curator of the exhibition. “This exhibition looks at the primacy of color in works that range from Calder’s whimsical mobiles to Bischoff’s luscious, light-filled canvas to Levinthal’s slick, saturated photographs of Barbie dolls. Visitors will also see works in which artists consider nuances of black and white.”

Speaking of black and white, check out the current exhibit at Crown Point Press which is a celebration of their collaboration with Chuck Close. The Press, recognized for its importance as a print workshop specializing in etching, celebrates the 50th anniversary of its founding by Kathan Brown in 1962.

Chuck Close made his first print, the landmark mezzotint Keith, at the press 10 years later in 1972, breaking artistic ground for the photo-realist artist and initiating a long relationship with the Press. The Fine Arts Museums enters its third decade as the recipient of editioned prints from the Press since its 1991 acquisition of the Crown Point archive; there are now more than 1,500 Crown Point Press-published prints in the collection.

This exhibition in the Anderson gallery shows the development of Close’s printmaking style at the Press from a tonal process that was akin to his photorealist tendencies to linear mark-making and exposition of the transfer grid that became the hallmark of his painting in the 1970s.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New poster for The Hobbit.

Entertainment Weekley has published a new, scrollable, poster set from the upcoming Hobbit films. The new poster set enables viewers to scroll and zoom in on the detailed action.

We see Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett reprising their roles as Elves Elrond and Galadriel, and Ian McKellen is also back as Gandalf the Grey (wonder if he misses the white!). Also notable is Andy Serkis’ form being captured as Gollum sneaking(!) about, and the many new Dwarf characters introduced in the prequel.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The week ahead: Calligraphy, Elizabeth Tana and Harry Hay at the SFPL

Gay liberationist Harry Hay in 1937. (Photo: LeRoy Robbins)

The big openings this week are the much-anticipated show on Cindy Sherman at SFMOMA and the show on Man Ray and Lee Miller at the Legion.

But don't be dismayed by the long lines that these exhibits will generate.
There are a number of other exhibits that are equally rewarding and well worth the visit. Two are at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library - free and open to the public seven days a week.

"Kalligraphia 13" at the San Francisco Public Library: The public will have a rare chance to view contemporary calligraphy during "Kalligraphia 13."

The exhibition's title, a transliterated Greek word meaning"beautiful writing," was adopted by the Friends of Calligraphy for its first exhibition in 1976. I remember seeing this show at the old UC Berkeley extension and falling in love with the craft. For thirty years, the Friends have been promoting the art of the written letter, the honorable tradition of the scribe, often overlooked in today's plethora of electronic devices.

This colorful, non-juried show highlights a wide range of calligraphic techniques from traditional methods dating back to the Middle Ages to contemporary pen and abstract brushwork. On view are original works including broadsides, manuscript books and three dimensional pieces.

To compliment the exhibition Kalligraphia 13, noted Bay Area scribes will share their expertise with demonstrations of the art and craft of calligraphy.

Open to the public. Free. Through August 26
For further details, check the website:

"Radically Gay: The Life of Harry Hay"

On the centennial anniversary of his birth, the San Francisco Public Library is also celebrating the life and work of activist Harry Hay who laid the foundation for the modern U.S. lesbian and gay rights movement. The exhibition chronicles Hay's life from his early years through his labor activism and involvement with the Communist Party before founding of the Mattachine Society and co-founding of the Radical Faeries.

The exhibition, now at the San Francisco Main Library Gallery, brings its subject to life on the centennial of his birth, and illuminates the intersection of activism and personal biography, political conscience and humanity. The show, laid out in five sections, charts the progress of the precocious Hay, who early on recognized his "allegiance to high purposes, tenacity of vision, irrevocable resolve, and above all else, audacity."

"Historical shows can be deadly earnest and didactic, but the exhibit's independent curator Joey Cain has done an excellent job of culling archival materials, photographs, ephemera and original documents, including Hay's research and manifestoes, and touching on pivotal influences and events, while not losing sight of the fullness of a man who had strong ties to the Communist Party, dabbled in theater and poetry, enjoyed a rich and varied love life, and organized the first gay action group  (in the late 1940s), the Mattachine Society, which recognized gays as a persecuted minority at a time when society at large regarded homosexuality as an illness. Cain supplies just enough supporting content to create a lean and coherent narrative of Hay's life, and flesh out a human portrait of an unconventional, outspoken man whose presence made the times he lived in more interesting." (Sura Wood, Bay Area Reporter.
Curator's statement:

"Thumbprints" by Elizabeth Tana at Market Street Gallery. The gallery is exhibiting her new work which explores how identity is shaped by both traces from our past and the marks we leave in the present.

Born in Northern China during WWII to parents who were life-long collectors of Asian art, Elizabeth moved with her family from place to place and eventually settled in San Francisco.

Elizabeth draws on themes of Asian cultural heritage, migration and childhood memories that have been threaded through each of her previous two exhibits, "Fragments of Memory" (2000) and " Remains of Journey" (2002). Over a decade later, her strong and elegant interplay of colors, shapes and lines remains but has evolved in a sophisticated direction beautifully illustrated in the body of work exhibited.

"Thumbprint" and "Cursive" are the two showcase works of the exhibition. "Thumbprint" literally and figuratively represents identity. Elizabeth uses her actual thumbprint in this very personal painting; the thumbprint remains her identity from the past to the present day. The oval shapes on the left of the canvas, draws in elements of her earlier paintings.

"Cursive", the second showcase piece in the exhibition, was inspired by Chinese calligraphy from the Fifth Century (a form still used today), also represents identity. Life, beauty and energy characterizes the cursive form; each stroke is like a dance movement and also illustrates the writer's identity like a signature or a thumbprint.

Each person has a unique thumbprint that identifies who he or she is as an individual. Elizabeth Tana's identity is the common thread, which connects the collection of work specially selected for this exhibition.

DATE/TIME:  through August 31, 2012

LOCATION:  Market Street Gallery  1554 Market Street  San Francisco, CA, 94102

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Kandinsky drawing (via Open Culture)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to travel back in time and look over the shoulder of one of the early 20th century’s greatest artists to watch him work? In this brief film from 1926, we get to see the Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky as he turns a blank canvas into one of his distinctive abstract compositions.

The film was made at the Galerie Neumann-Nierendorf in Berlin by Hans C├╝rlis, a pioneer in the making of art documentaries. At the time the film was made Kandinsky was teaching at the Bauhaus.

 It was the same year he published his second major treatise, On Point and Line to Plane. The contrasting straight lines and curves that Kandinsky paints in the movie are typical of this period, when his approach was becoming less intuitive and more consciously geometric. Kandinsky believed that an artist could reach deeper truths by dispensing with the depiction of external objects and by looking within, and despite his analytic turn at the Bauhaus he continued to speak of art in deeply mystical terms. In "On Point and Line to Plane,"  Kandinsky writes:

The work of Art mirrors itself upon the surface of our consciousness. However, its image extends beyond, to vanish from the surface without a trace when the sensation has subsided. A certain transparent, but defininite glass-like partition, abolishing direct contact from within, seems to exist here as well. Here, too, exists the possibility of entering art’s message, to participate actively, and to experience its pulsating life with all one’s senses.