Sunday, April 28, 2013

It's such a fine day that it makes me want to SHOUT!

Shout! by Lulu from my long ago youth. I think I played the 45 so many times that it finally wore out. I had to play it before my father got home from work and my mother from her various clubs and things because playing rock and roll was strictly forbidden which I was a girl. But when you are young and full of energy, this was just the best song!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Celebrating Slow Art Day at SFMOMA: Matisse's Femme au Chapeau

One day each year – April 27 in 2013 – people all over the world visit local museums and galleries to look at art slowly. Participants look at five works of art for 10 minutes each and then meet together over lunch to talk about their experience. That’s it. Simple by design, the goal is to focus on the art and the art of seeing.

I used this opportunity to revisit one of my favorite pieces of art, the one I always make a point of viewing on each and every visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 

Here in San Francisco,  we are lucky enough to have a very nice (if small) collection of Matisse's works at the SF MOMA. I remember when I first saw this piece at the old  museum on Van Ness. When you got off the elevator on the top floor, it was facing you as you entered the museum. Even now, although not as well placed as it was in the older museum, it still has the power to beguile and intrigue the viewer.

In "Femme au Chapeau,"  Matisse took the familiar form of the salon portrait and turned it on its head. He discards perspective, shadows, and three-dimensional space, in fact, any attempt at realistic portraiture. The subject is Matisse’s wife, Ameile Matisse. She is seated in a chair with her back turned somewhat toward the viewer. Her head is placed exactly in the center of the canvas, topped by a huge Edwardian hat. Her gloved hand rests on the arm of a chair and she carries a fan in her other hand. She looks over her shoulder at us, her small head tilted, with a look that is vulnerable, determined and melancholy.

But what a face, what a hand, what a chair – all bursting with vibrant, indeed garish color! Her red hair, red ear and red neck arise from the collar of her dress which is painted with irregular patches of green with smaller squiggles of yellow, red and orange along the border. Her right check is defined by a semicircle of orange with an insert of yellow; her left cheek is green and blue.

One side of her face is defined by a smear of pink and the same color defines the line of her chin. Her brown almond shaped eyes look out from a face that is painted green (nose), red and orange (mouth), and molded in lighter pink and pale green along the chin line. Her huge blue hat, crowned by unidentifiable objects, is posed against a background of varied complimentary and secondary colors with a yellow patch behind her hat on the left and a green and pink patch in the background on the right.

The objects resting on top of the hat are painted in pairs of complimentary colors red, yellow, blue, green and orange; Matisse will go on to paint other hats but this one takes over the top of the painting like some huge tropical flower. The paint is thinly and roughly applied with more irregular areas of pink and red defining the right and left frames of the picture plane. To maximize the intensity of his colors—and achieve the light he was looking for—the whole picture is painted with pairs of complementary colors – red against blue, yellow against green, yellow against blue with some secondary colors in the armchair and along portions of her gloved hand.

Madame Matisse looks at us from beyond a barrier of color, her face overshadowed by the huge hat, which takes up the upper third of the picture frame. Her mask-like face hides more than it reveals, yet still shows a melancholy sadness that comes across through the strong colors. The colors are not blended and discordant, seemingly dashed upon the canvas with strong and fluid brush strokes. She looks at us but from a psychological distance; the bright colors both attract and then repel with their acid harmonies. The painting still radiates a ferocious energy that is at odds with the vulnerable melancholy on her face, the down turned drop of her mouth and the guarded expression in her eyes.

Impressionist paintings seem to glow with an internal light and generally reflect a sunny, peaceful world. The light from "Femme au Chapeau" is neither sunny nor peaceful but emanates from the flattened surface. The flat areas of color around the red-green, orange-blue axis invite us to view the surface of the painting but never invite us into the space as did the softer, more inviting space of Impressionist painting.

In this work, Matisse painted from his own emotional response, rather than from an attempt to reproduce (more or less realistically), on canvas what he saw in front of him. His brilliant and harsh colors give the painting surface a force and vibrancy. He was composing a painting, not describing nature, a person, or a thing.

"Femme Au Chapeau" verges on the edge of abstraction but does not go over. reflecting Matisse's own definition of Fauvism as "The search for intensity in color, the substance being unimportant. Reaction against the diffusion of local tone in the light; the light is not suppressed, but expressed in a harmony of intensely colored surfaces.”

For Matisse, the Fauvist period was only one stage in his artistic life. He would later reject what he saw as some of the more excessive aspects of Fauvism, but it could be argued that it was Fauvism and his experiments in color that liberated him emotionally and enabled him to paint the calmer and more decorative works that were to come. We are the beneficiaries of his struggles. and for me, his works never become boring. I find something new every time I look.

Overview of Slow Art Day in Art News. "Slow Down, You look Too Fast."

(Note:  From Edward Burns: The painting was purchased at the 1905 Salon d’Automne by Leo and Gertrude Stein (LRB, 14 August). Stein gives an account of the public’s reaction to the painting in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and also confirms that Madame Matisse did not model for her husband in the colourful clothes of the painting but rather in black. The ‘larger, more elaborate landscape painting which Matisse had intended as the linchpin of his exhibit at the Salon’ was probably Le Bonheur de vivre (1905-06), which was also bought by the Steins (it is now in the Barnes Foundation). La Femme au chapeau remained in their collection until 1912 or 1913, when it passed to their brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Sarah Stein, who took it to America when they left France in the mid-1930s. Eventually it was sold to their friend Elise Haas, who bequeathed it to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Happy Poetry Month

Paul Klee. Temple Gardens. From the Met

Music Is in the Piano Only When It Is Played," by Jack Gilbert 

 We are not one with this world. We are not
the complexity our body is, nor the summer air
idling in the big maple without purpose.
We are a shape the wind makes in these leaves
as it passes through.

We are not the wood
any more than the fire, but the heat which is a marriage
between the two.

We are certainly not the lake
nor the fish in it, but the something that is
pleased by them.

We are the stillness when
a mighty Mediterranean noon subtracts even the voices
of insects by the broken farmhouse.

We are evident
when the orchestra plays, and yet are not part
of the strings or brass. Like the song that exists
only in the singing, and is not the singer.

God does not live among the church bells,
but is briefly resident there.

We are occasional
like that. A lifetime of easy happiness mixed
with pain and loss, trying always to name and hold
on to the enterprise under way in our chest.

Reality is not what we marry as a feeling. It is what
walks up the dirt path, through the excessive heat
and giant sky, the sea stretching away.
He continues past the nunnery to the old villa
where he will sit on the terrace with her, their sides

In the quiet that is the music of that place,
which is the difference between silence and windlessness.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

José Ramón Lerma at ArtZone 461, a 60-year retrospective

Lerma's paintings and collages, now on view at ArtZone 461, contain all the various threads of 60 years of art making in the Bay Area, including Abstract Expressionism, Funk Pop, and Conceptualism. The show is a slice of art history but it is also a tribute to the son of migrant workers who managed to live the life of an artist without compromising his integrity.

 Born in Hollister in 1930, Lerma was a long time Californian, a Chicano and the first in his family to attend college.

His 4th grade teacher was the first to recognize his talent and from then on, he painted constantly, copying Renaissance art from 10-cent books. Later, in 1949, another teacher helped him to get a scholarship to the California School of Fine Arts  (now SFAI).

The Korean War interrupted his schooling but when he returned to San Francisco, he continued his studies, studying under such Bay Area notables as Hassel Smith, Edward Corbett and James Budd Dixon.

The artist commented on his early years at the school as having, “…the most impact on my life and art.  The art world of the fifties was free of the market and its temptations.  There was a certain purity about it.”

He showed at the small galleries that came and went in the San Francisco of the 50’s – Sparas, the “Six” and even Ubu. He was part of a scene that included Alan Ginsberg's 1955's public reading of "Howl.' Lerma was part of the culture which valued making art over making a career as an artist.

“We were rebelling against some of the things that were going on in the city, “Lerma explains. “We wanted to be ourselves, to express things that were unique about the West Coast. We were not interested in following what was happening back East…It was a very spirited thing without much money... We were all outsider’s and we knew it, but we still wanted to show everybody what we were doing.”

Lerma lived the life of a Bohemian artist, painting as much as he could and not that interested in a career. At various times, he worked as a live-in baby sitter and later worked at Macy’s.  There he collected what would have been swept out the door – paper, fabric, and iconic images.

In the 70’s, he developed an allergy to oil paints and began making collages, constructions and the occasional installation. Some of the more interesting pieces in the show are his construction/collages, made from bits of yardstick and other building material from long lost SF landmark businesses such as Goodman Lumber.

Lerma experimented fearlessly across genres and avoided categorization.  The retrospective shows a representative example of his work but the show is confusing because the works are not all hung chronologically. The strongest visual piece in the show is a figure drawing in black and white while his collages and assemblages reveal a quirky, questioning look at American icons such as Mickey Mouse and art goddess Frieda Kahlo. The abstract pieces are less successful, showing but not integrating influences as widely diverse as Jackson Pollock’s drip pieces and the stylized Zen landscapes of Mt. Tam. According to gallery owner, Steve Lopez, their matt surface is due to the use of inexpensive oil paint, a frugal choice made necessary by Lerma's finances.

Lerma’s fierce independence and refusal to play the art game have impacted his visibility. He lived his life as a seeker after his own truth, not looking for financial security or career success. He lived without compromising his principles and has never regretted it. For that reason alone, his art is worth recognizing and respecting. If Diaogenes were alive today and looking for an honest man, he would recognize a kindred spirit in José Ramón Lerma. (all images courtesy of the gallery).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Ring dem bells - creating a new bell for the Exploratorium's new home

I am sure that almost everybody in the Bay Area knews that the Exploratorium reopened in a magnificent new building this week. The place is paced with people so it's a lot easier to see this via the Internet - at least, until the opening crowds thin out.

Artist Nick Diphillipo has been designing and casting bells and other objects for over thirty years. He teaches bell making at The Crucible in Oakland, California, as well as other foundry-related subjects.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Commemorating the 1906 Earthquate

We did gather at Lotta's Fountain, but there was a bomb scare (Market St. was blocked off) and we had to find an alternate spot pronto; which was why Union Square was just fine! We improvised and our spirits were high - even mine at that ungodly hour!

For the first time, there was no survivor present to commemorate the day. There are at least three known 1906 quake survivors, and one of them, 107-year-old Winnie Hook of San Jose, was scheduled to show up Thursday morning. But at the last minute, it was decided she was too fragile to travel to the city, said event organizer Lee Houskeeper.

Ten minutes after the final notes of "San Francisco" faded, Police Chief Greg Suhr announced that the suspicious package on Market Street turned out to be a suitcase full of clothes. That freed up him and a half-dozen others to troop back to Lotta's Fountain to wedge the annual memorial wreath into the neo-Victorian sculptural filigree on top.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Isabelle de Borchgrave at Sorokko, Suhas Bhujbal at Dolby Chadwick

Belgian artist Isabelle de Borchgrave, whose "Pulp Fashion" exhibition of historical gowns made of paper was the Fine Arts Museums most-attended show in 2011 is back in San Francisco with a smaller show of Fortuny pleated dresses, textile-like paintings and new bronze clothing sculptures at the Serge Sorokko Gallery.

Isabelle de Borchgrave began her studies at the age of 14 at the Centre des Arts Décoratifs in Brussels.  She went on to establish her own studio designing dresses, jewelry, and accessories, and later specialized in designing fabrics. Following a 1994 visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York, she dreamed up the idea of paper costumes, for which she has become world renowned. 

Isabelle de Borchgrave: "New Paintings and Sculptures" is a departure from the work shown at the Legion. Instead of the monochromatic palate of the earlier show, the works at Sorokko feature pieces in vibrant colors, tribal patterns, and ethnic textiles

Borchgrave. Petite Chapeau

Works on paper are meticulously hand painted with bold patterns and then folded into an origami-like, accordion-style canvas. Elaborately painted life-size kimonos pose across from de Borchgrave's paper pleated Grecian dresses modeled after Fortuny's famous pleated silk Delphos gowns. And across from those fragile forms are dense corsets of worn patinas. Small scale sculptures of jewelry-like neckpieces are juxtaposed with larger-scale bronze works.

In de Borchgrave's art, the starting point is almost always the same: sheets of paper one meter by one and a half meters (3.3 feet by 4.9 feet), which she sets to work on with her brushes and paints on an enormous linen-covered table in her studio in Brussels. "Her colors, reports The New York Times, "are very much inspired by her travels: reds from the roses of Turkey, earth hues from Egypt, blues from Greece...Borchgrave produces astonishing effects of scintillating color, weight, transparency and texture. Her renderings of diaphanous gauzes are especially astonishing."

The exhibit is an expertly curated display of the artist's range and unique ability to transform a common medium into the otherworldly. Givenchy puts it beautifully, "Isabelle is one of a kind. She plays with paper as a virtuoso plays an instrument."

Best of all for those with a bit of spare change -you can now buy the dresses at a mere $45,000 per item.

Exhibit on view through Sat. April 20 at Serge Sorokko Gallery, 55 Geary St.,

Suhas Bhujbal at Dolby Chadwick: The Indian born artist, more known for his geometric compositions, has new work which fuses his previous fascination with urban landscape with luminous figurative works.

 Bhujbal. Getting Ready for the Day

During a 2011 trip to Cat Island in the central Bahamas, artist Suhas Bhujbal found something he craved: peace and quiet. The island's lifestyle -- one in which people gather on the beach and enjoy each other's company -- reminded him of his childhood in India. "I appreciate the simplicity in life," he comments. "I paint what I see, experience, and feel. It is really about falling in love in that moment and bringing that on the canvas in a visual form."

Bhujbal. Hanging Out.

 Suhas Bhujbal: "Dialogues" from 
April 4 -- 27, 2013
. Dolby Chadwick Gallery. 
10 Post Street
San Francisco.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Links

Two great shows and a talk by Lucy Pulls on emerging artists.

Xie, Xiaoze, Bombed Car. June 13, 2003. W. P."2007, Chinese ink on rice paper Credit: courtesy Chinese Cultural Center and the artists

Serbian police recover a stolen Rembrandt:

The British Museum presents a major exhibition on the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum which includes staggering survivals of the 2,000 year-old volcanic disaster in Pompeii among its 250 objects.

Add caption
From the Telegraph: "Again and again, as you walk around Pompeii – and as you walk around the British Museum show – you will be reminded of the Roman contribution to modern civilisation, as Monty Python pointed out in their blessed sketch: "Apart from better sanitation and medicine and education and irrigation and public health and roads and a freshwater system and baths and public order, what have the Romans done for us?""

"You are also reminded what the Romans did for themselves; what an astonishingly sophisticated artistic, technological and literary world they produced. Again, it is a blessing – for us, anyway – that it was Pompeii, a large, prosperous settlement of around 20,000 people, that was inundated."

Photographers Aldo and Mariosa Ballo: In the second half of the 20th century, Italian design attained worldwide recognition. The Milanese photographers Aldo Ballo and Marirosa Toscani Ballo played a considerable part in this success. By communicating the beauty and function of objects as well as their cultural meaning, the Ballos’ photographs contributed significantly to the mythological status that surrounds Italian design even today.

Former American Folk Art Museum Building to be Demolished

Built on West 53rd St. in Manhattan in 2001, the American Folk Art Museum's former home was designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien and once deemed "a Midtown icon" by the New York Times. It was a symbol of hope and patriotism after the 9/11 attacks. When the museum fell on hard times, it sold the building to the adjacent MoMA.

Now MoMA plans to demolish the building to make room for an expansion which will connect to an 82-story tower.

MoMA says the solid look of the folk museum building does not fit with their transparent aesthetic and the floors wouldn't match up between the two buildings.

“It’s very rare that a building that recent comes down, especially a building that was such a major design and that got so much publicity when it opened for its design — mostly very positive,” said Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program to the Times.

The folk museum was forced to sell the building to pay back a $32 million loan to build the museum. When the funds were not raised, MoMA stepped up to buy their building and the folk museum moved to smaller quarters in Lincoln Square.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Free Vibrators for Tax Day

Only in SF - I could not make this up.

Only in SF: Free Vibrators for Tax Day | SF
Friday, April 12, 2013 - 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm | Cost: FREE*
The Box SF | 1069 Howard St, San Francisco, CA

Free Vibrators for Tax Day | SF Trojan is giving San Franciscans “the best return on pleasure” for Tax Day 2013 by giving away thousands of free Trojan vibrators via their Trojan Vibrations Pleasure Carts.

On Friday, April 12, 2013 (the Friday before Tax Day), San Francisco residents can swing by The Box (1069 Howard Street, between 6th and 7th Streets) to pick up a free Trojan Tri-Phoria (listed at $39.99) or Trojan Pulse (listed at $29.99) vibrator for some Tax Day pleasure relief. 

All you need to do is mention that you have filed your taxes, and you’ll walk away with a free Trojan vibrator, while supplies last.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Museum of Craft & Design reopens, Cancer Alley at the Cantor

After losing their space in 2010, the Museum of Craft and Design has finally found a new home in the old American Can Company factory on the edge of Dogpatch, San Francisco's latest trendy district. The public opening kicks off tomorrow, Saturday April 6, 2013, with a community celebration of the new museum and inaugural exhibits.
The new location is at 2569 Third Street in San Francisco. For more information, go to

At the Cantor: Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s "Cancer Alley"

Like the Western landscapes for which Misrach is best known, these photographs challenge viewers with environmental, political and social concerns while engaging them with evocative and lyrically beautiful large-scale prints. In focusing on the delicate state of the Mississippi River, Misrach signals not just the environmental challenges facing the South but also the larger costs of our modern world at the dawn of the 21st century. His photographs are a stark commentary on the concentration of petrochemical complexes located along this 100-mile stretch of the Mississippi River.

For the 85 miles between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the haunting swamplands of the Mississippi River corridor—called America’s wetland for its biological value to the nation—bump up against the sprawling refineries and paraphernalia of the petrochemical industry. Industry leaders call this stretch of the Mississippi, sandwiched between 150-plus oil and gas plants on both sides of its devastated banks, Chemical Corridor. But locals—who blame the millions of pounds of toxic chemicals pouring out of industry smokestacks every year for high rates of miscarriages, cancer, respiratory ailments and other serious diseases—have another name for it. They call it Cancer Alley.

Looking through Misrach’s lens, the viewer comes to realize that Cancer Alley’s industrial corridor—which produces almost one-third of America’s gasoline, plastics and other chemicals—is generating a lethal combination of pollutants that is quietly deteriorating local communities and watersheds, leaving behind only cryptic relics of what was once a richly diversified past.

Hazardous Waste Containment Site, Dow Chemical Corporation, Mississippi River, Plaquemine, Louisiana, negative 1998, print 2012

But his images do more than hint at pollution and death: The petrochemical industry reveals itself as an omnipresent and brazen specter through the photographs’ rusted pipelines, mammoth tankers and tangles of steel, concrete and smokestacks belching noxious fumes and toxins into the air and water.

The exhibition “Revisiting the South: Richard Misrach’s Cancer Alley” highlights the severe environmental degradation of the Mississippi River corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. The show, which includes 19 large-scale color photographs and 14 contact sheets, is on view from March 27 to June 16, 2013 at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

RIP Roger Ebert

This is like a death in the family.

One of the things that I remember him for and will always cherish was his love letter to his wife. She was not a Hollywood skinny chickie poo but a lawyer, a sharp, strong, smart lady who stood by him throughout his illness:

"In 1992 he married, for the first time, at age 40, to attorney Chaz Hammel-Smith (later Chaz Hammelsmith), who was the great romance of his life and his rock in sickness, instrumental in helping Ebert continue his workload as his health declined.

“She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she is the love of my life, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone,” he wrote.

It's rare enough that a high profile man marries a lady of robust body size and a different race but even more rare that he penned one of the most eloquent public love letters ever written. 

For that I respected him as a man as well as a critic.

"No good film is too long,” he once wrote, a sentiment he felt strongly enough about to have engraved on pens. “No bad movie is short enough.”

"He was a Renaissance man whose genius was based on film but by no means limited to it, a great soul who had extraordinary impact on his profession and the world around him."

“‘Kindness’ covers all of my political beliefs,” he wrote, at the end of his memoirs. “No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Clock by Christian Marclay

SFMOMA will be closing this summer for renovations and additions. But they are going out with a bang. Next month, when the ground is broken for the new construction, they will be giving a four day party with free admission, curators on every floor to answer questions and all the bells and whistles an art lover could want.

For now, they have unveiled their latest exhibit, Christian Marclay's "The Clock." I believe that it will be playing around the clock during the last days of the "old" museum.

Winner of the Golden Lion award at the 2011 Venice Biennale, Christian Marclay's The Clock is a cinematic tour de force that unfolds on the screen in real time through thousands of film excerpts that form a 24-hour montage. Appropriated from the last 100 years of cinema’s rich history, the film clips chronicle the hours and minutes of the 24-hour period, often by displaying a watch or clock. The Clock incorporates scenes of everything from car chases and board rooms to emergency wards, bank heists, trysts, and high-noon shootouts.