Friday, June 28, 2013

'Beyond Belief' opens at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Agnes Martin, Falling Blue, 1963; oil and graphite on canvas; 71 7/8 in. x 72 in. (182.56 cm x 182.88 cm).

Co-organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Beyond Belief: 100 Years of the Spiritual in Modern Art is an expansive exhibition conceived as a journey into the connections between spirituality and modern and contemporary art. Spanning the years from 1911 to 2011, the exhibition features more than sixty works on loan from SFMOMA.

The exhibit benefits from the more intimate space; smaller works like those by Klee and Kandinsky have been lost in SFMOMA's larger galleries. But three pieces in particular - Philip Guston's"Red Sea; The Swell; Blue LIght," .Rothko's 'No 14" and  Teresite Fernandez, 'Fire" needed more space. Each piece needs a room by itself as each is so powerful. But, again, it may be the more intimate spaces at the CJM that make the viewer aware of the power of this art.

Teresita Fernández. Fire, 2005

"Beyond Belief" is divided into ten sections, organized under headings that examine widely held spiritual ideas, many of which closely parallel or are rooted in Jewish religious thought—such as the Bible’s original creation story and the bias against literal depictions of God.

The exhibition begins, aptly, with Genesis and wends its way through different sections that reveal how artists have addressed diverse spiritual ideas, such as the invisible presence of God, death, redemption, mystical writing, and the understanding of God as a divine architect.

In Tallus Mater (Madre Tallo/Stem Mother), Mendieta evokes the power of prehistoric fertility goddesses, especially those associated with Mayan and Native American spiritual systems. The ficus, or fig tree, roots with which Mendieta created this sculpture might allude to the Garden of Eden, a primary creation myth in Western monotheism.

Many rich religious stories are translated into complex and provocative works of art, some on display for the first time in years.

Helen Lundeberg’s mysterious painting Oracle—a Greek word meaning either a prophet or the physical shrine where a divine voice emanates—evokes a host of natural forms.

The show requires an open mind to other dimensions of spirituality. There is a lot of wall text and some have found the organization confusing, but a thoughtful and contemplative approach will allow the deeper meanings to emerge.

While perhaps the museum overreaches in their attempt to bring together the aesthetic and the spiritual, the presentation of artists who affirmed the transcendental in art yields much in the way of both enjoyment and enlightenment. In a decade which has seen art reduced to cow parts in formaldehyde, any attempt to break away from the crass commercialism and expensive emptiness is commendable.

The museum has created an interactive website to help visitors explore the exhibit in more depth:

Contemporary Jewish Museum: 736 Mission Street (btwn. 3rd and 4th Streets), San Francisco, CA 94103 | Hours: Daily 11am–5pm, Thursdays 1–8pm, Closed Wednesdays | 415.655.7800 |

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Arlene Diehl, an artist's journey

I first met Arlene at my friend Sandy Yagi’s opening reception at Bash.  Sandy is a local artist whose work is gaining national recognition and one whose judgment I value. Sandy pulled me over to a handsome woman and said, “You must meet Arelene! You must look at her art!” 

 I have become so conditioned to exchanging business cards that the first thing I did was ask for hers. After some looking, Arlene handed me a postcard with one of her images while apologizing that she didn't have a regular card.

Wow! I thought – Michelangelo reborn. The figure on the card radiated with a sensitive intensity that I hadn’t seen in contemporary figure drawings.

It was a wild night in the Tenderloin. A utility cover, right at the intersection of the four cross streets right outside the gallery blew. The place was soon swarming with cops and fire trucks but I didn't forget Arlene.

I decided that I wanted to interview her and after some back and forth with our schedules (where is a social secretary when you need one). I was able to see her at her tiny apartment on the edge of the Haight Ashbury. 

Like many of us, Arlene came here, drawn by the liberal life style, the welcoming, polyglot, and tolerant ambiance that SF offers at its best. 

She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, a 19th century boom town now in economic decline.  She started to draw very young, impelled by her innate talent and by a desire to emotionally withdraw from overbearing parents with addiction issues.

According to Arlene, her real world was an interior one. She lived within herself, creating a space where her more sensitive side could thrive. And she always drew.

Recognition came early. At 16, she won the Strathmore Award in Drawing, at 17, her self-portrait was chosen for the cover of Senior Scholastic magazine.  She received a scholarship to Boston U School for the Fine Arts but left after one semester because she felt that she needed more challenges. She was already more technically advanced than her fellow students. 

Then she studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and worked professionally for 17 years as a portraitist.

She worked at Cape Cod, making a living by drawing portraits during the tourist season. Working with colored pencils, her work was tightly controlled and very realistic. Diehl said that she seldom spoke to her clients. They would gather around her and watch her work – she drew in public. She communicated through her art and her dance.

The economy on the Cape collapsed around the time that a good friend encouraged her to move to SF. At first, she cleaned homes for a living but for the last decade, she has been able to make her living through her art. 

That has allowed her to move into unknown territory without sacrificing accuracy or her commitment to figure drawing.

Of all the realistic genres, figurative work is the most difficult. Our bodies carry the weight of social, psychological and physical complexities. They are who we are and we are taught to look at ourselves for flaws, not truth. 

Throughout the history of Western art, the nude has represented so many things – gods, monsters, sexuality, the noble man, the common woman, and the universal experience of being human.

Arlene’s expressive and strong nudes, done with charcoal on white, go far beyond pretty. Each one is a comment on the human condition, building on the most basic mediums with the utmost finesse. 

The next chapter in her journey is a visit to Europe. She is raising money to go to Amsterdam and if you want to donate – and be a patron of the arts  -here is the web page for that.

Margaret and Helen tell it like it is

I could not go to bed last night. I kept watching Senator Wendy in Texas and her 13 hour fight to protect women's rights over their own bodies.

As I thought, it took a woman to man up to the task on hand. Yes, we have the ability to change from high heels to comfy shoes and stand at a podium for 13 house and filibuster a bunch of retarded, redneck a-holes from trying to mess with women's private parts. AGAIN!! When are they going to stop?

Yet, when women are forced to dangerous back alley abortions, they get all self-righteous and prissy. I guess these vicious old boys prefer that a woman bleed to death or have her insides messed up for life rather than provide clean, safe, legal and sane medical care. Of course, they do want women to pop out babies and then, give them no education. That way, they have a guaranteed source of cannon fodder and workers for their low paying jobs in their dangerous factories.

My goal this morning is to find Senator Wendy’s email address and send her many thanks and congratulations for manning up.

But while it's a win, the bigger battle is ahead and it's a doozy. Perhaps the SC felt by giving a minor win (DOMA) it would not be viewed as a conservative/GOP court, except by blind fools.

Restricting voters (VRA) who would vote Dem/liberal is a major win along with Citizens United because it assures a more likely win for Rethugs. Then when the GOP controls the country they can go back and return DOMA, strike down Roe vs. Wade and every thing else.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

De Young's tribute to 'RIchard Diebenkorn. The Berkeley Years: 1953-1966'

 Berkeley #22. 1954

"Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years: 1953-1966," which opened Saturday at the de Young Museum, is the first show to focus on the thirteen years that he spent in Berkeley between 1953 to 1966. The core of the show is the breakthrough work of this period, where Diebenkorn developed his working methods, important artistic themes and gained national recognition.

More than 130 paintings and drawings, beginning with the artist's earlier abstract works and moving through his subsequent figurative phase, display how he moved all his life between abstraction and representation.

La Lune Blanche

La Bonne Chanson is a collection of poems written by Paul Verlaine from the winter of 1869 to the spring of 1870. Twenty-one poems belong to this group, and are mostly likely addressed to Mathilde Mauté, his future wife.

The poems are a proclamation of love, using very direct terms, and some references to nature.

Gabriel Fauré arranged nine of these poems to relate a story and used recurrent themes to unify the cycle. Fauré removes all direct descriptions of the girl and naturalist statements from the poems he chooses for inclusion in his cycle.

La lune blanche
Luit dans les bois;
De chaque branche
Part une voix
Sous la ramée...

Ô bien-aimée.
L'étang reflète,
Profond miroir,
La silhouette
Du saule noir
Où le vent pleure...

Rêvons, c'est l'heure,

Un vaste et tendre
Semble descendre
Du firmament
Que l'astre irise...

C'est l'heure exquise.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Supermoon, Diebenkorn & SF bikers

Saturday Super Moon and SF bikers entitlement beliefs!

I am back from a frenzied day - museum opening at the De Young (Diebenkorn -fabulous!), doctor's appointment in the PM (eye inflammation due to allergies and It Will Not Go Away).

On the way home, on the MUNI underground, I noticed 2 young men checking out how to pull up the front seats - the bus ones that are reserved for seniors and the handicapped. Then, they started talking about how they are not legally obligated to to move for either seniors or people in wheelchairs. In fact, according to them, that space should be reserved for BIKES!! YIKES!!! I blew my top and pointed out that it's illegal not to move. They said, no, it's not illegal. neiner, neiner. neiner. And they don't have to move. Neiner. etc.

An older gentleman chimed in to ask about the moral or ethical issues of refusing to move aside but both young men dodged that question by simply refusing to discuss it. Oh, and apparently we aren't sensitive, should simply listen to their plans and not question them. I can just see what the next demand of the Bike Collation is going to be.

The driver stuck his head around his window and told them that if they refused to move for a wheelchair, a disabled person or somebody on crutches, he would make sure they got arrested. I got off then and fled for home - thinking that WOW! This is going to be some super moon and I am staying undercover.

But how in the world could anybody justify NOT getting up for the disabled! I know that a lot of people don't but to justify it? To say that it's perfectly legal to sit while some poor soul on crutches or in a wheelchair can't find room on the bus. Actually, I would like to see these young men tangle with some of our people in wheelchairs. They are 400 plus pound monsters, motorized and a lot of the people in them have more attitude than these entitled jerks. Somebody would be very very sorry.

How can anybody justify making it legal for more bikes to pile on the MUNI, on every car, without regard for the rest of the riders. Each bike can take up the space for 3 or 4 seats and to hell with the rest of us. I am pro-bikes and believe that they should be used more but that attitude of rudeness, selfishness, and self-righteous entitlement is horrifying.

Now I am going to drink my tea and think about the couple of pieces that I want to write!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day to the good men who are fathers

After Winslow Homer (American, 1836–1910). Dad's Coming, from Harper's Weekly, 1873. Wood engraving. Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. 1963.30.959

Saturday, June 15, 2013

'Impressionists on Water' at the Legion

 Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841–1919) Oarsmen at Chatou,1879

 The "Impressionists on Water" show at the Legion has received, at best, tepid reviews from our local art critics. I suppose that they prefer work that is considered more challenging, like the current show of work by Nicole Eisenman at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. 

Impressionism is so familiar to us by now that we have forgotten what a radical movement it was, a new way of experiencing the world through quick sensations, expressed in paint. Even their preferred mode of painting - en plain air - was considered revolutionary. They experienced nature directly, instead of through the medium of staged sets within a studio setting. Their art making depended on the radical changes in art supplies which included portable easels and manufactured paint in tubes. The impressionists created a work without mythology or kings or monsters; one which still speaks to the sensual and sensitive within us.

Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935). À Flessingue (At Flushing, Netherlands),1896

But in these perilous times, where it looks like we might be throwing more money at yet another Middle Eastern country in the middle of a confusing civil war, what would be better for the spirit than experiencing beautiful art? 

Why art that is beautiful became suspect and then, denigrated and even despised is an essay for another time. But for now, imagine yourself floating down the Seine on a summer day in 1898. The Franco-Prussian war is over and the horrors of WW I not even on the horizon. Enjoy a brief moment of tranquility before the 20th century arrived, beginning with optimism and ending with the destruction of so much that was promised but seldom delivered.

Paul Signac (French, 1863–1935). Le Soir (Abend-La Jetée de Flessingue) (Evening), published in Pan,1898

Friday, June 14, 2013

Weekend picks for June 13 - 16

Photographs from the Iraqi invasion at the de Young, a Sunday lecture at the Museum of the African Diaspora, Leibovitz at the San Jose Museum of Art and a call for artists from the San Francisco Center for the Book:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Joss Whedon's witty homage to Shakespeare, 'Much Ado About Nothing'

"Much Ado About Nothing" is as charming and as well acted as any viewer could hope for. Filmed in 12 days in black and white, it's a breezy, somewhat truncated version of the original and will delight viewers with it's modern take and fast clip.

In the summer of 2011, the writer-director Joss Whedon, having completed principal photography on Marvel's Avengers Assemble, was contractually obliged to take a week off before he began editing.

Instead of taking the time off, Whedon, a Shakespearean geek from a long ways back, and at the urging of his wife, decided to film 'Much Ado About Nothing.'

Those familiar with Shakespeare's play won't find anything startling his version: Claudio (Fran Kranz) falls in love with Hero (Jullian Morgese). At the same time. Benedict (Alexis Denisoff) and Beatrice (Amy Archer) trade barbs. Their encounters are made all the more bitter by Benedict's earlier betrayal of Beatrice's love.

The Duke (Reed Diamond) and his entourage have decided to play a little trick on the two antagonists. When the two enemies are in view, but ostensibly hidden, the rest of the  gossip what the two are really madly in love with each other.

Soon enough, both Beatrice and Benedict are being fools for love; Denisoff shows a real talent for physical comedy which will come as no surprise to those who saw him as Wesley in both "Buffy" and "Angel."

The snake in the grass is the Duke's bastard brother, slickly and sexily played by Sean Maher, another Whedon regular, who sets up the lovers for a nasty bit of misunderstanding. Villainy, comedic turn by Nathan Fillion as the weary fool, a fake death are resolved for the standard happy ending.

Don't worry about spoilers. If you are, check out the Cliff notes. Playgoers since Shakespeare's day know how the play will end. Lacking the artificial suspense of an unknown ending, viewers can relax and enjoy the Southern California setting and lines spoken clearly with an American accent. Whedon's stripped down version works better in the comedic scenes than in the ones which need Shakespeare's traditional narrative. But for lovers of good, old-fashioned romantic comedy, it's this summer's sparkling hit.

Directed by Joss Whedon; written by Mr. Whedon, based on the play by Shakespeare; director of photography, Jay Hunter; edited by Daniel S. Kaminsky and Mr. Whedon; music by Mr. Whedon; production design by Cindy Chao and Michele Yu; costumes by Shawna Trpcic; produced by Mr. Whedon and Kai Cole; released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes.

WITH: Amy Acker (Beatrice), Alexis Denisof (Benedick), Nathan Fillion (Dogberry), Fran Kranz (Claudio), Jillian Morgese (Hero), Sean Maher (Don John), Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Clark Gregg (Leonato) and Tom Lenk (Verges).  

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Free day at the CJM, Sandi Yagi at Bash, Ferlinghetti and a new gallery at the Oakland Museum of California

The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) welcomes its new Executive Director Lori Starr and celebrates the first five years in its Daniel Libeskind-designed home in downtown San Francisco. Free admission, dance and music performances, art-making and crafts for families, and more on Sunday, June 9, 2013.

The festivities will include a reading by San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía and remarks by California State Senator Mark Leno on Jessie Square in front of the Museum, plus  indoor and outdoor performances by AXIS Dance Company, a cappella Leonard Cohen choir, The Conspiracy of Beards, Bulgarian woman’s choir True Life Trio, and Porto Franco Klezmer All-Stars.
Sunday, Jun 9. Free admission all day.

Bash Contemporary: Grand Opening tonight with an exhibit of works by Sandi Yagi , mistress of 21st century Gothic. Yagi's work continues to improve. It's rare to find a painter today who combines technical skill with such a unique vision. Her creatures are aliens, inhabiting a world that is both beautiful and frightening.

This will be Yagi's first solo show at a location that is becoming full of interesting, quirky art spaces, not afraid to show "risky" art.

The Tenderloin is becoming the center of SF”s cutting edge art spaces, as noted in a recent article in "Beyond the Chron":

 Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Future Woman. Through June 2013

George Krevsky: "Future Woman." SF poet laureate Lawrence Ferlinghetti is having his 7th solo show at George Krevsky. The 94-year old shows commendable vitality, if little finesse, in his current paintings of brash nudes.

“In 20th century art, the image of woman was constantly under attack, from Picasso’s two-faced women to De Kooning’s merciless portraits, to the latest tagger’s decimation.” Ferlinghetti wrote recently, “Women’s liberation movements freed women from conventional restraints, but also dethroned her from the pedestal where she had always been seen as the embodiment of pure beauty and mystery.”

Unfortunately his current work is both crude and vulgar without any redeeming strength or power. Ferlinghetti's work could qualify as another attack on women with unskillful brush dabs and imagery that poses as insightful but is shallow and demeaning. The earlier work in the show is far better, showing some sensitivity and real artistic skill.

As far as women's lib freeing women - maybe Mr. Ferlinghetti should read the daily news.

But he is still the poet laureate of SF and can do no wrong as evinced by this laudatory interview at SF Weekly:

 Oakland Museum of California: After more than 3 years of construction, the Gallery of California Natural Sciences is open to the public. Visitors can experience seven real places throughout California that depict the stat's diverse habitats. A new exhibit is on display "Inspiration Points: Masterpieces of California Landscape," presenting more than 60 iconic paintings, photography and works on paper.

Xavier Timoteo Orozco Martinez

The artworks included in Inspiration Points have been carefully selected from the Museum's extensive and pre-eminent holdings of California art from the Gold Rush era to the present to tell the stories of how people have interacted with the natural world. Artists featured will include Ansel Adams, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Hill, David Hockney, William Keith, Arthur Mathews, Richard Misrach, Thomas Moran, and more. The exhibition will be divided into several areas of focus that reflect artists' depiction of the landscape from a celebration of California's sublime natural world, to the documentation of exploitation of natural resources, to the investigation of the intersection of the urban and "wild."

 Arthur Mathews. Spring Dance.

Drew Johnson, Curator of Photography and Visual Culture,  says, "From majestic scenes of unspoiled wilderness to exploited lands and dystopian visions, Inspiration Points illuminates how artists have interpreted the landscape at particular moments in time. Highlighting important recent acquisitions while also shedding new light on timeless favorites, the exhibition examines the changing attitudes toward the environment over time and provides a surprising investigation of California's natural world."

Friday, June 7, 2013

Free Doughnut Day

After yesterday's disappointing exhibit, I think I am in the mood for donuts. Today is "Free Doughnut Day and I am looking for a morsel of sugar to remove the taste of two really repellent, badly painted shows.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Nicole Eisenman at the Berkeley Art Museum and Film Archive (BAM)

I am off to Berkeley today to check out this show of work by Nicole Eisenman. It's a gorgeous day to be across the bay.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

SFMOMA on the go

After a 4-day extravaganza to end all museum extravaganzas, SFMOMA closed on Sunday for a 2 1/2 year expansion plan to make room for the Fisher Collection.

People took photos of themselves in front of favorite artworks on every floor, and stood in line for hours to see the 24-hour film "The Clock." The free Family Day had a variety of activities for the kids, including making a model of a trebuchet and flinging non-lethal boulders. No castle walls were destroyed in the making of....

49,467 attended the museum, partied throughout the night and ended the celebrations at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday with a free-form dance through the atrium and out onto the street. As closings go, it was a joyous event.

But the museum is not going away. If anything, it's going to be even more present. "We're not going to let you forget about us," SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra told the crowd. "The lights may go off here at 6 o'clock this evening, but we'll be turning on the lights all over the city for the next 2 1/2 years until we see you all back here in 2016."

Bay Area's own Mark di Suvero's sculptures are on display at Crissy Field.  The eight sculptures scattered across the 26.5-acre field is the largest display of di Suvero's work on the West Coast. It is also the largest public single-site, single-artist exhibition mounted by SFMOMA and the pilot for an Art in the Park program by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which manages the field. The exhibition is free and will be up for a year.

The mammoth sculptures are also large enough to withstand the hurricane force of the wind coming through the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, they are so study that it seems a shame that di Suvero wasn't put in charge of building the Bay Bridge. The bridge might have been built faster and with a greater respect for the steel bolts and girders.

"Lure: Bay Area Artists Explore the Sea" at SFMOMA's Artists Gallery at Ft. Mason. The America's Cup is the news of the day and several museums are taking advantage of the fact. This exhibit will bring together works by Bay Area artists whose art is inspired by the sea. Opening Saturday, June 15, 2013. 1:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.Building A, Fort Mason Center San Francisco, CA 94123. Free to the public.

 Teresita Fernández, Fire, 2005. Silk yarn, steel armature, and epoxy, 96 x 144 in. Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; copyright © Teresita Fernández.

"Beyond Belief. 100 Years of the Spiritual In Art." Jointly organized by the Contemporary Jewish Museum and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this expansive exhibition — spanning the years 1911 to 2011 — journeys into the far-reaching connections between spirituality and modern and contemporary art. Featuring diverse works by artists ranging from early 20th-century visionaries such as Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian to leading postwar and contemporary artists including Jay DeFeo, Kiki Smith, and Zarina, Beyond Belief offers a fresh new vision of familiar and lesser-known works from SFMOMA’s collection. On view June 28 through October 27, 2013. Admission is free for SFMOMA members.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

SFMOMA closes down until 2016 with the museum party to end all parties!

SFMOMA was wild today - more people than I have ever seen and all imbued with a festival spirit. Normally I avoid crowds because I suffer from a bit of claustrophobia, not helped by being short. But I went down for the end of this chapter in SFMOMA's 75, 76 (?) year history. I can't wait for the opening in 2016. Bravo to the staff at SFMOMA! A week long celebration, numerous events, a ceremonial ground breaking event and they didn't put a foot wrong.

Next up is the opening of a show at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, focusing on the theme of spirituality. I will enjoy that one because I understand that the curators will be pulling works out of storage that haven't been seen in ages. Plus, the galleries at the CJM are smaller and more intimate.

Images and video courtesy of SFMOMA

Saturday, June 1, 2013

New work for a bright Saturday afternoon

Blue bottles. Ink, acrylic and watercolor on paper. 8 1/2 x 11"

Still life in monochrome. Chinese ink, acrylic and watercolor on paper.  8 1/2 x 11"