Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Morning Art Curmudgeon

If this weren't so true, it would be funny. Those aware of art history are always afraid that they will be pointed out, in future, as the crass philistines who didn't "get" the genius. At this point, I don't care. After umpty umpty years in retirement, devoted to making and viewing art, I have gone beyond wanting to be "that prescient art critic."

Life is too short. I am not one of those who say that "I don't know much about art but I know what I like." No. I know a hell of a lot about art and while I continue to try and keep an open mind, the poorly executed, badly painted and boring installation, popular du jour have worn out my patience. I DO get it. It's all about the text, about the career, about impressing the the potential buyer and only incidentally about making art.

"You know what? I'm sick of pretending. I went to art school, wrote a dissertation called "The Elevation of Art Through Commerce: An Analysis of Charles Saatchi's Approach to the Machinery of Art Production Using Pierre Bourdieu's Theories of Distinction", have attended art openings at least once a month for the last five years, even fucking purchased pieces of it, but the other night, after attending the opening of the new Tracey Emin retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, I'm finally ready to come out and say it: I just don't think I "get" art. [Although, after this article was written, I did try to get an art student to explain it to me.] "

 "Sandro Botticelli: Venus Pudica" (2013), archival pigment print, wood, epoxy, by Wolfgang Ganter. Photo: Unknown

Hard to say who is more clueless here; the critic or the artist. These epoxied boxes are not a tribute to Botticelli. They attempt to rip off his genius, but fail miserably. But I guess that I am not surprised that our official art critic likes. them. The artist is German and male and writes an artist statement that hits all the right buttons.

"Wolfgang Ganter’s artworks present ever-new correspondences between idea, reality, and illusion. The artist thematically deals in the compulsion to engage with – and work through – processes of decay, in an effort to see source materials in new ways. Capturing moments and sculptural artifacts as visionary as they are apocalyptic, as filled with beauty as they are horror, Ganter makes work that functions to carry history through the act of rewriting. Aided by intentionally controlled processes, the artists films and installations are the relics of unknown biographies."

Absolutely worth going out of your way to see: Joe Blum and the Bridge Builders.

The SFAC Galleries Art at City Hall Program presents The Bridge Builders, a photography exhibition featuring more than 80 of Blum’s large-format color photographs that give viewers an all-access look at the making of the new bridge.
Twenty-five years as a boilermaker, shipfitter, and welder, have provided Blum with an informed eye, an expansive mechanical vocabulary, and a unique ability to focus on the important human component of the bridge’s construction.

While the artist has photographed all aspects of the structure’s erection, the people who labor to build the new bridge hold the greatest interest for Blum. He explains, “In so far as possible, I have attempted to photograph the building of this bridge from their perspective and I think that the public should get to see their work from that point of view and hopefully honor and celebrate it, as I do.”

Blum’s images capture the sheer physicality necessary to work in the midst of rebar cages and tower cranes. Men and women are documented in rapt attention as they leverage their weight against steel and concrete, muscles taut and eyes focused.

Blum states, “There would not be a bridge without the men and women who are building it. They are the ones who have transformed the ideas of the bridge designers, architects and engineers from blueprints and drawings into a living structure of steel and concrete.”

Exhibition Dates: June 24 through September 27, 2013
San Francisco City Hall, ground floor.1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA  94102. Free and open to the public.

Make sure to visit Joe Blum’s website to view all the images, as well as some excellent interviews and reviews:

Upcoming: A View from the Bridge: Black and White Photographs by Joseph A. Blum. This exhibition, opening August 3 at the Harvey Milk Photo Center, offers another opportunity to see Blum’s work, this time in black and white.

Harvey Milk Photo Center. 50 Scott Street at Duboce. 415-554-9522 Opening reception August 3 from 1-4pm. Viewing hours Tuesday-Thursday 6-9pm, Saturday 11am-4pm.
Following the show at San Francisco City Hall, Blum’s photos will hang at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Owen, the cat who rules Aardvark.

Owen is the current bookstore cat at my local bookstore. They have gone through a number of cats since I have lived in the neighborhood. Their first was "Henry the Ripper," called because he channeled the spirit of Jack the Ripper, peeing, pooping and being generally destructive. He was protected by two of the women who worked here but he was not a friendly spirit.

Ace was next and while he was OK, he wasn't particularly friendly.

Owen is the 3rd of the cats to preside over the bookstore and not only is he the friendliest, he's probably the most beautiful. Henry was a mangy black cat whose looks were not improved by his hostile personality. Ace and Owen are both marmalade cats with the most beautiful golden eyes.

I can't tell you how many times I've gone into the book store and found Owen curled up in somebody's lap, being loved, adored and giving love in return.

Owen has walked by me and looked up with those big beautiful eyes, obviously not understanding why I don't pick him up. Unfortunately he doesn't understand that I am allergic and I don't, alas, speak cat. But I love seeing him around the store, sleeping in the window or curled up in somebody's lap. He's the presiding god of the only second hand book store left in the area.Maybe that's why it's survived. The tiny cat god is protecting his domain. (*photo by Lynn Valente)

Marilyn on the auction block

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday Links

Donald Kinney's show comes down this weekend and I highly recommend that you get over to see it while you can. This is one of the best best photography shows that I have seen in a long time in one of the most beautiful libraries in the Bay Area. Donald poetic eye and feeling for the Northern California landscape needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.  Mill Valley Library, 375 Throckmorton, Lower Level

Land artist Walter De Maria dies of stroke, aged 77

The “uncompromising” creator of The Lightning Field and The New York Earth Room shied away from the spotlight. He studied history and art at the University of California, Berkeley from 1953 to 1959. Trained as a painter, De Maria soon turned to sculpture and began using other media. De Maria and his friend, the avant-garde composer La Monte Young, participated in "Happenings." and theatrical productions in the San Francisco area. One of his Boxes for Meaningless Work (1961) is inscribed with the instructions, “Transfer things from one box to the next box back and forth, back and forth, etc. Be aware that what you are doing is meaningless.”

The artist Andy Goldsworthy is creating a new work for the Presidio of San Francisco, the national park that was formerly a military base. The artist will hang a felled tree covered in cracked clay from the ceiling of a building within the park that was once used by the Army to store explosives.

According to the Presidio Trust’s website, Tree Fall will be “a fully reversible” work installed in the Powder Magazine building, “a small (25 feet by 30 feet) and currently inaccessible masonry structure”. “The gunpowder room would’ve been a fairly dangerous place to be, so [the work] will have that sense of caution to it,” Goldsworthy says. Due to be completed by the end of August, Tree Fall will be the artist’s third project in the park, following Spire, 2008, and Wood Line, 2011.

“What I find so fascinating about the Presidio is that, in the heart of this military machine, there was a huge planting programme,” Goldsworthy says, referring to the fact that the park’s 300-acre forest was planted by the US military between 1886 and 1900. “They had quite a sophisticated sense of landscape,” he says. “They read the landscape in the way that sculptors do—or at least the way I do.”

Amazon gets into the act and launches a virtual art gallery.

Another theft of art from a museum. Did somebody declare July "Art Theft Month" and not tell the rest of us? Thieves stole ten paintings from the Van Buuren Museum on the outskirts of Brussels on 16 July, including Kees van Dongen’s The Thinker, 1907, valued at more than €1m. What makes the loss particularly poignant is that the paintings came from a family collection, lovingly assembled by the Van Buurens.       

The saga of the theft from the Dutch museum gets sadder and crazier - apparently it only took them 3 minutes to break in. And then, mommy dearest burned the art to protect her son. I guess that priceless art isn't so priceless when you don't have a buyer.

A trial of deception and heartbreak: 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Upcoming; Two masters of photography and courage

Both Peter Stackpole (now showing at the Oakland Museum of Art) and Joe Blum, an iron worker AND a photographer, photographed the men who work on the bridge. Just looking at the photos brought on my vertigo!

Joe Blum, now showing at the SFAC..

...more to come

Monday, July 22, 2013

Japanese Prints. Hokusai at the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art.

 Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji is an ukiyo-e series of large, color woodblock prints by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). The series depicts Mount Fuji in differing seasons and weather conditions from a variety of different places and distances. It actually consists of 46 prints created between 1826 and 1833. The first 36 were included in the original publication and, due to their popularity, ten more were added after the original publication.

While Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji is the most famous ukiyo-e series to focus on Mount Fuji, there are several other series with the same subject, including Hiroshige's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and Hokusai's own later series One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji is a popular subject for Japanese art due to its cultural and religious significance. This belief can be traced to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, where a goddess deposits the elixir of life on the peak. As Henry Smith explains, "Thus from an early time, Mt. Fuji was seen as the source of the secret of immortality, a tradition that was at the heart of Hokusai's own obsession with the mountain."

And this is what he wrote about himself in his autobiography. It is the quintessence of his art philosophy:

"From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words."

Constantly seeking to produce better work, he apparently exclaimed on his deathbed, "If only Heaven will give me just another ten years... Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter." He died on May 10, 1849 and was buried in Tokyo. (images from Wikipedia as the LACMA site only had one image up).

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hokusai at LACMA

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The museum's collection includes excellent prints by the renowned Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849). Among the museum’s holdings are two of this artist’s most iconic works, popularly known as Red Fuji and The Great Wave. A recent gift from Max Palevsky added to the museum’s collection a complete set of the eight prints from Hokusai’s A Tour of Waterfalls in the Provinces.
In addition to these color woodblock prints, the current exhibition also features pages from woodblock printed books as well as preparatory drawings. Loans from the Barbara Bowman Collection include several surimono—commissioned prints made for specific occasions that typically employ special techniques or materials.

Katsushika Hokusai (October 31, 1760 (exact date questionable) – May 10, 1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period He was influenced by such painters as Sesshu, and other styles of Chinese painting. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji which includes the internationally recognized print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, created during the 1820s.
The Complete Works:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The fog hovers over the city

SF Fog hovering over Potrero Hill this morning (grabbed from twitter and did not save the source) so THANK YOU to whoever took this photo. I have been writing to some Internet friends on the East Coast where it's 96 degrees and climbing. Yesterday a friend who lives in Virginia sent me a photo of a totally collapsed squirrel who didn't even have the energy to move when she and her dogs walked by. It was 105 degrees. 

There's a funny little thread on twitter around an anonymous tweeter called "Karl the Fog." ( I highly recommend following his tweets and the responses for those who do and don't appreciate our weather. His web page,, has his motto: "All that is sunny does not glitter, not all those in the fog are lost." As a long time San Franciscan, I approve the sentiments. 

We are so lucky in our weather and for those here who moan about the fog, don't look to me for sympathy. I am with Carl on this one:

The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Happy Birthday Edgar

Edgar Degas (19 July 1834 – 27 September 1917), was a French artist famous for his work in painting, sculpture, printmaking and drawing. He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism although he rejected the term, and preferred to be called a realist. A superb draftsman, he is especially identified with the subject of the dance, and over half of his works depict dancers.

Degas is often identified as an Impressionist, an understandable but insufficient description. Impressionism originated in the 1860s and 1870s and grew, in part, from the realism of such painters as Courbet and Corot. The Impressionists painted the realities of the world around them using bright, "dazzling" colors, concentrating primarily on the effects of light, and hoping to infuse their scenes with immediacy. (wikipedia)

Technically, Degas differs from the Impressionists in that he "never adopted the Impressionist color fleck", and he continually belittled their practice of painting en plein air. "He was often as anti-impressionist as the critics who reviewed the shows", according to art historian Carol Armstrong; as Degas himself explained, "no art was ever less spontaneous than mine. What I do is the result of reflection and of the study of the great masters; of inspiration, spontaneity, temperament, I know nothing." Nonetheless, he is described more accurately as an Impressionist than as a member of any other movement. His scenes of Parisian life, his off-center compositions, his experiments with color and form, and his friendship with several key Impressionist artists—most notably Mary Cassatt and Édouard Manet—all relate him intimately to the Impressionist movement.

Degas, who believed that "the artist must live alone, and his private life must remain unknown", lived an outwardly uneventful life. In company he was known for his wit, which could often be cruel. He was characterized as an "old curmudgeon" by the novelist George Moore, and he deliberately cultivated his reputation as a misanthropic bachelor. Profoundly conservative in his political opinions, he opposed all social reforms and found little to admire in such technological advances as the telephone. He fired a model upon learning she was Protestant. Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his anti-Semitism became apparent by the mid-1870s. His 1879 painting At The Bourse is widely regarded as strongly anti-Semitic, with the facial features of the banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time.

The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid-1890s, he had broken off relations with all of his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models who he believed might be Jewish. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic "Anti-Dreyfusards" until his death.

Degas' mature style is distinguished by conspicuously unfinished passages, even in otherwise tightly rendered paintings. He frequently blamed his eye troubles for his inability to finish, an explanation that met with some skepticism from colleagues and collectors who reasoned, as Stuckey explains, that "his pictures could hardly have been executed by anyone with inadequate vision." The artist provided another clue when he described his predilection "to begin a hundred things and not finish one of them," and was in any case notoriously reluctant to consider a painting complete.

During his life, public reception of Degas's work ranged from admiration to contempt but now he is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 19th century. Although Degas had no formal pupils, he greatly influenced several important painters, most notably Jean-Louis Forain, Mary Cassatt, and Walter Sickert; his greatest admirer may have been Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. (From Wikipedia)

On a personal note, his reputation is sullied, for me, by his extreme bigotry and misanthropy. This is another case when I have to put aside my beliefs to appreciate his art, respecting his achievements while abhorring his beliefs.

Degas links:

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Secret Lives of Medieval Manuscripts

As a world-renowned scholar of Art History, Kathryn Rudy has held research, teaching, and curatorial positions in the US, the UK, Canada, The Netherlands and Belgium. Her research focuses on the reception and original function of manuscripts and she has pioneered the use of the densitometer to measure the dirt that original readers deposited in their books.

 Introduction: Six hundred years ago Christians who went to church and they learned to to destroy manuscripts. We see in this manuscript here the Hours of Blanche of Savoy, made in the fourteenth century, that the clergy here are kissing and number of objects including a book and pacs. And in the process of kissing these objects they pretty much destroyed them.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage' at the San Jose Museum of Art

 Emily Dickinson. White Dress @SJMA

"Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage," now showing at the San Jose Museum of Art is an ultimately unsuccessful departure from from Leibovitz's usual carefully lit and celebratory celebrity shots.

These photos were taken simply because she wanted to and because something in them spoke to her. The title of the photographer's collection refers to her journey in taking the pictures.

I was underwhelmed by the show but then, I have never been a big fan. Celebrity photos are part of our worship of the shallow and the trivial; unfortunately, while the work is photographed with her usual skill, years of photographing the transitory star of the moment have left her "heart" a bit on the shallow side -- and it shows.

Now granted the last couple of years have been traumatic - Sontag's death in 2004 and Lebovitz's financial problems must be exhausting. But to photograph what's shown in SJ needs a different kind of photographer - say Gordon Parks with his deep connection to the the often forgotten details of our history.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Happy Birthday Rembrandt

Anglin Burgard and 'Richard Diebenkorn, The Berkeley Years"

"This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features Timothy Anglin Burgard, the co-curator of "Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-66." The exhibition opens Saturday, June 22 at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, where it is on view through September 29. The exhibition catalogue — which includes full-page plates of many Berkeley-era paintings not in the exhibition — is published by Yale University Press. Burgard, Steven A. Nash and Emma Acker contributed three of the best catalogue essays I’ve read this year. If you are interested in 20th-century painting, this book needs to be in your library." Tyler Green.

"Burgard is the curator of American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He has organized exhibitions on Enrico Donati, Frank Lobdell and Stephen De Staebler."

"These are three Diebenkorns that Burgard discusses with MAN Podcast host Tyler Green on this week’s show, examples of how Burgard believes figurative painting sometimes informed Diebenkorn’s abstractions. At top is a Diebenkorn drawing in ink from 1953. Burgard thinks that the two 1954 paintings below it — Untitled (Nude) and Berkeley #3 — were informed by the drawing. The research and findings Burgard discusses on this week’s MAN Podcast suggest that at least for Diebenkorn, there was no such thing as ‘purely abstract’ painting."

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Happy birthday James McNeill Whistler

"The son of an engineer, Whistler went to the West Point Military Academy, where he did poorly but came away with enough acumen from drawing class to be employed mapping the entire U.S. coast for the Military, a job he hated almost as much as school, though the etching skills he acquired would serve him well later.

Whistler despised the way Americans held art and artists in low esteem in comparison to Europeans (a situation that continues to this day, as far as I can tell); and on leaving to seek artistic training in Europe, never returned to the U.S. He subsequently spent much effort, in the course of his continual re-invention of his persona, denying his birthplace in Lowell, Massachusetts — alternately claiming to be a disenfranchised Southern aristocrat or born in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Whistler’s antics, his often arrogant and abrasive personality, dandified appearance and relentless self-promotion can be as misleading as his iconic portrait of his mother in discerning the real painter."
Purple and Rose: The Lange Leizen of the Six Marks, James Abbott McNeill Whistler Wikimedia Commons
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Related posts: from the blog Lines and Colors
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
On Beauty and the Everyday: The Prints of James McNeill Whistler
Whistler's Etchings (round 2)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Donald Kinney at the Mill Valley Library

One of the best photographers in the Bay Area, if not California (!) will be showing a selection of his work at the Mill Valley Public Library. The reception is Tuesday and everybody who can attend, should attend.

Donald writes the photo blog "A Photo A Day" which is a daily hymn to the beauties of Northern California. His work is lyrical and insightful but with typical modesty, he downplays just how beautiful it all is. He is able to capture the elusive ripples of water at his beloved Lagunitas Creek, the blanket of fog as it flows over the Northern California hills. His writing is as beautiful as his images.

When he was 16, Donald was able to meet the late, great Ansel Adams. He saw the photographer working in the Carmel area, followed him to where he was having breakfast but Donald was too shy to approach the man. However, he left a message on his windshield and Adams replied some days later. "A few days later
a postcard arrived in the mail--it read;  “Can’t decipher your signature, but sure, I’d love to see your photos--just give me a call when you want to come over”.

Let him tell you in his own words. "Somehow I got enough courage to call him, and about  an hour later I was sitting in his front room with him giving me pointers on how I could improve each image. Of course, my photography at that point was pathetic,  but it inspired me to read his books...A few months later I felt I had to show him my new attempts, so I re-invited myself to his home and after he
had looked through my new work he complimented me on how much I had improved.  The moment was probably the finest in all of my short sixteen years."

Like many of us, Donald was not independently wealthy and so, being able to follow his heart took many years. But he retired about ten years ago and ever since then, is up at 4 a.m., following the light, the sun, the fog, the panorama of nature that surrounds us in the Bay Area.

I think I began following his blog though his images of Lagunitas Creek. His ability to capture the color, the shape of ripples on water, the patterns, the subtle changes of light and weather were mesmerizing.

I believe that Donald subconsciously picks up the Japanese reverence for nature but another friend of mine, painter Dale Erickson sees the influence of 19th century landscape painters Kensett and Heade.

The show is packed into a small narrow hallway and in order to maximize this opportunity, Donald has framed the pieces into diptychs and triptychs. This does not work for me as I prefer fewer larger images. But it's understandable that he wants to give those who attend the exhibit a chance to see as many images as possible.

This piece won a prize a prize at the Marin County Fair, complete with a  $100 gift certificate given by "Digital Rain/Digital Image Magic" a local business here in San Rafael. Donald told me that some might think that the image was Photoshopped but it wasn't. He was in the right place at the right time - made possible by his dedication to getting out there and photographing every day

Donald: "I realize that many of you live at great distances, unable to attend the opening on Tuesday, so if you can't be here in the flesh I'll invite you to be here in Spirit. A bunch of friends; some whacky dudes and gals, and even some relatives I haven't seen for 10 years have said they will be stopping by. I still have people I need to invite, but consider yourself invited. RSVP not required. I'm going to bring wine for all of you alcoholics. "

all images @ Donald Kinney. Used with permission.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fiestas Frida

Creativity Explored artist Nita Hicks, known for her portraits of iconic women, painted an image of Frida Kahlo for display in the Somos Frida Community Day event on July 7, 2013.

See Nita's work along with several other artists' portrayal of the infamous Frida Kahlo during this one-day exhibition. The Somos Frida Community Day event also includes live performers and dancers, local artisans and vendors, face painting for youth, and a costume contest for the Best Frida, Fridita, Fridrag, Diego and Dieguito.

This one-day event and exhibition is part of Fiestas Frida, a yearly event celebrating the life of Frida Kahlo.
Somos Frida Community DaySunday, July 7, 2013
2:00 pm to 9:00 pm

The Women's Building
3543 18th Street, #8
San Francisco, CA 94110

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July

Emma Amos. "Equal." A painting by an African-American Woman artist whose work is a complex commentary on her status as an America, a woman and a descendant of slaves. This is even more appropriate now as the Supreme Court has gutted the Civil Rights Voting Act and seven states, to date, have rushed to pass Jim Crow laws. 

In this video essay, Bill Moyers reflects on the origins and lessons of Independence Day. We should remember, he says, that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings, like Thomas Jefferson, who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired, who espoused great humanistic ideals while behaving with reprehensible racial discrimination. That conflict — between what we know and how we live — is still a struggle in contemporary politics and society.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

'In The Moment' at the Asian

Seated male Shinto Diety, 800-900. Heian period. wood. As the material embodiment of native Japanese gods or kami, statues like this one were kept within the uttermost sanctuary of Shinto shrines.
 In the Moment: Japanese Art from the Larry Ellison Collection, on view June 28– Sept. 22, 2013, introduces more than 60 exceptional artworks spanning 1,100 years. The exhibition comprises of works by noted artists of the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615– 1868) periods, along with other important examples of religious art, lacquer, metalwork and armor. Highlights include a 13th–14th-century wooden sculpture of Prince Shotoku; a 16th- century bronze goose-shaped incense burner; six-panel folding screens dating to the 17th century by Kano Sansetsu; and 18th-century paintings by acclaimed masters Maruyama Okyo and Ito Jakuchu.

Peacock (right side of screen). Usumi Kiho. Taisho period (1912-1926). Pair of six-panel folding screen. Ink, colors, silver, gold and lacquer on silk.
A lot of art critics had a fit because a billionaire is showing a portion of his collection in a museum. Oh shame, gasp, oh horrors. OH BS. Mr. Ellison is indeed the fifth richest person in the world. Anybody who follows the news knows that Mr. Ellison owns a lot of expensive trinkets and real estate. Most recently, he brokered a controversial deal and grabbed a significant portion of the San Francisco waterfront prior to the upcoming America’s Cup event. Mr. Ellison even has entered the race with his fancy boat - which is not doing too well at the moment.  All of this may be related to his desire to have portions of his collection on display but it does not take away from the beauty of this exhibit.

Every single museum in the world has shown the collections of its wealthy patrons. Many museums, including the Asian, are built around the gifts from wealthy donors. They make museums possible, from the Frick, the Norton SImon, the Morgan Library - the list probably encompasses every museum in the United States. Recently the de Young hosted William Paley's collection, the Legion hosted the van Otterloo collection of Dutch art and the Asian displayed a section of Jerry Yang's Chinese calligraphy.
  Put aside your cynicism and your judgmental hostility toward Ellison - the endless saga of acquisitions, litigation, aggressive business dealings. Put aside your belief, without even seeing the show,  that is a "vanity show" as L.A. Times art critic Christopher Knight declared in a conversation that we had on twitter.

Curated by Emily Sano, the former head of the Asian Art Museum and now Mr. Ellison's private consultant, this is a stunning collection.

Ms Sano. who also acted as an adviser to the exhibit says that Mr. Ellison's interest in Japan can be traced to a trip he took in the 1970.

The first display -- a pair of folding screens from the 17th century, each nearly 6 feet high and 12 1/2 feet wide pulls the viewer into a Japanese viewing experience. Attributed to Hasegawa Togaku, they make up a dynamic panorama of crashing waves and jagged rocks, and seating in front of the screens puts viewers right at their level. The seats are covered with tatami mats and changing lights in the gallery mimic the sun's moment from sun rise to sun set.

There are faint sounds of rain falling and birds chirping. Screens of this kind were meant to be viewed while sitting on the floor says Laura Allen, the museum's curator of Japanese art and the exhibition's co-curator. Being positioned at the bottom of the screens, she says, "changes your perception and makes you feel like you're surrounded by the screens' scenery." Thankfully for the Western viewer, the Asian didn't go that far but the tatami covered seats, the soft sounds of birds and crickets are meditative and soothing, making for a three-dimensional intensive experience.

The first gallery also contains what Sano described as "some of his favorite objects." Among them, a charming wood sculpture from the 1200s of two puppies at play and a pair of screens, one depicting a rooster and chicks, the other a quintet of puppies gathered underneath a banana plant. "Mr. Ellison fell in love with this pair," Sano said, "particularly the puppies."

The second gallery contains one of the oldest pieces in the show, a Shinto wooden sculpture over 1300 years old, as well as images of the Buddha and numerous hanging scrolls portraying art with symbolic meanings - pines, bamboo, plum, cranes and turtles - fidelity, tranquility, long life. There are 2 6-panel folding screens portraying scenes from two of Japan's national epics - The Tale of Genji and The tale of the Heiki.

The exhibit's third, concluding gallery compares three schools of Japanese paintings: Kano painters, who worked for military rulers and favored battle scenes; Rinpa painters, who worked for the court and emphasized seasonal plants; and Kyoto-based artists, who favored birds and animals.

Dragon and tiger, 1606, by Hasegawa Tohaku (1539–1610). Momoyama period (1573–1615). Pair of six-panel folding screens; ink on paper. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 11.4808, 11.7073. 

It is rare that an exhibition allows viewers in on the owner’s personal thoughts, but in this case, a pair of folding screens depicting a dragon and tiger is singled out as Mr. Ellison’s favorite object.  The screen was created in the Edo period by Maryyuma Okyo (1722-1795), Dragons are not necessarily considered malevolent, as they are in Western culture. In Chinese art and mythology, which heavily influenced Japanese art, dragons symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck.

From this, one could speculate that Ellison envisions himself as a dragon - whether benevolent or not is up to the individual viewer.

Through: Sept. 22
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, until 9 p.m. Thursday
Admission: $8-$12; $5 Thursday after 5 p.m. 415-581-3500,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

'Beyond Belief' at the CJM

It's free Tuesday and I am on my way for a 2nd look at the show. I found it very impressive, thoughtful and well mounted. It may require more careful viewing than most museum goers give to art but that's a good thing. Art of this caliber is far more than just wall decoration.

Shahzia Sikander. Sinxay: Narrative as Dissolution #2, 2008
Ink and gouache on prepared paper. 89 1/2 in. x 59 1/4 in. (227.33 cm x 150.5 cm) Accessions Committee Fund purchase 2009.195

This exhibition delves into the spiritual dimensions of the artworks on view. Even Albert Einstein once hailed the impulse to move beyond reason: ―"The deepest and most sublime feeling of which we are capable is the experience of the mystical. . . . If a person has lost the capacity to experience this sensation, the capacity for wonderment and reverence, then his soul is already dead."