Thursday, February 27, 2014

'Yoga. The Art of Transformation' at the Asian Art Museum

When I was young - and I mean really young because my sister hadn't been born yet, I remember being mesmerized by this program on TV. The mysterious Hindu musician came out through the swirling draperies and played something on the organ. My childish imagination just fed on all the implications of what was behind the curtain and gave me a life long fascination about the East. 

Anyway, when I was reading about the fakes and frauds who passed off as Hindu mystics in the show about yoga and its origins at the Asian Art Museum, I remembered how intriguing I found this man. Alas he wasn't Indian at all.

Obviously he is not represented in the current show at the Asian but there is quite a bit about how the Western world misinterpreted and bowdlerized this part of Indian culture and religion.

But that's not all. I am not the only one whose knowledge of India and Yoga was limited to popular Western culture. The origins of yoga or rather its evolution started back around the 1st century CE and are shared by all three of India's major religions. Even today's yoga poses are not that ancient but a combination of 19th century physical training practices combined with Hindu meditative practices as popularized by Vivekananda. 

Apparently the exhibit begs the question of what yoga really is - a physical practice, a religious ritual, a non- religious form of meditation as a way to find enlightenment. I don't see why it can't be all three. 

Does it really matter? Some think it does and the controversy rages on. It does not matter to me because what the Asian Art Museum has presented to us - the long and rich artistic and cultural traditions that created the world of yoga - transcends the insular politics of some in the yoga world.

 The museum is offering some amazing activities during the show's run. Highlights include storytelling, dance, and yoga, as well as lectures by yoga luminaries. Among the scheduled speakers are Senior Iyengar teacher Manouso Manos, director of UCSF's Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Dr. Margaret Chesney, curators Debra Diamond and Qamar Adamjee, AcroYoga co-founder Jenny Sauer-Klein, mindfulness educator Meena Srinivasan, Google's Gopi Kallayil, graphic designer Chiraag Bhakta, and yoga historian Eric Shaw. For the full list of events, go to

I highly recommend buying the catalog. The show is so complex that it is a necessary component to understanding, fully appreciating and remembering what you have seen. Plus, if you want more, the Asian's permanent galleries have a glorious collection of Indian, Southeast Asian and Hindu art. 

Essay from the Asian Art Museum's blog: "Yoga: The Art of Transformation has challenged my preconceptions about the relationship between art and yoga in many ways, but nowhere so much as regards the question of authenticity..."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Happy Birthday Winslow Homer

Winslow Homer (1836–1910) is regarded by many as the greatest American painter of the nineteenth century.

Homer was born in Boston in 1836, the middle son of a hardware merchant who, in 1849, went bust in the gold rush. At the age of eighteen, Homer was apprenticed at a lithography shop. Thereafter, he freelanced while studying art in schools and on his own. In 1860, acquiring a copy of the French scientist M. E. Chevreul's "Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors" (an analysis of how color interacts in the eye), Homer grounded his practice in modernizing theories that were shared by the French Impressionists--who seem not to have influenced him directly. (Much of his work retains a uniquely up-to-date air.)

Living on Washington Square, he had many friends and supporters, though only modest public success. He complained, throughout his career, of being misunderstood. He visited Europe and spent the better part of two years in an English fishing village. In 1884, he settled in Prout's Neck, on the Maine coast, where he gloried in having "no other man or woman within half a mile" and took little note of his growing fame. He lived there, often wintering in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean, until his death, in 1910.

Early in his career, it was his more finished works that were most popular - the ones that popularized a sentimental look at 19th century rural America such as "Snap the Whip."  But today it's his rougher, less polished watercolors that catch the eye. Homer started painting watercolors on a regular basis in 1873, proving popular. They sold more readily, which improved his financial condition considerably.

"By about 1890, however, Homer left narrative behind to concentrate on the beauty, force, and drama of the sea itself. In their dynamic compositions and richly textured passages, his late seascapes capture the look and feel (and even suggest the sound) of masses of onrushing and receding water. For Homer's contemporaries, these were the most extravagantly admired of all his works. They remain among his most famous today, appreciated for their virtuoso brushwork, depth of feeling, and hints of modernist abstraction." (Essay at the Met website)

Homer never taught in a school or privately, as did Thomas Eakins, but his works strongly influenced succeeding generations of American painters for their direct and energetic interpretation of man's stoic relationship to an often neutral and sometimes harsh wilderness. Robert Henri called Homer's work an "integrity of nature."

American illustrator and teacher Howard Pyle revered Homer and encouraged his students to study him. His student and fellow illustrator, N. C. Wyeth (and through him Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth), shared the influence and appreciation, even following Homer to Maine for inspiration.The elder Wyeth’s respect for his antecedent was "intense and absolute," and can be observed in his early work Mowing (1907). Perhaps Homer's austere individualism is best captured in his admonition to artists:
"Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems."

Sunday, February 23, 2014


I wasn't happy with the earlier version of this which I had done in pastel. The background was too brown and too flat. So I did it over - only sketched in a few lines to indicate a basket but made the rest of the background shades of blue and indigo to compliment the yellow, umber and russet of the pears. I like this version a lot better.

Sunday natterings

The week has been very busy so I have a lot of catching up to do. But on the agenda are reviews of the new Yoga show at the Asian Art Museum and works from South Africa at YBCA.

Upcoming events at Arc Gallery and hidden cities at SOMArts and the wonderful show of sculpture by De Staebler at Dolby Chadwick. There is more sculpture at Hackett/Mill - this time by Manuel Nieri. Plus celebrations of printing making all over the Bay Area.

In the meantime, it's off to brunch to celebrate Malevich's birthday. He was born on February 23, 1879 and was the founder of "Suprematism," an art style focused on basic geometric forms, such as circles, squares, lines, and rectangles, painted in a limited range of colors. As an art style, it didn't have far to go before running out of visual ideas but the Communists put an end to it by declaring that "Social Realism" was the style of the state.

One did not disagree with Stalin and Malevich didn't. Malevich's assumption that a shifting in the attitudes of the Soviet authorities toward the modernist art movement would take place after the death of Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky's fall from power, was proven correct in a couple of years, when the Stalinist regime turned against forms of abstraction, considering them a type of "bourgeois" art, that could not express social realities. As a consequence, many of his works were confiscated and he was banned from creating and exhibiting similar art. (

He died of cancer in 1935. He died as the "Great Purge" was gathering speed but it's likely that he would have been a victim if he had lived longer. The Revolution began with such hope ended up eating those hopes along with millions of people who lived within the reach of Stalin's secret police.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

O'Keeffe at Lake George

A show of pretty paintings but one which glosses over her place in the art world of the 1920's, what influenced her, her training and how much Stieglitz as responsible for her success. O'Keeffe was a master at letting other people decide was her paintings meant and then, declaring that wasn't what she meant at all.

The show displays her famous flower paintings, painted when she was at her most sexual in her affair with Steiglitz but then says that they really aren't sexual at all. The stamen, pistil and pollen of flowers are there to attract bees and to help the flowers reproduce. O'Keeffe repudiated any idea that they were sexual but only after that intrepretation had brought her financial and commercial success. She was never one to back off from a controversy which helped promote her career.

"Alfred Stieglitz (1864–1946) is perhaps the most important figure in the history of visual arts in America. That is certainly not to say that he was the greatest artist America has ever produced. Rather, through his many roles – as a photographer, as a discoverer and promoter of photographers and of artists in other media, and as a publisher, patron, and collector – he had a greater impact on American art than any other person has had." Whelan, Richard (2000). Stieglitz on Photography: His Selected Essays and Notes. NY: Aperture. p. ix.

But the show at the de Young doesn't do more than skim the surface of the real O'Keeffe. It just adds another layer of misleading or incomplete information to her myth as the great, solitary American painter. 

Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George at the de Young. Now open

Monday, February 10, 2014

Elizabeth Murray at the Cantor

But, most exciting show of all, for me, is the show of  the works by Elizabeth Murray, now showing at the Cantor Art Center. 

“Her Story”: Prints by Elizabeth Murray, 1986–2006 includes all 42 of the groundbreaking editions made at New York’s Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) from 1986, when she first created prints there, through the last two decades of her prolific career. Primarily drawn from a private collection, this comprehensive selection of prints has never before been shown as a group.

 When is a cup not a cup? When it's part of one of Murray's baroque cartoon 3-dimensional pieces.

"Cracking Cup." 1998l Three dimensional lithograph. Publiced by Universal Limited Art Editions,

Born Chicago in 1940, Murrray earned a BFA at the Art Institute of Chicago and an MFA from Mills College in Oakland, California. She died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 67. The show at the Cantor is her first West coast retrospective.

 Shack. 1994

A pioneer in painting, Murray’s distinctively shaped canvases break with the art-historical tradition of illusionistic space in two-dimensions. Jutting out from the wall and sculptural in form, Murray’s paintings and watercolors playfully blur the line between the painting as an object and the painting as a space for depicting objects. The colors are loud, the references are to household objects, body parts, comic book symbols and images created solely by her imagination. Part surrealist, part sculptor, Murray followed her own muse through decades of art world trends.

 Wiggle Manhattan.

Her early still lifes are reminiscent of paintings by masters such as Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse; however, even then, she was attempting to rejuvenate old art forms and incorporate them into her own vocabulary. 

Murray’s paintings are abstract compositions rendered in bold colors and multiple layers of paint, sometimes clumsy, with the paint dripping off the edges. The mess reveals a fascination and understanding of domestic life in all its chaos, both physical and psychological. 

She digested an extraordinary number of influences on her way to her mature style. Early on it was DeKooning's abstracton "Excavation." 

She once told Michael Kimmelman, the chief art critic of The New York Times, that "I would leave my painting classes sometimes and run upstairs to the galleries to check out that painting, and literally dash back with it visualized in my mind to try to replicate that stroke on canvas." 

In the late 60's, it was Guston's bean shapes, parading as figurative painting. Ron Gorchov's saddle paintings of the mid-70's and Frank Stella whose geometric shapes and oversized canvasas influenced her first attempts at shaped canvas. She has described wanting so much to belong to the New York art world when she came to the city that for a while she struggled to reconcile herself to Minimalism and abstraction. "But the effect," she has said, "was to disguise my interest in subject matter." 

You could consider her a maker of stews, albiet of the artistic sort. But no matter how many dashes of the various influences she put into the work, it always emerged inimitably hers.

Museum picks for Feb 2014

Georgia O'Keeffe. From the Lake.

This week is full of art treasures - exquisite illustrations by Arthur Szyk at the CJM, O'Keeffe before she became an icon at the de Young, work from South Africa at the YBCA and another month or so of the workshops at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Vermeer, Master of Light

 Vermeer, "The Love Letter." c 1690

What better way to spend a rainy SF day than watching this 5-part series?

The video combines all five parts of the "Vermeer, Master of Light" series, a journey of discovery through Vermeer's techniques by utilizing x-ray analysis and infrared relectogaphy.

Narrated by Meryl Streep, the documentary must of necessary focus on his actual paintings as we don't know much about the painter's life.

Plus we don’t even have very many paintings to talk about: living from 1632 to 1672, Vermeer turned out fewer than 40 canvases. But what canvases: Master of Light goes into detail on his particular mastery not only of light and color, but of textures, perspectives, and seemingly minor but nonetheless painstaking touches. We do, however, offer a viewing tip: unless you particularly enjoy shots of light through windows, you may want to begin the video at 5:22 or so.

The analysis of Vermeer takes its time coming, but when it begins, it offers a wealth of surprising detail — just as do the paintings themselves. But don’t believe me; find out for yourself by viewing fifteen of them up close at the Google Art Project

Another link here:

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wednesday potpourri: forgeries, Alice Neel's birthday and SF's own Monument's Man

Thomas Carr Howe Jr. (right) helps transport Michelangelo's sculpture "Madonna and Child." Photo: Smithsonian Archives Of American

As excitement builds for the release of the Sony film "The Monuments Men," The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art applauds six real-life Monuments Men who either worked in or closely with the museum. Monuments men and women, commissioned by Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, were tasked with the protection, recovery and preservation of millions of Europe’s masterpieces during the Nazi occupation. “The men and women involved in this selfless effort to keep art objects safe during a dangerous time in history showed immense courage,” said Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO & Director of the Nelson-Atkins. “We are deeply in their debt for preserving these treasures for humanity.”

Program at the Legion: Friday at noon:

San Francisco has her own Monument's Man - a lovely piece by Stephen Winn: 

The Thomas Carr Foundation:

 An exhibition exploring the techniques and psychology behind the works of some of the world’s most famous forgers opened January 21 at the Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World profiles five prolific forgers from the 20th century to the present day and sheds light onto the ways their infamous legacies beguiled the art world. Among the more than 55 works on display, Intent to Deceive features more than 15 original works by major artists, including Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Paul Signac, among others, interspersed with the fakes and forgeries painted in the styles of these masters.

Mea Culpa - I missed celebrating Alice Neel's birthday (me bad). January 28, 1900. Alice Neel (January 28, 1900 ? October 13, 1984) was an American artist known for her oil on canvas portraits of friends, family, lovers, poets, artists and strangers. Her paintings are notable for their expressionistic use of line and color, psychological acumen, and emotional intensity. Neel was called "one of the greatest American painters of the 20th century" by Barry Walker, curator of modern and contemporary art at The Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, which organized a retrospective of her work in 2010.

 Alice Neel: Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian, 1978

I can't find out if there are any paintings by Alice Neel in any of our local museums. If anybody knows, drop me a line in the comments section. 

Addendum: Many thanks to DeWitt Chang who located this piece in SFMOMA's collection. I don't remember seeing it so it may not have been on display very often.
Powerful documentary:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday Tidbits - the week ahead

Call for Entries: ArtSpan Art Auction
Deadline: February 28, 2014
Click for Prospectus:

ArtSpan's curated Art Auction will take place on March 29, 2014 at SOMArts Cultural Center. This is our most popular fundraiser of the year. In 2013, over 300 avid art collectors were in attendance! It is a wonderful opportunity to showcase your artwork to prominent jurors in the art and design field, new potential collectors, and a vast range of art enthusiasts! Thank you, in advance, for your support!

In a new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, 18 artists interpret the notion that less is more in very unconventional ways.

"Obsessive Reduction," on view through March 31, focuses on the meticulous reductive process of removing material by hand to create a form.

"Probably one of the first artists that impressed me for this exhibit was Brian Dettmer," said curator Marc D'Estout. "He cuts into encyclopedias and vintage books and turns them into something very complex and surreal." Through March 31. Admission $8. San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, 2569 Third St., San Francisco, (415) 773-0303.

Chinese Cultural Center: Between Modern and Contemporary: Fong Chung-ray (馮鐘睿). Fong, now into his eighties and still a prolific painter, has set the stage for abstract Chinese art throughout his career. As curator Manni Liu points out, “Fong Chung-ray’s importance in the history of Chinese modernism lies in his relentless pursuit of a new visual language that combines Chinese and Western sensibilities.” While many artists in the 1950s and 1960s were content with perfecting brush and ink techniques, Fong instead explored new realms. Currently, his work can be found “in many younger Chinese artists, [and a] noticeable influence from Fong, whether they like to admit it or not.”

Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley is putting on an exhibit that plays with color in a spectrum of ways, bringing to light the uncertain nature of perception and memory via the relationships between color, light, and other natural phenomena. In an exhibit called “Back to Kansas,” Spencer Finch explores how the red in the ruby slippers, the yellow of the brick road, and the green of the Emerald City in the movie, "The Wizard of Oz," all work together to create a technicolor masterpiece with the help of viewer interaction. Runs through March 2, Wednesday - Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. 242 State Street, Los Altos, CA 94022

 'Lordy Rodriguez: Strangerhood' The latest installment in the San Francisco Arts Commission's Art on Market Street Kiosk Poster Series features six maps of six San Francisco neighborhoods - Chinatown, North Beach, the Mission, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury and Fisherman's Wharf - and reimagines them as independent countries. Through April 11. Market Street, from the Embarcadero to Eighth Street, S.F.

All Possible Futures: A product of SOMArts' Commons Curatorial Residency, spearheaded by Jon Sueda, this show combines projects, proposals and interactive installations by designers and design teams from the Bay Area and elsewhere. All probe the outer limits of graphic design and communication technology. Through Feb. 13. Noon-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday. SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St., S.F. (415) 863-1414.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy Birthday Gertie!

Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 ? July 27, 1946) was a noted American art collector of seminal modernist paintings and an experimental writer of novels, poetry and plays, which eschewed the narrative, linear, and temporal conventions of 19th century literature.

And that's a dispassionate, truncated and leaving out all the controversies of her life.

Since it's her birthday, it seemed appropriate to post Picasso's portrait of the expatriate writer. It was begun in 1905, at the end of his Harlequin Period and before he took up Cubism. Stein is shown seated in a large armchair, wearing her favorite brown velvet coat and skirt.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

February Calendar Page

The calendar pages for February contain two scenes of laborers trimming vines, one of the traditional labors for this freezing cold month. Remember many of these medieval manuscripts were made during the "little" ice age and in any case, they didn't have central heating. In the first scene, below the saints days for February, two men are at work in a wintry landscape, and appear to be appropriately bundled against the cold

In the second page, beneath two fish for the zodiac sign of Pisces, another chilly looking laborer is carrying a basket of trimmings through a snowy field.
- See more at:

Both images from the Huth Hours:

February 2nd is not only the beginning of the Lunar Year of the Horse but was, in medieval times, celebrated as the day that the infant Jesus was presented at the temple.

A Presentation at the Temple, for Candlemas. Joseph holds a gift of 2 birds & a candle. Arundel 157 f. 4v @BLMedieval