Saturday, March 31, 2018

Goya (March 30, 1746 - April 16, 1828).

March 30, 1746. Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (30 March 1746 - 16 April 1828) was a Spanish romantic painter and printmaker. He is considered the most important Spanish artist of late 18th and early 19th centuries and throughout his long career was a commentator and chronicler of his era. Immensely successful in his lifetime, Goya is often referred to as both the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns. In this image: Francisco de Goya, The victorious Hannibal, 1771 (not one of his more interesting paintings, IMHO). 

Yesterday was Goya's birthday but his best work is so grim that I could not bring myself to write about him, esp after writing about Van Gogh who created work in such vibrant color out of his own suffering. But Goya's images of war are as powerful today as when he made them.

Yes, he did lovely paintings of the Spanish nobility but this work does not draw on his deepest talents.

The 3rd of May - showing the murder of Spanish patriots by the invading French

The Disasters of War: 

Robert Hughes: "...he speaks to us with an urgency that no artist of ou time can muster. We see his long dead  face pressed against the glass of our terrible century. Goya looking at a time (almost) worst than his." (Nothing If Not Critical)

Friday, March 30, 2018

Van Gogh. Born on this day in 1863

Van Gogh, born on this day in 1853 had a terrible start as an artist. In fact, Robert Hughes points out that anybody looking at this early work would not have recognized any talent. His early paintings are drab and somber, even depressing. Yet, after he moved to Paris, his unpromising beginnings matured into a brilliant maturity. His most beloved paintings were made after he moved to Arles in 1888. Although he was tormented by bouts of insanity and was very poor, still he kept on painting. In one of his letters to his brother Theo, he wrote, "I am not strictly speaking mad, for my mind is absolutely normal in the intervals..but during the attacks it is terrible - and then I lose consciousness of everything.But that spurs me onto work and to seriousness, as a miner who is alway in danger makes haste in what he does." 

The outlines of his life are well known - born into a well off Dutch family, he tried many professions, including that of art dealer and clergyman, before deciding to become a painter. His suicide came after years of rejection, mental illness and poverty so it is ironic that he never lived to see his fame and the huge prices that his work commands. By the time of his death in 1890, his work was beginning to attract critical attention and by the beginning of WW I, the Fauves and the German Expressionists considered him a seminal figure in modern art.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Georges Seurat (December 1959 - March 29, 891).

March 29, 1891. Georges-Pierre Seurat (December 1859 - 29 March 1891) was a French post-Impressionist painter and draftsman. He is noted for his innovative use of drawing media and for devising the painting techniques known as chromoluminarism and pointillism. In this image: Georges Seurat (French, Paris 1859-1891 Paris), Pierrot and Colombine Ca. 1886 - 88. Conté crayon on paper, 9 3/4 x 12 3/8 in. (24.8 x 31.2 cm). Kasama Nichido Museum of Art.

Monday, March 26, 2018

"Divine Bodies" at the Asian Art Museum

Reclining Buddha. Thai 1000- 1100 

 Bringing historical paintings and sculptures from mainly Hindu and Buddhist traditions together with contemporary photo-based work, "Divine Bodies," now open at the Asian Art Museum, invites you to ponder the power of transformation, the possibility of transcendence and the relationship of the body to the cosmos in works from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions - to see the human in the divine and the divine in the human in multiple ways.

The show is divided into three thematic sections: Transience and Transcendence Embodying the Sacred and Divine Metamorphosis, Divine Bodies invites the viewer to meditate on the power of transformation, and the relationship of the body in the cosmos. 

The first gallery opens with a quote from Kahlil Gibran. "Life and Death are One even as the river and sea are one." As the viewer enters the exhibit, the first sculpture is  a Thai reclining Buddha, who was the revered teacher of Buddhism, the creator of Buddhism and who is seen as both human and divine.

The exhibits in the next gallery are bracketed with another quote from the Western spiritual tradition, this time from William Blake, "Man has no body distance from his soul, for that which is called body is but a portion of soul discerned by the five senses."

Head of a Buddha, Pakistan, Peshawar Valley 300-500 
A wall of the heads of the Buddha from various eras and various cultures shows attempts, from the Chinese to the Thai, to portray their various portraits of the Buddha. The similarities are interesting which is explained that there is a canon in sacred Buddhist art, as in other sacred arts. 



But the divine is not simply one thing or person, it is many - beautiful, sensuous, fierce and gentle. An image of Parvati, from India (1050-1100) represents the the female energy. Voluptuous and utterly feminine, Parvati symbolizes the source of life.  Carrying a mirror, she reminds the devotee that life is an illusion but that the devotee has the ability to see what is ultimately real. Images of Shiva, Parshvanatha, Avalokiteshvara and the buddhist deity Vajra Tara, all portray the beauty of enlightenment and compassion.

The same can't quite be said of the Buddhist deity Ragaraja. Although the viewer is told not to be afraid of him, his angry, red-faced appearance does not inspire trust. But his six jeweled arms, two raised fists, and hair on fire are appropriate for the king of passion.

Vajara Tara India 1075-1200

Divine Metamorphosis, the final section, groups together several distinct bodily forms of a single Hindu or Buddhist deity, suggesting the centrality of transformation to our understanding of the divine. The Hindu god Vishnu is depicted in various forms, from cosmic pillar to wild boar to flute-playing Krishna

Throughout the exhibit, the modern is interposed with the ancient. Aayanta Singh's photos of the hijra or transvestite community end with a video of the main subject of her photos. “Myself Mona Ahmed” is the name of the transsexual who asks herself and us the question, “Who am I.”

Divine Bodies at the Asian Art Museum through June 29, 2018

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Yayoi Kusama

She received the order of culture in 2016

A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement ... Polka dots are a way to infinity.
—Yayoi Kusuma, in Manhattan Suicide 

On March 22, 2018, Yayoi Kusama turned 85. She began her career in the late 1940’s in Kyoto but in 1957 moved to the United States, inspired by the abstract expressionists. She exhibited her works next to those of Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.

Kusama's happening at the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, New York, 1968 / Image courtesy: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.
Born into an affluent family, Kusama started creating art at an early age. An abusive mother and a playboy father left her with a lifelong contempt for male sexual behavior. At the age of 13, she was sent to work in a Japanese military factory, spending her teenage years in what she termed"closed darkness" only lightened by the hallucinations of dots and flowers which she began to experience at the age of 10 or so.

In the 1950's she had an early success in Japan, covering every item that she could with what would become her signature polka dots, based on her childhood hallucinations. But she began to feel that Japanese society was too servile and too scornful of women so she left for first France and then, NY City in 1957.

In New York, she connected with the avant guarde, including Eva Hesse, learned how to manipulate her public image through photos of her with her signature colored wigs and heavy make up, as well as colorful, very stylish fashions. However, she did not profit financially and was hospitalized several times from over work. Nevertheless, she was active in arranging numerous public happenings along with performance art and in 1966, participated in the Venice Biennale.

One of the first Infinity Rooms

 In 1973 she returned to Japan where she wrote novels, poetry and short stories. Her art dealer business folded and she again checked herself into a hospital where she eventually took up permanent residence. From this base, she continued to work, producing huge paintings in a "ramped up" style. She was almost forgotten but her career revived in the 1990's with her work in the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a dazzling mirror lined room filed with small sculptures of pumpkins. From this work, she began to use the pumpkin as a form of an alter ego. From that time to this, the number of her successful exhibitions is too long to list.

Her "Infinity Mirrors' room at the Hershorn Museum was the most popular exhibit in the museum's history, so popular that one person broke one of the pumpkins, taking her own selfie. Somebody should have pointed out to the visitor that she was no Kusama.

From an almost unknown, she has become the matriarch of truly avant guarde art. Her polka dots and infinity rooms have tapped into the zeitgeist of our culture. While most of those who view her exuberant installations have no idea of the profound philosophical ideas behind them - at least consciously- it is hoped that they are responding in at least a subconscious way. Kusama has said that her spots saved her life; perhaps they can also save some aspect of our threatened culture. Her Infinity Rooms allow people to experience space outside of themselves and possibly both quiet and joy (assuming that they take the ear plugs out long enough to actually interact with the work.) During the 60's, she sent a letter to Richard Nixon....."Our earth is like one little polka dot, among millions of other celestial bodies, one orb full of hatred and strife amid the peaceful, silent spheres. Let's you and I change all that and make this world a new Garden of Eden.... You can't eradicate violence by using more violence." 

Kusama fully embraced Warhol's idea of the artist as celebrity, claiming, "publicity is critical to my work because it offers the best way of communicating with a large number of people... avant-garde artists should use mass communication as traditional painters use paints and brushes."

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sofia Carmi. Exhibit Abstract memories and Visions at the Italian Cultural Institute

Sofia Carmi, Image @DeWitt 
Sofia Carmi in the exhibit "Abstract Memories and Visions. 

Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco

601 Van Ness Ave F, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA

Telephone: 415 - 788 7142 
Fax: 415 - 788 6389

fice Hours: 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. Monday to Friday

Up through April 13

In the exhibit Abstract Memories and Visions,  Sofia Carmi shares with us her investigations of memories of Florence, Rome and Venice through painting. In Matthew Steen words, "for Carmi, abstract art is a mix of 'memory, mystery, color, form and texture' that captures the viewer, forcing an interpretation not immediately apparent. An Israeli native, she was closer to the center of the European art movement living in Jerusalem, influenced both by surrealist painters and the desert landscape surrounding her as she grew up. Her aunt, Lea Vogel, was a Holocaust survivor and renowned Israeli sculptor who was also a profound influence on her art. Carmi describes herself as a 'modernist painting in the contemporary time.'" Carmi is strongly influenced by her Italian heritage. She holds a BFA from Ontario College of Art, and a MA in psychology from New College of CA.

Images courtesy DeWitt Cheng

Anthony Van Dyck. Born on this day in 1599

Charles !

Study for the two daughters of Charles 1

Sir Anthony Van Dyck (Born March 22, 1599 – December 9, 161) was a Flemish Baroque Artist. Who became the court painter to Charles 1. He is most famous for his portraits of English nobility, painted with a skill and elegance that continued to influence English portrait painting for the news 150 years. He also painted religious and mythological subjects, was a superb draftsman and an important innovator in watercolor and etching.

His life reads like a Balzac novel. Born in Antwerp, Antoon (later Anthony) was the seventh son of Frans van Dyck, a prosperous silk merchant. But happiness, as so often happens in both novels and real life, did not last. His mother died when the boy was eight. His father had noticed Anthony's skill, so the boy was apprenticed at the age of 10 (common for the time), to Hendrick van Balen, dean of the St. Luke Guild of painters. 

--> When Anthony was 16, his father went bankrupt and the family was engulfed in protracted legal problems. But luckily, Anthony's skills were developing and in 1617, he had an amazing stroke of luck when he was invited to paint "Jesus bearing the cross" for the Antwerp Dominican church. He was quickly recognized as a master by gaining admission to the guild. He was also employed by Rubens who recommended the young Anthony for more work

Van Dyck brought a subtle sensitivity of his portraits. Painting the rich and famous brought him fame and fortune but he did not suppress his clear eyed, even cynical look at their foibles. And some times tragedies as in the sketch for the two daughters of Charles 1, one of who was to die at the age of two. Unfortunately for us, when Van Dyck became the court painter to Charles 1 and his circle, his paintings became more formulaic. He died at the age of 42 and given his short life, accomplished a amazing amount. Even if his later work is not as psychologically astute as his earlier work, his skill and flashes of brilliance continue to enchant. 

Charles 1 and Queen Henrietta Maria

Mary, Lady Van Dyck

Queen Henrietta Maria