Friday, June 14, 2019

Japanese tattoos at the Asian Art Museum

More than 60 works on loan from the museum of Fine Arts in Boston comprise the exhibition “Tattoos in Japanese Prints” at the Asian Art Museum, on display through Aug. 18. The woodcuts are what remain of the popular art of urban life in Japan, specifically 19th-century tattoo culture.

Japanese tattoo artists began their craft back in the Yayoi period (c. 300 BC–300 AD). Back then, Japanese tattoos were associated with spirituality and status symbol, separating the master from the slave. However, in the Kofun period (300 –600 AD), things changed and tattoos began to have a negative connotation since they were used as marks for criminals. An indigenous population of Japan, the Ainus, who have lived in Japan for thousands of years, also used to have tattoos on their arms, mouth and even in their foreheads. Until recently this marked them as barbarians in the main stream Japanese culture. 

Traditional Japanese tattooing, or irezumi, has been intertwined with the yakuza since their inception. In the Edo period (1603 to 1868), criminals were tattooed by authorities in a practice known as bokkei, making it hard for them to reenter society and find work. The tattoo culture of the yakuza evolved in protest to this branding.

The meaning of yakuza tattoos are usually related to imagery and symbolism in Japanese art, culture, and religion. The full body suit tattoo, in particular, is a product of yakuza culture. In the past, it was obligatory in many yakuza clans for members to get tattoos. In modern times, the practice is not as common; many yakuza in the 21st century maintain clean skin to better blend in with society. Conversely, more and more non-yakuza in Japan are getting tattoos. Despite these changes, being tattooed is considered a rite of passage for the yakuza.
The show is a snap shot, quick pick history of the tattoo, how it started, what the motifs mean and a stab at trying to explain how tattoos became so important in certain aspects of contemporary American Culture. 

The show is sure to be popular with visitors and those looking for a colorful afternoon, reveling in the graphic skills of Japan. At least, this exhibit of a popular art form, unlike the show on Kimonos which didn't have any kimonos, is not divorced from the culture and history which produced it. But is it art? Well, the Asian is trying hard to reach out to those who run away at the word "ART." So perhaps we shouldn't scare them. If they show it, will the masses come and perhaps take some time to look at the real art and history in the museum. One can only hope. 

Tattoos in Japanese Prints
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Mondays and until 9 p.m. Thursdays; through Aug. 18
Admission: $20 to $25

Contact: (415) 581-3500,

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Lakonian Black-Figure Kylix

Attributed to the Hunt Painter (Greek (Lakonian), active 565 - 530 B.C.) .. Greek (Laconian) Sparta, DATE: 530 B.C. ..Terracotta. DIMENSIONS: 13 × 19.5 cm (5 1/8 × 7 11/16 in.
A bird sign appeared to them, flying high and holding to the left and carrying in its talons a gigantic snake, blood-colored, alive still, and breathing, it had not forgotten its warcraft yet, for writhing back it struck the eagle that held it by the chest and neck, so that the eagle let it drop groundward in pain of the bite, and dashed it down in the midst of the battle and itself, screaming high, winged away down the wind's blast. And the Trojans shivered with fear as they looked on the lithe snake lying in their midst, a portent of Zeus. . . . In the Iliad, the poet Homer described an omen seen by the Trojans as they were attacking the Greek forces. Signifying the eternal conflict of the forces of the earth and the sky, the motif of the battling eagle and snake was used throughout antiquity. On this Lakonian black-figure kylix or cup, the Hunt Painter filled the interior with an eagle flying to the left, gripping the neck of a snake in its beak and clutching the serpent's long, undulating body in its talons. Stylized leaves and rays between bands decorate the exterior of the cup.

The fog is back and SF's real summer is here. Art galore

Summer has landed in the Bay Area, bringing new art with it

Although it’s summer in the Bay Area and the pace of life is slowing down for some, those who make and share art are still doing so with tremendous energy. Anyway, who would leave with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival starting in July? Not me! Here are a few June events at the top of my list.

Amy Trachtenberg: Covered in Sky’

What is more intriguing than seeing how the threads of an artist’s past pull through the fabric of current work?
“I come from textiles, from fabric and collage,” says San Francisco painter, sculptor and set designer Amy Trachtenberg — the last medium being a reference to her mother, the renowned collage artist Mitzi Trachtenberg, 89. “Many generations of the men in my family were shmatte salesmen in Eastern Europe, and I grew up [in Pittsburgh] playing with books of fabric swatches. My maternal grandmother sewed dresses for my sister and me from scraps.”
“Standing on One Leg Swallowing the Mountain of Appearances” by Amy Trachtenberg
“Standing on One Leg Swallowing the Mountain of Appearances” by Amy Trachtenberg
But “Covered in Sky,” her new exhibit of mixed-media artworks and soft sculptures opening June 14 at the Luggage Store Gallery, is like nothing I’ve ever seen. She uses mostly found materials that are stitched, layered, painted, stenciled or stamped onto studio drop cloths, gorgeously transforming the fabric into abstract elements of color and pattern, evocative of our human imprint. Paint, zippers, lace, even a writhing tangle of bicycle inner tubes form complex relationships within her painted canvases. “I think of it as a salvaging, a repairing and putting things back together — a call and response,” the Sonoma State and Paris-educated fine artist explains.
A three-dimensional sculpture in the show is a towering pile of street-worn mattress foam embedded with found shoes, clearly referencing the homeless but also, she says, “migrants all over the world, people fleeing, sometimes with all they possess on their backs.” And yet, there is whimsy, humor and deep formal beauty in her elegant processing of all this social and visual material. Trachtenberg’s monthlong solo exhibit, her first in several years, comes with several spirited gallery events, including an opening reception (6 to 8 p.m. Friday, June 14), an artist’s talk, poetry and musical performances.
Covered in Sky,” June 14 to July 13, Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market St., S.F.

Three-for-one: curator swap in ‘Museum Gulch’

A specialized museum can offer shows that drill deep into a culture; sacred family objects at the Magnes come to mind. On the other hand, extreme focus can also lead to a kind of cultural myopia, missing dimensions that might be seen by someone from a different background.
On June 20, three San Francisco museums will try something they’ve never done before: ask their curators to bring their particular viewpoints to the exhibits of the other institutions. What a concept! In one expansive evening, curators from the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM), the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) and the California Historical Society (CHS) — only blocks from one another in what I call Museum Gulch — will take people on a progressive tour of their respective galleries.
“We’ve always been excited about the idea of working together but have finally scheduled it,” said Gravity Goldberg, CJM’s director of public programs and visitor experience, who developed and organized “Call and Responses: Curator Swap.”
Starting at 6 MOAD, Susan Anderson, CHS director of collections, library, exhibitions and programs, will respond to the current MOAD exhibit “Coffee, Rhum, Sugar and Gold.” Then the group will stroll across the street to CHS where Cara Buchalter, CJM’s school programs manager, will address the exhibit on California’s railroads, focusing on the role of Adolph Sutro, a German Jewish immigrant and mayor of San Francisco, who opposed bringing railroads into the city. The group will end up at the CJM, where Emily Kuhlmann, MOAD director of exhibitions and curatorial affairs, will talk about three of the artists in “Show Me As I Want to Be Seen” whose work has been exhibited at MOAD in the past.
“It’s not about any particular show, but about the perspectives of the museums,” Goldberg said. “It’s a chance to bring different audiences to different museums and to get a story or points of view you wouldn’t get otherwise. It’s not for us to speak for other oppressions — we can’t — it’s for us only to create conversations around it.”
The launch of this collaboration is in recognition of Pride Month and will continue with other museums in future months.
Call and Response: Curator Swap,” 6-7:30 p.m.Thursday, June 20, starting at MOAD.

A young Jewish woman at the heart of the ’60s underground film scene

Barbara Rubin was born into a middle-class Jewish American family in New York in 1945. But the traditional behavioral norms just didn’t sit well with her. Among other things, she liked sex. When she was a teen, her parents “sent her away.” The psychiatric drugs of that time proved to be her liberation, and when she was released at 18, she found her metier in the burgeoning experimental film scene in New York’s underground, working for the filmmaker Jonas Mekas. Soon she made her own experimental film, “Christmas on Earth,” which — way ahead of her time in its depiction of female genitalia — shocked more than her parents, and earned her a place among the high-flying avant-garde. Lou Reed, Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan and poet Allen Ginsberg (whom she ostensibly loved) hung out with her and looked to the beautiful, fearless, possibly brilliant young woman for cues and friendship. But most astonishing of all was her later conversion to Hasidic Judaism, including marriage and family, and her decision, after so much notoriety, to live a private, anonymous life. She died at 35, after the birth of her fifth child.
A new film pays tribute to this forgotten icon of American culture, exploring her legacy as a maverick of the 1960s who believed that film could change the world.
Barbara Rubin and the Exploding New York Underground,” June 14-16 at the Roxie, 3117 16th St., S.F. “Christmas on Earth” will follow the Friday and Sunday screenings, and the Saturday screening will conclude with a Skype Q&A with director Chuck Smith.
Laura Pall
Laura Paull
Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Happy Birthday to Anne Frank.

From Robert Reich:  Anne Frank would be 90 years old today. We owe her, and the millions more who perished, infants to the elderly, to never forget their stories. We must teach future generations about the murderous horrors of the Holocaust and the danger of seeing fellow human beings as "others."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Constable. Born on this day in 1776

 The church in East Bergholt, the town where John Constable was born, drawn by him in 1806.

Welcome to "Constable Country," also known as the Suffolk countryside in England, John Constable's lifelong home that inspired the landscape paintings we remember him for today. The artist was born #OnThisDay in 1776. 

John Constable, (born June 11, 1776, East Bergholt, Suffolk, England—died March 31, 1837, London), major figure in English landscape painting in the early 19th century. He is best known for his paintings of the English countryside, particularly those representing his native valley of the River Stour, an area that came to be known as “Constable country.”

Landscape with double rainbow

Along with 
J. M. W. Turner, Constable revolutionized landscape painting of the 19th century and his paintings had a profound and far-reaching effect on European art, particularly in France. Constable moved away from the highly idealized landscapes that were the expected norm of the period and instead favored realistic depictions of the natural world created through close observation. Constable is most clearly remembered for his bucolic images painted in and around the Stour Valley but he also produced over 100 portraits and a huge number of preparatory sketches often completed in oil. In these he experimented with a freer style of representation and this allowed him to capture the effects of elemental change on the countryside with a spontaneity which he was then able to transfer to his finished works. Although his sketches are considerably more impressionistic and less detailed than his display canvases his overall aim remained the same regardless of medium and technique - to depict the scenery that he saw in a truthful and realistic manner.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ink as art?

This article points out what I was thinking about the Kimono show(except no kimonos were on display) at the Asian. The show was full of pretty clothes and the Japanese ones were completely taken out of historical context (Meiji restoration anyone?) The current show on tattoos should give a big boost to our local tattoo industry. Ink as art? Well, sometimes.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Lew the Jew and his Circle: Origins of American Tattoo - at the CJM, closing June 9th.

“Lew the Jew” Alberts’ business card, c. 1915. (Photo/Courtesy Don Ed Hardy via Contemporary Jewish Museum)

Two tattoo shows in SF at the same time testify to the popularity of tattoos in American and Japanese culture. The first show, at the Contemporary Jewish Museum focuses on what was a revolutionary art of the time. The question of tattoo artistry—its aesthetic, spiritual, and historical power—is at the heart of the exhibit. Is the tattoo a legitimate art form? The exhibit asks the questions and with multiple examples of that art, leaves the answer up to the viewer.  

Lew the Jew and His Circle: Origins of American Tattoo

Closing this weekend: Jun 9, 2019
“Lew the Jew” Alberts (1880–1954) was one of the most influential artists tattooing in NYC’s Bowery at the beginning of the twenti­eth century. The exhibition includes previously unpublished and rare original tattoo artwork, photos, and correspondence between Lew and San Francisco tattooers “Brooklyn Joe” Lieber and C. J. ”Pop” Eddy. 

“Lew the Jew” Alberts, aka Albert Morton Kurzman, was an artist whose canvas was the human body. And while countless non-Jewish people bore his designs by the close of his career, he also tattooed his own body, says Renny Pritikin, chief curator of the Contemporary Jewish Museum  

Happy Doughnut Day

The phases of a doughnut, as it goes from full, to eaten...;) Happy ! (Original image depicts the formation of the crescent moon in W.659 fol. 9b, an 18th century Turkish Wonders of Creation!)

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Natalia Goncharova

The great Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova was born #OTD in 1881. A survey of her work @Tate is the Apollo art diary pick of the week

Goncharova found acclaim early in her career. Aged just 32 she established herself as the leader of the Russian avant-garde with a major exhibition in Moscow in 1913. She then moved to France where she designed costumes and backdrops for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. She lived in Paris for the rest of her life, becoming a key figure in the city’s cutting-edge art scene.
Goncharova’s artistic output was immense, wide-ranging and at times controversial. She paraded the streets of Moscow displaying futurist body art and created monumental religious paintings. She took part in avant-garde cinema, experimented with book designs and designed for fashion houses in Moscow and Paris.

Her bold and innovative body of work influenced and transcended the art movements of the 20th century. The exhibition will explore her diverse sources and inspirations, from Russian folk art and textiles to the latest trends in modernism and beyond.

The Russia painted by Natalia Goncharova died long before she did. Goncharova passed away in Paris in 1962, at the age of 81, by which time the gaudy, vibrant popular culture of the peasant society that fascinated her was long gone, deliberately destroyed decades earlier by the forced “collectivisation” of agriculture by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Welcome June

Welcoming June with this very unusual calendar page, complete with a wonky crab, meant to be the zodiac symbol for Cancer, above. It's from the Claricia Psalter (W.26), made entirely by German nuns ca. 1200. Maybe it was painted by Claricia herself, seen in the 2nd pic here!

June, month of mowing. Calendar Miniature.
Grandes Heures of Anne de Bretagne @GallicaBnF Latin 9474

Friday, May 31, 2019

Walt Whitman at 200

Happy Birthday to the America's world poet, Walt Whitman

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Read more at:

I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this 
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their 
parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy.

Song of Myself

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Wallerant Vaillant. Born on June 30, 1623

Wallerant Vallaint, in a red turban

Wallerant Vaillant, born OTD 1623: a trompe l'oeil letter rack. Proof that skillful trompe l"oeil was nothing new. 

 Portrait of a boy holding his hooded falcon, painted by Wallerant Vaillant who was born on this day in 1623.

Born on this day in 1623, in Lille, Wallerant Vaillant. Painter and printmaker. Here, by himself as a young man, wearing an exotic red turban. He had five brothers, all of whom became artists. He's better known today for his mezzotints. 

Vaillant's portraits constitute a visual document on the people of the Dutch Golden Age world: burgomeisters, regents, merchants, ship-owners, doctors, booksellers, clergymen, women painters, or other members of the city government who placed orders with him.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day 2019

KNOW YOUR HISTORY: Memorial Day was started by former slaves on May, 1, 1865 in Charleston, SC to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp. They dug up the bodies and worked for 2 weeks to give them a proper burial as gratitude for fighting for their freedom. They then held a parade of 10,000 people led by 2,800 Black children where they marched, sang and celebrated.

From Snopes:  

What's True

In May 1865, free blacks in Charleston reburied dead Union prisoners of war and held a cemetery dedication ceremony.

What's False

The May 1865 event was not the origin of the modern Memorial Day observance.
Thanks to Abstrakt Goldsmith for this nugget of history that most of us never learned in school.

From President Barak Obama: On Memorial Day, we remember all those who gave everything for something greater than themselves. It's up to us to not simply reflect on their sacrifice but to honor it with service of our own—and by living out the values they fought for.

Memorial Day: Facts and History:

From the Library of Congress: Learn more about , its origins and how it has been commemorated through the years in this roundup of blog posts & resources from the Library of Congress.

Here are more resources from our Chronicling America collection of historical American newspapers.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Happy Birthday to Dorothea Lange

May 26, 1895. Dorothea Lange (May 26, 1895 - October 11, 1965) was an American documentary photographer and photojournalist, best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange's photographs humanized the consequences of the Great Depression and influenced the development of documentary photography. In this image: Dorothea Lange (1895-1965), Couple Seated on Porch, Gunlock, Utah, 1953, Gelatin silver print, Brigham Young University Museum of Art, purchased with funds donated by Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley. ©Dorothea Lange Collection, Oakland Museum of California, City of Oakland. Gift of Paul S. Taylor

"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” – Dorothea Lange

Beyond the Dust Bowl:

Born in New Jersey and a survivor of polio, she walked with a limp, always finding empathy, even when she ran an upscale portrait studio in San Francisco in the 1920s (not long after her arrival on the West Coast). 
In the 1930s, her interest in social issues became evident, as seen in photos of bread lines and labor demonstrations in The City.
Soon after, she worked with University of California social scientist Paul Taylor, an expert in farm labor (whom she married), and together they famously documented migrants for the Farm Security Administration.
Equally evocative images emerged during World War II; Lange’s pictures of Japanese-Americans under internment are touching, particularly “One Nation Indivisible,” an interestingly cropped shot of Asian fifth graders reciting the pledge of allegiance at Raphael Weill Elementary School in San Francisco.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Pontormo. Italian Mannerist Painter, Born on May 24, 1494

Confident, regal, and slightly terrifying: woman in a red dress, with dog. Painted by Jacopo Pontormo, who was born on this day in 1494.

Space, even gravity, have no meaning in Pontormo's -- what, Deposition? There is no cross. Entombment? No tomb. Dance of pure emotion, painted for the Capponi Chapel, 1525.

2/2 Carrying Christ is tough. And tragic. A great face from Pontormo, who was born on this day in 1494.

Pontormo's drawing for the figures in his Visitation. No street! But all squared for transfer into one.

 Practicing to be tough: girl with her dog, other hand defiantly on hip. By Jacopo Pontormo, born on this day 1494.

 Little Giulia de' Medici, orphaned, being brought up by Maria Salviati and looking as if life is kind of overwhelming.

Incredibly vivid colors in recently-cleaned 1528 Visitation. Mary & Elizabeth accompanied by 2 haunting women in De Chirico-like street.

"You looking at ME?"  1529

Jacopo da Pontormo
, original name Jacopo Carrucci, (born May 24, 1494, Pontormo, near Empoli, Republic of Florence [Italy]—buried January 2, 1557, Florence), Florentine painter who broke away from High Renaissance classicism to create a more personal, expressive style that is sometimes classified as early Mannerism.

Haber Art reviews: