Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Otherworldly Sculpture of Martin Puryear

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is hosting a traveling exhibition of sculpture by Martin Puryear on its top floor that is wonderful.

If you just happen to be passing by the building at 3rd and Mission and don't have any money, do check out the two works in the lobby for free, including the fabulous 37-foot ladder spiraling to nowhere.

The "New Yorker" art critic, Peter Schjeldahl, wrote an appreciation of the same show and artist when it was at the New York Museum of Modern Art last year (click here for a link).

In connection with the ladder in the MOMA lobby, Schjeldahl wrote "For once, that wasteful space comes in handy," which is just as true in the vast San Francisco MOMA lobby that also houses a piece with a wooden handle...

...that soars to the top of the building.

Nancy Ewart has a nice post up about the entire show with more photos of the work and quotes from the art critic Robert Hughes (click here). My favorite observation is: "As one who loves science fiction and the creation of imaginary worlds, I couldn’t help but think that some of these beautiful objects could have come from alien Amish-farmer folk from one of the 28 new planets discovered outside our solar system."

Gold Curtained Poodles at SFMOMA

The remainder of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art was its usual grab bag...

...of pretty modern paintings...

...crammed haphazardly onto large white walls...

...sandwiching silly faux Eva Hesse sculptures...

...and bad, boring video art.

To think Don Fisher wants to hang his crappy collection of Warhols and Lichtensteins in a new, ugly museum in the breathtakingly beautiful Presidio still amazes me for its sheer wrongness.

He should be sentenced to looking at collages by Jess for the rest of his natural born life.

One of the floors features "Participatory Art" which is mostly stupid...

...though the couple above were managing to enjoy themselves...

...and my friend Patrick Vaz was amused by the framed score of John Cage's 4'33".

Our favorite, though, was the circular crowd of black poodles menacing a helpless baby in the middle of one of the galleries.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sarah Cahill at Mills College

Sarah Cahill gave a show-and-tell preview of her "A Sweeter Music" project last Monday in a small classroom at Mills College in the Oakland foothills (click here for an explanation of the musical commissions).

She played the first movement from a four-movement work by Peter Garland, and a complex ragtime piece by Terry Riley, and asked for a volunteer to help turn the wide pages of the Riley score for her.

Her pageturner was the 17-year-old Preben Antonsen who had written the next piece, "Dar el-Harb (House of War)" whose title was taken from an expletive directed at the invading U.S. forces in Iraq by the local Muslims, and which was tattooed on the arm of one of Preben's cousins who was part of the United States force. It was a precociously interesting piece of music. And his website is sort of scary professional (click here).

Sarah looked insecure about her music project all evening, but there was no need for her to worry. Everything she played was fascinating.

In the case of Pauline Oliveros' "New Indigo Peace," which is a simple bluesy melody with a nursery rhyme calling for peace, Ms. Cahill may have a new classic on her hand. It's singable, even for people who can barely stay on pitch like myself, and the lyrics are absurdly easy without being particularly stupid.

Cahill still hasn't received all the scores from her 18 commissioned pieces, and some of the scores she's received are "really difficult," such as the 4th movement by Frederic Rzewski in his "Peace Dances." She introduced them with, "this is great music but right now I'm going to have to take the fourth movement at half-time. It's hard."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Thanks to The Peacemakers

Every Thursday at noon, except Federal holidays such as Thanksgiving...

...a group of anywhere from a dozen to a hundred people meet at the corner of Larkin and Golden Gate... hold a peace vigil in front of the brutalist architecture of the United States Federal Building.

The group was started by Markley Morris (above) on the week after we started bombing Afghanistan in October of 2001.

Unfortunately, we're still bombing random strangers in Afghanistan seven years later along with new forays into bordering Pakistan... the relevance of the vigil remains sadly undiminished.

Though most of them seemed quite happy about the Obama election and the end of the Bush/Cheney regime, they also weren't particularly hopeful that the implacable war machine could be stopped anytime soon.

So thank you, peaceniks, for your time, energy and witness to the fact that there is another possible way of living in this world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mahler Goes to Heaven

Mahler's Eighth Symphony is a gargantuan, bombastic ninety minutes of music whose premiere in 1910 "involved 858 singers and an orchestra of 171, which, if you add Mahler, himself, comes to 1,030 persons.)"

Though I don't know how many people were involved in the San Francisco Symphony's four performances of the work last week, it was certainly a huge crowd.

The performances were being recorded for the last installment of Michael Tilson-Thomas and his orchestra's complete Mahler cycle, and if the final, Sunday afternoon performance was any indication, it was well worth recording. I saw most of the same forces attempt the same work two years ago (click here) and was put off by the symphony, but this time I was spellbound. I have no idea why this should be so, but most professional critics felt the same way (click here for Janos Gereben's take).

One holdover who hadn't changed was the soprano soloist Elza van den Heever (above, middle), who stole the show two years ago, and who was first among equals this time around.

I've noticed that many professional musicians tend towards tunnel vision when playing or singing with large ensembles. They learn their part, focus on that, and essentially ignore everything else around them.

Elza doesn't seem to do that and instead it felt like all the hundreds of performers were channeling their energy on the Davies Hall stage directly through her. At the end of the performance, when all forces are singing the heavenly finale, she actually seemed to be burst into tears from the emotion of the moment.

She quickly recovered for the bows and turned on a thousand-watt smile that lit up the hall.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bell Tower Light

While the rest of the country heads coldly and miserably for serious winter, the weather around San Francisco has been mostly warm and exquisite lately...

...perfect for a light-infused brunch over the weekend at the upper Polk Street pub The Bell Tower...

...with its charming staff and beautiful young beautiful who look like they've just shaked themselves out of bed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

La Vie Boheme

Because the production had been praised to the skies in the local media, I went to the San Francisco Opera's latest version of "La Boheme" on Wednesday the 19th where I watched the first two acts from the top balcony's standing room.

Musically, you couldn't ask for a much better ensemble, starting with new music director Nicola Luisotti's impassioned conducting and ending with Piotr Beczala, the Polish tenor who was Tamino last year in "The Magic Flute," singing the part of Rodolfo with such a combination of power and sweet purity it takes your breath away.

Still, what this production brought home to me was how much I despise "La Boheme" as a theatrical work, and how I've always disliked it no matter who was singing. The starving artists are all phony characters, and I've never given a damn whether any of them lived or died.

There, I've said it. I feel the same way about "Rent," and am thankful for the rude parody of the entire genre of dying-for-their-sexual-sins-while-singing in the porno puppet film, "Team America: World Police."

Should you be susceptible to the charms of "La Boheme," the current production at the San Francisco Opera would not be a bad place to start, though the staging of the Act Two Cafe Momus scene is frankly incomprehensible and doesn't make a bit of sense. You could also sit at the back of the top balcony with the Puccini score in your lap like the Opera Tattler (click here) and just enjoy the music on its own terms.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Legislative Sausage at The Board of Supervisors

While fasting and purging all Monday in anticipation of a colonoscopy on Tuesday, I ended up watching the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land Use Committee meeting on Channel 26.

The meeting was an eight-hour marathon, mostly concerned with the "Eastern Neighborhood Zoning Plan," which is a piece of legislative sausage that's been put together piecemeal over the last ten years by the Planning Department with input from every concerned party imaginable. The result, which calls for more housing density along transit corridors such as Mission Street, seems to entirely please no one, and the long line of public commenters made that clear, but after a decade of work, the legislation seemed like a done deal.

As has been his mode of operation for some time, outgoing Board President Aaron Peskin (above) added a few crucial amendments late in the process on Monday evening, including a "use it or lose it" clause for building permits, and the Planning Department didn't have time to incorporate them into the published text before the next day's full Board of Supervisors meeting. It was decided early on Tuesday that the full board would wait until next week's meeting on November 25th to vote on the legislation, including Peskin's new amendments.

However, at the end of the meeting, there was a discussion of a measure expressing disapproval of Don Fisher's proposed art museum in the Presidio, with Peskin wanting to condemn it and Supervisor Alioto-Pier offering a competing resolution welcoming Fisher to build his museum anywhere he wanted to in San Francisco. The venal, wheelchair-bound Alioto-Pier had already tried to shaft renters with a water rate pass-through from landlords that had been narrowly voted down earlier, so her proposal felt perfectly consistent. Fellate her rich cronies, and to hell with everyone else would probably be the best way to describe her governing philosophy.

The competing proposals were tabled to next week's meeting, but the conservative Supervisor Elsbernd decided to personally attack Peskin for bringing back a resolution that had already been voted on. "It's been tabled already, this is just a whack at the mayor, and doesn't belong back here," he railed, and that's when all hell broke loose.

I had wandered over to City Hall to check out the Don Fisher art museum debate, but found myself the lone audience member in the huge Board chambers when Peskin decided once again that "payback is a bitch." Peskin announced that he had changed his mind and that he wanted a vote on the Eastern Neighborhood Zoning legislation because Tom Ammiano's last meeting would be next week before going to Sacramento for his new seat on the State Assembly.

As Melissa Griffin described it on her great blog (click here for the whole thing), "Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval was acting as chairman of the board while Peskin participated in the debate. Sandoval, a recently elected Superior Court judge, ran the meeting with all the dignity of a homecoming-decorations committee, chewing gum the entire time and repeatedly asking, “What do you guys want to do now?” Sandoval had also sneaked in an amendment at the committee the evening before for a political backer having something to do with height restrictions around the abandoned Mission Theatre, which Supervisor Ammiano voted against. "No, because it sucks!" is how he put it.

Supervisor Elsbernd, who is up to some serious hanky-panky of his own involving former Supervisor Tony Hall and the Ethics Commission (click here), became apoplectic over Peskin's sneak attack, and for the next two hours they engaged in one parliamentary maneuver after another, severing the new amendments for separate votes. As it turned out, Peskin narrowly won on each of the votes during the ugly but entertaining process.

As my friend Marc Salomon put it, the entire zoning package is essentially meaningless because it's city planning for a moment in time that has come and gone because of the financial freefall currently taking place across the world. "It's a bit like the Soviet Politiburo in the early 1990s continuing with their central planning when the entire system had already collapsed. They just didn't know it, and neither do these San Francisco city planners."