Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Disco Very: The SF State of Mind

New banners with the cosmos pictured on them have gone up on poles around town proclaiming "DISCO" and "VERY" are THE SF STATE OF MIND. It took a while to realize that the two banners with the pole in between were trying to spell out "DISCOVERY."

How that is an SF State of Mind and how it relates to the cosmos, let alone to San Francisco State University, which is what it is being advertised, is a graphic design mystery. However, it will be difficult to read the word "Discovery" from this moment on without thinking "Disco Very, it's The San Francisco State of Mind."

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gay Pride, Straight Smooching

Market Street at the end of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade turned into a pedestrian walking path for a while and it was utterly delightful, reminding everyone how lovely the thoroughfare could be without cars.

The Civic Center Plaza was much too crowded for anyone with a touch of claustrophobia, so we navigated through the margins of the event on Golden Gate Avenue and noticed that a large number of the attendees seemed to be young suburbanites looking for a free party in San Francisco.

A surprising number of them were opposite-sex couples...

...and instead of looking frightened or disgusted by the gays and lesbians, as was once the case, they seemed to be turned on.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Berlioz at the San Francisco Symphony


The San Francisco Symphony's long season is finally ending this week with an all-Berlioz program that was programmed at the last minute after a proposed Berlioz "Romeo and Juliet" was scrapped. This didn't augur well for the actual concert but in a happy surprise, it turned out to be an exquisite Friday night of music at Davies Symphony Hall thanks mostly to two young soloists.

After the "Roman Carnival Overture," which Berlioz cobbled together from his "Benvenuto Cellini" opera failure, the young mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke sang "Les Nuits d'Ete" ("Summer Nights"), which is four orchestrated poems by Gaultier about death and absent lovers bracketed by two lively poems about traveling off on adventures. Except for her deeply unflattering concert dress, Ms. Cooke was perfection, giving one of the most beautiful performances I've ever heard. She is also one of the few vocal soloists at Davies who somehow manages to fill the hall with sound when singing softly. Cooke was great in Stravinsky's "Pulcinella" earlier in the season, but this was a revelation.

After intermission, they played "Harold in Italy," which is a wonderful, weird symphony in four movements for viola and orchestra. It's not a traditional concerto since the viola soloist is representing "Harold" wandering dreamily around 19th century Italy while stumbling across religious pilgrims and bacchanalian orgies represented by the orchestra. The soloist was Jonathan Vinocour, who was appointed at the start of the season as the new Principal Viola for the orchestra. I'm still not convinced by Michael Tilson Thomas as a Berlioz conductor, but Vinocour like Sasha Cooke before him, understood and conveyed the eccentricity of the music perfectly.

The fact that he looks and moves like a geeky Princeton chemistry graduate, which he was in 2001, only added to the complete charm of the performance. He's a major addition to the orchestra.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Fisher Collection at SFMOMA 1: The Donald

Bob Fisher, one of the sons of Gap founders Donald and Doris Fisher, addressed the cultural press on Wednesday morning at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

He was there as the Fisher family representative for a major, hastily assembled exhibition, "Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection," which is opening on Friday the 25th.

Donald Fisher, in one of many pugnacious moves over the course of his lifetime, was insisting until recently that his 1,110 piece modern art collection should be housed in a modernist building to be constructed in the middle of Presidio Park.

The idea of a massive new development in a national park didn't go over so well with many San Franciscans, some of them fairly rich and powerful themselves. However, it seemed a done deal because of Fisher's massive wealth and political connections, not to mention the fact he was the first Chairman of the Presidio Trust when the military base was transformed into a supposedly self-sufficient national park.

People wondered why he didn't just donate his collection to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where he and his wife had long been trustees, and from reading between the lines the issue was one of control. Fisher demanded it and the museum wouldn't cede it, so Fisher decided to build an institution in what he probably considered "his" park.

In September of 2009, the 81-year-old patriarch Donald Fisher died of cancer, and the next day there was an announcement in the San Francisco Chronicle that the entire Fisher Collection had been donated to SFMOMA after all.

There were some conditions, including building a huge addition to the 10-year-old museum, which is supposed to be completed in five years or so if the money is raised.

The cliche "Behind every fortune lies a great crime" is pertinent in Mr. Fisher's case. Besides being a union-hating, right-wing Republican, his corporation's subcontractors routinely used child slave labor (click here for a 2007 U.K. Guardian article) and along with son Bob, he formed the Humboldt Redwood Co. which specialized in clear cutting old growth redwood trees in Mendocino County (click here for the gapsucks.com website).

Like many malevolent robber barons before him, Donald Fisher laundered the fruits of his capitalism into art treasures, and the impressive result now belongs to the people of San Francisco.

The Fisher Collection at SFMOMA 2: Gigantism

The current exhibit on the top two floors of the museum is only displaying 160 out of the 1,100 piece collection, and you can see why.

They are all huge.

No wonder he wanted his own monster museum.

When Donald Fisher died in 2009, there were respectful obituaries in all the local media with the exception of Matt Smith in the SF Weekly who had just read a ghost-written autobiography of Donald Fisher, where he brags about his union-busting and support of charter schools where he was an early investor (click here).

One of the most damning quotes from the book is about his art collecting methods:

"One of my principles is to never buy an artist that I can't sell at auction... Buying art pieces in [the $5,000] price category means I might hit one out of 20, where the artist becomes very valuable. So what do I do with the other 19 that are worth only $5,000 each or less? I don't like those odds. I'd rather spend more money on an artist who is worth something right now and figure that piece has a good chance to appreciate. Then, if I don't like it later, at least I can sell it. Good modern art and the business of fashion make great style-mates."

In other words, he went for the blue-chip artists of his time, like Gerhard Richter (above) and Frank Stella (below).

There are a lot of wonderful works, though, that have probably bolstered the museum's permanent collection by an order of ten.

A few of my favorite things are some Martin Puryear sculptures...

...a trio of major Chuck Close portraits...

...a gorgeous Diebenkorn...

...and one of the sweetest and smallest (in context) paintings, a Hockney double portrait.

I look forward to getting to know them.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Russians Are Coming, and Going

At 10AM this morning, the 5 Fulton bus stopped indefinitely at the corner of McAllister and Hyde because police were stopping all vehicular and pedestrian traffic from crossing Hyde Street, trapping quite a few people at the Heart of the City Farmers Market above.

Though San Francisco's Finest have a terrible track record solving crimes or protecting the city's citizens, when it comes to dignitaries they tend to be a model of efficiency and overkill, as evidenced by at least 20 motorcycle cops tearing down the street one-by-one as the advance guard of a major motorcade.

They were followed by quite a number of police cars, and finally the dignitaries and their own bodyguards went flying by.

The new president of Russia, Dmitry Medvedev arrived in San Francisco via a large motorcade yesterday, and this was probably his entourage on its way to visit Silicon Valley companies such as Cisco this morning.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Yuja Wang Plays Vintage Modern at the Symphony


Last week's penultimate concert of the San Francisco Symphony season was an overstuffed smorgasbord of High Modern Music from Paris in the early 20th century, starting with an early piano piece for four hands by Francois Poulenc from 1918. It was performed by Music Director Michael Tilson-Thomas in partnership with the evening's superstar soloist, Yuja Wang. He started off in the treble lead in the first movement, then they switched benches, and she took over and hijacked the entire concert.

Next up was Stravinsky's 1929 Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, which I expected to recognize as it was used in the Balanchine "Jewels" ballet which was performed last year by the San Francisco Ballet, but it sounded completely new, possibly because the performance was so radically different in the symphony hall. The 23-year-old Yuja Wang is an authentic phenomenon, a tiny, gorgeous young woman who plays with astonishing percussive power and whose innate musicality seems to be literally at her fingertips. She also sounds quite bright, as you can see in an interesting interview with Cedric at SFist.

After an unnecessary palate cleanser of a string orchestra playing Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras #9 (why not more Poulenc or Satie?), Yuja Wang returned for the formidable Ravel Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, written for the rich, one-armed Paul Wittgenstein in 1930. Wittgenstein didn't like a lot of the music his mostly famous composers wrote for him, and often put it into a drawer, usually after fights with the creators. It would be interesting to hear all the music he commissioned, which is still being found in back drawers by old relatives, such as Hindemith's concerto which was just discovered in 2002.

Janos Gereben paternally worries that Yuja Wang is burning herself out with too many engagements in an otherwise gushing review of her recital at Herbst Theatre on Sunday, where he basically calls her the love child of Argerich and Horowitz.

The second half of the concert was Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring," which sounded like Mannered MTT. All the individual moments were great, it just didn't make much sense together. Plus, as pianist Sarah Cahill pointed out, all the good tunes are in the first half, "just like 'The Sound of Music,' where they're singing 'My Favorite Things' in act one, but the second act is just running away from Nazis over the mountains."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Leaning Muni Shelter of McAllister

I have been seeing a lot of mayhem on the public streets lately. A week ago I turned the corner at Van Ness and saw two pedestrians who had been hit by an SUV laying motionless in the middle of Golden Gate Avenue. It took ten minutes for the ambulances to arrive as onlookers stood around feeling useless, worried about moving seriously injured people.

This afternoon, at the corner of Van Ness and McAllister, the Muni bus shelter was tilting to the right in an almost cartoonish way, with Caution tape surrounding it and the safety glass on two of the three sides gone.

It was difficult to determine what had happened, whether or not a vehicle had crashed into the shelter...

...or if a group of Muni riders waiting for a 5 bus to the ocean finally got so frustrated that they pulled the shelter out of its moorings and went amok. In any case, there's something odd going on out there.

Friday, June 18, 2010

South of Market Light

The light was feeling holy South of Market last weekend.

Even the Bank of America data center was looking beautiful...

...though not as welcoming as the back yard of the Lone Star Saloon.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The World Cup in Civic Center 2: Yanks vs. Limeys

The Day Two crowd on Saturday morning for the Civic Center simulcast of the World Cup numbered in the thousands rather than the dozens of the previous day.

This was because it was Saturday, the matchup was between England and the United States, and the day was stunningly beautiful.

Though the Rec & Park flyers warn that NO ALCOHOL is allowed, a number of people had brought along packs of canned beer.

This was a welcome sight in that watching a World Cup game, unless one is a teetotaler, without a beer or glass of wine, seems somehow incomplete.

I went with my Census Bureau colleague Jose Perez (above) who not only knew all the intricacies of futbol but who possessed a pair of folding beach chairs.

There was a large bicycle contingent in the back of the dirt plaza next to the newly fenced Buddha with Three Heads and Six Arms. According to the San Francisco Art Commission, the statue is going to be disfigured by the fence until mid-July because there are too many large events being held in the plaza until then. Not only are there fears of soccer hooligans but the Gay, Etc. Pride Parade and Non-Stop Festival is moving into the neighborhood in a couple of weeks.

If you have a choice and want to watch the games at home, I cannot recommend the telecasts from Univision enough. You don't need to understand a word of Spanish to understand everything that's going on, and they are much more excited and interesting than their gringo ESPN counterparts, especially when yodeling out "GOOOOAAAAALLLL!" in the style of Andres Cantor.