Saturday, June 21, 2014
While the new, supersized SFMOMA is being built on Third Street, chunks of their collection have been showing up in other museums around the Bay Area. This summer it is the Asian Art Museum's turn with a high-concept show called Gorgeous, mixing and matching items from both museum's collections.
Many of the pieces from SFMOMA seemed chosen for their shock value, including another Mapplethorple photo of a naked black man (not pictured)...
...along with a couple of pop sculptures by Jeff Koons...
...including his infamous Michael Jackson and Bubbles surrounded by exquisite Asian screens.
Last year at the Contemporary Jewish Museum there was another SFMOMA on-the-go show called Beyond Belief that was supposed to be an examination of spirituality.
Oddly enough, this exhibit is a more striking look at the spiritual, which directly informs most of the Asian art on display, and the material, which seems to be the subject one way or another or most of the contemporary Western art.
The Rothko painting above, which was featured in both shows, looks better here, guarded by a deity.
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Walking on Market Street between 7th and 5th Streets, I keep my eyes on the ground to avoid poop, and use peripheral vision to swerve around sidewalk drug deals and crazy people acting out in public. Late Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Ed Lee was conducting a walking tour of the Tenderloin and for the first time in my experience there were beat cops galore walking Market Street, which allowed me to look up, which is how I noticed a striking mural on the side of a building on the corner of 6th Street.
The mural was created by the identical twin Brazilian graffiti artists Os Gêmeos (born Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo in 1974) who have become international art stars over the last couple of decades. The piece was commissioned by the Luggage Story Gallery which resides on an upper floor in the building. The mural went up last fall which tells you how long since I've looked skyward walking these streets.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
The Palm Springs Art Museum is half-closed for most of the summer, with the Duane Hanson tourists roped off from bemused visitors.
There is a large exhibit called California Dreamin' culled from their permanent collection of California related art purchased in the last 30 years. My two favorites in the exhibit were actually rather nightmarish, including Mark Bradford's Rat Catcher of Hamelin 4 above.
The Los Angeles artist was horrified when the LAPD put up billboards in his neighborhood of women whose photos had been found in the home of a serial killer called The Grim Sleeper, so he repurposed them.
The museum also purchased a great 1994 Enrique Chagoya painting, Promesas...
...featuring Jesus writing on a blackboard, "I promise not to try and change the world again" with Olive Oyl standing in for the Virgin Mary...
...flanked by Indian heretics being executed by conquistadors and Catholic priests.
Sunday, June 08, 2014
The Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library has been transformed for the month of June into a giant conceptual art space, beginning with a piece of red masking tape at the entrance...
...extending and branching out to quotes that have been attached to the floor that reflect on FESTAC '77, which was the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture held in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977.
As an explanatory brochure notes, "An estimated total of 70,000 artists, performers, thinkers, and writers attended, from at least sixty countries, including the United States. Although it was a life-altering experience for many participants and attendees, FESTAC received little mainstream press coverage, and most of the prominent writers who were present did not publish about their experiences in Nigeria. The festival's history is still to be written."
The library "intervention" was created through SFMOMA by Ntone Edjabe and Stacy Hardy, two members of a Cape Town, South Africa collective called Chimurenga that "produces a pan-African journal of culture, art, and politics."
Their explanation continues: "The Chimurenga Library is an ongoing intervention that seeks to re-imagine the Library as a laboratory for extended curiosity, new adventures, critical thinking, daydreaming, socio-political involvement, partying and random perusal. The Chimurenga Library embodies the process of 'finding oneself,' as South African jazz musician Moses Molelekwa put it, on the shelves of other libraries and archives; in other spaces; or quietly encroaching upon classification systems; or proposing a new navigation system, clearly subjective and affective."
Though I find most conceptual art underwhelming and pretentious, this "intervention" is marvelous and fascinating in every respect, never lecturing or telling you how to think but instead encouraging onlookers to explore and make their own connections.
The quotes on the floor tend to be pungent and contradictory and immensely entertaining, such as Brent Hayes Edwards' description of Sun Ra above:
The pianist and composer Sun Ra had been invited at the last minute to bring his big band the Arkestra to FESTAC. The festival offered no money up front, and many of the members of the band had been sceptical, but Sun Ra apparently chastised them: ‘Your ancestors came to America without a cent. How much money do you have?’ ‘Fifty cents,’ answered one of the musicians. Sun Ra said, ‘That’s fifty cents more than your ancestors had,’ and insisted they make the trip. Musicians in the Arkestra later reported that when a Nigerian at the airport yelled, ‘Welcome home, Sun Ra!’ as the Arkestra got off the plane, Ra responded acidly, ‘Home? Your people sold mine. This is no longer my home!’
The "intervention" covers all six floors of the library, and possibly its greatest innovation is leading curious onlookers to library stacks...
...where an obscure volume will be highlighted if you want to explore a particular byway in more depth.
Photography exhibitions about poor and exotic "Others" at modern art museums have always struck me as borderline offensive, but the San Francisco Main Library is a whole different story.
With a huge percentage of black patrons every day of the week, this "intervention" feels integrated with the building to a remarkable degree. It is not only an exquisite repurposing of the library, but offers a creative template for a building-wide examination of any subect. Check it out before June 29th, and give yourself a couple of hours to explore.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
On a visit to New York's Museum of Modern Art over Memorial Day Weekend...
...I was reminded once again that that the world's population is trending exponentially upwards.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau's world population clock, Earth hosts approximately 7,169,167,252 people...
...and a hefty percentage of them visit famous art museums in capital cities.
Half the fun of the MoMA trip was watching people take photos of each other in front of one famous painting after another, including Warhol soup cans...
...Jasper Johns' seminal U.S. Flag from 1950...
...and a room of Jackson Pollack drips.
One of the museum's six huge floors was devoted to a career retrospective of the recently deceased German artist Sigmar Polke which critic Peter Schjeldahl at The New Yorker magazine called "the most dramatic museum show of the century to date. It may also be the most important, if its lessons for contemporary art, both aesthetic and ethical, are properly absorbed."
My museum companion was bored and repulsed by the exhibit, while my impression fell somewhere in between. There was also a career retrospective of the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark (1920-1988) who started as a very good abstract painter in the 1940s and 1950s with works that look a lot like Miro, before branching into interactive sensory art in the 1960s involving hoods and goggles, masks and ropes. She was also a pioneer in art therapy, creating small, malleable sculptures that are endlessly fun to play with.
On the top floor of the museum, there was a Gauguin exhibit of woodblocks interspersed with famous paintings of Tahitian women that left little doubt that Monsieur Gauguin was engaging in early international sex tourism.
Finally, we exited through the outdoor sculpture garden where a human gnome was amusingly seated in front of giant sculptural ones, either intentionally or as a happy accident.
Friday, May 23, 2014
The Met in New York City is one of the half dozen great art museums in the world, but I get the giggles every time I go to one of their contemporary rooftop installations. The current iteration gets points for creating a Green Space rather than the metaphorically blood-splattered floor of last summer's edition, but it still feels a bit silly.
I turned 60 on Thursday, a milestone which I never expected to experience for some reason, and tearing through the Met with seemingly half the rest of the world on a Thursday afternoon was a delightful way to spend it.
The most interesting special show was a fashion exhibit of rich ladies' ballgowns by Charles James from the 1940s through 1960s. David Byrne, who is a longtime blogger on top of everything else, wrote last week about the exhibit and its fascinations, and he was dead on. The designs of the gowns and the computer graphics in front of each of the structured frocks illustrating their engineering are totally fascinating.
Byrne also writes: "James was notoriously temperamental and fussy. One could say he was an artist who wanted his work seen in the best way possible, but after insulting too many rich lady clients and their friends (he called one woman a frump to her face and refused to dress her), well, the commissions began to dry up...James died penniless in squalor in the Chelsea Hotel in 1978. Changing times yes, but a lot of his problems he seemed to have brought on himself. The artist as a horrible, bad-tempered asshole—we all know them."
That is a perfect New York Cautionary Tale, if ever I have heard one.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
A room on the second floor of the Asian Art Museum has been reconfigured for the summer as a Living Mandala in its design.
Possibly because the room is so dark, I did not experience lightning enlightenment this afternoon while wandering through.
The fault was probably mine, though transcendence did arrive while meandering through the Japanese bamboo basket room and looking at the late 19th century flower basket by Wada Waichisai I above...
...and the contemporary hanging flower basket called Pure by Nagakura Kenichi.
According to the wall label, the backpack above was discovered after a post-purchase analysis to be made of fine leather strips in an imitation of bamboo. It looks ancient and modern at the same time.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
the San Francisco Unified School District's annual arts festival at the Asian Art Museum has come and gone with next to no publicity, but keep your eyes peeled for it next March because the event is enormously stirring. Sculpture this year came in every media imaginable, including Ruth Asawa/School of the Arts senior Lori Bato's Exo-tic Lifeforms above with teacher Scot Bishop.
Surrounding the second floor stairway at the museum were a number of collections, including a pair of Fish by Dylan Kelleman and Jake Saiz, students in the Buena Vista Horace Mann Elementary School class of Bob Armstrong.
Elementary school students of Sheila Ghedini at Cathedral School created Cool Creeper above, a set of robots with electrical eyes.
Lucy Montgomery, an eighth grader at Rooftop Mayeda with teacher C. Sugawara, created the touching diorama above, Day of the Dead: To My Grandfather.
One of the more startling displays was a collection of ceramic Babies by third graders from New Traditions Elementary in Meg Sandine's class.
There was nothing particularly cute about these babes, possibly because the young artists were still close enough to their own infancy. They seemed to capture the essence of babyhood from the inside, as in the piece above by Cassady Komater.