Thursday, September 16, 2021

Korean Portraits at the Asian

The Asian Art Museum is filled with more patrons than usual these days on account of the Japanese immersive multimedia installation, teamLab: Continuity. I visited for the fourth time recently and was once again totally discombobulated. For calmer viewing, I checked out the second floor of the museum and stumbled across some striking contemporary art in the Korean wing, including the 1997 Cycle of Time by Bay Area artist Young June Lew.
In 1997, Do Ho Suh scanned the photographs of 64 of his male classmates and created a digital composite, followed by a distaff version of his female classmates. The result is High School Uni-Face: Boy and High School Uni-Face: Girl.
The same artist also created an installation of replicas of all the uniforms he had worn from childhood through his mandatory stint in the Korean military with Uniform/s: Self-Portrait/s: My 39 Years.
It's both funny and vaguely sinister.
The premier Korean feminist artist, Yun Suknam, who was born in 1939, has devoted herself to painting the unrecorded portraits of women through history. The 2005 painted assemblage above depicts Heo Nanseolheon, a famous 16th century poet.
From 1992-2019, she also created Geneaology II, which shows a lucky woman and an unlucky woman in front of a blow-up of an official Korean geneaology record.
The lucky woman is lucky because she has given birth to a son, and the unlucky woman has hanged herself because she was not able to extend the patriarchal lineage. As the artist's statement explains, neither one of them are part of the official geneaology because women are not recorded.
One of the great artists of our time, Hung Liu, died in Oakland last month at the age of 73, provoking widespread sorrow. It was great seeing a painting by her, The Long Wharf: Chinese Junks (The Three Graces), and a potent reminder of what has been lost over the centuries by the suppression of women artists.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Vaccine Mandate vs. Climate Change Protestors

An anti-vax mandate protest took place in San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza last Friday at noon.
The crowd of about 200 people were an odd mix.
The gathering was to protest San Francisco's requirement that all city and county employees be vaccinated or possibly lose their jobs.
The historically racist, right-wing San Francisco Fire Department, whose members tend to live outside city limits, has been one of the biggest complainers along with the SF Police Department.
My reaction is to question what part of the term "public safety" they don't understand. Passing on a deadly virus to coworkers and the public at large is NOT public safety.
Maybe we need a T-shirt proclaiming "MY BODY, MY CHOICE TO NOT BE INFECTED BY THE UNVACCINATED."
There was also a professional anti-vaxxer crowd involved, complete with speakers who looked like Fox News blondes, yelling at the crowd, "Do we believe in mandates that take away our freedom?" which responded with a shouted "NO!"
There was a small booth set up advertising another anti-vax mandate rally in Sacramento on September 8th.
Unless you want these people in charge of California government, as they are in Texas and Florida for instance, please vote NO on the recall of Governor Newsom, and make sure you not only mail your ballot in but remind at least three people you know to do the same.
The spectacle of all these well-paid, mostly white protesters claiming personal victimization was surreal, almost as if they had left-wing protest envy and were determined to cast themselves as an Oppressed Minority of Freedom Fighters.
In truth, they are selfish lunatics who have been primed with disinformation by the right-wing rage machine.
If the City and County need to fire some of them, public safety can only improve.
Coincidentally, a protest march from the Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue by the group Youth vs. Apocalypse (click here) had just ended at the steps of City Hall.
They were demanding action on climate change, in particular stopping the completion of the Line 3 pipeline which is to transport tar sands shale oil from Alberta to Wisconsin.
Many of them were gobbling down pizza and other treats that were being provided by a small army of older women.
"Who are you people?" I asked them, and one of the ladies pulled her shirt open so I could read the name of her organization. Formed in 2016, it's a group of grandmothers in Berkeley and Oakland who have decided climate change is the most important issue they can work on for their grandchildren (click here for their website).
The juxtaposition of those protesting for a communal good and those protesting for personal entitlement could not have been more stark.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Vaccinated Tosca at the SF Opera

The San Francisco Opera House finally opened for live performances last week, and the reaction on both sides of the stage was joyous.
Proof of COVID vaccination or a 72-hour clean bill of health was required for entry, and the process was delightfully casual, with a small crew of friendly SF Opera employees checking ID and documents on the sidewalk outside before giving you a paper wristband that could be worn or simply proffered at the entrances.
The opera was Puccini's Tosca, which has been produced here close to 40 times since it opened the San Francisco Opera House in 1923. The music is Puccini at his best, but I've always disliked the opera itself. It was adapted from a five-act French play written for Sarah Bernhardt, and the distilled operatic version is a sentimental story about rape, torture and murder.
I saw a musically gorgeous and dramatically ridiculous production in 1978 at the SF Opera with the very large Caballe and Pavarotti in their vocal prime, and decided I never needed to see Tosca onstage again. This resolve was tested when I was cast as a supernumerary in the Te Deum procession of Act One and a firing squad member who shot the tenor in Act Three, but the experience did not change my feelings about the opera. After 18 months of a shuttered opera house, however, and a new spouse who had never seen the work, it was time to visit Tosca again. I am glad I did, and the greatest pleasure was running into an entire collection of fellow opera fanatics in lobbies and hallways who I had not seen for close to two years.
New company Music Director Eun Sun Kim was conducting her first full opera since being appointed to her position just before the pandemic, and she did a marvelous job, bringing out lots of color in the score without drowning any of the singers. Soprano Ailyn PĂ©rez is making her role debut as Tosca in this production, and though I usually love her performances, the role doesn't seem to be a very good fit for her vocally. (Production photos are by Cory Weaver.)
The tenor Michael Fabiano has recently taken on the role of her lover Mario Cavaradossi, and it suits him perfectly, both vocally and dramatically.
Baritone Alfred Walker felt miscast as a mild-mannered Scarpia. The sadistic villain should be commandingly scary in voice and bearing, and Walker was not. The traditional production design by Robert Innes Hopkins was lovely, and the direction by Shawna Lucey was straightforward except for a clunky Te Deum finale. It didn't matter. As my friend Shawn Ying said as I ran into him in the lobby, "When the chorus started singing, I just burst into tears." My new spouse liked the opera too.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Creeds of California

Last week we drove to Santa Barbara, current home of Oprah, Harry & Meghan, and the lady above who is often spotted laying on the State Street concrete bench in front of the Santa Barbara Art Museum.
We walked to the County Courthouse which looks like it was built by Spanish missionaries in the 17th century but was actually constructed in 1929 after a major 1925 earthquake flattened the town. The beautiful building was designed by William Mooser III and according to a 2014 article by Laurie Jervis, "the influential 20th century architect Charles W. Moore called the courthouse the grandest Spanish Colonial Revival structure ever built."
The entrance inside was restricted to those who had official business with the courts, which currently seem to be filled with lurid local murder cases and people seeking marriage licenses.
The outdoor sunken garden is open for picnicking, though, and this group of amateur wedding photographers yelling out posing suggestions to their friends and family was hilarious.
I was in Santa Barbara from the age of 10 to 17, and still have two friends living there, a nonageniarian Proust scholar who was our gracious host, and Heidi (above) from high school who I reconnected with three decades ago.
We took a walk on downtown East Beach where there were beautiful young people staging social media videos...
...and solitary characters looking ripe for recruitment into a religious cult.
Santa Barbara has always been thick with them, including the Calvary Chapel movement, which includes a Christian Surfing ministry. One of their flock, Matthew Taylor Coleman, a surf instructor in his early 40s, just made national news when he drove his 2-year-old and 10-month-old children to Rosarita Beach in Baja Mexico, and stabbed them to death with his fishing spear, convinced by QAnon internet sites that they somehow possessed "demon DNA sperm." The national news mentioned QAnon as the culprit for the horrific event, but neglected to mention the Santa Barbara Evangelical Christian Surf cult which was the breeding ground. This excellent Santa Barbara Independent article (click here) by Jean Yamamura begins with “It’s heavy. It’s so heavy,” said a surfing community insider who knew Matthew..."
Then we drove 100 miles northwest to stay at one of the most beautiful spots in the world, my sister Susan's hilltop home in Arroyo Grande, midway between Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo.
On an unusually humid, overcast morning, we went for a walk on Pismo Beach where San Joaquin Valley residents drive their oversized vehicles onto the strand and tear up the Oceano sand dunes with ATVs. (For a San Luis Obispo Tribune article on a proposed ban by the California Coastal Commission, click here.)
My relatives call them Bakos, short for Bakersfield rednecks, who overrun the Central Coast every summer to escape the 110-degree heat in the Valley.
Though they have always been obnoxious, they now feel sinister, driving through small Central Coast towns with TRUMP WON and Confederate flags flying from the backs of their vehicles.
On our way back to a paved parking lot, we passed a group of young people in a circle introducing themselves by throwing a beach ball to the next speaker, which set off all my evangelical religious cult sensors.
In the nearby hamlet of Halcyon, a small Theosophist commune founded in 1903, we stopped briefly at the Temple of The People.
I have always wanted to go inside and see what the philosopher Krishnamurti, the composer Henry Cowell, and the revolutionary astrologer Dane Rudhyar once experienced.

Coincidentally, I have been reading a scholarly biography of Bruce Lee by Matthew Polly, and stumbled across this paragraph: "One of Bruce Lee's most important influences was the renegade Indian mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti. Selected at age fourteen by the occultist Theosophical Society as the predestined 'World Teacher,' Krishnamurti was groomed to become its leader and 'direct the evolution of mankind towards perfection.' In 1929 at the age of thirty-four he shocked his adoptive cult by renouncing his role as the World Teacher, arguing that religious doctrines and organizations stood in the way of real truth. 'I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any religion. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others."
I lived in Halcyon and Arroyo Grande from the ages of five to nine and my church was the Fair Oaks movie theater where I attended Saturday afternoon kiddie matinees with religious devotion.
By some holy miracle, the single-screen theater still exists and shows movies with no advertisements beforehand other than a vintage advisory to visit the lobby for a treat.
This dream palace introduced me to the power of images, music, and humanistic thought, all of which I worship to this day.