Friday, November 16, 2018

An SFMOMA Blogger Stroll

Last Sunday, SFMOMA invited people to attend the second floor galleries of the museum for free in order to temporarily escape the smoky, polluted air enveloping the Bay Area from the Butte County wildfires.

The Beijing level air quality was an accidental environmental complement to a new exhibition that opened last weekend, Art and China after 1989: Theater of the World. Filling the entire 7th floor of the museum, the exhibit is devoted to experimental art created in that country in the two decades after the Tiananmen Square massacre, which is referenced in a huge, surreal painting in the opening gallery.

Based on a famous photo from the massacre of a rickshaw driver furiously pedaling wounded protesters to possible safety, the 2001 New Beijing by Wang Xingwei replaces the wounded men with penguins, which is simultaneously funny and horrifying.

The exhibit is organized around five or six categories, which were evanescent enough that I don't remember any of their names. Some of the art was interesting enough on its own terms that stuffing it into overarching themes seemed a little silly.

Kindly posing for "scale" purposes was Rachel, the Fog City Notes blogger, who is a perfect companion for a museum visit since she has strong, independent opinions, loves art, and is funny besides. It was wonderful seeing the 1993 Avant-Garde by Bay Area based Hung Liu, who immigrated from China to California in 1984.

We also loved the skewed painting by Zhao Bandi from 1991, Young Zhang.

If there was any one detail that stood out in the exhibit, it was the cigarettes being smoked by every other person.

This included the workers in a stunning set of photos by Liu Zheng.

The best title belonged to the bizarrely funny 2000 collage by Yu Youhan, What Is It That Makes This Home So Modern, So Appealing?

The title of Yu Hong's work is too long to reproduce, but it was fun watching museumgoers being stared at by one of its subjects.

One gallery is dedicated to video and conceptual art which probably has more resonance if you can speak Chinese and know something about the country's culture, past and present.

For the unitiated, a lot of the work was simply bewildering, but the show is interesting enough that I plan on returning before the exhibit closes in February.

The great discovery of the afternoon was on the third floor, where a large photo exhibit by Louis Stettner (1922-2016) has recently been installed. After working as a military photographer during World War Two, he split his time between New York where he was born and Paris, where he was a student and collaborator with Brassai, whose own exhibit will be opening this weekend on the other half of the third floor. I had never heard of Stettner before, but his work is extraordinary, in the tradition of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, and Robert Capa.

SFMOMA is encoring their free second floor admission policy this weekend as an air pollution refuge, but it's worth paying for admission or buying a membership for the China and Brassai/Stettner exhibits alone.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Shostakovich, Borodin & Bartok at the SF Symphony

Last week the San Francisco Symphony presented a Russian/Hungarian musical program that was terrific, led by the young Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša above.

The concert started with another Soviet concerto masterpiece from the 1940s I had never heard before, Shostakovich's Violin Concerto #1, written for David Oistrakh who finally premiered it in the 1950s after Stalin had died. It is an amazing, fiendishly difficult work for the soloist, and could easily meander all over the place rather like the Symphony's performance of Prokofiev's Sinfonia Concertante three weeks ago. Instead, the conductor Jakub Hrůša kept it all together, making the long, meditative first movement poetic, the sardonic second movement dance, the slow third movement soar into longing beauty, and the finale party on down, all while supporting the violin soloist Karen Gomyo.

Gomyo was flat-out fabulous, muscular when she needed to be, gentle and searching at other times, and confidently virtuosic throughout so you didn't worry whether or not she was going to make it through the marathon work. Her solo cadenza between the third and fourth movements was astonishing, and it was a good thing Hrůša jumped to the finale without pause because the whole audience would have otherwise burst into applause.

The second half of the program promised a lot of bombast, but Hrůša and the orchestra gave fine, straightforward performances of Borodon's Symphony #2 and Bartok's Suite from the Miraculous Mandarin. The 1876 symphony by the chemist/composer Borodin was sort of schlock but fun, and the performance was guided by Hrůša's sincerity and obvious belief in the work. The slow third movement in particular was exquisite.

The Bartok was the Hungarian composer's 1919 version of a ballet shocker on the order of Rite of Spring, and it's still rather shocking. The performance was invigorating and filled with dynamic contrasts rather than hammering us over the ears. So please, SF Symphony honchos, bring back Jakub Hrůša and Ms. Gomyo while you're at it.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Voting with Hope

I am hopeful about the national midterm election tomorrow because the early voting turnout numbers have been amazing. This is a good sign for Democrats who need overwhelming victories because the current system is gerrymandered for the Republicans who have been refining the voter suppression of poor people for decades.

Voting by mail has its conveniences but there is something moving about communal voting, in person, with other voters. Thankfully, San Francisco's Department of Elections has been getting better every year at running a huge, smooth early voting operation, and this year there was both a shared seriousness and cheerfulness among poll workers and voters alike.

Tomorrow is only the first step in fighting all-out fascists ruling the United States, but the stakes are clear to most sentient beings and you can feel it in the collective determination of everyone, including those who don't usually pay much attention to politics.

Plus, there are fun people to vote for and encourage, such as Paul Bellar who is running for San Francisco Assessor. He handed me a flyer a couple of weeks ago in front of the 4th Street Caltrain station way too early in the morning. His pitch sounded good, so when I ran into him at the Heart of the City Farmers Market was able to say, "Hey, I just voted for you 30 minutes ago. Good luck, Tall Paul!"

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Palm Springs Porch

The Palm Springs High Holy Gay Holidays of Leather Pride, Halloween, and Gay Pride have been taking place over the last ten days.

Tens of thousands of foreign and American tourists have flown in to savor the experience.

My favorite place to hang out was in the Warm Sands neighborhood on the front porch of what my friend Steve Wibben calls This Old House, which is constantly in the process of one-man home improvement projects.

"This place is being A-Gay'd out," Steve commented, surveying the over-the-top refurbishing of some of his new neighbors.

Gentrification is a double-edged sword, making public life more beautiful but also driving out longtime residents who can no longer afford the small, sleepy resort town.

It is a transformative time for an interesting place.