Thursday, February 28, 2008

Junk Mail Art at City Hall

On the fourth floor at City Hall, there's a new art show sponsored by Mayor Gavin Newsom's office and the Academy of Art University. This is the same school that's been gobbling up San Francisco real estate voraciously, and who have been accused of breaking every zoning and permitting law extant. But heck, why should the mayor care about that?

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors was lifting a temporary development moratorium at the San Francisco Flower Mart which had been threatened by the university's latest acquisition plans.

It seems that the firestorm of bad publicity over the flower mart eviction finally stopped the plan in its tracks, and now they are taking a page out of Mayor Newsom's public relations playbook and are presenting a student exhibit displaying "environmental consciousness" called "Junk Mail: From Debris to Design."

The pieces look a bit strange on the ornate fourth floor of City Hall...

...but the whimsical junk mail papier-mache has its own charm...

...and the five artists, including Brett Mastaler (above) looked like they had a great time with the project. (Click here for more info on the show.)

Plus, having a postal monster greet one at the door to City Hall is certainly an interesting way to be introduced to the workings of San Francisco government.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wade Crowfoot and The Supervisors

At Tuesday's weekly Board of Supervisors meeting, there was an interesting exchange between a few of the supervisors and Wade Crowfoot (below), Mayor Newsom's new "Director of Global Climate Change," or whatever they are calling his ridiculous new position that's being funded by Muni.

It seems a new solar panel slush fund is being set up by the Mayor through the Assessor/Recorder's office, even though this has traditionally been the province of the Public Utilities Commission, and nobody could quite explain why, or how much was involved. I almost felt sorry for the young, handsome and obviously intelligent Mr. Crowfoot, because he seemed to be carrying a pail of pure sleaze for his masters, and nobody seemed to be very convinced by his explanations.

Finally, Board President Peskin asked where the Assessor/Recorder might be, since the entire program was supposedly his initiative, and his aide (above) went to the podium and made some weak excuse about how Phil Ting was currently indisposed because of some personal matter or other, which just made everybody even more furious.

So she was sent to track him down, and Ting arrived about thirty minutes later.

As punishment, however, Mr. Ting had to sit through the next hour of public comment, including James Chaffee (below) denouncing the Friends of the Public Library and their outrageous slush fund.

What Chaffee and most of the crowd in the chambers didn't notice was a quick but momentous announcement by Aaron Peskin (below), in his last year as Board President, appointing his fellow supervisors to various committee assignments where many of the real decisions are made.

Newsom's thugs like Phil Ginsburg and Nathan Ballard, in concert with the San Francisco Chronicle, have been doing everything they can to smear Peskin and make him look like an unstable little hothead, so he gave them a little gift in return. The loathsome Newsom ally, Ms. "I-want-a-million-dollar-wheelchair-ramp-because-I-deserve-it" Michela Alioto-Pier, who doesn't even bother to show up to about a third of her meetings, was relegated to a single committee assignment, City & School District.

Newsom's nemesis, Supervisor Chris Daly, was put onto the three most powerful committees: Rules, Land Use & Economic Development, and the real biggie, Budget and Finance. (For a list of all the committee assignments, which the Chronicle didn't even bother to write about, check out Luke Thomas' thorough account at Fog City Journal by clicking here.) This should get interesting.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Judeo-Christian Architecture 1

On the south side of Market Street, between the Marriott Jukebox Hotel and the Four Seasons Modern Brutalism Hotel and Residences...

...a new walkway has opened that leads to Mission Street and Yerba Buena Center.

On the left it skirts by the dark cube under construction at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, and also the side of St. Patrick's Catholic Church, which dates from 1851.

The weather turned beautiful on Monday. and since all my clients' work was finished over the weekend, I needed an excuse to get out of the house.

So I called my new friend Patrick Vaz to see if he wanted to be my host at the Museum of Modern Art during his Financial District lunch hour, and he agreed happily.

The special exhibits, however, turned out to be two extremely boring photography shows. One consisted of 400 modestly sized photos by Lee Friedlander and the other featured slightly larger photos of ugly buildings, freeways and industrial sadness by Gabriele Basilico entitled "From San Francisco to Silicon Valley."

With few exceptions, I prefer looking at photos online or printed rather than on museum walls, the exceptions being when the photos are huge or part of a larger conception. Besides, I'd rather take my own photos of ugly new buildings and show them to you instead. They are certainly not hard to find in this rapidly changing neighborhood.

Judeo-Christian Architecture 2

We didn't last long in the museum and walked back along Mission Street in front of the incongruous brick facade...

...wondering what "contemporary" meant in the context of a Jewish Museum.

"Does this mean old Jewish history is not allowed, or what?" I asked Patrick.

He was as mystified as myself, but when I asked if he'd ever been in St. Patrick's Church next door, he happily offered a brief tour of the place.

"They've stopped having their noontime concert series, which is awful, and I'm thinking of writing about it," he told me. (Check out his blog, "Reverberate Hills," by clicking here.)

"This church is VERY Latin," he told me, with a knowing smile, and I wasn't sure if he was referring to its Latino congregation and pastoral staff (their names all seem to be Filipino), or if they performed masses in Latin secretly, or if "Latin" referred to something else altogether.

Judeo-Christian Architecture 3

We walked up to Market Street via the new walkway, passing expensive sugar dispensers offering everything from cream puffs... Swiss chocolates.

There was also a small museum devoted to crafts and folk art, which felt slightly incongruous.

Patrick didn't care because he adores "crafts" and happily pointed out his favorites in the window.

Still, the juxtaxposition between the homespun and the brutal modern architecture was bizarre, and it reminded me of what Liebeskind's dark cube unintentionally conjured.

It seemed an unconscious echo of the sculpture in front of the Shorenstein building at Kearny and California which used to be the world headquarters for Bank of America. The sculpture's local nickname for decades, appropriately enough, has been "the banker's heart."

Saturday, February 23, 2008

National Identification

At the extreme eastern end of Golden Gate Park in the Panhandle, there is a huge commemorative statue to the assassinated President McKinley which I somehow have never noticed before, possibly because it's across from a building I'd never entered in my 30-plus years in San Francisco.

Because I haven't had a driver's license since the early 1970s, there was never any reason to go to San Francisco's Department of Motor Vehicles office, which has long been known as a legendary branch of hell on earth.

I've always used a United States passport for picture identification, but the document is about to expire and to have it renewed, you need to surrender the old one. I'm not particularly worried about having a passport to go to another country at present, since the American dollar is becoming more worthless with each day, but this would leave me without any ID to get on airplanes, not to mention all the places one is asked for a picture ID in our new national security state.

So I went to the DMV office to see about getting a California ID card and saw that the legends about the place were true. It really did look like hell. After about five minutes in the line with "non-appointments" people, I announced to everyone that I was leaving them to their sorry fate and was returning home to make an appointment. "Good luck, everyone," I said, and silently thanked my younger self for making the decision not to drive a car when I grew up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Maria Kochetkova Gives Us The Wilis

The chances were slight that I'd be checking out the San Francisco Ballet's third program of the season this week, since it was the 19th century story ballet "Giselle" in a version by the company's director, Helgi Tomasson.

Plus, the first act is a bucolic peasant divertissement which can get old very fast, and the second act takes place in a forest filled with the ghosts of vengeful virgins who've died before they were wed. And they're called The Wilis. Still, there was an interestingly tart review on Monday by the San Francisco Chronicle's new dance reviewer, Rachel Howard (click here), about the miscast prima ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan who is technically awesome but can't act her way out of a paper bag. At the end of the review, Howard wrote: "The buzz among serious ballet watchers is for Maria Kochetkova, who will make her company debut as Giselle on Tuesday."

So I decided to give "Giselle" a chance, and was very happy I did so, since "the buzz" turned out to be correct. Maria Kochetkova, the company's new prima ballerina direct from Russia, turned in a company debut performance that was instantly legendary.

Her cad of a prince playing a pauper breaking her heart was the ridiculously handsome Joan Boada (above), and the corps de ballet were really wonderful all night, but the performance belonged to Kochetkova.

She's tiny, expressive, and actually made you care about the dumb girl. Best of all, in the second act, when she's supposed to be a weightless ghost, she literally floated across the stage more than once. She was getting some support from Boada but it really did look as if she were going to rise up and disappear at any moment. I've never seen anything like it.

The production is traditional and beautiful and the mid-19th century French ballet music of Adolphe Adam is fun stuff. You have one more chance to see Kochetkova in the role, this Saturday night.

Luis Cancel, San Francisco's New Culture Czar

The San Francisco Symphony sponsored a reception for the swearing-in of Luis Cancel, San Francisco's new "Culture Czar" who will be in charge of the San Francisco Art Commission.

It was held in the Wattis Room at Davies Hall, which is a lovely salon for the swells to have cocktails and meals before symphony performances. After being introduced by Art Commissioner PJ Johnston who was in charge of the search committee for a new "culture czar," Mayor Newsom gave a speech that rambled on about the incredible "diversity" of San Francisco.

The speech reminded me of my days working for a large financial institution where upper management would have day-long workshops for branch managers about how important "diversity" was to the corporation. Of course, the irony of upper management being almost universally gringo and the branch managers being almost universally "diverse" was not addressed.

Meanwhile, the various arts leaders in San Francisco were out in force this rainy evening to see which way the new political winds were blowing.

There was a funny moment during the ceremony, where Mr. Cancel was reciting the baroquely complicated swearing-in oath phrase by phrase after Mayor Newsom, and stopped dead in his tracks, confused, when asked to repeat the phrase "I have no mental reservations about taking on this task," and it was obvious he had misheard the phrase to mean "mental" something else.

Cancel was the head of New York City's Arts Commission under David Dinkins in the early 1990s, and then went on to refurbish the Bronx museum, meanwhile trying to keep some of New York City affordable for working artists, which was almost as impossible a task as trying to reproduce the same results here.

It's going to be interesting watching how this relationship plays out, as Cancel deals with a mayor who is big on populist rhetoric but short on any actual results. I wish him all the best of luck.