Thursday, April 29, 2010

SFMOMA's 75th Anniversary 1: Grace McCann Morley

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary with a rummaging of the permanent collection separated out into four separate exhibitions on three floors.

Though the exhibitions feel a bit slapdash in their execution, there are plenty of items of interest on display, including some gorgeous Diebenkorn Santa Monica "Ocean Park" paintings from the 1950s such as the one above and below.

If you happen to look at a Google map in "Satellite" view with a legend of about 2,000 feet, it is remarkable how much most of the country looks like an epic, continuous Diebenkorn painting. The question is how did he manage to see it fifty years before Google maps ever existed?

The major revelation of the anniversary show is that the founding director from 1934 to 1957 was Grace McCann Morley, above, a brilliant lesbian schooled at Mills College and Smith, who created an absolutely vibrant institution.

Her focus was on instructing the public in a non-condescending way and supporting living artists, such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo among many others.

She was an early proponent of industrial design as art, and the Olivetti typewriters with their great ad campaigns is a fun example.

Grace McCann Morley was run out of her job and position in 1957 by rich, powerful museum trustees, if one reads between the lines, and she's been written out of history. It's a bit like that "Northern Exposure" TV episode where somebody does a history project wondering why the town is named "Cecily" and it turns out to be an epic tale of a heroic lesbian couple who helped to found the town.

From the slim "Personal History" section about Ms. Morley at Wikipedia is this two-paragraph gem:

"Dr Morley started her career in Cincinnati in 1930, but is best remembered for her years in San Francisco and her second career in India. She formed some passionate friendships with women during this time.

For the last twenty years, she shared an apartment with a retired Indian Air Force officer and his wife, who became her Indian family, and it was there she died at the age of 84. They believe she had converted to Buddhism at some point in time. Dr Morley's body was cremated in the Indian tradition, and her ashes immersed in a holy river."
For more info, check out California Women and Nancy Ewart's essays.

SFMOMA's 75th Anniversary 2: Focus on Artists

On the fourth floor, there are a series of rooms ranging from claustrophobic to expansive, each featuring a single artist.

I was attending the museum as a guest of my friend Patrick Vaz, above, in front of a Robert Ryman painting. We happened to be sharing the room with a cluster of people experiencing the museum with a docent, who was asking them in her best schoolmarm voice, "And what quality is the same in every one of these paintings?" Patrick shot me a warning, evil eye to prevent me from blurting out, "THEY'RE ALL WHITE!" until we had moved into the next room. (I couldn't help myself.)

We went through the Richard Serra room (me: "hate him," Patrick: "I usually understand what he's trying to do, and it's interesting, but I'm not sure that's enough.")

One of the largest rooms was dedicated to Frank Stella, whose work doesn't seem to be aging very well.

Patrick confessed to loving the Sigmar Polke painting above the first time he saw it, but on the second time through the exhibit, it struck him as uncomfortably close to being a documentary rendition of a dirty oven, which reminded him of his own dirty oven at home, and all aesthetic pleasure was taken away.

We stumbled into another one of the exhibits, dedicated to multi-screen art movies by the recently deceased Bruce Conner.

Patrick was fighting a low-level migraine, and the quickly flashing images were threatening to set off a Pokemon level seizure, so we didn't stay long.

In a 1954 paean to Grace McCann Morley in "Time" Magazine, of all places, there is the following wonderful quote:

"But in trying to make San Franciscans bigger art buyers, Director Morley has run into one unmovable obstacle. "San Franciscans are spoiled by the view." she explains. "If they buy less than people in Cleveland, it is because they need it less. I only own a few pieces myself."

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Model and Mannequins

A slice of surrealism reared its head in front of the Ralph Lauren store at Kearny and Post on Monday afternoon.

A delivery truck had its rear doors open and mannequins were lolling about looking like naked abductees.

The driver was hauling away material from a discarded display...

...while looking like a Bruce Weber model himself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Reclaiming a Life

Friday was the last day working as a lowly office clerk in the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters before transferring to the field as an "Enumerator," a term that sounds straight out of Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World."

This means that I will soon be walking about knocking on San Francisco strangers' doors in an attempt to enumerate them for the federal government, which should be interesting.

The sense of relief in getting out of that toxic central office is making me overwhelmingly happy, as I will finally have time and energy again, for my cat Tiger Woods...

...friends and acquaintances... partner Tony...

...along with a wider world that's unimaginably rich and beautiful.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

2010 Cherry Blossom Parade 1: PhotoMania

Most parades in San Francisco end up in Civic Center Plaza, but the annual Cherry Blossom Parade is a notable exception.

The event starts in front of City Hall before marching up Polk Street to Geary Boulevard, where they make a western left turn towards their terminus at the Japantown shopping complex.

I started documenting the world with a digital camera in 2001 for an ambitious project called FotoTales, and was about the only person taking candid photos at events like the Cherry Blossom Parade at the time.

The small boys' marching band photo above is from 2001 and the photo below is from last Sunday.

The uniforms are the same, and they are being worn by what looks to be a whole new generation. The band is also still hilariously out of tune which is sort of wonderful.

The biggest difference between 2001 and 2010 is the ubiquitousness of public photography these days. As a pioneer in this field, it feels like I helped to usher in this flood of people capturing every possible moment around them in all its pixelated glory.

This is not necessarily a good thing, but it is the world's new reality.

2010 Cherry Blossom Parade 2: A Spring in Our Step

I am not a big fan of Passover and Easter, the Judeo-Christian observations of Spring, especially since their respective celebrations of unrelenting vendetta and gory martyrdom don't strike me as particularly suited to the joys of the season.

The ancient Persian Norouz celebration, which is still observed, seems much more civilized...

...and so does the Japanese tradition of the Cherry Blossom Festival.

We happened to be walking up Polk Street near the end of the parade, and the route was filled with gaps caused by police allowing vehicles to cross Polk Street.

We jumped in between a taiko drumming float in front of us, and an absolutely exuberant group of mostly elderly dancers behind us.

One needed to know nothing of Japanese rituals to realize this was a variation on dancing around the maypole or running the Bay to Breakers. It was joyful, sexy and fun.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

SOMA Artists Studios and Robert Vo

The second floor of 689 Bryant Street near Fifth Street houses a rabbit warren of artists' studios...

...and this weekend they are showing off their work as part of an organized neighborhood event called SOMA Open Studios.

I had visited the studio before to buy the work of an old colleague, Flora Davis (above and below)...

...but wasn't intending to visit this year.

However, while stuffing envelopes all day at the U.S. Census Bureau headquarters, a new office clerk named Robert Vo (above) mentioned that he was going to be curating the opening night party and handed out invitations.

Robert worked in the software world for years but has decided to "transition" into the art world...

...with his own mixed media (the three pictures above)...

...along with learning the ropes of curating other people's art.

He did a smashing job, mixing up various artists' work all over the large space in an interesting way...

...and inviting the small Hume Sances Winery (above) to host a free tasting of excellent wine.

It even looked like they were selling some art.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

United Educators of San Francisco

On about every second Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Education has an early evening meeting at 555 Franklin Street on the corner of McAllister Street.

These meetings tend to be preceded by protestors with signage on surrounding sidewalks whose issues have varied over the years.

For the last couple of years, the noisiest groups tended to be the JROTC supporters and the elderly Asians who would chant "we want neighborhood schools" for hours.

This Tuesday's protest was organized by the local school union, United Educators of San Francisco.

They are facing unprecedented budget cuts and layoffs as part of the ongoing bankruptcy of the public sphere of California, partially engineered by Schwarzenegger and his owners.

The crowd of teachers and bus drivers was charming as usual... they made their way into the School District headquarters for the Board meeting.

The current contract talks between the union and the school district are going terribly, according to a number of people I spoke to at the demonstration, and the next step would be court-ordered arbitration which could conceivably be followed by a strike.

District 8 Supervisor Candidate Rafael Mandelman (below) was there with his father, and it was a pleasant surprise seeing him out of campaign mode and attending as an interested citizen.

If I lived in District 8, he would definitely get my vote.