Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gay Marriage, Narcissism, and Twinklelights at SFMOMA

Hidden in an alcove on the second floor landing at SFMOMA is Country Dog Gentlemen above, a 1972 painting by Roy De Forest which is the favorite of Patrick Vaz's godson, and one of mine too. Patrick and I went for a quick lunchtime stroll through the museum, and had repaired to the De Forest after laughing our way through a couple of other shows nearby.

First and worst was The Air We Breathe, an ugly, amateurish wall installation on the second floor landing purporting to address in poetry and images the thorny issues of gay marriage.

The banality of the pieces was almost breathtaking...

...and as a same-sexer, as Gore Vidal would put it, I felt a twinge of Gay Shame.

San Francisco's weekly gay free newspaper, the Bay Area Reporter, has a surprisingly good arts section under the editorship of Roberto Friedman, and his art writer Sura Wood bends over backwards trying to be kind to the pathetic exhibit but even she finally gives up (click here).

On the third floor, there is a large exhibit devoted to the photography of Francesca Woodman, a defiantly neurotic narcissist, expensive art school division, who killed herself via defenestration, jumping out of a Manhattan loft window at the tender age of 22 in 1981. According to Wikipedia, her artist father "has suggested that Woodman's suicide was related to an unsuccessful application for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts."

The photographs are mostly small black-and-white nudes of herself looking alienated in grubby surroundings, and if Sylvia Plath and Diane Arbus are your cup of tea, this exhibit might be deeply affecting. The phrase that came to my mind, however, was the evil Oscar Wilde quote, "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing."

Above the entrance to SFMOMA, there are a collection of twinkly LED lights which Patrick first assumed were installed for the Christmas holidays.

They turned out to be a 3D light sculpture installation by Jim Campbell called Exploded Views.

You have to station yourself on the second floor landing just in front of the dreary gay marriage exhibit and the wonders of Exploded Views come into focus. It turns out to be a looped film of dancers from Alonzo King's LINES Ballet moving through air and light represented by the twinkling LEDs.

It's very cool, but be sure you find the right place to view it because otherwise they really do just look like holiday lights.

On the fourth floor, there is a huge exhibit of black paintstick drawings by the sculptor Richard Serra, which just about define monochromatic. They gave this Philistine the giggles, but Patrick Vaz, with his usual rarified discernment, was appreciative:
"The spareness, the ambiguous black shapes (both graceful and massive), the sense of space, and of space being emptied out and carefully but subtly arranged, and of high-minded if obscure philosophical purposes, all reminded me of the ink drawings of Zen monks. Given the reputation for brutality and sheer mass that Serra’s sculptures have, it’s sort of surprising to find in the drawing exhibit the peace-inducing atmosphere of a Japanese garden."
Click here for the whole essay, and here for a laugh-inducing interview between SF Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker and the artist.


sfphoneguy said...

"Country Dog Gentlemen" has always been one of my favorites at MOMA. When MOMA opened, that painting immediately grabbed me, and I went to the gift shop to get a print. The salesperson said that of all the paintings from which they made prints to sell, "Country Dog Gentlemen" was not one of them, but it was the one that got the most requests. They did a special run, and my copy is hanging in my living room, and to this day I can't look at it without smiling and feeling great. It's a shame that it's one of the very few pieces in MOMA that make me feel that way...

Patrick J. Vaz said...

This entry was almost as delightful as the actual visit, and I say that as a man of, as you so justly put it, rarified discernment.

namastenancy said...

One of the best reviews yet that I've read of SFMOMA's current offerings. However, I have to respectfully disagree on your assessment of Woodman and think that Mr. Vaz has been too kind to Richard Serra.

TK said...

Man, I love reading bad reviews, so this made my day. Thanks for "The banality of the pieces was almost breathtaking." That really hit the spot.