Sunday, June 17, 2012

5th Floor Modern Art

"Where do you want to go? Do you think there's anything new on the fifth floor?" Patrick Vaz asked as we jumped into an elevator at SFMOMA earlier this week. An elderly lady who seemed to be in the know jumped in, "Yes, there is an exhibit up there," and so there was. Instead of the usual vague, thematic display, the top floor was filled with remarkable pieces from the last 50 years that have recently been rotating through storage.

In a witty reminder that the museum is soon going to be destroyed in order to expand it for the Fisher Collection, Sandow Birk's 1995 Scene from the Destruction, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art greets the viewer on one of the first walls.

Around the corner, Warhol's 1962 Red Liz couldn't hold the attention of the mobile device lady...

...while Jess gave his 1965 Beatles bathing painting the unwieldy title, Fig. 4 - Far and Few...! Translation #15.

A museum guard above was chastising a young couple who had ventured too close to Wayne Thiebaud's 1963 Display Cakes, possibly because they were hungry.

Hanging nearby was one of my favorite Diebenkorn paintings, the 1963 Cityscape I. If you have ever looked at a closeup in Google Maps satellite view on your computer, you'll realize that the world really does look like a Diebenkorn painting when seen from above.

Figure with Two Owls, Study for Velasquez, a large Francis Bacon painting also dating from 1963, is hung in its own alcove for maximum creepiness.

Facing each other around the corner are 1971's Untitled (Rome) by Cy Twombly above, and Sigmar Polke's 1988 The Spirit That Lend Strength Are Invisible II (Meteor...) below, with a couple looking like a Duane Hansen sculpture while listening to their art appreciation headsets.

Patrick confessed that he loved the Polke painting the first time he saw it, but that on a subsequent visit it reminded him of an oven interior that was overdue for cleaning, an association he can't get out of his mind.

Patrick also expressed his distate for the artist Julie Mehretu, represented by her Stadia I from 2004 above, who espouses holier-than-thou leftist politics while being paid a hefty sum to create an 80-foot mural for the newly built New York headquarters of Goldman Sachs. As one letter writer to The New Yorker put it after reading a 2010 Calvin Tomkins article about the artist, "The writer and activist Meridel Le Sueur once wrote, in reference to artists feeding at the corporate trough, 'They just want you to perfume the sewers. They need artists to bring perfume to the terrible stench of their death.' "

The final room near the sad rooftop sculpture garden was filled with some of the most recent paintings in the permanent collection, and though I was not very impressed, Patrick liked the display. "That's because your taste is more discerning, adventurous and elevated than mine," I told him, and he did not disagree.

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