Friday, June 15, 2012

Robert Arneson and George Moscone

The 1970s murdered mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, has been memorialized in the city in various ways, with a Marina playground and the downtown convention center named after him.

There was also an official commemorative statue commissioned for the then-new Moscone Convention Center from Benicia-born and UC Davis based ceramic artist Robert Arneson, and the result horrified the San Francisco establishment of the time.

The main reason for the extreme reactions were because of the etched figures in the pedestal holding the bust which whimsically and pointedly referred to the double assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone by the San Francisco good old boy Dan White. Dan, who is peeking out from behind the pedestal in the Arneson drawing below, was convicted of manslaughter rather than premeditated murder by a San Francisco jury of his peers after his infamous "Twinkies" defense.

Inserting politics into a memorial was considered outrageous at the time, with the widow Gina Moscone being understandably distressed, the then mayor Dianne Feinstein being typically outraged, and the local newspapers editorializing in their stupidest and most reactionary brays. Even though everything about the assassinations was political, and continues to be so, this was not something that was supposed to be mentioned in a memorial work of art.

The problem was that they gave the memorial commission to the wrong person, Robert Arneson, above and below in self-portraits, one of the great bohemian Northern California artists of all time, who singlehandedly combined cartoons and ceramics into his own personal style.

He died too young at age 63 of cancer in 1992, but his work is looking better with each passing year.

The George Moscone bust, which has been hidden all over the world after Feinstein's banishment in various private hands over the last 30 years, has finally been acquired by SFMOMA thanks to the efforts of its director Neal Benezra, and it's been newly installed on the second floor in a room devoted to Arneson. I had never seen the piece in person before, and photographs didn't quite do it justice in terms of its size and sheer fabulousness. Thanks to whoever is responsible for bringing the sculpture home where it belongs.


sfwillie said...

It's surprising that public art efforts so often produce great art. The Vietnam Wall, for example, is so subversive and so popular. The Vaillancourt fountain is great. And Brian Goggin's Nude Holding a Laundromat Washing Machine, is a miracle.

janinsanfran said...

I must get over there to see the Moscone. The city's prissy social set made fools of themselves over that, as they often do.