Thursday, March 18, 2021

Asian Art Museum Reopens

The Asian Art Museum has reopened in Civic Center, and it feels marvelously safe, partly because so few people visit it. We went on the first FREE Sunday two weeks ago, and it was a joy to see a bunch of old friends, like the 10th Century Cambodian Vishnu sandstone sculpture above.
The permanent collection on floors two and three were redesigned and relit just before the pandemic arrived, and it's a well-done job, brighter and refreshed. The giant Kumbhakarna battling the monkeys in an 11th century Thai sandstone relief looks better than ever.
We genuflected in front of the 19th century Thai temple sculpture that billionaire heiress Doris Duke picked up during her ill-fated, round-the-world honeymoon cruise in the 1930s (click here for salacious stories of decadent capitalism).
The core of the permanent collection is from another problematic historical character, Avery Brundage, a Chicago real estate developer in the skyscraper age at the turn of the century, a seminal character in the modern Olympics movement as an athlete and authoritarian leader, and a prescient real estate buyer during World War Two of much of Santa Barbara and Montecito when people were terrified of a Japanese invasion.
There have been a few hints in Asian Art Museum publications during the BLM movement about a hard, second look at the potentially racist character of their founding donor, but what I'm hoping for is an exhibition that is an honest, historically informed examination detailing how an American real estate capitalist sent minions all over Asia to find treasures for him.
It could be a great uncovering, rather like The Dig on Netflix, of the real geniuses who negotiated for the first Buddha sculpture in China with a date on it, above.
My favorite piece in the museum, a 12th century Chinese wooden sculpture of the bhodisattva Guanyin, looking at the moon and the world and its illusory nature with perfect serenity, is now framed by a dark red wall that suits him.
Guanyin makes another appearance in the 17th century wood sculpture above, except now he has 1,000 arms. The signage explains. "It is said that because this bhottisattva previously did not have enough power to reach out to all those who needed help, the Buddha enabled him to have 11 heads and 1,000 arms to provide assistance to all those in need."
Random violence against Asians in America is finally in the news after an upward progression for the last, pandemic year while the racists in charge were and continue to poison the airwaves with "China Virus" and "Kung Flu."
Looking at photos of those attacking elderly Asians on urban sidewalks around the country, half of them look like street people schizophrenics who are hearing scary voices in their head saying "Hurt Asians."
Almost all of the interesting younger people I know in the San Francisco Bay Area are Asian-American. Brilliantly juggling at least three cultures simultaneously, they strike me as potential saviors of the world.
They are also freaking out right now. Reverence for elders is a foundational value, and it's being violated increasingly, daily, publicly. So please, make a point while in public to watch out for your fellow Asian citizens, particularly the elderly, who are right now at risk from the unleashed crazies.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Tulips and Kitesurfing

We told our friends to meet us at the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden in Golden Gate Park last Sunday.
It was a foolish choice because seemingly everyone else in San Francisco was meeting friends there.
The signage now says "Queen Wilhelmina Garden," excising the word "Tulip," possibly because somebody has decided there will be diversity in the annual spring planting.
We quickly made our way to Ocean Beach on the cold, windy day and stumbled across an amazing display of athleticism...
...from a contingent of kitesurfers...
...who were somehow harnessing both the winds and the waves... times defying gravity as they flew into thin air above the sea.
I have never been coordinated or fit enough in this lifetime to even think about attempting something like this...
...but our companions were athletic mountain bikers in their 50s who gazed at the extreme sports action longingly.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

SFMOMA Reopens

SFMOMA reopened to visitors this weekend after an aborted reopening last fall was shuttered by winter's pandemic surge.
The museum has weathered a tough year. Early in the pandemic the institution laid off 135 employees, and recently laid off another 55. Neal Benezra, the Director for the last 19 years, has just announced that he's stepping down. (Click here for a Hyperallergic article by Valentina di Liscia).
Then there was a BLM/Instagram controversy in May that was yet another cautionary lesson in the perils of social media use by institutions that want to be woke but are as establishment as they come. (Click here for a roundup of the mess by Jonathan Curiel at SF Weekly.) People seem to forget that the main benefactors of SFMOMA are the San Francisco family dynasties of Don Fisher and Charles Schwab, right-wing Republicans in a one-party Democrat town. The photo above is me in front of a painting by the late Philip Guston, who has been in the center of another racially charged art world controversy. (Click here for a great Peter Schjeldahl article in The New Yorker on the subject.)
The limited attendance really did make the place feel safe on the Members Only opening Saturday, and we took an empty elevator to the top, seventh floor. However, the only installations there were two videos in enclosed rooms, with an actual line to get into them which struck me as the last thing I wanted to do during the still extant pandemic, vaccinated or not. We made our way to the Photography third floor where the opening signage was more artful than the exhibit.
I was hoping for wild, off-the-wall installations but instead each of the five artists' rooms were actively dull.
We made our way to the Permanent Collection second floor and went in the back way rather than the entrance with Matisse's la femme au chapeau. We wandered through the ultimate modern art installation, completely blank white walls, and got slightly lost before a museum guard pointed the way to the paintings.
There were some great new pieces, including the 22-year-old Jordan Casteel's 2020 Aurora.
These rooms all have silly mini-themes like "Beauty" or "People, Places and Things," but the art transcends the labels, like Yinka Shonibare's 1999 Gay Victorians cloth sculpture, framed by Mickalene Thomas' 2011 Qusuquzah, une très belle négresse 1.
Thomas's painting is part of the new collection made possible by a controversial deaccessioning of a Mark Rothko painting two years ago (click here for an artnet article). Also recently purchased is the 2018 Elder Sun Benjamin by the 87-year-old Guyanese painter Frank Bowling, which looks like a warmer, happier, African Rothko.
It was a joy to see a few old California favorites like Wayne Thiebaud's 1975 Buffet... of my favorite Richard Diebenkorn paintings...
...and Joan Brown's 1964 Noel in the Kitchen.
Austin perversely sat on the bench in front of the major Rothko the museum owns with his back to the painting, while I dodged fierce ancient Filipina museum guards who had finally noticed I was carrying a plastic bottle of water because there were no drinking fountains open on account of the pandemic. "You can't have that water bottle in the galleries." "I'm not drinking from it." "Then put it in your bag." "I don't have a bag." "You can't have that water bottle in the galleries." I was no match for them and fled.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Year of the Ox on Parade

A colorful sculpture suddenly appeared in Civic Center recently.
After a little investigation, it seems that this is one of eleven different ox sculptures installed by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce in honor of the Lunar New Year. This was in lieu of their annual parade downtown which was canceled on account of the pandemic. (Click here for a map for the other locations.)
Chinese-Americans have been treated terribly by their Anglo counterparts in the United States for over a century, and the racism has ramped up again thanks to right-wing American government officials braying about "the China virus." If you see anybody being harassed in any way, please step up with assistance, because this is horrible and evil.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Sunday in the Park with Austin

For the last 12 months, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park has been jammed with people looking for a safe space to exercise outdoors, so we have mostly been avoiding it.
We decided to try again Sunday and spent a splendid afternoon walking from Stanyan Street to the Great Ocean Highway.
There is a major controversy brewing at the park over a 150-foot Ferris wheel on the Music Concourse, installed mid-pandemic, which SF Rec & Park wants to keep for revenue generation and kickbacks to nonprofit partners and crooked politicians. (Click here for a recent article by Jaxon Van Derbeken).
Another point of contention is the de Young Museum wanting to reopen JFK Drive to traffic again. A large stretch of four-lane road was closed to autos during the pandemic so there would be more room for pedestrians, bicyclists, runners, dogwalkers, and rollerskaters.
The wealthy trustees of the museum are pretending it needs to be reopened to cars so "vulnerable populations" can freely park there. Click here for a link to their absurd PR statement, which notes that not everyone can afford the $29 day fee for the underground parking garage, neglecting to mention that it was built specifically so that JFK Drive could be closed to traffic many years ago. (Photo above is by Austin channeling his inner Imogen Cunningham.)
It's a public park, people, paid for through taxes, not a revenue generator for a notoriously corrupt city government and a mediocre art museum that charges $30+ for touring exhibits.
We sidestepped the crowded Music Concourse but hiked up a hill to Stow Lake where there were sunning turtles, paddleboaters, and a Chinese Pavilion. What more could you ask for?
We finally arrived at Ocean Beach, still my favorite pandemic safe place, and drank a beer while soaking in the view.