Thursday, September 21, 2023

Dawdling at the de Young

Since retiring from my job last month, there has been time to dawdle and to pop into local museums on near-empty weekdays.
Tuesday afternoon involved a walk through Golden Gate Park, and a close study of an 1878 bronze sculpture, Le Poème de la Vigne (The Vintage Vase) by the prolific French illustrator Gustave Doré. He created it for French winemakers at the Paris World's Fair, and in 1894 the foundry shipped a version to San Francisco for the California Midwinter Exposition.
The outdoor signage notes that the vase is decorated with cupids, satyrs, and bacchantes associated with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine.
This doesn't explain why so many of the cupids seem to be lewdly entangled with flies and beetles and snakes.
Inside the museum I climbed the treacherous staircase to the top floor to see the Kehinde Wiley: An Archaeology of Silence exhibit for the second time.
The show of huge paintings and sculptures premiered at the Venice Biennale last summer, and begins its tour of four American museums at the de Young. (Pictured above is Femme Piquée par un Serpent (Mamadou Gueye), 2022.)
The exhibit has been installed since March and is leaving October 15th so if you are interested, now is the time to check it out.
The museum website tries to explain the concept: "Kehinde Wiley’s new body of paintings and sculptures confronts the silence surrounding systemic violence against Black people through the visual language of the fallen figure. Wiley investigates the iconography of death and sacrifice in Western art, tracing it across religious, mythological, and historical subjects. In An Archaeology of Silence, the senseless deaths of men and women around the world are transformed into a powerful elegy of resistance. The resulting paintings of figures struck down, wounded, or dead, referencing iconic paintings of mythical heroes, martyrs, and saints, offer a haunting meditation on the legacies of colonialism and systemic racism."
That may all be so, but the visual effect of the installation is very pop, almost akin to Jeff Koons...
...especially the oversized riff on the famous Roman sculpture The Dying Gaul.
I intended to continue walking towards the ocean, but thought better of it after looking out from the de Young tower. It was obvious that the smoke-filled air from Northern California wildfires had only gotten worse as the day wore on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Kinship at SFMOMA

There is an interesting group photography exhibit at SFMOMA called Kinship, which is described on the the museum website as: "...six contemporary photographers who share a special affinity with their subjects. Relationships are fundamental to each artist’s practice, whether they are familial, platonic, romantic, cultural, or geographic in nature."
That curatorial concept is tenuous but the show features three smashing photographers, starting with Alessandra Sanguinetti, who was born in New York, raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and now lives in the SF Bay Area. Her series of photos of two Argentinian cousins, Guillermina and Belinda, is mysteriously beautiful. (Pictured above is The Necklace, 1999.)
The cousins posed for Sanguinetti (The Black Cloud, 2000)...
...sometimes re-enacting their own dreams (Ophelias, 2002).
Shot over the course of 20 years, the series ends with both of them becoming mothers (Nine Months, 2007).
Another room contains the work of Paul Mpagi Sepuya, a 40-year-old photographer from San Bernardino.
His work is also stunningly beautiful on the surface, while playing with loaded subjects like yearning eroticism, homosexuality, and race (Model Study, 2021).
The name Black and White Men Together, a San Francisco gay organization begun in 1980, suddenly came to mind out of the depths of memory (Drop Scene, 2021).
Another remarkable photographer in the exhibit is Jarod Lew, born in Detroit and currently studying for his Masters Degree at Yale (We Come in Peace -- Stone, Matthew and Kevin, 2022).
The photos are from a project called Please Take Off Your Shoes, where Lew contacted young Chinese American strangers who exist in that liminal, jumbled space between pop American culture and the traditional Chinese cultures of their parents.
The combination of rosewood furniture and modern American young people is fascinating, (The Most American Thing (Tina), 2021). Kinship is at SFMOMA on the third floor until November 13th and is worth checking out.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Two Requiems for the Price of One

On Saturday the 19th, the San Francisco Choral Society performed two Latin requiems in Davies Symphony Hall. The first was written by contemporary Ukranian composer Alexander Shchetynsky in 1991 and revised in 2004. The other was written by Mozart in 1791 and the incomplete score was finished by Austrian composer Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
Though not a big fan of requiems as a general rule, I attended partly to hear a friend sing a small soloist part in the Shchetensky, which was a lovely 20-minute work firmly in the vein of other Eastern European composers like Henryk Górecki and Arvo Pärt who migrated from serialism to simpler, ascetic, spiritual music. (Pictured above is bass-baritone buddy Sid Chen, who sounded clear and resonant, standing next to ginger giant Russell Carrington.)
The San Francisco Choral Society under Music Director and conductor Robert Geary started in 1989 and have been giving performances of major symphonic choral works ever since. I have heard them sing Haydn's The Seasons at Calvary Presbyterian Church, David Lang's battle hymns at the Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park, and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana in Davies Symphony Hall, and they were all thoroughly enjoyable performances.
Part of the joy comes from the enthusiastic energy of non-paid, auditioned amateurs performing at high levels with professional singers and orchestral musicians. The freelance orchestra for this concert was billed as the California Chamber Symphony, contracted by violinist and teacher Eugene Chukhlov. It was an unusual combination of seasoned pros and a few students who looked like they had barely passed through puberty. They sounded good, though.
Mozart's Requiem starts off fabulously and then becomes pedestrian in the middle sections written by Süssmayr, but this was the most enjoyable version of the work I have heard live. (Pictured above is Bob Ashley, Principal Bass of the Marin Symphony, among other gigs.)
The soloists were Emily Sinclair, soprano; Shauna Fallihee, mezzo-soprano; Michael Jankosky, tenor; and Eugene Brancoveanu, bass-baritone. Sinclair had pitch problems, but Fallihee and Jankosky were lovely, and Brancoveanu sounded as good as ever, booming beautifully through the large hall.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Presidio Tunnel Tops Park

A new, $118 million park opened last summer on top of the tunnels connecting Presidio Parkway to the Golden Gate Bridge.
We made our first visit last Friday and the 14-acre site on multiple elevations was actually larger than anticipated from photos.
The site is a stunning addition to San Francisco's public spaces, with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge...
...huge cargo ships...
...a really fun looking kids' playground...
...and good-looking exercise enthusiasts.
There are long, sinuous benches along the vista walkway...
...that have become popular hangouts for small birds...
...who appear to be unfazed by nearby humans.
In another welcome development, the #30 bus line which goes through SOMA, the Financial District, Chinatown, North Beach, and the Marina has finally extended its route all the way into the Presidio to the Sports Basement store parking lot (seen above). The pavement there is about to be torn up soon for an extension of the park with more picnic tables and shade. It's a joy to watch the Bay Area reclaiming its waterfront for public use after decades of trashing it with landfills and industrial waste.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Dolores Huerta as Operatic Heroine

On August 12th in San Francisco's Veterans Building, a "workshp" performance was given of Dolores, an unfinished opera about the legendary California labor, civil rights, and feminist activist Dolores Huerta. And who should show up but the 93-year-old icon herself.
The opera by Nicolás Lell Benavides with a libretto by Marella Martin Koch was incubated by the West Edge Opera troupe during the pandemic, which held a composing contest for new works. Sunday was the first live run-through of about an hours' worth of the opera, which already has multiple regional companies co-producing the work that is slated to premiere in 2025.
Composer Benavides, in his introductory thank you remarks, singled out brilliant Bay Area conductor Mary Chun (above left) who was raised in the San Joaquin Valley, the resonant geography of the opera. He also gushed about Southern California native mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra (above right), who performed the title role.
The libretto focuses on the year 1968, three years into the United Farm Workers union table grape boycott, when Cesar Chavez began a very public hunger strike before ending it after a visit from presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. Dolores's organizing skills were a huge boost for Kennedy's eventual California primary win, and he thanked her publicly during his victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel right before he was assassinated. Other historical characters appear, like Samuel Faustine as Tricky Dick, above left, in two scenes that play as Nixonian satirical cabaret. Another character is Larry Itliong, an important Filipino labor organizer ally, given an intense, well-sung performance by David Castillo, above right. (Not pictured is Alex Boyer as Robert Kennedy who delivered a splendid aria that sounded like the verbatim victory speech.)
Benavides also thanked West Edge Opera General Director Mark Streshinsky for coming up with the money to add a chorus to the opera's forces. Their repeated interjections of "Uvas no (No grapes!)" was one of the highlights of the afternoon. (Pictured are Andrew Green, Julia Hathaway, Alexis Jensen, Michael Kuo, Richard Mix, and Leandra Ramm.)
In one affecting aria, Sergio González played Juan Romero, a busboy who met Kennedy on that ill-fated evening.
Dolores had nine children over the decades so there were a lot of cousins present at this preview performance, including composer Nicolás Lell Benavides himself.
My late, leftist mother adored Mexican culture and helped poor farmworker families jump through bureaucratic hurdles. For years, her favorite snack on the Southern California beaches where we swam every day had always been green grapes, but for five years she was adamant in boycotting them in support of the long, grueling strike. To see Dolores Huerta in person decades later felt like a circle being closed. May the operatic tribute prosper.

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Pistahan Parade 2023

The annual Filipino Pistahan Parade begins in Civic Center, marches down Market Street, and ends downtown at an outdoor festival in Yerba Buena Center.
Like any good parade, the event is eclectic, with an opening biker contingent that looked like a smaller version of the Gay Pride Parade's Dykes on Bikes.
There was what looked to be an ROTC drill team...
...and dancers in traditional garb...
...including scantily clad young men.
A bevy of health worker groups were represented, including Kaiser. If all Filipino health workers collectively called in sick one day, the entire system of Western health care would collapse in an instant.
Among the politicians and various Bay Area communities, first prize goes to South San Francisco...
...who seriously represented with a large turnout...
...including Mayor Buenaflor Nicolas waving to us all from a tiny float.
The most pointed politics prize goes to a solo gentleman wheeling SMASH WHITE SUPREMACY signage down Market Street.