ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Photography in Mexico” from SFMOMA at the Sonoma County Museum—opening reception Saturday, September 28; two talks in early October

For over four years, Mexican photographer Yvonne Venegas was permitted to document the family and home of Maria Elvia De Hank, wife of millionaire Jorge Hank Rohn, the former mayor of Tijuana.  “Nirvana” from the series “Maria Elvia De Hank” points to the early roots of the exhausting and contradictory life of privilege. 2006; inkjet print; 19 1/2  x 24 in.; Collection SFMOMA; © Yvonne Venegas

For over four years, Mexican photographer Yvonne Venegas was permitted to document the family and home of Maria Elvia De Hank, wife of millionaire Jorge Hank Rohn, the former mayor of Tijuana. “Nirvana” from the series “Maria Elvia De Hank” points to the early roots of the exhausting and contradictory life of privilege. 2006; inkjet print; 19 1/2 x 24 in.; Collection SFMOMA; © Yvonne Venegas

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) holds one of the world’s most distinguished collections of photography from Mexico, which is part of an unprecedented statewide tour of works from SFMOMA’s photography collection while the museum building is closed for expansion through early 2016.  The Sonoma County Museum is the first host for Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA which opens with a festive reception on Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 6 to 8 PM.   Featuring approximately 100 photographs, Photography in Mexico reveals a distinctively rich and diverse tradition of photography in Mexico and includes works from Mexican photographers as well as foreigners who lived and worked in the country for years.  The show begins with works from the medium’s first flowering in the wake of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) and goes on to explore the explosion of the illustrated press at midcentury; the documentary investigations of cultural traditions and urban politics that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s; and more recent considerations of urban life and globalization.  The exhibition includes work by Lola Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Carrillo, Alejandro Cartagena, Graciela Iturbide, Elsa Medina, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Edward Weston, and Mariana Yampolsky, among others.  Many of the photographs in the exhibition are recent gifts from Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Dan Greenberg.

Enrique Metinides worked as a crime photographer in Mexico for over 50 years capturing murders, car crashes, and catastrophes for the nota rojas, Mexico’s infamous crime magazines.  “Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con público reflejado en el agua,” (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960; gelatin silver print; 13.75 x 20.75 inches; SFMOMA, Anonymous Fund purchase; © Enrique Metinides

Enrique Metinides worked as a crime photographer in Mexico for over 50 years capturing murders, car crashes, and catastrophes for the nota rojas, Mexico’s infamous crime magazines. “Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con público reflejado en el agua,” (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960; gelatin silver print; 13.75 x 20.75 inches; SFMOMA, Anonymous Fund purchase; © Enrique Metinides

“I am most interested in the lesser known contemporary work that illustrates the enormous divide of rich and poor,” said photographer and teacher Renata Breth, who will be giving a walk-through on October 10.  Breth won a large local following when she gave an engaging talk about the contextual history of Gregory Crewdson’s large-scale photographs in January at the Sonoma Film Institute.  “Hector Garcia and Enrique Metinides are photographers whose work and lives are fascinating.  Metinides, who for fifty years has photographed crime scenes and accidents, recently had a retrospective of his work at Aperture gallery in NYC.”

“It is a tremendous privilege to make these photographs available to a wide range of new audiences and forge fruitful relationships with institutions throughout the state,” says Corey Keller, SFMOMA curator of photography, who organized the tour. Photography in Mexico will also travel to the Bakersfield Museum of Art (September 11, 2014–January 4, 2015); and the Haggin Museum, Stockton (dates TBD).

9.Questions of land use and urban development pervade the work of contemporary Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena.  The stillness belies the violence that has a vice-grip on Mexico’s northern cities as the drug war has relocated to the suburbs. “Business in a Newly Built Suburb in Juarez,” from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2009; inkjet print; 15 3/4 in. x 20 in.; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Alejandro Cartagena

Questions of land use and urban development pervade the work of contemporary Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena. The stillness belies the violence that has a vice-grip on Mexico’s northern cities as the drug war has relocated to the suburbs. “Business in a Newly Built Suburb in Juarez,” from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2009; inkjet print; 15 3/4 in. x 20 in.; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Alejandro Cartagena

Exhibition Programming at the Sonoma County Museum

Thursday, October 3rd at 7 pmRevolution and Change in Mexico, Gallery talk by Tony White, SSU

Tony White will provide the historical background for the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the major political, social, economic changes in Mexico through the 1980s, and its transformation  into a modern urban, industrial country in recent years.  Since the Revolution led to a cultural renaissance beginning in the 1920s, he will also discuss the major developments in art, mural painting, literature and music.

Tony White is Professor Emeritus in History at Sonoma State University, where he taught Latin American History for 37 years.  He holds a Ph.D. in History from UCLA and is the author of Siqueiros, Biography of a Revolutionary Artist (Book Surge, 2009).  He has lived in Santa Rosa for 45 years. Click here for tickets.

Thursday, Oct. 10th at 7 pm—Photography in Mexico, Gallery talk by Renata Breth, SRJC

Renata Breth will highlight several of the photographers in the SFMOMA’s Mexican Photographer’s exhibition calling attention to unique Bay Area connections, influences and political aspects of the dynamic images.

Renata Breth, who grew up in Vienna, Austria, received her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in filmmaking and photography. She has lived in Sonoma County since 1985 teaches photography full-time at Santa Rosa Junior College. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and received numerous awards.  Click here for tickets.

Details:  Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA has an opening reception, Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 6-8 PM.  The exhibition ends January 12, 2014.  The Sonoma County is located at 427 7th Street, Santa Rosa, CA.  Street Parking.  Hours: Tues-Sun 11 AM to 5 PM.  Admission: $7 adults; $5 65 and older; free for children under 12.  Information:  707 579-1500 or http://www.sonomacountymuseum.org/.

September 28, 2013 Posted by | SFMOMA, Sonoma County Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just 2 viewing weekends left—“Garry Winogrand,” at SFMOMA, closes, along with the museum building, on June 2, 2013

Arguably one of the most prolific photographers of our time, Garry Winogrand’s first retrospective in 25 years, is at SFMoMA through June 2, 2013.  Garry Winogrand, Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952; gelatin silver print; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Arguably one of the most prolific photographers of our time, Garry Winogrand’s first retrospective in 25 years, is at SFMoMA through June 2, 2013. Garry Winogrand, Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952; gelatin silver print; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

“For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film,” said American photographer Garry Winogrand, “if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better.”  When Winogrand’s life was cut short by cancer in 1984 at age 56, he was already widely acknowledged as one American’s most influential photographers, particularly known for his vivid chronicling of the social landscape of post-war American life.   While he loathed the off-used label “snapshot photographer” and felt that “street photographer” imposed too narrow a lens on his work, those are the names that stuck.  He too, had always been known as a “prolific shooter,” but just how prolific was utterly shocking to those left to sort out his legacy. He left behind a staggering amount of unprocessed as well as unedited work.  More than 2,500 rolls of exposed but underdeveloped film were found, plus an additional 4,100 rolls that he had processed but never seen—an estimated total of 250,000 images that have remained virtually unknown. Suddenly, there was a lot more to consider when examining the oeuvre of the acclaimed photographer of New York City and of American Life from the 1950s through the early 1980s.

An important exhibition at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which closes on June 2—the first major touring exhibition in 25 years of Garry Winogrand—does just that.  Garry Winogrand, an expansive retrospective of some 300 images, brings together Winogrand’s most iconic images with newly printed photographs from the never seen archive of his later work.  Included are photographs from Winogrand’s travels around the United States as well as his better known New York City images.  The exhibition was organized by photographer and author, Leo Rubinfien, a long-time close friend of Winnogrand,  in collaboration with SFMOMA curator Erin O’Toole and Sarah Greenough of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where it will travel after its run in San Francisco, followed by New York, Paris, and Madrid.  With SFMOMA’s expansion project getting seriously underfoot this summer, the building itself will close its doors on June 2, so now is the time to visit SFMOMA and pay your respects to its Third Street Botta palazzo.

Winogrand took this photo 1 year before he died. Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-83; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand took this photo 1 year before he died. Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-83; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The majority of photographs in the Winnogrand exhibition were printed by Winogrand or under his supervision by Thomas Consilvio or Paul McDonough.  The rest were made after his death, with the majority of those printed in 2012-13 in Tuscon, Arizona, by Teresa Engle Schrimer.  All are silver gelatin prints.

The exhibition  is organized in three categories—

“Down from the Bronx”— presents photographs taken for the most part in New York from Winnogrand’s start in 1950 until he left New York in 1971. Winogrand came from that “rude part” of NY, explained Rubinfien, which caused him to say late in his life,“I came from the Bronx. I was goosh. I was so goosh, I didn’t know the word goosh.”

Erin O’Toole discusses Winogrand’s early work

“A Student of America” looks at work made in the same period, 1950 to 1971, during journeys he made outside New York.  This is an expression Winogrand used to describe himself.  “One day I was walking along 57th street with him,” explained Rubinfien, “and he said, talking about himself, ‘You could say I am a student of photography, and I am that, but really I am student of America.’  What he meant by that, I think, is that his photographs were an investigation in which he tried to understand what made this country most itself.”

20.Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, 1957; gelatin silver print; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, 1957; gelatin silver print; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“Boom and Bust” addresses Winogrand’s late period—from after he moved away from New York in 1971 until his death in 1984—with photographs from Texas and Southern California, as well as Chicago, Washington, Miami, and other locations. Also included are a small number of photographs Winogrand made on trips back to Manhattan, which express a sense of desolation unprecedented in his earlier work.

“The bust, of course” said Rubinfien, “was the great malaise the nation itself experienced in the 1970’s, after its greatest modern boom. It was also Winogrand’s own decline, which turned out to be real. John Sarkowsky was not wrong about that.   If you looked at his top ten contact sheets in the 1960’s, you might find two or three strong pictures in a single roll of film.  By 1982, you might have to go through 50 rolls to find one. He himself was straining very hard to do the thing that he had done interestingly and easily before.”

Posthumous Editing

The exhibition has attracted a great deal of attention in photography circles because it includes works that Winogrand never saw in his lifetime but were selected posthumously by Rubinfine.  Over 9o posthumous prints made from Rubinfein’s selections and drawn from the full span of Wingroand’s career are on view.  The wall labels for these prints indicate whether Wingrand marked a given frame on its contact sheet, suggesting he found it to be of interest.  In a gargantuan effort lasting several years, Rubinfien assessed not only the 6,600 rolls of late work that the photographer never reviewed himself but all 22,000 of his contact sheets in his archive at the Center for Photgraphy at the University of Arizona, Tuscon—starting with images from the beginning of Winogrand’s career in 1950 that he marked but didn’t print.  Rubinfien and the curatorial staff argue they are on solid ethical ground because Winogrand had a strong history of delegation.   Their effort also found precedent in MoMA’s 1988 exhibition “Garry Winogrand,” the first major retrospective of Winogrand’s work which included a small group of prints made by Colsilvio from late images selected by John Sarkowsky, director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, and by Winogrand’s friends and colleagues, photographers Tod Papageorge and Thomas Roma.

“This was a man who loved shooting more than anyone else…he wanted to be outside more than anything else and did not want to be sitting in a room editing his work, “ said Rubinfien. “Beyond that, he had a fundamental discomfort with bringing his work to resolution in books and shows. A result was that the work that was published in his lifetime in a series of five books, was highly topical. The books were done in a rather ad hoc way…a book on women one year (Women are Beautiful (1975)) and another on animals (The Animals (1969)), or political events (Public Relations (1977)) and, as a result, what we inherited was a picture of Winogrand in which he himself was siloed according to a number of topical categories. What this show tries to do is to break that down and give you the view of the full epic sweep of Winogrand’s work.”

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1983; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1983; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

At the press preview, Rubinfein explained that he was largely motivated to explore this later body of work due to distinguished MoMA curator John Sarkowsky’s pronouncement, after organizing Winogrand’s first major retrospective in 1988, that Winogrand’s later work wasn’t very good.  In preparation for that show, Sarkowsky had personally reviewed some and edited a large number of Winogrand’s photographs from the last six years of his life and from the six years before that—basically the work from 1971 on, from the time he moved away from New York into expatriation in Texas.

“I was intensely interested in seeing what Winogrand had done in those years,” said Rubinfien…”In some ways Texas and Los Angeles, in particular, seemed like a natural location in which the work might culminate because it was so much the headquarters of the sprawling vulgarity in this country—it was so much the place you’d go to see where freedom went when it went too far.   So, when that show finally went up, I was distressed and dismayed to read John Sarkowsky’s verdict of the work that Winogrand had lost his talent after leaving New York in 1971 and that he work he had done after that was not very good, but repetitive and lazy.  I had no way of knowing whether that was true, not having not seen the work, so I thought that someone should go back and look again.  Even Sarkowsky said that in his essay.  Around 2001, I thought if no one else did this, I would take it on.”

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, New York, ca. 1951; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, New York, ca. 1951; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“Some argue that what was left behind should be left alone, and that no one should intrude upon the intentions of an artist,” adds Rubinfien. “But the quantity of Winogrand’s output, the incompleteness with which he reviewed it, and the suddenness of his death create a special case in which the true scope of an eminent photographer’s work cannot be known without the intervention of an editor.”  Leo Rubinfien discusses Winnogrand’s late work on view for the first time at SFMOMA

Details: Garry Winogrand closes June 2, 2013.  The last day to visit the current building is June 2, 2013.  SFMoMA, (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is located at 151 Third Street, between Mission and Howard, San Francisco. Hours: Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Friday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.  Admission: SFMOMA members are free. Tickets: Adults $18, seniors (62 and older) $13, students (with current ID) $11, active U.S. military personnel and their families are free, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free; half-price admission Thursday evenings 6-8:45 p.m.; the first Tuesday of each month is free.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jay DeFeo shows are closing—“Renaissance on Fillmore” at Napa’s Di Rosa Preserve and “Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective,” at SFMoMA

Jay DeFeo, Courtesy of the estate of Jerry Burchard, c. 1958.

Jay DeFeo, Courtesy of the estate of Jerry Burchard, c. 1958.

Anyone interested in artist Jay DeFeo—and who isn’t?—should not miss two important shows which are closing this week.  

Closing Sunday, January 27, 2013“Renaissance on Fillmore, 1955-65” at the di Rosa Preserve’s Gatehouse Gallery

 Situated in Napa Valley’s Carneros region amidst a lake and wildlife preserve is di Rosa, visionary collector Rene di Rosa’s art-filled paradise, one of the Northern California’s most important contemporary art collections.   Its impressive stone Gatehouse Gallery is pure poetry.  Situated on the edge of a bird-filled lake, with a wall of windows to take in the panoramic view, the space is filled with natural light and a sense of openness.  It houses rotating exhibitions which draw from di Rosa’s own collection and which offer a look at important work by emerging and established artists, all with an essential link to the Bay Area.  

“Renaissance on Fillmore, 1955-65” is a compact gem, thoughtfully curated by Michael Schwager, chairman of Sonoma State University’s Art and Art History Department and a former di Rosa curator.  It brings together works from 17 artists, including Jay DeFeo and Wally Hedrick, who were a pivotal part of the remarkable and eclectic group of painters, poets and musicians who came together in San Francisco’s upper Fillmore district between 1955 and 1965 and literally changed the course of American art.  The 17 featured artists either lived and worked in the building at 2322 Fillmore or were active in the neighborhood’s pioneering art galleries, such as the Six Gallery, King Ubu, and Batman Gallery. Works by Paul Beattie, Joan Brown, William H. Brown, Jerry Burchard, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Jay DeFeo, Sonia Gechtoff, Dave Getz, Wally Hedrick, Craig Kauffman, James Kelly, Les Kerr, Hayward King, Ed Moses, Deborah Remington, and David Simpson are included, along with photographs, posters, and exhibition announcements documenting this extraordinary period in Bay Area art.

Northern, California seemed an especially welcoming environment for both Abstract Expressionist painting and this new hybrid of art, music, and literature that was lumped under the rather inelegant rubric “Beat,” a word with multiple associations—the rhythm of Bebop jazz, the cadence of spoken poetry, or the sometime desperate conditions under which these artists struggle to create their work. (Michael Schwager, curator) 

Jay DeFeo, "Song of Innocence," (1957), oil on Canvas, 40" x 40," the Jay DeFeo Trust.

Jay DeFeo, “Song of Innocence,” (1957), oil on Canvas, 40″ x 40,” the Jay DeFeo Trust.

There are three works by DeFeo in this show, all from 1957-58,  as well as three portraits of her in her Fillmore Street apartment/studio taken by Jerry Burchard in 1958.  No matter the scale, whether it is a 4×6 inch graphite and colored pencil drawing or “Song of Innocence,” (1957), a 40 x40 inch oil painting which presents a flurry of pastel colored brush strokes organically bursting into a flaming bloom, DeFeo was a master of her space.  

If you go, don’t skip Swinging in the Shadows: San Francisco’s Wild History Groove (DVD, 2011 directed by Mary Kerr), an informative video which covers the entire Fillmore art scene, including slow birthing of Jay DeFeo’s colossal masterpiece, The Rose (1958-66).  Not only does it capture the vibrant life that DeFeo and her husband Wally Hedrick led during that magical era that they lived with the painting which dominated the front room of their famous flat-studio, it recounts several legendary parties.  One included a very drunk Willem de Kooning being pried off DeFeo and then driven around in a sports car.  When finally sober, de Kooning thought he had been in New York because of the remarkable art he saw that evening and DeFeo’s painting in particular “blew his mind.”    

Details:  di Rosa is located at 5200 Sonoma Highway Napa, California 94559.  Directions: MapquestHours: NOV-APRIL: Wednesday-Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed Monday & Tuesday  Fee:  suggested donation $5.  Tours: Guided tours of the collection and grounds are available Wednesday through Sunday. Tours are $12-$15 and are a wonderful way to learn more about di Rosa and its important collection of Northern California art, and offer plenty of time to enjoy the art collection and grounds.

Closing Sunday February 3, 2013— Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective at SFMoMA

When Jay DeFeo died in 1989, at age 60, she was at the height of her creative powers. Despite her iconic status as the creator of the monumental painting “The Rose,” she was little known outside a small circle of art insiders. SFMOMA’s retrospective (finally!) offers a revelatory, in-depth encounter DeFeo’s work, giving this artist her well-deserved tribute. Presenting close to 130 works, including collages, drawings, paintings, photographs, small sculptures, and jewelry, this definitive exhibition traces DeFeo’s distinctive vision across more than four decades of art making.  How did she do it?  Aside from innate talent, she worked obsessively throughout her life, never letting go of ideas until she had thoroughly exhausted them.  

Prepare to be mesmerized and, as a rule of thumb, double the time you think you think you’ll need to take this in. There’s no need to hurry. “Only by chancing the ridiculous, can I hope for the sublime.” said Jay DeFeo in a 1959 Museum of Modern Art catalogue statement. “Only by discovering that which is true within myself, can I hope to be understood by others.”

Details: Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective closes  Feb. 3, 2013.  The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) is located at 151 Third St., S.F. (415) 357-4000. www.sfmoma.org

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Closing Monday: “Cindy Sherman” at SFMOMA, the most comprehensive U.S. exhibition of her groundbreaking work in 15 years and the only stop on the West Coast

An 18 foot tall photographic mural marks the entrance to the exhibition “Cindy Sherman,” at SFMOMA. Instead of relying solely on her signature use of makeup and prosthetics, Sherman used Photoshop to alter her image for the various personas on the mural. The exhibition features 155 of her works and closes Monday, October 8, 2012.

Entering SFMOMA’S 3rd floor Cindy Sherman exhibition, viewers are first greeted by a colossal photo mural featuring several different 18-foot figures from daily life chameleon Cindy Sherman has taken on.  Ranging from what might be woman in a dance class, to a society woman in a red brocade housedress, to a blonde babushka gardener sporting a country-fair medal and cradling a bunch on freshly-picked baby leeks, to a showgirl in a feathered leotard, the women don’t fit into any pat category but hint at the multiple and varied roles contemporary women play.

Sherman created the floor-to-ceiling mural specifically for her travelling retrospective, which first opened in New York at MOMA in February (2012) and will close its run at SFMOMA on Monday, October 8, 2012.   Sherman helped install the SFMOMA show herself and tweaked the mural especially for the Bay Area, using different characters than those included in New York.  The mural shows how her work has changed with evolving digital technology and the magic of image editing.  Instead of the elaborate stage make-up and prostheses that made her famous—seminal examples are on display in the interior galleries—she has now embraced Photoshop.  The mural itself is printed on several gigantic sheets of a special type of contact paper.

One of Sherman’s most recent works, “Untitled #512” (2011), is a 6 x11 foot chromogenic c-print, depicting the artist in feathery white Chanel couture against a harsh and rocky Icelandic seascape. The melancholic setting was digitally inserted behind Sherman’s figure and embellished with expressive faux-brushstrokes.

The 155 images on display through Monday constitute the largest collection of Sherman’s work ever exhibited on the West Coast, and this is the only West Coast showing of the retrospective, which moves to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (November 10-February 17, 2013), and then to the Dallas Museum of Art (March 17-June 9, 2013).

Untitled Film Stills: The exhibition includes a complete set of her seminal Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), perhaps her most well-known and recognizable works. Organized and hung per Sherman’s instructions after she visited SFMOMA, these 70 black-and-white photographs, roughly 8 x 10 inches each, are presented in tightly stacked rows that completely fill a small interior gallery’s walls.   The subject: movie roles for women influenced by 1950s and ’60s film noir, big-budget Hollywood and European art house films.  In each of these photographs, resembling back lot movie stills, Sherman plays an archetype—not an actual person, nor a replication of a scene from an actual movie—but a self-fabricated fictional character in a setting that clicks into our collective subconscious as “the housewife,” “the prostitute,” “the woman in distress,” “the woman in tears,” etc.  Sherman doesn’t title any of her works, a decision which invites the viewer to freely associate.  These recycled tropes, which reverberate off of each other, evoke any number of reactions but most certainly…how does she do it, and by “it,” I mean the dropping of one persona and complete embodiment of another?

Sherman uses herself as a model wearing Balenciaga in 2007, just one of a series of collaborations with the revered design house. Sherman has also worked with Marc Jacobs and Comme de Garcons. Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #458,” (2007-8), Chromogenic c-print, 196.5 x 148 cm, Glenstone.

Centerfolds:  All 12 of her controversial Art Forum magazine centerfolds (1981) are included.  The series takes the horizontal centerfold as its conceptual and physical framework and is comprised of 12 life-size 2 x 4 foot images, shot close-up and then cropped to appear squeezed into the frame. It depicts young women in various elaborate outfits—plaid kilts, gingham dress, wet t-shirts—provocatively posed and uncomfortably baring their disturbed souls.  While Sherman was commissioned by the influential magazine to do the series, it was rejected by editor Ingrid Sischy who thought the images might be misunderstood, and the series consequently never ran.  These images have since become some of her most widely discussed and influential work.

Society Women: Some of her strongest work appears at the end of the exhibition—a 2008 series of untitled portraits of aging society women, done in such grand scale that they are nearly life sized, intensifying the tension, vulnerability and uncertainty associated with women and issues of stature, aspiration, wealth, age, beauty, and desire.  Each portrait appears sympathetically done at first glance but, upon closer inspection, becomes a subtle critique of the subject.  In “Untitled #466,” Sherman portrays an elegant woman wearing a shimmering turquoise caftan, with lovely jewelry, regally posed in what appears to be the courtyard of her Tuscan-style villa.  Not one hair is out of place but her exposed foot speaks volumes—it’s clad in thick support hose and pink plastic slippers of the Dollar Store type.

Cindy Sherman, “Untitled #476,” (2008), Chromogenic color-print, 214.6 x 172.7 cm), Collection of Pamela and Arthur Sanders.

“The women in this body of work are in many ways tragic,” said  says Eva Respini, Associate Curator of Photography, MOMA, who organized the show.  “Because they are presented in larger than life size, you can really see every detail and that speaks to this contemporary way of being and the fact that photography is very complicit in the way in which identity is manufactured today.”

While many may mistake Sherman’s photographs for self-portraits, these photographs only play with elements of self-portraiture and are really something quite different.  Sherman is just the model. “Everything is carefully constructed,” says Respini. “These are really all about identity—an exploration of multiple identities.  She was her own model because it was convenient.”

The exhibition also includes selections from her major series: “Fairy Tale/Mythology” (1985), “History Portraits” (1988-90), “Sex Pictures” (1992), “Head Shots” (2000), “Clowns” (2002-04), “Fashion” (1983-84, 1993-94, 2007-08).

A fully illustrated catalogue, Cindy Sherman, accompanies the exhibition, with essays by exhibition curator Eva Respini and art historian Johann Burton, as well as a new interview with Sherman conducted by filmmaker and artist John Waters.  The local curator is Erin O’Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/08/19/4733209/sfmoma-exhibits-cindy-shermans.html#storylink=cpy

Details: Cindy Sherman runs through Monday, October 8, 2012.  SFMOMA is located at 151 Third St. (between Mission and Howard), San Francisco. Hours: Monday-Tuesday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Friday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Admission: SFMOMA members are free.  Tickets: Adults $18, seniors (62 and older) $13, students (with current ID) $11, active U.S. military personnel and their families are free, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free; half-price admission Thursday evenings 6-8:45 p.m.; the first Tuesday of each month is free.

 

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA acquires Robert Arneson’s controversial George Moscone Bust, on view now at SFMOMA

Robert Arneson, Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, glazed ceramic, 94 x 31.5 x 31.5 inches. SFMOMA purchase through Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions, acquisition made in memory of Jay Cooper. © Estate of Robert Arneson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo: courtesy Estate of Robert Arneson

A vital and once-controversial piece of San Francisco history has finally come home. On Friday, SFMOMA announced that it had acquired artist Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, a large-scale commemorative bust of former San Francisco Mayor George Moscone that incited great controversy when first commissioned and unveiled by the city more than 30 years ago. The famous bust was originally commissioned by The San Francisco Arts Commission as a public artwork for the Moscone Center in 1981. Portrait of George was to be the centerpiece of the Moscone Center, however, it was rejected due to controversial references to the 1978 assassinations of the Mayor and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George not only marks an important moment in San Francisco’s history, but it also marks a turning point in Robert Arneson’s artistic trajectory.  After the rejection of Portrait of George, Arneson took a more critical, political direction in his work and he went on to create some of the most powerful expression of his career.  The bust went on view at SFMOMA on Friday, June 1, as part of an entire gallery devoted to Arneson’s work.

“Since becoming director at the museum in 2002, I have sought to acquire this important sculpture for San Francisco,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who organized the exhibition Robert Arneson: A Retrospective in 1986 during his tenure as curator at the Des Moines Art Center and who has a longstanding commitment to supporting the artist’s work. “I could not be more pleased to finally share this cultural icon with the public and ensure its safekeeping in SFMOMA’s collection.”

Portrait of George (Moscone) was purchased for an undisclosed price through SFMOMA’s Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions; it comes from a private collection, in coordination with the artist’s estate, which is represented by George Adams Gallery in New York and Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco.

Complex History and Provocative Pedestal:  Robert Arneson took an unusual approach to the commemorative public sculpture by creating a portrait bust of Mayor Moscone that was not a straightforward likeness but the blend of caricature and portraiture consistent with Arneson’s signature style.  Early sketches of the proposed work were well received.  When the finished sculpture was unveiled at the Moscone Center inauguration on December 2, 1981, it struck a nerve with the public and its bold 58 inch tall pedestal, with its graffiti-like scrawls and 5 bullet holes, became a huge subject of controversy.

Arneson conceived the pedestal as part of the sculpture.  As the piece developed, he decided that rather than leaving it a neutral supporting element, it should come alive with words and images chronicling Moscone’s life.  Biographical references (“Hastings Law School” and “State Senate”) and some of Moscone’s favorite expressions (“Trust me on this one.” and “Are you having any fun?”) were unobjectionable.  Other inscriptions specific to events surrounding his assassination provoked controversy, such as references to Dan White’s murder weapon (“Smith and Wesson”), the dual slaying of the city’s first openly gay official (“Harvey Milk, too!” and “gay”), and White’s famous defense plea based on his penchant for binging on junk food (“Twinkies”), as well as “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG” and depictions of blood-stained bullets.

By incorporating these elements Arneson had enriched the work to become more than just a personal memorial but a distillation of an unprecedented and intense moment in the city’s history.  The killings of two popular civic officials stunned a community that was still reeling from the Jonestown tragedy only two weeks earlier, when 900 members of the San Francisco–founded cult Peoples Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana.  Even for a city accustomed to political upheaval and violence, the deaths of Moscone and Milk were unrivaled civic blows. (Click here to read full SFMOMA press release which includes a description of  SFMOMA’s public advocacy for the artwork as then Mayor Dianne Feinstein called on the Arts Commission to reject the artwork.)

SFMOMA curator Gary Garrels tells the story of Robert Arneson’s infamous portrait of former San Francisco mayor George Moscone

Portrait of George (Moscone) joins 18 other sculptures and drawings by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection.  Other major sculptures by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection include Smorgi-Bob, the Cook (1971), California Artist (1982), Forge (1984), No Pain (1991), Chemo 1 (1992), and Chemo 2 (1992).  The collection contains several major drawings, including an eight-foot-high drawing Vertical George (1981), which is directly related to Portrait of George (Moscone). SFMOMA also organized and presented Robert Arneson: Self-Reflections (1997), a major survey exhibition of Arneson’s self-portraits.

Click here for a SFMOMA interactive feature created in 2007 about Arneson’s life and work—with audio and video clips, archival photographs, and documentation of the original Moscone bust controversy. (Part of SFMOMA’s Voices and Images of California Art, a series of interactive in-depth profiles of 11 of California’s most celebrated artists.)

Rene di Rosa connection:  The late Rene di Rosa, the Napa Valley grape grower and ebullient art collector whose di Rosa museum and sculpture preserve is world-renowned, was a friend of Robert Arneson. He met Arneson at UC Davis while he studying viticulture and Arneson was teaching art classes.  At the time of Arneson’s death in 1992 at age 62 from liver cancer, di Rosa owned 39 of Arneson’s artworks and had spoken frequently about his appreciation of Arneson’s humor and incisiveness as an artist.  He had watched Arneson’s career develop over a number of years from an artist who was initially reviewed in craft magazines because he was working in ceramics to a highly respected artist whose work garnered international attention.  Arneson’s San Francisco Chronicle obituary (11.4.1992) quoted di Rosa as recalling that “Mr. Arneson felt that the controversy around the Moscone bust ‘was politicized.  In that piece, Bob was setting out to state the facts of politics in a work of art.’   The di Rosa currently has a large Arneson ceramic bust, a self-portrait, on display in its main gallery.

Details:  SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  Summer hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day): open daily (except Wednesdays): 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; open late Thursdays, until 8:45 p.m.  General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SF MOMA Gallery Talk: Curator Lisa Sutcliffe on Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits, Thursday evening, April 19, 2012

Rineke Dijkstra, Hilton Head Island, S.C., USA, June 24, 1992; 1992; chromogenic print; 66 1/8 in. x 55 11/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra

One of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her psychologically probing portraits of ordinary people in states of transition.  Her Beach Portraits, a very painterly series taken between 1992-1996, in which adolescents from all over—the U.K., Croatia, Poland, Ukraine—are posed alone against a background of sea and sky brought her immediate acclaim.  More than simply documenting a transitional moment, Dijkstra reveals a heightened tension in her subjects who are delicately poised on the edge of an unknown future.  These life-size photographs and videos, subtly colored, are celebrated for capturing the essential nature and complexities of growing up.  Taken as a group, these portraits reveal fascinating cultural differences and some universal similarities and allow us to draw some profound conclusions about how people react under a watchful eye.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through May 28, 2012, is the artist’s first midcareer retrospective in the United States, bringing together 70 of her large-scale color photographs, including many of the beach portraits, and five video installations, including two new video projections.  The exhibition is coorganized by SFMOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and curated locally by Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SFMOMA.  On Thursday, April 19, 2012, Lisa Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography, SFMOMA, will give a 20 minute gallery talk, sharing her perspective on one of Dijkstra’s portraits in her Beach Portraits series.  Meet in the Haas Atrium at 6:30 p.m. before moving into the galleries.  Free with museum admission.

video still from “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman),” Rineke Dijkstra, 2009
12’00” (loop), 3 channel HD video, color, sound, © Rineke Dijkstra , courtesy Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin

If you go, be sure to watch her 12 minute video “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman)” (2009) which unfolds on three screens and is the first work in which she used the human voice.  Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” (1937), in the Tate Liverpool, was used as the talking point for a group of British schoolchildren who are filmed having a prolonged serious discussion about what they see in the painting.  To create the video, she set up three cameras on tripods and had the children look at a reproduction of the painting that was attached to the middle tripod, so none of them were looking straight into the camera lens but beyond it, at the image.   Unlike a conventional portrait in which the subject looks at the camera, the children here were engaged with each one another and thus disconnected from the viewer.  What they come up with and how they respond to each other’s remarks and begin to speculate on the woman’s emotional state and situation is truly fascinating.

Rineke Dijkstra, Almerisa, Asylum Center Leiden, Leiden, the Netherlands, March 14, 1994, 1994; chromogenic print; 49 3/16 in. x 41 5/16 in.; Courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York & Paris; © Rineke Dijkstra

Also riveting is her series “Almerisa,” (1994-2008) a study in how a subject, in this case a 6-year-old Bosnian girl in a refugee center for asylum seekers in Leiden, Netherlands, changes over time.  When Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa in 1994, she was in her best and probably only dress, and posed lifelessly, almost like a rag doll, her feet dangling because they could not touch the floor.  Concerned about what had happened to her, Dijkstra found the family after they left the center and settled into life in the Netherlands and began photographing Almerisa every two years or so, completing 11 portraits of her sitting in a chair, that also captured her maturation into a young woman.  The final portrait captures Almerisa holding her own baby.  The orthodoxy in this powerful series is one of honesty rather than beauty.  The subject’s body and character are transitioning for many reasons that invite the viewer to embark on the same type of speculation that Dijkstra asked of the school children who encountered Picasso’s powerful portrait.

Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is the second of three shows at SFMOMA this year focusing on Female Pioneers of Photography.  The first was Francesca Woodman, September 5, 2011-February 20, 2012.  The third is Cindy Sherman, July-October, 2012.

Details: SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.

April 19, 2012 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA’s offers a panel discussion on its fabulous “Francesca Woodman” show this evening

Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976; gelatin silver print; courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman

The art of Francesca Woodman has often been seen through the lens of the powerful and distinctive agendas of the 1970s and ’80s: feminist theory, Conceptual art, photography’s relationship to both literature and performance, Postmodernism.  It has also been seen as part of the moment in history when photography fully entered the sphere of contemporary art. SFMOMA’s exhibition of Woodman’s work — the most comprehensive to date — is a chance to reassess her work and recognize the intensity of her vision. A panel of art historians joins the Francesca Woodman exhibition curator, Corey Keller  (SFMOMA’s associate curator of photography) to discuss the impact and meaning of Woodman’s photography today.

Corey Keller, associate curator of photography, SFMOMA  

Julia Bryan-Wilson, associate professor of art history, UC Berkeley
Amy Lyford, professor of art history and the visual arts, Occidental College
Peggy Phelan, Ann O’Day Maples Chair in the Arts and professor of drama and English, Stanford University

Details:  Thursday, 7 PM, Phyllis Wattis Theater, SFMOMA.  Advanced ticket purchase highly recommended.  $10 general; $7 SFMOMA members, students, and seniors.  Buy tickets.

February 9, 2012 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Call it a Gift, Call it a Loan, the Fisher Collection shines at SFMOMA

Chuck Close, Agnes, 1998; oil on canvas; 102 x 84 inches; The Doris and Donald Fisher Collection at SFMOMA; ©Chuck Close, courtesy PaceWildenstein, NY; photo: Ellen Page Wilson

Times flies.  In the last days of our glorious Indian summer, a subtle reminder.  If you haven’t seen the spectacular show “Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection,” you should:  its three-month run ends Sunday, September 19, 2010.   This is one of the largest exhibitions SFMOMA has mounted and it is the lynchpin of its 75th anniversary program, representing the museum’s latest coup—a novel partnership that will secure its place among an elite handful of the world’s contemporary art museums.   The show presents 161 of the 1,100 artworks in the iconic collection that the late Gap founder Donald Fisher collected with his wife Doris over 40 years and essentially loaned to SFMOMA for a very long time.   The details are still being worked out but a Fisher Family trust will own the works; a Fisher family foundation will interface with SFMOMA; and SFMOMA will house the collection for the next 100 years in its new museum-addition, thereby accessing one of the greatest private collections of modern and contemporary art in the world.  

The enthusiasm is well-deserved— the Fisher collection is a private collection like no other, with a breadth and depth that is rarely achieved.  It is particularly distinguished for its concentration of works by key artists Alexander Calder, Chuck Close, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, and Andy Warhol.    It includes extensive groupings of seminal pieces by several of these artists and traces their creative evolution through entire bodies of works. Gary Garrels, Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture, has done an exceptional job of showcasing this sampling over the 4th and 5th floors of the museum and the rooftop garden.  

As SFMOMA director Neal Benezra put it, “This is the culmination of decades.  Of course, they had money and used it well, but money and enthusiasm don’t always lead to something of real substance.  Don was very active on the SFMOMA board for years along with Doris and now their son Robert.  They watched and participated and donated several significant pieces prior to this, demonstrating a strong commitment to contemporary art….This is just the beginning;  there’s much more to come.”  

Calder to Warhol: Introducing the Fisher Collection, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, through Sunday, September, 19, 2010.    www.sfmoma.org   151 3rd Street, San Francisco, CA, (415) 357-4000.  Closed Wednesdays.  Adults: $18.

September 15, 2010 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFMOMA celebrates its 75th anniversary this year with a free weekend of activities, Saturday- Monday

For those of us who partied through the holidays, and dutifully made our New Year’s resolutions–mine included seeing even more art in 2010–here’s one celebration not to be missed–SFMOMA’s  75th anniversary show.   “75 Years of Looking Forward” officially kicks off tonight with an exclusive, museum-wide member party that will preview the suite of exhibitions “75 Years of Looking Forward” along with a live performance by Magik*Magik Orchestra and the Dodos and entertainment by DJ Cliff Hengst. 

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the museum will be offering a full slate of activities, along with free admission.  ARThound normally avoids huge crowds, but Wednesday’s press preview for this show, proved such a dizzying experience of art overload, that I am recommending several visits to the museum just to be able to take in all that is offered.

January 15, 2010 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , | Leave a comment

Richard Avedon at SFMOMA: A Powerful Retrospective of the Legendary Photographer through November 29, 2009. SFMOMA is the show’s only U.S. venue

Richard Avedon, Self-portrait, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Throughout his celebrated six-decade career, Richard Avedon (1923-2004) has always drawn huge crowds.  His fashion photography, portraiture and reportage, an innovative juggling of commercial and fine art photograph, have seared themselves into our memory.  His current show at SFMOMA, “Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004” July 11 through November 29, 2009, is the first comprehensive retrospective his work since his death in 2004 and delivers over 200 of his signature photographs along with some surprises—lesser known photographs that are remarkable.  SFMOMA is the only US venue this show.  The exhibition was organized by Helle Crenzien in 2007 for The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art Denmark in cooperation with the Richard Avedon Foundation and it has traveled to Italy, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  It is installed here by Sandra Phillips, SFMOMA Senior Curator of Photography, with support from SFMOMA curator Corey Keller, Norma Stevens and James Martin from the Richard Avedon Foundation and the Jeffrey Frankel Gallery.

Richard Avedon, Dovima with elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Paris, August 1955; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Aside from the famous models (Dovima, Suzy Parker, Veruschka, Twiggy), there are movie stars (Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn), rock stars (the Beatles, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Björk), world leaders (Eisenhower, Kissinger, Ted Kennedy), writers and poets (Ezra Pound, Renata Adler), artists (Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol) and non-famous people.  It all adds up to a show that equals the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2002 blockbuster show “Richard Avedon: Portraits.”   Now that Avedon is dead, what kind of artist we judge him to be is ultimately based on the work we see and its presentation, which makes posthumous retrospectives vitally important. 

This exhibition is organized chronologically, highlighting the major themes and benchmark moments in Avedon’s prolific career—his early post WWII street scenes; his breakthrough into fashion work in the 1950’s; his expansive reportage of American counterculture in the 1960’s and 1970’s; his Reagan-era series of portraits of non-famous people—cowboys, drifters—on the fringe and his iconic portraits of the influential and famous.  The galleries are filed with unforgettable gorgeously printed pictures–medium-sized, large, larger and really really large, like the 31 foot long 1969 mural of Andy Warhol and several of his Factory gang, buck-naked. 

Avedon, Homage to Munkacsi. Carmen, coat by Cardin, Place Franḉois-Premiere, Paris, August 1957, @2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

 With Avedon, it’s all about people—capturing them at that perfect moment in time when you sense you can read them— against a backdrop that is either a highly-stylized fashion environment infused with energy and movement or, for the portraits, a stark sheet.  Either way, Avedon was in full control of everything down to the finest detail.

 Of his early fashion photography, certainly the most famous images are those of his beloved models– “Dovima with Elephants, evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955” and “Homage to Munkacsi, Carmin, Coat by Cardin, Place Franḉois-Premier, Paris, August 1957”  which captures Carmen gliding effortlessly in mid air as she steps off a curb into a Paris street.  Avedon was inspired by the Hungarian-born Martin Munkacsi, whose work he had come across in Harper’s Bazar and Vogue.  Munkacsi was a former sports photographer who revolutionized the static world of fashion photography by injecting it with movement. Avedon added to Munkacsi’s pioneering work by infusing the movement with soul and emotion.

Richard Avedon, Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

 As Avedon quickly found his expressive groove in the fashion work, his career took off and he successfully and seriously embraced portraiture.  His stark portraits have been described as unforgettable, as being unusually good at capturing character.  The truth is that we read into these whatever we want to see.  We all have an internal filter–whatever we think we may know about that person, we project onto their image.  Critic Michael Kimmelman writes “The tradeoff with Mr. Avedon is between style and substance.  It’s the tension he has made into his art.” (Art Review, New York Times, September 27, 2002.) Avedon’s  1957 portrait of Marilyn Monroe captures a weary starlet who seems smaller than life, whereas his 1963 portrait of a young Bob Dylan seems “charged with future” (Gabriel Celaya). 

 Avedon is one of the very few artists who started in a so-called non-serious branch of photography and transitioned into serious branch and was able stay there, not only as a fully accepted but also as a highly esteemed practitioner of photography as an art. (Helle Crenzien essay p 22 in Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2007)  His first major retrospective was in 1962 at the Smithsonian (he was 39), just as photography itself was being recognized by arts institutions.  His fashion work drew the crowds, who also reacted enthusiastically to his vital portraits.  The situation now is radically different—today, it is generally accepted that a commercial photographer can be an artist. 

Walking through the exhibition, I had a talk with Sandra Phillips, SFMOMA Senior Photography Curator, and with Norma Stevens, Avedon’s long-term “person” (friend, colleague, and Founding Executive Director of the Richard Avedon Foundation in New York) and with James Martin, Managing Director, The Richard Avedon Foundation, who worked closely with Avedon as a technician up until Avedon’s death in 2004.  

 Geneva Anderson:  As Avedon became more and more famous over the years, did his work process change?  Did he become more and more picky about who he worked with, selecting subjects himself, or did he work on commission?  

SANDRA PHILLIPS:  He worked pretty much only through commissions.  He had a very strange egalitarianism mixed with celebrity.  I think what he tried to do was to show that people were remarkable and that famous people were as remarkable as people who are remarkable in different ways. 

His work did change over time.  It changed, I think, because the market place evolved. Harper’s became a less interesting magazine.  It is significant that his last position was at The New Yorker which was kind of like Harper’s Bazar had been and he was very interested in making that a vital magazine.   He also did these commissions In the American West—these people who are not celebrities, they are unknown and that was an interesting challenge for him.  They are not humanitarian pictures; they are very serious pictures though that show the dignity that people have acquired through living as they have and where they have.

Richard Avedon, Willem de Kooning, painter, Springs, Long Island, New York, August 18, 1969; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

I believed the 1960’s shaped him profoundly in the way it shaped us–a period of tremendous upheaval whose resonance we still experience.  He photographed all the players, the heroes and villains, from Janis Joplin, to the Beatles, to Warhol, to the

Vietnam Generals, to George Wallace.  And his pictures of art aristocrat’s Robert Frank, Willem de Kooning and Jasper Johns come from the same special family as those more broadly known. Avedon saw them all as an individuals and all as models.

NORMA STEVENS:  He worked both ways. He worked for Harpers, Vogue, The New Yorker, so if he wanted a photograph someone, like say Ezra Pound, that request came from him through the magazine.  If the magazine brought him someone, he would do that too.  It happened all along the way and I am talking about the portraits–they were something that were of enormous interest to him.  He had fascination with the arts—artists like Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning and writers like Tennessee Williams, Dorothy Parker. By the time he got to The New Yorker, it was wonderful because they were interested and would bring him people that he might not have even known about and it was a wonderful collaboration.

Geneva Anderson:  Did he ever refuse to photograph anyone?

NORMA STEVENS:  Well, Madonna.  When a celebrity comes, they have their idea of how they want to look and you can go along with it but Dick would always want to add his creative mark, how he saw what they wanted to portray.  There might be a little struggle but, with her, she was not interested in working with him and he was definitely not interested in working with her.

Geneva Anderson:   Did she approach him?

NORMA STEVENS:  With celebrities, it’s usually mediated.  She sent her people to our people (and that was me).  She has people she loves working with like Steven Meisel. Dick was not her time of day.  It would have been interesting though–don’t you think?– to see what would have come out of that?

Geneva Anderson:   Did he strictly adhere to no cropping?

NORMA STEVENS:  He rarely cropped.  The prints you see here with all the black edge—that’s the entire photo.  He did it in the camera and that was it.  He used a big 8×10.  The printers would go all through the night and prepare images for him to review in the morning and he would make comments like “it needs a little more drama.”  And they had to interpret that.

Geneva Anderson:  How did the advent of digital photography impact him?

SANDRA PHILLIPS:  I am inclined to say it didn’t.

NORMA STEVENS:  He tried it and it didn’t really impress him.  He might have gone around and said no further prints can be made.  He was very strict about that.

Geneva Anderson:  What was it like over the years?   How did you make it?

NORMA STEVENS:  I am still here.  It wasn’t always fun.  It was an awful lot of work. Look at the energy in those portraits around us…he was just like that…he was so full of energy.  We had an understanding.  I am taller than I look.

 James Martin, Executive Director of the Richard Avedon Foundation  worked as a dark room technician for Richard Avedon during his final years.

Geneva Anderson:  Take me through a typical printing experience with Avedon.

JAMES MARTIN:   I did a lot of his printing.  If you look at the way he has printed, it hasn’t changed that much. Earl Steinbicker, who worked with him from the 1950’s onward, is writing a book about the experience and his blog describers the printing technique.  The process for a single print involves making ten different prints with slightly different contrast ratios—darker or lighter and picking the four that they—the team–think Dick would want.  Those were printed 16 x 20 and put on his kitchen table in morning and, of course, they would all be wrong.  He would say things like “the ear is perfect–you should focus on the ear.”  And so you would go back down to the dark room and spend 4 or 5 hours and make another range of say 6 images based on his comment.  You would bring these up to him and you would get closer but he would say these are garbage.  And so it went.

Geneva Anderson: He had the capacity to use very technical terms to describe precisely what he wanted but it sounded like he chose to communicate in a non-technical way.

Richard Avedon, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, mezzo-soprano, New York, October 1, 2003; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

JAMES MARTIN:   Yes. He would communicate with us using phrases like “this “needs to have more passion” which, in a sense, is not technical but you know exactly what you need to do as a darkroom technician.  “More passion” is a nuanced way to work with the printing process.  Everything was done downstairs in the basement and you would work all day long on a single print, sometimes at 3 in the morning and he would talk in a very non-technical way–“More drama here, less drama there.”  It was a very intuitive way of going about it—it’s also talking with the other technicians you are working with and trying to determine what that means, what does that translate to.  It was a lot of teamwork and a lot of team building.

Geneva Anderson:  Is there a photograph here that you were responsible for printing?

JAMES MARTIN:  There is only one in this show—the portrait of the singer Lorraine Hunt Leiberman. It’s really fairly close towards the end of his life.  He was 82 when he did this project and was aware that it was his last major effort and he knows it and he knows he needs to come up a last important series of photographs.  And this was for The New Yorker but it was also for himself.  He working on this book Woman in the Mirror , photographs of hope, woman that bring that sense of coda to his story, to the work of Avedon.

 These are different portraits. This is a very tender tender image.  You do not see that forgiving quality in his earlier work.  That meant lowering the contrast in her face with one filter, yet pumping the contrast up in the hair.  But once you did that, you ran into the problem of what does that hair convey?  She had red hair and as I took the photo back to him, he would say that it doesn’t look like a photograph of a redhead.  I had to translate that into technical printing—how do you make that hair look red and preserve the contrast with the softness in the face?  It was certainly a challenge and you make choice and it probably took me 20 hours just working on the contrast ratios in the hair alone to really pull it up.  Now that I am looking at it here, I am seeing that in certain light, it looks a little more brown than red.  It’s very hard to look at this without seeing the other photos, the history.

Richard Avedon, Marian Anderson, contralto, New York, June 30, 1955; © 2009 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Contrast that with the 1955 portrait of Marian Anderson  the contralto singer who is captured in a moment of intense inner concentration on song.   By waiting for the moment when her eyes were closed, all the attention is drawn to her mouth, to her total embodiment of voice.  There is strength in this portrait rather than the tenderness and vulnerability in his last portraits of women. 

When Avedon died unexpectedly in San Antonio, Texas, in October 2004 on assignment for The New Yorker magazine, he left iron-clad instructions about how his $60 million fortune was to be used and how his artistic legacy should be preserved.

Geneva Anderson:  Norma, you have worked for the past five years to establish and make The Richard Avedon Foundation financially secure.  We are living in very tumultuous times–how secure are you?

NORMA STEVENS: “We are financially secure for the foreseeable future, at least the next five years.   Dick knew what he wanted done to protect his legacy.  The copyrights of his work alone, which he bequeathed to the Avedon Foundation totaled nearly $300,000.  The estate’s biggest asset is his printed pictures.  His biggest worry was what would happen to the prints after his death and he left directives indicating that no prints or reproductions were to be made posthumously, except for contact sheets, which could be used for educational purposes.

November 11, 2009 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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