ART hound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

“Gorgeous”—gritty, edgy, beyond beautiful—SFMOMA and Asian Art Museum’s exhibition asks you to figure out what “gorgeous” means, just three viewing weekends left

In “Gorgeous” at the Asian Art Museum through September 14, 2014, Mark Rothko’s “No. 14, 1960,” one of SFMOMA’s most visited artworks, shares a small gallery with an exquisite 17th century Chinese bronze Buddha, whose robes seem blown by a soft breeze, and a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist mandala, all of which encourage very slow looking—the full extent of their gorgeousness is experienced through reflection over time.  “Gorgeous” presents mostly Western modern and contemporary works from SFMOMA in conversation with artworks from AAM that span 2,000 years and many different cultures, opening up whole new ways of experiencing all of these works very much in the present moment.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

In “Gorgeous” at the Asian Art Museum through September 14, 2014, Mark Rothko’s “No. 14, 1960,” one of SFMOMA’s most visited artworks, shares a small gallery with an exquisite 17th century Chinese bronze Buddha, whose robes seem blown by a soft breeze, and a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist mandala, all of which encourage very slow looking—the full extent of their gorgeousness is experienced through reflection over time. “Gorgeous” presents mostly Western modern and contemporary works from SFMOMA in conversation with artworks from AAM that span 2,000 years and many different cultures, opening up whole new ways of experiencing all of these works very much in the present moment. Photo: Geneva Anderson

An evocative Mark Rothko painting shares a gallery with a richly-colored 17th century Tibetan mandala and an immovably calm bronze Buddha; a voluptuous 16 to 17th century  stone torso is placed next to a hot pink neon sign that reads “Fantastic to feel beautiful again”; an ornately embossed and gilded 19th century elephant seat, a symbol of status, is near Marcel’s Duchamp’s iconic factory made urinal; John Currin’s confounding portrait of a meticulously-painted nude that combines the physique of a Northern Renaissance master with the grinning head of a corn-fed mid-Western girl shares space with a number of other portraits that provoke discomfort.  They’re all part of Gorgeous, the inventive collaboration between SFMOMA and the Asian Art Museum (AAM), a mash-up of 72 artworks (39 from SFMOMA and 43 from the Asian), spanning 2,000 years, that asks the viewer to decide what ‘gorgeous” means.  Artwise, it’s one of the summer’s highpoints that grows on you with each successive visit. There are just three viewing weekends left as it closes on Sunday, September 14, 2014.

“ ‘Gorgeous’ just clicked right away, hitting all the marks in terms of an exhibition that really had the potential to offer something fresh and provocative and to approach a mash-up of two very different collections,” said Janet Bishop, SFMOMA’s curator of painting and sculpture.  Bishop oversees SFMOMA’s “On the Go Program,” in place at various sites all around the Bay Area while the building is closed for reconstruction and expansion through early 2016. (The excellent “Photography in Mexico” exhibition hosted by the Sonoma County Museum  in September 2013 and about to open at the Bakersfield Museum of Art was one of SFMOMA’s first of the On the Go shows.  The next On the Go project is Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (Sept. 20, 2014 – April 12, 2015) in partnership with OMCA (Oakland Museum of California).  In the works since the fall 2011, Gorgeous is co-curated by Allison Harding, AAM assistant curator of contemporary art, Forrest McGill, AAM Wattis senior curator of South and Southeast Asian art and director of AAM’s Research Institute for Asian Art, Caitlin Haskell, SFMOMA assistant curator of painting and sculpture and Janet Bishop.

“A lot of our shows fall into art history where we attempt to clarify things for the viewer” said the AAM’s Allison Harding, one of the lead curators. “This is more art appreciation, where we want the viewer to enjoy themselves as they try to figure out what they think about this subject.  It’s meant to be very fluid and engaging.”   And fluid it is—the show extends over four galleries and into the expansive North Court.  The artworks aren’t easily categorized but embracing their resistance to classification is the essence of the project.

It almost seems as if Harding and McGill free-associated about their perspectives on gorgeous to come up with the categories they’ve grouped the artworks into—Seduction , Dress Up, Pose, Reiteration,  Beyond Imperfection, Fantasy, Danger,  In Bounds, Evocation, On Reflection.  Interesting wall texts elucidate their personal perspectives and possible juxtapositions amongst the artworks.

Having visited the show five times now, I see most of the associations as interchangeable—the more time you spend looking, and the more you understand what drives your own attraction and revulsion with various works, the more you get to the heart of your own personal gorgeous.

Gorgeous often seduces through the allure of the extreme.  Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988), rendered in gold glazed porcelain 1988, is a mainstay of SFMOMA’s collection.  In addition to being on view in “Gorgeous,” another edition of the sculpture is currently on view at the Whitney’s Jeff Koons’ retrospective.  SFMOMA curator Janet Bishop notes that the iconic piece captures “a very real moment in the pop star’s obsessive personal pursuit of gorgeousness.”   Collection SFMOMA, ©Jeff Koons.

Gorgeous often seduces through the allure of the extreme. Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988), rendered in gold glazed porcelain 1988, is a mainstay of SFMOMA’s collection. In addition to being on view in “Gorgeous,” another edition of the sculpture is currently on view at the Whitney’s Jeff Koons’ retrospective. SFMOMA curator Janet Bishop notes that the iconic piece captures “a very real moment in the pop star’s obsessive personal pursuit of gorgeousness.” Collection SFMOMA, ©Jeff Koons.

Certainly central to the exhibition’s immense popularity is that its combination of Asian and Western, ancient and modern, and seeing familiar works in a new context is a fabulous catalyst for spinning out ideas on something as sassy as gorgeous.

In the opening Oscher gallery, a real icon of SFMOMA holdings—Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988)—is right across from a set of twelve 17th century hanging scrolls by Chinese artist Hua Yan who was famous for his strong personality and rejection of  orthodox conventions of painting.  The expressively painted screens depict a villa ensconced in a sweeping panoramic mountainous landscape on a luxurious golden background.   Near-by is a jewel-encrusted alms bowl from Burma (1850-1950) and also close by is Chris Olfili’s “Princess of the Possee” (1990) and Jess’ monumental drawing “Narkissos” (1976-1991).  I was revolted by the gaudy excess of Bubbles when I first saw it at SFMOMA’s reveal press opening years ago.  Now, 16 years after its creation, I marvel at how it perfectly captures banality of the 1980’s and how its lustrous gold porcelain finish has a magical interplay with Hua Yan’s shimmering scrolls and sweeping hills and with the gilding on the ceremonial alms bowl, a highly-ornate ritual object.

One can’t speak of gold without mentioning Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled” (Golden) (1995), a deeply alluring shimmering gold-beaded curtain—the only interactive work in the show—that seems to produce a smile on the face of everyone who walks through it.  Conceptually, it functions as a portal and is installed as a passage between two thematically different galleries; it even grabs the limelight from a nearby Mondrian.

(Left) Torso of a female deity, 1400–1600. Southern India. Stone.  Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B63S3+.  (Right) “Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again,” 1997, by Tracey Emin. Neon. Collection SFMOMA, © 2014 Tracey Emin.

(Left) Torso of a female deity, 1400–1600. Southern India. Stone. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B63S3+. (Right) “Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again,” 1997, by Tracey Emin. Neon. Collection SFMOMA, © 2014 Tracey Emin.

An Indian stone female torso covered with intricate carving, dated 1400-1600, which has been on view at the AAM for over a decade, was easy to skip over.  Freshly installed in Asian’s North Court, with a different pedestal that exposes what remains of its legs and beside British artist Tracy Emin’s hot pink neon hand-written sign “Fantastic to feel beautiful again” (1997), the stone work is suddenly re-contextualized.  Ermin’s confessional epigram highlights what is absent in the stone work—presumably she was once a complete figure but the centuries have robbed this lush beauty of her of her head, arms, legs—in short, the ability to think or move. “Recovering our awareness of her losses only broadens her allure,” says Allison Harding. “Her acquired cracks and fractures suggest the collision between idea beauty and the world of time and nature.”

“Lawrence Weiner’s ‘Pearls roll Across the Floor’ in the Lee Gallery is a text piece that was installed a number of times in the SFMOMA’s Botta building but is presented here in the Lee Gallery in a new diagonal configuration and a new palette which, for me, really changes its dynamic and the mental images that it evokes,” said SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop who happily admitted “this experience has really changed the way I see objects.”

I imagine like many, I came to Gorgeous with the notion that concepts of gorgeous and beauty were somewhat synonymous.  And, as an art writer who’s been at it 25+ years, I was expecting more of a conversation about beauty and where it stands today, a topic that engaged the art world and philosophical discourse in the 1990’s when there was an active rejection of beauty as a creative ideal.  As Allison Harding explained, “Gorgeous is meant to be distinct from art historical discourse and precise definitions; it’s more about viewers defining for themselves what gorgeous means. …The works in this show are more than beautiful and they all have aspects about them that push beyond conventional beauty to the max, to the zone where tensions exist beyond what is familiar or comfortable.”

Is posing your five-year-old child so as to capture innate sexuality crossing a border, or, is this silver gelatin portrait “gorgeous” because it so sensuously captures an honest slice of childhood?  Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987) brushes up against social boundaries that are fluidly defined but perfectly illustrate the tensions in the SFMOMA-Asian Art Museum exhibit, “Gorgeous.” @Sally Mann. Courtesy: Gagosian Gallery.

Is posing your five-year-old child so as to capture innate sexuality crossing a border?, or, Is this silver gelatin portrait “gorgeous” because it so sensuously captures an honest slice of childhood? Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987) brushes up against social boundaries that are fluidly defined but perfectly illustrate the tensions in the SFMOMA-Asian Art Museum exhibit, “Gorgeous.” @Sally Mann. Courtesy: Gagosian Gallery.

Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987), hung in the Hambrecht Galley, is a silver gelatin portrait of the artist’s 5 year-old daughter, nude from the waist up and posed sexily with her hip jutting out. It strikes a number of disconcerting chords.  “The power of this image lies in ability to confound boundaries,” says  Harding. “The confining square here could be the acceptable borders of childhood, femininity, sexuality; the improvisation is the captured moment and its endless interpretation.”  The modern portrait shares wall space with a set of hanging scrolls from the Asian’s collection from another era, Chobunsai Eishi’s  “Three Types of Beauties in Edo,” approximately dates 1798-1829.  In one screen, a geisha ( erotically?) twists her hair pin with her delicate white hands, her forearm revealed when her sleeve is raised.  In Eishi’s time, too, there was a fascination with ranking types of beauties by the coding is fuzzy to our modern eye.

One of the great things about Gorgeous is the feeling that you’re actually meeting the curators, as their wall texts, written in conversational language, are much more personal and engaging than usual.   Of a red-lacquered wood chair for the imperial court which is carved with amazing narrative scenes, Forrest McGill writes “Looks uncomfortable and impractical, but who cares when displaying wealth and power is the goal, right?” and “contains narrative scenes that someone with a thorough knowledge of Chinese literature might have been able to identify.  But who would have had a change to get close enough to them for long enough to figure them out?”

(Left) “Miss Blanche chair” by Shiro Kuramata (1988), plastic, artificial flowers, aluminum. Collection SFMOMA. @Estate of Shiro Kuramata.  (Right) Chair for the imperial court, approx.. 1750-1850.  China. Lacquered wood.  The Avery Brundage Collection, B60M28+.

(Left) “Miss Blanche chair” by Shiro Kuramata (1988), plastic, artificial flowers, aluminum. Collection SFMOMA. @Estate of Shiro Kuramata. (Right) Chair for the imperial court, approx.. 1750-1850. China. Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60M28+.

This regal lacquered chair is comically paired, in the Oscher Gallery, with Shiro Kuramata’s “Miss Blanche chair” (1988), a see-through modernist acrylic chair that has wonderful floating roses and is said to have been inspired by the corsage worn by Vivien Leigh in the role of Blanche Dubois in the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire.  These two chairs, neither made for sitting, loudly shout-out to the ornate gilded Indian elephant seat (howdah) in the Asian’s North Court which, in turn, dialogues nicely with Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917), a touchstone of conceptual art, which has been installed adjacent it.   It’s quite unexpected to find a factory made urinal in the AAM’s elegant North Court, perhaps as surprising as it was when the original urinal was first designated as art in the 1917 SIA (Society of Independent Artists) exhibition.

DetailsGorgeous closes on September 14, 2014.  The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.  Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.  Admission: Gorgeous is covered by general admission AAM ticket—free for SFMOMA members; $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5; free admission for all on Target Sunday, September 7, 2014 .  For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org/.

August 29, 2014 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum, Oakland Museum of California, SFMOMA, Sonoma County Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

“Hidden Treasures of the Romanov Dynasty”— Dr. Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya, Curator of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, will speak this Thursday, May 10, 2012 at the Sonoma County Museum

Charger, cup and saucer and bowl from the Kremlin Service, commissioned by Nicholas I in 1837. Intended for 500 people, the service included 2,000 dinner plates, 1,000 soup plates and 1,000 dessert plates and was the first time artists drew upon Old Russian motifs from the 17th Century for inspiration. The set took 10 years to complete. Select dishes are on display at the Sonoma County Museum as part of “The Tzar’s Cabinet,” through May 27, 2012. Photo: Giovanni Lundardi Photography

There’s something endlessly fascinating about antique tableware, especially intricately painted porcelain.  A zeal for the best, combined with the nearly limitless resources of Imperial Russia, fueled a craze for porcelain in Peter the Great who first saw this luxury item in 1718 when he visited the Dresden Court at Saxony.  The formula for the internationally coveted  “white gold” though proved illusive and it took Russian chemists several years to get it right.   It was Peter’s daughter, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1762), who ascended to the crown in 1741 and established the most glittering court in Russian history, who founded the Russian Imperial Porcelain Factory in 1744 in the town of Oranienbaum (Lomonosov) and ordered it to produce porcelain wares exclusively for the Romanov family.  She promptly began to test the factory’s creative capacity with orders for royal items of porcelain that grew more lavish and refined as time passed.  During her rule, porcelain never left her palaces and attracted less attention from its practical use as by its rarity, its aura of inaccessibility and the mystique of its creation. The Imperial Porcelain Factory produced tableware exclusively for the Imperial Romanov family for nearly 200 years, reaching its zenith under the “Golden Age” of Catherine II (the Great) (1762-1796), whose hunger for exquisitely painted porcelain was insatiable.  Dr. Ekaterina Khmelnitskaya, Curator of Porcelain at the Hermitage Museum, one of Russia’s foremost authorities on porcelain, will speak on the founding of the Imperial Porcelain Factory and select rare pieces from the exhibition The Tsars’ Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts Under the Romanovs, currently on view at the Sonoma County Museum through May 27, 2012.  Her talk “Hidden Treasures of the Romanov Dynasty” will be presented on Thursday, May 10, 2012, from 6-7:30 p.m. at the musem.

About the speaker: Dr. Ekaterina (Tina) Khmelnitskaya is a curator of the Russian Porcelain and Ceramics collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.  She spent the first two months of 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar at the Library of Congress and has continued her Fulbright studies as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford’s Center on Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.

A 2001 graduate of St. Petersburg State University, she defended her doctoral dissertation in 2007 on the styles of the interiors of the palace of the Romanov Grand Duke Vladimir.  Since 2001, she has worked at the State Hermitage Museum, and since 2003 she has been a curator of Russian porcelain.  She has received research support for work in Germany from the German Chancellor Fellowship and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and from the Max-Planck-Institut for research in Italy—Florence in 2010 and Rome in 2011.

Dr. Khmelnitskaya is the author of more than 40 scholarly publications, including guidebooks as well as scholarly articles and books on the porcelain collection of the State Hermitage Museum.  She participated in organizing over twenty Hermitage exhibitions, including exhibitions in Japan, Germany, and Scotland as well as Russia.  She was in charge of two porcelain exhibitions: “Under the Imperial Monogram: Porcelain from the collection of the State Hermitage Museum” (with Irina Bagdasarova) at the Kremlin in Moscow, 2007; and “Heraldry on Russian Porcelain” (with Irina Bagdasarova) at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in 2008.

Khmelnitskaya’s current research devoted to the Russian sculptors who were affiliated with the work of the Imperial Porcelain Factory and who immigrated after 1917 and continued their work in Europe and elsewhere.

An early porcelain plate from Her Majesty’s Own Service, the first dessert service completed by the Imperial Porcelain Factory, St. Petersburg, circa 1756, under Elizabeth (1741-1761), is on display in “The Tsar’s Cabinet” exhibition at the Sonoma County Museum through May 27, 2012. Photo: Giovanni Lundardi Photography

The Tsars’ Cabinet exhibition: Porcelain of Royalty, each piece an artwork:  The Sonoma County Museum is marking the bicentennial of Fort Ross with the splendid exhibition, The Tsars’ Cabinet: Two Hundred Years of Russian Decorative Arts Under the Romanovs, on view through May 27, 2012.  Most of the porcelain comes from the relatively new private collection of Kathleen Durdin an east coast collector, who gifted a portion of her collection to the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary.  The Tzar’s Cabinet is a travelling exhibition organized by the Washington, D.C.-based International Arts & Artists in cooperation with the Muscarelle Museum of Art.   The historic Sonoma County Museum is its third stop and only Northern California venue.   The show, which takes up the first and second floors of the museum, presents a rich portrait of the Russian Romanovs through the ornate plates they dined on and other luxury objects they either owned or gave as royal gifts.  Just two years away from the 400th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty, this comes as a festive pre-celebration of their rich role in Russian history.

The exhibition is laid out chronologically, starting with early examples of gifted porcelain and attempts to produce porcelain in Russia which culminated in the 1756 dessert service created for Elizabeth—Majesty’s Own Service (Sobstvennyi)—a lovely spiraling basket weave design initiated in small pink flowers connected by a molded gold gilt trellis rope on hard paste porcelain.

One of the most interesting sections is devoted to Catherine II (the Great) (1762-1796), who had a great appetite for fine art and luxury items from all over the world and had the political savvy to use them to enhance her fame and claim to the throne.  She lavished attention on developing the Russian porcelain industry so that it could supply her with services for personal and state use.  The scholarship on the wall and cabinet texts at the Sonoma County Museum paints a fascinating picture of this young, enigmatic and enterprising woman who ruled Russia for 34 years, championing the ideas of the Enlightenments throughout her reign.  She had a passion for collecting, which did not stop with porcelain— with the help of sophisticated advisors, Catherine assembled the core of today’s State Hermitage Museum.

Jennifer Bethke, Curator of Art for the Sonoma County Museum commented on Catherine’s shrewd use of porcelain in a walk-through lecture she gave to museum guests in March, “Catherine, of course is known for her love of beautiful objects, but she used porcelain as a palette to honor those loyal to her, to call attention to her accomplishments and to her progressive beliefs.  She was especially fond of the neoclassical style and commissioned the “Arabesque Service” with design elements from the newly-discovered cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  She had herself inserted in each piece as a goddess in classical dress on a pedestal with allegorical figures at her sides depicting Crimea and Georgia, calling out her own wisdom and sovereignty and Russia’s strength under her rule.  And it was no coincidence that her banquet tables had figurines of exotic Russian peoples—Cossacks and Tartars—these served as talking points about her vast territories.”

Various hard paste porcelain figurines of Russian ethnic groups in tribal costumes, from 8 to 8.75 inches tall, Imperial Porcelain Factory, 1785-1800. Catherine the Great used these figurines at state dinners as centerpieces to remind visiting dignitaries of the extent of her empire and to recognize her victory over the Turks. Photo: Giovanni Lundardi Photography

One of Catherine’s more famous and endearing services was a commission completed for her by the Sevres Factory in France, and inspired by her love of cameos—the Cameo Service.  This service is represented by a cup in the exhbition.  The complete service was for 60 and consisted of 700 pieces executed in a stunning turquoise with scrolling gold gilding, delicate garlands of flowers, and decorated with representations of cameos on themes from Greek and Roman history and mythology.  Catherine’s cypher EII was put on the center of each plate n the service.  The E stands for Ekaterina as Catherine was called in Russia.  The service exemplifies the most elaborate techniques in porcelain manufacture and design at the time.  In some of the pieces, cameos were inserted into the porcelain and secured by gilt-copper filets.  Some of the cameo medallions were applied with a transfer decal process that Sevres did not use again unto the 19th century.  The service was made of soft-paste porcelain, the secret of which was known only to the fabricators and painters of Sevres.  Why Catherine, certainly the richest woman in Europe at the time, took 13 years to pay for it is a question I hope Dr. Khmelnitskaya will address in her lecture.

(Robert Massie’s new book Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is highly recommended as a companion read—suspenseful and full of rich period detail.  Click here to listen to Massie interviewed by Charlie Rose about his new book.)

Teapot from the Gothic Service, Imperial Porcelain Factory, circa 1833, 6 x 9 x 5 ½ inches. The handle is formed as a neoclassical woman emerging from a leafy cornucopia and the lid filial has a helmeted female warrior. Both are finished in matte gold gilding. The sides and lid are decorated in red, blue, green and black to resemble a Gothic stained glass window. Photo: Giovanni Lundardi Photography

The exhibition continues with sections addressing how porcelain embodied Russian nationalism under Alexander I and Nicholas I and shows several regal examples of services drawing upon Russian culture for inspiration.   One of the most attractive pieces in this section is a teapot, circa 1833, from the Gothic Service commissioned by Nicholas I, a great champion of porcelain who elaborately gifted his sons and daughter with porcelain services for dowries and weddings and began the practice of commissioning additions of many of the earlier major services he fancied whether Russian or foreign.  The teapot’s sides and lid are decorated in red, blue, green and black to resemble a Gothic stained glass window.  The handle is designed as a neoclassical woman emerging from a leafy cornucopia and the lid filial has a helmeted female warrior.  Both are finished in matte gold gilding.  The Gothic Service itself was used often during imperial parties and ceremonial banquets up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Several items, obtained locally from Andrew Romanoff, the grandnephew of the last Tsar Nicholas II, have been added to the exhibition and include a calling-card case and family photographs. Romanoff’s grandmother and parents escaped to England and were offered asylum at Windsor Castle, where Andrew grew up.  Now 89 and an artist, he lives in Inverness with his wife, Inez Storer, who has a companion exhibition of her artworks, “Inez Storer: Recent Works,” in the museum’s first floor.

Dessert Plate, Two Dinner Plates, Soup Plate, Butter Plate, Cup and Saucer from the Raphael Service, 1884-1903, Period of Nicholas II, Imperial Porcelain Factory, Russia, on display at the Sonoma County Museum as part of “The Tzar’s Cabinet,” through May 27, 2012.

Russian Porcelain at auction:  On May 28, 2012, Christies, London, will auction several pieces of Russian porcelain, including two important dinner plates from the Raphael Service from the period of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, estimated to fetch from £12,000 – £18,000 ($19,416-$29,124) each.  Several plates in this pattern are currently on display at the Sonoma County Museum.  The detail is breathtaking—the centre of each plate is decorated with a classical figure painted en grisaille on a red ground in a hexagonal frame, on white ground, surrounded by a border of classical-style friezes with three red ground roundels, cream ground interjections and six stylized panels, at intervals, within gilt banding, the panels with raised beading, decorated with monochrome mythical figures, gilt rim and foot, marked under base with gilt crowned monogram of Alexander III.  

Details: “Hidden Treasures of the Romanov Dynasty” will be presented on Thursday, May 10, 2012, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Santa Rosa’s Glaser Center at 547 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $8 SCM members and $10 non-members and are available for advance purchase online here  and will be available at the door of the Glaser Center beginning at 5:30 pm on May 10, 2012.  Note seating is limited and advance purchase is highly recommended.

May 7, 2012 Posted by | Art, Sonoma County Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thursday is Lunchtime in the Sonoma County Museum’s New Outdoor Sculpture Garden!

Ned Kahn's Vapor Fountain (steel, aluminum, 2011) happily bubbled away at last Sunday's inauguration of the Sonoma County Museum's new outdoor sculpture garden. Kahn is an internationally recognized artist who frequently works with water and natural elements. The fountain marks the entrance to the garden which also contains the works of 6 other Northern CA Artists. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The Sonoma County Museum’s new Outdoor Sculpture Garden, its latest in a series of planned upgrades, was dedicated last Sunday at festive reception for donors and museum members.   The community is invited to embrace the new space by having lunch there on Thursdays through September when entrance to the garden will be free.  The new garden is located in a previously empty third of an acre lot at A & 7th Streets in Santa Rosa, next to the Sonoma County Museum (SCM) and features 10 works by 7 North Bay artists– Carroll Barnes, Roger Berry, Edwin Hamilton, Bruce Johnson, Ned Kahn, Pat Lenz and Hugh Livingston.  

The project cost roughly $200,000 and the garden was designed by San Rafael architect Fred Warneke.  The grounds themselves were landscaped by JLP Landscape Contracting of Santa Rosa with native trees, shrubs and grasses supplementing the magnolia and redwood trees already there and a back iron fence with a trellis gate entry surrounds the area.  The artworks are on long-term loan to the museum from the artists with the exception of the sound installation by Hugh Livingston, which was commissioned, and Cazadero sculptor Bruce Johnson’s enormous wood and copper “Sequoia” (2,000), which the museum owns.  “Sequoia,” is a split open old growth sequoia tree whose interior was milled out with a chain saw and lined in copper and is meant to be walked through.   The 16 foot tall piece required an upgrade in its retrofitting before it could be relocated from its east site on the museum to the new garden locale on the west.  (Click here to see a SCM photo album devoted to “Sequoia’s” move.)  

At 16 feet tall, Cazadero sculptor Bruce Johnson's "Sequoia" is a focal point of the Sonoma County Museum's new outdoor sculpture garden. The hollowed-out old growth sequoia was relocated from the east side of the museum to the new garden on the west side with much fanfare. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Sunday’s celebration was also a fundraiser to support the museum’s Collection Initiative, a long range program developed by Diane Evans, the museum’s executive director and Eric Stanley, its history curator, to manage the museum’s collection which encompasses some 20,000 artworks and historical pieces.  Currently, the vast majority of this collection is in storage due to lack of space.  

In April, 2011, the museum was awarded a $300, 000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) five-year Challenge Grant, designated for its Collection Initiative.  This was quite an honor as just two of these challenge grants were awarded in all of California for 2010.   According to Evans, the grant requires SCM to raise $900,000 over the next five years in matching funds.  The grant and matching dollars together will total $1.2 million, which will be designated toward an endowment for the support of staffing to care for and manage the museum’s extensive collections, as well as funds to ensure safe long-term collections storage.  The museum must raise $60,000 by July 31, 2011 to meet the grant’s first stage.  Evans reported Sunday that the museum had raised about $20,000 so far.  All of the funding raised must be allocated to the Collections Initiative and cannot support other museum programs or campaigns.

Meanwhile, the museum’s expansion plans are on track for occupying space in the former AT&T building after its remodel is completed next year.  Contemporary artworks will be displayed in that new space and the present locale, the historic old post office building, will then be devoted to the museum’s vast collection of historical objects.  Highlights of the SCM’s collection include the Song Wong Bourbeau Collection of some 200 photographs and artifacts which represents the rich history and culture of Santa Rosa’s Chinatown, and the Tom Golden Collection of artworks by Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

Hugh Livingston's subtle 16 Channel Sound Installation is a work in progress at the Sonoma County Museum's new outdoor sculpture garden. Livingston placed 16 (round green) units around the garden that emit gurgling water sounds recorded at the Russian River over the past year. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Those visiting the new outdoor sculpture garden this month will have the chance to see Hugh Livingston tweaking his 16 channel sound installation which uses sound bites captured from the Russian River.   The piece has the most conceptual angle among the ten and also corners the market for humor–  it looks and sounds like city water infrastructure on steroids.   In fact, many guests at Sunday’s reception didn’t even realize it was art, which is fine with Livingston who likes making a “subtle point”.   Livingston explained that it was “too noisy” with all the landscaping and irrigation set-up going on to actually hear what he was doing, so he will be adjusting his 16 gurgling green ports over the coming weeks.

Lunchtime: Every Thursday, from June 30 through September 29, 2011, from 11:30am – 1:30pm, Ultracrepes mobile family-operated food truck will be on site selling gourmet savory and dessert crepes made with natural ingredients for $5 to $7, along with a variety of refreshments.  Visitors are encouraged to sit and eat and linger in the garden, taking in the works which have been loaned to the museum on a long-term basis by the artists. 

Upcoming activities in the garden:
June 30: Claire Gustavson Art Class
July 7: Jessica Jarvis and partner (Jazz duo/acoustic jazz guitar and singer)
July 14: Katie Godec (singer)
July 21: Claire Gustavson Art Class

Details: Admission is FREE for Lunchtime in the Garden; regular museum admission applies to visit current exhibitions.  The Sonoma County Museum is located at 425 7th Street, Santa Rosa, CA 95401.  Museum Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11am-5pm.  Information: 707.579 .1500

Current Exhibitions:  Gertrud Parker: An Artist and Collector and Pat Lenz: Nobody’s Poodle, both through September 11, 2011.

Directions: Sonoma County Museum is just steps away from Downtown Santa Rosa and Historic Railroad Square.  From Highway 101 Heading North, take the 3rd St/Downtown Exit from Hwy 101, turn right at 3rd Street and then left at B Street. Travel 3/4 mile and turn left at 7th Street.  The museum is on your right.

June 29, 2011 Posted by | Art, Sonoma County Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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