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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Ursula von Rydingsvard’s “MOCNA,” up at Stanford’s Denning House

Ursula von Rydingsvard’s “MOCNA” at Stanford University’s Denning House. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“Mocna” means strong in Polish.  Yesterday morning, as I was driving by Stanford’s stunning Denning House, which will house a new art collection, I caught my first glimpse of Ursula von Rydingsvard’s newly-installed 17-foot-tall bronze sculpture which lives up to its name.  With its gnarls, ripples and lace-like pierced openings at the top, “MOCNA” reminded me of the latticed Banyan trees, at Ta Prom, Angkor Wat, which have taken hold of the temples with a fierce, intractable grip and integrated themselves into the stone itself.   The piece is prominent but, because of its naturalistic look, in certain light, it might easily be mistaken for a large tree trunk.  At 10 a.m., a few people had stopped to photograph “MOCNA” and a worker lay on the ground installing lights along the path leading up to Denning House.  The view from here is “great,” he said, adding that the installation process had been “intense.”

Ursula von Rydingsvard, 76, a Brooklyn-based artist who was born in Germany to Polish and Ukrainian parents, is known for her monumental works which are in the permanent collections of over 30 international museums and on view in multiple public locations across the country.   Several of her artworks are titled in Polish.  I was first introduced to her at the 2015 Venice Biennale, where six of her magnificent sculptures were installed at the Giardino della Marinaressa, a public park set on the main route between the Giardini and Arsenale, which has a marvelous view across the water to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.  This was her first exhibit in Italy and her majestic works evoking rippled old tree trunks were integrated into the natural canopy of trees in the park.  Three were assembled from actual cedar beams; two were cast bronze sculptures; and one was a work in ice-blue resin cast from cedar.  Her works are easily recognizable.  In recent years, she has tried to move away from pure cedar, instead creating bronze and resin casts from cedar originals.

“MOCNA” was commissioned as the inaugural work in Denning House’s art contemporary collection, which plans to acquire one piece every year from emerging and established artists poised to make a lasting impact in the arts.  Denning House and its art collection were enabled by a gift from Roberta Bowman Denning and her husband, Steven A. Denning, MBA ’78, past chair of the Stanford Board of Trustees.  Denning House will serve as a hub for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars as they pursue their graduate work in departments across campus.  Ennead, the architectural firm behind Bing Concert Hall and the Anderson Collection building, designed the building.

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program is largest fully-endowed scholars program in the world, named for alumnus Philip H. Knight, MBA ’62, philanthropist, American businessman and co-founder of Nike Inc., and former Stanford President John L. Hennessy, who served as the university’s 10th president from 2000 to 2016.  Knight-Hennessy Scholars receive the full cost of a graduate education at any of Stanford’s seven schools. The first cohort of scholars will begin graduate studies in fall 2018.

While “MOCNA” is the first commissioned piece in the new collection, Denning House has also acquired two works by the artist Trevor Paglen: “Matterhorn (How to See Like a Machine) Brute-Force Descriptor Matcher; Scale Invariant Feature Transform” (2016) and “Lake Tenaya Maximally Stable Extremal” (2016). These dye sublimation prints consider the ways that machines understand images, and the gap between recognition and understanding.

Paglen’s work is displayed on both floors of Denning House and can be seen on one of the monthly tours of the building, which will begin in the spring.  MOCNA can be viewed anytime on the north side of Denning House.

Von Rydingsvard will visit Stanford next month for  “MOCNA’s” formal dedication and will gave a talk about her work.

 

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September 18, 2018 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tickets on Sale for MVFF41, Saturday, September 15, at 11 a.m.

 

Icelandic actor and director Benedikt Erlingsson’s “Woman at War” features Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as Halla, a forty-something village choir conductor who is a secret guerrilla eco-activist campaigning against energy corporations that are moving into Iceland.  To protest, she sneaks out into the countryside and sabotages electricity pylons in remote areas using cordless circular saws to slice through the girders, and a bow-and-arrow to shoot disruptive cables over the power lines.  One day, she comes home to find a letter announcing that her application to adopt an orphan Ukrainian baby, made some years ago and all but forgotten, has been approved.  Halla is about to become a mom.  A realization dawns simultaneously on her and the audience.  How will motherhood and her eco-campaign activities mesh?  Besides the breathtaking locales, Erlingsson employs a brilliant concept with the score, with Icelandic and Ukrainian musicians appearing onscreen and providing superbly sonorous commentary on the action.  The film screens three times at MVFF41.  Photo: MVFF

MVFF41 is October 4-14, 2018, and features 204 films from 46 countries with 8 world premieres, 4 North American and 12 US premieres.  Forty five percent of all films across the festival are directed by women.  In addition to film, the 10-day festival features live musical performances. Stay tuned to ARThound for festival recommendations.

Click here to view the full festival program and to buy tickets.  Lock in your tickets early, particularly big events and weekend screenings, as they will sell out.

September 15, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five things you probably don’t know about the Legion of Honor’s “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters”

John Everett Millais’ “Mariana,” 1851, one of the most beloved paintings in London’s Tate Gallery is now on display at the Legion of Honor, the first time the painting has been on the West Coast.  Painted in a glorious jewel-tone palette and bursting with references to nature, “Mariana” exemplifies the aim of the early Pre-Raphaelites to be completely modern by rejecting the contemporary art of their time and going back to the stylistic, symbolic and aesthetic elements of early Netherlandish painters, particularly Jan van Eyck.  Curator Melissa Buron has paired “Mariana” with van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” (c. 1434/1436) from Washington’s National Gallery of Art, also making its West Coast debut.  Photo: FAMSF

The Legion of Honor has pulled off a major coup with its ravishing summer show, “Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters,” which ends September 30.   This is the first major international exhibition to bring together several of the world’s most beloved of Pre-Raphaelite works and pair them with the medieval and Renaissance masterpieces that inspired them.   Melissa Buron, FAMSF’s Art Division Director, with the support of (soon departing) FAMSF Director Max Hollein, was able to secure over 30 important international loans from 25 private collections and museums to bring Britain’s gem Pre-Raphaelite paintings and masterworks from Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, and Paolo Veronese, as well as northern Renaissance painters such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.  There are 111 sumptuous paintings and objects on display that will most likely never been seen together again.

The exhibit focuses on three of the seven founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), all young art students at London’s Royal Academy in 1848—William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti—and traces their influences and protégées into the 20th century.  Fed up with the art of their time, the PRB took an active stance against the “Raphaelites,” the followers and imitators of Raphael who they believed regurgitated past methods without giving them new energy or significance.  Drawing on literary sources, poetry, and scenes from medieval and modern life, the Pre-Raphaelites (PRs) established themselves as the most radical contemporary artists of the Victorian period by creating an aesthetic dialogue with art and artists from past centuries, from early Italian art to genres and materials as varied as medieval illuminated manuscripts and stained glass.  Their commitment was noble but their aims were vague and contradictory which is a likely outcome from a group of young 20 something’s who sought to modernize art by reviving the practices of the Middle Ages.

The show has been widely reviewed, but ARThound brings you five facts about this exquisite exhibit to enliven your experience—

Inspiration for the exhibit:

Melissa Buron, FAMSF Director, Art Division in front of William Holman Hunt’s “Lady of Shalot” (1890-1905), an “exceptional loan” from the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford Connecticut because it is so large and very beloved.   Photo: Geneva Anderson

FAMSF’s Melissa Buron is respected internationally as a leading expert on the Pre-Raphaelites (PRs) and the Victorian era.  Her love of the PRs began when she was a little girl and first read Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalot.”  Through this, she was introduced to PR images, which began to live in her imagination, and she has studied them most of her life.   The idea of pairing PRs with old masters came about shortly after Max Hollein came on as FAMSF director and exemplifies the support he has given his curatorial team during his short stay in San Francisco.

“It was incredibly exciting when Max told us that he wanted to empower curators to work on projects that were exciting to us,” said Buron.  “He was interested in ambitious ideas that were focused around masterpieces in our collection and that also brought great old master paintings to San Francisco.  As a Victorianist, this was a Eureka moment for me.  For the past decade, I had been here in San Francisco trying to explain the PRs with our second generation Stanhope by explaining that he lived in Florence and was under the spell of Botticelli.  This was 30 years into the PR movement and it was a challenge, explaining his complicated name (John Roddam Spencer Stanhope) and the significance of this rebellious group of artists.  I proposed this to Max and he said, ‘This is a good idea; we’re going to do this.’ He was always there to help with loan negotiations and back me up.  It’s been incredible to have that kind of support.”

Buron’s enthusiasm for Stanhope’s vivid masterpiece, on loan from the Wadsworth in Hartford, led her to place it prominently in the final gallery.  Swirling with energy, the painting depicts the Lady of Shalot, who has been shut away in a tower, being struck by the curse. The stanza of Tennyson’s poem in which the curse is unleashed long fascinated Hunt.  The PRs so admired Tennyson that he was placed on their 1848 list of immortals, implying that his work was to be studied and emulated.  Adjacent to this masterpiece, echoing several themes in the painting, is one of the Legion’s rarely seen treasures—an enormous 16th century wool and silk tapestry from Belgium, “The Combat of the Virtues and the Vices,” the seventh panel in the Redemption of Man series.  Click here for info on the tapestry’s symbolism.

“The Combat of the Virtues and the Vices,” from The Redemption of Man series, ca. 1500-1515, wool and silk tapestry weave, (164 x 314 inches) FAMSF. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Botticelli!

Sandro Botticelli’s “Idealized Portrait of a Lady (Portrait of Simonetta Vespucci as Nymph),” from Städel Museum Frankfurt, ca 1475. The famously beautiful Italian noblewoman, Simonetta Vespucci, was Botticelli’s muse and the reputed model for his “The Birth of Venus.”  She represented a captivating subject for the PRB circle as an expression of pure beauty.  Photo: FAMSF

Buron’s first two big asks —Millais’ “Mariana” from London’s Tate Gallery and van Eyck’s “The Annunciation” from the National Gallery in Washington—were turned down.  (She persisted and got them later.)  Sandro Botticelli’s beloved “Simoneta” from Frankfurt’s Städel Museum was the first confirmed painting for the exhibition. “Within 48 hours, they answered back in support of our project,” said Buron.  In homage to that, Simonetta is on the back cover of the catalogue.  The gallery “Botticelli and the Tempura Revival” brings together six stunning Botticelli’s and two Cesare Mariannecci’s after famous Botticelli’s.

 

A revelation about the Legion’s Stanhope

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope’s “Love and the Maiden,” from 1877, has echoes of Jan van Eyck’s “The Annunciation,” where the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, telling her she will bear the son of God.  It also illustrates Stanhope’s interest in Botticelli. The figures and landscape are painted with a wonderful sense of color and clarity— delicate flowers, feathery angel’s wings, and the intensity of the two main figures’ expressions. The circle of dancers in the background—three women and a man together, holding hands—are possibly referencing figures that come from Botticelli’s “Primavera,” or “Spring.” FAMSF, Photo: FAMSF

The exhibition gave the curatorial team an opportunity to sample and study the pigments in the Legion’s beloved Stanhope, “Love and the Maiden,” which was always assumed to be a tempura work.  “It was sent to Wintertur in Delaware and we were shocked to learn that there was no evidence of egg as a binding agent and that our painting was actually in oil,” said Buron.  “This in no way impacts the value or significance of this painting but, for us, this was a major revelation.”  The painting can be found in the gallery devoted to the tempura revival.

Uffizi on board!

Max Hollein, FAMSF’s Director and CEO, admires Raphael’s self-portrait, ca 1504-1506, the first painting that Florence’s Uffizi gallery has ever loaned FAMSF.   Hollein, appointed in July 2016, will soon depart for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where in September he will become its new director.  Hollein has long championed putting contemporary works of art in dialogue with the older pieces that inspired them.  In 2012, when he ran Frankfurt’s Liebieghause Museum, he placed Jeff Koons alongside ancient works from the collection to rave reviews.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

Rafael’s self-portrait has been at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1682 and is the Legion of Honor’s first loan from the esteemed museum.  Hopefully, more exchanges will follow.  Rafael painted this self-portrait when he was just 22 but already a rising star in the Renaissance art world.  His outward gaze suggests that his mind is occupied with higher matters, an important character trait for artists who needed to grapple with complex philosophical and literary themes in their work to succeed.  In 1848, when the PRB was just forming, William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti penned a “list of Immortals” and Raphael’s name was placed alongside Jesus Christ. His work had the quality of authenticity that the PRs found so inspiring.

Frames as extensions of Paintings

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The PRs were inspired to create works of art that were total works of art that extended beyond the edges of the canvasses to the details of their frames as well.  The lush golden frame for Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “La Pia (La Pia de’ Tolmei)” was designed by Rossetti with raised carved medallions and a translation of the cantos “Purgatorio” from Dante Alighieri’s early 14th century poem, “Divine Comedy.”  The painting was created during the beginning of Rossetti’s affair with Jane Morris, the wife of his friend William Morris.  Jane is depicted as the imprisoned Pia from Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”   The painting is rich in symbolism which includes flying rooks (omens of death), a sundial (to pass the time) and Jane (as La Pia) fingers her wedding ring, the bauble given to her by her husband who trapped and imprisoned her.  Another stunning Rosetti on display his “Beata Beatrix” (1871-72), which drew a parallel between Dante’s despair over Beatrice’s death and Rossetti’s mourning of own his wife’s death.  The composition features both women in separate panels and a gilt frame with carved medallions.

 

Details:

“Truth and Beauty: The Pre-Raphaelites and the Old Masters” ends September 30, 2018 at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor.  Tickets: $28 general admission; $25 (65 and older); $19 students; $13 (6-17).  Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.  Closed Mondays.  For more info, visit: www.famsf.org

 

 

August 31, 2018 Posted by | Art, Legion of Honor | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summer Magic! An in-depth first examination of Magritte’s last 25 years: “René Magritte: The Fifth Season” at SFMOMA

René Magritte’s “Forethought” (1943) is one of 70 of the famous surrealist’s late artworks on view at SFMOMA through October 28, 2018. From his little known “sunlit period,” the painting depicts a quivering plant sporting a dozen or more different species of flowers all branching from a single, thick stem. The work’s debt to Impressionism is clear and deliberate but this seemingly joyful depiction quivers with unease.  Lender: Koons Collection. Photo: ©Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Think you know Magritte?  “Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season,” at SFMOMA is the summer exhibit to see.  The Belgium surrealist, who died in 1967, at age 68, always offers an intriguing puzzle.  His enduring popularity has pushed his once shocking imagery (pipes that aren’t pipes, bowler hats, floating boulders and green apples) into the realm of cliché.  SFMOMA has remedied that with an important exhibit that, for the first time, explores Magritte’s surprising late-career experimentation from the 1940s to the 1960s. The only venue is SFMOMA and more than 70 artworks are on display, many gathered together from foreign collectors and institutions for the first and likely only time, ever.  Twenty of these artworks have never been seen in the U.S. before.

Curated by Caitlin Haskell, SFMOMA associate curator of painting and sculpture, the show fills the museum’s fourth floor galleries and is grouped thematically into six areas— Sunlit Surrealism and the Vache Period, The Human Condition, Hypertrophy, Bowler-Hatted Men, Enchanted Domain and the Dominion of Light, and Gravity and Flight.  Haskel does a magnificent job of presenting important ruptures in Magritte’s familiar style and his transition to arguably his greatest phase ever which was wildly imaginative, personal, and challenged his audience with perplexing and profound questions.

“This is a remarkable period of transformation and revitalization in Magritte’s work and the most complete presentation of his late work ever,” said Neil Benezra, SFMOMA director. “2018 also marks the 20th anniversary of our acquisition of our great Magritte painting, “Personal Values” (1952), made possible by Phyllis Wattis.  This is one of the cornerstones of our permanent collection and, in many ways; it served as the inspiration and genesis for this show.”

Sunlit Surrealism and Vache: together for the first time

René Magritte’s “The Fifth Season” (1943), painted to provoke an unsettled response. Lender: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique;  Photo: ©Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The exhibition begins in the 1943, right in the middle of WWII in Nazi-occupied Brussels with Magritte’s “sunlit surrealism” or Renoir period which lasted until roughly 1947.  Magritte was 44 and he had established himself as a Surrealist in the 1920-30’s, but amidst the war’s atmosphere of anxiety and fear, the movement’s radical aims suddenly felt incommensurate with the times.  Magritte began a period of questioning, both politically and philosophically, and experimenting.  Inspired by the late paintings of Renoir, Magritte worked in a pastiche of Impressionism, but with broken brushstrokes and warmer, more luminous colors with swirling scenes that almost have a sense of fantasy in the way they are constructed—a deliberate parody of Impressionism.  His 1943 painting, “The Fifth Season,” from which the exhibit takes its name, is a prime example.  This is the first time the work has been shown in the US and several of the exhibit’s themes coalesce in this single painting.

Magritte pairs heavy, crude Renoir-like brushstrokes with two standbys from his earlier work in the 1930’s—frames within the frame and men in bowler hats. The paintings within the painting, carried under the two men’s arms, are painted in the same style as the primary scene; one is a dense forest landscape and the other is a blue sky with clouds in it.  The bowler-hatted bourgeois gentlemen in dark suits about to cross paths each evoke alter-egos of Magritte but they are different, odd.

“We’ve been using the Instagram analogy,” writes SFMOMA’s Lily Pearsall, curatorial project manager of painting and sculpture. “It’s almost like he’s applying a filter, saying, ‘Here’s my composition, and now I’m going to apply Renoir.’  And by adding these filters, either the sunlit or the vache, Magritte is provoking the viewer and interrogating their response to both the style and content of these images.”

In his 1943 painting, “The Harvest,” a reclining female nude in front of a window, a familiar Renoir composition, is wildly emboldened with bright bands of flowing colors so that she is psychedelic.

René Magritte’s “The Harvest” (1943).  Lender: Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique; Photo: ©Charly Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Brussels

What was Magritte up to?  That’s a question that is still being debated.  The show’s catalog has two essays looking at the sunlit and the vache periods together, and one of the authors leans more on the side of them being sincere, and the other reads them more as pastiche or parody.

René Magritte’s “Seasickness” (1948).  Private lender; Photo:©Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Magritte’s vache paintings (1947-8) marked a second, shorter-lived period of provocative experimentation.  Magritte churned out garish paintings with bright colors and unruly crude brushwork that parodied Fauvism and Expressionism.  He made a series of scornful statements against Surrealism  and condemned the Nazi party’s highly successful proliferation across Europe, which had upstaged the surrealists as the ultimate absurdity.  In French, “vache” is literally “cow” but this is from the French “vacherie” or “nastiness” and refers to Magritte’s treading a line between vulgarity and coarseness.  His “Seasickness” from 1948 is enough to make one seasick.

“He was actually posing questions about taste and what is good and bad and asking viewers to contend with these pictures,” says Haskell. “They are not easy in any way. They are very deeply theorized, beautiful in the way post-modern pictures are.”

René Magritte’s “Lyricism” (1947). Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Hypertrophy works: “Personal Values” as centerpiece

René Magritte’s “Personal Values” (1952).  SFMOMA, Photo: ©Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Just as abruptly as Magritte’s departure into bad taste began, it ended.  The 1950s found him returning to his signature style of painting but stepping out further conceptually, creating provocative works that prompted the viewer to question relationships within the material world.  Magritte’s work in this decade is characterized by “hypertrophy,” a jarring alteration of scale among familiar objects to create an unnerving effect.

An entire gallery has been devoted to “Personal Values” (1952), the conceptual centerpiece of the show, and to four additional exemplary paintings making this the most complete presentation of his hypertrophy works to date.  Highlights are two versions of “The Listening Room” (1952 and 1958), “The Anniversary” (1959), and “The Tomb of the Wrestlers” (1960).  In each of these paintings, an everyday object—a granny smith apple, a boulder, a red rose—has been enlarged to a grotesque size, filling an entire room from floor to ceiling.  Or???  Is it the room that has been miniaturized and the apples, boulder and rose are actually normal?  Always presenting a puzzle, Magritte’s message is unclear.  He’s gone well beyond a critique of the age-old painting convention of filling a room with furniture, or ornament.  We can deduce that space is sacred, it is Magritte’s final frontier—is it never empty or abstract and it is not what it seems.  In “Personal Values,” in particular, it is fascinating to ponder the placement, alignment and space between or overlap of each of the oversized objects as well as their individual textures.

 

Caitlin Haskell, SFMOMA associate curator and Charly Herscovici, President of the Brussels-based Magritte Foundation, with Magritte’s “The Tomb of Wrestlers” (1960).  It took Haskell three trips to Belgium and numerous letters to the private lender to get it to SFMOMA where she had a special niche constructed in the gallery wall to further protect the beloved artwork. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Is this rose not a rose because Magritte named this 1960 painting “The Tomb of the Wrestlers”?  A perplexing title for a painting of a red rose trapped inside a room.  He borrowed the title from Léon Cladel’s 1879 novel, Ompdrailles, le-tombeau-des-lutteurs. (1960).  Magritte always asserted that his titles, despite appearances, fit his pictures perfectly.  He chose his titles carefully, sometimes with the help of friends, listing alternate ones until the most suitable title presented itself.  He was not concerned with representation or pictorial fidelity to the original image.  Private lender. Photo© Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artist Rights Society (ARS) New York.

This gallery also features examples of Magritte’s delightful painted wine bottles.  “The Curvature of the Universe” (1950) features one of his most alluring recurring motifs, a blue sky with billowy white clouds.

Dominion of Light and The Enchanted Domain

Knowing that Magritte was very interested in creating immersive spaces inspired the SFMOMA team to create a gallery experience that allows you to literally enter Magritte’s world.  Charly Herscovici, President of the Brussels-based Magritte Foundation swooned is “this is magnificent” and “the best” he’s seen in his 38 year career.

An installation view of René Magritte’s “The Dominion of Light” at SFMOMA. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The haunting “Dominion of Light” is the most iconic composition of Magritte’s late work.  This is a theme Magritte explored again and again from 1949-1965, creating 27 landscapes in oil and gouache, all titled “Dominion of Light” and all focused on versions of a mysterious street view.  The lower portions of all these paintings feel like night and depict the front of a house and trees ensconced in a darkness that is barely penetrated by a gas lamp.  The upper portions all feel like day with a glowing blue clouded sky.  Previously, no more than two of these paintings have been exhibited together.  SFMOMA brings together a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of six of these paintings, enabling the viewer to experience different versions in their broad context for the first time ever.  This is something that even Magritte was not able to experience in his own lifetime.

René Magritte’s “The Dominion of Light II,” (1950) from his “Dominion of Light” series. Digital Image: (c) MoMA/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource

The way compositions were painted allowed the curatorial team to put horizontal and vertical paintings side by side but hang them at various heights so that the street lamps are all on one level.  As you walk into the space, you experience stunning modulations of light and dark and the foreground will recede while the sky comes forward and you will begin to see gates, doors, boulders and all sorts of interesting elements.  The ultramarine walls and curved gallery space enhance this magical experience.  Conceptually, all sorts of questions are raised by the simultaneity of daylight and darkness.  Can light co-exist with darkness, good with evil?  What about the co-existence of natural and artificial light?  When we think we see clearly, by what light are we seeing, who controls the light?

Enchanted Domain:

Installation view “The Enchanted Domain,” at SFMOMA.

“The  Enchanted Domain” offers another very bizarre Magritte world to inhabit.  It reunites eight paintings that have not been seen together for 20 years.  Originally commissioned for a circular room in the Grand Casino in Knokke, Belgium, Magritte’s circular panoramic mural from 1953 is by far his largest work at 236 feet in circumference.   Sprung right from Magritte’s psyche, this is an imaginary “enchanted domain,” that incorporates his most popular motifs—lofty sky, desert, apples and abstract geometric patterns.  He created eight oil paintings (at a scale of 1:6 ⅓) that set out the narrative for this masterpiece and four are on display at SFMOMA, hung on a curved surface, giving an approximate sense of a wrap-around continuous mural.

René Magritte’s “The Enchanted Domain I” (1953).  Würth Collection, Künzelsau, Germany; photo: ©Charly Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

SFMOMA’s installation exemplifies one of the major themes of the exhibit—Magritte perfected a set of Surrealist symbols and used them over and over throughout his career.  An example:  In “Personal Values” (1952), the sky seems to wrap around the painting creating a sense that the room dissolves into a fantasy world.  In “The Enchanted Domain mural, the circular blue cloudy sky on the casino ceiling serves a similar purpose.

Bowler-Hatted Men

René Magritte’s “Son of Man” (1964).  Photo: ©Charly Herscovici, Brussels /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Bowler hatted men were a recurring motif that Magritte painted in various forms more than 50 times between 1926 and 1966.   In the 1950’s and beyond, they became so closely associated with the artist that they were understood as Magritte himself, his alter-ego. “Son of Man” (1964) may be the most beguiling portrait of the twentieth century or ever,” said Haskell. “What I love about this work is that it sets your mind questioning.  You think you know who this very bourgeois man in bowler is and yet because of the placement of the apple, you are constantly wondering what is behind it.  We see in this self-portrait from 1964 that Magritte is positioning himself in a way that’s very different from our understanding of the existential self-expressive artists of this period.”

Play time!  SFMOMA’s Magritte Interpretive gallery

Don’t skip the fun…selfies in Magritte Interpretive Gallery, at the conclusion of the show.  SFMOMA is hands down the Bay Area leader in engaging tech for wonderful and creative audience experiences. frog, a leading SF global design and strategy firm, has created six interactive immersive Magritte experiences that allow you playfully explore themes of the show and walk away with some great pics.

Allow plenty of time for this show; it’s crowded and set-up to make you think.  You’ll want to study and enjoy these masterpieces and take time to try and decipher the stories within stories and walk back and forth between galleries to track certain motifs.

Details: “René Magritte: The Fifth Season” ends October 28, 2018 at SFMOMA on the 4th floor. Tickets: $33 ($25 general admission and $8 special exhibition surcharge).  Advance purchase of timed tickets is recommended.  A limited number of special exhibition tickets are available for on-the-spot purchase daily but there is no guarantee of availability.  The exhibit is crowded plan accordingly.  For $100, you can join SFMOMA and all exhibits all year are free.  For hours, directions, parking tips, click here.

August 21, 2018 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rustic perfection! “J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art and Everyday Life” at Oakland Museum through September 9, 2018

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The Oakland Museum’s summer exhibit J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art and Everyday Life, celebrates a creative life many of us fantasize about—small secluded cabin, surrounded by nature, living authentically off the land, all time is dedicated to creative pursuits.  If ever there were a model for this, it is artist James Blain Blunk (1926-2002) who lived and created in Inverness from the late 1950’s until his death in 2002.

Blunk’s work, his home and the poetic appeal of his extraordinary counterculture life are all explored in this survey show curated by OMCA Curator of Art, Carin Adams.  Well worth the trip to Oakland, the exhibit includes 80 of Blunk’s important artworks—large wood and stone works, bronze sculptures, ceramics, works on panel and board, and handmade buttons, belts and jewelry—as well as personal photos from his life in Japan and Marin.  A special video, too, was commissioned that includes intimate interviews with Blunk’s family, friends and colleagues who speak to the seamless integration of his life and creative process.

“This idea of an artist who is completely intertwining art and nature and his life is a very California concept, especially the integration of art and landscape” said OMCA director Lori Fogarty.  “He created the most iconic, memorable and beloved element in our building, “The Planet,” which is really the center of our museum.  Right now, we are so pleased to have Blunk on three levels of the museum: “The Planet” is on first level; another piece is in a natural setting in the alcove outside the History Gallery, and the exhibit on the second floor galleries.”

Blunk’s Life = Art

Bunk’s artistic career began in Japan.  Right after finishing college at UCLA in 1949, where he studied ceramics under Laura Andreson, he was drafted into the Korean war and served in the army.  In 1951, he was able to finagle a discharge to Japan where, fortuitously, he met Isamu Noguchi who was instrumental in steeping him in Japan’s rich ceramic tradition and guiding him to apprenticeships with legendary potters Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883–1959) and Bizen style master Toyo Keneshige (1896–1967).

When Blunk returned to CA in 1954, he worked as potter creating stoneware with a strong Japanese influence.  The show includes a few of these ceramics as well as his later paintings, often done on wood that he went over with a chainsaw and then painted in neutral shades, accentuating the wood’s grain and creating a textured surface that referred back to his beginnings as a ceramicist.

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After a few years in CA, Blunk took on work as a carpenter to support himself.  Noguchi arranged another fortuitous introduction, to the British surrealist painter Gordon Onslow Ford, then living in Inverness on 250+ forested acres overlooking Tomales Bay.  After Blunk built a complex roof for Onslow Ford’s new home (designed by Warren Callister), Onslow Ford asked him to stay on in Inverness and offered him an acre of his land.  Reportedly, Blunk climbed trees on the idyllic property searching for the perfect place to situate his home.  This was at the beginning of the West Marin’s handmade house era that flourished in the 1960’s and 70’s.

Blunk chose a forested ridge facing the gorgeous Tomales Bay and, from 1958 to 1962,  he and his first wife Nancy Waite (daughter of Howard Waite), designed and hand-built their home and studio from lumber and logs foraged near the beach at Inverness.  The Blunk House, considered Blunk’s seminal artwork, has evolved over years from its original 600 square feet to about double that.  Simple, it suits the land perfectly and the land suits it.  It includes a ceramic and woodcutting studio and has become iconic in design circles, touted by the NYT Style Magazine in 2016 as “the perfect meeting of California Craft and Japanese Minimalism”.

Interior Sculpture

Detail, interior of J.B. Blunk’s home. Everything in the house—the sculptures, furniture, floors, wall panels, plates, bowls, even the bathroom sink were made by the artist. Photo: OMCA

It was not only the home, but the way Blunk lived in it with his family that mattered.  He fired cups, plates and bowls he fashioned from clay he dug on his land.  He built his own brick and clay kiln. He hunted or grew most of his food. He made his furniture—a combo of sturdy but elegant stools, chairs, and functional slabs such as his famous bathroom sink of hand hewn cypress with its chiseled bowl— and put his artwork everywhere.  All of this was illuminated by sunlight streaming in from windows overlooking a view of paradise.

Blunk, carved bench, front view, OMCA

A redwood stool, circa 1965, has a distinct Asian flair. Its curved chisel-carved seat communicated with art hanging on the walls and the walls themselves. J.B. Blunk, Stool #1, 28x21x12 inches. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Blunk, shirt, belt, buckle, OMCA

During his early days in Inverness, Blunk hunted deer to feed himself and his family. His deerskin shirt in the background (circa 1955), that he wore often, was most likely made by his first wife, Nancy. He made and wore the belt and buckle (circa 1960’s), in the foreground. Courtesy Rufus Blunk. Photo: Geneva Anderson

During this period, Blunk developed a deep love of wood.  He was attuned to the trees surrounding him and collected the burls that washed up on the beach.  He began creating wood furniture from redwood and cypress which he carved out with a chain saw and finished with an angular grinder and chisel.  His first major wood commission was in 1965 for landscape architect Lawrence Halprin who requested an entire room of furniture.  Blunk responded with benches, chairs and a low table that seem to grow organically out of the walls and floor.

With Halprin’s initial help, Blunk went on to obtain several commissions for large-scale sculptural seating projects:  (1968 UC Santa Cruz plaza seating, 1969 OMCA “The Planet,” 1969 “The Ark”).  These massive sculptures were unique in that they were made to be touched and sat on.  He was included in many craft exhibitions.  His beloved “Greens” installation from 1979—a three ton redwood monolith and a group of chairs and tables cut from a single 22-foot diameter redwood stump of redwood—still serves as the sculptural centerpiece and spiritual anchor for Greens restaurant at Fort Mason Center.

Around the time of the Greens project, Blunk became less interested in furniture and more interested in pure sculpture.  He realized that the huge blocks of wood he had standing around his yard waiting to be cut up into firewood were so beautiful that he couldn’t just cut them up and he was inspired to create monumental forms.

Blunk Mage OMCA

J.B. Blunk, “Mage,” 1983, carved redwood. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In the 1980’s, Blunk moved on to tall twisting wood sculptures created with a chainsaw and to stone carvings. His majestic two-legged redwood “Mage” from 1983 is one the show’s highlights. With its poetic natural gnarls and ripples left intact, Blunk’s transformation of the material is minimal, just enough release the inherent beauty in the material he worked with.  “I am in awe of his wisdom about what to highlight in its natural state and what to dig into and transform,” said curator Carin Adams.  “That’s his genius. It wasn’t always what he decided to do with things but what he decided to let stand on its own.”

Blunk’s friendship with Noguchi deepened over the years.  “I’ve heard stories from his family members and from his long-time assistants about Noguchi’s regular visits and how they would walk through the fields adjacent to J.B.’s studio and home and just look at assembled materials, not really talking, just nodding occasionally and looking,”  said Adams.  “I think they had a long-term, active, vital exchange that was important for each of them.”

Don’t miss Blunk’s “The Planet” in OMCA’s lobby

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In 2019, OMCA celebrates the 50th anniversary of the opening of its historic landmarked building. Designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Kevin Roche, this jewel is one of California’s most stunning examples of examples of mid-century modernism. The building actually had to be constructed around Blunk’s majestic two-ton, 13-feet-diameter work “The Planet,” carved from the base of a single redwood tree.  The magnificent sprawling piece was commissioned in 1969 and is situated at the heart of the museum on the first level at the entrance to the Gallery of California Natural Sciences. Sadly, the piece’s installation precedes all of the museum’s current employees so no one was able to relate in person the story of this piece’s installation but the exhibit does include several photos.

Free informative Exhibition Tours | J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life:

Saturday, August 18, 2018, 12–12:45 p.m., inquire at entrance where to meet

Saturday, September, 1, 2018, 12-12:45 p.m., inquire at entrance where to meet

More resources J.B. Blunk:

The wall texts are informative but Blunk is an artist who cries out for a book that can be poured over and treasured. His daughter, Mariah Nielson, who works with the Blunk estate and founded the company Permanent Collection (it sells re-casted originals of her dad’s works, such as Blunk Cups) has just finished digitizing his entire archive and is collaborating on a forthcoming book.

For now, the most complete information on Blunk comes straight from the horse’s mouth—a wonderful 3 hour and 34 minute oral interview Blunk did in 2002 in Inverness with Glenn Adamson for the Archives of American Art’s Nanette L. Laitman Documentation Project for Craft and Decorative Arts in America. Click here to be directed to the interview.

To read more about how J.B. Blunk influenced CA’s fine wood tradition, read ARThound’s  “Family Tree” Petaluma Art Center’s Exceptional Fine Woodworking Show through March 13, 2011

 

Details: “J.B. Blunk: Nature, Art & Everyday Life” is on display at OMCA through September 9, 2018.  General Admission tickets include this exhibit: $15.95, $10.95 seniors, $6.95 Youth 9-17 and free for children 8 and under and OMCA members. As part of Friday Nights at OMCA, on Fridays 5 to 10 p.m., enjoy half price admission for adults and free admission for 18 and under.  Get your groove on with wine, beer, music, featured artists, Off the Grid food trucks and more.

Coming this fall to OMCA “The World of Ray and Charles Eames” October 13, 2018- February 17, 2019.  (This exhibit originated at the Barbican London, 21 October 2015 – 14 February, 2016)

August 10, 2018 Posted by | Art, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 38th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival comes to Marin: 14 films over 3 days (August 3-5, 2018)

A still from Shawn Snyder’s debut film To Dust, SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film and winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.  The dark comedy screens Saturday evening at the Smith Rafael Film Center as part of the SFJFF38’s Marin segment, which runs August 3-5, 2018 and includes 14 of the 18-day-long festival’s most popular films. Image: SFJFF

The 38th installment of SFJFF (San Francisco Jewish Film Festival) come to Marin this Friday through Sunday (August 3-5, 2018) at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Featuring 14 of the full festival’s most popular films, the Marin segment offers a fascinating global film survey.   This year’s Marin lineup includes a mix of feature-length award winning documentaries covering Jews in Bollywood to UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s tainted 1986 bid for the Austrian presidency as well as compelling high-stakes dramas.  For those north of the Golden Gate, this mini-fest affords a short drive time, hassle free parking, and the Rafael Film Center’s state of the art acoustics.  The only downside to this year’s Marin programming is that there are no special guest appearances.

Presented by the Jewish Film Institute of San Francisco, SFJFF38, is an annual 18-day-long festival (July 19-August 5) that showcases 67 films from 22 countries at venues in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, Oakland and San Rafael.   A number of films have won awards at prestigious film festivals and many of those presented in years past have gone on to be distributed nationally in theaters and on TV.

ARThound recommends:

Friday/August 3, 8:20 p.m.  Wajib (Duty)

A scene from Wajib, Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s third feature film. Image: SFJFF

Wajib (Duty) is a low key comedy set and filmed around the Arab community in Nazareth.  Shadi (Saleh Bakri), an architect who lives in Italy, returns to Nazareth for his sister’s wedding. His father, Abu Shadi (renowned actor Mohammed Bakri, the real-life father of Saleh Bakri), welcomes his son’s help in hand-delivering 340 wedding invitations, a Palestinian tradition.  Driving around in Dad’s blue Volvo, the men reconnect as they bring envelopes to friends, cousins, aunts and uncles who ply them with coffee and sweets at each stop.  Winner Special Jury Prize Locarno Film Festival, the film provides a glimpse into the beauty and complexities of life in Middle East, presenting two different generations of Palestinians’ views on the ongoing conflict and Israeli occupation.  (97 minutes, in Arabic with English subtitles)

Saturday/August 4, 11:30 a.m.  Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema

A still from Austrian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe’s documentary, Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema. Image: SFJFF

Eleven years in the making, Austrian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe’s delightful Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema celebrates the world’s largest film industry with the largely unknown story of the 2,000-year-old Indian Jewish community and its shaping of the Bollywood.  When Indian cinema began 100 years ago, it was taboo for Hindu and Islamic women to perform on screen, so Indian Jewish women took on female lead roles, which they then dominated for decades. Some of the biggest stars of Indian cinema — Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila, Nadira, and David — were all Jewish.  Through interviews with descendants, imaginative use of archival footage, animation and a pulsing Bollywood soundtrack, the film focuses on the lives of Indian cinema’s Jewish icons at the heart of Bollywood, from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. The documentary also provides a glimpse into the history of the Bene Israel and Baghdadi Jews, who came to India to escape persecution, and how their small community continues on today. (136 min, English)

Saturday/August 4, 4:05 p.m.  The Waldheim Waltz

Kurt Waldheim in a scene from Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann’s documentary The Waldheim Waltz. Image: SFJFF

In 1986, Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann (Return to Vienna,  SFJFF 1984) took to the  streets of Vienna to film protests over former United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s election bid to become Austria’s president.  Just weeks before the final vote, news broke that Waldheim had been a senior ranking German army officer in the vicinity of the infamous 1942 Nazi deportation of 56,000 Greek Jews from Thessaloniki.  He denied it.  For some Austrians, Waldheim’s firm refusal to admit guilt symbolized their nation’s unspoken complicity in wartime atrocities. For others, supporting Waldheim was an issue of national pride.  Waldheim won the presidency and Beckermann never used the footage.  With the recent rise populist right-wing demagogues such as Austrian chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, she revisited her material and put together the riveting doc,  The Waldheim Waltz, covering the tense weeks prior to Waldheim’s June 1986 victory.  The material presented is from second-hand newsreel and TV footage, with clips of self-shot video and stills from inside homegrown protest groups.  Beckermann delivers a deadpan voiceover commentary, pinpointing how the Waldheim affair destroyed “Austria’s grand delusion of having been the first victims of the Nazis.”  Winner Best Documentary, Berlin Film festival 2018 and SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Documentary.  North American premiere (93 minutes, German, English, French)

Saturday/August 5, 6:35 p.m.  To Dust

A still from Shawn Snyder’s debut film To Dust, SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film and winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Image: SFJFF

This absurdist story, To Dust,  SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film, is so absurd it is captivating.  It involves a grief-stricken Hassidic cantor (Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul, 2015) in Upstate New York whose wife has died of cancer and who becomes obsessed with how her body will decay.  He ends up in the classroom of a local community college science professor (Matthew Broderick) and the two embark on a number of bizarre experiments aimed at gaining insight into bodily decay.  (92 min, English)

Sunday/August 5, 11:45 a.m.  The Interpreter

A still from Slovakian director Martin Sulik’s The Interpreter (Tlmocnik). Image: SFJFF

Czech new wave director Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, 1968 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) and Peter Simonischek (the father in Toni Erdmann) star in The Interpreter, Slovakian director Martin Sulik’s bittersweet drama.  Menzel plays Ali Ungar, an interpreter, who is investigating the circumstances of his parents’ death at the hands of a Nazi officer during World War II. With an automatic pistol in his pocket, he heads to Vienna and meets the officer’s paunchy son, Georg Graubner. The happy-go-lucky Graubner, oddly enough to Ungar, also wants to know about his father and the atrocities he is accused of committing against the Jews. “Let’s go,” says Graubner cheerily, offering to pay Ungar for his services as an interpreter.

Details:  SFJFF38 in Marin starts Friday, August 3 with a 1:20 p.m. screening and concludes Sunday, August 5, with an 8:30 pm screening. Tickets: $15 per film or $125 Marin Pass for all 14 films. Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  Full schedule and tickets at https://jfi.org/sfjff-2018.

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with silent golden oldies and live music

Conrad Veidt as Gwynplaine in Paul Leni’s drama, “The Man Who Laughs” (1928) which opens the 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival, on Wednesday. Newly restored by SFSFF and Universal Pictures, the film will be accompanied by Berklee Silent Film Orchestra, making their fifth appearance at the festival. The 23rd San Francisco Silent Film Festival is May 30-June 3 at the Castro Theatre.  Image: Universal Studios

One of those old adages worth its weight in gold is “To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.”  The pre-sound era produced some of the most beautiful and engaging films ever made, shedding light on societies that were changing rapidly.  If you’ve never experienced a silent film the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen, with the correct speed and formatting and with riveting live music—it’s high time!  Silent film might just be the experience you’ve been waiting for.

On Wednesday, May 30, the 23rd edition of San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) kicks off with 23 programs pairing silent-era films with live musical accompaniment, including eleven recent film restorations.  Ten of those restorations will make their North American premieres and four are SFSFF projects.  Nine countries are represented this year.  What makes SFSFF particularly wonderful is its top rate live accompaniment by more than 40 musicians (soloists and groups) from all around the globe.  These musicians serve as conductor, arranger and accompanist melding film, music, theater and art into one.  It all takes place at San Francisco’s historical Castro Theatre, May 30-June 3, 2018.

The festival kicks off Wednesday evening with Universal Pictures and SFSFF’s new restoration of Paul Leni’s 1928 “The Man Who Laughs”.  Considered one of the treasures of the silent era, the film is based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel, but set two centuries earlier.  The story involves an orphan, Gwynplaine, who is captured by outlaws who use a knife to carve his face into a hideous permanent grin.  Disfigured and all alone, he rescues a baby girl and they are raised together by a fatherly vaudevillian. Everything centers on Gwynplaine’s extraordinary wide grin which inspired the Joker character in the original Batman comic books.  This presentation also marks the world premiere of a commissioned score by Berklee College of Music’s Silent Film Orchestra.

 

Sally O’Neil and Buster Keaton in a scene from Buster Keaton’s 1926 comedy, “Battling Butler,” SFSFF’s closing night film.  Still: courtesy Cohen Film Collection.

Closing the festival on Sunday, June 3, is the North American premiere of Cineteca di Bologna’s restoration (in collaboration with Cohen Film Collection) of Buster Keaton’s 1926 “Battling Butler,” which will be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Keaton considered this sparkling comedy his personal favorite among his works.

Recently, I had my annual interview with Anita Monga, SFSFF’s insightful artistic director who programs the festival.  She decides what films will be included, how they are ordered and the rhythm and flow of the weekend.  With her guidance, I put together an overview of the festival.

 

Cinematography buff?

A still from “Fragment of an Empire”.  Image: courtesy SFSFF

The Russian film by Fridrikh Ermler, Fragment of an Empire(Oblomok Imperii)(1929) (Sunday, June 3, 5:30p.m.) is virtually unknown and has an unforgettable opening.  The film is a portrait of a soldier who loses his memory during WWI and returns home to St. Petersburg, a place of heart-wrenching change.  He gains back his memory after seeing his wife on a train but later learns she has remarried.  The cinematography enforces the cold psychology of the revolution, the state of human condition, the rapid pace of modernism.  SFSFF worked on the complete restoration with EYE Filmmuseum, and Gosfilmofond of Russia), based on materials preserved by EYE Filmmuseum and Cinémathèque Suisse.  This rarely-screened-in-America film only existed in chunks with some very famous scenes, like its image of Christ on the cross with a gas mask on.

Friday’s 2 pm Silent Avant-Garde program presents early American Avant-garde films from 1894-1941 and has some amazing images. “Everything in the Unseen Cinema collection is fascinating,” said Anita Monga. “The Slavo Vorkapich montage (four rare segments) took my breath away.” For the look of film on film, Monga recommends Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1925 “Master of the House” (DU SKAL ÆRE DIN HUSTRU) screening Thursday at 2:45 p.m..

 

Arm chair traveler?

Seeta Devi (L) and Himansu Rai in a scene from “A Throw of Dice”.  Image: courtesy British Film Institute

Sunday’s “A Throw of Dice” (Prapancha Pash) from 1929, the third collaboration between German director Franz Osten and Indian film producer Himansu Rai, was shot entirely in Rajasthan, India with a cast of over 10,000.  Inspired by one of India’s masterpieces, the Sanskrit poem The Mahabarata, it tells the story of two kings vying for the hand of a young woman.  A game of dice and a desperate gamble play into the story.  It provides a unique vision of Indian life and is extraordinary in its presentation of wild nature: elephants, tigers, snakes, monkeys, birds and riversides and jungles with plush fauna.  It also has extravagant palaces, teeming streets and gorgeous costumes.

 

A scene from “People on Sunday” (Menschen am Sonntag). Still: courtesy Janus Films

If you are interested in seeing what Berlin street activity was like in the 1930’s, Thursday evening’s “People on Sunday” (Menshcen am Sonntag) was shot entirely on the streets on Berlin. It was created by a group of young filmmakers who would go on to become famous—Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnermann. Their idea was to create a film without actors and they went out on the streets and started filming.  “It really skirts fiction and documentary and captures the feel of life in Berlin in that moment, just on the cusp before the world would change,” said Monga.  “All of the Weimar titles are so devastating because we know what is about to happen in Germany.” (Screens Thursday, may 31, 7:15 p.m.)

 

Takeshi Sakamoto in a scene from Yasujirô Ozu’s An Inn in Tokyo (Tokyo no yado). Still: courtesy Janus Films

On Thursday at 5:15 p.m., Yasujirô Ozu’s poetic “An Inn in Tokyo” (Tôkyô No Yado), from 1935, is an expressive portrait of industrial pre-war Tokyo framed by Hideo Shigehara’s amazing cinematography.  A single father (the great Takeshi Sakamoto who starred in over 100 Japanese films) is struggling with his two sons as he tries his best to find work.  As they wander the streets of the Koto district, he has his sons catch stray dogs for cash.  The film addresses the essence of family and the dignity of an ordinary individual in crisis, Ozu’s forte.

Ozu made silent films well into the mid-1930’s, several years after sound was available.  He did this because of the prevalence of Japanese “benshi” performers who stood right next to the screen and interpreted the action for the audience, taking on all the characters’ roles and creating entertaining dialogue.

 

1906 SF Quake junkie?

An image from the short “San Francisco 1906” showing people looking at the debris and wreckage left behind from the earthquake.  Some 8,655 frames of found footage were photographed with a digital camera and then cleaned up and made back into a film.  Image: courtesy Jason Wright

If you’re fascinated with post-earthquake footage of 1906 San Francisco, you can’t miss the 10 minute short,“San Francisco 1906,” newly found earthquake footage that SFSFF has restored.  It will be shown on Saturday at 2:45 p.m. when it screens with the lovely Italian film from 1922, Eugenio Perego’s “Trappola”.   The footage was found in 2017 at the Alemany flea market in fragile condition and is thought to be one of the longest surviving segments of the lost Miles Brothers’ film.   The Miles Brothers produced and directed numerous films in the early 20th century. Their 13-minute film, “A Trip Down Market Street,” explored pre-quake Market Street and was shot on April 14, 1906.  Their studio was destroyed by a post-earthquake fire on April 18, 1906, along with many of their films.

“This is essentially the same sort of footage that the brothers shot when they made “A Trip Down Market Street,” said Monga. “We make the familiar trip down Market towards the ferry building.  The buildings are now in rubble. When the people get to the ferry plaza, you see all the horse-drawn carriages and understand that the people are there to escape to East Bay.”

 

Gaga for Garbo?

Greta Garbo in her first starring role in 1924 in “The Saga of Gösta Berling”.  Image: courtesy Swedish Film Institute

Saturday evening delivers Greta Garbo in 1924, in her first starring role in the great Swedish director, Mauritz Stiller’sThe Saga of Gösta Berling” (Gösta Berlings Saga) with live accompaniment from the Matti Bye Ensemble.  Garbo is radiant opposite Lars Hansen in this romantic drama. Jon Wengström from the Swedish Film Institute (SFI) will accept the 2018 Silent Film Festival Award at this premiere screening of SFI’s beautiful new restoration which was completed earlier this year and adds 16 minutes to the previous version and restores the film’s original tinting scheme.

 

Love Freebies?

Film preservationist and SFSFF board president Robert Byrne collaborates with film archives around the world. He and SFSFF colleague, Russell Merritt, will share the story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” from 1929, the last silent Sherlock Holmes’ film, considered the most important Hound produced in Europe.  (screening on Saturday). Image: courtesy SFSFF

Thursday morning’s Amazing Tales from the Archives, is a free program in keeping with the festival’s education mandate, which flies in experts from the world’s top restoration facilities to share their personal experiences in breathing life back into critically damaged nitrate.  This year’s guests are Deutsche Kinemathek’s Martin Koerber and Weimar film scholar Cynthia Walk, who will talk about the complete reworking of E.A. Dupont’s “The Ancient Law” (screening on Sunday); Davide Pozzi from L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, whose Kinemacolor presentation will examine the first successful color process for motion pictures; and Elzbieta Wysocka of Filmoteka Narodowa, with SFSFF’s Robert Byrne and Russell Merritt, will share the detective story that led to the rediscovery and restoration of Richard Oswald’s German version of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” which screens on Saturday.

 

Details: 

SFSFF is May 30-June 3, 2018 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre.  Visit http://www.silentfilm.org/ for tickets, festival passes, and detailed information on films and musicians.  Advance ticket purchase is essential and most screenings are $17 to $24.  If you are driving in, allow an additional hour to secure parking.

May 28, 2018 Posted by | Chamber Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Parfum de Blanche,” ARThound’s new Lavender Rose from the Celebration of Old Roses

Parfum de Blanche, a spectacular lavender Hybrid Tea bred by Ted Liggitt. Photo: Geneva Anderson

I am drawn to lavender roses and always searching for “the one.”  The right lavender can be calming, healing, inspiring.  Prior to today, the closest I’d come was “Blue Girl”, a classic hybrid tea of confusing parentage that produces lavender-blue, longish buds that develop into upright, large, full, deliciously fragrant booms.  I live in zone 9b and, once established, “Blue Girl” produces continually.  The problem: it lacks pizazz.

At today’s Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group Bay Area (HRGBA), I met rosarian Tom Liggitt and fell hook, line and sinker for his “Parfum de Blanche,”  a silvery lavender rose with a wonderful form and heady fruity fragrance.  I came home with a gallon size plant that has about a half dozen roses in various stages of bloom.  I’ve posted some pics.  While it has some road wear from being hauled all over the Bay Area and being in a small pot, I can’t wait to nurture this baby to full health and see how those glorious blooms hold up in the vase.  What I love about Blanche is its ruffled petals and silvery hues which range from a rosy mauve lavender in bud to a silvery gray with slight pinkish hues at the center when in full bloom.  Blanche is a substantial rose, a star, that begs you to cup it in your hands and inhale.  And when you do, a world opens up, an old, romantic world.

“Parfum de Blanche,” bred by Ted Liggitt.

Liggitt, the founder of the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden, describes his passion as “non-stop plant research.”  He brought several flats of his roses in bands and gallon pots to sell today and was moving them quickly to rose addicts like me who will always find room for another rose.  Liggitt is especially proud of “Parfum de Blanche.”  Over the years, he worked with some 3,000 variants of the famous lavender rose “Lagerfield” (grandiflora, Jack Christensen, 1986) and boiled them down to three superstars, one of which is “Parfum de Blanche.”  His gorgeous roses went unnamed for 15 years until he met and married Blanche, the only woman worthy of naming his roses after.  Blanche was at his side today helping usher her namesakes on to their forever homes.

May 20, 2018 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The annual “Celebration of Old Roses” is Sunday, May 20 and has moved to Albany

Monsieur Tillier, a tea rose that repeats several times and has a remarkable color—salmon and peachy shades of pink blended with deeper pinks that change over the course of its bloom. The result is an ever-changing spectrum of lush color. Dozens of heritage roses will be on display at the annual “Celebration of Old Roses” in Albany, on Sunday, May 20. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Whether they climb a fence, or explode on their own with gorgeous sprays of colorful and fragrant blooms, old roses are a source of pure delight. And in April and May, they are in all their glory. With names that run the gamut from “Baron Girod d l’Ain,” to “Ispahan” to “Tuscany,” heritage roses evoke history and poetry.  Rose lovers will get their fix this Sunday at the annual Celebration of Old Roses, sponsored by the Heritage Roses Group Bay Area (HRGBA).  This annual spring event is one of the few remaining places where we can see, smell, talk, and purchase old roses.  It takes place this Sunday at the Albany Veteran’s Memorial Building from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Officially, old roses, or antique roses, are varieties that date from 1860 or earlier.  Devotees praise their colors, their rich and varied fragrances and their graceful growth habits which make them ideal for the garden. Once established, many are drought tolerant too, so in these times when many are culling plants to save water, an old rose can make sense.  For those unable to have a rose garden at this time, the Albany event is a chance to see dozens of roses without the responsibility of ownership.  Much like a delightful old-fashioned country fair, people gather round to ohh and ahh its focal point—a 100-foot plus display of freshly picked old roses in old-fashioned mason jars, all in glorious states of bloom.  The roses are organized by class—gallicas, centifolias, damasks, mosses, hybrid Chinas, bourbons, Portlands, teas, eglantines, floribundas and others.   There is ample opportunity to explore the nuances of each variety—fragrance, color, size, petal count, foliage and growth habit.

Bright crimson pinstripes and slashes that age to purple velvet on a blush to creme ground make the annual bloom of the hybrid bourbon, Variagata di Bologna (1909), worth the wait. Photo: Geneva Anderson

In addition to the display and sale of old roses, rose experts who have made it their mission to save and perpetuate this diverse group of plants will be on hand to answer questions.

Have a rose that you can’t identify?   Just put a complete cutting (full bloom, bud and some foliage) in a jar and bring it to the event and the experts will try to identify your rose.

Vendors will also be selling rare perennials, rose books, rose greeting cards, and other items inspired by roses.  This year, all children attending the event will receive a free rose plant, courtesy of Tom Liggett and HRGBA.

Blooming just once a year in a profusion of fragrant dark wine-purple cups that are white within, Cardinal de Richelieu is one of the most arresting old roses. While this dark beauty from 1840 exhibits most of the growth habits of a Gallica rose, it is actually a Hybrid China

 

An eglantine rose of simple elegance whose leaves are heavily scented with the fragrance of apple. Eglantines, hybrids of Rosa eglanteria, the old Sweet Briar of Shakespeare, grow vigorously into a wild arching and interlacing sprawl and meld wonderfully into any Mediterranean landscaping plan. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Details: The Celebration of Old Roses, Sunday May 20, 2018, Veteran’s Memorial Building, Albany, 1325 Portland at Carmel, Albany, CA 94706. 11 am to 3:30 p.m.  Free.  If you plan to buy roses or plants, bring cash.  For more information, call Kristina Osborn at The Heritage Rose Group Bay Area (510) 527-3815 or visit http://www.celebrationofoldroses.org

May 18, 2018 Posted by | Gardening | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest36: Asian American films paired with conversation, food, music and parties —May 10-24, 2018

Vivian Wu plays fierce beautician Candy Wang whose Facebook page is blocked by the Chinese Communist Party as she takes a tough stance against real estate developers in a scene from Cathy Yan’s debut feature, “Dead Pigs” (2018).  The film screens twice at CAAMFest36,  May 14-24, 2018.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker, will be in attendance at CAAMFest.  Yan was just selected by actor Margot Robbie to direct a “Suicide Squad” sequel film for DC Productions, making Yan the first Asian American woman to direct a big budget Hollywood action film for DC Productions.  Photo: CAAMFest

It’s been exciting to experience CAAMFest, the Center for Asian American Media’s (CAAM) annual film festival, as it has morphed into an extravaganza embracing Asian American film, music, food and dance.  The 36th festival kicked off Thursday, May 10 and runs through Thursday, May 24th.  CAAMFest offers more than 120 films, live performances, music and culinary events.  The second week continues with films in 17 Bay Area venues.

A must-see film is Cathy Yan’s observant and wacky first feature, Dead Pigs (2018, 130 min), which she wrote and directed, screening Sunday, May 20 at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater.   The film exemplifies the filmmakers and thought-provoking stories that CAAMFest celebrates.  Yan herself is an exciting draw and she will be in attendance at CAAMFest for post-screening conversation.   Yan, a former Wall Street Journal reporter turned film-maker has just bashed through a ceiling for women and directors of color in Hollywood.  The Chinese-born American has just been selected by Warner Brothers and DC Entertainment to direct Australian Margot Robbie in a yet-to-be-titled Harley Quinn sequel.  Yan is thus the first Asian-American woman to direct a big budget superhero film for the mega industry powerhouse DC (home to iconic brands such as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, The Flash).

Dead Pigs is set in China, between bustling Shanghai and the provincial town of Jiaxing which sits on the Huangpu River about 70 miles from Shanghai.  The fictional story employs sharp storytelling, comedy and is full of surprises.  It takes off on a real incident that occurred in China in spring 2014 when over 7,500 pig carcasses were found floating in the Huangpu River that supplied Shanghai’s drinking water.  The pigs don’t factor heavily in the story-line but they do bob down the river through several scenes, adding all the symbolism that pigs evoke in the Chinese zodiac of marching forward fearlessly.   They aslo set the stage for five very eccentric characters, whose stories ultimately collide—an alcoholic pig farmer (Yang Haoyu) in debt up to his nose to local thugs; a tough-as-nails beautician (Vivian Wu) who refuses to sell her family home and property to developers seeking to cash in on gentrification; a highly-leveraged American businessman (David Rysdahl) who is in win-or-die development deal; a spoiled rich girl (Li Meng) who is hospitalized after crashing into a watermelon stand while driving drunk; and a lowly waiter/bus-boy at a suckling pig restaurant (Wang Zhen Mason Lee) who pretends he has a big career in the city.

With plentiful energy, wit, a skillful use of music, and a crazy ending, Yan takes up a fascinating set of complex topics, weaving a tale of modern China racing forward.   The film premiered in the world dramatic competition at Sundance, where it won the special jury prize for ensemble acting.

Details:  CAAMFest36 is May 10-24, 2018 at 17 Bay Area sites, including AMC Kabuki 8, Asian Art Museum, Castro, New People Cinema and Roxie theaters.  Tickets: $14 to $20 general; $75 for six-pack; more for special events.  Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  To purchase tickets and for more information, visit www.caamfest.com

May 17, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment