CAAMFest 2017 review: In Jon Maxwell’s documentary “AKA Seoul,” five Korean adult adoptees journey to Seoul to meet their birth families and to explore the intersection of adoption with their identities
Exploration of identity has always been a complex challenge for adoptees and it’s particularly true for those raised in adoptive families of a different race and culture. Jon Maxwell’s new documentary AKA Seoul (70 min, 2016), screening twice at the upcoming CAAMFest, impressively encapsulates a range of experiences shared by five Korean twenty-something adoptees who journey to Korea in the summer of 2016 to find themselves as they connect with their birth families and their native Korea.
The film is a sequel to the documentary series AKA DAN, which chronicled the 2013 journey of alternative rapper and Korean adoptee Dan Matthews as he met his biological Korean family, including an identical twin brother he never knew about. AKA Seoul picks up three years later as Matthews and four other Korean adoptees—Chelsea Katsaros, Siri Szemenkar, Min Matson, and Peter Boskey—get together in Seoul in various restaurants, bars and tattoo parlors to unpack various aspects of their identity as Koreans, as adoptees and as adults. Since they are all in the immediate throws of searching and reuniting and each experience is unique, what results is a very fluid and candid snapshot of adoption.
- Dan Mathews introduces his adoptive mom, Lynn Mathews, from Camarillo CA, to his Korean birthmother while continuing to process that he has an identical twin brother who remained in Korea with his birth family while he was adopted out. His brother is learning English to strengthen their bond and to facilitate communication for the entire birth family while Mathews is trying to figure out how much interaction he actually wants.
- Siri Szemenkar, who was raised in Sweden with virtually no contact with Asians, meets with adoption agency officials in Seoul to get information about her birthmother. After being stonewalled, she is told that her birthmother wants to meet her. Her hopes are dashed when the birthmother cancels and then elevated when she changes her mind.
- Min Matson shares his story as a transgender Korean adoptee and what it’s like to experience Seoul and Korean LGBT culture for the first time as a male. Min’s adoptive mother was Dutch and his adoptive dad was Norwegian and, while he felt really loved by his parents, he had strong feelings that he was boy in a girl’s body even before he started elementary school. He shares his isolation and his adoptive family’s struggle with his search to find his identity, which included a suicide attempt. When he first went to Korean as a masculine looking woman, it was hard for him to fit in with Korean women and to identify with the culture. When he returns, on this trip, to embrace Seoul as a Korean male, with a sense of body security, he feels different, as if he really fits in.
- Chelsea Katsaros, a 28 year old genetics student at University of Minnesota, was raised by adoptive parents of Norwegian and Greek ancestry in Minnesota and grew up around surrounded by people who didn’t look like her. She admits that pressure of being Asian in a white family and culture, was stressful. When she realized as a teenager that she was gay, and came out at age 19, she felt even more pressure because her adoptive family was deeply religious and would not accept her, ultimately leading her to sever communication with them altogether. Holding an orphan in her arms on a visit to Seoul’s Eastern Social Welfare Society, she laments that she will never be able to adopt a Korean baby herself because she is gay and Korean policy only allows for heterosexual adoptions.
- As free-spirited poet and textile artist, Peter Boskey, meanders through the back alleys and shops of Seoul collecting fabric and mementos for his art, he discusses his creative life and the influence of adoption on his artwork. Not only is his artwork a deep expression of who he is, it has been profoundly healing.
What makes AKA Seoul so relevant is the lens feels very fresh. The five adoptees, aside from being very creatively inclined, represent a broad spectrum in terms of their life interests, sexual orientation (two are gay, one is transsexual), and levels of self-awareness. The common thread is that many of them were raised by white adoptive parents and grew up in communities where they had little contact with other Asians, much less Koreans. As a result, they often ended up feeling isolated within their families and communities, despite feeling that they very loved. The mere sensation of seeing people who look like them and feeling a kind of completeness within themselves is one of their most special take-aways from Korea.
Another is the natural comradery, empathy, and bonding that develops between the five as they eat and drink together, get special tattoos, and unpack their adoptee experiences. They form a pack and we sense that they will be there to support each other long after they leave Korea. As many of these adoptees confide, they’ve walked a tight rope all their lives trying to please their adoptive parents and to fit in. This became increasingly difficult as they went through adolescence and into adulthood. In AKA Seoul, we experience their personal healing and see their complex identities emerge out of their interactions with each other and with their native culture. Albeit, they are all at various stages of processing their experiences and this impacts their coherency but this makes it feel real. Seeing this documentary at CAAMFest, where it will be followed up with a live discussion with at least two of the adoptees from the film, Dan Mathews and Min Matson, should be a very enriching experience.
More about CAAMFest 35:
CAAMFest celebrates its 35th year in 2017 with a ten day festival—March 9-19— in San Francisco and Oakland that explores the shifting tides of Asian American culture. Formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest expanded in 2013 beyond film to also include music and food from locales touched by Asian culture. A presentation of the non-profit media organization, CAAM (Center for Asian American Media), CAAMFest’s film offerings include cutting-edge dramas, unflinching documentaries and innovative short films. Throughout CAAM’s history, the organization has supported documentary films and filmmakers by both funding and co-producing films.
This year’s festival will include 113 films and video— 22 feature narratives, 26 documentaries, 65 short films and videos. There will be 10 world premieres, 4 North American premieres, 3 US premieres, 14 West Coast premieres, 36 Bay Area premieres, and 1 special sneak preview.
Celebrating CAAMFest’s 35th anniversary, this year’s Special Presentations will include a diverse lineup of local and international spotlights, interactive works, anniversary screenings that revisit films from the 1980’s and 90’s, a Pacific Islander showcase, community screenings and touching documentaries on the legacy of Japanese American Internment.
Details: AKA Seoul screens at CAAMFest 35—Friday, March 10 (6:30 PM, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema) and Saturday, March 18 (8:20PM, New Parkway Theater, Oakland). Purchase $14 tickets in advance online here. The Alamo Drafthouse at New Mission is located at 2550 Mission Street, San Francisco (There will be a special food and drink menu exclusive to CAAMFest festival screenings.) The New Parkway Theater is located at 474 24th Street, Oakland)
For information about CAAMFest 35, visit http://caamfest.com/2017/.
Among the 160 Han artifacts on display at the Asian Art Museum’s dazzling new exhibit “Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty,” many of objects in wood, bronze, and jade representing animals and mythical beings tap into powerful primal impulses and mythological associations we carry from many cultures, not just Chinese. In the Asian’s Osher Gallery, a bronze oil lamp in the naturalistic form of a crouching deer with its head raised to the heavens (2nd century BCE) seems deeply familiar. With its front mane extending almost all the way to ground and curved tail, this splendid creature evokes earlier heavily stylized Scythian deer except for the absence of looped antlers. We are left to ponder the influences of art created by early Eastern Eurasian nomadic tribes on Chinese art and what exactly is uniquely Chinese in this creature. The deer is an important motif for the Chinese, symbolizing longevity and wealth and this lamp is one of many examples of oil lamps with animal-like motifs from the Han era found in Han tombs. These exquisite lamps also played an important role in court life. Aside from their decorative allure, they provided illumination and, with better light in the evenings, people were able to extend their period of activity and entertainment began to thrive.
China’s Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), like the Roman Empire, forged one of the most powerful, advanced civilizations of the ancient world. Ruled by 29 emperors for over 400 years, the Han dynasty represents the first “golden era” of development in Chinese history, a time when China’s diverse ethnic groups experienced relative stability, social development and harmony. Tomb excavations are ongoing in China and, every so often, they unearth a major find. In 2014, Chinese archaeologists in Jiangsu province, Eastern China (somewhat near Shanghai), unearthed more than 10,000 objects from a cluster of more than 100 Han tombs, untouched for some 2,000 years. Jiangsu was the birthplace of Liu Bang (Emperor Gaozu, reigned 202-195 BCE), the founding emperor of the Han dynasty and Jiangsu was a center of concentrated wealth and culture. There, Han royalty lived extravagantly. They perceived of the afterlife as a form of existence much like their earthly one, requiring that basic subsistence needs be fulfilled as well those for spiritual enlightenment and entertainment. Many of the most fascinating possessions from this rich find and earlier Han excavations are on display at the AAM.
Co-curated by Jay Xu, director and CEO of the AAM, and Fan Jeremy Zhang, the museum’s senior associate curator of Chinese art, the Asian has outdone itself again offering three galleries of tomb treasures, many of which have never traveled outside of China. The show’s opulent lay-out, though, has people buzzing about its sheer design beauty. Marco Centin, Director of Exhibition Design, has placed these many of these precious objects in cases which afford 360 degree viewing and against rich Chinese red backdrops, symbolizing prosperity and good fortune.
The exhibition is organized into three areas themed according to popular Han-era adages found on various artifacts:
- Everlasting happiness without end (長樂未央): Luxurious life and palatial entertainment. Daily life, banquets and pastimes of the Han elites are accompanied by the music and dance of the court.
- Eternal life without limit (長生無極): Worship of jade and search for immortality. A tomb-like atmosphere allows visitors to explore ancient ideas about the afterlife.
- Enduring remembrance without fail (長毋相忘): Private life and intimacy at the court. Affairs of the heart expose secrets from the innermost chambers of men and women fascinated by pleasure.
There seems no limit to the Chinese mastery of jade and Han royalty took ancient China’s fascination to extreme belief that jade, a kind of amour for the afterlife, could protect human flesh from decomposition. The Hambrecht Gallery has transformed into a tutorial on Chinese Han burial culture and front and center is an an extremely rare jade burial suit fashioned for a ruler from over 2,000 linked rectangular jade tiles joined together with gold thread and affixed to a silk backing, a project that would have taken the most skilled jade smith over a decade to create. The suits are so rare because tomb looters would burn the suits to retrieve the gold.
Also on display is a huge coffin, thought to be the largest jade coffin the world, that was excavated recently at Dayun Mountain and reconstructed. This coffin has a patterned jade lining on its inside to protect the deceased. This stands in contrast to a similar coffin that was discovered some 20 years ago in the Jiangsu region’s Chu mausoleums which had elaborate patterned jade on its exterior. An “inside or outside” debate has raged among scholars as to whether the use of jade was consistent or different due to regional variations in coffin construction. In the same gallery, there are also evocative smaller jade dragon pendants which would have adorned the coffins of elite rulers.
In the Lee Gallery, the exhibit explores the interior spaces of the Han court and its plush amenities for personal hygiene including a toilet found in the Tuolan Mountain mausoleum and intriguing strap on bronze phalluses.
Free Performances: Music for the Afterlife
In celebration of Tomb Treasures, local instrument inventor group Pet the Tiger will team up with Gamelan Encinal, a musical ensemble, for a presentation featuring three centuries of instrument building. Custom-built instruments by musician Bart Hopkin, designed with the same tuning as the Han dynasty Bianzhong bronze bells, create a contemporary “orchestra” (or “gamelan”).
Each performance features percussion and wind instruments in rearrangements of traditional gamelan melodies, the graphic score of “Yantra Meditation” by local composer David Samas, and new compositions for special guest artists.
On March 19, at 12 noon and 2 PM, in the North Court, local instrument inventor Peter Whitehead performs haunting melodies for voice and overtone flute.
On April 16, Pet the Tiger and Gamelan Encinal perform new works for pipa (Chinese flute) and the Han bronze bells by Sophia Shen and Stephen Parris, with Ms. Shen as pipa soloist.
On May 7, the two ensembles will join forces with the Cornelius Cardew Choir to perform composer Brenda Hutchinson’s work “Last Words,” an inquiry and meditation that asks what we want to take with us to the afterlife — and what we want to leave behind. Guests of all ages are invited come early to so that they can join the orchestra by building their own instruments from everyday objects in the Education Studios: You can construct a soda straw oboe or boba straw pan pipes that can be tuned to the ancient scales of the bronze bells.
Details: Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty closes May 28, 2017. The AAM is located at 200 Larkin Street near Civic Center. Parking is easy at Civic Center Plaza garage which offers a discount with your validated AAM ticket. (Get it stamped upon entry to the museum.) Hours: Tues-Sun: 10-5; Thursdays until 9 (end Oct 8); closed Mondays. Admission: General admission $20 weekday, $25weekend; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $15 weekday, $20 weekend; 12 & under are free. 1st Sundays are free thanks to Target. You can pre-purchase your tickets, with no processing fee, online here.
For film programmer and curator Amanda Salazar of the San Francisco Film Institute and Petaluman Jonathan Marlow, FANDOR co-founder and currently chief strategy office of Kanopy, the on-demand streaming video service, it was their mutual love of experimental film and making it more accessible to audiences that led them to look back in time to the CAMERA OBSCURA Film Society (COFS). This eclectic organization was founded in the late 1950’s by Lawrence Jordan and Bruce Connor, together with a handful of other artists, and presented pop-up experimental cinema programs throughout San Francisco until 1962. Salazar and Marlow picked up the mantel and contacted Lawrence Jordan, who happens to live in Petaluma now, and got his permission to revitalize the organization. They will be presenting The Second Annual report of the reconstituted CAMERA OBSCURA over the weekend at Hotel Petaluma’s art gallery which has been converted into a pop-up screening room that seats 50. Lawrence Jordan will be in attendance on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. for the world premiere of his 2016 film Night Light , shot on film, and to introduce Werner Herzog’s short, Lessons of Darkness (1992), which screens before Night Light. The event kicked off on Friday evening (November 18, 2016) and picks up at noon on Saturday and runs through late-night Sunday. “Our intent,” says Amanda Salazar “is to create a salon and to start a dialogue about where cinema is at, where it is going, and its relevancy. We want people to feel free to drop in and see one film or to spend the weekend with us. ”
CAMERA OBSCURA day I : Friday, Nov 18
OPENING NIGHT: 7:00pm
CAMERAPERSON (2016) dir. Kirsten Johnson
– preceded by the short film – SPEAKING IS DIFFICULT (2016) dir. AJ Schnack
[feature courtesy of Janus Films | short courtesy of the filmmaker and Field of Vision]
— followed by —
opening night reception [Hotel Petaluma ballroom]
CAMERA OBSCURA day II : Saturday, Nov 19
12:00pm | [introduced by Canyon Cinema Director Antonella Bonfanti]
LA REGION CENTRALE (1971), dir. Michael Snow
– preceded by the short film –
THE WATERSHOW EXTRAVAGANZA (2016) [U.S. premiere], dir. Sophie Michael
[feature courtesy of Canyon Cinema | short courtesy of the filmmaker
— followed by —
4:00pm | [introduced by Camera Obscura Film Society co-founder Lawrence Jordan]
LESSONS OF DARKNESS (1992)
dir. Werner Herzog
– preceded by the short films –
NIGHT LIGHT (2016) [world premiere] dir. Lawrence Jordan [in attendance]
EDGE OF ALCHEMY (2016) [work-in-progress screening] dir. Stacey Steers
[feature courtesy of WHF GmbH | shorts courtesy of the respective filmmakers]
— followed by —
7:00pm | THE SON OF JOSEPH [LE FILS DE JOSEPH] (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Eugene Green
– preceded by the short film –
OH WHAT A WONDERFUL FEELING (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Francois Jaros
[feature courtesy of Kino Lorber | short courtesy of La Boîte à Fanny]
— followed by —
10:00pm | [introduced by Alamo Drafthouse SF Creative Manager Mike Keegan]
THE ASTROLOGER (1975) dir. Craig Denny
– preceded by the short film –
PLENA STELLARUM (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Matthew Wade
[feature courtesy of AGFA | short courtesy the filmmaker]
CAMERA OBSCURA day III : Sunday, Nov 20
1:00pm | IN PURSUIT OF SILENCE (2015) dir. Patrick Shen [prod. Brandon Vedder in attendance]
– preceded by the short film –
FLOWERS OF THE SKY (2016) [regional premiere] dir. Janie Geiser
[feature courtesy of the Cinema Guild | short courtesy the filmmaker]
— followed by —
4:00pm | Sunday SEA TO SHINING SEA (2016) [work-in-progress screening] dir. Maximon Monihan [in attendance]
– preceded by the short film –
EXILE EXOTIC (2015) [regional premiere] dir. Sasha Litvintseva
[feature courtesy of Bricolagista | short courtesy the filmmaker]
— followed by —
CLOSING NIGHT: 7:00pm | DARK NIGHT (2016) [regional premiere]dir. Tim Sutton
– preceded by the short film –
[TBA] (2016) [work-in-progress screening]
dir. ——– [in attendance]
[feature courtesy of Cinelicious Pics | short courtesy of the filmmaker]
— followed by —
closing night party [secret location TBA]
Details: Camera Obscura Second Annual Report is Friday through Sunday, November 18-20, 2016 at the art gallery of Hotel Petaluma, 106 Washington Street, Petaluma, CA, approximately 1.5 hours north of San Francisco. Screenings (“events”) are for members only. A single screening is $20; a full day membership is $50 and the full weekend, including a one year membership and subsequent Quarterly report screenings) is $100.
For more information: www.cameraobscurafilmsociety.com
Kid friendly alert: the programming is intended for adults
The 8th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival kicks off Friday, October 28th, and offers a weekend of exciting cinema
With 40 independent films from 18 countries, the 8th Annual Petaluma International Film Festival (PIFF8) offers line-up of new independent films from the remote corners of the globe to homey Petaluma. This year’s festival is Friday through Sunday at Petaluma’s Boulevard 14 Cinemas and offers 15 full-length films and 25 shorts and the popular Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase with several filmmakers in attendance. There’s also Running Wild, Alex Ranarivelo’s new horse drama that was co-produced by Petaluma’s Ali Afshar and was shot in 2015 all around Sonoma County.
Organized by Saeed Shafa who founded the popular annual Tiburon International Film Festival in 2002, PIFF was created to support new indie filmmakers, great storytelling and international points of view. Since most filmmakers start our their careers by making a short film, Shafa has purposely paired all the feature films with at least one short film to demonstrate to the audience that short stories can be highly effective and so can new filmmakers.
Friday’s Opening film:
The festival kicks off Friday at noon with Hilary Linder’s compelling documentary, Indivisible (2016), which showcases real people at the heart of our country’s immigration debate and the Dreamer movement for immigrant rights. In a year in which election theatrics have supplanted substantive debate on the pressing issue of immigration reform, Linder gives us a a very relevant story that tracks three children who were been separated from their parents by deportation and became stuck in redtape which prohibited them from visiting their parents and their parents form visiting them. Against all odds, these kids remain hopeful and are working to promote reform. Screens with shorts “The Silence” and “Between the Lines.”
Saturday and Sunday evenings—Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase:
Now in its fourth year, the festival’s popular Sonoma Filmmakers Showcase has expanded to both Saturday and Sunday evenings. The program reflects Shafa’s commitment to our community’s talented independent filmmakers. The evenings allow the community to gather to meet these filmmakers and to see a number of short films all at once. This year, the program starts on Saturday with Alex Ranarivelo’s new feature length drama, Running Wild (2016), starring Oscar-nominated Sharon Stone. The film was co-produced by Petaluma’s Ali Afshar and was shot in 2015 in Petaluma, Tomales, Santa Rosa and Glen Ellen. The story revolves around the plight of wild horses during the drought. Recently widowed Stella Davis (Dorian Brown, FX’s “Wilfred”) faces foreclosure of her Double Diamond Ranch and works with convicts to rehabilitate a herd of wild horses that has wandered onto her ranch. The film screens Saturday at 6:15 PM with director Alex Ranarivelo and actress Dorian Brown in attendance.
Sunday Afternoon: Focus on Dance and Music
Randy Valdes was born in Cuba in 1986 and then relocated to Miami at age eight. His documentary A Todo Color (2015) tells the story of how, in the 1990’s, young Cubans turned to music as a source of inspiration and how Cuban musicians managed to disseminate their art and truths beyond Cuba. Through intimate interviews and fabulous concert scenes, the film explores the artists’ personal and creative journeys, how their influence defines the artistic language of the Cuban cultural Diaspora, and how each incorporates the influences of their newly adopted cultural environments into the ever-evolving phenomenon of World Cuban Music. Screens Sunday, 2PM with shorts Body & Sound (4 min) and State of Grace (5 min)
Bardroy Barretto’s musical feature Let’s Dance to the Rhythm (2015) brings some 20 legendary songs from the 60’s and 70’s to life in a spectacular tribute to Goan music that unfolds as a love story between a composer-musician, Lawtry (Vijay Maurya), and his protégé, Dona (Palomi Ghosh). Set against the backdrop of the jazz clubs of Bombay and Goa’s vibrant 60’s generation of musicians, the film is loosely based on a true story. Goan musicians contributed greatly to Bollywood’s melodious songs and compositions and this film gives these unsung heroes their due. Screens Sunday at 4 PM. (In Konkani with subtitles)
The 7th Petaluma International Film Festival is Friday, October 28, through Sunday, October 30, 2016 at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas, 200 C Street, Petaluma. Tickets: All screenings $12; buy tickets during the festival at Petaluma’s Boulevard Cinemas or online (click here) with a handling fee. Passes: All inclusive festival pass is $180 and a day pass is $60. (click here to purchase)
For full schedule and more information, click here.
Russian Bells will clang at Fort Ross’ Harvest Festival in a special Russian Bell concert with Percussionist Victor Avdienko—Saturday, October 15, 2016
The majestic sound of Russian bells will fill the air at historic Fort Ross this Saturday as San Francisco Symphony Percussionist Victor Avdienko performs a special concert for the 4th annual Fort Ross-Seaview Wine and Harvest Festival. Since the founding of Fort Ross in 1812 by the Russian-American Company, a trading and fur trapping firm, Russian bells have had a place of prominence. They were utilized both as signal bells at the fort’s two sentry boxes located diagonally in its Northern and Southern corners and, after 1824, as church bells in the belfry of the fort’s Holy Trinity–Saint Nicholas Chapel. On Saturday, the peal of six Russian bells will serve a purely musical purpose in America’s Second Secular Russian Bell Concert which will take place at the Visitor’s Center at 1:10 pm. The concert is produced by Mark Galperin, General Manager of Blagovest Bells of Novato, the sole promoter of Russian bells and bell-ringing in the U.S.
The program will include a mix of traditional liturgical and contemporary secular “zvons” (peals) and improvisations—
“Perezvon”– a chain peal, from largest bell to smallest in order, used at the Blessing of the Water
Traditional Trezvons (three-part Russian bell peals)
“Festal Lenten Zvon”– a traditional Russian Peal from the famous belfry of the Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin of the Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl Region, Russia
“Optina Zvon”– a peal from Optina Pustyn, the famous Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple Monastery for men near Kozelsk, Kaluga Region, Russia
“Krasnyj Zvon” by Vladimir Petrovsky
Percussionist Victor Avdienko has performed, recorded, and toured with the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) for 20 years. He was brought up in San Francisco’s Holy Virgin Cathedral Russian Orthodox Church on Geary Street but, during those days, he never heard authentic Russian bells played live there. Instead, he heard plenty of recordings of majestic Russian bells which always fascinated him. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” with the San Francisco Symphony in the summer of 2014 was the first time authentic Russian bells were ever used for that very popular piece in the United States. Galperin organized the loan of those bells to SFS from San Anselmo’s St. Nicholas Orthodox Church. He had also lent Blagovest Bells’ 5-bell Russian demo peal to SFS for its Keeping Score Summer Institute in June 2009. The friendship between Galperin and Avdienko was solidified over their mutual love of bell music. Avdienko and Galperin’s first independent concert, America’s First Secular Russian Bell Concert was held at Fort Ross during the 3rd Fort Ross Harvest Festival.
Saturday’s outdoor concert at Fort Ross will occur rain or shine. In addition to Russian bells, the folk group Dolina will also be performing a number of traditional Russian and Cossak folk dances throughout the day.
To read ARThound’s 2014 feature article on SFS percussionist Victor Avdienko and the first Russian bells to play at Green Music Center’s famed Weill Hall, click here.
Details: The bell concert is 1:10 PM on Saturday, October 15, 2016 at the Fort Ross Visitor Center, Fort Ross State Historic Park. The concert is free but visitors must pay park admission of $20/car which includes entrance to the Fort Ross Harvest Festival. Fort Ross, is located 11 miles north of Jenner on Highway One and is the main tourist attraction between Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg.
The Fort Ross Harvest Festival is Saturday, October 15, 2016 from 10AM to 6PM and offers a full day of world-class wine tasting, a wine seminar featuring rare wines grown in the remote steep mountain top Seaview region, apple picking in a historic apple orchard, delicious local foods, historic crafts and music and Russian dancing, all set on the spectacular Sonoma Coast at Fort Ross State Historic Park. Entrance to the festival is $20/car and wine tasting tickets range from $40 to $90 depending on category of wine tasting.
With the onset of fall, Bay Area moviegoing options start to multiply like crazy. The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF), October 6-16 2016, is hard to beat. The 39th edition offers a line-up of 200 films—winners from Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto as well as an eclectic mix of features, documentaries, shorts, world cinema and films with a Bay Area stamp—all selected for our discriminating Bay Area audience by programmer Zoe Elton and her seasoned team. The legendary festival kicks off on Thursday evening, October 6, with two of Hollywood’s hottest fall films—La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s (Whiplash MVFF 2014) love letter to dreamers, artists, and Hollywood with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone and Denis Vileneuve’s (Sicario) riveting and thoughtful drama, Arrival, starring five time Oscar-nominee Amy Adams as a linguistics professor who communicates with aliens in a bid to save the planet. Actually, in a move to satisfy everyone’s tastes, there are four films screening on Thursday evening, so add Mick Jackson’s Denial starring Rachael Weiss and Rob Nilsson’s Love Twice to the mix but they are not being billed as opening nighters. Special Tributes will honor Academy Award winning actress Nicole Kidman in a program that includes a screening of her new film with Dev Patel, Lion, and acclaimed filmmaker and author Julie Dash, who will appear in conversation following a screening of her recently restored Daughters of the Dust (1991). The festival closes with Jeff Nichols’ Loving, which tells the real life story of the struggle, imprisonment and 1960’s Supreme Court battle Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred (Ruth Negga) Loving experienced in one of America’s early interracial marriages.
The festival unfolds in San Rafael, Corte Madera, Larkspur and Mill Valley. For North Bay residents, getting there and parking is considerably more time efficient and cheaper than it is in San Francisco. If you want to go, pre-purchase your tickets now as this popular festival tends to sell out before it starts. There is ample choice right now but not for long. I recommend seeing films where the filmmaker or actors will be in attendance. Also, check the new program guide for Smith Rafael Film Center. Several of the festival films are screening there within the next two months and it doesn’t make sense to pay a premium to see them at the festival and wait in long lines unless there are special guests attending that make it worthwhile.
ARThound’s top picks:
Neruda/Spotlight Gael Garcia Bernal—Mon, Oct 10
The foreign film line-up is especially strong this year. Chilean Director Pablo Larrain’s Neruda, Chile’s foreign language Oscar nominee, takes center stage in a special Spotlight presentation honoring Mexican actor-director-producer Gael Garcia Bernal. The drama is set in 1948 and Bernal plays a police inspector who is charged with finding the fugitive Communist politician and poet, Pablo Neruda, when he goes underground. In Larrain’s capable hands, the film morphs into a soulful exploration of Chile’s historical dance with heroes and villains and Bernal as the inspector becomes a key figure, obsessed with finding Neruda who has managed to make him his pawn. Bernal will appear in an onstage conversation covering his extensive career.
The Salesman—Fri, Oct 7 and Wed, Oct 12
I can’t remember when the festival last hosted an Iranian filmmaker but, over the year’s, we’ve reveled in their creativity, courage and unparalleled story-telling. This year, acclaimed Academy Award and Golden Globe winning writer-director Ashgar Farhadi (A Separation) will appear in person to answer questions after the two screenings of his new Tehran-set drama The Salesman. The film picked up Best Screenplay and Best Actor awards at Cannes and was selected as the Iranian nominee for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The Salesman is the suspenceful story of a young Persian couple who are part-time actors in Tehran in the Arthur Miller play Death of a Salesman. Their relationship is strained after they move into a new flat and the wife is attacked while she is taking a shower. The flat’s previous occupant, a woman who was allegedly involved in prostitution, is never seen but her presence grows as the film progresses. At Cannes, Shahab Hosseini, the husband, won the award for Best Actor.
Lamb—Sat, Oct 8 and Tues, Oct 11
A rarity for MVFF is an Ethiopian film, in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Writer-director Yared Zeleke’s first feature, Lamb, was the first Ethiopian film ever named an official Cannes selection. The 37 year-old director made Variety magazine’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list for 2015. The story revolves around an Ethiopian boy who loses his mother and moves in with relatives and becomes attached to a pet lamb, Chuni, as a way of dealing with loss and grief. He also takes up cooking which is unacceptable to his uncle who considers it girl’s work. The story hits close to home for the director. When he was just 10, Zeleke’s own father was imprisoned by the Derg regme (the ruling military Communist regime that was in power in Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987) and his mother remarried and he went to live with his grandmother. Ultimately, Zeleke was reunited with his father and they lived together in the US but the happy days he had with both loving parents together were long gone. Filmmaker in attendance for both screenings.
Frantz—Fri, Oct 7 and Fri, Oct 14
French director François Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, Under the Sand) always stirs me with subtle demonstrations of his artistry and deep understanding of human nature. His latest film, Frantz, a romantic drama set in the aftermath of WWI in the small German town of Quedlingburg, is a layered portrait of grief. The story evolves from a strange graveside encounter between a young German woman (Paula Beer) grieving her fiancé and a Frenchman, Adrian (Pierre Niney), who also visits the fiancé’s grave to leave flowers. He claims to have been friends with her fiancé and, slowly, she begins to develop feelings for him. Shot in black and white, with brief interludes of color, the film is a loose adaptation of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 drama Broken Lullaby which itself was based on a play by French playwright Maurice Rostand. Niney, whose elegant face would have inspired Michelangelo, won a Cesar award for his outstanding performance in Jalil Lespert’s Yves Saint Laurent (2014).
Mom and Other Loonies in the Family—Sat, Oct 15 and Sun, Oct 16
Hungarian director Ibolya Fekete’s Mom and Other Loonies in the Family revolves around a 94 year-old grandmother with dementia who relates her life story to her daughter. It’s a heartwarming recounting, told through flashbacks over four generations of crazies. She was a mother on the run who moved twenty-seven times—and the film spans all of the 20th century, meandering through epic moments in Hungarian and world history. Her “present” is a time that is infused with struggles, declining health and the confusing intervention of past events. Her past was committed to keeping the family together at any cost. The story is based on the filmmaker’s own family and stories related to her by relatives. Characters appear in archival footage and in well-known Hungarian films as if they were actually in those films. Eszter Ónodi shines as the reliable yet somewhat whimsical woman who moved too many times and just wants to stand on her own two feet. Her ninety four-year old demented self is played by Danuta Szaflarska who credibly plays the role by reverting to childlike responses.
Green is Gold—Sat, Oct 8 and Sun, Oct 9
I have a weakness for films that are set in Northern, California, where I grew up. Sonoma State University graduate Ryan Baxter’s first feature, Green is Gold, is set in rural Sonoma County and is a family bonds over pot business story that picked up the Audience Best Fiction Film award at the Los Angeles Film Festival for its poetic filmmaking and emotional truth. Ryan Baxter, the writer, director, editor and star, plays the older brother, Cameron, a black market potrepneur ( a real word I picked up at the Heirloom Festival) who is forced to take care of his younger brother, Jimmy (his real life brother, Jimmy Baxter) when their dad is imprisoned. Cameron tries to put some distance between the kid and the cannabis business, which involves considerable risk but high payoffs, but, soon Jimmy is knee deep in buds and the two find themselves embarking on a dangerous pot delivery journey that will either leave them rolling in dough or six feet under. Ryan Baxter, actor Jimmy Baxtor, and rest of cast and crew in attendance at both screenings.)
Unleashed—Wed, Oct 12 and Thurs, Oct 13
What if your pets turned into full-grown men? I couldn’t resist the whacky premise behind Finn Taylor’s Unleashed, which has a thirty-something software app designer Emma (Kate Micucci) settling into her life in San Francisco when her cat, Ajax, and her dog, Summit, disappear only to reappear in her life as full-grown men (Steve Howet and Justin Chatwin). All their four-legged memories are fully intact and they vie for her affection in their very specific cat and dog styles.
Details MVFF 39:
The 39th Mill Valley Film Festival opens on Thursday, October 6 and runs through Sunday, October 16, 2016. Buy tickets online now at http://www.mvff.com/. Most tickets for films are $14 and special programs starts at $25.
Interview: Zita Morriña, Programming director, Cuba’s International Festival of New Latin American Cinema
As I travelled to sunny Havana, Cuba last December for my first visit to the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, I had a myriad of questions about what goes on behind the scenes to bring over 650 films from 49 countries to Havana. Virtually unknown to most Americans, this 10 day festival, which is always held in the first two weeks of December, keeps getting bigger and better each year and is one of Havana’s and Latin America’s most anticipated annual events. I spoke with festival Programming Director, Zita Morriña, who has handled programming for the past 37 years.
The 37th edition of the festival received roughly 1500 films that were submitted from the region for consideration, the biggest year ever. The festival also seeks out prizewinners from Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto. Morriña and her team of four energetic programmers turn all of this into a 10-day program that runs in 14 historic theaters all across Havana. They also organize the festival’s awards program which involves juried competitions in eight areas and numerous awards, including best unrealized screenplay and even one for the best artistic design of the festival’s poster. I meet with Morriña mid-way through last December’s festival in a large house in the Havana suburbs, owned by the festival; it was raining cats and dogs and the place was absolutely chaotic, with a stream of very wet people coming and going. Confident at the helm, Morriña gave me the lay of the land.
What is the philosophy of programming? How many submissions do you get and what are your standards for what you accept?
Zita Morriña: This year, we had over 1500 submissions. Every year, we usually get over 1000 but after the digital system of film became more popular, we started getting many more submissions from all over the world. Our philosophy is to emphasize Latin films so the areas of competition are only open to Latin American films. Some are submitted and some are by invitation. We always open our submissions in January or February. Including me, We have five programmers here and we have a budget for travel that’s not very big, but allows us to go to the big festivals—Berlin, Cannes, San Sebastian, Rotterdam—and some that are not so big but which are important for Latin film. We go to the principal countries—Argentina, Chile Brazil Venezuela and sometimes Colombia—and then we will go to a festival in Lima, Peru, and two to three festivals in Brazil. We’ve also attended Bogota Audiovisual Market (BAM) where they screen films. We invite the films that win the awards and get recognition. It’s always a combination of films we want and films they send us. This year, the majority is by submission not invitation.
How has the festival grown over the years in terms of participants?
Zita Morriña: In the beginning, the festival was more Latin American than international. In Latin America, almost all the countries have participated and that has just solidified and broadened. In the beginning, everything was in the contest. That worked for awhile but then it grew so much that the jurors couldn’t watch 40 or 50 films, so we decided to have separate contests and limit the number of films. We started with the fiction film category for the contest and, within that, created a prize for the first fiction film and the best short film. As we grew, and first films became more important, we created the contest for first films. This year, we have over 21 films full-length feature films, 21documentaries, 21 shorts, 21 first films, 21 animation and over 40 long and short features in fiction. We also have a script contest and we receive more than 100 every year.
Are you free to accept films of any subject matter?
Zita Morriña: Not for the contest. We decided that it would only for Latin American films or films with Latin American subjects. Outside the contest, we accept everything.
How is the jury selected?
Zita Morriña: It varies but it’s always a different jury each year. Sometimes, we select filmmakers who have received the award in the past. We try to make each jury a composition of many countries so there is balance.
What are you most proud of about this festival?
Zita Morriña: Our programming. We show the very best films produced in Latin America. This year in our “Gala” section we have a few films produced by Latin American directors that do not have a Latin American theme or subject per se, but we feel they are so relevant that they have to be shown. Our “First Film” category keeps better each year. These films are as good as or better than the other films we are showing. Over the years, we have had 500,000 people attending this festival and that’s very gratifying, very good.
This year, there are a lot of films addressing sexual and gender orientation. Is this intentional, to use film as a vehicle to explore these topics in Cuban society?
Zita Morriña: For the past five years, these themes have been very present in all the films throughout the world but, in Latin American films, we’ve have about 10 to 15 films that deal with homosexuality, trans, so forth. This is not a theme we are seeking; it comes to us. Our criteria has always been if the film is good we take it, never mind the topic. But, in our large panorama of subjects/categories, we do have one for diversity. There, we show films that address all sorts of topics beyond sexual and gender orientation like albinism.
I’ve seen an uncanny number of psychologically intense and dark films at this festival. Is this a characteristic of current Latin cinema?
Zita Morriña: Right now, yes it is. I think it’s a reflection of the social and political situation in Latin America right now that has given rise to this type of story. They are moving from the militant films that we saw up until the 1990’s to films that are more socially engaged and delve into heavy psychological issues that are often the result of the environment in these countries or of events in history.
Has new film technology presented any special problems here in Cuba? I attended about five screenings here where the audio did not work correctly or where they had to switch the film and show another that wasn’t scheduled due to technical issues. How are you tackling these issues so that the people are not disappointed?
Zita Morriña: Technology is one of our greatest challenges that will be solved only by time and money. Until about two years ago, cinemas in Cuba only screened 35mm and Blu-ray because we didn’t have any digital projectors. Last year, 2014, we introduced this technology in two theaters—Charles Chaplin and Yara. This year, we have fve theaters but, on the human side, we need to train our projectionists and technicians. Also, we need to improve film transport for receiving the films. There’s no Fed Ex here in Cuba; the films still have to come by DHL, which can take 10 to 15 days. Right now, a week into this festival, we are missing a film from the Dominican Republic, which is just 200 miles away but I still don’t have the film. And on the new technology side, there are problems everywhere but, here in Cuba, it’s triple. We have a film from Mexico, Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles, a very good film about the Mexican cartels, which we can’t get to open and play, so we can’t screen it. Naturally, we always ask that films be sent ahead of time so we can work these things out but sometimes they tell us that the only copy they have is at another festival and they end up carrying the film with them when come. Also, we don’t pay any fees for films and charging a fee is very common nowadays so we have to deal with that money factor which gives us a lower priority.
What are the awards─are they money or recognition?
Zita Morriña: Just recognition. One of our awards, however, a script award, has financial support from Spanish institutions so that we can give money to the writer so to develop their idea. There’s also a post production award we give that supports films that are already done but need to be finished, so we do give some money for that.
The Cuban cinema here has been fantastic. Does the festival, extend financial support through the Cuban Institute for Cinema, to commission any films?
Zita Morriña: No.
How does the festival survive financially?
Zita Morriña: (Outburst of laughter) We have this house, which is ours and a small full-time staff which is here year round. We have about 20 people including four programmers, the director and we have economic and administrative staff and maintain a video-library with copies of all the films that have been in the festival.
I met the American experimental filmmaker, Dominic Angerame from San Francisco and he told me that he’s been bringing films here for the past 10 years. How has it been collaborating with American’s over the years?
Zita Morriña: It’s been very easy. You know in our 7th festival, some 30 years ago, we had Jack Lemmon here and we opened our festival with Costa Gavras’ Missing (1982) about Allende and the missing or disappeared people. We awarded Jack Lemmon the Coral of Honor, so we have always been there collaborating and communicating. So now, let’s say, it is legal. The Academy (Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences) has been sending delegations here for years. Annette Bening came in 2010 with The Kids Are All Right. We’ve had Gregory Peck, Robert DeNiro, Chris Walken, Milos Forman and Spike Lee. Harry Belafonte came many times. The former president of the Academy, Sid Ganis, was here and was very supportive.
Are you ready for the onslaught of Americans that will want to attend this festival?
Zita Morriña: We are more or less ready but I’m not so sure about the country.
To read ARThound’s previous coverage of the 37th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema (Dec 3-13, 2015), click here.
Details: The 38th Festival of New Latin American Cinema is December 8-18, 2016 in Havana. Click here for information. Plan on securing plane and hotel reservations at least 2 to 3 months in advance of the festival. Once in Havana, festival passes can be purchased at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where the festival is headquartered, or, individual tickets can be purchased at various screening venues. Due to the immense popularity of the festival, purchasing a festival pass is advised.
A palm-sized white ceramic cup with two fine blue lines encircling its rim depicts colorful chickens tending their chicks and proud roosters amidst groups of rocks and flowers. At first glance, the cup appears to be a run-of-the-mill item that someone who liked chickens might pick up at a charity thrift shop and place in their kitchen window. But this is the renowned “chicken cup,” the most extraordinary type of early Ming multicolor porcelain in existence, which for centuries has been coveted by emperors, literati collectors and connoisseurs of Chinese art. It bears an imperial seal in a cobalt blue underglaze on its bottom indicating it was created during the reign of Ming Emperor Chenghua. Of course, it’s impossible to put a price on the priceless, but the 500 year-old Meiyantang Chenghua chicken cup, very similar, sold at auction in 2014 for $36.3 million. For the untrained eye, such are the surprises that await in the 150 objects on display at the Asian Art Museum (AAM) in their summer show, Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum (June 17-Sept 18). Those more grounded in Chinese art will revel in the nuances of the crème de le crème of Chinese Imperial art selected by Jay Xu (AAM director) and Li He (AAM associate curator), co-curators of this show.
Considered the world’s top collection of Chinese art, the National Palace Museum was founded in 1965 and contains hundreds of thousands of the Imperial family’s extensive collections of artworks, artifacts and palatial treasures. In order to protect them from the ravages of war, these treasures were relocated to Taiwan from the National Palace Museum, in the Forbidden City, Beijing, in 1947 and from other hiding places in China at other dates. The collection rarely travels outside Asia and roughly 100 of the paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, jades, bronzes and textiles have never before been seen in the United States. The other 50 were shown at the Metropolitan Museum in the spring of 1996 when Jay Xu was a young curator there.
The exhibit spans 800 years of Chinese history, covering Han Chinese, Mongol and Manchu periods from the early 12th century Song dynasty though the Yuan, Ming and early 20th century Qing dynasties. The structure is chronological, following the reigns of nine monarchs, eight male and one female, each of whom heavily influenced the artworks of their respective eras. The team at the Asian, in close collaboration with Taipei, has done a wonderful job presenting the many aesthetic currents that ran through Chinese imperial art as Chinese emperors expressed their personal tastes and embraced various foreign innovations and influences. Wall placards provide rich context and full Chinese translations, while the audio-guide and catalog provide even more information.
“This is not a typical blockbuster art show in its scale,” says Dr. Richard Vinograd, Christensen Professor in Asian Art, Stanford, “but it’s very rich in terms of objects and art forms that are included over a very broad span of time. The value of these objects can be distinguished between their pure artistic value and connoisseurs’ or collectors’ values, which are attached to Imperial patronage, transmission, and technical innovations embodied in the works.” Indeed, some of these artworks are like people you meet who, initially, may not seem very interesting but once you get to know them, become thoroughly engrossing.
Emperors’ Treasures opens with an exploration of Emperor Huizong (r.1101-1125 AD), who sought escape from the affairs of state through the arts and letters. His connoisseurship had a formidable impact on the study of antiquities in China and he collected over 6,000 paintings, thousands of antiquities and bronzes, many of which were lost when the Jin army, which he was once in alliance with, invaded in 1127. A brilliant and dedicated calligrapher, Huizong invented the “Slender Gold” style of calligraphy, unlike anything that preceded it, which had such unique energetic brushstrokes that they are often described as the legs of dancing cranes. Huizong was enamored by anthropomorphic rocks and stocked his imperial garden with them, giving them names which were engraved on them. A Daoist poem he composed, which is in the show, praises the form of a particularly unique rock. Equally fascinating is Huizong’s back story: he sired over 65 children.
The well-known but quiet Southern Song dynasty painting “Walking on a Path in Spring,” illustrates important unresolved issues that apply to many paintings of the Song period and beyond. This ink drawing on silk is by Ma Yuan, one of the more famous court-affiliated artists of the fourth Southern Song dynasty emperor, Ningzong (r. 1195-1224). It depicts someone strolling and twisting his beard, his view extending into a misty void. A smaller figure (lower left) seems to be following him and carrying something. A bird sits on a branch and another is in flight, directing the viewer’s eye to the imperial couplet in the upper right, for which there are a variety of translations.
“The most interesting question is: what is the relationship between the poem and the painting and which came first?,” says Richard Vinograd. Even for the painter Ma Yuan, whose work is well known, very little is known about his life or about the status of court-affiliated artists during this period, explains Vinograd. “We do know that Ma Yuan had a big impact with his own work and was part of a multi-generational family of artists that were active in the Song Dynasty. Their stylistic mode was important for centuries thereafter as a model for later artists to refer to or imitate.” Vinograd will speak about the exhibit at the Asian Art Museum on Saturday, August 25, and will further explore the relationship between painting and calligraphy appearing in early paintings.
Emperors’ Treasures gives ample evidence of the great diversity of Chinese culture, highlighting non-Chinese rulers who were exceptional leaders and introduced new practices. The Mongol, Kublai Khan, grandson of Gengis Khan, become China’s first non-Chinese emperor in the late 13th century and founded the Yuan dynasty. The history is fascinating: the Mongols came in from the northwestern steppes around 1237 and finally overtook China in 1276, toppling the Song dynasty in the South. They also invaded what was then Iran, so the world’s two oldest cultures were under one rule. This expansion and unification of China led to a massive influx of artisans and craftsmen from all over the vast Mongol empire and great cross-pollination which had reverberations even in Italian art of the fourteenth century. Unlike other emperors in the exhibit who created art, Kublai expressed his taste through administrative acts that supported the arts. His unsigned bust portrait, likely produced by a court painter, is executed in the style of most all Imperial portraits: it depicts a flat two-dimensional, forward facing, remote leader. In plain Mongol dress and headdress, with a hairstyle of three braided loops hanging from behind the ear, Kublai is presented unambiguously as the emperor of China but as something foreign at the same time.
Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) porcelain reflected the craze for fine cobalt blue pigment which came from Iran and was used prevalently in Islamic art. Another quite ordinary looking treasure, important not for its style but for its exquisite deep blue color, this rare wine cup and saucer set came from the porcelain center in Jingdezhen. There, artisans mastered the use of cobalt for monochrome glaze and underglaze decoration and developed a new decorative element which involved applying gold over the vivid blue. Originally, the cup and saucer were decorated with gold motifs which have long since fallen away. Residue reveals that plum branches surrounded the exterior of the cup; these were a symbol of faith and self-esteem and were an important motif in Yuan art.
The use of cobalt would reach new heights during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as would the fineness of porcelain explaining the enduring craze for Ming. Innovation in clay recipes allowed for vessels to become thinner and thus lighter. New body and glaze recipes produced a purer, more translucent white and a glossier finish which were even softer to the touch. The variation of shapes expanded too and Islamic influences crept into bottles, flasks, jugs, candleholders and boxes. Aside from the palm-sized chicken cup, several exquisite examples are in the exhibit, including a very large celestial globe vase with an imposing three-clawed, heavily-scaled flying dragon encircling the vase’s body. The vase’s neck and background are of delightful array of lotus flowers and leaves.
The richest art collection in Chinese history
Of the nine Imperial rulers covered in the exhibition, a stand-out is the fifth emperor of the Qing dynasty, Qianlong (r.1736-1795), a contemporary of George Washington. He reined for 60 years and together with his grandfather, Emperor Kangxi, and his father, Emperor Yongzheng, created the last and most prosperous of Chinese feudal dynasties. Even though Emperor Qianlong was thoroughly versed in Chinese and composed some 40,000 poems and enjoyed calligraphy, he was not Chinese but was a Manchu, like his father and grandfather. All were masters at deploying culture through patronage but Qianlong became the greatest art collector in Chinese history, amassing a collection of art and jewels that had been acquired by China’s leaders since the first century BC. There is no agreement by scholars about the exact size of his collection but the catalog (p.16) gives one estimate of 490,000 by Tsai Mei-Fen, the chief curator of the Object Division of the National Palace Museum.
“If you look over the broad span of this exhibit,” says Richard Vinograd, “the later examples of porcelains or objects from the 18th century Qing dynasty are often tour de force examples of structure or interesting enamel decoration. Their innovative shapes begin to reference other kinds of objects and are quite interesting historically.”
During Qianlong’s reign, revolving vases appear to have been introduced under the supervision of Tang Ying, the gifted director of the imperial factory. The yellow reticulated vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design in Emperors’ Treasures is one of the most complicated pieces of porcelain produced in Jingdezhen, a feat of artisanship and technical virtuosity. Each component was fired individually to create an inner vase of exquisite design which rotates when the neck of the exterior vase is turned.
Interestingly, Quianlong’s seals and poetry appear on a number of objects from different eras in the exhibition. A short poem dated fall 1776 and his Imperial seals “be virtuous” and “eloquent and fluid” are carved on the base of a deep blue Song dynasty ceramic pillow, called a “ruyi,” (wish-granting wand) referencing its graceful mushroom-shape and the magical powers of mushrooms. There’s no easy re-write when it comes to composing on a ceramic pillow but Qianlong made an error that has become permanent─he misidentified the pillow as coming from the Ru kiln and it did not, proving that he was misinformed. He also carved an eight-line poem on the base of a particularly gorgeous celadon glazed ru-ware vase from the Northern Song dynasty praising its “fresh blue” glaze, its tiny “nail like” spur marks, its “radiating fragrance even with no flowers present,” and its ceremonial function of the Hall of Ancestral Worship. One of his beloved personal objects, a stacking, multi-storied red-lacquered box of treasures, with special compartments for 44 of his prized objects, is a design feat. It is small enough to be carried and yet contains an ingenious series of compartments and drawers, nineteen of which housed special pieces of jade dating from ancient times as well as a compartment for its own small catalogue recording the contents and their location within.
After closing in San Francisco, the exhibition will travel to Houston Fine Arts Museum, with a slightly different set of treasures.
Richard Vinograd lecture, August 27, 10:30 – noon: “Emperors as Patrons, Participants, and Producers of Paintings” Richard Vinograd, Christensen Fund Professor of Asian Art, Dept. of Art and Art History, Stanford University and an advisor to the AAM’s Society for Asian Art will explore Emperor’s Treasures by examining the relationship between painting and calligraphy in early paintings, examining ways that painting can be said to have poetic qualities or to be illustrating poetry, an unresolved issue which has led scholars to propose many answers. Through case studies of several of the rulers and works represented in the exhibition, he will explore the sponsorship, design and fashioning of paintings from the 11th through 18th centuries. Dr. Vinograd completed his dissertation at U.C. Berkeley in 1979 on the Yuan dynasty artist Wang Meng (1308-85) whose scroll “Thatched House on the East Mountain” (1343), is part of the exhibition. He spent two years in Taipei (1972-74) studying Chinese and combing the archives of the National Palace Museum. $20 general public; $15 Society members (after Museum admission). Register online here to be guaranteed a place, or pay when you arrive.
Exhibition catalogue: A 272 page catalog, edited by Jay Hu and He Li accompanies the exhibition. Each of the essays by leading scholars in Chinese art and history stands on its own. Extensive object descriptions by AAM associate curator He Li constitute an easily understood and enjoyable journey into Chinese dynastic and visual culture.
Details: Emperors Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Tapei closes September 18, 2016. The AAM is located at 200 Larkin Street near Civic Center. Parking is easy at Civic Center Plaza garage which offers a discount with your validated AAM ticket. (Get it stamped upon entry to the museum.) Hours: Tues-Sun: 10-5; Thursdays until 9 (end Oct 8); closed Mondays. Admission: General admission $20 weekday, $25weekend; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $15 weekday, $20 weekend; 12 & under are free. 1st Sundays are free thanks to Target. You can pre-purchase your tickets, with no processing fee, online here.
interview: curator Karin Breuer─“Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” at the de Young through October 9, 2016
Sixty years ago, Ed Ruscha, moved across country from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to study art at what would become Cal Arts. Ever since, the celebrated artist, now 78, has been exploring the West’s expansive cultural and physical landscape. “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” at the de Young Museum through October 9, 2016, examines Ruscha’s fascination with the Western United States, shifting emblems of American life, and the effects of time on this restless landscape. Ninety-nine of the artist’s prints, photos, paintings, and drawings fill the de Young’s Herbst exhibition galleries on the bottom floor, giving us an opportunity to see the originals of artworks we all know from prints and posters, including his mythic Hollywood signs and Standard gasoline stations.
“Ed Ruscha defies easy categorization,” says Karin Breuer, who curated the show and is curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, where she has worked for over 25 years, succeeding Robert Flynn Johnson. “He’s known as a pop artist, conceptual artist, surrealist and, early on, was identified with the West Coast pop movement, the so-called “cool school” of art. He’s adept at painting, photography, printmaking and has created wonderful artist’s books. He’s well known for using words as subjects in his imagery and letter forms.”
At the show’s press conference, I spoke with Breuer about Ed Ruscha and her framing of this expansive exhibit and our interview is below. I also spoke with Max Hollein, FAMSF’s new director, who headed Frankfurt’s Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection (2006-16) and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2001-16). After 15 years in Deutschland, this German headed West to helm FAMSF, the largest public arts institution in Northern California, and officially began work on June 1. His impressive skill packet includes overseeing the Städel Museum’s expansion and its digital initiatives platform which entailed collaborating with the tech industry to make the museum’s collections fully and pleasantly accessible online. Naturally, he’s quite interested in working with the Bay Area’s tech industry as well. I asked him what attracted him to the Bay Area─
San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, right now, it’s filled with so much energy. There’s a real transformation occurring as it moves to an even higher level and our two museums will be a part of this rising tide. Basically, museums are not places that you visit; they are gathering places. I want to make our museums even more welcoming and relevant and part of that is making our education efforts even stronger and more connected to the contemporary culture.
There’s no better welcome to the Bay Area for Hollein, who says he has loved Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood signs “for ages”, than a huge show exploring Ruscha’s wry and poetic take American contemporary culture.
Here is my conversation with the savvy Karin Breur whose long-standing dialogue with Ruscha and hard work have produced a show with depth that is a delight to behold─
Why frame this show around the “Great American West”?
Karin Breuer: It was an easy and purposeful decision. I wanted to reverse a trend I’ve observed in exhibits with artists of Ed’s caliber─staying away from their ‘regionalism’ for fear that leads to a provincial look at an artist’s work. Instead, I thought, why not examine this. He’s been an artist who by choice went to school in Los Angeles and has lived there for 60 years and has depicted aspects of the West often in his work. As I kept looking more and more at the work, I realized there’s a story there from the very beginning, when he came out to art school at the age of 18 and traveled West from Oklahoma, all the way up to today where he’s looking at his Western environment and observing change. The show contains works from 1961 to 2014, a huge expanse of time, but it’s not a catch-all retrospective.
Has he drawn on the Bay Area at all?
Karin Breuer: No, not at all; it’s mostly the Southwest that has been his focus and stomping ground. Last night, however, I heard him say that it’s only recently that he’s come to appreciate San Francisco and the Bay Area. He’s decided that it’s the most beautiful city in the world but, he said, it may be ‘too beautiful’ for him to handle as subject in his art. There was kind a stay-tuned aspect to that though. He’s created a very interesting portfolio of prints called “Los Francisco San Angeles” where he combines street grids from both cities into one image and I think that’s the one effort that he’s made so far to connect the two cities. These are not in the exhibit.
Do you have a personal favorite?
Karin Breuer: I always thought I did but, every time I walk into the galleries, I seem to change my choice. I’m still very much in love with “Pyscho Spaghetti Western” and it’s because it depicts a roadway with a lot of garbage, trash, and debris that he has treated as beautifully as a still life. I find that so evocative of not only his quirky subject matter but also of the West and how it’s changed since he first took to the open roads in 1956.
What is the FAMSF’s collecting relationship with Ruscha? When did you really start building the collection?
Karin Breuer: Our relationship goes back to 2000, when we acquired Ruscha’s print archive and we came into a collection of over 350 prints at that time. He continues to contribute to this: each time he makes a print and it’s published, we get an impression of that print. He’s very prolific and we love that. We now have about 450 prints, one drawing, and one beautiful painting. For the new de Young building, we commissioned Ed to create a tripych─two panels that would be added to his 1983 painting “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” which we already had in our possession. You will see a lot of these works in the galleries.
What was his reaction to the show’s concept?
Karin Breuer: I pitched it to him early on and he liked it and he lent us works from his personal collection and helped facilitate loans from private collectors. Now that the show is up, he’s been very positive. This is a very appropriate time for this show as its Ed’s 60th anniversary in California.
Do you know if he has a favorite word?
Karin Breuer: No, and I think if you ask him, you won’t get a straight answer either. There are some words that appear in different forms. The word “adiós,” for example, also “rancho” and “rodeo”…those are three words that appear in different forms in my show, that he took on the in the 1960’s. I wouldn’t say that he continues to use them but they percolate in his vocabulary.
When did his fascination with words begin?
Karin Breuer: I know that in college, he had a job in a topography workshop and later he worked as a graphic designer, so words have been a part of his thinking for a very long time. He keeps lists of words that have captured his attention in notebooks and has said that words have temperatures and when those words become really hot that’s when he uses them in his art.
Now that you’ve spent a lot of time with his work, what makes it so powerful for you?
Karin Breuer: I think it’s the sense of humor that is in almost every single image; it’s wonderful─very dry, very laconic. He’s that kind of a personality too. I never cease to be amazed when I see something new coming from him─he’s got such a fertile mind, always thinking, always looking and discovering, and then reacting. Some of his latest paintings feature exploded tire treads that are called ‘gators’ by truckers. He treats these as beautiful objects and they almost look like angels’ wings. I just think to myself, that’s really unexpected, brilliant.
What sparked your interest in becoming a curator?
Karin Breuer: I’m the curator of prints and drawings and the inspiration came in college. I was a college as an art history student during the Vietnam War and there was a lot of social protest on campus. I was scratching my head thinking what does art history have to do with this? The world is changing, am I doing the right thing? A beloved professor of mine showed slides of Goya’s “Los Caprichos” and “The Disasters of War” and the light bulb went off. I said to myself ‘prints!’…they can have a political impact and everyone can afford prints…this is a very democratic medium. So, I went to graduate school to focus on prints and drawings, a realm of socially relevant art history.
What about your career at the de Young?
Karin Breuer: I’ve been here 31 years. When I joined in 1985 as an assistant curator, it was a pretty sleepy institution, as many museums were back in the day. I stayed on and worked my way up, which is kind of unheard of in the younger generations now days, but the Achenbach has only had three professional curators (E. Gunter Troche (1956-71); Robert Flynn Johnson (1975-2007), including myself. We’ve changed dramatically and dynamically and I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled about Max Hollein’s arrival here. Already, his energy and enthusiasm are having an impact on us.
Details: “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” closes October 9, 2016. Hours: The de Young is open Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and on Fridays (through November 25) until 8:45 p.m. Admission $22; with discounts for seniors, college students. Audio guides: $8. The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. Street parking is available for 4 hours and there is a paid parking lot with direct access to the museum.