Closing soon and well worth the drive—“Roads of Arabia,” exquisite and new archaeological discoveries from Saudi Arabia, at the Asian Art Museum through January 18, 2015
“Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” closes Sunday, January 18, at the Asian Art Museum (AAM). Present day Saudi Arabia is a distant land shrouded in mystery to most Westerners. Likewise, the history of ancient Arabia prior to the rise of Islam in the seventh century CE, is something we’ve heard virtually nothing about because there has been such scant evidence on which to construct a reliable narrative. Recent archaeological discoveries from the Saudi Kingdom’s glorious past, combined with a desire on the part of the Saudis to share their cultural heritage with the world, has led to this stunning exhibition. Arabia marks new territory for the Asian but there’s a profound connection to Asia. The Arabian Peninsula, with its unforgiving deserts, lush forests and exotic oases, is revealed as a once thriving cultural crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa, vital in early human cultural development and bearing witness to the complex interactions of all those who travelled through.
Ranging in date from pre-historic to the present, the 200-plus artifacts in Roads of Arabia hail from remote sites all across present-day Saudi Arabia and include colossal figurative sculptures and funerary stele, dazzling gold jewelry, intricate metalwork, and elegant calligraphies in over a half dozen languages. Most of these exquisite artifacts were found along the ancient incense roads that originated in southern Arabia and were caravan routes for the transport of precious frankincense and myrrh—the oil of its day—throughout Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Mediterranean world. The advent of Islam in the seventh century CE gave rise to the development of pilgrimage roads that crossed through Arabia to Mecca. The exhibition also addresses the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The AAM is the exhibition’s last stop on its two-year tour. Having debuted at the Louvre in 2010 to rave reviews, it started its U.S. tour at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in 2012. This is the latest in a run of increasingly exhilarating world class exhibitions that AAM director Jay Xu, who came on board in 2008, has brought to the Asian. Just as the stunning 2008 exhibition “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul” brought a selective and previously unseen group of 20th century archaeological finds from an Afghanistan enmeshed in Taliban rule, “Roads of Arabia” sheds light on an equally exotic land that most of us will never visit. And, aside from the visual draw of the artifacts themselves, you’ll come away from “Roads” with a sense of the interconnectedness of the ancient world.
Curator talk, Friday January 16th: “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”—Join exhibition curator Dany Chan for an insightful talk about recent and remarkable archaeological discoveries along the Arabian Peninsula. “Monumental” is how I would describe much of the exhibition, Roads of Arabia, with its colossal stone sculptures to the massive gilded doors of the Ka’ba, putting the small things at risk of being missed,” says Chan. “I also want to draw your attention to the pint-sized artworks that, though small, testify to the Arabian Peninsula’s role as a cultural crossroads over the thousands of years that this exhibition covers. Friday, January 16 at 12 PM at the Commonwealth Club: 595 Market Street, San Francisco. The Commonwealth Club is offering Asian Art Museum members a special rate of $8 per ticket (regularly $20). To purchase tickets, select “General Admission: Nonmember” and be sure to enter promo code specialchan to redeem your member discount.
Details: “Roads of Arabia” closes January 18, 2015. The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. NO surcharge for “Roads of Arabia,” Admission: $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5. For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org
Pounce! Tickets on sale today for the next SoundBox event—SF Symphony’s new space for musical experimentation
Christmas started early for ARThound when a dear friend invited me to Saturday night’s unveiling of SoundBox, MTT’s (Michael Tilson Thomas’) and San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) newest venture. SoundBox was designed to fill a gap in Bay Area music scene by providing an experimental space where anything musical can happen and to engage a younger, hipper audience with SFS and serious music. Judging from Saturday’s thrilling reception which enthralled its sellout crowd of 450, Soundbox will do all that and more. It also seems poised to give our brilliant but nerdy MTT some street swagger, the kind of coolness cred that he’s been aching for while collecting all those Grammies for classical recordings. If you haven’t heard, SoundBox is a huge refurbished music space at 300 Franklin Street (in San Francisco). Formerly known as Zellerbach A, it was one of SFS’s most dour on-site rehearsal spaces, ironically renowned for its dead sound.
With generous patron funding and the board’s desire to revision SFS’ audience outreach, the cavernous space was entirely revamped. Berkeley’s Meyer Sound was engaged to install its patented multi-speaker “Constellation” system, transforming the space into a virtual sound lab. Now, with the push of touchscreen button, the venue can seamlessly tweak its acoustics (reverberation and decay times) for various pieces in a performance allowing otherworldly sounds to emerge from its tremendously talented SFS musicians and choral members. Add state-of-the-art video projection capacity, making for an incredible visual experience, sleek quilted leather ottoman and low tables (even the furnishings will be tweaked with each performance), a fully-stocked bar serving thematic cocktails and innovative cuisine—wella! SoundBox has the grit of an European art house, the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and, as if it needs to be said, the world’s best musicians playing tunes exquisitely curated by MTT.
On Saturday, 7:45PM, the crowd was already lining up on Franklin Street. The buzz: no one knew exactly what to expect but we were all excited by the program we’d read about online and the promise of road-testing something completely new. The pre-concert hour was dedicated to John Cage, who believed that every sound can be music, and featured a musical feast of his “Branches,” featuring electronically amplified giant cacti, and “Inlets” which coaxed sounds from shells filled with water that gurgled when moved and from amplified burning pinecones. As people entered the darkened foyer of Soundbox and were confronted with Cage’s music, they passed by a curious gallery space, specially curated by MTT, that included beautifully lit minimalist arrays of live cacti, a table of sea shells in a pool of water and colorful huge multi-layered projections of cacti. Wow…felt like entering one of those East European art happenings I’d covered in the 1980’s. Once we passed through a closed black door, we entered the spacious main hall, which offered a hip but relaxed atmosphere—two low wooden platforms served stages and lots of low leather seating that could be easily re-arranged. People were free to amble about and get a drink or just settle in and get busy with their phones and texting.
The inaugural run, called “Extremities,” kicked off dramatically with “Stella splendens in monte,” a brief anonymous Spanish work (local composer Mason Bates contributed the percussion arrangements.) The SFS chorus, in flowing robes, entered from the back of the hall, and made a dramatic procession to the stage, their lyrical voices swelling to fill every corner of the space. As they passed by each of us, we got a sampling of each singer’s individual voice. From there, it only got better—a very well-thought sonic and visual feast was about to unfold and we were ravenous for it. The audience snapped their fingers, clapped, yowled and tossed their exquisite locks…and the musicians beamed with pride. A glowing MTT looked like he’d dropped a decade as he engaged with the audience in a very heartfelt way, talking about musical choices and the potential of the space.
Highpoints for ARThound: Steve Reich’s minimalist “Music for Pieces of Wood” featured five SFS percussionists with tuned hardwood claves creating a pulsing bed of rhythmically complex continuous sound. This reminded me of the miraculous frog concerto I am treated to in my pond in Sonoma County every time a serious storm blows through. After 8 minutes of this mesmerizing sound, which was accompanied by projections of Adam Larsen’s images of a New York skyline, we were all in trance mode. When it ended, and everyone stopped playing, we were left with a very perceptible silence, a void in the acoustic atmosphere that left us all profoundly aware of the power of sound to inflate and deflate the psyche.
Ravel’s exquisite “Introduction and Allegro” (1905) shimmered and glowed when played by a small ensemble of seven SFS musicians including principal harpist Douglas Rioth and concertmaster Sasha Barantschik whose beloved 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù (“The David”) cast a spell over the audience, some of whom swept away tears. The chamber piece showcased the space’s ability to tease out nuances in the contrasting sonorities. The velvety woodwinds, the percussive harp and the warm resonance of the strings were all so clear, so distinct, that I felt I was getting a personal introduction to the possibilities of these instruments.
One of the evening’s hip visuals was the Nordic visual art pioneer, Steina’s (Steina Vasulka’s), seven minute video, “Voice Windows” (1986), featuring the voice of Joan La Barbara. The short engrossing film was co-presented by SFS and SFMOMA and points to the limitless possibilities for future collaboration in a space like this. Since the early 1970’s, Steina, in collaboration with Woody Vasulka, has explored intricate transformations of vision, space and sound, through digital technologies, mechanical devices and natural landscape. “Voice Windows” was an exquisite and haunting example of her artistry in manipulating digital and camera-generated images and layering that with “real” and altered sound.
After two intermissions, the evening closed with Monteverdi’s glorious “Magnificat” (1610) from Vespro della Beata Vergine. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke where the Virgin Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings the “Magnificat” in response. Talk about immersive—the 19 minute piece featured soloists, the chorus and orchestra, all in rapturous splendor with gorgeous golden-hued projections of a Venetian church enhancing the mood.
Details: The next Sound Box performance, “Curiosities,” is January 9 and 10th, 2015. Doors open at 8 PM and performance starts at 9 PM. Tickets on sale now: $25 for open seating. The space accommodates 450 and will sell out quickly. The SoundBox website is not working correctly. Call the SFS Box office (415) 864-6000 to purchase tickets. SoundBox is located at 300 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA. Parking: (is hell) Performing Arts Garage (360 Grove Street) or Civic Center Garage (between Polk, Larkin, Grove and McAllister).
Not just art, Napa’s Hess Collection, also has film—the “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” screens new shorts from all over the world this Sunday, September 21, 2014
Napa Valley’s Hess Collection not only offers an unparalleled collection of contemporary art amassed by Swiss wine connoisseur, Donald Hess, it also has exceptional film programing in its on-site theatre organized by collection curator, Rob Ceballos. A visit to the striking two story stone museum and grounds on Mt. Veeder, is always a treat— the art works on display are frequently rotated and there’s a tasting room pouring Hess’ world class wines —but when combined with a special film event that includes a knowledgeable speaker, it’s even more rewarding. On Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 p.m., Ron Diamond founder of Acme Filmworks animation studio in Los Angeles and Animation Show of Shows curator will present the fantastic “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” film shorts program. The 100 minute program will screen nine award-winning animated short films selected from major worldwide animation film festivals, and includes a reception before the screenings, and a Q & A session with Diamond after the viewing.
Diamond created the annual Animation Show of Shows in 1998 as a way of bringing the year’s best shorts, both studio and independent films, from around the world, to industry professionals and audiences who might not otherwise have an opportunity to see them. The 16th Annual edition features both studio and independent films from the US, Canada, Norway, France, United Kingdom, Poland and Russia, some of which have not been officially released. A few of shorts screening Sunday include: Disney’s FEAST (2014) from director Patrick Osborne that accompanies their full-length animated feature Big Hero Six (November 2014) and Disney-Pixar’s musical short, LAVA (2014) directed by James Ford Murphy, (which will run in front of Pete Docter’s full-length animated feature, Inside Out, (out June 2015)). Also featured is Greg and Myles McLeod’s 365, composed of 365 one-second films chronicling a year in filmmaking, day-by-day. Other films include legendary Disney animator Glen Keane’s directorial debut with DUET (2014), produced at Google’s ATAP unit, along with Mikey Please’s stop motion tour-de-force MARILYN MYLLER (2014), fresh from its Grand Prix win at the 2014 Hiroshima International Animation Festival. The entire program runs approximately 100 minutes.
Details: “16th Annual Animation Show of Shows” is Sunday, September 21, 2014, at 2 PM at the Hess Collection. The Hess Collection Winery is located at 4411 Redwood Road Napa. A $20 fee covers the food and wine reception as well as the film program. Patrons are invited to remain and enjoy selected tastings of interesting new release wines in the historic Hess Visitor’s Center. Seats are limited. Purchase tickets here. Online ticket availability ends Friday, September 19, 2014.
“Arts of the Islamic World”―engrossing lectures by the world’s experts, Friday mornings at the Asian Art Museum, through December 5, 2014
Last Friday morning, you could have heard a pin drop in the Asian Art Museum’s Samsung Hall as Freer & Sackler chief curator of Islamic Art, Massumeh Farhad, gave an overview of the rare treasures from Saudi Arabia that await us in the “Roads of Arabia” exhibition opening October 24, 2014. Farhad gave an insider’s profile of recent archaeological discoveries in Saudi Arabia, including news of an inscription in Nabatean Arabic, the very first stage of Arabic writing, unearthed by a French epigrapher near Narjan (near the Yemeni border) that is an important link in tracing the origins of the Arabic language. She also talked of exquisite artifacts found along the ancient incense roads that originated in southern Arabia and were caravan routes for the transport of precious frankincense and myrrh throughout Eqypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Mediterranean world.
A week earlier, on August 29th, David Stronach, Professor Emeritus, Near Eastern Studies, University of California at Berkeley gave an engrossing survey of the art and architecture of Pre-Islamic Iran and Central Asia. One of the world’s leading experts on ancient Iran, he told of the excavations he had participated in and illustrated his talk with stunning aerial photographs of sites and monuments taken by Swiss photographer Georg Gerster. He speculated about ancient Persian garden design and entertained us with an anecdote about Agatha Christie whom he met at an estate in Iran in the 1970’s when he was the Director of the British Institute of Persian Studies in Tehran.
These distinguished speakers are part of a wonderful new 15-part fall lecture series, “Arts of the Islamic World,” organized by the AAM’s Society for Ancient Art, every Friday at 10:30 a.m. though December 5, 2014. The series is designed to provide a broad overview of both pre-Islamic and Islamic art and includes a roster of renowned scholars and curators, several of whom hail from Oxford and the British Museum. Their talks are substantial and run roughly two hours. The series sold-out almost immediately but a number of seats―$20 each―are made available each Friday morning for walk-ins. I have attended the last two lectures, arriving when the museum opens at 10 a.m. and have gotten a seat. Coffee, tea and assorted pastries are offered for sale before the lecture and at intermission. Here are descriptions of the remaining lectures―
September 12: Assimilation and Conquest: Byzantine Sources for Islamic Art (Study Guide), Helen Evans, Metropolitan Museum
September 19: Is there an Image Problem in Islam? Materials for the History of an Idea (Study Guide), Finbarr Barry Flood, NYU
September 26: Persian Painting: The First Golden Age (1300-1500), Robert Hillenbrand, University of Edinburgh
October 3: Seeing and Being Seen in Isfahan: Expanding Gaze for an Early Modern Capital, Renata Holod, University of Pennsylvania
October 10: Chinese Influence on Islamic Glazed Ceramics, Oliver Watson, University of Oxford
October 17: Building Types in Islamic Architecture, Santhi Kavuri-Bauer, San Francisco State University
October 24: The Visual Culture of Islam in India, Alka Patel, UC Irvine
October 31: “Ex Oriente Lux: Luxury Textiles and Oriental Carpets, Carol Bier, Textile Museum, Washington D.C.
November 7: The Art of Islamic Calligraphy: A Journey through Time, Maryam Ekhtiar, Metropolitan Museum
November 14: Seek Knowledge Even as Far as China: East-West Cultural Transmissions in Post Mongol Iran, Ladan Akbarnia, British Museum
November 21: Modernism and Islamic Art, Iftikhar Dadi, Cornell University
November 28: No Class, Thanksgiving break
December 5: Imagining Europe at the Persian Court in the Seventeenth Century (1590-1720), Amy Landau, Walters Art Museum
Details: The September 12 lecture, delivered by Dr. Helen Evans of the Metropolitan Museum, will be the fourth in the series. There is a two-hour “Arts of the Islamic World” lecture every Friday at 10:30 a.m. in Samsung Hall through December 5, 2014. (There is no lecture on November 28, 2014). Fee: $20 per lecture drop-in (purchase at the door, after Museum general admission, subject to availability). The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission: $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5. For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org
Honoring the legacy of Luther Burbank―a new exhibition of botanical drawings by Sonoma County artists opens at Sebastopol Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 11, 2014
Framed in my room, I have a Victorian card with lovely hand-drawn lilacs inscribed “You are like a fragrant bouquet of lilacs. The thought of you, however far I stray, brings me back to my childhood hours.” How delightful to learn that Sebastopol artist Vi Strain has created a hand-drawn lilac that will be exhibited at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts as part of their “Legacy of Luther Burbank” exhibition opening Thursday, September 11, 2014 with a reception from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The exhibition features fourteen Sonoma County botanical artists who have created glorious colored pencil drawings of plants they selected from the Luther Burbank Experiment Farm in Sebastopol and the Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. Botanically accurate portraits of fruits, vegetables, flowers and trees created through Burbank’s experiments all combine as a wonderful florilegium of Burbank’s important and enduring work in Sonoma County. By chance, I had the good fortune of meeting Vi Strain at the recent opening of Schroeder Hall and jumped at the chance to ask her about her work. Here is our conversation―
How long have you been doing botanical drawing?
Vi Strain: Since about 2006, when I took Nina Antze’s “Drawing Nature” class in Sebastopol, where we used colored pencil. I’ve always drawn though and it started when I was a kid in Wyoming. At Montana State University, I studied commercial and fine art, and I was on scholarship for my first two years. I was drawn to botanical drawing because I’ve always found wonder in nature and plant life. Over time, I’ve worked in almost every medium there is. I really like colored pencils because you can get every color you want and they aren’t messy, like oil paints are. I work primarily on Dura-Lar and use oil-based pencils. Faber Castells and Carn d’Aches are my favorites. They are very smooth, so I can easily do very detailed work with very rich and accurate colors.
What did you learn about Luther Burbank in the process of creating your lilac?
Vi Strain: In researching Burbank’s legacy, I read Jane Smith’s book, The Garden of Invention and I visited the Sebastopol Experiment Farm and also the Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa. I found that he brought plants from all over the world and would take those various strains and, through cross-breeding, create a new plant ideally suited to our region, where it does not freeze in the winter time. His lilac is a hybrid French lilac (Syringa vulgaris hybrid). I’ve always loved lilacs and, when I went there and saw his blooming, I knew immediately that I had to draw them as I have such a long history with them.
The amazing color is what grabbed me in this lilac, it’s really multiple colors–it starts as a tiny, almost black, deep purple bud which opens into a red-violet and then turns into a reddish lavender flower. As they start to go, they fade into this white lavender. I enjoy taking it from the bud stage all the way to the spent blossom.
Tell us more about your technique.
Vi Strain: I work exclusively in colored pencils, some are wax and some are oil, on Dura-Lar drafting film. I do all my preliminary compositions and drawings on tracing paper. Once I settle on what I like, I outline it in ink on the tracing paper and put the Dura-Lar directly over that and start working directly on that. Each one takes hours and hours. In this case, I took the lilac all apart and really examined it, trying to find how the blossoms are attached to the stem and how the stem is attached to the branch and how the leaves are shaped and how their vein structure works. I study all of this and then connect all the dots from there. I also create a whole study sheet on just colors. I take a lot of close-up photos too because lilacs don’t last long and I will work on a drawing for months.
Your favorite lilac fix?
Vi Strain: The one at the patio of the Union Hotel in Occidental. It is ancient and a beauty.
Details: Opening Reception for “The Legacy of Luther Burbank” is Thursday, September 11, from 6 to 7:30 PM. The exhibition runs in Gallery II from Thursday September 11 to Saturday, October 25, 2014. Concurrently running is “Big Ideas 1950-1970: influences in modern ceramics,” which focuses on the evolution and contemporary re-interpretation of earlier groundbreaking ceramic works by 13 seminal artists. Sebastopol Center for the Arts is located at 282 High Street, Sebastopol, CA. Phone: 707 829.4797
“Gorgeous”—gritty, edgy, beyond beautiful—SFMOMA and Asian Art Museum’s exhibition asks you to figure out what “gorgeous” means, just three viewing weekends left
An evocative Mark Rothko painting shares a gallery with a richly-colored 17th century Tibetan mandala and an immovably calm bronze Buddha; a voluptuous 16 to 17th century stone torso is placed next to a hot pink neon sign that reads “Fantastic to feel beautiful again”; an ornately embossed and gilded 19th century elephant seat, a symbol of status, is near Marcel’s Duchamp’s iconic factory made urinal; John Currin’s confounding portrait of a meticulously-painted nude that combines the physique of a Northern Renaissance master with the grinning head of a corn-fed mid-Western girl shares space with a number of other portraits that provoke discomfort. They’re all part of Gorgeous, the inventive collaboration between SFMOMA and the Asian Art Museum (AAM), a mash-up of 72 artworks (39 from SFMOMA and 43 from the Asian), spanning 2,000 years, that asks the viewer to decide what ‘gorgeous” means. Artwise, it’s one of the summer’s highpoints that grows on you with each successive visit. There are just three viewing weekends left as it closes on Sunday, September 14, 2014.
“ ‘Gorgeous’ just clicked right away, hitting all the marks in terms of an exhibition that really had the potential to offer something fresh and provocative and to approach a mash-up of two very different collections,” said Janet Bishop, SFMOMA’s curator of painting and sculpture. Bishop oversees SFMOMA’s “On the Go Program,” in place at various sites all around the Bay Area while the building is closed for reconstruction and expansion through early 2016. (The excellent “Photography in Mexico” exhibition hosted by the Sonoma County Museum in September 2013 and about to open at the Bakersfield Museum of Art was one of SFMOMA’s first of the On the Go shows. The next On the Go project is Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (Sept. 20, 2014 – April 12, 2015) in partnership with OMCA (Oakland Museum of California). In the works since the fall 2011, Gorgeous is co-curated by Allison Harding, AAM assistant curator of contemporary art, Forrest McGill, AAM Wattis senior curator of South and Southeast Asian art and director of AAM’s Research Institute for Asian Art, Caitlin Haskell, SFMOMA assistant curator of painting and sculpture and Janet Bishop.
“A lot of our shows fall into art history where we attempt to clarify things for the viewer” said the AAM’s Allison Harding, one of the lead curators. “This is more art appreciation, where we want the viewer to enjoy themselves as they try to figure out what they think about this subject. It’s meant to be very fluid and engaging.” And fluid it is—the show extends over four galleries and into the expansive North Court. The artworks aren’t easily categorized but embracing their resistance to classification is the essence of the project.
It almost seems as if Harding and McGill free-associated about their perspectives on gorgeous to come up with the categories they’ve grouped the artworks into—Seduction , Dress Up, Pose, Reiteration, Beyond Imperfection, Fantasy, Danger, In Bounds, Evocation, On Reflection. Interesting wall texts elucidate their personal perspectives and possible juxtapositions amongst the artworks.
Having visited the show five times now, I see most of the associations as interchangeable—the more time you spend looking, and the more you understand what drives your own attraction and revulsion with various works, the more you get to the heart of your own personal gorgeous.
Certainly central to the exhibition’s immense popularity is that its combination of Asian and Western, ancient and modern, and seeing familiar works in a new context is a fabulous catalyst for spinning out ideas on something as sassy as gorgeous.
In the opening Oscher gallery, a real icon of SFMOMA holdings—Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988)—is right across from a set of twelve 17th century hanging scrolls by Chinese artist Hua Yan who was famous for his strong personality and rejection of orthodox conventions of painting. The expressively painted screens depict a villa ensconced in a sweeping panoramic mountainous landscape on a luxurious golden background. Near-by is a jewel-encrusted alms bowl from Burma (1850-1950) and also close by is Chris Olfili’s “Princess of the Possee” (1990) and Jess’ monumental drawing “Narkissos” (1976-1991). I was revolted by the gaudy excess of Bubbles when I first saw it at SFMOMA’s reveal press opening years ago. Now, 16 years after its creation, I marvel at how it perfectly captures banality of the 1980’s and how its lustrous gold porcelain finish has a magical interplay with Hua Yan’s shimmering scrolls and sweeping hills and with the gilding on the ceremonial alms bowl, a highly-ornate ritual object.
One can’t speak of gold without mentioning Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled” (Golden) (1995), a deeply alluring shimmering gold-beaded curtain—the only interactive work in the show—that seems to produce a smile on the face of everyone who walks through it. Conceptually, it functions as a portal and is installed as a passage between two thematically different galleries; it even grabs the limelight from a nearby Mondrian.
An Indian stone female torso covered with intricate carving, dated 1400-1600, which has been on view at the AAM for over a decade, was easy to skip over. Freshly installed in Asian’s North Court, with a different pedestal that exposes what remains of its legs and beside British artist Tracy Emin’s hot pink neon hand-written sign “Fantastic to feel beautiful again” (1997), the stone work is suddenly re-contextualized. Ermin’s confessional epigram highlights what is absent in the stone work—presumably she was once a complete figure but the centuries have robbed this lush beauty of her of her head, arms, legs—in short, the ability to think or move. “Recovering our awareness of her losses only broadens her allure,” says Allison Harding. “Her acquired cracks and fractures suggest the collision between idea beauty and the world of time and nature.”
“Lawrence Weiner’s ‘Pearls roll Across the Floor’ in the Lee Gallery is a text piece that was installed a number of times in the SFMOMA’s Botta building but is presented here in the Lee Gallery in a new diagonal configuration and a new palette which, for me, really changes its dynamic and the mental images that it evokes,” said SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop who happily admitted “this experience has really changed the way I see objects.”
I imagine like many, I came to Gorgeous with the notion that concepts of gorgeous and beauty were somewhat synonymous. And, as an art writer who’s been at it 25+ years, I was expecting more of a conversation about beauty and where it stands today, a topic that engaged the art world and philosophical discourse in the 1990’s when there was an active rejection of beauty as a creative ideal. As Allison Harding explained, “Gorgeous is meant to be distinct from art historical discourse and precise definitions; it’s more about viewers defining for themselves what gorgeous means. …The works in this show are more than beautiful and they all have aspects about them that push beyond conventional beauty to the max, to the zone where tensions exist beyond what is familiar or comfortable.”
Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987), hung in the Hambrecht Galley, is a silver gelatin portrait of the artist’s 5 year-old daughter, nude from the waist up and posed sexily with her hip jutting out. It strikes a number of disconcerting chords. “The power of this image lies in ability to confound boundaries,” says Harding. “The confining square here could be the acceptable borders of childhood, femininity, sexuality; the improvisation is the captured moment and its endless interpretation.” The modern portrait shares wall space with a set of hanging scrolls from the Asian’s collection from another era, Chobunsai Eishi’s “Three Types of Beauties in Edo,” approximately dates 1798-1829. In one screen, a geisha ( erotically?) twists her hair pin with her delicate white hands, her forearm revealed when her sleeve is raised. In Eishi’s time, too, there was a fascination with ranking types of beauties by the coding is fuzzy to our modern eye.
One of the great things about Gorgeous is the feeling that you’re actually meeting the curators, as their wall texts, written in conversational language, are much more personal and engaging than usual. Of a red-lacquered wood chair for the imperial court which is carved with amazing narrative scenes, Forrest McGill writes “Looks uncomfortable and impractical, but who cares when displaying wealth and power is the goal, right?” and “contains narrative scenes that someone with a thorough knowledge of Chinese literature might have been able to identify. But who would have had a change to get close enough to them for long enough to figure them out?”
This regal lacquered chair is comically paired, in the Oscher Gallery, with Shiro Kuramata’s “Miss Blanche chair” (1988), a see-through modernist acrylic chair that has wonderful floating roses and is said to have been inspired by the corsage worn by Vivien Leigh in the role of Blanche Dubois in the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire. These two chairs, neither made for sitting, loudly shout-out to the ornate gilded Indian elephant seat (howdah) in the Asian’s North Court which, in turn, dialogues nicely with Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917), a touchstone of conceptual art, which has been installed adjacent it. It’s quite unexpected to find a factory made urinal in the AAM’s elegant North Court, perhaps as surprising as it was when the original urinal was first designated as art in the 1917 SIA (Society of Independent Artists) exhibition.
Details— Gorgeous closes on September 14, 2014. The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission: Gorgeous is covered by general admission AAM ticket—free for SFMOMA members; $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5; free admission for all on Target Sunday, September 7, 2014 . For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org/.
The Hess Collection is screening great art documentaries on select Sundays—Jeremey Ambers’ “Impossible Light” screens August 10
“The Bay Bridge was the first thing I saw the day I moved to San Francisco, driving down Route 80 in a U-haul Truck,” recalls filmmaker Jeremy Ambers who was awestruck when he met Ben Davis, the driving force behind the seemingly impossible idea to transform San Francisco’s Bay Bridge’s western span into a light sculpture and one of the world’s largest art installations. Ambers’ acclaimed documentary, Impossible Light (2014), follows Davis and renowned American artist Leo Villareal and their team of designers, along with entrepreneurs, philanthropists, art enthusiasts and Bay Area optimists, as they set out to install 25,000 LED lights on the side of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge for an abstract dancing sculpture known as The Bay Lights. This impressive feature length doc, which captures the heart, soul and intense drama behind this $8,000,000 installation—to date, not paid for—is screening this Sunday, August 10, at 3 PM at Napa Valley’s Hess Collection as part of their wonderful summer series of art film screenings, presented in partnership with the Napa Valley Film Festival (Nov 12-16, 2014). Hess Collection Chef, Chad Hendrickson, will provide wine and appetizers, one more reason to see this amazing contemporary collection and take in the film. Click here for tickets and for more information, contact Hess events manager Ashley Cox 707 255-1144 x226.
Opening Saturday, August 2—Dana Hooper and Douglas Cruickshank at Toby’s, Point Reyes Station, and Joseph McDonald and Murray Rockowitz at Aqus Café, Petaluma
Saturday, August 2nd from 1 to 4 pm, Toby’s Gallery—artist reception “Inspired by Patterns” with Petaluma artist, Dana Hooper, showing paintings inspired by rural Sonoma County, AND Douglas Cruickshank, photographer, columnist and Salon.com editor, and showing “Photographs of Point Reyes woods and water” Toby’s Gallery is located at 11250 Highway 1, Point Reyes Station, phone 415.663.1223. “Inspired by Patterns” runs through September 2, 2014.
Saturday, August 2nd from 3 to 5 pm, Aqus Café — artist reception for Petaluma photographer and Digital Grange guru, Joseph McDonald, showing recent work, and Petaluma photographer, Murray Rockowitz, showing “People and their Work.” Aqus Café is located at Petaluma’s Foundry Wharf, 189 H Street, Petaluma, phone 707.778. 6060.
rockin’ artifacts— The OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) is grooving with “Vinyl,” its homage to pressed gems, ending on July 27
If you haven’t visited OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) lately, July is a great month to do it. Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records closes Sunday, July 27th, and is a fascinating interactive show with a gallery of guest-curated crates of lp’s set up in listening stations that will delight, inform as they take you way down memory lane.
I was eleven when Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” was released, so seeing feather-haired Janis on the album cover sitting there on that velvet love seat, drink in hand, immediately brought back that 5th grade summer that we played “Me and Bobby McGee” over and over trying to understand as children what it all meant —”Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”
I reunited with “Pearl” by cruising through rock historian Sylvie Simmons’ curated “girl crate” featuring female rebels, like the Shirelles in the 1960’s (“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) through the singer-songwriters of the 1970’s to Punk divas of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Yeh, ARThound isn’t only an opera lover…as a toddler, I cut my teeth on Peter, Paul and Mary and “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and proudly scrawled my initials all over both my and my brother’s albums and would sing it, at the top of my lungs, to whoever would listen. Vinyl is the kind of the show that brings all of that to the surface, so do bring a friend along to share it all with.
OMCA Senior Curator of Art René de Guzman has done a superb job of pulling together some very rare lp’s too. I grew up loving “Star Trek” but had no idea that Leonard Nimoy had actually cut several lp’s and that he sang (and pretty decently) on some of them. Guzman is particularly proud that he was able to find some rare Nimoy lp’s in Europe and bring to Oakland for the show.
Final “Talk and Play”: On Saturday, July 26th, from 1-2:30 p.m., OMCA will host the last installment of its weekly “Talk and Play” sessions which have accompanied its 3 month long tribute to vinyl. The series, which is different every week, features guest participants from DJs to music journalists, record collectors to experimental musicians. The focus is always vinyl—from pressing it, to its history, it remarkable resurgence and its collectability—and listening to specially-curated music sets.
The final session, “Every Record Has a Story,” features David Katznelson (record producer, president, Birdman Recording Group), Steven Baker (former president, Warner Brothers Records), Britt Govea (founder, Folk Yeah Productions) and Josh Rosenthal (founder, owner, and president, Tompkins Square Records). You can be sure this group of talent will share some mind-blowing stories from their own collections as well as divulge some of the biggest secrets behind some of the greatest albums of our time.
Click here to listen to David Katznelson’s (record producer, president, Birdman Recording Group) curated playlist on Spotify.
Also ending soon (July 27) is SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot, OMCA’s smart nod to arts visionary Eric Nakamura, whom in 1994, founded Giant Robot, Los Angeles’ Little Osaka based store, magazine, art gallery that became an uber-destination for Asian and Asian American popular culture and art. Nakamura and OMCA associate curator Carin Adams have thoughtfully curated this joyful blast of multimedia art from 15 contemporary artists who were early and contributors to this edgy scene.
Details: OMCA, the Oakland Museum of California, is located at 1000 Oak Street, Oakland. Detailed directions are available on OMCA’s Directions page. Hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Fridays when the museum is open until 9 p.m. Admission: $12 general, $9 seniors and students with valid ID. Parking: Enter the Museum Garage on Oak Street between 10th and 12th streets. Parking is just $1/hour with Museum validation. Parking without validation is $2.50/hour. After 5 p.m., there is a flat $5 fee. (Bring your ticket to the Ticketing booth on Level 2 for validation.)