ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration for the exhibit:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Botticelli!

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

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

 

A revelation about the Legion’s Stanhope

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

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

Uffizi on board!

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

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

Frames as extensions of Paintings

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

 

Details:

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunlit Surrealism and Vache: together for the first time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hypertrophy works: “Personal Values” as centerpiece

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Dominion of Light and The Enchanted Domain

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

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

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

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

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

Enchanted Domain:

Installation view “The Enchanted Domain,” at SFMOMA.

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

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

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

Bowler-Hatted Men

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

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

Play time!  SFMOMA’s Magritte Interpretive gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blunk’s Life = Art

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

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

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

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

Interior Sculpture

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

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

Blunk, carved bench, front view, OMCA

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

Blunk, shirt, belt, buckle, OMCA

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

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

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

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

Blunk Mage OMCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More resources J.B. Blunk:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

The San Francisco International Film Festival celebrates its 60th with expanded programming, new venues and name tweaks—Wed, April 5, through Wed, April 19, 2017

A still from Bay Area artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson’s new documentary, “Tania Libre,” a portrait of the radical Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, whose work blurs the line between art and activism. The film, Leeson’s seventh, continues her ongoing exploration of groundbreaking women artists. Her influential “!Women Art Revolution” (2010) (SFIFF 54) turned the camera on women artists who are underrepresented in leading museums. Leeson will be awarded the SF International Film Festival’s Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award on Tuesday, April 11 at YBCA. “Civic Radar,” a retrospective of Leeson’s extraordinary career runs through May 21 at YBCA and an exhibition with Tania Bruguera will open in June there. The 60th SF International Film Festival runs April 5-19, 2017. Image: courtesy, SFFilm

The 2017 San Francisco International Film Festival opened Wednesday at the historic Castro Theatre with Gillian Robespierre’s sentimental indie comedy, Landline (2016), and runs for the next 14 days, offering 181 films from 51 countries, 6 world premieres, 57 women directors and upwards of 100 participating filmmaker guests.  This grand festival, the longest running film festival in the Americas, celebrates its 60th anniversary with a few changes and expanded programming that tackles urgent social issues and captures the immense talent as well as the heart of its Bay Area locale.

New this Year

This mammoth fest is now called “SF International Film Festival,” instead of SFIFF, and that’s because its sponsor, SFFILM, changed its name; it was formerly the San Francisco Film Society.  SFFILM’s mission remains to “champion the world’s finest films and filmmakers through programs anchored in and inspired by the spirit and values of the San Francisco Bay Area.”  Other changes in the festival include: a start date that is two weeks earlier than usual; closing night festivities that occur two days before the festival’s actual end date; the main Festival Box Office is now headquartered in SOMA, in the YBCA Grand Lobby; and the festival itself is spread all over in 14 San Francisco and 1 Berkeley venue, including the Castro Theatre, the Roxie, the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission Theater, SFMOMA’s new state of the art Phyllis Wattis Theater, the new Dolby Cinema (on Market St.) and PFA (inside Berkeley’s new BAMPFA).

The sprawl presents a logistics nightmare for those driving in who require parking.  Your best bet is to buy all your tickets in advance and plan to see films within walking distance of one another.   It’s worth the hassle to get there.  Nothing beats seeing a film the way it was meant to be seen—on the big screen with state-of-the-art acoustics and an engaged audience to keep you company.   This festival delivers one of the highest ratios of face time with creative talent and flies in special guests from all over the world for nearly every film who participate in engaging post-screening Q & A’s.  These are the exchanges that build lifelong memories and a foundation for understanding cinema.

Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), the undisputed King of Bollywood, will be honored in a special tribute at the Castro on Friday, April 9.  Following an on stage conversation with the charismatic mega-star, Karan Johar’s moving drama, “My Name is Khan” (2010), will screen.  Khan stars as Rizvan Khan, an Indian Muslim Indian battling Asperger’s syndrome, who moves to San Francisco to stay with his brother after their mother dies.  In this stand-out dramatic performances, Khan is forced to navigate the post-9/11 prejudicial landscape. His lot only worsens when he falls in love with and marries a Hindu woman who demands that he tell the U.S. president directly, “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.” As he embarks on this epic quest, with quite showy drama, his warm personality wins hearts and becomes his saving grace. Image: courtesy SFFilm

Special programs

Be on the lookout for a series of high-profile tributes and awards: (Ethan Hawke (April 8, YBCA), Tom Luddy (Mel Novikoff Award, April 9, Castro), Eleanor Coppola (George Gund III Craft of Cinema Award, April 10, SFMOMA), Lynn Hershman Leeson (Persistence of Vision Award, April 11, YBCA), John Ridley (April 12, Alamo Drafthouse), Gordon Gund (April 13, SFMOMA), James Ivory (April 14, SFMOMA), Shah Rukh Khan (April 14, Castro).

Do you love Eastern European and Russian film? Tom Luddy, the recipient of this year’s Mel Novikoff Award, is largely responsible for laying the groundwork for BAMPFA’s vast collection of Soviet-era film when he was the director of PFA, way back in the day by collecting prints that might have otherwise been lost. He then went on to co-found the Telluride Film Festival and, after that, went on to become director of special projects for Francisco Ford Coppola and Zoetrope Studios and then on to collaborate with filmmakers such Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, and Jean-Luc Goddard. The Novikoff Award is presented to an individual whose work has enhanced the film-going public’s appreciation of world cinema. For his afternoon film screening, Luddy has selected the rarely screened Gennadi Shpalikov film, “A Long Happy Life” (Russia, 1966), one of the richest and truest depictions of love in Soviet-era Russia ever created, along with Jean-Luc Goddard’s short “Une bonne à toute faire,” (1981), which was filmed at Coppola’s American Zoetrope and evokes a tableau from a Georges de La Tour painting. (Screens: Sunday, April 9, 4 pm, Castro) Image: courtesy SFFilm

There’s an enhanced music and film schedule.  This year’s Centerpiece feature  is Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$, about an aspiring rap star (April 12, Castro).  The Man With a Movie Camera with Devotchka (April 13, Castro) combines Dziga Vertov’s 1929 avant-garde trip through three Soviet cities with a live Devotchka performance.)

Australian actress Danielle Macdonald as aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski—a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$—in a scene from Geremy Jasper’s feature debut “PattiCake$,” this year’s Centerpiece Film and the unqualified breakout hit of this year’s Sundance Festival. Cheered on by her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) and only friends, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), Patti somehow manages to shoulder her mother’s (Bridget Everett) heartaches and misfortunes and keep her swagger. This film was in part funded by a grant from SFFilm. Both Jasper and Macdonald will be in attendance. Screens: Wednesday, April 12, 7:30 pm, Castro. Image: courtesy SFFilm

The festival is also unveiling new programs involving the technology world.  An inaugural Creativity Summit will launch with Dr. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Dsiney Animation Studios giving the State of Cinema address (April 8, Dolby Cinema).

Structure:

The first weekend is dedicated to parties, special events and major new films.  Following that is a week of international and Bay Area cinema mixed with cross-media explorations culminating in the festival’s 60th anniversary commission at Castro on April 16: The Green Fog–A San Francisco Fantasia, an exciting new collaboration by SFFilm and Stanford Live in which the renowned Kronos Quartet will perform a new score by composer Jacob Garchik to accompany a visual collage by filmmaker Guy Maddin.  In addition, the festival continues to tip its hat to new and global filmmakers through its awards.  Ten narrative features and ten documentary features will compete for the Golden Gate Awards (GGAs) and nearly $40,000 in total prizes.

A scene from Guy Maddin’s “The Green Fog” in which the filmmaker challenged himself to remake Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” without using any footage from Hitchcock’s classic. Assisted by Evan Johnson, his “Forbidden Room” collaborator, the duo used a variety of Bay Area-based footage from studio classics, ’50’s noir, documentary and experimental films, and 70’s prime time TV —and employed Maddin’s assemblage techniques— to create what Maddin describes as a “parallel universe” version. “The Green Fog–A San Francisco Fantasia” closes the 60th SF International Film Festival,” on April 16 at the historic Castro Theater. The special commission by SFFilm, in collaboration with Stanford Live, includes the world renowned Kronos Quartet performing a new score by composer Jacob Garchik that “collides and converses with Maddin and Johnson’s irreverent footage. Image: SFFilm

Stay-tuned, ARThound will next preview the festival’s top films.

Festival Details:

When:  The 60th SF International Film Festival runs 14 days─ Wednesday, April 5 –Wednesday, April 19, 2017.

Tickets: $15 most films, more for Special Events and Parties which generally start at $20.   Passes—the popular CINEVOUCHER 10-pack ($140 general public and $120 for SFFilm members) and the exclusive CINEVISA early admittance to every screening, party, and program (with exception of Film Society Awards Night) ($1350 SFFilm members and $1675 general public).   How to buy tickets—purchase online at http://www.sffilm.org/festival/attend/tickets or in person during the festival.  Main Festival Box Office: is YBCA Grand Lobby, open daily Thursday, April 6 – Sunday, April 16, noon to 8 pm. During the festival , other screening venues also sell tickets.

Advance ticket purchases absolutely recommended as many screenings go to Rush.  Check the festival website to see which films are currently at rush (the list is updated frequently).

Day-of Noon Release Tickets: Each day of the Festival, tickets may be released for that day’s rush screenings. Pending availability, tickets may be purchased online or in person at the main festival box,  starting at noon. Not all shows will have tickets released, and purchasing is first-come, first-served.

Rush tickets:  Last-minute or rush tickets may be available on a first served basis to those waiting in line for cash only about 10 minutes before show time.  If you want rush tickets, plan to line up at least 45 minutes prior to screening time. No rush tickets for screenings at BAMPFA

More info: For full schedule and tickets, visit: http://www.sffilm.org/festival

 

April 5, 2017 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Otherworldly tomb treasures—new Han Dynasty Discoveries from Ancient China at the Asian Art Museum

Gilded bronze lamp in the shape of a deer unearthed from Tomb 1, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu, Western Han period, 2nd century, BCE. On loan from the Nanjing Museum and on display in "Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China's Han Dynasty," at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition features over 160 rare selections from recent excavations in China's Jiangsu province and runs through May 28, 2017.

Gilded bronze lamp in the shape of a deer unearthed from Tomb 1, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu, Western Han period, 2nd century, BCE. On loan from the Nanjing Museum and on display in “Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China’s Han Dynasty,” at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition features over 160 rare selections from recent excavations in China’s Jiangsu province and runs through May 28, 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.

A Western Han period, 1st century BCE, carved wooden Cavalry figurine unearthed from Yandai Mountain (Yizheng, Jiangsu) represents the perfect marriage of material and subject. Both the form of horse and rider are carved exquisitely in an abstract manner allowing the natural grain of the wood to complete the idea. The end result is anything but simplified—highly stylized figuration. Many such figurines were finely carved and then painted to take on the attributes of their real-life counterparts; this one is more roughly carved. This work was excavated from a large tomb possibly belonging to a high ranking royal member of the Guangling kingdom. Among some 400 burial objects unearthed were 126 wooden figurines of warriors and attendants that formed a long procession. Just ten cavalry figurines were mounted on horses making this piece exceptionally rare. On loan from the Yizheng Museum.

A Western Han period, 1st century BCE, carved wooden Cavalry figurine unearthed from Yandai Mountain (Yizheng, Jiangsu) represents the perfect marriage of material and subject. Both the form of horse and rider are carved exquisitely in an abstract manner allowing the natural grain of the wood to complete the idea. The end result is anything but simplified—highly stylized figuration. Many such figurines were finely carved and then painted to take on the attributes of their real-life counterparts; this one is more roughly carved. This work was excavated from a large tomb possibly belonging to a high ranking royal member of the Guangling kingdom. Among some 400 burial objects unearthed were 126 wooden figurines of warriors and attendants that formed a long procession. Just ten cavalry figurines were mounted on horses making this piece exceptionally rare. On loan from the Yizheng Museum.

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.
  • Jade suit on view in the Asian Art Museum’s Hambrecht Gallery, unearthed from Tomb 2, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu, Western Han period (206 BCE-9 CE), 2nd century BCE. Jade and gold. Nanjing Museum. Photo: courtesy AAM.

    Jade suit on view in the Asian Art Museum’s Hambrecht Gallery, unearthed from Tomb 2, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu, Western Han period (206 BCE-9 CE), 2nd century BCE. Jade and gold. Nanjing Museum. Photo: courtesy AAM.

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.

青銅編鐘 盱眙大雲山1號墓出土 西漢早期。南京博物院版權所有。 Bell set, unearthed from Tomb 1, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu. Western Han period (206 BCE–9 CE), 2nd century BCE. Bells: bronze; stands: lacquer and silver. On loan from Nanjing Museum. Photograph © Nanjing Museum.

Bell set, unearthed from Tomb 1, Dayun Mountain, Xuyi, Jiangsu. Western Han period (206 BCE–9 CE), 2nd century BCE. Bells: bronze; stands: lacquer and silver. On loan from Nanjing Museum. Photo: Nanjing Museum.

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.

February 22, 2017 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Emperors’ Treasures”─quiet masterpieces─ at the Asian Art Museum through September 18, 2016

Copper vessel in the shape of a xizun, an ox-like mythical beast, by the Imperial Workshop, Beijing, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Based on a classical Bronze Age ritual wine-serving vessel. Qianlong court documents reveal that it was set on an altar in the main hall of the Imperial Ancestral Temple. The stylized floral patterns, filled with multicolored enamel cloisonné, represent the fine level of enamel inlay during the mid and late Qing dynasty. The beast displays design elements commonly found in Persian objects. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photograph © National Palace Museum

Copper vessel in the shape of a xizun, an ox-like mythical beast, by the Imperial Workshop, Beijing, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Modeled after a classical Bronze Age ritual wine-serving vessel. Qianlong court documents reveal that it was set on an altar in the main hall of the Imperial Ancestral Temple. The stylized floral patterns, filled with multicolored enamel cloisonné, represent the fine level of enamel inlay during the mid and late Qing dynasty. The beast displays design elements commonly found in Persian objects. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photograph © National Palace Museum

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.

AAM Emperors' Treasures Cup with chicken design EX2016.3.91_01

Ming dynasty “chicken cup,” from Ming imperial shop, Jingdezhen, China, created during Chenghua reign (1465-87). Its subtle “doucai” color scheme (contrasting, interlocking, joined or dovetailed colors) was achieved by double firing. An outline of the composition was made in cobalt on raw clay and the cup was glazed and fired (underglazing). The resulting blue outlines were filled in with numerous colors on top of the glaze and then the object was fired again (overglazing). Nobility, wealth and fortune are suggested by two chicken families gathering near alternating rock and orchid and rock and peony compositions. The Imperial seal of Emperor Chenghua (1465-87) is on the underside. So beloved was this cup that it was copied by Manchu emperors in the Qing Imperial Workshop in the eighteenth century. National Palace Museum Taipei. Photograph © National Palace Museum

 

 

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.

Exhibition Highlights:

Innovative Calligraphy

Grotesque Stones, by Emperor Huizong (Zhao Ji, Chinese, 1082–1135). Northern Song dynasty. Album leaf, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

Grotesque Stones, by Emperor Huizong (Zhao Ji, Chinese, 1082–1135). Northern Song dynasty. Album leaf, ink on paper. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

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.

 

Ma Yuan, “Walking on a path in spring,” Southern Song dynasty reign of Emperor Ningzong (1195-1224), album leaf, ink and color on silk, calligraphy attributed to Ningzong. The relationship between poem in the upper right corner and the ink drawing is one of ongoing scholarship. Both the drawing and poem are lyrical, addressing the intersection of stillness and activity. The poem alludes to the sleeves of the individual’s garment brushing against the flowers and making them move. The second line refers to the birds; disturbed, they flee and cut short their songs.

Ma Yuan, “Walking on a path in spring,” Southern Song dynasty reign of Emperor Ningzong (1195-1224), album leaf, ink and color on silk, calligraphy attributed to Ningzong. The relationship between poem in the upper right corner and the ink drawing is one of ongoing scholarship. Both the drawing and poem are lyrical, addressing the intersection of stillness and activity. The poem alludes to the sleeves of the individual’s garment brushing against the flowers and making them move. The second line refers to the birds; disturbed, they flee and cut short their songs.

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.

Imperial Portraits

Portrait of Kublai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty. Album leaf, ink and color on silk, H 59.4 cm x W 47 cm. National Palace Museum. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

Portrait of Kublai Khan as the First Yuan Emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty. Album leaf, ink and color on silk, H 59.4 cm x W 47 cm. National Palace Museum. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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.

Porcelain

 

Yuan dynasty porcelain cup and saucer with cobalt blue glaze and gilt decoration. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

Yuan dynasty porcelain cup and saucer with cobalt blue glaze and gilt decoration. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © National Palace Museum.

 

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.

AAM Emperors' Treasures Vase with revolving core EX2016.3.106

Vase with revolving core and eight-trigram design, approx. 1744. Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, Qing dynasty, reign of Emperor Qianlong (1736–1795). Porcelain with golden glaze, multicolor decoration, and appliquéd sculpture. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Photograph © 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.

AAM Emperors' Treasures Vase with Emperor Qianlong’s poem EX20

A poem by Emperor Qianlong from midsummer 1778 is carved on the base. Photograph © National Palace Museum, Taipei.

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.

August 21, 2016 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

interview: curator Karin Breuer─“Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” at the de Young through October 9, 2016

The de Young Museum’s “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” through October 9, 2016, is chock-full of Ruscha’s visual poetry. Sure to put smiles on Bay Area faces is “Honey….I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic To Get Here.” 1984, 76 x 76 inches, oil on canvas, on loan from private collection, © Ed Ruscha.

The de Young Museum’s newest exhibit, “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” through October 9, 2016, is chock-full of Ruscha’s visual poetry. Sure to put smiles on Bay Area faces is “Honey….I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic To Get Here.” 1984, 76 x 76 inches, oil on canvas, on loan from private collection, © Ed Ruscha.

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.

Karin Breuer, curator of “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” and curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, pictured with Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote,” a 1989 lithograph in the FAMSF collection. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Karin Breuer, curator of “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” and curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, pictured with Ed Ruscha’s “Coyote,” a 1989 lithograph in the FAMSF collection. Photo: Geneva Anderson

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.

Ed Ruscha, “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas,” 1963. Oil on canvas, 64 7/8 x 121 3/4 inches, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College.

Ed Ruscha, “Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas,” 1963. Oil on canvas, 64 7/8 x 121 3/4 inches, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College.

 

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.

 

Ed Ruscha, “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” 1983. Oil on canvas, 90 x 136 1/2 inches. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha.

Ed Ruscha, “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” 1983. Oil on canvas, 90 x 136 1/2 inches. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha.

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.

“Rodeo,” 1969. Color lithograph, 17 x 24 in. Published by Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

“Rodeo,” 1969. Color lithograph, 17 x 24 in. Published by Tamarind Lithography Workshop, Los Angeles. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

 

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.

Ed Ruscha, “Hollywood,” 1968, color screenprint, 171/2 x 44 7/16 inches, published by the artist, FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha, “Hollywood,” 1968, color screenprint, 171/2 x 44 7/16 inches, published by the artist, FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

 

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.

“The End, 1991,” Lithograph, 26 3/16 x 36 13/16 in. Published by the artist. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

“The End, 1991,” Lithograph, 26 3/16 x 36 13/16 in. Published by the artist. FAMSF © Ed Ruscha

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.

August 17, 2016 Posted by | Art, de Young Museum | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life” at The Broad, Los Angeles—ARThound interviews guest curator Philipp Kaiser

Installation view “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” The Broad’s first special exhibit, June 11- October 2, 2016. Eli and Edythe Broad have collected Cindy Sherman’s work since the early 1980s. The Broad collection represents every body of work the artist has produced to date Photo: Geneva Anderson

Installation view “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life,” The Broad’s first special exhibit, June 11- October 2, 2016. Eli and Edythe Broad have collected Cindy Sherman’s work since the early 1980s. The Broad collection represents each body of work the artist has produced to date and is thought to be the world’s largest holding of her art. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The Broad’s first special exhibition, Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life, up through October 2, 2016, explores the art world’s long-reining chameleon of identity, Cindy Sherman.  Representing all phases of Sherman’s four decade career, the exhibition features 120 of Sherman works, drawn primarily from the Broad collection, with a few key works from other lenders.  Visitors are greeted with two massive floor-to-ceiling murals created by Sherman especially for The Broad, reproductions of images from her “Rear Screen Projections” from the early 1980’s.   The show proceeds in loose chronological order and takes up almost all of the spacious first floor galleries.  Highlights include a wonderful wall of Sherman’s well-known 8 x 10 inch black and white “Untitled Film Stills” (1977-80) and, in a gallery featuring her classically composed “Historical Portraits,” there’s a lesser known Limoges porcelain tea set from the late 1980’s adorned with images of Sherman as Madame de Pompadour, Mistress of King Louis XV.  Sherman’s only movie to date, “Office Killer,” the campy 1997 horror feature  starring Molly Ringwald, plays in a small gallery.  The exhibit concludes with Sherman’s newest work, created this year, shown in LA for the first time, which is inspired by silent film stars from nearly a century ago.  On one hand, it is a rich survey of her work; on the other, it focuses on Sherman’s deep engagement with mass media, popular film, movie culture and the cinematic.  What better place for these themes than LA, home of the movie industry.

 

Phillip Kaiser, guest curator, Joanne Heyler, director of The Broad, and philanthropist Eli Broad at the June 8, 2016 press opening of the museum’s first special exhibit, “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Phillip Kaiser, guest curator, Joanne Heyler, director of The Broad, and philanthropist Eli Broad at the June 8, 2016 press opening of the museum’s first special exhibit, “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

There couldn’t be a more stunning backdrop for this exquisite tribute than the Broad itself, LA’s newest art museum, which opened in September 2015.  Located in downtown Los Angeles on Grand Avenue, just next to Walt Disney concert hall, the Broad’s angular, honey-combed structure—the “veil”—and its striking central oculus, was designed by architects Diller, Scofido + Renfro, to the tune of $140 million.  It showcases the 2,000 + contemporary artwork collection of philanthropists Eli and Edy Broad.  At capacity at all times, the museum has become such an LA phenomena that its stand-by line has its own twitter account.

The Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The Broad on Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Geneva Anderson

The Broads are Cindy Sherman’s most prolific collectors.  She was the first artist that the couple collected in depth.  At the June 2016 press conference for the show, Eli Broad recalled the first time that he and his wife encountered her work, at Metro Pictures in 1982.  He was so impressed that he snapped up 20 photos, recalling they went “far beyond photography” and “reflected what was going on in society.”

Joanne Heyler, the museum’s founding director, explained that the couple essentially had a standing order for her work as it was created.  “Their collection is the most comprehensive Sherman collection in existence, containing examples from every body of work she has made during her four decade career.”

Arthound jumped on the opportunity to interview guest curator Philipp Kaiser, former director of Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany and former senior curator of MOCA (Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art).  The Swiss-born Kaiser works as an independent curator and art critic in Los Angeles and will curate the Swiss pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.  In addition to putting together the most comprehensive exhibit of Sherman you are likely to ever see, Kaiser made sure the show’s finishing touches reflect LA culture too.  Hollywood notables Jamie Lee Curtis, Molly Ringwald, John Waters, and others contributed to the audio tour (download the app online here.) The catalog features Sofia Coppola (who went to Cal Arts and wanted to be an artist) in a casual conversation with Sherman about Marie Antoinette and Sherman’s history portraits.  Now, on to the conversation with Kaiser—

Phillip Kaiser, guest curator, of The Broad’s first special exhibit, “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Phillip Kaiser, guest curator, of The Broad’s first special exhibit, “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

What is the origin of the title “Imitation of Life” and who picked it?

Philipp Kaiser:  Cindy picked it.  I encouraged her to go for a cinematic theme and she came up with this title which refers to the 1959 Douglas Sirk melodrama with Lana Turner.   Identity is at the core of this film.  On a formal level, Hitchcock and Sirk, were very influential directors.  All the artists of the 70’s—the so-called pictures generation—were looking at these filmmakers.  Douglas Sirk was a big fascination for David Salle too.  What artists liked about Sirk was the theatricality of his work.  For example, whenever there was an outdoor scene, it was lit in blue and the indoor scenes were yellow. Sirk came from theater and, when you look at Cindy Sherman’s “Rear Screen Projections,” you see she appropriated these from film.  Hitchcock, of course, relied on theatricality.

Was this your first time working with Cindy Sherman?  What surprised you about her personality?

Philipp Kaiser:  Yes.  We had a lot of interaction—this is all collaboration, ideas going back and forth and they are then honed.  The ideal exhibition is a perfect collaboration between artist and curator.   She’s very insightful and there’s such depth but I found her very funny too in her own special way.

Explain the flow of the show.  

Philipp Kaiser:  It’s loosely chronological beginning in the first gallery with the fashion photographs from 1983 to 1993 and then you go back to 1982 in the next gallery and there’s a sense of this back and forth throughout.   When you get to the dark room we’ve created, you see it respects the different series and the narrative of her career but it was very important for me to show how much these series are linked together and to point out connections.  Sometimes, when things are shown separately, you lose sight of this.  There are very interesting ‘hinge pieces’ in between the different series that link them.

Can you give an example of a hinge piece?

Philipp Kaiser:  There are many fashion photos that serve that purpose.  In one of the last galleries, there’s this piece that she made as a commission, with an outfit provided from the Chanel archives.  You see so clearly that this Chanel landscape has a lot to do with the society portraits and with the older ladies who are the supporters of these museums and institutions. Also, when you look at her “History Portraits” from the late 1980’s which were created when she was so successful, that next thing she did was these big landscapes of vomit.  That’s a very reactive series.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #512, 2010/2011. The image is based on an insert Sherman did for the lifestyle magazine, Garage, using clothes from Chanel’s early haute couture archives. The clothing was paired images Sherman shot in Iceland during a 2010 volcanic eruption. Rather than staging scenes in her studio or using projected images, the dramatic settings were all photographed by Sherman and then manipulated in Photoshop to achieve a painterly effect. Chromogenic color print, 79 ¾ x 136 7/8 inches, courtesy of Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #512, 2010/2011. The image is based on an insert Sherman did for the lifestyle magazine, Garage, using clothes from Chanel’s early haute couture archives. The clothing was paired images Sherman shot in Iceland during a 2010 volcanic eruption. Rather than staging scenes in her studio or using projected images, the dramatic settings were all photographed by Sherman and then manipulated in Photoshop to achieve a painterly effect. Chromogenic color print, 79 ¾ x 136 7/8 inches, courtesy of Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures.

How much does she rely on digital technology to enhance her images?

Philipp Kaiser:  She started to use digital technology in 2000 and you can really see this in the Chanel piece where the backdrop is very artificially constructed.  The background landscapes are photos that she took on the island of Capri and in Iceland in 2010 during a volcanoic eruption.  She manipulated these and gave them a painterly feel. The clowns on the green walls, which look like a green screen, are obviously made with digital backdrop.  She still does that─she take pictures and uses them for backgrounds but they are digitally manipulated.

Is she doing all this work herself with no assistants?

Philipp Kaiser:  Yes, she prepares herself and takes the photographs herself but has help manipulating the photos from young, computer savvy kids.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #193, 1989, chromogenic color print. Sherman describes the subject as “an older Madame de Pompadour.” Her pearls are tucked slightly under her fake breastplates, and in the bottom right of the photo, a large foot pokes out from under her dress. The portrait is part of a series resulting from Sherman’s collaboration with Artes Magnus and Limoges, which has ties to the French court. Broad Collection.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #193, 1989, chromogenic color print. Sherman describes the subject as “an older Madame de Pompadour.” Her pearls are tucked slightly under her fake breastplates, and in the bottom right of the photo, a large foot pokes out from under her dress. The portrait is part of a series resulting from Sherman’s collaboration with Artes Magnus and Limoges, which has ties to the French court. Broad Collection.

How did you emphasize her rootedness in the LA film culture and Hollywood?

Philipp Kaiser:  From the very beginning, it was clear that this presentation in LA, the heart of the filmmaking industry, had to offer a very distinct perspective on the work.  This is the first big Sherman show in Los Angeles since MOCA’s 1999 retrospective and it was created for LA.  This exhibition starts in 1975 and goes all the way up to 2016 and you can see the influence of film from the very beginning.  When you look at the gigantic murals reimagined from her “Rear Screen Projections” and at her “Untitled Film Stills” series from early in her career, you see her fascination with movie culture and the cinematic in terms of the narrative on many levels.  Her work is about representation and mass media and representation is most powerful in the movies, when different roles are played.  And it all ends with her newest works, inspired by the stars of the last century’s silent era.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #47, 1979, Gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches, @Cindy Sherman, courtesy of Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #47, 1979, Gelatin silver print, 8 x 10 inches, @Cindy Sherman, courtesy of Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures.

Has she shifted her position about whether or not her works are autobiographical or not and if so what do you think might account for that?

Philipp Kaiser:  I don’t think they are autobiographical.  Of course, it’s always Cindy Sherman but it’s not about the self portrait.  She’s not suggesting that there is a real Cindy Sherman; it’s more about the hall of mirrors Cindy Sherman showing herself in a play of roles.  One day, she appropriates the role of desperate housewife and the next day, it’s another role.  That’s how identity is being constructed and tested.

Snap happy theatrics. Installation view “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

Snap happy theatrics. Installation view “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life.” Photo: Geneva Anderson

And these are parts of herself or parts of a broader cultural self?

Philipp Kaiser:  The work is about the cultural self.   A lot of people ask me if Cindy Sherman’s work is so successful because of the selfie culture and I would say it’s just the opposite.  Seflies are about narcissism and about showing off your body or some feature.  Her work is about something else, cultural stereotypes in mass media.  What is really interesting about the new work is that that the society portraits are about aging.   This is the reality of the artist getting older and that’s very interesting.  It’s self-referential and she will talk about herself but it’s not about her.

Do you view the arc of her work as a search for the self?  Early on, it didn’t reveal much—it was a tightly controlled act of putting on all these other faces and experimenting with them.  Later, it seems that she is coming more to terms with herself and with the aging process. 

Philipp Kaiser:  I wouldn’t say it’s about a search for the true self but showing off how many selves there are and how constructed we are.  It’s also about how we find our identity, or define ourselves, in fashion which you see clearly in the fashion photographs.  The history photos all address representation on a different level─they talk about history, class, aging. There are many different levels.  It’s not a search for identities but rather an acknowledgement or acceptance that our identities are pluralistic.  It’s also very interesting that in her latest work Cindy Sherman is posing as a silent screen actress.  So the work gets older as she gets older.  These are very self-confident portraits.

Untitled, 2016. Dye Sublimation metal print, 48 x 50.5 inches. Metro Pictures

Untitled, 2016. Dye Sublimation metal print, 48 x 50.5 inches. Courtesy Cindy Sherman and Metro Pictures

 

Do you think she will move away from these photo series that she is so closely associated with?

Philipp Kaiser:  She’s mentioned several times that she wants to work on a second movie and that’s very interesting.  Her first movie, “Office Killer” (1997), is here in the show.

How has she influenced younger generations of photographers?  

Philipp Kaiser:  She uses photography but actually her work is very performative and what we see in the gallery is a photograph or an artwork but the process to get there is performative.  Many artists can relate to this post feminist deconstructive aspect where she really takes things apart.  She has been highly influential for two or three generations of artists now.

 

Details:  The Broad

Admission to The Broad is free, but admission to the special exhibition “Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life” is $12 for visitors over 18.   The show runs through October 2, 2016.   It is recommended that visitors book tickets in advance online to ensure a specific entry date and time.  For more information about ticketing: https://ticketing.thebroad.org/

If you go…Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, a mirror-lined chamber housing a dazzling and seemingly endless LED light display. This experiential artwork has extremely limited capacity, accommodating one visitor at a time for about a minute, and requires a separate free timed same-day reservation which ticket holders are able to reserve, pending availability, after arrival at the museum at a kiosk in the center of the lobby.  Time in the Infinity Mirrored Room cannot be reserved in advance of your visit.  Due to the limited capacity of the installation, not all visitors are able to experience it, as the queue for viewings usually books up early in the day.  This installation will be on view through October 2017.

Details:  Travel to/from Los Angeles in one day

Air Transportation:  Both Alaska Air and American Airlines operate nonstop flights from Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport to LAX.  ARThound departed from Santa Rosa at 6 a.m. on an Alaska Air flight ($109 each way) and arrived in Los Angeles at 7:30 a.m.   I flew back at 8:30 p.m. and arrived in Santa Rosa at 10:15 p.m.  Short-term parking was $14 at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport.

Los Angeles ground transportation is easy:  Upon arriving at LAX, I walked outside the terminal and took an “LAX FlyAway” bus from the curbside for $9 to Union Station.   FlyAway buses depart every hour and go to all terminals and take roughly one hour to get to Union Station.  At Union Station, I took the metro.  I purchased a TAP card and loaded it up with $10 for the day, which left me with plenty of money for my next visit to LA.  I used the online LA Metro Trip Planner to pre-plan getting from Union Station to The Broad and from the Broad to the Getty Center in Santa Monica and back to LAX in the early evening.   Each metro ride is $1.75 and transfers to buses are allowed.  I took the Metro Red Line to Pershing Square Station, exited and walked roughly .25 miles to The Broad, and arrived just before it opened.

I departed The Broad at noon in order to also visit the Getty Center in Santa Monica.  Using public transportation required a metro ride and a bus ride and took almost 1hour and 45 min.  I arrived at the Getty Center at roughly 2:40 PM which gave me 2.5 hours to see two shows before their 5:30 p.m. closing time.  I saw Cave Temples of Dunhuang (closes Sept 4) and Robert Maplethorp: The Perfect Medium (closes July 31).  The Dunhuang exhibit featured three scale replica caves, a virtual immersive 3-D experience that guides you into the 8th century Mogao site, and an exhibit of documents and artifacts discovered in the Library Cave along with paintings and sculptures from other caves that shed light on the history of Buddhism.

On the way back from the Getty, I took a 5:30 p.m. bus from the Getty Center to downtown Santa Monica and caught the Santa Monica FlyAway to LAX, arriving just in time for my flight.  The Santa Monica FlyAway will be discontinued effective September 6, 2016 which means a taking an alternative route.  Ample bus service is available.

August 15, 2016 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What! You’ve never heard of artist Tyrus Wong? The Asian Art Museum and CAAMFest will honor this living legend starting Wednesday, March 9, 2016

 105 year-young Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong will be honored twice this week─on Wednesday at the Asian Art Museum,, with a public proclamation of “Tyrus Wong Day and on Thursday, at CAAMFest 2016, where his life and art are the subject of Pamela Tom’s Opening Night documentary, “Tyrus.” Image: courtesy Museum of California Design


105 year-young Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong will be honored twice this week─on Wednesday at the Asian Art Museum,, with a public proclamation of “Tyrus Wong Day” and on Thursday, at CAAMFest 2016, where his life and art are the subject of Pamela Tom’s Opening Night documentary, “Tyrus,” which has its Bay Area premiere at the festival.
Image: courtesy Museum of California Design

Unless you caught his wonderful retrospective at the Walt Disney Family Museum two years back, Tyrus Wong is a name that most people can’t place readily. At 105 years young, this pioneering Chinese American artist has touched all of us through his innovative art for films like Rebel Without A Cause and Walt Disney Studio’s classic 1942 animation film Bambi.  Wong’s impressionistic conceptual art grabbed the attention of Walt Disney himself and Wong became essentially responsible for the evocative style that we associate with the beloved Bambi and he created much of the film’s background landscapes.  But that was just the beginning of this exceptional artist’s diverse artistic career as a painter, illustrator, calligrapher, muralist, designer, Hollywood sketch artist, ceramicist, and kite maker.  At 105, he is Americaʼs oldest living Chinese American artist and one of the last remaining artists from the golden age of Disney animation.  On Wednesday, March 9th, at 4:00PM in the Asian Art Museum’s Peterson Room, CAAM (the Center for Asian American Media), the Asian Art Museum and the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation will ensure that Wong is long remembered in the Bay Area.  San Francisco District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar will present a Tyrus Wong Day proclamation in honor of the artist.  The next day, CAAMFest 2016 celebrates Wong on the big screen with the Bay Area premiere of Pamela Tom’s award-winning documentary, Tyrus, selected as the opening night film.

Tyrus Wong’s “Chinese Jesus,” 85 x 75 inches, will be on display to the public for one day only─Thursday, March 10─ at the Asian Art Museum. Tyrus Wong painted the long unidentified artwork for the Chinese Congregational Church in Los Angeles decades ago. The unsigned painting was found in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco by CAAM board member David Lee. The artwork is in need of restoration and David Lee is mounting a fund-raising campaign to clean and restore it to its original state. The artwork will then be placed in a Bay Area museum. Image: CAAM

Tyrus Wong’s “Chinese Jesus,” 85 x 75 inches, will be on display to the public for one day only─Thursday, March 10─ at the Asian Art Museum. Tyrus Wong painted the long unidentified artwork for the Chinese Congregational Church in Los Angeles decades ago. The unsigned painting was found in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco by CAAM board member David Lei. The artwork is in need of restoration and David Lee is mounting a fund-raising campaign to clean and restore it to its original state. The artwork will then be placed in a Bay Area museum. Image: CAAM

On Wednesday, Tyrus, will also be signing one of his unidentified large paintings, which had been unattributed for decades, “Chinese Jesus.”  The 85 x 75 inches painting was rediscovered recently by CAAM board member David Lei in the attic of the Chinese Methodist Church in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Wong will be joined by his daughter, Kim, and Tyrus director, Pamela Tom.   The painting will be on display at the Asian Art Museum on Thursday, March 10th, for one day only.  The public is invited to view the signed piece during regular museum hours and during CAAMFest’s Opening Night Gala, which takes place at the Asian that evening at 9:30 p.m., following the screening.

“That it was first in Los Angeles in late 1920’s and made its way here is an amazing discovery,” explained CAAM, Executive Director, Stephen Gong, who spoke with ARThound at the CAAMFest press conference in February.  “This came to our attention some 5 years ago.  Tyrus was in the process of being made and our board member, David Lei, was poking around the Great Star Theatre in Chinatown, looking at old opera scenery backdrops, and his memory was triggered about a painting he had seen as child in a local church of a Jesus that he felt might have been done by the same artist.  He did some research and spoke with scholar Mark Johnson at San Francisco State, who told him that Tyrus Wong was around at the time and might be able to identify the artist.   When Tyrus’ daughter, who was about 80, spoke with him about it, he said it ‘might be’ one of his.   I was flabbergasted.  It took David several months to investigate this.  The next time Tyrus came to town, he brought him to the Jesus painting, which he had found, and it was confirmed.”

Right now, Stephen Gong explained, the painting is “in between lives.”  The Chinese Methodist Church in Chinatown stills owns the painting but they have loaned it to the Asian Art Museum, where CAAM board member, David Lei, is also on the board.  Lei is trying to drum up interest to get it restored and to place it in a Bay Area museum, like the de Young or the Asian.

“Tyrus could well have been a major figure early on, but no Chinese artist in the 1930’s was going to be recognized by the art establishment especially when it wasn’t recognizing West Coast artists of any background, ” added Stephen Gong.

Tyrus Wong's pastel illustrations inspired the style of Walt Disney's classic, "Bambi" and he served as the lead artist for the cherished film.

Tyrus Wong’s pastel illustrations inspired the style of Walt Disney’s classic, “Bambi,” including its lush impressionistic forest. Wong served as the lead artist for the cherished film.

Pamela Tom’s Tyrus opens CAAMFest 2016:  Tom’s emotionally inspiring documentary paints a beautifully intimate portrait of Tyrus Wong, eloquently exploring his childhood arrival at the Angel Island Immigration Station, the evolution of his voice and legacy and the formation of what he views as his greatest achievement, his family.

CAAMFest 2016─an 11 day celebration of Asian-American and Asian film, food, music opens this Thursday, celebrating its 34th year with a program that celebrates and explores the breadth of the Asian and human experience.  This year’s program all things Asian includes no less than 10 world premieres, 23 narrative features, 16 feature documentaries and dozens of other films and thoughtfully-curated events that run for 8 days in various locales in San Francisco and then move on to Oakland for a long final weekend. Learn more about Tyrus and CAAMFest 2016 at www.caamfest.com/2016

Documentary filmmaker Pamela Tom and Tyrus Wong in 2012. Set against a backdrop of immigration, poverty, and racial prejudice, Pamela Tom’s “Tyrus” tells the life story of 105-year-old Chinese American artist Tyrus Wong. Reaching back to 1919, nine-year-old Tyrus and his father leave their village and family in China. Tyrusʼs journey takes him from the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, where he is detained and interrogated, to earning a scholarship to Otis Art Institute. During his 85-year career as a fine and commercial artist, Tyrus crosses paths with Picasso and Matisse, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Although his design work was crucial to the animated classic “Bambi” and over 100 live-action movies including “The Music Man,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild Bunch,” the name Tyrus Wong remains largely unknown. “Tyrus” screens once at CAAMFest 2016 but has secured distributorship and will open later at the theatres in the Bay Area. Image: courtesy CAAM

Documentary filmmaker Pamela Tom and Tyrus Wong in 2012. Set against a backdrop of immigration, poverty, and racial prejudice, Pamela Tom’s “Tyrus” tells the compelling life story of Tyrus Wong. Reaching back to 1919, nine-year-old Tyrus and his father leave their village and family in China. Tyrusʼs journey takes him from the Angel Island Immigration Station in San Francisco, where he is detained and interrogated, to earning a scholarship to Otis Art Institute. During his 85-year career as a fine and commercial artist, Tyrus crosses paths with Picasso and Matisse, Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Although his design work was crucial to the animated classic “Bambi” and over 100 live-action movies including “The Music Man,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “The Wild Bunch,” the name Tyrus Wong remains largely unknown. “Tyrus” screens once at CAAMFest 2016 but has secured distributorship and will open later at the theatres in the Bay Area. Image: courtesy CAAM

 

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Art, Film | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment