Straight from the designer’s mouth─Charles Renfro discusses the new BAM/PFA building opening January 31, 2016
ARThound was delighted to attend Charles Renfro’s talk today to a full house at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church which covered the conception and design of the new BAMPFA, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archives. The new space opens this Sunday, January 31, 2016. Renfro is partner at New York interdisciplinary design studio, Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) and lead partner for his firm’s participation in the $112 million five-year long project which has transformed a 1939 printing plant on Berkeley’s Center Street into a multi-layered museum complex boasting gentle curves and a haute steel skin that catches the light and casts intricate shadows. Renfro spoke about the new BAMPFA in the context of the firm’s numerous global projects and resonances with the inaugural exhibition, Architecture of Life, which explores the ways that architecture—as concept, metaphor, and practice—illuminates aspects of life experience.
It’s always fascinating to hear artists and designers talk about their work. Renfro scattered his talk with fascinating references to the principles (risk-taking, generosity) that excite him and that DS+R aims to impart in their projects and a great deal of his personality comes through in the clip I’ve posted. I haven’t had a chance to tour the museum yet; that comes later in the week, so I’ll save my comments on the inner core until I’ve had an intimate encounter. Here’s Renfro.
More free talks: A series of free Wednesday noon lectures “Perspectives on the Architecture of Life” will be held through April 20 at the new BAMPFA Theatre. These two hour sessions (roughly one hour lecture and Q&A) include a variety of wonderful guest artists, curators, and scholars covering fascinating topics under the themes of exhibitions and performance; performance and place; and place and nature. For more information, visit http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/program/perspectives-architecture-life.
Project overview: The BAMPFA project repurposes the Art Deco–style former UC Berkeley Printing Plant at the corner of Center and Oxford Streets in downtown Berkeley, and integrates it with an entirely new modern stainless-steel-clad structure. At roughly 83,000-square-foot, the building features serene spaces for experiencing art and film, including 25,000 square feet of gallery space, two film theaters, a multipurpose performance space, four study centers for art and film, a reading room, an art-making lab, and an external LED screen and plaza for outdoor film screenings.
Architecture of Life, January 31–May 29, 2016: BAMPFA’s inaugural exhibition in the new building is Architecture of Life, which explores the ways that architecture—as concept, metaphor, and practice—illuminates aspects of life experience. With an international selection of over 250 works of art, architectural drawings and models, and scientific illustrations made over the past two thousand years, the exhibit will occupy all of the gallery spaces in the new BAMPFA.
Details: BAMPFA is located at 2155 Center Street, Berkeley, 94704. The official opening is January 31,2016. Visit the website http://bampfa.org/visit for information on special programming associated with the opening of the museum and film programming.
Review: “Looking East,” tracing Japan’s impact on 19th century Western artists─at the Asian Art Museum through February 7, 2016
When US Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Japan’s Edo Bay in 1853 and forced Japan to sign trade agreements with Europe and North America, the island nation opened up to the West after been virtually isolated for two centuries. This set off a frenzy for all things Japanese, particularly art. European and North American collectors and artists went crazy for the sophisticated woodblock prints of artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai and Japanese aesthetics had a profound impact on Western artists who were hungry for inspiration. Meanwhile, the French coined the term “Japonisme” to describe works made in Europe and the U.S. that incorporated motifs and aesthetic principles from this new imagery from Japan.
Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists, which opened at the Asian Art Museum (AAM) on October 30, is a fascinating travelling exhibition organized by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFAB). It was just in Tokyo and makes the final stop of its international tour at the Asian. It features over 170 artworks and decorative objects from the MFAB’s exquisite collection of Japanese art─the finest in the world outside of Japan─as well as its Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces from painters Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Mary Cassat, Edgar Degas, Paul Gaugin and others.
The novel thing about this exhibition is that the curators have placed Japanese and American and French artworks side by side so that viewers can evaluate how Western artists assimilated these new thematic and formal approaches, making it very engaging for all ages and experience levels, which the Asian excels at. The exhibition is organized into four thematic areas─ women, city life, nature and landscape─ which explore the hallmarks of Japanese art around the turn of the century. Dr. Helen Burnham, the MFAB Pamela and Peter Voss Curator of Prints and Drawings, is the head curator, while Dr. Laura Allen, curator of Japanese art, and Dr. Yuki Morishima, assistant curator of Japanese art, are the AAM curators responsible for its installation here in San Francisco.
“This is the first major exhibition from our collections to examine the profound impact Japanese art and culture had on Western artists around 1900,” said Helen Burnham . “This was a seminal moment in Western and European art─both artists and collectors came to Japanese art with fresh eyes and a readiness to move past conventions.”
“What we’re doing at the Asian is exploring Asia’s global reference and Looking East is a perfect example,” said AAM director Jay Xu, who has made it his mission to rebrand the Asian, shifting the emphasis away from museum and more towards an exciting environment where people can discover their own personal connections to Asian art and culture.
Xu pointed out that many people love Claude Monet’s familiar 1900 painting “The Water Lily Pond” and are even aware that Monet had an actual Japanese style arched bridge in Giverny but they’ll be surprised to see that the bridge in the Monet is “almost a copy” of the bridge in Utagawa Hiroshige I’s “Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge,” from his 1857 series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.” With the artworks next to each other, such comparisons are possible. In the landscape section of the exhibition, you’ll also see how Monet was inspired by a wind-blown tree from a Hiroshige print and used it in his “Seacoast at Trouvelle,” (1881). Monet moves away from the Western established tools of perspective and shading and uses the tree to block out the composition’s vanishing point and bands of vibrant color to activate the painting’s surface.
Vincent van Gogh too was heavily inspired by Japanese art, particularly the small unpretentious woodblocks, snapshots of everyday life in Japan, that arrived in droves in France in the 1860’s often as wrapping for porcelain products that were exported to Europe. These prints depicted kabuki actors, geisha and famous landscape scenes, like Mt Fuji. When Van Gogh arrived in Paris in 1886, the Impressionist revolution was in full swing and he realized how important the Japanese influence was on the experimental Impressionists who rejected the rules of the French art academy. Van Gogh built a collection of some two-hundred woodblocks prints and began to copy these compositions on with oil on canvas.
At the Asian, you’ll see van Gogh’s “Postman Joseph Roulin” from 1888 hanging with an Edo period woodblock from Utagawa Kunisada I of a Kabuki actor. The influences here are subtle but the inspiration is clear, according to Asian curator Laura Allen who pointed out that Van Gogh and other Impressionists were increasingly interested in scenes of everyday life and that the physical surface of the woodblocks were fascinating to these artists. “These woodblocks prints were produced quickly with layers of color─it would have taken too much time to use too many colors or patterns─so the compositions lacked depth, had large areas of flat space and relied on strong lines,” said Allen. Van Gogh’s composition has a very flat background, an angularity in the arms and is a portrait of a common working man in society, just like the Kabuki actors.
American born Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) left the U.S. at age 22 to study art in Paris where she developed an interest in the techniques of the Impressionists who were painting everyday scenes that stressed the importance of natural light and shadow in clear color. She too was an avid collector of woodblock prints by Harunobi, Utamaro and Hisoshige. In the 1890’s, she created a series of ten color etchings that permitted her to imitate the simplicity found in Japanese composition and color techniques. At the Asian, her, “Maternal Caress” (circa 1902), an informal portrait of a child clinging to its mother’s neck as she brushes its cheek with a kiss, employs a high vantage point and the intimacy and affection between mother and child. Both of these were common in Japanese art according to Helen Burnham. Hanging close to the Cassatt is Kikugawa Eizan’s woodblock of a mother and child in a similar pose and we can feel the tender bond between them.
Tis the Season─the catalogue is gift worthy: At 127 pages, the exhibition’s stylish and informative catalogue Looking East: Western Artists and the Allure of Japan (about $26, 2015) is full of large photographs with chapters authored by curator/editor Helen Burnham, Sarah E. Thompson and Jane E. Braun, all from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that reflect on the phenomena of Japonisme and its rich contributions to the West in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Details: Looking East closes February 7, 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: AAM Members: free. Adults: general admission w/Looking East $20 weekdays, $25 weekends; Seniors, students, youth (13-17) $15 weekdays, $20 weekends; child (12 and under) free. Reserve your tickets online here.
The horses of Cavalia’s Odysseo are so enthralling they seem to have stepped right out of a dream world. With more horses, performers and acrobats than ever, the internationally acclaimed show opened November 19, in San Francisco, just in time for the holidays. Eight years in the making, this is Normand Latourelle’s latest extravaganza and the Cirque du Soleil and Cavalia co-founder has outdone himself. Odysseo, the second Cavalia Inc. show, had its premiere in Montreal in 2011 and has travelled the globe to be seen by over 4 million fans. The show combines 45 riders, gymnasts and aerialists with 65 magnificent horses on a sweeping arena of sand and dirt, performing stunningly choreographed vignettes that will have you on the edge of your seat. Odysseo takes the audience on a soulful journey to some of nature’s greatest wonders, moving from the Mongolian steppes to Monument Valley, from the African savannah to Nordic glaciers, from the Sahara to Easter Island, and even to a lunar landscape. While the show is a lavish spectacle of beauty, muscle and grace, it never loses touch with the heart-touching affectionate connection between human and horse. Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with rider Spencer Elizabeth Rose, a native of Exeter, (Tulare County) California.
Performance Details: Odysseo opens Thursday, November 19 and closes January 10, 2016.
Location: All performances at the Cavalia Big White Top Tent, adjacent to AT&T Park, San Francisco.
Tickets: General Admission: $44.50 to $154.50. VIP “Rendez-vous” package: $229.50 to $264.50 includes the best seats in the house, pre-show buffet dining and open wine bar, desserts during intermission and a post-show stable tour. Special pricing for children (2-12), juniors (13-17) and senior citizens (65+). Call (866) 999-8111 or www.cavalia.net
Parking: On site parking is available for a charge.
Artist Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet,” a musical sanctuary for the soul, at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308
There are several spine-tingling moments in the 16th century court composer Thomas Tallis’ devotional choral work “Spem in Alium” which expresses man’s hope and trust in the Lord. Canadian sound artist Janet Cardiff’s immersive sound installation, “The Forty Part Motet,” quite literally teases them out. Forty speakers on six-foot tall stands are arranged in an oval. Visitors can walk throughout the installation and hear the individual unaccompanied voices─bass, baritone, alto, tenor and child soprano─one part per loudspeaker─ of 40 choir singers, who were recorded in England’s Salisbury Cathedral as well as the melded symphony of choral sounds, altogether creating a transcendent experience.
Last Thursday, installation was unveiled at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308, making it the space’s inaugural exhibition and first time the installation has been shown in California. Cardiff’s exquisite layering of the voices creates a profound and intimate experience even within a public space. I can’t recall the last time I slowed down enough to be still and quiet for any significant length of time. As I took in the music, the hairs rose on my arms and tears welled. I stayed for four playings. ( The 14-minute piece is a continuous audio loop, comprised of 11 minutes of singing and a three minute interlude.) With the horror that unfolded in Paris over the weekend and uncertainty about what might follow, and the march of the pending holidays, centering oneself in this immersive musical experience is nurturing and healing. I can’t wait to go back.
Cardiff’s contemporary re-working of this classic was created 14 years ago, in 2001 and the piece has since travelled the world. Cardiff originally studied photography and print-making before experimenting with sound and moving image. She grabbed the attention of the art world in the mid-1990s with her site-specific works which explored the sculptural and physical attributes of sound and often had actual physical impacts on the viewers. Born in Canada, she currently lives in rural British Columbia, and works in collaboration with her husband and partner, George Bures Miller. Cardiff and Miller’s pivotal moment came in 2001, when they represented Canada at the 49th Venice Biennale and won the Biennale’s Premio Prize and Benesse Prize. Their artwork was “Paradise Institute” which recreated a 16 seat movie theatre and entangled viewers so that they became witnesses to a possible crime playing out on screen and within the audience─an idea that was cutting edge at the time. The couple’s work has been included top-tier exhibitions and biennales ever since. Recently, they participated in Soundscapes at London’s National Gallery, the 19th Biennale of Sydney in 2014, and dOCUMENTA (13).
“The Forty Part Motet’s” appearance in San Francisco marks a pivotal time for its two co-presentors─Fort Mason Center and SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). It marks a new beginning for Gallery 308, which is a gorgeous light-filled 4,000 square-foot gallery space with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Marin neighborhood. The space originally housed Fort Mason’s maritime trade and repair shops and its three-year renovation was undertaken by Jensen Architects, the creators of SFMOMA’s acclaimed roof-top garden.
“Fort Mason Center has been around for 40 years and it’s been viewed as a rental space,” said Mark Tao, CFO, Fort Mason Center. “We’ve gone through a re-imaging process to put contemporary art at the forefront. Gallery 308 was once ‘military building 308,’ so we’ve reclaiming something from the past in our name which fits our industrial chic look. We worked for over two years to bring this work here and we’re very proud.”
Other changes are in the air at Fort Mason Center too. The San Francisco Art Institute, which currently has campuses in Russian Hill and Dogpatch, is moving to Pier 2 and will start construction there next year. FLAX art and design store recently opened a 5,000-square-foot store in Building D, after losing their space downtown.
Cardiff’s installation marks the grand finale for SFMOMA’s On the Go programming—the museum’s dynamic off-site art events while its building is closed for expansion construction. (Click here to read about SFMOMA’s 2013 collaboration with the Sonoma County Museum.) The new SFMOMA will open in spring 2016. Cardiff’s installation is actually on loan from Napa collectors Pamela and Richard Kramlich’s world-renowned holdings of video and media art. Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA was pivotal in orchestrating the loan.
Cardiff’s solo works have long been a part of SFMOMA’s collection and the museum additionally commissioned two audio and video works by Cardiff: Chiaroscuro 1 (1997), made for the exhibition Present Tense: Nine Artists in the Nineties; and The Telephone Call (2001), featured in 010101: Art in Technological Times.
ARThound chats with Janet Cardiff and George Miller
I had a chance to chat privately with Janet Cardiff just before Thursday’s press preview and with her husband/collaborator George Miller in the gallery while the work was playing. Here’s our conversation─
You’ve installed this work in so many spaces now, from those that are overtly spiritual to those that much more secular; what is special about this space here in San Francisco, set against the backdrop of the Bay?
Janet Cardiff─What first and foremost matters to me is the acoustics of the space, how the voices sound to me in the space and it works quite nicely here. The visual is beautiful but the power is in the sound. I like this space because, when you’re looking out, the music serves as a backdrop, like a filmic score of the city and the water. I also like the roughness of the space, its rawness that echoes what it used to be. Because it’s painted white, it’s also very pristine, very contemplative which works with the spirituality of the piece, its whiteness and a light
Is this a spiritual artwork?
Janet Cardiff─Oh yes, Thomas Tallis most definitely wrote this for that purpose with words like “I put all my faith in you, my Lord.” When he was writing, he was very aware of the voices going up into the cathedrals like angel voices. It’s inspired me in many ways, on many levels. I’ve learned so much about absence and presence. Every single speaker is an individual recording of a singer, so each speaker in the space becomes that person. The choir was recorded singing together in a room but the singers were spaced apart and every singer had a microphone. So, it does become very anthropomorphic and a virtual representation of those people. It’s like these people, too, are stopped in time. This setting brings me right back to PS1, its first showing, with these windows overlooking the city. I was reminded of the potency of music to move you and of such a brilliant composition from Thomas Tallis which creates such an emotional release for people. Also, the whiteness of the space adds to the spiritual quality of the piece.
Do you have a particular interest in old music? How was this particular piece brought to your attention?
Janet Cardiff─I was recording in England and one of the singers I was working with gave me a cd of Tallis because she recognized that I liked three-dimensional sound. And that always been an interest of mine, this idea that sound is an invisible media but, at the same time, it affects you emotionally, actually going into your body in a way that something visual can’t. It’s also fascinating that you also aware of it subconsciously in a sculptural way….I immediately saw this as all around me and became so fascinated with the piece. With a lot of finesse, expertise and hard work and with the help of my husband and my producer in England, we were able to record it with the Salsbury Cathedral choir, who were not all professionals. I wanted to work with children for the soprano voices. We brought in singers from all over England for a recording session that was very intense. We had about three hours of recording material and edited it down to the price it is today. I found it very interesting, from the very beginning, to make this virtual choir of a piece from the 1500’s. I knew the piece was written in a religious context, like a lot of music then, but I really did not know that it would have the type of effect that it has on people in all these different environments.
What is the best way to describe it?
Janet Cardiff─Sound is very sculptural for me. I don’t usually make definitions which tend to limit how people might experience the work but this is an installation, a virtual choir.
As a technician what does it mean to be happy with the sound in this space?
George Miller─I’m pretty happy right now. Actually, Titus Maderlechner tuned this piece, I’m just a collaborator but I used to set this up before Titus came on. Every space absorbs the frequencies in a different way so when it moves to a new place, tuning is required to make sure that it feels right, right being appropriate to the piece. At first, the bass (the lower register voices) weren’t coming through because glass in this space was absorbing the sound and they weren’t getting the presence they needed. We brought those voices up to fill the space more. The space also responded to the sopranos and sounded too harsh, so we had to work with that too.
Everyone talks about the Cloisters as “the place” but Janet and Titus set that up and I wasn’t there. For me this is as good as it gets, the sound is so clear. I was tearing up and I’ve heard this thousands of times. For me, it never gets boring and it always gives me a reaction. If I don’t get that reaction, which is a tingling up and down my spine, then I know I have to make it do that.
Details: The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff runs through January 18, 2016 at Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center, Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, 94123 (Greens Restaurant is at the other end of this building.) Hours: Wednesday-Saturday: noon to 8 PM; Sunday: 11 AM to 5 PM. Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. Tickets: Admission is free but complimentary tickets are required for entry and can be reserved at motettickets.org. Due to high demand, visitors are advised to reserve tickets well in advance. A limited number of same-day walk-up tickets will be available to visitors throughout the installation. Follow #40PartMotet for availability. Parking: ample paid parking is available on an hourly basis at Fort Mason Center and payment is via credit card in machine.
Venice’s Biennale Arte 2015 closes with a full weekend of events that will take place from Friday 20th to Sunday 22nd November, at the Central Pavilion, Giardini, Arsenale and Giardino delle Vergini. This was my first time to attend the sprawling exhibition which opened May 9 and included over 80 national shows and a main exhibition curated by Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor. Generlly, the national pavilions are where politics play out but, this year, Enwezor’s general theme “All the World’s Futures,” which involved 136 artists from 53countries, turned out to be highly political with a large number of artists lobbing harsh and complex critiques of the forces behind the global economy. Look for my article on ARThound just after the event closes.
“Framing Migrant Labor”─Matt Black, TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year, shows his work on the Central Valley at SRJC’s Agrella Gallery, lecture and reception on Monday, November 16
California photojournalist Matt Black was born in California’s Central Valley and lives there now, in the small town of Exeter. Some of his strongest work has been done within a 100-mile radius of his home. Working with a 35mm camera, he establishes a strong visual dialogue with the migrant workers in this drought-parched land, drawing us into the difficulties of their makeshift lives. Each shot is framed in such gorgeous natural light, with such care, that we feel his respect for their individual stories, their dignity, and for the land.
Santa Rosa Junior College’s Robert F. Agrella Art Gallery, will present “Framing Migrant Labor,” featuring 25 large images from Matt Black’s photo essay “From Clouds to Dust,” from November 12-December 10, 2015. In addition to Black’s photos, some 25 works by Sonoma County photographers Morrie Camhi, Otto Hagel, Hansel Mieth and Ernie Lowe will provide a look back at migrant labor from the 1930’s. 60’s and 70’s. The opening reception is Monday, November 16, from 4 to 6 PM and that same day, from noon to 1 PM, Black will talk on his documentary photography work at the campus’ Newman Auditorium as part of its Arts & Lectures series.
Matt Black’s work focuses on the themes of migration, agriculture, social inequality and the environment in his home country and in southern Mexico. Last year, he was named TIME’s Instagram Photographer of the Year (2014) and is a 2015 Nominee Member of the Magnum Photo Agency. He won the 2003 Alexia Professional Grant for his work “The Forgotten Black Okies: A Lost Journey into a Land of Broken Promises” which was named a Pulitzer Prize Finalist. In 1994, Black received an Alexia Student Award of Excellence for his project “The Transbay Terminal: San Francisco’s Destitute Gateway” which documented the homeless people who refuged themselves in San Francisco’s primary mass-transportation depot. In October 2015 he received the W. Eugene Smith Award in Humanistic Photography. He has been has been profiled in The New Yorker, National Geographic, Time and Slate. He just gave a workshop for prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop, considered the premiere photojournalism workshop. Right after his visit to Santa Rosa, Black, in high demand, jets off to Germany where he will be giving a workshop at Hamburg’s LFI (Leica Fotografie International) Workshop.
His current project “Geography of Poverty” in co-production with MSNBC, involves a cross-country trip where Black will stop in over 77 cities, documenting the plight of over 45 million people who live at the poverty level in the United States.
“To have Matt Black speak at our college and to have his work at the Agrella Art Gallery to share with our students and our community, is quite thrilling,” said Renata Breth, SRJC Photography faculty & gallery director. Breth first came across his work in his photo essay “The Dry Land” which appeared in The New Yorker (9.29.2014) and immediately applied for a major grant from the Randolph Newman Cultural Enrichment Endowment (of the SRJC Foundation) to bring the work to SRJC’s gallery where it could be seen by students and the community. “The photo essays speak without hesitation, in a direct, honest and sincere voice. The photos show poverty, drought and farm workers, revealing a shocking reality many of us are unaware of.”
The technology will be of interest too. All of Black’s photos appearing in the SRJC exhibit were taken with 35 mm film cameras, so they are from analog negatives. They are each gorgeously digitally printed on Museo Silver Rag paper, a fine archival paper, which resembles silver halide papers, with exceptional depth and detail.
Details: “Framing Migrant Labor” is November 12-December 10 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Robert F. Agrella Art Gallery, located on the Santa Rosa campus on the first floor of the Frank P. Doyle Library, 1501 Mendocino Avenue, Santa Rosa. Phone: 707 527-4298. Gallery hours: 10 AM to 4 PM Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays and 1 PM to 4 PM Saturdays. CLOSED: Fridays and Sundays and All school holidays (including November 26th to 28th, 2015) and summer. Parking Permits ($4/day) are required for both Santa Rosa and Petaluma campuses.)
Opening reception: Monday, November 16 from 4 to 6 PM.
Matt Black lecture: “Framing Migrant Labor” Monday, November 16, noon – 1PM, Newman Auditorium, Emeritus Hall, Santa Rosa Campus, SRJC (free to the public)
Gallery talk by Laura Larque and Andre Larque: “Historical Perspectives on Migrant Labor in California,” November 17, 2015, noon- 1 PM, Robert F. Agrella Gallery
Ernie Lowe lecture: “Photographing migrant labor in 1965” December 1, 2015, noon- 1PM, SRJC Petaluma Library – Connie Mahoney Reading Room, 12.1.2015
Degas in Petaluma—Robert Flynn Johnson’s impeccable collection of Degas drawings are at the Petaluma Arts Center, opening festivities Saturday evening
“Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle or shorthand…“Degas in Petaluma”…. is Petaluma Art Center’s (PAC) biggest coup to date. Featuring 100+ works on paper, the exhibition includes 40 drawings, prints, pastels, and photographs by Degas from his early days of making studies of works at the Louvre to late in his career. Also included in the show are works on paper by artists in his circle, including Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. One of the reasons I’m so excited about this exhibit is that gives me another chance to meet the collector, Robert Flynn Johnson, and hear him hold court on his favorite subject, his art and his thought processes about art and collecting. I met him 20 years back when he was the curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. He was one of their most interesting and knowledgeable curators then, always giving us the juiciest tidbits, enlivening the small victories and defeats in the artist’s daily struggle and reveling in the connections between artists. His own eclectic collecting habits were revealed to us with his marvelous photography show, “Anonymous: 19th and 20th Century Photographs and Quilts by Unknown Artists from the Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson,” at PAC in August 2011. (Click here to read ARThound’s review of that show.) And late last year, Joe McDonald’s Ice House Gallery featured some of Flynn Johnson’s even more eclectic works in “Catch and Release: Works from the Robert Flynn Johnson Collection.” It was there that we all had a chance to preview the chic and wonderfully informative catalog for Flynn Johnson’s Degas collection that Joe had shot the images for. Flynn Johnson’s writing in this catalog represents decades of scholarly research and rumination and reveals Degas as a fascinating young man, oddly rebellious and immensely talented. As Flynn Johnson explores the fine details and artistic choices in these artworks, they come to life. He wrote the wonderful wall captions for the show too, so prepare to be wowed on all fronts.
You won’t want to miss the opening party or his two talks at PAC—
Saturday, June 20—Opening Reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres (5-8PM) (click here to buy $10 tickets if you are not a member of PAC; free to members)
Thursday, July 2, 2015—Chasing Degas: My Four Decades Collecting this Artist and his Circle – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM). $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Thursday, July 16, 2015—Public/ Private: Collecting for the Community while Collecting Personally, a Balancing Act – Lecture by Collector Robert Flynn Johnson (7:00-8:30PM). $15 General, $10 PAC members.
Details: “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist, Works on Paper by the Artist and his Circle runs through July 26, 2015. The Petaluma Arts Center is located at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma’s historic former train depot. Hours 11-5 PM Thursday through Monday, open until 8PM Saturdays. Admission for this special exhibit: $10 General. PAC members, FREE. Tickets may be purchased in advance, here.
Horse Sense—ARThound talks with San Francisco Opera’s Daniel Knapp about “Patches,” the equine star of “The Trojans,” at War Memorial Opera House through July 1, 2015
Horses are mythic. There’s none more colossal or more steeped in legend than the Trojan horse, a prize so glorious that it could not be left standing outside Troy’s gates but once brought inside, would destroy all those in power. As San Francisco Opera opens its summer season with six performances of Berlioz’s glorious musical epic, The Trojans, I spoke with David Knapp, the company’s new production manager, about “Patches,” its equine star. The 23-foot-tall Trojan horse, which is on stage for most of the 5+ hour opera, has been nicknamed “Patches” by SFO because it’s literally pieced together from scraps and functions much like a mechanized puppet, with carpenters and acrobats inside it manipulating it. Back after a 47 year hiatus, it took over a decade of planning to bring the $6 million production to San Francisco Opera (SFO). It’s staged by Sir David McVicar, the acclaimed Scottish director, and is a coproduction of SFO, Royal Opera House, Teatro alla Scala, and Vienna State Opera. Since the opera opened to a sold-out house on June 6, it has drawn universal praise from critics and audience alike. Long before the opera opened though, Patches was a big draw with SFO staff and special visitors who came back stage in droves to pose for photos with the humongous but intricately constructed artwork. Here is my conversation with Knapp about this horse—
What’s so special about this giant horse that has travelled here from Europe.
Daniel Knapp: It’s magnificent—7 meters (approximately 23 feet) tall and is not only a sculpture that is scenic art but it’s also a puppet to a certain extent. It’s constructed of steel and fiberglass and doesn’t weigh too much because it’s mainly fiberglass. It has a gaf piston in it which allows for the rocking of the head and basic movements and that’s very exciting. When it’s first introduced, you get the impression that it’s very tall, frightening. You only see the upper part of the head and wonder where’s it coming from and what does the whole thing look like and is it really a horse? There are 2 carpenters and 3 acrobats inside, moving and manipulating the horse and they’ve been here practicing since the rehearsal period began.
Who gets credit for artistic design of the horse?
Daniel Knapp: It’s Es Devlin, a British designer who’s involved with all the top rock and roll shows—U2 tour, Take That tours, Miley Cyrus—and with opera and theatre. She designed the closing ceremony for the 2012 London Olympic Games. She runs an office with a multitude of assistants and she has just opened an office in Brazil. The conception for the horse came from the workshops of the Royal Opera House and she worked with them to refine it, from the model to the life-scale sculpture we call “Patches” because it’s patched together.
Has Devlin created any other animals that we might recognize?
Daniel Knapp: She’s done all the set and scenic design on this opera but I’m not aware that’s she done another horse. For one of the last Take That tours, she did a big man, that was more than 40 feet tall, that stood up over the course of the concert, going from crouching to standing in the middle of the audience. (Take That is a leading British pop group that formed in 1990 and currently consists of musicians Gary Barlow, Howard Donald and Mark Owen)
(Es Devlin designed the giant walking elephant for Take That’s Circus Live Tour 2009. The 26 foot tall elephant had translucent skin made light-weight chain mail and was constructed by Mark Mason of Asylum Models. It was operated by 13 puppeteers inside the skins and another four at ground level who controlled the head, trunk and legs. It had rods that moved the ears and its tail was an inverted acrobat wearing a helmet with hair extensions. (To read about and see the elephant, click here.)
This version of Troyens is set, more or less, at the time of its composition, in the 1850s, Second Empire France. How did that influence the actual conception for the horse that looks like a machine horse?
Daniel Knapp: Everything that you will see that is part of the horse could have been made at that time or could predate that time. The horse is pieced together from what appear to be rifles, screwdrivers, all sorts of tools and scrap materials like keys…it’s actually mostly fiberglass, a piecemeal puzzle that once put together appears as this great horse.
Carbon footprint aside, what’s entailed in getting something of this magnitude to San Francisco? And then assembling it?
Daniel Knapp: We always use steam ship companies because air is too expensive. It was shipped in 16 containers (40 foot high cube containers). Your entire household could fit in 1 of these containers, or, if you’ve got an extensive household you might need 1.5 containers. It all arrived in pieces in a very organized matchbox system. A team form the Royal Opera House came over to help with the assembly because they are the originators. Actually, our staff went to La Scala last year and watched this process and got a feel for what it takes to put on this production. With this run, we did all of that assembly in 3.5 days; in Milan, they weren’t as quick as we were. We didn’t have the time or money to allow for more time to do it.
How many scenes does Patches appear in?
Daniel Knapp: He appears in a multitude of scenes but I’m not going to give away any of the excitement. He’s on stage for a fair while and, when he’s not hiding in the back, sometimes he’s looming in the background and sometimes he’s hidden by a blackout curtain.
How mobile is the horse and how does it move around the stage? I heard this entails acrobats and carpenters.
Daniel Knapp: Yes, that’s exactly what it takes. We have few carpenters and acrobats around and in it, moving it. It’s on wheels, on a huge A stand. If you think of a child’s swing on the playground and think of it for giants, that’s what the internal structure of the horse is. It moves around on wheels that are on tracks just like a train. The tracks are a part of the original design and actually travel with the production. We had to cover our stage floor with another floor and that entailed adding about 1 inch to our stage to ensure that the weight is distributed evenly so that we don’t damage our rather old stage floor. We also had to re-enforce some of the stage structure underneath to make sure that we don’t suddenly fall in the basement. The horse might be relatively light but the trappings—the drum trucks, the big scenery elements for Troy and Carthage—all together, those weigh 32 tons.
Anything tricky about coordinating the movement of the horse to the music and the singers? Do any of the lead singers have any direct interaction with the horse?
Daniel Knapp: As we know from the Trojan story, the horse is sort of a separate entity. The lead singers certainly react to it but they don’t interact with it directly. The horse’s movement on stage is cued like everything else—people execute what they have rehearsed and there’s nothing complicated about that. These are professionals who are used to working to cues from the stage manager, such as “horse go upstage.” We do this in rehearsal and there’s always a review afterwards to make sure that we have hit our marks. Sometimes, the director might want to change the speed but it’s not complicated. There’s one boss and that’s the director but on stage, it’s the stage manager who calls out when and where.
This is a fiery horse—how is the fire created and will there be accompanying liquid nitrogen and steam, like in the Ring?
Daniel Knapp: The horse itself doesn’t breathe fire but its mane burns, which is a very impressive sight. In the original version, in London, they had the horse smoke but due to restrictions over here, the director distanced himself from that when he did the revival in Milan. That’s what I said about cooking the meal for the third or fourth time, you’ve left out the ginger but added something else. Over here, steam and liquid nitrogen are our only possibilities to create atmosphere due to the CVA restrictions we work under as collaborating artists.
Do you have much freedom in interpretation of this opera and how the horse is used here in San Francisco?
Daniel Knapp: It’s like your last cooking experience when you invite people over for dinner and you remember that, three years ago, you did this fantastic meal and you want to do the same meal again. Will do it exactly the same way? No—that’s exactly the same situation with a revival or co-production. We are not the conceivers, David McVicar or Ses Devlin, we are realizing their artistic vision. We had Leah Hausman, the co-director from London, here, who is a dance and movement director and coach, and other of McVicar’s associates here. We could never do this just ourselves because then it’s not in the original spirit. People in the house who were part of the original creation production do feel differently than people who have just joined a few years later and we needed them.
How appropriate is the War Memorial Opera House stage for a horse of this weight and magnitude? Isn’t SF much smaller than the Royal Opera House or La Scala?
Daniel Knapp: It’s not only the horse but it’s also the enormous drum trucks which support Carthage and Troy. Carthage is an entire terracotta kingdom and you’ll be blown away by it, as much as by the horse. You’ve also got the chorus, the singers, dancers, acrobats—over 130 on stage.
Stage wise, we are a little smaller but, auditorium wise, we are bigger than all the European houses. We compare ourselves to the size of Warsaw’s Teatr Wielki, which has the biggest modern stage (together with the Opéra Bastille in Paris) in Europe. Here in the US, you have this curiosum or wonderful paradox because sometimes there are stages like ours that originally did not have a backstage or a real up stage storage area but only a stage area. Actually, up until 45 years ago, all our sets were built right on stage. Our auditorium is huge compared to all the European houses. With 3,146 seats, we are bigger than all other houses but now our stage is smaller, so over the next 20 years there will probably be some developments.
Any funny stories related to Patches so far?
Daniel Knapp: Just people excited to have their picture taken with Patches. It’s like we are a part of Disney World here; even the staff is coming down to the stage to have their picture taken.
What’s your favorite scene in Trojans?
Daniel Knapp: It’s the whole opera, the whole thing, because once it’s done because it’s such a complex and huge show that I can’t focus on one thing but rather all the contributing moments.
How are adjusting to your new position here? What are your responsibilities?
Daniel Knapp: I’m adjusting great; it’s full of surprises in a good and interesting way. The whole scope of coming to a new country and a new working environment offers a multitude of perspectives. It’s been very welcoming so far and very intense, so it feels a lot more like I’ve been here a year and half rather than just a few months.
I’m responsible for overseeing all the productions at SFO— all the scenic elements, costume shops, sound and technical departments and all the labor that’s involved, which is all the talent on the stage plus the electricians and all the support staff…so, it’s quite a scope. I’ve met a lot of people who have a certain sense of responsibility for this company, who identify with it and who have been here much longer than me. They’ve introduced me to the company culture and what necessary changes could be made and how we can achieve those as a team over the next 3, 5, 15, or however many, years to stay up with the world class opera companies.
With “Troyens” up first, followed by the world premiere of “Two Women,” it’s kind of a trial by fire for you. What’s the most demanding part of your job right now?
Daniel Knapp: I’m a little in both fire and water trials right now. I’m from a country that has plenty of drinking water and lakes on our doorstep and coming to Northern CA, and being in the middle of a drought, is also a big trial. To be able to make use of all the technology and intellectual capital that surrounds us here and to engage the techies is another exciting challenge for our opera company. With respect to the work load, at the Bregenzer Festival in Austria, I was always overseeing two productions; last summer it was three productions, one of which was The Magic Flute on the floating stage. I was also very involved with the pre-production of Turandot that will premiere on July 22. So that’s heavy experience with large-scale productions on the lake, in the open air, and it’s a bit of a different scale. We had many international co-productions as well with companies in Europe and the US, so I am quite used to doing multiple wedding dances at the same time. That was exciting but the requirements of a concentrated festival versus a company that is doing performances year-round are different. What I love here is that we have an interwoven schedule so that the three monumental productions— The Trojans, the world premiere of Two Woman and the revival of the classic, Figaro, in an adapted version, Figaro, will all be able to fit on stage. That was a lot to step into.
How did you prepare for this opera? Did you do extensive reading or do you mainly execute and manage?
Daniel Knapp: My learning process is the interaction with the artists, finding out what their real concerns are and looking behind the scenes. I’m not the guy who tries to be more prepared than the director and I don’t do the full research of the director or designers. However, when I have questions about why something is set-up a certain way and why something can’t be done, I get very involved. I always question creative teams about why they would want to emphasize something or not. I need to understand where they are coming from so that we can get the most from their art on stage. The great thing about my job is that, if I do it correctly, you don’t notice that I am there.
What are you most looking forward to in the coming fall season?
Daniel Knapp: Meistersinger of course! That’s because it’s another one of those monster shows with great music, a great designer, great artists…so that’s very nice. I’m also excited about Usher (Fall of the House of Usher) which is so theatrical. The great thing is that my former boss, David Pountney, is the director of that show, so I get to meet him under different circumstances, to collaborate and to actually tell him “no.”
Details: There are three remaining performance of The Trojans—Saturday, June 20, 2105, 6PM; Thursday, June 25, 6PM and Wednesday, July 1, 6PM. Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330. War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco. Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat. The June 25th and July 1st performance feature OperavVision, HD video projection screens in the Balcony level. For information about the SFO’s Summer 2015 Season, click here.