interview: curator Karin Breuer─“Ed Ruscha and the Great American West,” at the de Young through October 9, 2016
Sixty years ago, Ed Ruscha, moved across country from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to study art at what would become Cal Arts. Ever since, the celebrated artist, now 78, has been exploring the West’s expansive cultural and physical landscape. “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” at the de Young Museum through October 9, 2016, examines Ruscha’s fascination with the Western United States, shifting emblems of American life, and the effects of time on this restless landscape. Ninety-nine of the artist’s prints, photos, paintings, and drawings fill the de Young’s Herbst exhibition galleries on the bottom floor, giving us an opportunity to see the originals of artworks we all know from prints and posters, including his mythic Hollywood signs and Standard gasoline stations.
“Ed Ruscha defies easy categorization,” says Karin Breuer, who curated the show and is curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, where she has worked for over 25 years, succeeding Robert Flynn Johnson. “He’s known as a pop artist, conceptual artist, surrealist and, early on, was identified with the West Coast pop movement, the so-called “cool school” of art. He’s adept at painting, photography, printmaking and has created wonderful artist’s books. He’s well known for using words as subjects in his imagery and letter forms.”
At the show’s press conference, I spoke with Breuer about Ed Ruscha and her framing of this expansive exhibit and our interview is below. I also spoke with Max Hollein, FAMSF’s new director, who headed Frankfurt’s Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection (2006-16) and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2001-16). After 15 years in Deutschland, this German headed West to helm FAMSF, the largest public arts institution in Northern California, and officially began work on June 1. His impressive skill packet includes overseeing the Städel Museum’s expansion and its digital initiatives platform which entailed collaborating with the tech industry to make the museum’s collections fully and pleasantly accessible online. Naturally, he’s quite interested in working with the Bay Area’s tech industry as well. I asked him what attracted him to the Bay Area─
San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, right now, it’s filled with so much energy. There’s a real transformation occurring as it moves to an even higher level and our two museums will be a part of this rising tide. Basically, museums are not places that you visit; they are gathering places. I want to make our museums even more welcoming and relevant and part of that is making our education efforts even stronger and more connected to the contemporary culture.
There’s no better welcome to the Bay Area for Hollein, who says he has loved Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood signs “for ages”, than a huge show exploring Ruscha’s wry and poetic take American contemporary culture.
Here is my conversation with the savvy Karin Breur whose long-standing dialogue with Ruscha and hard work have produced a show with depth that is a delight to behold─
Why frame this show around the “Great American West”?
Karin Breuer: It was an easy and purposeful decision. I wanted to reverse a trend I’ve observed in exhibits with artists of Ed’s caliber─staying away from their ‘regionalism’ for fear that leads to a provincial look at an artist’s work. Instead, I thought, why not examine this. He’s been an artist who by choice went to school in Los Angeles and has lived there for 60 years and has depicted aspects of the West often in his work. As I kept looking more and more at the work, I realized there’s a story there from the very beginning, when he came out to art school at the age of 18 and traveled West from Oklahoma, all the way up to today where he’s looking at his Western environment and observing change. The show contains works from 1961 to 2014, a huge expanse of time, but it’s not a catch-all retrospective.
Has he drawn on the Bay Area at all?
Karin Breuer: No, not at all; it’s mostly the Southwest that has been his focus and stomping ground. Last night, however, I heard him say that it’s only recently that he’s come to appreciate San Francisco and the Bay Area. He’s decided that it’s the most beautiful city in the world but, he said, it may be ‘too beautiful’ for him to handle as subject in his art. There was kind a stay-tuned aspect to that though. He’s created a very interesting portfolio of prints called “Los Francisco San Angeles” where he combines street grids from both cities into one image and I think that’s the one effort that he’s made so far to connect the two cities. These are not in the exhibit.
Do you have a personal favorite?
Karin Breuer: I always thought I did but, every time I walk into the galleries, I seem to change my choice. I’m still very much in love with “Pyscho Spaghetti Western” and it’s because it depicts a roadway with a lot of garbage, trash, and debris that he has treated as beautifully as a still life. I find that so evocative of not only his quirky subject matter but also of the West and how it’s changed since he first took to the open roads in 1956.
What is the FAMSF’s collecting relationship with Ruscha? When did you really start building the collection?
Karin Breuer: Our relationship goes back to 2000, when we acquired Ruscha’s print archive and we came into a collection of over 350 prints at that time. He continues to contribute to this: each time he makes a print and it’s published, we get an impression of that print. He’s very prolific and we love that. We now have about 450 prints, one drawing, and one beautiful painting. For the new de Young building, we commissioned Ed to create a tripych─two panels that would be added to his 1983 painting “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” which we already had in our possession. You will see a lot of these works in the galleries.
What was his reaction to the show’s concept?
Karin Breuer: I pitched it to him early on and he liked it and he lent us works from his personal collection and helped facilitate loans from private collectors. Now that the show is up, he’s been very positive. This is a very appropriate time for this show as its Ed’s 60th anniversary in California.
Do you know if he has a favorite word?
Karin Breuer: No, and I think if you ask him, you won’t get a straight answer either. There are some words that appear in different forms. The word “adiós,” for example, also “rancho” and “rodeo”…those are three words that appear in different forms in my show, that he took on the in the 1960’s. I wouldn’t say that he continues to use them but they percolate in his vocabulary.
When did his fascination with words begin?
Karin Breuer: I know that in college, he had a job in a topography workshop and later he worked as a graphic designer, so words have been a part of his thinking for a very long time. He keeps lists of words that have captured his attention in notebooks and has said that words have temperatures and when those words become really hot that’s when he uses them in his art.
Now that you’ve spent a lot of time with his work, what makes it so powerful for you?
Karin Breuer: I think it’s the sense of humor that is in almost every single image; it’s wonderful─very dry, very laconic. He’s that kind of a personality too. I never cease to be amazed when I see something new coming from him─he’s got such a fertile mind, always thinking, always looking and discovering, and then reacting. Some of his latest paintings feature exploded tire treads that are called ‘gators’ by truckers. He treats these as beautiful objects and they almost look like angels’ wings. I just think to myself, that’s really unexpected, brilliant.
What sparked your interest in becoming a curator?
Karin Breuer: I’m the curator of prints and drawings and the inspiration came in college. I was a college as an art history student during the Vietnam War and there was a lot of social protest on campus. I was scratching my head thinking what does art history have to do with this? The world is changing, am I doing the right thing? A beloved professor of mine showed slides of Goya’s “Los Caprichos” and “The Disasters of War” and the light bulb went off. I said to myself ‘prints!’…they can have a political impact and everyone can afford prints…this is a very democratic medium. So, I went to graduate school to focus on prints and drawings, a realm of socially relevant art history.
What about your career at the de Young?
Karin Breuer: I’ve been here 31 years. When I joined in 1985 as an assistant curator, it was a pretty sleepy institution, as many museums were back in the day. I stayed on and worked my way up, which is kind of unheard of in the younger generations now days, but the Achenbach has only had three professional curators (E. Gunter Troche (1956-71); Robert Flynn Johnson (1975-2007), including myself. We’ve changed dramatically and dynamically and I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled about Max Hollein’s arrival here. Already, his energy and enthusiasm are having an impact on us.
Details: “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” closes October 9, 2016. Hours: The de Young is open Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and on Fridays (through November 25) until 8:45 p.m. Admission $22; with discounts for seniors, college students. Audio guides: $8. The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive. Street parking is available for 4 hours and there is a paid parking lot with direct access to the museum.
The remarkable jewels of Bulgari are the de Young starting this weekend—lecture by noted jewelry historian Amanda Triossi this Friday evening
While the renowned jeweler Bulgari is always associated with Italy, Rome in particular, the Bulgari family actually hails from the small Greek village of Kallarrytes in the Pindhos mountains of Epirus, not far from Albania, noted for its silver carvers. The talented and ambitious silver chaser, Sotirios Bulgari, arrived in Italy in 1881 with roughly 80 cents but, with hard work and ingenuity, soon had a flourishing business. The very first Bulgari shops, which opened in Rome in the 1880’s, carried fine jewelry and items of personal adornment including necklaces, rings and ornate silver buckles and objects. It wasn’t until the decades following World War II that the house developed what would come to be known as the “Italian school” of jewelry design, reinterpreting forms derived from Greco-Roman classicism and the Italian Renaissance. Bulgari became famous for mixing semiprecious stones with diamonds, mounting ancient coins in gold jewelry, and creating easy-to-wear pieces made with unusual color combinations.
The influences and glorious history of the house are presented in The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950-1990, at San Francisco’s de Young Museum opening this Saturday, September 21. The 150 pieces on view will be a revelation to both jewelry and design lovers. The exhibition takes a decade-by-decade look at Bulgari’s innovations in jewelry design. It includes several pieces from their Elizabeth Taylor collection, heavy on emeralds and diamonds of astounding size and quality, that were reacquired at the famous 2011 Christie’s auction. One piece, an emerald-and-diamond brooch that also can be worn as a pendant, sold for $6,578,500 — breaking records both for sales price of an emerald and for emerald price per carat ($280,000).
Guest Lecture Friday September 18, 7:15 PM: Amanda Triossi, Jewelry Historian, Author, and curator of the Bulgari Heritage Collection will give a talk and multimedia presentation about Bulgari’s rich legacy.
Triossi knows Bulgari like no one else. Along with co-author Daniela Mascetti, she wrote the first ever book on the jeweler in 1996—Bulgari (Abbeville, 1996)—and also co-authored the revised version, Bvgari (Abbeville, 2007). I have been pouring over this book for days now—a luscious big art book with hundreds of dazzling pictures and sketches which tells the story of the famous family and traces the progression of the distinctive Bulgari style as well as the distinct architecture of the Bulgari shops all over the world. She’s also co-authored, with FAMSF curator Martin Chapman, the exhibition catalog, The Art Bulgari: La Dolce Vita and Beyond, 1950-1990 just out for the de Young show.
(Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Tickets $3, free for members Reservations required. Click here to make a reservation and purchase tickets.) The auditorium will open at 6:30 pm to ticket holders only. Does not include museum admission or entry to the special exhibition The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950–1990. Access to special exhibitions and the permanent collection requires additional fees and tickets.
Details: The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950–1990, opens to the public on Saturday, September 21 at the de Young Museum and closes February 17, 2013. The exhibition opens to members on Friday, September 20, 2013. The de Young Museum Adults $20–$22, seniors 65+ $17–$19, students with current ID $16–$18, youths 6–17 $10–$12, members and children 5 and under free. Prices subject to change without notice.is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Tickets: Admission: $20-$22 adults; $17-$19 seniors; $16-$18 college students with ID; $10-$12 youths 6–17. (These prices include general admission.) Members and children 5 and under are free. General admission is free the first Tuesday of every month. Tickets can be purchased on site and on the de Young’s website: deyoungmuseum.org. Tickets purchased online include a $1 handling charge.
It’s International Museum Day and admission is FREE Friday, May 16, at the de Young and Legion of Honor
A fabulous Friday freebie—in celebration of International Museum Day, visitors to the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor can enjoy free general admission all day on Friday, May 17, 2013. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Tickets to see Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis and Rembrandt’s Century will be only $15 instead of $25. Both of these shows close on Sunday June 2, so there are just three viewing weekends remaining.
The de Young will also be open 9:30 am-5:15 pm on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. Regular admissions fees do apply.
International Museum Day: Every year since 1977, International Museum Day is held worldwide sometime around May 18. In 2012, 32,000 museums from 129 countries on five continents participated in the event.
Details: The de Young Museum is located at Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
Finally! The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco announces a New Director, Colin Bailey, from the Frick Collection
After much anticipation, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) named its new director today, filling the position left vacant since the death of John Buchanan 15 months ago. Colin Bailey, currently associate director and chief curator of the Frick Collection in Manhattan and a noted curator and award-winning author will step into the position on June 1, 2013. Bailey was selected after an exhaustive year-long international search by a 13-member selection committee of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Board of Trustees. The announcement was made today at 1 p.m. at the de Young Museum at a highly attended press conference officiated by FAMSF president and board chair Diane B. Wilsey (Dede) with guest speaker San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. At today’s press conference it was made clear that Bailey will initiate a new mandate “moving beyond the museums’ reputation as a home for blockbuster exhibitions to focus more on its permanent collections.”
Diane B. Wilsey said of Bailey, who did not attend today’s press conference, “we all agree that Colin has the qualities that will elevate the museums to the next level.” She added that Bailey will keep “the focus on curatorial excellence, art historical relevance, and continued service to our community.” She also added that John Buchanan had been a lot of “fun to work with” and that that Colin was also “fun.”
Wilsey’s camaraderie with the late Buchanan was legendary and the two, whom ARThound dubbed “the dynamic duo” were responsible for the coup that brought the celebrated French Impressionism shows to San Francisco in 2010. (Read about that here.)
Mayor Ed Lee spoke enthusiastically of Bailey’s selection, acknowledging the difficulty of the search process and thanking the Board of Trustees. In a video shown at the press conference, (watch it below), Bailey said the appointment is “a dream come true,” and his purpose in The City will be “to conserve, to show, to educate.”
Normally, ARThound does not repost news from other websites or journalists but Janos Gereben, emailed me his article for the The Examiner (sfexaminer.com) about today’s appointment of Bailey and his reporting on his salary is excellent. Janos has written a series of articles leading up to today’s appointment, which can be found at www.sfexaminer.com. He shared with me that he got Bailey’s earnings at the Frick using old-school reportage—he looked up his tax records which are publicly accessible. Here then quoting Janos…
“From a small but world-renowned private institution, Bailey is moving to a San Francisco city government organization, which is responsible for the de Young and California Legion of Honor museums. He will manage 550 employees, some on The City’s payroll, most paid by the nonprofit Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums (COFAM).
Frick operates on a $22 million budget, has 330,000 visitors a year, against FAMSF’s 1.6 million visitors and $54 million operating budget.
Compensation, at least on paper, doesn’t reflect those differences in size: Bailey’s salary at the Frick was $235,000 in FY 2011, according to the latest IRS report available.
His position here is “Director of Museums, City and County of San Francisco Classification 0963, Department Head III,” which has a base salary under $100,000; he is expected to receive additional funding and perks from private sources and COFAM.”
Today’s press conference was scheduled for noon but began close to 1 p.m. due to late running Board of Trustees meeting, where Bailey was officially approved. The scuttlebutt among the press, impatient for the show to get on, ran the gamut from speculation about the delay in announcing a new director to criticism of Wilsey’s leadership during the recent period of curator dismissals and staff resignations to the organization’s press relations team which has recently been in flux. Several FAMSF curators were in attendance and they too seemed to eagerly await the announcement, one acknowledging that things had been “unsettled.”
At the press conference, Wilsey explained that the board meeting was delayed until today, to give Bailey “the courtesy of talking his own [Frick] board, which he did yesterday.” This, she said, enabled Bailey “to give proper notice.” He will start at FAMSF on June 1, 2013. She did not explain why the trustees’ meeting itself ran late.
Colin Bailey, the new Director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in an introductory video screened at today’s press conference
More about Colin Bailey: Born in London, Bailey earned his doctorate in art history at Oxford University. He specializes in 18th- and 19th-century French art, was named Chevalier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1994 for his contribution to French culture and was promoted to Officier in 2010. He also held a residency under Henri Loyrette, the former president and director of the Louvre in Paris. He has been chief curator of the Frick since 2000, when he narrowly lost the competition for the museum’s directorship. Previously, he worked at the Getty Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Kimbell Art Museum, and the National Gallery of Canada, where he was deputy director and chief curator. He is returning to California 30 years after a fellowship at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu.
He has organized more than two dozen exhibitions, including the recent Renoir, Impressionism and Full-Length Painting at the Frick, many of which have represented new scholarship and have been praised for providing keen insights into individual artists. Other exhibitions include Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery; Renoir’s Landscapes, 1865-1883; and Rembrandt and His School: Masterworks from the Frick and Bailey’s many publications include The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David; Masterpieces of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: The Annenberg Collection; and Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris, the book that won the Mitchell Prize.
Colin Bailey and his partner will be spending the Easter holiday here in the Bay Area, having Easter dinner with Wilsey at her home and finalizing the signing on a spacious apartment that the couple will share with their dog. Details on the dog to follow…
ARThound’s most recent coverage of the Frick Collection— ARThound in New York: A Dresden goldsmith and court jeweler works his magic and catalogues it in small booklets—“Gold, Jasper and Carnelian” at The Frick Collection through August 19, 2012
Time after Christmas? The de Young’s Paley Collection show closes on Sunday, December 30, 2012—it’s gorgeous, includes many of Modernism’s masterworks, and is doable in 90 minutes
William S. Paley’s story is legendary: the determined son of a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant who was in the cigar business, Paley built Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) from a small radio network into one of the foremost radio and television network operations in the United States. He married two legendary American beauties—Dorothy Hart Hearst and style icon Barbara ”Babe” Cushing Mortimer and he enthusiastically built one of the 20th century’s greatest private art collections. It was his first wife Dorothy and her friends, like Averell Harriman, who in the early 1930’s, first introduced him to European Impressionist and post-Impressionist artworks and he was smitten. Soon, he was avidly courting Matisse and buying the best artworks of pioneering modern masters Cézanne, Gaugin and Picasso. Upon his death in 1990, Paley’s legendary collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures went to the William S. Paley Foundation which transferred it to MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), where it went on display in 1992. Highlights of that collection are on display through Sunday, December 30, 2012, at the de Young Museum, the exclusive West Coast venue for The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism which opened September 15, 2012.
The exhibition of over 60 artworks from Paley’s remarkable collection is the perfect post-Christmas excursion. If you saw the phenomenal “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” at SFMOMA (2011) and liked it, you’ll appreciate this collection too, which also reads like the tops hits of Modernism. Unlike the Steins who were expats living in bohemian Paris and collecting works directly from avant-garde painters like Matisse and Picasso, Paley’s early collecting was a function of his European travels and he often paid top dollar for works that caught his fancy. But the tastes of these powerful collectors more than overlapped—Paley actually purchased several paintings that were originally owned by the Steins. If you think you’re experiencing déjà vu while walking thorugh this show, you may well be. A few of the Picasso’s were at SFMOMA in 2011 for “The Steins Collect.”
The exhibition hosted by the de Young includes major works of Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, with significant works by Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Georges Roualt, and Andre Derain. Not to be missed masterpieces include Gauguin’s “The Seed of the Areoi” (1892) from the artist’s first visit to Tahiti (first gallery); Degas’ large-scale pastel and charcoal “Two Dancers” (1905) (second gallery); Picasso’s celebrated monumental painting, “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-1906) (next to last gallery), Derain’s vibrant Fauve painting “Bridge over the Riou” (1906) (final gallery), and Matisse’s “Odalisque with a Tambourine” (1925-26) (next to last gallery).
As you enter the Herbst Exhibition galleries, you are hit by the color in these artworks and the tremendous power of color to convey emotional energy. Gauguin’s large and vibrant “The Seed of the Areoi,” painted during the artist’s first trip to Tahiti in the 1890’s opens the exhibition. The immensely popular painting retells a Polynesian version of a universal story of creation and Gauguin’s mistress is the model for the queen of the Areoi clan. Masterful is the only word for its color, from the complementary purple against yellow in its background to the neighboring shades of brown, yellow and red in its foreground. While Gauguin claimed he found this palette in the natural Tahitian landscape and in villages, scholars point out that no such colors co-existed naturally there at the time. While pleasing to our modern eyes, his palette would have also been quite shocking to his turn-of-the-century European audience.
Equally enchanting is a smaller Gauguin gem, “Washerwomen,” which he painted during his two-month stay with Vincent van Gogh at Arles in 1888. Four women are shown bent over on their knees on a riverbank, lost in the timeless rhythm of scrubbing. With postures evoking those adopted by figures kneeling in prayer, Gauguin superimposed a symbolic meaning on the tranquil scene that links these women to religious ritual practice and to the larger cycle of life.
The six Matisses in the exhibition attest to his stature as the legendary colorist and master of red. From his 1903 “The Musketeer,” which is an early expression of his understanding of how color can be used to block spatial relationships to his bold “Odalisque with a Tambourine” (1924-5), “Woman with a Veil (1927) and “Seated Woman with a vase of Amaryllis (1941), we see his imaginative pairings of natural forms of flowers, fruit, women juxtaposed against the simple geometry of inanimate objects such tables, walls, floor tiles to create motifs bursting with energy and sensuality and color. The placement of these spectacular Matisses alongside eight of Picasso’s paintings and drawings acknowledges the great rivalry between the two artists who engaged in a kind of mental chess game all of their adult lives. Picasso, the younger of the two, was always trying to get Matisse to notice him while Matisse was no doubt jealous of Picasso’s flamboyance and success. Paley appreciated the genius of both.
Pablo Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” (1905-6) has been given its own wall in one of the later exhibition galleries. The painting was originally owned by Gertrude Stein and was at SFMOMA for “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde” (2011). Paley bought it in the 1930’s while he was on a ski trip in Saint-Martiz, Switzerland, after it was carried into the lobby of the Palace Hotel by the famous Swiss art book publisher Albert Skira, who also served as his dealer of sorts. The painting has been smuggled out of Nazi Germany by the dealer Justin Thannhauser and given to Skira to sell and he went right to the Paley, who immediately fell for it. This important work from Picasso’s Rose Period (1904-6) marks a point in Picasso’s career when his work was on the brink of ingenuity and, at the same time, steeped in history. As William Rubin, MoMA’s former Director Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, explains in the catalogue, the work was pivotal in the context of the artist’s oeuvre and within the spectrum of art history as a whole. Picasso both draws inspiration from his contemporaries and demonstrates his extensive art historical knowledge, even referencing as far back as Ancient Greek sculpture. Ruben also suggests that boy in the painting, P’tit Louis, acts as the artist’s surrogate and that the work can be read as Picasso himself leading his loyal steed into the future, into the age of Cubism.
Other Picasso pieces included in the show are “Nude with Joined Hands” (1906) inspired by Picasso’s trip to the Pyrenees village of Gósol with his muse Fernande and “The Architect’s Table” (1912), his highly abstract Analytical Cubist masterpiece.
As an avid grower of old European roses and gardener, I was struck by the paintings of flowers in the exhibition. Édouard Manet’s “Two Roses on a Tablecloth,” is less than 8 inches high but captures what we gardeners live for. With its creamy impasto of peachy yellow and off white and the softest pink, Manet alludes to the ephemeral beauty and pure delight of the rose in the peak of its bloom. The placement of the roses on the table away from water which would sustain them mirrors Manet’s own fragility at the time. His painting was inspired by the numerous bouquets that visitors brought to him in the winter of 1882-83, when he was mortally ill.
Henri Rousseau’s delightful naïve still-life “Flowers in a Vase” (1901-02) alludes to the vibrancy that flowers can bring to any setting. While the painting seems freely executed,Rousseau took great care in the arrangement and coloration of the flowers as well as in creating the green that runs through the bouquet’s foliage, the complimentary green wall behind the arrangement and the ornamental spray of green ivy at the bottom of the composition.
Renoir’s “Strawberries” (circa 1905), featuring freshly-picked bright red strawberries loosely laid out on a creamy linen tablecloth beside a delicately patterned tea cup is poetical. The appeal of the freshest possible food with no fuss is timeless.
As for the exhibition’s many sculptures, the small and simply-posed terra cotta nudes of the French Catalan artist Aristide Maillol are exquisite. Their faces are quite crude, showing no emotion but the compositions in totality convey a myriad of complex feelings. Maillol took his inspiration from early classical sculptors but imposed his own modern and expressive take on form, creating fluid and rhythmic female portraits. In contrast to Maillol stands the detailed perfection of Auguste Rodin’s “The Burghers of Calais,” a half-dozen small commemorative portraits meant to depict the varied and complex emotions the six burghers of Calais actually underwent as they offered their lives to save their fellow citizens from King Edward III during the Hundred Year’s War.
Mid-way through the exhibition is a fascinating series of large-scale color photographs that show many of the paintings showcased in Paley’s 20-plus-room apartment at 825 Fifth Avenue in New York City, where he lived with his second wife, socialite “Babe” Paley. Their brightly colored and patterned apartment occupied a full floor in one of the most prestigious buildings in Manhattan and was decorated by the renowned Sister Parish and Albert Hadley (or Parish-Hadley), the French firm of Jansen (which assisted with the Kennedy White House), and Billy Baldwin. Picasso’s “Boy Leading a Horse” was the first thing people saw as they entered the front door and stepped onto the 18th- century parquet floors which perfectly accentuated the natural hues in painting’s lower register. The foyer was the only room where people remained standing. In the other rooms, intimacy and comfort were the rule and smaller artworks were gracefully intermingled with furnishings and personal objects. As William Ruben writes in the catalogue “Paley’s collecting was entirely personal. He thought of his paintings as the most important elements of a seamless private world…” (p. ix)
Catalogue: The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism (revised 2012, 176 pages, $39.95, on sale for $29.88) lets you get acquainted with the artworks that Paley lived with. The catalogue was originally published in 1992 to accompany an exhibition celebrating MoMA’s acquisition of his extraordinary personal art collection. This newly-redesigned edition of the book has been released to accompany the collection’s second tour throughout the United States and Canada, which commences at the de Young. Authored by William Rubin, MoMA’s former Director Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture, and Matthew Armstrong, the catalogue is organized in alphabetical order by artists. It devotes at least two full pages to each artwork in the collection—a full page photo and at one full page of analysis by Rubin, who worked with Paley as he made his purchases.
The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism was organized by The Museum of Modern Art, New York, (MOMA) with which Paley began a long affiliation in 1937. Serving as trustee, chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Committee, president of the Museum and chairman of the Board, Paley was chairman emeritus from 1985 until his death in October 1990.
For other ARThound coverage of the Paley and Nureyev exhibitions, click here.
Details: The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism closes Sunday, December 30, 2012. The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Parking: By entering Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue (at Fulton Street), you can park for free for 4 hours on the street on John F. Kennedy Drive and have easy access to the museum. Otherwise, enter on 10th Avenue (at Fulton) and park at the Music Concourse Garage (M-F $4.50/hour and $5/hour on weekends). Tickets: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students with I.D.; $10 youth 6-17; members and children free. Fee includes access to all museum collections and exhibitions including Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance (October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013). More information: (415) 750-3600 or deyoung.famsf.org.
Exhibition Venues: September 15-December 30, 2012—de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; May 2- September 8, 2013—Portland Museum of Art in Maine; October 10, 2013-January 5, 2014—the Fine Arts Museum of Quebec; and 2014—the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Related Lecture: “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” Docent Lecture by Rita Dunlay, Saturday, December 29, 2012 at 2:15 p.m., Koret Auditorium, Free to public. Museum admission is not required.
San Francisco Ballet’s magical production of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012, at War Memorial Opera House, and is always a special treat with its distinctive bow to San Francisco. Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s production is set in San Francisco on Christmas Eve during the 1915 Pan Pacific International Exposition, an extraordinary world’s fair that transformed San Francisco into a dream-like city of magical domes and pastel-colored buildings. The ballet opens with a stunning collage of black and white photos from the actual world’s fair, with shots of the Palace of Fine Arts, the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, Chinatown, and the famous “Painted Lady” Victorians of Alamo Square. It gradually narrows in on 100 painted Victorian windows until landing at the toymaker Drosselmeyer’s window and the mysterious world of magic and wonder contained therein. The photos on the fireplace wall at the home in Act I are family photos of the founders of San Francisco Ballet, the visionary Christensen Brothers. And, in the Act I battle scene (between the mice and the gingerbread soldiers), the giant fireplace stands 22 feet tall and 19 feet wide, about the size of two SF cable cars stacked on top of each other. The gorgeous combination of dance, Tchaikovsky’s romantic music and the beautiful costumes are punctuated by real magic tricks, orchestrated by the production’s own magic consultant, Menlo Park illusionist Marshall Magoon. He has made sure that Uncle Drosselmeyer, who makes toys change size and come to life, is unforgettable. Of course, the very best trick up Drosselmeyer’s sleeve is when he commands the Christmas tree to grow and grow and GROW and it does! Nutcracker is mesmerizing in all respects. Plan on taking the family, or someone very special, to this delightful holiday classic.
SF Ballet’s very first Sugar Plum on life before spandex: Gisella Caccialanza Christensen was the prima ballerina who danced the Sugar Plum Fairy role with the San Francisco Ballet when it staged the first complete U.S. performance of the ballet on Christmas Eve, 1944. Her partner was her brother-in-law, William Christensen, then the company’s director and her husband, Lew Christensen, was serving in the army. With a $1,000 budget, Company members helped by standing in long lines to purchase fabric for costumes in 10-yard lengths, as dictated by wartime rationing. “The production’s “Onna White helped me make my costume, which was really awful. We made our own tights then too. They weren’t like tights worn today. We had to sew our stockings onto little pants to make tights and, like old-style tights, they’d bag out and wouldn’t bounce back and cling to your legs. We sewed pennies or nickels to the waistbands so we’d have something to grab onto to yank up the tights. You couldn’t practice plies or anything before a performance or else you’d be standing there with baggy knees when the curtain came up. The zipper on my costume split while I was dancing in the dress rehearsal of Nutcracker. I remember William saying to me, ‘Good luck, sis, and don’t breathe!’” (Quote courtesy of SF Ballet.) Ms. Christensen, a long-time resident San Bruno, passed in 1998 at the age of 83.
Six Family Performances with gifts & pre-performance Photo Op: For six performances only, the first 500 children to arrive at War Memorial Opera House will receive a special gift and, at intermission, everyone will enjoy complimentary beverages and sweet treats by Miette, the official bakery of SF Ballet’s Nutcracker. One hour prior to curtain, Nutcracker characters pose for photos for 30 minutes, so bring your camera. Lines for entry to War Memorial Opera House and for photos form early, so arrive early. Photo lines must be stopped 30 minutes prior to curtain so the dancers aren’t late for the performance. The six family performances will be held on: Fri, 12/ 7, 7pm; Sun, 12/ 9, 7pm; Tue, 12/11, 7pm; Wed, 12/12, 7pm; Thu, 12/13, 7pm; Fri, 12/14, 2pmHelp SF Ballet win “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV: You can brush up on San Francisco Ballet’s splendid production by watching this year’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” on Ovation TV featuring the Company’s 2008 production, with Elizabeth Powell as Clara, on Sunday, December 9 at 3 p.m. SF Ballet’s production is the only American production to compete in this festive annual ballet extravaganza. SF Ballet’s production will also broadcast on Mon, Dec 10, 2 pm PST; Mon, Dec 17, 12:30pm PST; Thu, Dec 20, 10 am PST; Sun, Dec 23, 3pm PST; Tue, Dec 25, 1:30pm PST.
“Battle of the Nutcrackers” is an annual competition on Ovation TV (which plays on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well) and features six Nutcracker productions from around the world: SF Ballet, the Mariinsky Theatre Ballet, The Royal Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, and the Australian Ballet. Viewers are invited to watch the various productions and vote on their favorite on Ovation TV’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers” Facebook page. The full broadcast schedule is here.
To vote for SF Ballet’s Nutcracker, click here, then scroll down to SF Ballet, and hit the yellow VOTE button. You may vote as many times as you want and do not need to enter the sweepstakes contest at the bottom of the page in order to vote. The Viewers’ Choice will be revealed on Christmas Eve, December 24th at 8:00pmET. A marathon of all the productions will air all day on Christmas Day, December 25th.Ovation TV runs on Direct TV Channel 274 and other Bay Area service providers as well. To find Ovation TV in your area, click here to be re-directed to their website where you will enter your zip code
Nutcracker Details: Nutcracker opens Friday, December 7, 2012 and runs through December 28, 2012. San Francisco Ballet performs at the historic War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Parking: Civic Center Garage on McAllister Street between Larkin and Polk or Performing Arts Garage on Grove between Franklin and Gough streets. Traffic delays are common particularly on 101 Southbound around the Golden Gate Bridge and parking can be time-consuming, so plan adequately. No late seating: SF Ballet enforces a strict no late seating policy, meaning that guests will not be seated after the lights have dimmed. Latecomers will be asked to stand until there is a break in the program, and will be seated at the discretion of management. Tickets: $20 – $305, purchase online here or through Box Office (415) 865-2000, Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Information: www.sfballet.org or (415) 865-2000
Bringing Children: San Francisco Ballet recommends that children attending Nutcracker be at least 5 years old. Any child who can sit in his own seat and quietly observe a two-hour performance without questions is welcome. Booster seats for children are provided free of charge for use on the Orchestra level. No infants may be brought to a performance. Parents should take children creating a disturbance during the ballet out of the performance hall.
Love Ballet? Don’t miss “Nureyev: A Life in Dance” and the fabulous Degas drawing in “The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism,” both at San Francisco’s de Young Museum now:
“You live as long as you dance” was Rudolf Nureyev’s mantra throughout his meteoric rise as an internationally acclaimed dancer, choreographer, ballet master, and company director. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Nureyev’s death, and his remarkable career and art, the de Young Museum is exhibiting more than 70 costumes from ballets danced by the master from every period of his long career— Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Manfred among them— as well as a selection of photographs, , life-size dance videos, and ephemera that chronicles his illustrious life. Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance explores Nureyev’s life in dance and his lifelong obsession with the details of fabric, decoration, and stylistic line. As a meticulous performer, the Russian ballet master demanded costumes that were not only beautiful, but precisely engineered to suit the physical demands of his dance. He also loved embellishment and these costumes reflect his highly-refined aesthetic, standing as fantasias of embroidery, jewels, and braid. Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Danceoffers an intimate view of the man behind the grand gestures, a man, as Mikhail Baryshnikov said, who “… had the charisma and simplicity of a man of the earth, and the inaccessible arrogance of the gods.”
Organized in collaboration with the Centre national du costume de scène in Moulins, France, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the de Young Museum is the exhibition’s exclusive U.S. venue.
Great Christmas Gift! The accompanying catalogue, Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance, presents Nureyev’s extraordinary ballet costumes and career, recalling key dates and performances with more than 200 photographs in color and black-and-white. Bilingual text in English and French. 160 pages. Hardcover $29.95. Available exclusively in the Museum Stores, or online at shop.famsf.org.
Don’t Miss the Degas! If you’re at the de Young Museum, don’t miss Edgar Degas’ spectacular charcoal drawing, “Two Dancers” (1905), in the second gallery of their other special exhibition, The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism (September 15-December 30, 2012.) This is a huge graphic work imbued with the very essence of dance—graceful movement. No one understood and could convey the anatomy of the dancer and movement like Degas who created this as part of a series of preparing dancers. Nearly half of all Degas’ paintings and pastels are of dancers. When asked why he drew so many, he replied, ” It is only there that I can discover the movement of the Greeks.” (catalogue p. 36) The exhibition itself includes of over 60 artworks from William S. Paley’s remarkable collection of 19th and early 20th century art. Paley bought this Degas drawing in 1935 from the important French dealer Ambroise Vollard and it was rarely exhibited both before and after his purchase.
De Young Details: Rudolf Nureyev: A Life in Dance runs (October 6, 2012 – February 17, 2013). The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Parking: By entering Golden Gate Park from 8th Avenue (at Fulton Street), you can park for free for 4 hours on the street on John F. Kennedy Drive and have easy access to the museum. Otherwise, enter on 10th Avenue (at Fulton) and park at the Music Concourse Garage (M-F $4.50/hour and $5/hour on weekends). Tickets: $20 Adults; $16 seniors, students with I.D.; $10 youth 6-17; members and children free. Fee includes access to all museum collections and exhibitions including The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism which closes Sunday, December 30, 2012. More information: (415) 750-3600 or deyoung.famsf.org.
An engaging and controversial show, Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection is closing this Sunday, August 16, 2012, at San Francisco’s de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Drawn from the impressive holdings of San Francisco native Trevor Traina, a member of the FAMSF Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Board and the son of its President, Diane B. (Dede) Wilsey, the exhibition brings together rare black-and-white vintage prints of classic images by Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand with works in color by artists ranging from Stephen Shore and William Eggleston to Cindy Sherman, Alec Soth and Andreas Gursky.
How the mix of 110 images, produced by some of the pre-eminent artists working in photography from the 1950s has to the present, qualified as a major exhibition at the museum has been a source of controversy. Some Bay Area art critics have suggested that it was improper protocol to give museum space to someone so closely connected with the internal politics of the museum.
When Fine Arts Museum director John Buchanan passed in December 2011, Mrs. Wilsey stepped up to run things until a suitable new director could be found and six months later her son has a prominent show in the museum. It might look cozy but, so far, no one has come up with any rules that were violated. The show, which examines different historical understandings of Realism and its changing definitions over time, was curated jointly by Art Historian Kevin Moore, who served as an advisor to Traina on the collection, and Founding Curator of Photography and Chief Administrative Curator at the Fine Arts Museums Julian Cox.
Photography has not been considered “fine art” until fairly recently by the FAMSF according to Mrs. Wilsey, who spoke at the exhibition’s press conference in June about the history of photography and the museum’s long lack of wall space devoted to the medium. Now, things have changed and the museum is welcoming photography, with Julian Cox proudly at the helm. Cox states, “It was Alfred Stieglitz who, a century ago, campaigned in support of photography’s expressive possibilities independent from other visual arts, because he believed the medium to be endowed with what he described as “a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.”
Most of us are moved by photography because it provides us with a myriad of possibilities to understand our lives through the power of images. The Traina collection includes some well-known icons as well as powerful works by emerging and experimental young photographers. Notes Cox, “The Traina collection includes many images that sit firmly within the tradition of photography as a craft and a vocation, alongside those made by artists who consider photography as just one medium among others from which they can select to communicate an idea. This use of photography within conceptual art has been at the center of Traina’s most recent activity as a collector, and it brings the exhibition fully into the contemporary moment with new works by artists such as Roe Etheridge, Christopher Williams and Ryan McGinley.
Traina said, “There are often photography shows of one artist or one period. What makes this show special is that it traces an idea — the evolution of the documentary tradition and the maturation of the photographic medium — across almost seven decades. The evolution of color photography and the huge glossy prints that sit next to their pristine black and white antecedents are really fun to see.”
Catalogue: An accompanying 136-page catalogue, Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection (2012, $45) features over 85 plates and includes a foreword and introduction by Curator Julian Cox and an essay by art historian Kevin Moore.
Details: Real to Real: Photographs from the Traina Collection closes Sunday, September 16, 2012. The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.; Fridays (through November 23, 2012) until 8:45 p.m. and is closed Mondays. For information about museum hours and ticket prices, call (415) 750-3600 or visit www.deyoungmuseum.org .
“Bouquets to Art”— Fabulous Flowers at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, through Saturday, March 17, 2012
As an avid gardener and art lover, I find endless inspiration in the de Young Museum’s annual Bouquets to Art, a five day extravaganza which transforms the museum’s hall and galleries into a fragrant and sensual display of blooming color and creativity. This year, over 140 of the Bay Area’s most innovative and sought after floral designers have gathered to create a spectacular array of floral arrangements in the museum that respond to artworks in the museum’s permanent collections. Designs range from the stunningly simple to the elaborately complex, making this the museum’s most highly attended event. In the 28 years since its inception, Bouquets to Art has drawn over 650,000 visitors and raised nearly $5 million in net proceeds. Proceeds from Bouquets to Art 2011 were used to fund, in part, Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power from the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, which was on view at the de Young through February 12, 2012. Bouquets to Art also features engaging floral demonstrations by noted local, national and international floral designers, and luncheons and afternoon teas catered by McCalls that complement the flower-bedecked galleries and public spaces in the museum. The event concludes on Saturday, March 17, with a raffle drawing of deluxe prizes that include jewelry, travel packages and other luxury items.
Schedule for the Rest of the Week:
Thursday, March 15:
10 a.m: Floral Demonstration by Ron Morgan, East Bay floral designer, Koret Auditorium: 10 a.m. Tickets: $35 each; includes general admission to the museum.
9:30 a.m.–5:15 p.m: Floral exhibits
Noon: Take a quiet break over a seated lunch or afternoon tea, catered by McCalls in the Piazzoni Murals Room. Advance reservations are required as space is limited Lunch service at noon; individual tickets $55. Tea service at 3 p.m.; individual tickets $35.
6 to 8 p.m: Museum members only night
Friday, March 16:
9:30 am–8:45 pm: Floral exhibits
Saturday, March 17:
9:30 am–5:15 pm: Floral exhibits, raffle drawing
Visiting the de Young: Address: Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive San Francisco, CA 94118 (See Map) Hours: Tuesday–Thursday, Saturday and Sunday: 9:30 am–5:15 pm Friday: 9:30 am–8:45 pm; closed on Monday.
Bouquets to Art 2012 Ticketing:
General admission allows access to all floral exhibits and special exhibition galleries. Tickets: $20 adults; $17 seniors; $16 youth 6-17; free children 4 and under & FAMSF members. General admission tickets may be purchased in advance either online or in person at the museum box office during regular museum hours. Advance tickets are required for the opening night gala, luncheons, floral demonstrations and afternoon teas. For more information and to order tickets, go to www.bouquetstoart.org.
Sandra Ericson, creator, Center for Pattern Design, talks about Balenciaga, the de Young exhibition and her “Balenciaga in Depth” seminar this weekend at CCA
In the course of researching the de Young Museum’s amazing Balenciaga and Spain exhibition, I had questions about the precise techniques that made Cristóbal Balenciaga the consummate designer and master sculptor in textiles that he was. I turned to Sandra Ericson for answers. Sandra taught fashion design, pattern design, and textile courses at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) for 31 years. In 2006, after retiring, she established the Center for Pattern Design (CFPD) in her hometown of St. Helena, CA, as a way to focus on the people in the fashion industry who actually cut the cloth. At CFPD, Ericson teaches advanced courses in cutting, draping, pattern design and construction and also takes these courses on the road. She is the turn-to resource for a lot of fashion insiders and museum curators and is a respected authority on French designer Madeleine Vionnet who pioneered draping on the bias, the bias cut and ruled haute couture in the 1930’s, designing sensual gowns for Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo that did marvelous things for their bodies. What a pleasure to have Sandra explain Balenciaga with an insider’s detail to attention.
Geneva Anderson: Does “pattern designer” accurately capture what you do and what your center emphasizes?
Sandra Ericson: I am a pattern designer and after 31 years of teaching at City College, I established the Center for Pattern Design in 2006 as a way to bring the focus back to those persons who actually cut the cloth, an important part of the fashion industry. Before the recession, which brought back a return to value, the fashion industry and the discipline of fashion got very theatrical and celebrity-driven
and concentrated on the designer as the single figure in the fashion company. Often, the designer did not cut his own work and it really became a situation where the credit did not go to the craft people who did it. Primary among those craft people are the people who actually understand fabric, the body and who can interpret design and cut a two-dimensional pattern that looks amazing in three dimensions. I wanted to focus on people who could do that and this requires a special skill set.
This requires spatial visualization so that you can imagine what something lying flat on the table in an odd shape will look like in three dimensions. You have to have a good grasp of all the textile characteristics so you know what will happen when you hang the fabric and gravity and body motion come into play. You also need a good sense of anatomy and how the body moves and what makes clothes functional, not just decorative. When you look around the world for people who can do really that well, there are few. Balenciaga is one of the most important from the past who we can look to. When something like the Balenciaga and Spain exhibition comes along, I get excited because I want people to understand what made his clothes terrific–it was his ability to cut and his meticulous attention to detail and construction and, finally, his eye—discerning how the overall effect is going to been seen and thought about and how it accentuates the wearer.
Geneva Anderson: Balenciaga is known for the balloon skirt, the baby doll, the sack dress, the 7/8 length bracelet sleeve, his masterful manipulation of the waist, and he’s been called the “king of dissymmetry.” Explain these.
Sandra Ericson: All of those are related to a singular skill—the ability to sculpt. His medium was textiles and he was particularly famous for using textiles that were sculptural in nature, especially silk gazar, a heavy silk with a very springy quality. He also worked with silk “zagar” but it’s very rare and you can’t find it these days. When I do the Balenciaga draping class, I will look for something comparable to the gazar for us to work with. Because we will be draping on the half-scale dress form, which is 36 inches high and all the measurement are exactly half of a size ten person, I will be able to go out and find something that will have the qualities that Balenciaga’s fabrics had. A very heavy satin, duchess satin, (made from silk fibers) is an example—it’s stiffer, fuller, heavier, and has a lot more body than full silk has. In his coats, he used fabrics that might have been double woven, fabrics that could retain their dimensions even though they were folded or manipulated or gathered.
Balenciaga was a person who inspired a lot of designers who came after him in the architectural mode–André Courrèges, Ronaldus Shamask. In the mid-1970’s I actually took a class in architectural design and one of the presenters, interestingly, enough was a guy named Salvatore, who was Balenciaga’s right hand man and he gave our group several patterns that belonged to Balenciaga but were not out there in circulation. I kept those and when I do my class, I will be bringing those in.
I’ve also made several of the pieces myself that he made famous. He was strong, very architectural but careful –he had a way of doing a coat so that he set the collar on the neckline back a little bit so that if you were a lady who was no longer standing up too straight, you looked as if you had perfect posture in the coat.
I’ve made that coat several times and will be bringing one in. He had a way of working with a woman’s body so that whatever was a perceived negative about her figure disappeared and you focused on the most wonderful parts. In the 1950’s you have to remember that people with money were not necessarily young. Ladies might have thick waists or necks, but the wrist is the last to go. The 7/8 length (or bracelet) sleeve made the wrist look delicate and drew attention there. He also lowered the waist in the back so you had a beautiful curve in the back.
Geneva Anderson: In terms of construction, these ideas are incorporated right as the fabric as being cut?
Sandra Ericson: His clothes were created either for the runway model or specific clients, so he knew what needed to be done on a body by body basis. In terms of the general construction of the pieces, he was ever committed to cutting the cloth in the way that women would be exhibited in the best possible way, cutting off a line just before a beautiful physical curve on the body would take the eye into unflattering proportions. Kind of design by restraint! Likewise, he would suggest or replace a shape rather than define it as it was on a particular person – again bearing in mind that his clothes were created either for the runway model or specific clients whose proportions he knew.
A lot of his high fashion clothes though were reproduced in one way or another for the mass market and became ready to wear. I used to send my students down to the Sunset Market in the Sunset district in the City when I teaching over there because the Balenciaga coat would still be going up and down the aisles pushing the grocery cart. It was such a popular style coat with a small stand-up folded over collar, straight in the back and the sleeves were usually cut in one and looked sort of molded and stopped short of your wrists. Sometimes, it had fur on the collar.
Geneva Anderson: Who was buying and wearing Balenciaga back in the day?
Sandra Ericson: Socialites. The celebrities in that period were mainly people who had social stature and there were film and theatrical people as well. It was the Babe Paley era, debutants, wives of important men. They went to Paris for their fittings. In the Bay Area, they would have had fittings at I Magnin. When the whole architectural trend waned, and things went to the tight denim of the 1970’s, his influence and that way of working faded and he closed his house in 1968 and he died way too young in 1972. A lot of designers from that era and this is what happened to Madeleine Vionnet too– they are exquisite, perfect, in what they do — but they are so finely attuned to a certain way of working that is very difficult to follow fashion. A lot of them feel philosophically committed to the aesthetic they have been enthralled by and when that no longer is the fashion it is very difficult to change that philosophy and that’s what happened to Vionnet. Balenciaga was also a very private person, so once he had done it and he saw the way the world was moving in the 1960’s, a lot of factors contributed to the closing of the house.
Geneva Anderson: How strong were Basque and Spanish influences on him?
Sandra Ericson: He was from Spain and he, of course, was living in a Catholic country. In those days, before Vatican II which ushered in a new era for the Church, Catholicism was very old-fashioned, formal, and rigid. The Church vestments were very sculptural, things were done in platinum, and there was an air of solemnity about everything. There’s the sense of a very heavy structure laid over the religion and the dress code and that a strong influence on Balenciaga, living in a strongly Catholic society. Fashion designers become translators of their era: they are masters of the zeitgeist who interpret everything that’s going on in an aesthetic way. And because fashion is for human beings, it becomes almost a complete mirror of the society a designer is living in.
A lot of the pieces in Balenciaga and Spain are definitely ecclesiastical or nationalistic without reservation — a strong indicator of his identity with his culture certainly. There are two other factors too–one, a presentation of the idea that women could be members of the clergy, or bullfighters, or run a country as royalty. None of this was even remotely possible in general for women. The second thing is that it shows he was not beyond co-opting a design concept and using it for his own — maybe evidence of his business pressures. Familiar ideas sell.
Geneva Anderson: What is the significance of the re-emergence of the House of Balenciaga under the ownership of Gucci and the design influence of Nicholas Ghesquière, who is supposed to be like Balenciaga because he is a self-taught designer. He’s known for hip interpretations of Balenciaga classics, such as the semi-fitted jacket and the sack dress and is worn by celebrities like Madonna and Sinéad O’Connor. How do you see transitions like this?
Sandra Ericson: Anytime somebody buys a house that had a very strong leader, designer and a strong aesthetic, they are doing it primarily for business reasons. It’s not as if anyone is going to resurrect Balenciaga or copy him and the person who is coming to fill those shoes is going to be who he is in his own time. He or she can’t be anything else because everybody can only be who they are in their own time. What the house is hoping is that the brand, the name, will carry enough social cache that it will allow them to be financially successful in a completely different time. It’s kind of akin to hitchhiking on a name–if it works, that’s great but it’s very difficult for a new designer to come in and interpret another person’s work that is that personal. So far, they’ve had three designers come to house of Vionnet and it hasn’t clicked. If the person is good in his own interpretation of his own time, then they’ve got something to work with. If the talent is short, then that won’t happen because staking it on Balenciaga’s name isn’t enough.
Geneva Anderson: Tell me more about the “Balenciaga in Depth” event you’ve organized.
Sandra Ericson: I’m doing a 3 day series of events and it all starts on Friday May 20 with a morning tour of the Balenciaga and Spain exhibition with someone who worked on the exhibition and this followed by an elegant box lunch. In the evening, there will be a reception at CCA followed by a slide presentation explaining more of the history and chronology of Balenciaga. I will talk about the design issues, pattern, fabric, and construction pattern and an overview. On Saturday and Sunday, at CCA, there will be a master class in draping where we will do two Balenciaga classics. We each work on our own dress forms and there is room for 15 people
in the class. Each person will work with a half-scale dress form, which is 36 inches high, and all the measurements are exactly half of a size ten person. I am certainly not planning on duplicating the talent of Balenciaga but I want people to understand how he worked, how to cut cloth the way in a similar way and how to work with similar cloth so that they can begin to embrace fashion design as a more sculptural activity, as a form of art.
We each work on our own dress forms and there is room for 15 people in the class. Each person will have a half-scale dress form
Center for Pattern Design Details: for further information, contact Sandra Ericson, Director, Center for Pattern Design, St. Helena, California 94574, 707-967-0852
Balenciaga and Spain Details: The de Young Museum is located at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA. Admission to Balenciaga and Spain is $25 adults and free for members and children 5 and under. There is a $5 discount for purchasing tickets in advance. For a complete listing of the numerous special events associated with the exhibition visit its webpage Balenciaga and Spain.
ARThound’s previous coverage of Balenciaga: