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.
Christmas started early for ARThound when a dear friend invited me to Saturday night’s unveiling of SoundBox, MTT’s (Michael Tilson Thomas’) and San Francisco Symphony’s (SFS) newest venture. SoundBox was designed to fill a gap in Bay Area music scene by providing an experimental space where anything musical can happen and to engage a younger, hipper audience with SFS and serious music. Judging from Saturday’s thrilling reception which enthralled its sellout crowd of 450, Soundbox will do all that and more. It also seems poised to give our brilliant but nerdy MTT some street swagger, the kind of coolness cred that he’s been aching for while collecting all those Grammies for classical recordings. If you haven’t heard, SoundBox is a huge refurbished music space at 300 Franklin Street (in San Francisco). Formerly known as Zellerbach A, it was one of SFS’s most dour on-site rehearsal spaces, ironically renowned for its dead sound.
With generous patron funding and the board’s desire to revision SFS’ audience outreach, the cavernous space was entirely revamped. Berkeley’s Meyer Sound was engaged to install its patented multi-speaker “Constellation” system, transforming the space into a virtual sound lab. Now, with the push of touchscreen button, the venue can seamlessly tweak its acoustics (reverberation and decay times) for various pieces in a performance allowing otherworldly sounds to emerge from its tremendously talented SFS musicians and choral members. Add state-of-the-art video projection capacity, making for an incredible visual experience, sleek quilted leather ottoman and low tables (even the furnishings will be tweaked with each performance), a fully-stocked bar serving thematic cocktails and innovative cuisine—wella! SoundBox has the grit of an European art house, the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and, as if it needs to be said, the world’s best musicians playing tunes exquisitely curated by MTT.
On Saturday, 7:45PM, the crowd was already lining up on Franklin Street. The buzz: no one knew exactly what to expect but we were all excited by the program we’d read about online and the promise of road-testing something completely new. The pre-concert hour was dedicated to John Cage, who believed that every sound can be music, and featured a musical feast of his “Branches,” featuring electronically amplified giant cacti, and “Inlets” which coaxed sounds from shells filled with water that gurgled when moved and from amplified burning pinecones. As people entered the darkened foyer of Soundbox and were confronted with Cage’s music, they passed by a curious gallery space, specially curated by MTT, that included beautifully lit minimalist arrays of live cacti, a table of sea shells in a pool of water and colorful huge multi-layered projections of cacti. Wow…felt like entering one of those East European art happenings I’d covered in the 1980’s. Once we passed through a closed black door, we entered the spacious main hall, which offered a hip but relaxed atmosphere—two low wooden platforms served stages and lots of low leather seating that could be easily re-arranged. People were free to amble about and get a drink or just settle in and get busy with their phones and texting.
The inaugural run, called “Extremities,” kicked off dramatically with “Stella splendens in monte,” a brief anonymous Spanish work (local composer Mason Bates contributed the percussion arrangements.) The SFS chorus, in flowing robes, entered from the back of the hall, and made a dramatic procession to the stage, their lyrical voices swelling to fill every corner of the space. As they passed by each of us, we got a sampling of each singer’s individual voice. From there, it only got better—a very well-thought sonic and visual feast was about to unfold and we were ravenous for it. The audience snapped their fingers, clapped, yowled and tossed their exquisite locks…and the musicians beamed with pride. A glowing MTT looked like he’d dropped a decade as he engaged with the audience in a very heartfelt way, talking about musical choices and the potential of the space.
Highpoints for ARThound: Steve Reich’s minimalist “Music for Pieces of Wood” featured five SFS percussionists with tuned hardwood claves creating a pulsing bed of rhythmically complex continuous sound. This reminded me of the miraculous frog concerto I am treated to in my pond in Sonoma County every time a serious storm blows through. After 8 minutes of this mesmerizing sound, which was accompanied by projections of Adam Larsen’s images of a New York skyline, we were all in trance mode. When it ended, and everyone stopped playing, we were left with a very perceptible silence, a void in the acoustic atmosphere that left us all profoundly aware of the power of sound to inflate and deflate the psyche.
Ravel’s exquisite “Introduction and Allegro” (1905) shimmered and glowed when played by a small ensemble of seven SFS musicians including principal harpist Douglas Rioth and concertmaster Sasha Barantschik whose beloved 1742 Guarnerius del Gesù (“The David”) cast a spell over the audience, some of whom swept away tears. The chamber piece showcased the space’s ability to tease out nuances in the contrasting sonorities. The velvety woodwinds, the percussive harp and the warm resonance of the strings were all so clear, so distinct, that I felt I was getting a personal introduction to the possibilities of these instruments.
One of the evening’s hip visuals was the Nordic visual art pioneer, Steina’s (Steina Vasulka’s), seven minute video, “Voice Windows” (1986), featuring the voice of Joan La Barbara. The short engrossing film was co-presented by SFS and SFMOMA and points to the limitless possibilities for future collaboration in a space like this. Since the early 1970’s, Steina, in collaboration with Woody Vasulka, has explored intricate transformations of vision, space and sound, through digital technologies, mechanical devices and natural landscape. “Voice Windows” was an exquisite and haunting example of her artistry in manipulating digital and camera-generated images and layering that with “real” and altered sound.
After two intermissions, the evening closed with Monteverdi’s glorious “Magnificat” (1610) from Vespro della Beata Vergine. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and is taken directly from the Gospel of Luke where the Virgin Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with the future John the Baptist. When Elizabeth praises Mary for her faith, Mary sings the “Magnificat” in response. Talk about immersive—the 19 minute piece featured soloists, the chorus and orchestra, all in rapturous splendor with gorgeous golden-hued projections of a Venetian church enhancing the mood.
Details: The next Sound Box performance, “Curiosities,” is January 9 and 10th, 2015. Doors open at 8 PM and performance starts at 9 PM. Tickets on sale now: $25 for open seating. The space accommodates 450 and will sell out quickly. The SoundBox website is not working correctly. Call the SFS Box office (415) 864-6000 to purchase tickets. SoundBox is located at 300 Franklin Street, San Francisco, CA. Parking: (is hell) Performing Arts Garage (360 Grove Street) or Civic Center Garage (between Polk, Larkin, Grove and McAllister).
“Gorgeous”—gritty, edgy, beyond beautiful—SFMOMA and Asian Art Museum’s exhibition asks you to figure out what “gorgeous” means, just three viewing weekends left
An evocative Mark Rothko painting shares a gallery with a richly-colored 17th century Tibetan mandala and an immovably calm bronze Buddha; a voluptuous 16 to 17th century stone torso is placed next to a hot pink neon sign that reads “Fantastic to feel beautiful again”; an ornately embossed and gilded 19th century elephant seat, a symbol of status, is near Marcel’s Duchamp’s iconic factory made urinal; John Currin’s confounding portrait of a meticulously-painted nude that combines the physique of a Northern Renaissance master with the grinning head of a corn-fed mid-Western girl shares space with a number of other portraits that provoke discomfort. They’re all part of Gorgeous, the inventive collaboration between SFMOMA and the Asian Art Museum (AAM), a mash-up of 72 artworks (39 from SFMOMA and 43 from the Asian), spanning 2,000 years, that asks the viewer to decide what ‘gorgeous” means. Artwise, it’s one of the summer’s highpoints that grows on you with each successive visit. There are just three viewing weekends left as it closes on Sunday, September 14, 2014.
“ ‘Gorgeous’ just clicked right away, hitting all the marks in terms of an exhibition that really had the potential to offer something fresh and provocative and to approach a mash-up of two very different collections,” said Janet Bishop, SFMOMA’s curator of painting and sculpture. Bishop oversees SFMOMA’s “On the Go Program,” in place at various sites all around the Bay Area while the building is closed for reconstruction and expansion through early 2016. (The excellent “Photography in Mexico” exhibition hosted by the Sonoma County Museum in September 2013 and about to open at the Bakersfield Museum of Art was one of SFMOMA’s first of the On the Go shows. The next On the Go project is Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (Sept. 20, 2014 – April 12, 2015) in partnership with OMCA (Oakland Museum of California). In the works since the fall 2011, Gorgeous is co-curated by Allison Harding, AAM assistant curator of contemporary art, Forrest McGill, AAM Wattis senior curator of South and Southeast Asian art and director of AAM’s Research Institute for Asian Art, Caitlin Haskell, SFMOMA assistant curator of painting and sculpture and Janet Bishop.
“A lot of our shows fall into art history where we attempt to clarify things for the viewer” said the AAM’s Allison Harding, one of the lead curators. “This is more art appreciation, where we want the viewer to enjoy themselves as they try to figure out what they think about this subject. It’s meant to be very fluid and engaging.” And fluid it is—the show extends over four galleries and into the expansive North Court. The artworks aren’t easily categorized but embracing their resistance to classification is the essence of the project.
It almost seems as if Harding and McGill free-associated about their perspectives on gorgeous to come up with the categories they’ve grouped the artworks into—Seduction , Dress Up, Pose, Reiteration, Beyond Imperfection, Fantasy, Danger, In Bounds, Evocation, On Reflection. Interesting wall texts elucidate their personal perspectives and possible juxtapositions amongst the artworks.
Having visited the show five times now, I see most of the associations as interchangeable—the more time you spend looking, and the more you understand what drives your own attraction and revulsion with various works, the more you get to the heart of your own personal gorgeous.
Certainly central to the exhibition’s immense popularity is that its combination of Asian and Western, ancient and modern, and seeing familiar works in a new context is a fabulous catalyst for spinning out ideas on something as sassy as gorgeous.
In the opening Oscher gallery, a real icon of SFMOMA holdings—Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988)—is right across from a set of twelve 17th century hanging scrolls by Chinese artist Hua Yan who was famous for his strong personality and rejection of orthodox conventions of painting. The expressively painted screens depict a villa ensconced in a sweeping panoramic mountainous landscape on a luxurious golden background. Near-by is a jewel-encrusted alms bowl from Burma (1850-1950) and also close by is Chris Olfili’s “Princess of the Possee” (1990) and Jess’ monumental drawing “Narkissos” (1976-1991). I was revolted by the gaudy excess of Bubbles when I first saw it at SFMOMA’s reveal press opening years ago. Now, 16 years after its creation, I marvel at how it perfectly captures banality of the 1980’s and how its lustrous gold porcelain finish has a magical interplay with Hua Yan’s shimmering scrolls and sweeping hills and with the gilding on the ceremonial alms bowl, a highly-ornate ritual object.
One can’t speak of gold without mentioning Felix Gonzalez-Torres “Untitled” (Golden) (1995), a deeply alluring shimmering gold-beaded curtain—the only interactive work in the show—that seems to produce a smile on the face of everyone who walks through it. Conceptually, it functions as a portal and is installed as a passage between two thematically different galleries; it even grabs the limelight from a nearby Mondrian.
An Indian stone female torso covered with intricate carving, dated 1400-1600, which has been on view at the AAM for over a decade, was easy to skip over. Freshly installed in Asian’s North Court, with a different pedestal that exposes what remains of its legs and beside British artist Tracy Emin’s hot pink neon hand-written sign “Fantastic to feel beautiful again” (1997), the stone work is suddenly re-contextualized. Ermin’s confessional epigram highlights what is absent in the stone work—presumably she was once a complete figure but the centuries have robbed this lush beauty of her of her head, arms, legs—in short, the ability to think or move. “Recovering our awareness of her losses only broadens her allure,” says Allison Harding. “Her acquired cracks and fractures suggest the collision between idea beauty and the world of time and nature.”
“Lawrence Weiner’s ‘Pearls roll Across the Floor’ in the Lee Gallery is a text piece that was installed a number of times in the SFMOMA’s Botta building but is presented here in the Lee Gallery in a new diagonal configuration and a new palette which, for me, really changes its dynamic and the mental images that it evokes,” said SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop who happily admitted “this experience has really changed the way I see objects.”
I imagine like many, I came to Gorgeous with the notion that concepts of gorgeous and beauty were somewhat synonymous. And, as an art writer who’s been at it 25+ years, I was expecting more of a conversation about beauty and where it stands today, a topic that engaged the art world and philosophical discourse in the 1990’s when there was an active rejection of beauty as a creative ideal. As Allison Harding explained, “Gorgeous is meant to be distinct from art historical discourse and precise definitions; it’s more about viewers defining for themselves what gorgeous means. …The works in this show are more than beautiful and they all have aspects about them that push beyond conventional beauty to the max, to the zone where tensions exist beyond what is familiar or comfortable.”
Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987), hung in the Hambrecht Galley, is a silver gelatin portrait of the artist’s 5 year-old daughter, nude from the waist up and posed sexily with her hip jutting out. It strikes a number of disconcerting chords. “The power of this image lies in ability to confound boundaries,” says Harding. “The confining square here could be the acceptable borders of childhood, femininity, sexuality; the improvisation is the captured moment and its endless interpretation.” The modern portrait shares wall space with a set of hanging scrolls from the Asian’s collection from another era, Chobunsai Eishi’s “Three Types of Beauties in Edo,” approximately dates 1798-1829. In one screen, a geisha ( erotically?) twists her hair pin with her delicate white hands, her forearm revealed when her sleeve is raised. In Eishi’s time, too, there was a fascination with ranking types of beauties by the coding is fuzzy to our modern eye.
One of the great things about Gorgeous is the feeling that you’re actually meeting the curators, as their wall texts, written in conversational language, are much more personal and engaging than usual. Of a red-lacquered wood chair for the imperial court which is carved with amazing narrative scenes, Forrest McGill writes “Looks uncomfortable and impractical, but who cares when displaying wealth and power is the goal, right?” and “contains narrative scenes that someone with a thorough knowledge of Chinese literature might have been able to identify. But who would have had a change to get close enough to them for long enough to figure them out?”
This regal lacquered chair is comically paired, in the Oscher Gallery, with Shiro Kuramata’s “Miss Blanche chair” (1988), a see-through modernist acrylic chair that has wonderful floating roses and is said to have been inspired by the corsage worn by Vivien Leigh in the role of Blanche Dubois in the movie version of A Streetcar Named Desire. These two chairs, neither made for sitting, loudly shout-out to the ornate gilded Indian elephant seat (howdah) in the Asian’s North Court which, in turn, dialogues nicely with Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917), a touchstone of conceptual art, which has been installed adjacent it. It’s quite unexpected to find a factory made urinal in the AAM’s elegant North Court, perhaps as surprising as it was when the original urinal was first designated as art in the 1917 SIA (Society of Independent Artists) exhibition.
Details— Gorgeous closes on September 14, 2014. The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission: Gorgeous is covered by general admission AAM ticket—free for SFMOMA members; $15 adults; $10 seniors over 65, students and youth 13-17; Thursday nights $5; free admission for all on Target Sunday, September 7, 2014 . For more information, visit http://www.asianart.org/.
“Photography in Mexico” from SFMOMA at the Sonoma County Museum—opening reception Saturday, September 28; two talks in early October
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) holds one of the world’s most distinguished collections of photography from Mexico, which is part of an unprecedented statewide tour of works from SFMOMA’s photography collection while the museum building is closed for expansion through early 2016. The Sonoma County Museum is the first host for Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA which opens with a festive reception on Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 6 to 8 PM. Featuring approximately 100 photographs, Photography in Mexico reveals a distinctively rich and diverse tradition of photography in Mexico and includes works from Mexican photographers as well as foreigners who lived and worked in the country for years. The show begins with works from the medium’s first flowering in the wake of the Mexican Revolution (1910–20) and goes on to explore the explosion of the illustrated press at midcentury; the documentary investigations of cultural traditions and urban politics that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s; and more recent considerations of urban life and globalization. The exhibition includes work by Lola Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Manuel Carrillo, Alejandro Cartagena, Graciela Iturbide, Elsa Medina, Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Edward Weston, and Mariana Yampolsky, among others. Many of the photographs in the exhibition are recent gifts from Los Angeles collectors and philanthropists Dan Greenberg.
“I am most interested in the lesser known contemporary work that illustrates the enormous divide of rich and poor,” said photographer and teacher Renata Breth, who will be giving a walk-through on October 10. Breth won a large local following when she gave an engaging talk about the contextual history of Gregory Crewdson’s large-scale photographs in January at the Sonoma Film Institute. “Hector Garcia and Enrique Metinides are photographers whose work and lives are fascinating. Metinides, who for fifty years has photographed crime scenes and accidents, recently had a retrospective of his work at Aperture gallery in NYC.”
“It is a tremendous privilege to make these photographs available to a wide range of new audiences and forge fruitful relationships with institutions throughout the state,” says Corey Keller, SFMOMA curator of photography, who organized the tour. Photography in Mexico will also travel to the Bakersfield Museum of Art (September 11, 2014–January 4, 2015); and the Haggin Museum, Stockton (dates TBD).
Exhibition Programming at the Sonoma County Museum
Thursday, October 3rd at 7 pm —Revolution and Change in Mexico, Gallery talk by Tony White, SSU
Tony White will provide the historical background for the Mexican Revolution of 1910, the major political, social, economic changes in Mexico through the 1980s, and its transformation into a modern urban, industrial country in recent years. Since the Revolution led to a cultural renaissance beginning in the 1920s, he will also discuss the major developments in art, mural painting, literature and music.
Tony White is Professor Emeritus in History at Sonoma State University, where he taught Latin American History for 37 years. He holds a Ph.D. in History from UCLA and is the author of Siqueiros, Biography of a Revolutionary Artist (Book Surge, 2009). He has lived in Santa Rosa for 45 years. Click here for tickets.
Thursday, Oct. 10th at 7 pm—Photography in Mexico, Gallery talk by Renata Breth, SRJC
Renata Breth will highlight several of the photographers in the SFMOMA’s Mexican Photographer’s exhibition calling attention to unique Bay Area connections, influences and political aspects of the dynamic images.
Renata Breth, who grew up in Vienna, Austria, received her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago in filmmaking and photography. She has lived in Sonoma County since 1985 teaches photography full-time at Santa Rosa Junior College. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and received numerous awards. Click here for tickets.
Details: Photography in Mexico from the Collection of SFMOMA has an opening reception, Saturday, September 28, 2013 from 6-8 PM. The exhibition ends January 12, 2014. The Sonoma County is located at 427 7th Street, Santa Rosa, CA. Street Parking. Hours: Tues-Sun 11 AM to 5 PM. Admission: $7 adults; $5 65 and older; free for children under 12. Information: 707 579-1500 or http://www.sonomacountymuseum.org/.
SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) officially began construction on its 225,000-square-foot expansion project with a celebratory groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. The festivities were officiated by SFMOMA director, Neal Benezra, Mayor Ed Lee and other city and museum officials including SFMOMA Board Chair, Charles Schwab, and Snohetta principal Craig Dykers, the lead architects for the expansion. Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district includes SFMOMA, led students from nearby Bessie Carmichael Elementary School in the countdown which culminated in several shovels breaking ground as confetti shot of out a cannon. Guests were treated to a specially-created wall of vanilla and chocolate sugar cookies created by the pastry team at SFMOMA’s own Blue Bottle cafe, which is renowned for its delicious art-inspired desserts. The rectangular cookies resembled the current SFMOMA’s bricks and guests were encouraged to use edible spray paint to create graffiti messages on these bricks. SFMOMA Board members, trustees, and high level donors were given festive hardhats–way to protect the cashflow!— while members of the press got commemorative SFMOMA shopping bags.
Those attending the ceremony were the first to try a very clever artist-commissioned augmented reality mobile application that they downloaded on their cell phones which assists with envisioning what the new space will look like. 2012 ZERO1 Biennial artists Will Pappenhiemer and John Craig Freeman, created the “app-arition” that is both an interactive and animated assemblage of the building’s various parts, reflecting its potential existence as a fluid network and beacon for the surrounding community as well.
The expansion will include a new 10-story addition along the back of its current building at 151Third Street, San Francisco. The expansion will be over 15 meters taller than the existing Mario Botta-designed building and both gallery exhibition and education spaces will be doubled. The new building will feature a glass-wall gallery facing Howard Street that will allow pedestrians to see select artworks when the museum reopens in 2016.
Museum officials are still fundraising. So far, they have raised about 90 percent of the $610 million needed for the project.
More information about SFMOMA and the expansion can be found on the museum’s website at www.sfmoma.org. SFMOMA will officially close for construction on June 2, 2013, at which time, the museum will take its shows to various other venues. Stay tuned to ARThound for more video coverage tomorrow…the HUGE file is still downloading.
Just 2 viewing weekends left—“Garry Winogrand,” at SFMOMA, closes, along with the museum building, on June 2, 2013
“For me the true business of photography is to capture a bit of reality (whatever that is) on film,” said American photographer Garry Winogrand, “if, later, the reality means something to someone else, so much the better.” When Winogrand’s life was cut short by cancer in 1984 at age 56, he was already widely acknowledged as one American’s most influential photographers, particularly known for his vivid chronicling of the social landscape of post-war American life. While he loathed the off-used label “snapshot photographer” and felt that “street photographer” imposed too narrow a lens on his work, those are the names that stuck. He too, had always been known as a “prolific shooter,” but just how prolific was utterly shocking to those left to sort out his legacy. He left behind a staggering amount of unprocessed as well as unedited work. More than 2,500 rolls of exposed but underdeveloped film were found, plus an additional 4,100 rolls that he had processed but never seen—an estimated total of 250,000 images that have remained virtually unknown. Suddenly, there was a lot more to consider when examining the oeuvre of the acclaimed photographer of New York City and of American Life from the 1950s through the early 1980s.
An important exhibition at SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which closes on June 2—the first major touring exhibition in 25 years of Garry Winogrand—does just that. Garry Winogrand, an expansive retrospective of some 300 images, brings together Winogrand’s most iconic images with newly printed photographs from the never seen archive of his later work. Included are photographs from Winogrand’s travels around the United States as well as his better known New York City images. The exhibition was organized by photographer and author, Leo Rubinfien, a long-time close friend of Winnogrand, in collaboration with SFMOMA curator Erin O’Toole and Sarah Greenough of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., where it will travel after its run in San Francisco, followed by New York, Paris, and Madrid. With SFMOMA’s expansion project getting seriously underfoot this summer, the building itself will close its doors on June 2, so now is the time to visit SFMOMA and pay your respects to its Third Street Botta palazzo.
The majority of photographs in the Winnogrand exhibition were printed by Winogrand or under his supervision by Thomas Consilvio or Paul McDonough. The rest were made after his death, with the majority of those printed in 2012-13 in Tuscon, Arizona, by Teresa Engle Schrimer. All are silver gelatin prints.
The exhibition is organized in three categories—
“Down from the Bronx”— presents photographs taken for the most part in New York from Winnogrand’s start in 1950 until he left New York in 1971. Winogrand came from that “rude part” of NY, explained Rubinfien, which caused him to say late in his life,“I came from the Bronx. I was goosh. I was so goosh, I didn’t know the word goosh.”
Erin O’Toole discusses Winogrand’s early work
“A Student of America” looks at work made in the same period, 1950 to 1971, during journeys he made outside New York. This is an expression Winogrand used to describe himself. “One day I was walking along 57th street with him,” explained Rubinfien, “and he said, talking about himself, ‘You could say I am a student of photography, and I am that, but really I am student of America.’ What he meant by that, I think, is that his photographs were an investigation in which he tried to understand what made this country most itself.”
“Boom and Bust” addresses Winogrand’s late period—from after he moved away from New York in 1971 until his death in 1984—with photographs from Texas and Southern California, as well as Chicago, Washington, Miami, and other locations. Also included are a small number of photographs Winogrand made on trips back to Manhattan, which express a sense of desolation unprecedented in his earlier work.
“The bust, of course” said Rubinfien, “was the great malaise the nation itself experienced in the 1970’s, after its greatest modern boom. It was also Winogrand’s own decline, which turned out to be real. John Sarkowsky was not wrong about that. If you looked at his top ten contact sheets in the 1960’s, you might find two or three strong pictures in a single roll of film. By 1982, you might have to go through 50 rolls to find one. He himself was straining very hard to do the thing that he had done interestingly and easily before.”
The exhibition has attracted a great deal of attention in photography circles because it includes works that Winogrand never saw in his lifetime but were selected posthumously by Rubinfine. Over 9o posthumous prints made from Rubinfein’s selections and drawn from the full span of Wingroand’s career are on view. The wall labels for these prints indicate whether Wingrand marked a given frame on its contact sheet, suggesting he found it to be of interest. In a gargantuan effort lasting several years, Rubinfien assessed not only the 6,600 rolls of late work that the photographer never reviewed himself but all 22,000 of his contact sheets in his archive at the Center for Photgraphy at the University of Arizona, Tuscon—starting with images from the beginning of Winogrand’s career in 1950 that he marked but didn’t print. Rubinfien and the curatorial staff argue they are on solid ethical ground because Winogrand had a strong history of delegation. Their effort also found precedent in MoMA’s 1988 exhibition “Garry Winogrand,” the first major retrospective of Winogrand’s work which included a small group of prints made by Colsilvio from late images selected by John Sarkowsky, director of MoMA’s Department of Photography, and by Winogrand’s friends and colleagues, photographers Tod Papageorge and Thomas Roma.
“This was a man who loved shooting more than anyone else…he wanted to be outside more than anything else and did not want to be sitting in a room editing his work, “ said Rubinfien. “Beyond that, he had a fundamental discomfort with bringing his work to resolution in books and shows. A result was that the work that was published in his lifetime in a series of five books, was highly topical. The books were done in a rather ad hoc way…a book on women one year (Women are Beautiful (1975)) and another on animals (The Animals (1969)), or political events (Public Relations (1977)) and, as a result, what we inherited was a picture of Winogrand in which he himself was siloed according to a number of topical categories. What this show tries to do is to break that down and give you the view of the full epic sweep of Winogrand’s work.”
At the press preview, Rubinfein explained that he was largely motivated to explore this later body of work due to distinguished MoMA curator John Sarkowsky’s pronouncement, after organizing Winogrand’s first major retrospective in 1988, that Winogrand’s later work wasn’t very good. In preparation for that show, Sarkowsky had personally reviewed some and edited a large number of Winogrand’s photographs from the last six years of his life and from the six years before that—basically the work from 1971 on, from the time he moved away from New York into expatriation in Texas.
“I was intensely interested in seeing what Winogrand had done in those years,” said Rubinfien…”In some ways Texas and Los Angeles, in particular, seemed like a natural location in which the work might culminate because it was so much the headquarters of the sprawling vulgarity in this country—it was so much the place you’d go to see where freedom went when it went too far. So, when that show finally went up, I was distressed and dismayed to read John Sarkowsky’s verdict of the work that Winogrand had lost his talent after leaving New York in 1971 and that he work he had done after that was not very good, but repetitive and lazy. I had no way of knowing whether that was true, not having not seen the work, so I thought that someone should go back and look again. Even Sarkowsky said that in his essay. Around 2001, I thought if no one else did this, I would take it on.”
“Some argue that what was left behind should be left alone, and that no one should intrude upon the intentions of an artist,” adds Rubinfien. “But the quantity of Winogrand’s output, the incompleteness with which he reviewed it, and the suddenness of his death create a special case in which the true scope of an eminent photographer’s work cannot be known without the intervention of an editor.” Leo Rubinfien discusses Winnogrand’s late work on view for the first time at SFMOMA
Details: Garry Winogrand closes June 2, 2013. The last day to visit the current building is June 2, 2013. SFMoMA, (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is located at 151 Third Street, between Mission and Howard, San Francisco. Hours: Monday-Tuesday, 11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Friday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Admission: SFMOMA members are free. Tickets: Adults $18, seniors (62 and older) $13, students (with current ID) $11, active U.S. military personnel and their families are free, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free; half-price admission Thursday evenings 6-8:45 p.m.; the first Tuesday of each month is free.
Jay DeFeo shows are closing—“Renaissance on Fillmore” at Napa’s Di Rosa Preserve and “Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective,” at SFMoMA
Anyone interested in artist Jay DeFeo—and who isn’t?—should not miss two important shows which are closing this week.
Situated in Napa Valley’s Carneros region amidst a lake and wildlife preserve is di Rosa, visionary collector Rene di Rosa’s art-filled paradise, one of the Northern California’s most important contemporary art collections. Its impressive stone Gatehouse Gallery is pure poetry. Situated on the edge of a bird-filled lake, with a wall of windows to take in the panoramic view, the space is filled with natural light and a sense of openness. It houses rotating exhibitions which draw from di Rosa’s own collection and which offer a look at important work by emerging and established artists, all with an essential link to the Bay Area.
“Renaissance on Fillmore, 1955-65” is a compact gem, thoughtfully curated by Michael Schwager, chairman of Sonoma State University’s Art and Art History Department and a former di Rosa curator. It brings together works from 17 artists, including Jay DeFeo and Wally Hedrick, who were a pivotal part of the remarkable and eclectic group of painters, poets and musicians who came together in San Francisco’s upper Fillmore district between 1955 and 1965 and literally changed the course of American art. The 17 featured artists either lived and worked in the building at 2322 Fillmore or were active in the neighborhood’s pioneering art galleries, such as the Six Gallery, King Ubu, and Batman Gallery. Works by Paul Beattie, Joan Brown, William H. Brown, Jerry Burchard, Bruce Conner, Jean Conner, Jay DeFeo, Sonia Gechtoff, Dave Getz, Wally Hedrick, Craig Kauffman, James Kelly, Les Kerr, Hayward King, Ed Moses, Deborah Remington, and David Simpson are included, along with photographs, posters, and exhibition announcements documenting this extraordinary period in Bay Area art.
Northern, California seemed an especially welcoming environment for both Abstract Expressionist painting and this new hybrid of art, music, and literature that was lumped under the rather inelegant rubric “Beat,” a word with multiple associations—the rhythm of Bebop jazz, the cadence of spoken poetry, or the sometime desperate conditions under which these artists struggle to create their work. (Michael Schwager, curator)
There are three works by DeFeo in this show, all from 1957-58, as well as three portraits of her in her Fillmore Street apartment/studio taken by Jerry Burchard in 1958. No matter the scale, whether it is a 4×6 inch graphite and colored pencil drawing or “Song of Innocence,” (1957), a 40 x40 inch oil painting which presents a flurry of pastel colored brush strokes organically bursting into a flaming bloom, DeFeo was a master of her space.
If you go, don’t skip Swinging in the Shadows: San Francisco’s Wild History Groove (DVD, 2011 directed by Mary Kerr), an informative video which covers the entire Fillmore art scene, including slow birthing of Jay DeFeo’s colossal masterpiece, The Rose (1958-66). Not only does it capture the vibrant life that DeFeo and her husband Wally Hedrick led during that magical era that they lived with the painting which dominated the front room of their famous flat-studio, it recounts several legendary parties. One included a very drunk Willem de Kooning being pried off DeFeo and then driven around in a sports car. When finally sober, de Kooning thought he had been in New York because of the remarkable art he saw that evening and DeFeo’s painting in particular “blew his mind.”
Details: di Rosa is located at 5200 Sonoma Highway Napa, California 94559. Directions: Mapquest. Hours: NOV-APRIL: Wednesday-Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed Monday & Tuesday Fee: suggested donation $5. Tours: Guided tours of the collection and grounds are available Wednesday through Sunday. Tours are $12-$15 and are a wonderful way to learn more about di Rosa and its important collection of Northern California art, and offer plenty of time to enjoy the art collection and grounds.
When Jay DeFeo died in 1989, at age 60, she was at the height of her creative powers. Despite her iconic status as the creator of the monumental painting “The Rose,” she was little known outside a small circle of art insiders. SFMOMA’s retrospective (finally!) offers a revelatory, in-depth encounter DeFeo’s work, giving this artist her well-deserved tribute. Presenting close to 130 works, including collages, drawings, paintings, photographs, small sculptures, and jewelry, this definitive exhibition traces DeFeo’s distinctive vision across more than four decades of art making. How did she do it? Aside from innate talent, she worked obsessively throughout her life, never letting go of ideas until she had thoroughly exhausted them.
Prepare to be mesmerized and, as a rule of thumb, double the time you think you think you’ll need to take this in. There’s no need to hurry. “Only by chancing the ridiculous, can I hope for the sublime.” said Jay DeFeo in a 1959 Museum of Modern Art catalogue statement. “Only by discovering that which is true within myself, can I hope to be understood by others.”
Details: Jay DeFeo: A Retrospective closes Feb. 3, 2013. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA) is located at 151 Third St., S.F. (415) 357-4000. www.sfmoma.org
Closing Monday: “Cindy Sherman” at SFMOMA, the most comprehensive U.S. exhibition of her groundbreaking work in 15 years and the only stop on the West Coast
Entering SFMOMA’S 3rd floor Cindy Sherman exhibition, viewers are first greeted by a colossal photo mural featuring several different 18-foot figures from daily life chameleon Cindy Sherman has taken on. Ranging from what might be woman in a dance class, to a society woman in a red brocade housedress, to a blonde babushka gardener sporting a country-fair medal and cradling a bunch on freshly-picked baby leeks, to a showgirl in a feathered leotard, the women don’t fit into any pat category but hint at the multiple and varied roles contemporary women play.
Sherman created the floor-to-ceiling mural specifically for her travelling retrospective, which first opened in New York at MOMA in February (2012) and will close its run at SFMOMA on Monday, October 8, 2012. Sherman helped install the SFMOMA show herself and tweaked the mural especially for the Bay Area, using different characters than those included in New York. The mural shows how her work has changed with evolving digital technology and the magic of image editing. Instead of the elaborate stage make-up and prostheses that made her famous—seminal examples are on display in the interior galleries—she has now embraced Photoshop. The mural itself is printed on several gigantic sheets of a special type of contact paper.
The 155 images on display through Monday constitute the largest collection of Sherman’s work ever exhibited on the West Coast, and this is the only West Coast showing of the retrospective, which moves to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (November 10-February 17, 2013), and then to the Dallas Museum of Art (March 17-June 9, 2013).
Untitled Film Stills: The exhibition includes a complete set of her seminal Untitled Film Stills (1977-80), perhaps her most well-known and recognizable works. Organized and hung per Sherman’s instructions after she visited SFMOMA, these 70 black-and-white photographs, roughly 8 x 10 inches each, are presented in tightly stacked rows that completely fill a small interior gallery’s walls. The subject: movie roles for women influenced by 1950s and ’60s film noir, big-budget Hollywood and European art house films. In each of these photographs, resembling back lot movie stills, Sherman plays an archetype—not an actual person, nor a replication of a scene from an actual movie—but a self-fabricated fictional character in a setting that clicks into our collective subconscious as “the housewife,” “the prostitute,” “the woman in distress,” “the woman in tears,” etc. Sherman doesn’t title any of her works, a decision which invites the viewer to freely associate. These recycled tropes, which reverberate off of each other, evoke any number of reactions but most certainly…how does she do it, and by “it,” I mean the dropping of one persona and complete embodiment of another?
Centerfolds: All 12 of her controversial Art Forum magazine centerfolds (1981) are included. The series takes the horizontal centerfold as its conceptual and physical framework and is comprised of 12 life-size 2 x 4 foot images, shot close-up and then cropped to appear squeezed into the frame. It depicts young women in various elaborate outfits—plaid kilts, gingham dress, wet t-shirts—provocatively posed and uncomfortably baring their disturbed souls. While Sherman was commissioned by the influential magazine to do the series, it was rejected by editor Ingrid Sischy who thought the images might be misunderstood, and the series consequently never ran. These images have since become some of her most widely discussed and influential work.
Society Women: Some of her strongest work appears at the end of the exhibition—a 2008 series of untitled portraits of aging society women, done in such grand scale that they are nearly life sized, intensifying the tension, vulnerability and uncertainty associated with women and issues of stature, aspiration, wealth, age, beauty, and desire. Each portrait appears sympathetically done at first glance but, upon closer inspection, becomes a subtle critique of the subject. In “Untitled #466,” Sherman portrays an elegant woman wearing a shimmering turquoise caftan, with lovely jewelry, regally posed in what appears to be the courtyard of her Tuscan-style villa. Not one hair is out of place but her exposed foot speaks volumes—it’s clad in thick support hose and pink plastic slippers of the Dollar Store type.
“The women in this body of work are in many ways tragic,” said says Eva Respini, Associate Curator of Photography, MOMA, who organized the show. “Because they are presented in larger than life size, you can really see every detail and that speaks to this contemporary way of being and the fact that photography is very complicit in the way in which identity is manufactured today.”
While many may mistake Sherman’s photographs for self-portraits, these photographs only play with elements of self-portraiture and are really something quite different. Sherman is just the model. “Everything is carefully constructed,” says Respini. “These are really all about identity—an exploration of multiple identities. She was her own model because it was convenient.”
The exhibition also includes selections from her major series: “Fairy Tale/Mythology” (1985), “History Portraits” (1988-90), “Sex Pictures” (1992), “Head Shots” (2000), “Clowns” (2002-04), “Fashion” (1983-84, 1993-94, 2007-08).
A fully illustrated catalogue, Cindy Sherman, accompanies the exhibition, with essays by exhibition curator Eva Respini and art historian Johann Burton, as well as a new interview with Sherman conducted by filmmaker and artist John Waters. The local curator is Erin O’Toole, assistant curator of photography at SFMOMA.
Details: Cindy Sherman runs through Monday, October 8, 2012. SFMOMA is located at 151 Third St. (between Mission and Howard), San Francisco. Hours: Monday-Tuesday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m.; closed Wednesday; Thursday, 11 a.m.-8:45 p.m.; Friday-Sunday,11 a.m.-5:45 p.m. Admission: SFMOMA members are free. Tickets: Adults $18, seniors (62 and older) $13, students (with current ID) $11, active U.S. military personnel and their families are free, children 12 and under accompanied by an adult are free; half-price admission Thursday evenings 6-8:45 p.m.; the first Tuesday of each month is free.
A vital and once-controversial piece of San Francisco history has finally come home. On Friday, SFMOMA announced that it had acquired artist Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George (Moscone), 1981, a large-scale commemorative bust of former San Francisco Mayor George Moscone that incited great controversy when first commissioned and unveiled by the city more than 30 years ago. The famous bust was originally commissioned by The San Francisco Arts Commission as a public artwork for the Moscone Center in 1981. Portrait of George was to be the centerpiece of the Moscone Center, however, it was rejected due to controversial references to the 1978 assassinations of the Mayor and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
Robert Arneson’s Portrait of George not only marks an important moment in San Francisco’s history, but it also marks a turning point in Robert Arneson’s artistic trajectory. After the rejection of Portrait of George, Arneson took a more critical, political direction in his work and he went on to create some of the most powerful expression of his career. The bust went on view at SFMOMA on Friday, June 1, as part of an entire gallery devoted to Arneson’s work.
“Since becoming director at the museum in 2002, I have sought to acquire this important sculpture for San Francisco,” says SFMOMA Director Neal Benezra, who organized the exhibition Robert Arneson: A Retrospective in 1986 during his tenure as curator at the Des Moines Art Center and who has a longstanding commitment to supporting the artist’s work. “I could not be more pleased to finally share this cultural icon with the public and ensure its safekeeping in SFMOMA’s collection.”
Portrait of George (Moscone) was purchased for an undisclosed price through SFMOMA’s Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions; it comes from a private collection, in coordination with the artist’s estate, which is represented by George Adams Gallery in New York and Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco.
Complex History and Provocative Pedestal: Robert Arneson took an unusual approach to the commemorative public sculpture by creating a portrait bust of Mayor Moscone that was not a straightforward likeness but the blend of caricature and portraiture consistent with Arneson’s signature style. Early sketches of the proposed work were well received. When the finished sculpture was unveiled at the Moscone Center inauguration on December 2, 1981, it struck a nerve with the public and its bold 58 inch tall pedestal, with its graffiti-like scrawls and 5 bullet holes, became a huge subject of controversy.
Arneson conceived the pedestal as part of the sculpture. As the piece developed, he decided that rather than leaving it a neutral supporting element, it should come alive with words and images chronicling Moscone’s life. Biographical references (“Hastings Law School” and “State Senate”) and some of Moscone’s favorite expressions (“Trust me on this one.” and “Are you having any fun?”) were unobjectionable. Other inscriptions specific to events surrounding his assassination provoked controversy, such as references to Dan White’s murder weapon (“Smith and Wesson”), the dual slaying of the city’s first openly gay official (“Harvey Milk, too!” and “gay”), and White’s famous defense plea based on his penchant for binging on junk food (“Twinkies”), as well as “BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG” and depictions of blood-stained bullets.
By incorporating these elements Arneson had enriched the work to become more than just a personal memorial but a distillation of an unprecedented and intense moment in the city’s history. The killings of two popular civic officials stunned a community that was still reeling from the Jonestown tragedy only two weeks earlier, when 900 members of the San Francisco–founded cult Peoples Temple committed mass suicide in Guyana. Even for a city accustomed to political upheaval and violence, the deaths of Moscone and Milk were unrivaled civic blows. (Click here to read full SFMOMA press release which includes a description of SFMOMA’s public advocacy for the artwork as then Mayor Dianne Feinstein called on the Arts Commission to reject the artwork.)
SFMOMA curator Gary Garrels tells the story of Robert Arneson’s infamous portrait of former San Francisco mayor George Moscone
Portrait of George (Moscone) joins 18 other sculptures and drawings by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection. Other major sculptures by Arneson in SFMOMA’s collection include Smorgi-Bob, the Cook (1971), California Artist (1982), Forge (1984), No Pain (1991), Chemo 1 (1992), and Chemo 2 (1992). The collection contains several major drawings, including an eight-foot-high drawing Vertical George (1981), which is directly related to Portrait of George (Moscone). SFMOMA also organized and presented Robert Arneson: Self-Reflections (1997), a major survey exhibition of Arneson’s self-portraits.
Click here for a SFMOMA interactive feature created in 2007 about Arneson’s life and work—with audio and video clips, archival photographs, and documentation of the original Moscone bust controversy. (Part of SFMOMA’s Voices and Images of California Art, a series of interactive in-depth profiles of 11 of California’s most celebrated artists.)
Rene di Rosa connection: The late Rene di Rosa, the Napa Valley grape grower and ebullient art collector whose di Rosa museum and sculpture preserve is world-renowned, was a friend of Robert Arneson. He met Arneson at UC Davis while he studying viticulture and Arneson was teaching art classes. At the time of Arneson’s death in 1992 at age 62 from liver cancer, di Rosa owned 39 of Arneson’s artworks and had spoken frequently about his appreciation of Arneson’s humor and incisiveness as an artist. He had watched Arneson’s career develop over a number of years from an artist who was initially reviewed in craft magazines because he was working in ceramics to a highly respected artist whose work garnered international attention. Arneson’s San Francisco Chronicle obituary (11.4.1992) quoted di Rosa as recalling that “Mr. Arneson felt that the controversy around the Moscone bust ‘was politicized. In that piece, Bob was setting out to state the facts of politics in a work of art.’ The di Rosa currently has a large Arneson ceramic bust, a self-portrait, on display in its main gallery.
Details: SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Summer hours (Memorial Day to Labor Day): open daily (except Wednesdays): 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.; open late Thursdays, until 8:45 p.m. General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.
SF MOMA Gallery Talk: Curator Lisa Sutcliffe on Rineke Dijkstra’s Beach Portraits, Thursday evening, April 19, 2012
One of the most highly regarded photographers of her generation, Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra is well known for her psychologically probing portraits of ordinary people in states of transition. Her Beach Portraits, a very painterly series taken between 1992-1996, in which adolescents from all over—the U.K., Croatia, Poland, Ukraine—are posed alone against a background of sea and sky brought her immediate acclaim. More than simply documenting a transitional moment, Dijkstra reveals a heightened tension in her subjects who are delicately poised on the edge of an unknown future. These life-size photographs and videos, subtly colored, are celebrated for capturing the essential nature and complexities of growing up. Taken as a group, these portraits reveal fascinating cultural differences and some universal similarities and allow us to draw some profound conclusions about how people react under a watchful eye.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective, at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) through May 28, 2012, is the artist’s first midcareer retrospective in the United States, bringing together 70 of her large-scale color photographs, including many of the beach portraits, and five video installations, including two new video projections. The exhibition is coorganized by SFMOMA and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and curated locally by Sandra Phillips, Senior Curator of Photography, SFMOMA. On Thursday, April 19, 2012, Lisa Sutcliffe, assistant curator of photography, SFMOMA, will give a 20 minute gallery talk, sharing her perspective on one of Dijkstra’s portraits in her Beach Portraits series. Meet in the Haas Atrium at 6:30 p.m. before moving into the galleries. Free with museum admission.
If you go, be sure to watch her 12 minute video “I see a woman crying (the weeping woman)” (2009) which unfolds on three screens and is the first work in which she used the human voice. Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” (1937), in the Tate Liverpool, was used as the talking point for a group of British schoolchildren who are filmed having a prolonged serious discussion about what they see in the painting. To create the video, she set up three cameras on tripods and had the children look at a reproduction of the painting that was attached to the middle tripod, so none of them were looking straight into the camera lens but beyond it, at the image. Unlike a conventional portrait in which the subject looks at the camera, the children here were engaged with each one another and thus disconnected from the viewer. What they come up with and how they respond to each other’s remarks and begin to speculate on the woman’s emotional state and situation is truly fascinating.
Also riveting is her series “Almerisa,” (1994-2008) a study in how a subject, in this case a 6-year-old Bosnian girl in a refugee center for asylum seekers in Leiden, Netherlands, changes over time. When Dijkstra first photographed Almerisa in 1994, she was in her best and probably only dress, and posed lifelessly, almost like a rag doll, her feet dangling because they could not touch the floor. Concerned about what had happened to her, Dijkstra found the family after they left the center and settled into life in the Netherlands and began photographing Almerisa every two years or so, completing 11 portraits of her sitting in a chair, that also captured her maturation into a young woman. The final portrait captures Almerisa holding her own baby. The orthodoxy in this powerful series is one of honesty rather than beauty. The subject’s body and character are transitioning for many reasons that invite the viewer to embark on the same type of speculation that Dijkstra asked of the school children who encountered Picasso’s powerful portrait.
Rineke Dijkstra: A Retrospective is the second of three shows at SFMOMA this year focusing on Female Pioneers of Photography. The first was Francesca Woodman, September 5, 2011-February 20, 2012. The third is Cindy Sherman, July-October, 2012.
Details: SFMOMA is located at 151 Third Street, San Francisco, across from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. General admission is $18—Thursday evenings admission is half-price. For more information, visit www.sfmoma.org.