ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

Meet Richard Savino, whose baroque instruments add period splendor to Handel’s “Orlando,” at SF Opera through June 27

Grammy-nominated guitarist/lutenist Richard Savino who makes a special appearance with the SFO Orchestra for Handel’s Orlando at SFO.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

When Handel’s baroque opera Orlando, opened June 9 at San Francisco Opera, guitarist and lutenist Richard Savino was the most sought after musician in the pit.  The grammy-nominated musician, making a special appearance with SF Opera, is one of the world’s foremost early music instrumentalists. His playing was magnetic and stood out, even among the rich arias in this must-see production. Savino spent much of the intermissions fielding questions from fascinated attendees about his theorbo and baroque guitar.  The theorbo is a guitar-like instrument with a very long neck—as long as six feet—with two sets of strings— a longer set tuned with pegs at the top of the fret board (for the deeper range) and a shorter set tuned by pegs on the sides of the fret board (for the higher range).  Savino also doubles in certain parts of the opera on baroque guitar.  His buoyant playing stands out in most parts of Orlando but is heard most clearly in the recitatives—the dialogue that moves the story forward.  Once you recognize his sound, it’s easy to find.  There is a lot of improvisation for Savino as Handel didn’t orchestrate Orlando but provided just the chord changes.  The musicians of the continuo ensemble—Christopher Moulds (conductor/ harpsichord), Ronny Michael Greenberg (harpsichord), David Kadarach (cello)—work together and improvise much like a jazz rhythm section, deciding together how the music will be voiced.  In person, Savino’s personality is just as energetic and engaging as his playing and his passions run wide.  He has given important works that haven’t been performed in centuries their premiere recordings and has developed a fascinating sideline, providing musical accompaniment to art works held in the world’s most elite collections and putting together programs on early artists and period music.  Savino was eager to talk about his music, Orlando and his numerous projects:

 

How did you come to early music and why? Your bio indicates you dabbled in rock and roll and then jazz fusion first which strikes me as unusual path.

Richard Savino:  For me, it was all very logical.  I love the Beatles and listened to them all the time.  At their core, they were rock and roll as well as pop musicians, but they were also very influenced by all epochs of classical music, including baroque music.  One reason for this is because George Martin, their producer, was a classically trained composer.  They used the harpsichord on a number of their songs and many others fall within the classical/romantic cannon.  In particular, they had a real fascination with music from the baroque era and contemporary music of the ’60s.  Listen to Penny Lane, a Tin Pan Alley kind of pop song that has a piccolo trumpet solo.  This is because Paul McCartney heard a piccolo trumpet player play Bach’s second Brandenburg concerto.  Then, listen to A Day in the Life, with its incredible orchestration.  Both songs are magnificent.

I also played rock when I was in high school and I always sang too.  I won a high school vocal competition in a school of 4,000 students.  A couple of years before me, the person who won that same competition was Pat Benatar.  I was always in choirs, so I knew the Bach cantatas, Handel, so forth.  When I went to the State University at Stony Brook, I began to have a strong interest in classical guitar, and I was lucky enough to have a wonderful teachers, in particular Jerry Willard, Oscar Ghiglia, my dear friend/colleague Eliot Fisk, and harpsichordist Albert Fuller who would have a huge impact on my life.  Interestingly, every classical guitarist studies early music because the canon for our repertoire is so rich.  I was also one of the last group of students to study with Andres Segovia.  Unlike most other instruments, guitarists are required to study early music from the 16th and 17th centuries.  The weirdest part is that I went from being a rock and roll guy to studying classical guitar to playing the theorbo and baroque guitar.  I love the Spanish canon that Segovia brought to our consciousness.

 

Most early music specialists tend to focus on the baroque and early renaissance periods but you are also very engaged with the classical music of the 19th century and play instruments from that period as well.  What accounts for your unusually broad scope?  

Richard Savino:  One could say it’s a lot of ADD.  I love playing music from all epochs and the guitar flourished during the 19th century.  It has quite an extensive solo and chamber repertoire.  The 19th century guitar is very different from the classical guitar.  It’s much smaller, more intimate and is the perfect bridge between the guitars of the 18th century and the modern classical guitars; it’s a transitional instrument.  I just love playing it.  Early in my career, I went out of my way to specialize in late 18th and early 19th century chamber music.  And while I love playing solo pieces, I also realized that the world can only sustain a certain number of solo classical guitarists and I am too much a social an animal.  I really enjoyed playing with other musicians, so I went down that path which led me directly into playing basso continuo and other plucked stringed instruments like the theorbo and baroque guitar, which I play in Orlando at SF Opera.  But I still love playing the 6 string guitar and my first recordings were for the Harmonia Mundi label and featured the complete Boccherini Guitar Quintets, which no one had ever recorded before on instruments from the epoch.  A couple of my other recordings that I’m really proud of are the romantic miniatures titled Bardenklänge by Johann Kaspar Mertz, and my recording of Mauro Giuliani’s Op. 30 Concerto, which, I believe, is the only one of its kind that is performed on period instruments with NO cuts.

 

Can you give an example of a moment in SF Opera’s production of Orlando that you have come to love through experiencing it performed?

Richard Savino:  I can’t actually watch because I’m playing but, during rehearsals, I was constantly standing up to try and see what was going on because I knew it was a contemporary adaptation set in WWII.  In a musical context, I have been very moved by the Act 1 duo between Anjelica and Medoro, “Ritornava al suo bel viso” and Orlando’s “Fammi combattere” at the beginning of the opera, and Orlando’s Act 3 aria, “Gia l’ebro mio ciglio,” which is so beautiful with the two violas that have this gorgeous full cadenza at the end of it.

Handel is a remarkable genius and I’ve played many of his operas with Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Colorado, San Diego Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Santa Fe.  He is the great chameleon of all composers.  When he lived in Italy, he wrote like an Italian; when he lived in England, he composed like a Brit; and when he lived in Germany, he composed like a high German composer.  What is amazing is his ability to set music to different languages.  For example, when he was in Rome, he went to Naples and was asked to write a piece for one of the Spanish viceroys and it’s his only piece that I know of that is in Spanish.  I happened to record it a few years ago with my period ensemble group, El Mundo, on the album The Kingdoms of Castille (2012) which was nominated for a Grammy.  Handel just how to absorb the style, the native musical, as well as spoken language.

 

What is the continuo and what is its function in a baroque opera such as Orlando.  How do you work?? 

Richard Savino:  It came about at the turn of the 17th century and was meant to be a quasi-improvised manner of performing that would respond to the way the singers would sing a particular piece.  It was the consequence of the meetings of the Florentine Camarata, a group of humanists that included Giulio Caccini, Vincenzo Galilei and Jacobo Peri, who got together to emulate Greek oratory and music.  They hypothesized about how it must have entailed spontaneity and improvisation between poets, singers and how it would be accompanied by a lyre.  That was the birth of monody, the initial basis of opera.  Much of these early operas by Monteverdi, Caccini, Peri and Cesti consist of collections of these little monodies which consist of a bassline and harmony that supports a singer, much like the way the rhythm section functions in a jazz combo.  Today, when I’m playing with the continuo, I’m looking at a bassline, and am enhancing that.  The idea is to reflect the affection of the text and to create some sort of dialogue with the singer and reflect their interpretation of what’s going on and that’s a gas.

Richard Savino with his theorbo in the orchestra pit at War Memorial Opera House. The theorbo was an important instrument through the Renaissance and baroque eras. The last historical compositions written with the theorbo in mind appeared about 1750.  Savino plays a modern copy.  His theorbo has a very long neck and two sets of strings which are plucked—a longer set tuned with pegs at the top of the fret board (for the deeper range), and a shorter set tuned by pegs on the sides of the fret board (for the higher range).  Photo: Geneva Anderson

What is so special about the theorbo and the sound it produces?

Richard Savino:  First there’s understanding why the theorbo is different–it’s shaped like a lute, with a larger bowl size, no flat back, and it’s single strung, so you can pluck it harder because when you have double strings you can’t pluck very hard because they will rattle against each other.  Usually, it has 14 strings and quite long strings. The longer the string length, the lower the pitch.  The instrument has a very odd tuning in which the highest pitch string is the third string from the top and has a very strong middle and bass register with quite a few extended base strings which I pluck with my right hand thumb.  Those pop out like a cannon.  Just the other day, someone told me the other day that I was quite audible (a big compliment to a lute player) but I have always focused on projection.  I play loudly and you have to project to fill a really big hall.  The theorbo provides the bass fundamental and, sometimes, I’ll play the bassline or  just part of the bassline with some chords.

 

What is tricky about playing both the theorbo and baroque guitar in Orlando?

Richard Savino:  In this production, I’m playing just about everything—almost every recit and aria; there are just a couple that I don’t play.  In the second half, my hand just begs for a break.  Handel’s orchestra would have had two of me, so someone could take over.  Here, it is constant because the recitative moves so fast.  Some are conducive to the instrument; some would be conducive to the archlute, which looks like a theorbo but is tuned differently and is more conductive to flat keys.  The theorbo is more conducive to keys that are in the sharp side of our harmonic language.  I’m covering both players in one.  Playing continuo really keeps your brain sharp and focused.  You have to keep track of the tunings of the different instruments when you switch instruments and change your fingerings accordingly.  On one instrument, one fingering will produce the A chord and on another it’s the G chord and so on.

 

What is the difference between an original and a copy of a baroque instrument like the theorbo or guitar and what do you play?

Richard Savino:  I play very accurate copies in Orlando and, as far as we can ascertain, it’s the same sound. These are very delicate instruments and most that have survived from the 17th century suffered from some degree of neglect and damage.  I have a couple of very early guitars in my collection but nothing earlier than 1800.  I play copies of instruments that would have been built in the late 17th century and would have been part of a player’s arsenal.  I know private collectors who own some of these originals and I can say that very good copies do sound very close to the originals in their present state.  But every instrument in and of itself sounds a bit different.

 

In Orlando, Richard Savino plays a modern copy of a baroque guitar.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

The main difference between the guitar and lute and the way they were played is that the guitar, in its baroque incarnation, was strummed and provided expressive rhythm, dance melodies and dramatic battle scenes.  In SFO’s Orlando, Savino strums as well as plucks his guitar. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 

Orlando marks Christopher Moulds’ (SF Opera conductor/ harpsichord) debut with SF Opera.  What does he bring to the production?

Richard Savino:  What I love about him is that he is an expert on period instruments, very well-educated and an intense worker who is demanding but never insulting.  I’d never worked with him before, but I got to know him a little before the production by exchanging emails.  He was very open and conversant, whereas a good number of conductors can be very removed.  He knows how to talk with and work with the orchestra.  A lot of period instrument conductors will talk down to the orchestra which isn’t fair really because, nowadays, orchestras tend to specialize predominantly in romantic and more contemporary repertoire.  That means a lot of the musicians haven’t touched this music in a very long time.  Chris was really good at communicating his ideas.

 

Vermeer’s “Young Woman Seated at a Virginal,” (1670-72), owned by the Leiden Collection, has so far been lent to the Pushkin, the Hermitage and Louvre Abu Dhabi.  For the descriptive video on the Leiden Collection’s website, Savino selected a sonata by Giovanni Legrenzi performed by his ensemble group, El Mundo on strings, harpsichord and lute.  The music’s mood echoes the sobriety of the painting.  Image: courtesy, The Leiden Collection

I’m interested in all your art and music projects—there’s something magical in bringing together different art forms. Tell me about your collaboration with Thomas S. Kaplan, the billionaire metals investor and founder of the Leiden Collection.  I understand that these artworks are being lent all over the world and the music from this same period, that matches them so well, is getting exposure.  What a beautiful project!

 

Richard Savino:  The Leiden Collection is fabulous; it’s the largest collection of privately owned 17th century Dutch paintings in the world—Rembrandt, Vermeer, Jan Steen, Gerrit Dou.  It was founded in 2003 by Thomas S. Kaplan, an art collector from New York, and his wife Daphne Recanti Kaplan.  He was putting together an online catalogue to accompany the part of his collection that tours and asked me to do the soundtracks which accompany his video discussions of each of the paintings.  I did 25 of these, some of which I recorded in the middle of the night in my bedroom and some were taken from tracks that I had recorded previously.  These can be seen and heard on the Leiden Collection in their video section.

 

Collector Thomas S. Kaplan acquired Rembrandt’s “Bust of a Bearded Old Man” (1633) in 2008 and calls it “the jewel in the crown” of The Leiden Collection.  Rembrandt’s smallest known painting, about the size of a baseball card, and the only privately-owned grisaille by the artist in private hands.  Savino plays an early 18th century prelude by Giovanni Zamboni on the archlute which accompanies a video of the artwork as it is unpacked from its crate and held in Kaplan’s hands for the first time. Photo: courtesy The Leiden Collection

 

How did you go about creating the music for each of these paintings?  Did you have free rein?

Richard Savino:  First of all, when I was called and they described it, I thought it was an eight to nine month long project.  But surprise!  They wanted it in a month, so I had to do it very very fast.  I had just had some minor surgery and didn’t even know if I could hold an instrument, much less meet the deadline.  It was a difficult project too.  They wanted music that was epoch appropriate, no later than the early 18th century, preferably late 17th century, luckily repertoire that I had recorded.  I also needed to record some new material so I set up a studio in my practice room at home and, right after the surgery, I started.  They sent me the script, basic mock-ups and I’d get an idea of the kind of piece I wanted.  It was important that the music conformed to the subject matter and the painting itself and, then, I had to match it to the cadence of the speech and be appropriate for the camera and scene cuts/shifts that were part of the video.  It was very challenging.  I remember being up at 3 a.m. in my studio, recording, and then editing and matching it to the video.

 

You’ve also done projects on Francisco Goya and Artemisia Gentileschi.

Richard Savino:  I’ve done quite a few of these.  In fact, I’m doing a Goya program here in San Francisco next May as part of the Humanities West series, Artistic Responses to Napoleon: Beethoven, Goya and Goethe (May 1-2, 2020).  I’ve prepared a multi-media program, Music in the Time of Goya, with music from Soler, Courselle, Boccherini and Sor that will be performed by my chamber ensemble El Mundo.  Works by Goya will be projected throughout the concert. The program was created for the Aston Magna Festival and Milano Classica.

Humanities West actually came about from a project back East, the Aston Magna Academy of Music, whose founder was Albert Fuller, one of my mentors.  It turned me on to this whole idea of interdisciplinary perspectives and putting music into a sociopolitical context which addressed literature, art, architecture and sociopolitical trends.  I attended as a participant in the 1980’s and 1990’s and was later asked to be a guest artistic director and have done that on several occasions.  Right now, I am preparing a program on Rubens with music from Holland, Italy, England, and Spain by Caccini, Frescobaldi, Marin, Arañes, and others for Aston Magna’s summer music festival this July.  My project on the Art and Life of the painter Artemisia Gentileschi received its debut at Aston Magna which then developed into the 2015 cd, What Artemisia Heard; Music from the Time of Caravaggio & Gentileschi.

 

Savino wondered why the music of Artemisia Gentileschi’s time was not as widely appreciated as the visual arts of the era. He decided to integrate the painting of Artemisia and her contemporaries directly with the music these painters would have heard at the time from composers Uccellini, Kapsberger, Ferrari, Frescobaldi, Mazzocchi, Gagliano, Caccini, Piccinini, Castello, Monteverdi, Corbetta, Falconieri, Rossi, Giramo, and Lanier. This evolved into a 2015 cd performed by Savino’s period instrument ensemble, El Mundo, along with distinguished soloists. Photo: courtesy Sono Luminous.

 

How did you go about selecting the pieces for the cd and evoking Artemesia’s struggle to lead her life as an independent woman?

Richard Savino:  Artemisia Gentileschi, who was born in Rome in 1593, was one of the most impressive persons in the history of western civilization; she also was one of the most talented.  She suffered great pain surrounding her rape by Tassi and the trial that found him guilty, but there were moments of beauty and intimacy too. She was friends with a number of composers, and was very close to the very talented Francesca Caccini, who was at the Medici Court and composed the first published opera by a woman.   For the cd, I matched the music to the different cultural environments Artemisia found herself in after the trial.  She traveled widely and lived as a completely independent person, which is remarkable for a 17th century woman.

“DOMINICUS PEREGRINUS Bononiaensis,” engraving, signed “Fontana F,” (17.7 cm x 24.6 cm).  The cover to Domenico Pellegrini Bolognese’s 1650 book of guitar music.  Of note are the long fingernails.

 

Has art provided you with any interesting insights about music centuries ago?  Like the how musicians held their instruments or their nail length?

Richard Savino:  Absolutely, but you have to be careful with that as, sometimes, it’s an affected gesture and they are posing with their instruments rather than holding it the way they would play it.  With the nails, there’s this whole thing in the period instrument world about whether the “pluckers” played with nails.  I’ve seen numerous paintings by both anonymous and well known artists that do actually depict players with long nails.  An important work is the cover engraving to Domenico Pellegrini’s book of guitar music that was published in 1650.  It shows him with his right hand extended with long fingernails.  In addition to guitar, we know that he also played lute with the ensemble based at San Petronio, the major cathedral in Bologna.  We also know about these kinds of performance “practices” from the tutorials themselves.  I’ve learned that it was dependent on country and climate.  In Italy, they used fingernails because they played outdoors in cathedrals and they had to be louder, same with Spain.  In France and England, where it rained a lot, they played indoors and it was a much more intimate space and they played without for the most part.  With nails, you can project more, which some find less refined, more aggressive and in your face.

 

You mentioned that you studied with Segovia? What was that like? A memorable moment?

Richard Savino:  I played at the Metropolitan Museum for him and he actually yanked the guitar out of my hand and said ‘You should never play this piece again.’  Because this was filmed by PBS and shown on CBS Sunday morning, it gave me a degree of notoriety.  At  that stage of my life, all publicity, was good publicity.  To be fair, it was a piece he didn’t like and it was also my attitude—that I even thought of playing it for him—that he found so irritating.  But it was like meeting Buddha.  I was in front of this larger than life figure.  I also studied with him at the Conservatoire du Musique in Geneva, and was lucky enough to have a few private lessons with him in New York

 

Before we began our formal interview, you alluded to a new musical discovery you’d made…is this a historical find, something that will likely be recorded?

Richard Savino:  It consists of a collection of cantatas by some of the most important early 18th century Spanish composers.  I will edit the music and record it as an El Mundo project.  I’m a very good sleuth.  I uncovered these personally in a collection in Spain where they should not have been located.  I had heard a rumor about some wonderful other pieces and, while trying to track those down in an archive, these literally fell out of a book and are a gold mine.

 

Details: Orlando has two remaining performances at War Memorial Opera House: June 21 and 27, 2019, both at 7:30 p.m.  Run time is 3 hours and 20 min.  Tickets:  www.sfopera.com, by phone at (415) 864-3330, or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave.

Richard Savino’s ensemble group, El Mundo, will perform a program of 18th century music from Latin America with the San Francisco Girl’s Chorus in October 2019.

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June 21, 2019 Posted by | Art, Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

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

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

Sixty years ago, Ed Ruscha, moved across country from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to study art at what would become Cal Arts.  Ever since, the celebrated artist, now 78, has been exploring the West’s expansive cultural and physical landscape. “Ed Rusha and the Great American West,” at the de Young Museum through October 9, 2016, examines Ruscha’s fascination with the Western United States, shifting emblems of American life, and the effects of time on this restless landscape.  Ninety-nine of the artist’s prints, photos, paintings, and drawings fill the de Young’s Herbst exhibition galleries on the bottom floor, giving us an opportunity to see the originals of artworks we all know from prints and posters, including his mythic Hollywood signs and Standard gasoline stations.

“Ed Ruscha defies easy categorization,” says Karin Breuer, who curated the show and is curator in charge of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, where she has worked for over 25 years, succeeding Robert Flynn Johnson. “He’s known as a pop artist, conceptual artist, surrealist and, early on, was identified with the West Coast pop movement, the so-called “cool school” of art.  He’s adept at painting, photography, printmaking and has created wonderful artist’s books.  He’s well known for using words as subjects in his imagery and letter forms.”

At the show’s press conference, I spoke with Breuer about Ed Ruscha and her framing of this expansive exhibit and our interview is below.  I also spoke with Max Hollein, FAMSF’s new director, who headed Frankfurt’s Städel Museum and the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection (2006-16) and the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2001-16).  After 15 years in Deutschland, this German headed West to helm FAMSF, the largest public arts institution in Northern California, and officially began work on June 1.  His impressive skill packet includes overseeing the Städel Museum’s expansion and its digital initiatives platform which entailed collaborating with the tech industry to make the museum’s collections fully and pleasantly accessible online.  Naturally, he’s quite interested in working with the Bay Area’s tech industry as well.  I asked him what attracted him to the Bay Area─

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and, right now, it’s filled with so much energy.  There’s a real transformation occurring as it moves to an even higher level and our two museums will be a part of this rising tide.  Basically, museums are not places that you visit; they are gathering places.  I want to make our museums even more welcoming and relevant and part of that is making our education efforts even stronger and more connected to the contemporary culture.

There’s no better welcome to the Bay Area for Hollein, who says he has loved Ed Ruscha’s Hollywood signs “for ages”, than a huge show exploring Ruscha’s wry and poetic take American contemporary culture.

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

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

Here is my conversation with the savvy Karin Breur whose long-standing dialogue with Ruscha and hard work have produced a show with depth that is a delight to behold─

Why frame this show around the “Great American West”?

Karin Breuer:   It was an easy and purposeful decision.  I wanted to reverse a trend I’ve observed in exhibits with artists of Ed’s caliber─staying away from their ‘regionalism’ for fear that leads to a provincial look at an artist’s work.  Instead, I thought, why not examine this.  He’s been an artist who by choice went to school in Los Angeles and has lived there for 60 years and has depicted aspects of the West often in his work.  As I kept looking more and more at the work, I realized there’s a story there from the very beginning, when he came out to art school at the age of 18 and traveled West from Oklahoma, all the way up to today where he’s looking at his Western environment and observing change.  The show contains works from 1961 to 2014, a huge expanse of time, but it’s not a catch-all retrospective.

Has he drawn on the Bay Area at all?

Karin Breuer:   No, not at all; it’s mostly the Southwest that has been his focus and stomping ground.  Last night, however, I heard him say that it’s only recently that he’s come to appreciate San Francisco and the Bay Area.  He’s decided that it’s the most beautiful city in the world but, he said, it may be ‘too beautiful’ for him to handle as subject in his art.  There was kind a stay-tuned aspect to that though.  He’s created a very interesting portfolio of prints called “Los Francisco San Angeles” where he combines street grids from both cities into one image and I think that’s the one effort that he’s made so far to connect the two cities.  These are not in the exhibit.

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

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

 

Do you have a personal favorite?

Karin Breuer:   I always thought I did but, every time I walk into the galleries, I seem to change my choice.  I’m still very much in love with “Pyscho Spaghetti Western” and it’s because it depicts a roadway with a lot of garbage, trash, and debris that he has treated as beautifully as a still life.  I find that so evocative of not only his quirky subject matter but also of the West and how it’s changed since he first took to the open roads in 1956.

 

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

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

What is the FAMSF’s collecting relationship with Ruscha?  When did you really start building the collection?

Karin Breuer:   Our relationship goes back to 2000, when we acquired Ruscha’s print archive and we came into a collection of over 350 prints at that time.  He continues to contribute to this: each time he makes a print and it’s published, we get an impression of that print.  He’s very prolific and we love that. We now have about 450 prints, one drawing, and one beautiful painting.  For the new de Young building, we commissioned Ed to create a tripych─two panels that would be added to his 1983 painting “A Particular Kind of Heaven,” which we already had in our possession.  You will see a lot of these works in the galleries.

What was his reaction to the show’s concept?

Karin Breuer:   I pitched it to him early on and he liked it and he lent us works from his personal collection and helped facilitate loans from private collectors.  Now that the show is up, he’s been very positive.  This is a very appropriate time for this show as its Ed’s 60th anniversary in California.

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

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

 

Do you know if he has a favorite word?

Karin Breuer:   No, and I think if you ask him, you won’t get a straight answer either.  There are some words that appear in different forms.  The word “adiós,” for example, also “rancho” and “rodeo”…those are three words that appear in different forms in my show, that he took on the in the 1960’s.  I wouldn’t say that he continues to use them but they percolate in his vocabulary.

When did his fascination with words begin? 

Karin Breuer:   I know that in college, he had a job in a topography workshop and later he worked as a graphic designer, so words have been a part of his thinking for a very long time.  He keeps lists of words that have captured his attention in notebooks and has said that words have temperatures and when those words become really hot that’s when he uses them in his art.

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

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

 

Now that you’ve spent a lot of time with his work, what makes it so powerful for you?

Karin Breuer:   I think it’s the sense of humor that is in almost every single image; it’s wonderful─very dry, very laconic.  He’s that kind of a personality too.  I never cease to be amazed when I see something new coming from him─he’s got such a fertile mind, always thinking, always looking and discovering, and then reacting.  Some of his latest paintings feature exploded tire treads that are called ‘gators’ by truckers.  He treats these as beautiful objects and they almost look like angels’ wings.  I just think to myself, that’s really unexpected, brilliant.

What sparked your interest in becoming a curator?  

Karin Breuer:   I’m the curator of prints and drawings and the inspiration came in college.  I was a college as an art history student during the Vietnam War and there was a lot of social protest on campus.  I was scratching my head thinking what does art history have to do with this? The world is changing, am I doing the right thing?   A beloved professor of mine showed slides of Goya’s “Los Caprichos” and “The Disasters of War” and the light bulb went off.  I said to myself ‘prints!’…they can have a political impact and everyone can afford prints…this is a very democratic medium.  So, I went to graduate school to focus on prints and drawings, a realm of socially relevant art history.

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

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

What about your career at the de Young?

Karin Breuer:   I’ve been here 31 years.  When I joined in 1985 as an assistant curator, it was a pretty sleepy institution, as many museums were back in the day. I stayed on and worked my way up, which is kind of unheard of in the younger generations now days, but the Achenbach has only had three professional curators (E. Gunter Troche (1956-71); Robert Flynn Johnson (1975-2007), including myself.  We’ve changed dramatically and dynamically and I have to say that I am absolutely thrilled about Max Hollein’s arrival here.  Already, his energy and enthusiasm are having an impact on us.

Details: “Ed Rusha and the Great American West” closes October 9, 2016.   Hours:  The de Young is open Tues-Sun 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. and on Fridays (through November 25) until 8:45 p.m.  Admission $22; with discounts for seniors, college students.  Audio guides: $8.  The de Young Museum is located in Golden Gate Park at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.  Street parking is available for 4 hours and there is a paid parking lot with direct access to the museum.

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