ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

“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

In “Gorgeous” at the Asian Art Museum through September 14, 2014, Mark Rothko’s “No. 14, 1960,” one of SFMOMA’s most visited artworks, shares a small gallery with an exquisite 17th century Chinese bronze Buddha, whose robes seem blown by a soft breeze, and a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist mandala, all of which encourage very slow looking—the full extent of their gorgeousness is experienced through reflection over time.  “Gorgeous” presents mostly Western modern and contemporary works from SFMOMA in conversation with artworks from AAM that span 2,000 years and many different cultures, opening up whole new ways of experiencing all of these works very much in the present moment.  Photo: Geneva Anderson

In “Gorgeous” at the Asian Art Museum through September 14, 2014, Mark Rothko’s “No. 14, 1960,” one of SFMOMA’s most visited artworks, shares a small gallery with an exquisite 17th century Chinese bronze Buddha, whose robes seem blown by a soft breeze, and a 17th century Tibetan Buddhist mandala, all of which encourage very slow looking—the full extent of their gorgeousness is experienced through reflection over time. “Gorgeous” presents mostly Western modern and contemporary works from SFMOMA in conversation with artworks from AAM that span 2,000 years and many different cultures, opening up whole new ways of experiencing all of these works very much in the present moment. Photo: Geneva Anderson

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.

Gorgeous often seduces through the allure of the extreme.  Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988), rendered in gold glazed porcelain 1988, is a mainstay of SFMOMA’s collection.  In addition to being on view in “Gorgeous,” another edition of the sculpture is currently on view at the Whitney’s Jeff Koons’ retrospective.  SFMOMA curator Janet Bishop notes that the iconic piece captures “a very real moment in the pop star’s obsessive personal pursuit of gorgeousness.”   Collection SFMOMA, ©Jeff Koons.

Gorgeous often seduces through the allure of the extreme. Jeff Koons’ “Michael Jackson and Bubbles” (1988), rendered in gold glazed porcelain 1988, is a mainstay of SFMOMA’s collection. In addition to being on view in “Gorgeous,” another edition of the sculpture is currently on view at the Whitney’s Jeff Koons’ retrospective. SFMOMA curator Janet Bishop notes that the iconic piece captures “a very real moment in the pop star’s obsessive personal pursuit of gorgeousness.” Collection SFMOMA, ©Jeff Koons.

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.

(Left) Torso of a female deity, 1400–1600. Southern India. Stone.  Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B63S3+.  (Right) “Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again,” 1997, by Tracey Emin. Neon. Collection SFMOMA, © 2014 Tracey Emin.

(Left) Torso of a female deity, 1400–1600. Southern India. Stone. Courtesy of Asian Art Museum, The Avery Brundage Collection, B63S3+. (Right) “Fantastic to Feel Beautiful Again,” 1997, by Tracey Emin. Neon. Collection SFMOMA, © 2014 Tracey Emin.

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.”

Is posing your five-year-old child so as to capture innate sexuality crossing a border, or, is this silver gelatin portrait “gorgeous” because it so sensuously captures an honest slice of childhood?  Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987) brushes up against social boundaries that are fluidly defined but perfectly illustrate the tensions in the SFMOMA-Asian Art Museum exhibit, “Gorgeous.” @Sally Mann. Courtesy: Gagosian Gallery.

Is posing your five-year-old child so as to capture innate sexuality crossing a border?, or, Is this silver gelatin portrait “gorgeous” because it so sensuously captures an honest slice of childhood? Sally Mann’s “Jessie at 5” (1987) brushes up against social boundaries that are fluidly defined but perfectly illustrate the tensions in the SFMOMA-Asian Art Museum exhibit, “Gorgeous.” @Sally Mann. Courtesy: Gagosian Gallery.

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?”

(Left) “Miss Blanche chair” by Shiro Kuramata (1988), plastic, artificial flowers, aluminum. Collection SFMOMA. @Estate of Shiro Kuramata.  (Right) Chair for the imperial court, approx.. 1750-1850.  China. Lacquered wood.  The Avery Brundage Collection, B60M28+.

(Left) “Miss Blanche chair” by Shiro Kuramata (1988), plastic, artificial flowers, aluminum. Collection SFMOMA. @Estate of Shiro Kuramata. (Right) Chair for the imperial court, approx.. 1750-1850. China. Lacquered wood. The Avery Brundage Collection, B60M28+.

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.

DetailsGorgeous 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/.

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August 29, 2014 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum, Oakland Museum of California, SFMOMA, Sonoma County Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

review: Berkeley Rep’s “Red”— a must-see primer for art, life and the many excesses of Mark Rothko

In the Tony Award-winning play “Red” at Berkeley Rep through May 12, 2012, renowned painter Mark Rothko (David Chandler) engages in a battle of wits with his assistant (John Brummer, at left). Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

For days, I’ve thought about Mark Rothko and Berkeley’s Rep’s red-hot Red.  There’s a fascinating tension in the play that involves watching the thermodynamics of Rothko’s savage personality reel into something increasingly repulsive and tragic and experiencing another set of thermodynamics at play around the fragility of his creative process and his efforts to protect his artworks from the harshness of the world.   And that’s the crux of Red—we are watching subtle transitions to other states of being unfold in man and art, right before our eyes.  That’s complex and John Logan’s  intimate two character play, under Les Waters’ powerful direction, could not be more engrossing.  Originally scheduled to close on April 29, 2012, Berkeley Rep has just added 12 more performances of Red, so it will now run through May 12, 2012.  If you’ve never before crossed the San Rafael-Richmond Bridge into Berkeley for art, this multi-Tony drama is worth the effort.

In the Tony Award-winning play “Red” at Berkeley Rep through May 12, 2012, renowned painter Mark Rothko (David Chandler) engages in a battle of wits with his assistant (John Brummer, at left). Photo courtesy of kevinberne.com

One of the best things about Red is its realistic set, designed by Louisa Thompson, on Berkeley rep’s intimate Thrust stage.  It evokes the temporary New York Bowery studio that Rothko used from 1958-1960, when he painted 40 enormous murals for the swank Four Seasons restaurant in the newly completed Seagram Building on Park Avenue. The entire 90 minute play unfolds in this paint-encrusted studio, which is laid out with a ladder and a paint splattered wooden work table, old cans and jars full of brushes, rags and buckets of paint.  Rear panels move to expose a wall of lights, designed by Alexander V. Nichols, that illuminate Rothko’s discussion of the importance of light and why natural light is insufficient for him.   What the audience is privy to in this studio though is mainly talk—a running conversation between Rothko (David Chandler) and Ken (John Brummer), a young painter who is hired, just as the play begins, to assist Rothko, at the peak of his career, with whatever he wants.

It’s hard to imagine anyone who’d be a better fit for the role than Chandler, who so thoroughly embodies Rothko’s fierce narcissistic grandiosity and numerous insecurities that’s he literally frightening to behold.  Rothko lectures, berates and prods Ken, insisting that he is not there to teach him, but, of course, an ego this large can’t resist sharing and what ensues is a passionate live course in art history and art appreciation for young Ken.  The problem—Rothko needs to be in total control and reflexively shoots down anything anyone says.  Ken, who serves almost a cipher/slave in the beginning, really begins to come into himself once he accepts Rothko’s dangerous invitation for discourse and begins to express some very interesting opinions despite Rothko’s limitations.  Ken is John Brummer’s debut role with Berkeley Rep and he does a remarkable job.   Ken is a character who’s got a fascinating side story of suffering and anguish that, by all rights, should leave him as screwed up as Rothko is but it doesn’t.  One of the best exchanges between the two men takes places as Rothko brilliantly defends the old masters—Picasso, Matisse, Van Gogh, Michelangelo and Caravaggio against Ken’s list of new painters —Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollack, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg.  The art discourse is superbly crafted and avoids the perilous slip into clichéd references, instead getting into some meaty philosophical issues.  I can’t recall one affirmational thing that Rothko says to Ken at any point in the play.  About the highest compliment that Rothko pays him is expressed in the negative, telling him that he’s gotten all he can out of the studio experience and he needs to move on.

One of the Red’s highlights comes when the two men, working quite feverishly, prime a canvas with red paint, orchestrated to gorgeous classical music.  This single very theatrical act of priming speaks volumes.  As much as the play is about painting though, the act of painting isn’t really shown as much as it is inferred.  In Mark Rothko’s studio, the magic of the artistic process is tightly controlled and there is a critical balance and tension that is sought—learning how far to go until everything changes and becomes something else.  Rothko lives on that edge with both color and process and it seems the very best and worst moment is when a piece of art slips away from his grasp and develops into something that he can no longer predict from the ingredients and processes he used.  When we look at a Rothko, in low light, there’s a magical sense of transition—shifts between solid, liquid and gaseous states of matter, shifting from one form of being into another—something not so easily understandable, but deeply recognized and felt.  What Logan has done and these two actors beautifully embody is the subtle tipping points in human character too—Rothko tilts from pompous to sickening to borderline dangerous, very tragic, while Ken becomes more insightful, interesting, and attractive for who he is and what he’ been through.

A Rothko at auction now:  Neither art nor theatre happens in a vacuum.  On May 8 and 9, 2012, Christies New York will sell the Pinkus Family’s 1961 Rothko, “Orange, Red, Yellow,” which is roughly from the same period that John Logan’s play Red references.   The 1961 painting was purchased by David and Geraldine Pinkus from the Marlborough Gallery in New York in 1967.  Measuring nearly 8 feet by 7 feet, the painting is unusually large and of vibrant orange and reds. It is estimated to sell for $35 million to $45 million.  Other abstract expressionist works from the Pinkus collection, from this period will be auctioned too, including works by Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Arshile Gorky.  Several of these artists are mentioned in Red.   Christies calls this “the most important and comprehensive ensemble of Abstract Expressionism ever to come to auction.”

Rothko’s have been making the news for years with their record-setting prices at auction. In early November, 2005, Rothko’s 1953 oil on canvas painting, Homage to Matisse, broke the record selling price of any post-war painting at a public auction, at US$ 22.5 million.

In May 2007, Rothko’s 1950 painting White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose), sold by philanthropist David Rockefeller, broke this record again, selling at US$ 72.8 million at Sotheby’s, New York.

More about John Logan:  San Diego born (9.24.61) playwright, screenwriter and film producer John Logan grew up in California and New Jersey and attended Northwestern University in Chicago.  He received the Tony Award, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama League Awards for Red.  It premiered in 2009 at the Donmar Warehouse in London and, in 2010, played at the Golden Theatre on Broadway, where it won five other Tony Awards as well.  Logan is the author of more than a dozen plays, including Hauptmann and Never the Sinner. His adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder premiered on the West End in 2003.  As a screenwriter, Logan had three movies released in 2011: Coriolanus, Hugo, and Rango.  His previous film work includes Any Given Sunday, The Aviator (Oscar, Golden Globe, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and Writers Guild of America nominations), Gladiator (Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and WGA nominations), The Last Samurai, RKO 281 (WGA award and Emmy nomination), and Sweeney Todd (Golden Globe Award).

Red:  Written by John Logan, Directed by Les Waters, Designed by Louisa Thompson (sets), Anna Oliver (costumes), Alexander V. Nichols (lights), and Bray Poor (sound)

Starring David Chandler (Mark Rothko) and John Brummer (Ken)

Run-time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Details: Red runs through May 12, 2012 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Thrust Stage, 2025 Addison Street at Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.  Tickets are $17.50 to $85 and can be purchased online at http://tickets.berkeleyrep.org/.   To purchase seats by phone, or, for more information, call (510) 647-2949.

Special Events:

Pre-show docent talks: Tuesdays 4/10, 4/17 & 4/24 and Thursdays 4/5, 4/12, 4/19 & 4/26 @ 7:00 PM

Post-play discussions: Thursday 4/5, Tuesday 4/10, and Friday 4/20 @ 8:00 PM

Student matinee: Thursday 4/19 @ noon

Tastings: Fridays 4/6 (Dr. Kracker) & 4/13 (Urbano Cellars) @ 7:00 PM, Saturday 4/14 (Peterson Winery) @ 8:00 PM, and Sundays 4/15 (Stella Nonna Catering) & 4/22 (Martin Ray Winery) @ 6:00 PM

April 7, 2012 Posted by | Art, Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment