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Geneva Anderson digs into art

San Francisco’s Silent Film Festival: celebrating its 20th anniversary with 20 gems and an added day—kicks off this Thursday, May 28, 2015

The rare 1927 Chinese film, “Cave of the Spider Women“ (“Pan Si Dong”), screens Friday at the 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, May 28-June1, 2015.  This was the first Chinese film to screen in Scandinavia (Oslo 1929) and it was discovered in 2001 in archives of the National Library of Norway.  Special guest film archivist, Tina Anckarman from the National Library of Norway, will speak about its history and restoration.  Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius will pride live musical accompaniment. The engaging story revolves around a pilgrim monk who has been entrusted by an emperor to find some sacred Buddhist texts and he ends up trapped in the Cave of the Seven Spiders, who want to eat his flesh to become immortal.  The San Francisco Silent Film Society paid for new intertitles.   Image:  SFSFS

The rare 1927 Chinese film, “Cave of the Spider Women“ (“Pan Si Dong”), screens Friday at the 20th San Francisco Silent Film Festival, May 28-June1, 2015. This was the first Chinese film to screen in Scandinavia (Oslo 1929) and it was discovered in 2001 in archives of the National Library of Norway. Special guest film archivist, Tina Anckarman from the National Library of Norway, will speak about its history and restoration. Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius will pride live musical accompaniment. The story revolves around a pilgrim monk who has been entrusted by an emperor to find some sacred Buddhist texts. While begging for food, he ends up trapped in the Cave of the Seven Spiders, who not only want to seduce him but also eat his flesh to become immortal. Filmed during the last years of China’s Qing dynasty, before the 1911 Xinhai Revolution overthrew imperial rule, the film features extraordinary views of life and landscape in Beijing. Shots of hawkers, laborers, traders, and artisans reveal the city’s vibrant street culture. The San Francisco Silent Film Society paid for new intertitles. Image: SFSFS

On Thursday, the beloved San Francisco Silent Film Festival (SFSFF) returns to San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre and runs through Monday with a program of rare silent-era gems—20 features and numerous additional fascinating clips—well worth the trip to San Francisco.  This year, the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary and has added a full day of programming on Monday, including a free silent film trivia event hosted by Film Forum’s Bruce Goldman.   From iconic silent film actors to fantastic restorations, this year’s lineup spans the far corners of the globe and delivers an outstanding mix from cinema’s golden age and American classics.  SFSFF this presents these gems in all their glory as they were meant to be seen—on the big screen in the beautiful Castro theatre, a beloved San Francisco landmark built in 1992 during the silent era.  Every film is presented with live musical accompaniment from musicians who live to breathe life into silent film and who will trek in from Colorado, New York, England, Germany and Sweden to perform at the Castro.

The festival’s spectacular historical footage of foreign lands, old customs and great storytelling is what keeps me coming back year after year.  It’s that and the audience, as you never know who you’ll end up sitting by.  Last year, I sat by a wonderful Hollywood costume designer who gave me a fascinating blow by blow account of the special tailoring techniques used in many of the outfits on screen.

This year’s festival includes early films from China (1), France (3), Germany (2), UK/German (1), Norway (1), Sweden (1) and the USA (10). The line-up includes such rarities as the first Chinese film to screen in Norway; an early Swedish film about an young boy who has to learn to adapt to a step-mother and step-sister after his mother’s sudden death; the earliest known surviving footage of a feature film with black actors; two French films illustrating artistic and intellectual life in avant-garde 1920’s Paris;  a silent version of Sherlock Holmes; and the first film to win Oscars for both Outstanding Production and Best Director (Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front).  The Castro seats 1400 but these films are immensely popular, so do buy your tickets ahead of time to ensure you get a seat.

Festival director, Anita Monga, responsible for programming, adds “We are trying to represent the breadth and depth of the silent era, balancing drama and comedy and presenting things from around the world.  Every year, there are more and more restorations of wonderful films that are being discovered. This year, we are presenting several restorations of films that were lost—Cave of the Spider Women, Sherlock Holmes (with William Gillet, the foremost interpreter of Sherlock on stage).  We’re also doing 100 years in Post-Production…an important presentation about a film that was found at New York’s MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) with an all African-American cast that includes the great entertainer Burt Williams.  Ron Magliozzi, the MoMA curator for the project, will be here narrating and sharing dozens of rare photographs too.  We’ve added an extra day and new free programs that will engage the audience.  We’re offering a very rich experience that is set to live music.”

Jacque Feydor’s “Visages d'enfants” (“Faces of Children”), a 1921 masterpiece, was filmed on location in the remote Haut-Valais alps region of Switzerland, with spectacular mountain scenery and a thrilling avalanche scene adding atmosphere to the characters' complex emotions. The film is about the effect on a sensitive troubled boy (Jean Forest) of his mother's death and his father's remarriage.  The completely natural emotional intensity of the children, particularly 12 year-old Jean Forest, make this one of the most poignant films of the silent era.  Screens Saturday, May 30, at 2 PM.  Image: SFSFF

Jacque Feydor’s “Visages d’enfants” (“Faces of Children”), a 1921 masterpiece, was filmed on location in the remote Haut-Valais alps region of Switzerland, with spectacular mountain scenery and a thrilling avalanche scene adding atmosphere to the characters’ complex emotions. The film is about the effect on a sensitive troubled boy (Jean Forest) of his mother’s death and his father’s remarriage. The completely natural emotional intensity of the children, particularly 12 year-old Jean Forest, make this one of the most poignant films of the silent era. Screens Saturday, May 30, at 2 PM. Image: SFSFF

Serge Bromberg, founder of restoration lab and film distributor, Lobster Films, is the recipient of this year’s Silent Film Festival Award to be presented before Saturday’s  “Visages d'Enfants”  screening.  Bromberg is a preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, musician and favorite of SFSFF.  Since 1992, he has presented his rare film finds in the touring program, “Retour de Flamme” (“Saved from the Flames”) to audiences worldwide and has been responsible for the recovery of the films of George Méliès, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Max Linder, and many more.  Bromberg will both introduce and accompany Saturday’s  “Amazing Charley Bowers” program which will screen Bowers’ beautifully restored surviving films from the 1920’s.  Image: SFSFF

Serge Bromberg, founder of restoration lab and film distributor, Lobster Films, is the recipient of this year’s Silent Film Festival Award to be presented before Saturday’s “Visages d’Enfants” screening. Bromberg is a preservationist, entertainer, filmmaker, musician and favorite of SFSFF. Since 1992, he has presented his rare film finds in the touring program, “Retour de Flamme” (“Saved from the Flames”) to audiences worldwide and has been responsible for the recovery of the films of George Méliès, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Max Linder, and many more. Bromberg will both introduce and accompany Saturday’s “Amazing Charley Bowers” program which will screen Bowers’ beautifully restored surviving films from the 1920’s. Image: SFSFF

Silent film accompanist Stephen Horne, based at London’s BFI Southbank, plays at all the major UK venues, including the Barbican Centre and the Imperial War Museum and is in high demand at festivals all over the world. .  Although principally a pianist, he often incorporates other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. This year marks Horne’s ninth year playing at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.  Horne will accompany “When the Earth Trembled”, “The Ghost Train,” “Visages d”enfants,” “Ménilmontant,” “Avant-Garde Paris,”  and “The Swallow and the Titmouse,” where he will be joined by the world-renowned San Francisco-based harpist Diana Rowan.  Image: SFSFF

Silent film accompanist Stephen Horne, based at London’s BFI Southbank, plays at all the major UK venues, including the Barbican Centre and the Imperial War Museum and is in high demand at festivals all over the world. . Although principally a pianist, he often incorporates other instruments into his performances, sometimes playing them simultaneously. This year marks Horne’s ninth year playing at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. Horne will accompany “When the Earth Trembled”, “The Ghost Train,” “Visages d”enfants,” “Ménilmontant,” “Avant-Garde Paris,” and “The Swallow and the Titmouse,” where he will be joined by the world-renowned San Francisco-based harpist Diana Rowan. Image: SFSFF

Full festival schedule here.

Details:  SFSFF runs Thursday, May 28, 2015 through Monday, June 1, 2015 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro Street (between Market and 18th Streets), San Francisco.  Tickets: $16 for all films, except opening night film which is $22.  Passes to all films (Opening Night Party not included) are $260 general and $230 for San Francisco Silent Film Society members (lowest membership level is $50).  Click here for tickets. Click here for passes and membership info.   Information: (415) 777-4908 or www.silentfilm.org.

Parking Alert:  If you plan on coming by car, street parking is the only parking available.  Plan to arrive 45 minutes early to leave sufficient time for parking in the Castro district and walking to/from the theatre.  Plan on arriving at the theater at least 15 minutes prior to the screening.

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May 26, 2015 Posted by | Chamber Music, Classical Music, Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CAAMFest—Asian American film, food, music and comradery kicks off Thursday, March 12, and runs for 11 days in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland

Nikiko, Korio, Marci and David “Mas” Masumoto have an 80 acre farm in Del Ray, south of Fresno, where they grow several varieties of prized heirloom peaches and nectarines.  They are the subject of the CAAM-produced documentary “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,” which lyrically recounts the daughter Nikiko’s decision to take over the reins of the family’s peach business from her father, Mas, the celebrated peach farmer and author.  In their lifelong search for the perfect peach, the Masumotos till much more than the soil; they embrace the soul of farming which is an intimate act of bravely nurturing which life throws at you.  The Masumotos are being honored at CAAMFest 2015 with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening at the Oakland Museum of California where the film will have its world premiere.  Image: CAAMFest

Nikiko, Korio, Marci and David “Mas” Masumoto have an 80 acre farm in Del Ray, south of Fresno, where they grow several varieties of prized heirloom peaches and nectarines. They are the subject of the CAAM-produced documentary “Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm,” which lyrically recounts the daughter Nikiko’s decision to take over the reins of the family’s peach business from her father, Mas, the celebrated peach farmer and author. In their lifelong search for the perfect peach, the Masumotos till much more than the soil; they embrace the soul of farming which is an intimate act of bravely nurturing what life throws at you. The Masumotos are being honored at CAAMFest 2015 with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening at the Oakland Museum of California where the film will have its world premiere. Image: CAAMFest

The Center for Asian American Media’s CAAMfest turns 33 this year and continues its morph from a pure film festival into a series of festive happenings that fuse cutting edge independent film with music and food—all with an Asian American twist.  CAAMFest takes place over the next 11 days in venues all around the Bay Area including the Asian Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California, which add their enticing exhibits to the mix.  Formerly the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival (SFIAAFF), CAAMFest 2015 offers more than 100 movies and videos focused on the discovery of new talents, voices and visions. It’s by far the largest festival of Asian American movies in North America. Under the leadership of Masashi Niwano, now in his fifth year as festival & exhibitions director, the event has become one of the country’s major platforms for conveying the richness and diversity of the Asian American multicultural experience.  ARThound loves this festival because it’s so excellently curated, delivering rich and unusual stories from around the globe that stay with you for years.

This year, you’ll see Asian American broadly defined too.  Iranian director Rakshan Banietemad’s new film, Tales, which picked up the award for Best Screenplay at Venice, caught the CAAMFest programmers’ eyes, not just because it’s a great film but because the director, working under dior conditions in Iran, creatively stitched together a series of shorts, stories from her previous films, to create a full length film.  In so doing, she managed to navigate the bureaucracy of the Iranian cultural ministry which requires a license for a feature but not for shorts.  Bravo!   There are also stories involving the Asian diaspora.   Juan Martín Hsu’s La Salada is set in Argentina’s bustling discount market, La Salada, just outside of Buenos Aires, and involves an ensemble cast of Korean, Taiwanese, and Bolivian immigrants whose experiences all converge at the market.  It’s thus no surprise that “travel” is this year’s theme.  Opportunities for armchair travel abound and over 200 guests will be flying in CAAMFest.

BIG NIGHTS:

Opening Night:  The festival kicks off at the historic Castro Theatre on Thursday evening (March 12), with Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching (2015), his new feature film which garnered quite a buzz when it premiered at Sundance in January.  A tribute to the 1980’s teen movies of John Hughes, but infused with a Korean sensibility and Lee’s own experiences, this dramedy is set in a state run summer camp in Korea that brings together Korean teens from all over the globe for the purpose of teaching them about their culture. Lee uses the teen’s stories, and their unexpected twists, to explore the Korean diaspora. Lee’s Planet B-Boy, about break-dancers in an international competition, won best documentary and the audience award at CAAMfest in 2008. Lee and several cast members will attend.

Opening Gala:  After the screening, there’s an opening night gala at the Asian Art Museum, with a 1980’s dance party with cocktails and fine food amidst the Seduction exhibit of Edo-period Japan. The exhibition has over 60 works of art and features Japanese artist Hishikawa Moronobu’s (1618-1694) spectacular 58 foot long painted silk handscroll, A Visit to the Yoshiwara, which is shown completely unfurled for the first time. The masterpiece, on loan from the John C. Weber, depicts daily life in the entertainment district in the 17th century.

Kalki Koechlin plays Laila in Shonali Bose’s second feature film, “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), CAAMFest’s Centerpiece film, the first Indian film that introduces a character with cerebral palsy.  Image: CAAMFest

Kalki Koechlin plays Laila in Shonali Bose’s second feature film, “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), CAAMFest’s Centerpiece film, the first Indian film that introduces a character with cerebral palsy. Image: CAAMFest

CAAMfest’s Centerpiece movie:  Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw (2014) screens at Castro on Sunday, March 15th and represents the powerful storytelling and moments of palpable intimacy that CAAMFest is famous for.  Kalki Koechlin plays Laila, a young woman from Delhi who is determined not to let her cerebral palsy interfere with her life —she writes lyrics for a rock band, flirts wildly with her classmates and dreams of going to New York to participate in NYU’s prestigious creative writing program to which she’s been admitted. Set in Delhi and New York, the film is a brave and glorious homage to that old adage—“follow your heart.”

Closing Night:  The festival’s closes with Bruce Seidel’s Lucky Chow, a six-part PBS series which will be showcased over the course of two days—Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22—at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater.  The series features Danielle Chang (LUCKYRICE culinary festival founder) as she travel across America, taking in the Asian food landscape.  Accompanying the film will be an Asian-inspired curated menu from the New Parkway kitchen.  Other food-related films are Grace Lee’s Off the Menu: Asian America and Edmond Wong’s Supper Club exploring Bay Area restaurants.

As part of a Spotlight on San Francisco documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong, CAAMFest presents the world premiere of his documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicling the period of the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical stronghold over Cambodia.  The story is told through the eyes of the late Dr. Haing S. Ngor, arguably the most recognizable survivor of the Cambodian genocide.  Ngor fled to the U.S. and became a worldwide ambassador for justice, recreating his experience in the film “The Killing Fields” (1984), for which he won an Academy Award in 1984, only to be murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 1996.  Using animation and rare archival material, anchored by Ngor's richly layered autobiography, this remarkable story brings you face to face with a man who embodied the harsh duality of danger and opportunity.   Image: CAAMFest

As part of a Spotlight on San Francisco documentary filmmaker Arthur Dong, CAAMFest presents the world premiere of his documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor” chronicling the period of the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical stronghold over Cambodia. The story is told through the eyes of the late Dr. Haing S. Ngor, arguably the most recognizable survivor of the Cambodian genocide. Ngor fled to the U.S. and became a worldwide ambassador for justice, recreating his experience in the film “The Killing Fields” (1984), for which he won an Academy Award in 1984, only to be murdered in a Los Angeles Chinatown alley in 1996. Using animation and rare archival material, anchored by Ngor’s richly layered autobiography, this remarkable story brings you face to face with a man who embodied the harsh duality of danger and opportunity. Image: CAAMFest

Honoring the 40th anniversary of Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge: Lest we not forget the tragic moments that also define cultures, CAAMfest is presenting a collection of powerful stories of survival and resiliency from Cambodia’s tragic Khmer Rouge period. As part of the Spotlight feature on acclaimed filmmaker Arthur Dong, his new documentary, The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, chronicles the years encapsulating the Khmer Rouge’s tyranny through the eyes of Dr. Haing S. Ngor, who escaped to America and recreated his experience in the film The Killing Fields, for which he won an Academy Award in 1984.  Dong will be in conversation with film critic and author B. Ruby Rich on Friday, March 20 at New People Cinema.

Perfectly Peachy:  The festival is also honoring the Masumoto Family, fourth generation peach California peach farmers, with a CAAMFeast Award and a special evening of storytelling at the OMCA (Oakland Museum of California) on Friday, March 20, where the CAAM-produced documentary, Changing Season: On the Masumoto Family Farm, will have its world premiere. The entire family— Mas, Marcy, Nikiko and Korio Masumoto—will be in attendance. The Masumotos, who have an 80 acre farm south of Fresno, are famous for their highly-prized heirloom Sun Crest peaches and tenacious adherence to sustainable practices as well as their lyrical writing on farming and food.  When was the last time you visited the Oakland Museum?  CAAMFest provides a perfect opportunity to combine film with art.   Fertile Ground: Art and Community in California (ends April 12) is an exciting collaboration between SFMOMA and OMCA that explores California artists, many of them Bay Area artists. Marion Gray: Within the Light (ends June 21) is a riveting exploration of San Francisco-based photographer Marion Gray’s work over the past 40 years documenting Bay Area artists and art happenings. Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact (ends September 20) will educate and entertain the entire family.

In Albert Shin’s second feature “In Her Place,” (2014), Yoon Da-Kyung stars as a wealthy Seoul woman who is desperate to have a child.  She arrives at an isolated farm where a struggling widow (Hae-yeon Kil) is hoping to capitalize on her teen daughter’s pregnancy.  The woman moves in with the family to wait for the birth, telling her friends at home that she’s decided to have her baby in the U.S.  Ahn Ji Hye’s raw performance as the conflicted teen anchors this heart wrenching drama of secret pregnancy.  Toronto based director stumbled upon the story while eavesdropping in a café in South Korea.  In Korea, adopted children are still stigmatized and the act of adoption is a shameful one.  Screens twice at CAAMFest 2015.  Image: CAAMFest

In Albert Shin’s second feature “In Her Place,” (2014), Yoon Da-Kyung stars as a wealthy Seoul woman who is desperate to have a child. She arrives at an isolated farm where a struggling widow (Hae-yeon Kil) is hoping to capitalize on her teen daughter’s pregnancy. The woman moves in with the family to wait for the birth, telling her friends at home that she’s decided to have her baby in the U.S. Ahn Ji Hye’s raw performance as the conflicted teen anchors this heart wrenching drama of secret pregnancy. Toronto based director stumbled upon the story while eavesdropping in a café in South Korea. In Korea, adopted children are still stigmatized and the act of adoption is a shameful one. Screens twice at CAAMFest 2015. Image: CAAMFest

Music:  In addition to the movies, Korean musicians have a strong presence at CAAMFest with performances from Awkwafina (Chinese Korean American rapper Nora Lum from Queens) and Suboi, the Vietnamese “Queen of Hip Hop” and a host of other party rockers who will keep things lively before and after the movies.

Stay tuned to ARThound for an interview with the Masumotos about all things peachy.

CAAMFEST Details:

When/Where: CAAMfest 2015 runs March 12-22, 2014 at 8 screening venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland and as well as select museums, bars and music halls.

Tickets: This popular festival sells outs, so advance ticket purchase is highly recommended for most films and events.  Regular screenings are $14 with $1 to $2 discounts for students, seniors, disabled and current CAAM members.  Special screenings, programs and social events are more.  Festival 6-pack passes are also available for $75 (6 screenings for price of 5). All access passes are $450 for CAAM members and $500 for general.  Click here for ticket purchases online.  Tickets may also be purchased in person and various venue box offices open one hour before the first festival screening of the day.  Rush Tickets:  If a screening or event has sold all of its available tickets, there is still a chance to get in by waiting in the Rush line. The Rush line will form outside of the venue around 45 minutes before the screening is set to begin.  Cash only and one rush ticket per person and there are no guarantees.

Unpacking the festival: Click here to see full schedule in day by day calendar format with hyperlinks for film and event descriptions and for ticket purchase.  The official website— CAAMFest 2015

 

 

March 11, 2015 Posted by | Asian Art Museum, Film, Food, Gardening, Oakland Museum of California | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SoundBox—SF Symphony’s new space for musical experimentation

The atmosphere Saturday night at the opening of SoundBox, San Francisco’s Symphony’s new experimental space for music.  Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” performed by Alexander Barantschik, Dan Carlson, Jonathan Vinocour, Amos Young, Tim Day, Carey Bell, Doug Rioth.  Video projections by Adam Larsen.  Photo: courtesy SFS

The atmosphere Saturday night at the opening of SoundBox, San Francisco’s Symphony’s new experimental space for music. Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” performed by Alexander Barantschik, Dan Carlson, Jonathan Vinocour, Amos Young, Tim Day, Carey Bell, Doug Rioth. Video projections by Adam Larsen. Photo: courtesy SFS

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.

Combining the excitement of an art happening with the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and adventurous music spanning ten centuries, Saturday night’s opening of SoundBox will be long remembered. Photo: courtesy SFS.

Combining the excitement of an art happening with the verve of a sophisticated nightclub, the acoustics of a world class concert hall, and adventurous music spanning ten centuries, Saturday night’s opening of SoundBox will be long remembered. Photo: courtesy SFS.

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.

Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood,” performed by members of the SF Symphony Percussion Section at SoundBox.  From L to R: Tom Hemphill (from Sonoma County), James Lee Wyatt III, Victor Avdienko, Jacob Nissly, Raymond Froehlich. Photo: courtesy SFS

Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood,” performed by members of the SF Symphony
Percussion Section at SoundBox. From L to R: Tom Hemphill (from Sonoma County), James Lee Wyatt III, Victor Avdienko, Jacob Nissly, Raymond Froehlich. Photo: courtesy SFS

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.

Beaming MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) conducts members of the SF Symphony and Chorus in Monteverdi’s “Magnificat” (1610) from “Vespro della Beata Vergine.”  Photo: courtesy SFS

Beaming MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) conducts members of the SF Symphony and Chorus in Monteverdi’s “Magnificat” (1610) from “Vespro della Beata Vergine.” Photo: courtesy SFS

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).

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Art, Chamber Music, Classical Music, Jazz Music, SFMOMA, Symphony | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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/.

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

Suddenly, so gorgeous, so relevant—San Francisco Opera’s new “Madame Butterfly”—not to be missed, through July 9

Giacomo Puccini described his “Madame Butterfly” as “the most felt and most expressive opera” he ever conceived.” Acclaimed soprano and San Francisco Opera celeb, Patricia Racette, is Cio-Cio-San/Butterfly and tenor Brian Jagde is Pinkerton in a production featuring vivid video projections by Jun Kaneko, who delighted audiences with his "Magic Flute" in 2012. This co-production with Omaha Opera premiered in 2006 and is at SFO through July 9, 2014. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Giacomo Puccini described his “Madame Butterfly” as “the most felt and most expressive opera” he ever conceived.” Acclaimed soprano and San Francisco Opera celeb, Patricia Racette, is Cio-Cio-San/Butterfly and tenor Brian Jagde is Pinkerton in a production featuring vivid video projections by Jun Kaneko, who delighted audiences with his “Magic Flute” in 2012. This co-production with Omaha Opera premiered in 2006 and is at SFO through July 9, 2014. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

For many opera lovers, the soaring music of Puccini is reason enough to go to a live performance.  San Francisco’s Opera’s (SFO’s ) new “Madame Butterfly,” with its abstract video projections by artist Jun Kaneko, outstanding Cio Cio San/Butterfly by soprano Patricia Racette, and passionate directing by Nicola Luisotti, kept me glued to my seat on Thursday evening.  I’d count it among the top live opera experiences I’ve had.  This was the sixth of eight performances, with the run concluding Wednesday, July 9.  This is Florida-based Leslie Swackhamer’s co-production with SFO and Opera Omaha, which required three years of collaboration with Kaneko and Opera Omaha to pull off.   Freed of its traditional staging, this is a Butterfly unlike anything you’ve seen before—it’s fresh and timeless and while it has Japanese sensibilities, it feels more global than Japanese.  Kaneko dresses the cast in spectacularly colorful kimonos and suits a la Mondrian.  His simple set is an angled walkway that extends from the stage right-rear to left-front with a raised central platform with a sliding screen.  A vivid array of constantly shifting projections accompanies the action and punctuates the exquisite music.  The stage is so expressive, so hypnotic, with these color and pattern changes that it too becomes an important character in the performance, interacting with the singers and audience in a way that really makes you pay attention to what’s going on.

The story is still set in Nagasaki, Japan where a naïve fifteen year-old local geisha, Cio-Cio-San (Racette), falls in love with a handsome and charismatic American naval officer, Lieutenant Pinkerton (tenor Brian Jagde).  Their marriage is arranged by the broker, Goro (Julius Ahn), and the contract is clear—the “Japanese marriage” is revocable with one month’s notice.  Butterfly understands it differently though—she unconditionally accepts her suitor’s love as real and eternal and goes so far as to forsake her family and her ancestral Buddhist faith to become a devoted wife and Christian.  He leaves to go back to the States with a promise to return to her.  She trusts him implicitly.  She grows impoverished as she waits with her faithful maid Suzuki (mezzo Elizabeth DeShong).  When he does come back, three years later, it’s with his American wife.

I was once told that co-dependency is a vicious addiction to the potential of things. Patricia Racette, who has performed Cio-Cio-San three times at SFO, has an electrifying command of Butterfly’s psyche.  Her instinct for baring this deluded young’s woman’s soul while singing rapturously all evening long, is a feat that won’t be repeated.  She delivers a Butterfly who is so sumptuous in her optimism and so stubborn in her head-in-the sand denial and passivity that we want to slap her back into reality and save her from the intense pain in the pipeline.

By now, Racette should be a household name amongst Bay Area opera lovers—the Merola/Adler alum started her career with SFO 24 years ago and has sung nearly 30 roles with the company.  This past season, she took on the herculean task of singing four roles in various SFO productions and drew praise across the board.  Just last week, she concluded a stand-out performance as the cabaret singer, Julie La Verne, in Francesca Zambello’s opulent “Show Boat,” SFO’s other stand-out summer of 2014 hit.  There, her delightful renditions of Jerome Kern’s ballads “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill,”along with her wonderful acting, were central to the production.   This Racette’s second SFO pairing with hunky Merola/Adler tenor Brian Jagde as Pinkerton and their natural ease with each other and on stage chemistry made their  Act 1duet, “Bimba, Bimba, non piangere” (“Sweetheart, sweetheart, do not weep”) intensely passionate.   Racette’s Act II, “Un bel dì” (“One beautiful day”), the opera’s most famous aria was interrupted by clapping and, once she finished, earned her a loving ovation.   The tension ran unbearably high when she sent her son out of the room so she could kill herself and that final gesture of sacrifice and insane fidelity was something to savor—a shame that it was interrupted by a *$#@ cell phone which rang 5 or 6 times before an usher had the good sense to take the offender by the arm and pull him out of the opera house.

Jun Kaneko’s boldly colorful and pattern changing video projections are so expressive that the stage too becomes an important character in the performance, interacting with the characters in a way that really makes you pay attention to what’s going on with them.  Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San) and Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) in a scene from Act II. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Jun Kaneko’s boldly colorful and pattern changing video projections are so expressive that the stage too becomes an important character in the performance, interacting with the characters in a way that really makes you pay attention to what’s going on with them. Patricia Racette (Cio-Cio-San) and Elizabeth DeShong (Suzuki) in a scene from Act II. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Butterfly’s inspiring score is imbued with a mix of east and West and the music flowed almost seamlessly from the SFO Orchestra and chorus under Luisotti’s impassioned conducting.  In an interview in the program, Luisotti estimates that he has conducted the opera over seventy times, including two productions in Japan.  The energetic prelude that leads right into the opening scene had his silver locks flying and the volume energetically revved to the point that Jagde’s first aria, “E soffitto e pareti” (“And ceiling and walls”), was momentarily overpowered.  He pulled in it and the rest went magically.

In critical supporting roles, mezzo Elizabeth DeShong as Suzuki and baritone Brian Mulligan as the compassionate American consul offier, Sharpless, were excellent.  DeShung, in her third SFO appearance, exhibited a tremendous vocal range and deep compassion in her role as Butterfly’s faithful servant and confidant.  Her flower duet “Scuoti quella fronda di ciliegio…” was bittersweet in its foreshadowing the death about to occur. First year Adler, baritone Efraín Solís, who made his SFO debut as Prince Yamadori, a prospective proper husband for Butterfly, demonstrated he is headed for glory

The projections are game-changers—modernizing everything and encouraging very contemporary and personal associations.  Once Butterfly is abstracted from its own history and the Orientalist tableau from which we traditionally evaluate it, we’re much freer to look at its broad political issue—the plight of women today who are disowned in many cultures because they don’t play by the games established by the patriarchy.

Kaneko’s sets and costumes are influenced by the conventions of classical Japanese theater, such as the use of black-dressed Kuroko which function as running crew to assist with scene changes.  In this vividly colored “Butterfly,” they also played other minor roles not covered by fully costumed singers.  Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Kaneko’s sets and costumes are influenced by the conventions of classical Japanese theater, such as the use of black-dressed Kuroko which function as running crew to assist with scene changes. In this vividly colored “Butterfly,” they also played other minor roles not covered by fully costumed singers. Photo: ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

“Gorgeous” at the Asian Art Museum:

Before the opera, I took in Gorgeous, the provocative and inventive collaboration between SFMOMA and the Asian Art Museum (AAM)—72 artworks in conversation (39 from SFMOMA and 43 from the Asian), spanning 2,000 years, that asks the viewer to decide for themselves what ‘gorgeous” means.  It primed me for the visual feast that awaiting me at SFO.  Gorgeous explores attraction, repulsion and desire and certainly engages us in thinking about the Orientalist tableau which is strong part of Butterfly.  One of the ideas behind Gorgeous is to use what we’ve learned from 20th century art about awareness of color and form and apply it to the historical objects from the Asian’s collection.  In the Asian’s Oscher Galley, quietly hanging across from Sally Mann’s provocatively posed portrait of her topless five-year-old daughter, are three silk scrolls by renowned Japanese artist Chobunsai Eishi, “Three Types of Beauties in Edo,” approximately dated 1798-1829.  These scrolls represent three types of women: a geisha, an elite courtesan and a maiden of a wealthy family.  The courtesan wears a magnificent costume that includes a brightly colored and patterned outer-kimono tied with a heavy ornate sash and has an elaborate hairdo.  In another, a demure 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 but the coding is fuzzy to our modern eye.  Over at SFO, Kaneko’s bold, colorful projections and costuming indicates once again that he’s digested and revisioned and moved on to his own gorgeous.  For me, gorgeous is an unexpected surprise that draws you in and keeps you rapt.  This is “Butterfly” to a T.   (The AAM is open Sunday, July 6, and admission is free.  Gorgeous closes September 14, 2014)

Details: There are two remaining performances of “Madame Butterfly”—Sunday, July 6 at 2 PM and Wednesday, July 9 at 7:30 PM.  Seats are selling fast—purchase tickets for either performance here or phone the Box Office at (415) 864-3330.  War Memorial Opera House is located at 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.   Every performance features supertitles (English translations) projected above the stage, visible from every seat.

For more information on San Francisco Opera and their upcoming performances, visit http://sfopera.com/Home.aspx

 Driving to San Francisco and Parking: Be sure to allow ample time when driving into San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge—there are frequent delay on Highway 101 South due to ongoing road expansion work and wine country tourism.  Arrive early at your parking garage of choice because those also fill up, especially when the San Francisco Symphony is performing on the same day.  Recommended Garages:  Two garages are very close to War Memorial Opera House— the Performing Arts Garage (1/2 block) (Grove Street between Franklin and Gough Streets) and Civic Center Garage (roughly 2 blocks) (McAllister Street between Polk and Larkin Streets) (Both have a flat $15 pay cash as you enter policy on performance nights.)

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Photography in Mexico” from SFMOMA at the Sonoma County Museum—opening reception Saturday, September 28; two talks in early October

For over four years, Mexican photographer Yvonne Venegas was permitted to document the family and home of Maria Elvia De Hank, wife of millionaire Jorge Hank Rohn, the former mayor of Tijuana.  “Nirvana” from the series “Maria Elvia De Hank” points to the early roots of the exhausting and contradictory life of privilege. 2006; inkjet print; 19 1/2  x 24 in.; Collection SFMOMA; © Yvonne Venegas

For over four years, Mexican photographer Yvonne Venegas was permitted to document the family and home of Maria Elvia De Hank, wife of millionaire Jorge Hank Rohn, the former mayor of Tijuana. “Nirvana” from the series “Maria Elvia De Hank” points to the early roots of the exhausting and contradictory life of privilege. 2006; inkjet print; 19 1/2 x 24 in.; Collection SFMOMA; © Yvonne Venegas

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.

Enrique Metinides worked as a crime photographer in Mexico for over 50 years capturing murders, car crashes, and catastrophes for the nota rojas, Mexico’s infamous crime magazines.  “Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con público reflejado en el agua,” (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960; gelatin silver print; 13.75 x 20.75 inches; SFMOMA, Anonymous Fund purchase; © Enrique Metinides

Enrique Metinides worked as a crime photographer in Mexico for over 50 years capturing murders, car crashes, and catastrophes for the nota rojas, Mexico’s infamous crime magazines. “Rescate de un ahogado en Xochimilco con público reflejado en el agua,” (Retrieval of a drowned body from Lake Xochimilco with the public reflected in the water), 1960; gelatin silver print; 13.75 x 20.75 inches; SFMOMA, Anonymous Fund purchase; © Enrique Metinides

“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).

9.Questions of land use and urban development pervade the work of contemporary Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena.  The stillness belies the violence that has a vice-grip on Mexico’s northern cities as the drug war has relocated to the suburbs. “Business in a Newly Built Suburb in Juarez,” from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2009; inkjet print; 15 3/4 in. x 20 in.; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Alejandro Cartagena

Questions of land use and urban development pervade the work of contemporary Mexican photographer Alejandro Cartagena. The stillness belies the violence that has a vice-grip on Mexico’s northern cities as the drug war has relocated to the suburbs. “Business in a Newly Built Suburb in Juarez,” from the series Suburbia Mexicana, 2009; inkjet print; 15 3/4 in. x 20 in.; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Alejandro Cartagena

Exhibition Programming at the Sonoma County Museum

Thursday, October 3rd at 7 pmRevolution 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/.

September 28, 2013 Posted by | SFMOMA, Sonoma County Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SFMOMA’s Wednesday morning groundbreaking ceremony for its new expansion

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.

 

May 29, 2013 Posted by | SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just 2 viewing weekends left—“Garry Winogrand,” at SFMOMA, closes, along with the museum building, on June 2, 2013

Arguably one of the most prolific photographers of our time, Garry Winogrand’s first retrospective in 25 years, is at SFMoMA through June 2, 2013.  Garry Winogrand, Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952; gelatin silver print; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

Arguably one of the most prolific photographers of our time, Garry Winogrand’s first retrospective in 25 years, is at SFMoMA through June 2, 2013. Garry Winogrand, Coney Island, New York, ca. 1952; gelatin silver print; collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase and gift of Barbara Schwartz in memory of Eugene M. Schwartz; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco.

“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.

Winogrand took this photo 1 year before he died. Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-83; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand took this photo 1 year before he died. Garry Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1980-83; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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.”

20.Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, 1957; gelatin silver print; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Garry Winogrand, Albuquerque, 1957; gelatin silver print; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchase; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“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.”

Posthumous Editing

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.”

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1983; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Winogrand, Los Angeles, 1983; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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.”

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, New York, ca. 1951; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Newly printed for this exhibition, rarely if ever seen before. Garry Winogrand, Metropolitan Opera, New York, ca. 1951; posthumous digital reproduction from original negative; Garry Winogrand Archive, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona; © The Estate of Garry Winogrand, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

“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.

May 25, 2013 Posted by | Art, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Out of Character,” the Asian Art Museum’s thoughtful exploration of Chinese calligraphy as art and writing closes on January 13, 2012; you can see it for free this Sunday

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Jerry Yang, co-founder and former CEO of Yahoo, at the opening of an exhibition of his Chinese calligraphy collection at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, the first major exhibition of Chinese calligraphy in the U.S. since 1999. Photo: courtesy Asian Art Museum

Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy, an exhibition of collector and Yahoo founder Jerry Yang’s calligraphy collection and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, is a show that goes right to heart of Chinese culture and artistic practice.  The exhibition of roughly 40 significant works from Yang’s collection of roughly 250 pieces of calligraphy represents the first major exhibition of Chinese calligraphy in the U.S. since 1999.  Curated by Dr. Michael Knight, the museum’s senior curator of Chinese art, and Dr. Joseph Chang, senior research fellow at the museum’s research Institute for Asian Art, the exhibition fills three full galleries and moves through six centuries including 15 featured works which are shown in their entirety.  As the title suggests, the emphasis is on decoding the mysteries and conventions behind calligraphy and its purpose and mastery.  The ancient practice has always been intriguing to Western audiences but has remained mysterious.  Importantly, this exhibition provides exciting and compelling evidence of calligraphy’s rich contribution to Chinese culture, something that has not been explored comprehensively and accessibly for Western audiences.  These works are on display for just two more weekends in San Francisco before the exhibition moves on to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it will be on display in 2014.

The four major formats of Chinese calligraphy— albums, handscrolls, hanging scrolls and fans—are covered amply.  Many works are on exhibition for the first time and visitors have the rare chance to see such masterpieces as the earliest dated calligraphy outside China by Dong Qichang (1555-1636).   Also on display is “Lotus Sutra,” a late 13th-to-early-14th century handscroll by the esteemed calligrapher and painter Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322).   Mengfu’s calligraphy was so influential that his standard script was chosen as the model for books printed by the early Ming court. This scroll raises a number of interesting questions.  Executed in small standard script (xiaokaishu), with a total of more than 10,000 characters, the handscroll is 10 7/8 inches high and a whopping 180 ½ inches long.  A testament to the absolute control, concentration, and endurance of the calligrapher, it is displayed and lit beautifully in a long rectangular glass cabinet in the exhibition’s fist gallery.

Mengfu’s work becomes all the more impressive when we consider that calligraphers as a general rule did not re-do or erase their work.  Each character, even hundreds in succession resulted from an energetic burst, something almost unimaginable in our era, where most of us have become so keyboard dependent that the act of handwriting has become laborious, resulting in almost illegible scrawls.  Megfu’s scroll is one of what were originally seven scrolls presenting the text of the Lotus Sutra.  Why did the calligrapher choose to reproduce one of the most influential texts in Chinese Buddhism?  Was it an exercise in devotion?  contemplation?  Who was it intended for?  Such are the mysteries surrounding this ancient art.

The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma (Miaofa lianhua jing), in small standard script. By Zhao Mengfu, 1254-1322. Handscroll, number 3 of a set of 7, ink on paper. Loan Courtesy Guanyuan Shanzhuang Collection. Photography by Kaz Tsuruta.

The Sutra on the Lotus of the Sublime Dharma (Miaofa lianhua jing), in small standard script. By Zhao Mengfu, 1254-1322. Handscroll, number 3 of a set of 7, ink on paper. Loan Courtesy Guanyuan Shanzhuang Collection. Photography by Kaz Tsuruta.

While calligraphy is aptly described as poetry in motion, it is much more than attractive writing. Throughout Chinese history it has been a judge of character and intelligence.  A good calligrapher was associated with scholarship (so highly esteemed in Chinese culture), sensibility, discipline and good taste. The study of important works of the past is a fundamental element of Chinese calligraphy.  Rote immersion and repetition are key in the early learning phases while mastery, never fully attained, is a lifelong practice.  Curator Dr. Michael Knight related the story of the famous calligrapher Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) who apparently sat for an important annual examination and was ranked third by his master due his characters.  This prompted him to copy out the Thousand Character Classic ten times every day for a total of 10,000 characters daily.  The effort was not in vain as Wen emerged among the very best calligraphers of the Ming dynasty.

One of the dramatic aspects of this exhibition is the extent to which the curators went to give it a modern sensibility.  In the second gallery, devoted to 15 featured works that exemplify importance and visual impact, an entire curved wall has been used to display all 85 pages of a single album.  Each page is displayed separately and eloquently, forming a dynamic wall of letters with a crisp and contemporary graphic appeal.  It’s almost impossible to stand before this and not be dazzled by the power of the ink and these dancing letters.

Many of the calligraphers represented have not only produced aesthetically beautiful and impressive scripts, the content itself is often eloquent poetry, well-known masterpieces from the past or those composed by the calligrapher, some of whom were famous as poets. There are many wall boards with moving translations such as Huang Daozhou’s (1585-1646) poem dedicated to Wen Zhenmeng,  which captures a timeless sense of longing—

It’s not that I am not satisfied pounding other people’s grain; I just can’t stop pitying the unraveled weft.  My far-reaching aspirations sink with the white clouds; my person, at leisure, draws close to birds that soar.  I’ve stolen my bit of shade, and feel my life secure; Just based on this, I smell a solitary fragrance.  Who really remembers the time of metal-shift. Message all empty—I pray to old Heaven above.  (Huang Daozhou, 明朝 黃道周 行草詩軸 絹本, Poems dedicated to Wen Zhenmeng in semicursive/cursive script, hanging scroll; ink on silk)

While a large portion of the exhibition is devoted to exploring the complex set of conventions and rules of calligraphy, it also attempts to show linkages with contemporary art, something that intrigued Abstract Expressionists, who essentially created adaptations of the calligraphic gesture.  A number of modern works borrowed from SFMOMA by artists Mark Tobay, Franz Kline and Brice Marden are displayed.  And while this is a small section, it successfully links calligraphy as a highly expressive form of writing form with abstraction as the expression of the self through brush and ink.

Finally, the show closes with a bow to the contemporary—acclaimed Chinese artist and 1999 MacArthur Fellow, Xu Bing’s “The Character of Characters,” a 20 minute animated response to calligraphy’s long-standing traditions.  The film runs continuously in wide-screen, black and white format on three horizontal monitors in the museum’s expansive North Court.  Xu Bing’s  creative process itself speaks to the discipline so essential in calligraphy.  Xu Bing, worked daily for well over a month with13 dedicated assistants—racking up over 5,000 man hours—and roughly 50 drafts and more than 1,000 hand drawn sketches before he was satisfied with the result.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jay Xu, AAM’s director, during the annual press luncheon following Out of Character’s opening.  He related that, as a child, he too was made to sit and practice calligraphy and had little interest pursuing it.  As an adult though, particularly when he is feeling tense, immersing himself in calligraphy is a “stress-buster” and he now finds it “quite enjoyable.” “Calligraphy has been remote and mysterious to many people,” said Hu.  “This is an art, a practice, that encompasses all of Chinese culture and it’s time to decode it.”

Docent tours for Out of Character:  45 minute walk-through, 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, free with museum admission.  Meet at information desk, ground floor.

This Sunday: The Asian offers free yoga!  How do we use works of art to connect with ourselves and others?  Explore this idea as you move with yogi Lorna Reed as she leads a group session in meditation and a Hatha flow practice, using artworks in the museum collection to understand the historical and cultural significance of yoga throughout Asia.  Each session will delve into healthy practices that balance energy, align your body, and help you relax.  Each class ends with a standing meditation in the galleries.  (Part of the Target First Free Sunday Program, Sunday, January 6, 2013, 2-3 p.m., check at information desk for location)

Details: Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy closes Sunday January 13, 2013.  The Asian Art Museum is located at 200 Larkin Street (at Civic Center Plaza), San Francisco.  Hours:  Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Admission: $8-$12, free first Sunday of each month.  Parking:  The Asian Art Museum does not have a parking facility, but it is served by the following parking facilities—all within walking distance of the museum: Civic Center Plaza Garage is the closest and most reasonably priced has 840 spaces.  From Van Ness, turn left on McAllister. Entrance is on McAllister, between Polk and Larkin Streets. Info:  begin_of_the_skype_highlighting www.asianart.org.

January 4, 2013 Posted by | Art, Asian Art Museum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Constellation,” a world premiere collaboration between artist Jim Campbell and choreographer Alonzo King celebrates LINES Ballet’s 30th Season

Jim Campbell. “Exploded Views” 2011; 2880 LEDs, custom electronics. Choreography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of the Artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco and New York. Photo: courtesy SFMOMA

If you saw one of San Francisco-based artist Jim Campbell’s “Exploded Views” installations in the atrium of SFMOMA this past year, chances are you couldn’t forget it.  SFMOMA’s Hass Auditorium came alive as thousands of flickering LED spheres hanging from the ceiling, created the illusion of fleeting shadowlike figures that dissolved and resolved as one moved around and beneath the suspended, chandelier-like matrix. Part sculpture, part cinematic screen, the low resolution pieces flirted with the line between representation and abstraction and sucked viewers right into
another world, one where imagination and memory fill in the gaps between what you see and what you think you see to create a complete story.  The first film in this series of 4 was a collaboration with Alonzo King’s celebrated LINES Ballet of San Francisco, and, if you positioned yourself on SFMOMA’s second floor landing, you could see magical low res images of King’s dancers moving across the expanse of air and light.  Cinematic, elegant, unforgettable.

Now, the two artists are collaborating again as the exciting kick-off of Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s 30th anniversary year.  Campbell’s new installation created for the world premiere of “Constellation” is a 20 x 36 foot low res moving image that incorporates a thousand little LED globes hanging in strings like pearls suspended from the light-grid of the LAM Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  The dancers constantly move through these strands and interact with the LED balls which serve as pixels for the large images on the screen in the background and a smaller screen in the foreground.  The smaller screen, 9 x 12 feet, moves up and down.  At times, it is at the level of the dancers and, at times, suspended 10 feet off the ground, above them.

Alonzo King LINES Ballet celebrates its 30th Season with “Constellation,” a collaboration between artist Jim Campbell and choreographer Alonzo King. Campbell and King appear in a pre-performance conversation about their collaboration on October 24, 2012. Image courtesy: LINES Ballet

“I was very interested in having the dancers play with and manipulate a physical image,” said Campbell. “It was more about them becoming a part of the images and playing with that boundary.  There are times when the nine dancers have part of the image in their hands because they are carrying the balls in their hands.”

Adding to the performance, San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow and mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani will sing music of Handel, Richard Strauss, and Vivaldi.

Pre-Performance Balcony Talk:  Tomorrow evening (Wednesday, October 24, 2012) prior to the performance, an exclusive conversation in the balcony will take place between artist Jim Campbell and Alonzo King, followed by a Q & A, where audience members will have a chance to ask these two artists about their collaboration.

Stay-tuned to ARThound for an interview with Jim Campbell about this exciting new installation and his collaboration with Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

Details: Performances are Wed | Oct 24 | 7:30pm —Pre-Performance Balcony Talk with Alonzo King and Jim Campbell (6:30pm)

Thu | Oct 25 | 7:30 pm;   Fri | Oct 26 | 8 pm;   Sat | Oct 27 | 8 pm;   and Sun | Oct 28 | 5 pm.

LAM Research Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is located at 700 Howard Street, at Third Street, San Francisco

General Admission tickets-$65, $55, $40, $30; Student Tickets – $20 – Limited number of student tickets for Oct 24 (ID required.)   To purchase tickets online, click here.

 

October 23, 2012 Posted by | Art, Dance | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment