Friday, November 20, 2015

Selling off the Palace of Fine Arts to the highest bidder

The lyrics “They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” could be applied San Francisco’s Park and Recreation’s top proposals for what to do with San Francisco’s Iconic Palace of Fine Arts. It could have provided the sound track for today's meeting at San Francisco city hall.

Widely considered the most beautiful structure at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, the Palace of Fine Arts — housing art from Renaissance to Modern — was the work of California architect Bernard Maybeck. Maybeck’s fantastic creation, inspired by a Piranesi engraving, featured a Roman ruin reflected in a pool. According to Maybeck, this ruin existed not for its own sake but to show “the mortality of grandeur and the vanity of human wishes.” Like other features of the fair, the Palace was intended as ephemeral; at the close of the exposition, it would come down.

But the Palace survived, thanks to the Palace Preservation League, founded by Phoebe Apperson Hearst while the fair was still in progress. By 1964, the Palace had deteriorated badly and the Rotunda and Colonnades were rebuilt, thanks to the generosity of Walter Sl. Johnson

The Palace as a public space is again hanging on by its fingernails. How do the word “privatize” and “monetize” sound to you? From the incessant talk of needing money, you’d think that SF was a poor city, instead of a wealthy one, full of those who can afford 5 million dollar condos with an equally expensive life style. In 1915, the city was able to raise 4 million dollars in a matter of hours. Are our current city masters so poor that they can’t raise the 2015 equivalent?

Unless you knew in advance or were able to dig down through the morass of official documents, you would never know that the two top contenders for the contract to preserve the iconic building have included “lodging” as an important part of their proposals.  They and their supporters didn’t mention that little fact in the meeting at City Hall on November 19, 2015.

The proposals, found on this website make it clear that both organizations plan to monetize the site to the max. The two top contenders, Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Palace of Fine Arts -San Francisco Arts, Crafts , Community and Hospitality include a host of money making ventures in their proposals including private gyms, spas and "lodging."

The top three proposals, based on their cumulative scores across six categories, are outlined below. The scoring criteria are public access, financial, compatibility with the Palace and the neighborhood, proposed use, public impact and public input:

1. The Maybeck Center at the Palace of Fine Arts: "A mix of recreational uses, including meeting and event facilities, restaurants, historic displays and a “small-scale, world-class hotel.”

2. Palace of Fine Arts-San Francisco Arts, Crafts, Community and Hospitality: A renovated public concourse and Exhibition Hall, “that embraces the history, arts, products, crafts and culture of San Francisco,” along with 175 guest rooms across two new mezzanine levels.

The third ranking proposal, perhaps the least overtly commercial from The San Francisco Museum At The Palace (SFMAP), includes a "A publicly accessible museum and great hall, with a renovated Palace of Fine Arts Theater and “a destination fine dining restaurant.”

Well, I guess that visitors to San Francisco have to eat somewhere. Gas, food and lodging anyone?

At a Parks and Recreation meeting last month, Julie Mushet, The Executive Director of The Center for Global Arts and Cultures, the non-profit that hosts of the annual Ethnic Dance Festival, made a proposal for a multi-cultural arts center.  She made another plea today, back up by speeches by Robert Cole, the former director of Cal Performances, Berkeley. However, unless the issue of a 20 million dollar (and rising) purse is answered, it doesn’t look like she has much chance.

One of the speakers pointed out that a petition not to monetize the site and not to build a hotel had received 20,000 signatures in less than two weeks.

She added that the community will support would support this venture and that the city certainly should, given the amount of money that must be flowing into their coffers these days. She also added – and this seemed to be the feeling of many in the crowd – that San Francisco’s citizens were not interested in seeing another arts organization disappear from the city or become a piggy bank for city hall.

If yet another proposal to sell parts of San Francisco to the highest bidder is the best that city hall can do, maybe we should scrap their decisions and start all over as this petition on Change-Org makes clear. "None of those proposals preserve the site as the important cultural/educational center San Franciscans have known it to be, nor do they keep it a community space that is open and available to ALL people. Once again, our officials are preparing to sell out from under us another piece of San Fransisco heritage, a heritage that belongs solely to the citizens of this City and to those who share a love for it . We demand that the Palace of Fine Arts be developed ONLY as a cultural/educational center."

The winner of the redevelopment bid will score a 55-year lease to the historic San Francisco arts center. What a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, by selling off another part of SF's soul. The facade may remain but the heart will be gone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Willard Worton 'Portals of the Past' at the de Young

 Tower of Jewels, 1915

For those who love the PPIE and the glory of that era, this exhibit is a must see. Photos range from 1904 through 1915; this man was a photographic genius and I have to say that I like his photos better than the more crisp modern black and white.

My main criticism of the exhibit is that the curator didn't seem to realize how photographers like Wooden were influenced by Stieglitz's early romantic photography. I felt that a some of the photos were a direct homage to Stieglitz. But that's a minor quibble. The whole PPIE exhibit is fantastic but this gives us a look at the SF that was - and alas, is no more:

Friday, November 6, 2015

'Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists' at the Asian Art Museum

Japanese portrayal of Commodore Matthew Perry’s gunship in Edo Harbor, 1853, block print, artist unknown
In 1853, Commander Perry famously forced Japan to end two centuries of self-imposed isolation and sign treaties opening its ports to trade with the Western powers. As Japanese prints, albums, and objects began to arrive in Europe and North America in unprecedented quantities, a craze for all things Japanese set in among collectors, artists, and designers.

Full review here:

A page from Random Sketches by Hokusai (Hokusai manga)
Whether it was used to pad a crate of porcelain is unproven, but it is certain that one of the fifteen volumes of "Random Sketches" by Hokusai (Hokusai manga) was in the possession of the well-known Paris-based printer Auguste Delâtre, who had it at his workshop by 1856. That year he showed it to the artist Félix Bracquemond, who was impressed enough to try to buy the book. Delâtre refused to sell and continued to show it to other artists for whom he printed.

 A year later Bracquemond purchased another copy for himself and, in addition to immediately incorporating some of Hokusai’s motifs in his own work, shared the images in the book with many of the artists in his circle, including Édouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Whistler.

(left) Mary Cassatt, Woman Bathing, 1890–1891, color aquatint and drypoint; (right) Utagawa Hiroshige, Kinryuzan Temple in Asakusa, from the series, One Hundred Views of Famous Places in Edo (1856), color woodcut with ‘lacquer’ and embossing.
 Not long after, Japanese books and prints were much more easily found and obtained in Paris. Shortly after that, by the late 1850’smore , Western artists were discovering Japanese art and incorporating it into their work. The first discoveries led to admiration, then imitation, then innovation, then a true synthesis.

Known by the French term japonisme, the phenomenon created a radical shift in Western taste toward Japanese aesthetic principles. Japonisme played a prominent role in the major movements of Western art in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, among them Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Art Nouveau, and influenced everything from architecture and furniture to book illustration and painting.

San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum surveys this sweeping development in the traveling exhibition "Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists.”  This in-depth and richly rewarding traveling show is a loan from the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, which drew on its incredible collection of Asian art.

Comprised of more than 170 art works, the exhibit is organized into four themes: women, city life, nature and landscape. Within each theme, artworks from Japan are paired with American or European works to represent the West’s assimilation of new thematic and formal approaches. The Asian has also thoughtfully provided a complete time line of the transmission of art from East to West for those seeking a deeper understanding of this complex topic.

Carp banners in Kyoto, 1888, by Louis Dumoulin
The first works in the show make it very clear that while Western artists may have admired Japanese prints, they didn’t have a clue as to how to go about assimilating the work into existing styles. The elegance of simplicity, open space, irregular forms, the use of natural materials - in fact, the real essence of Japanese art went right over the heads by a number of the Western artists represented in the opening section of the exhibit. Louis Dumoulin’s “Carp banners in Kyoto (1888) is a heavy, heavily painted work not lightened up by the carp banners floating in the typical western 3-dimensional treatment of space.

Or, for instance, this inkwell by French artist Legrand which is described as, "Silver, partially gilded, decorated in champlevé, basse-taille, and cloisonné enamels, with cut out base supported on four cast turtles, enameled with geometric patterns, naturalistic scenes, and facsimile prints surrounding a sea with carp. Fitted with a drawer etched and parcel-gilt in three colors. Base supports four shaped letter racks in geometric patterns flanked by two rolling blotters topped with "shi-shi" dogs holding brocade balls. Removable central section has a vase-shaped pen holder decorated with female figures, plants, and field mice in kimonos, flanked by nesting boxes enameled in landscape and geometric motifs. Removable lids topped by a beetle and a wasp in gold and basse-taille enamel." Did they leave anything out?

Most of the decorative objects in the show have this same kind of over the top use of Japanese patterned design with the Victorian love of “more is better and even more is better yet.”

 Not all of the pairings work in terms of art-to-art direct inspiration - Mary Cassatt’s lovely painting of a mother and child owes as much to centuries of depictions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus as it does to Japanese prints of mothers and children. Van Gogh is known to have copied Japanese prints and even used their images in his work but his portrait of "Postman Joseph Roulin" is not an homage to Japanese art but pure, unadulterated Van Gogh. The section on women has more than its share of courtesans, both east and west. Both Japan's licensed pleasure quarters and 19th century European brothels and streetwalkers presented a lot of inspiration for those interested.

Where Western artists begin to integrate Japanese art into their own work is first apparent in the section on prints - Toulouse Lautrec’s “Little Casino” with it’s dancing figure separated by a diagonal block of black against white and Degas’ romping horses show the direct but integrated influence of Japanese prints.

In the print "Mary Cassatt at the Louvre: The Etruscan Gallery," Degas made use of several features that are unmistakably borrowed from Japanese prints by Harunobu, Utamaro, and Hokusai. Compositions with two figures, one standing and one sitting or kneeling, are common in Japanese prints. So is the geometric division of the background that, in Degas’ print, is created by a series of vertical and diagonal lines that render the room abstract. Perhaps the most obvious borrowing is the standing figure who leans on an umbrella; Degas took this directly from a sketch of a woman with a rearing horse in a volume of "Random Sketches by Hokusai," a book he would have studied for its depiction of the spontaneous, natural positions of figures, particularly women.

Where Western artists come into their own with an utterly unique synthesis of a multitude of influences is in the last gallery. The two Monet’s in the show are the best the city has seen in quite some time. Monet’s “Water Lily Pond”  with Its humpback footbridge arching over light-reflecting water is similar to the one seen in Hiroshige’s "Bamboo Yards, Kyôbashi Bridge." “Haystack” may owe their off center design to Japanese art but the impasto color and sheer beauty are again neither East nor West but solely Monet's own. Gauguin’s “Landscape with Two Breton Women”  uses  a Japanese influenced flat perspective but the bold, symbolic colors and symbolism are his unique hallmark, prefiguring his work in Tahiti. “I have never seen anything as beautiful as a tree” would be the theme song in the last gallery, where everyone from Munch to Gauguin to Behrens seem to be inspired by the vertical tree-trunk rhythms in one of Hokusai’s “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji.”

It’s really immaterial if all the Western artists in the show were directly influenced by Japanese art. Enough were to create an innovative synthesis between east and west. Plan to spend a delightful day to take it all in. While the big names in Western artist such as Van Gogh and Monet are what most of us know, the lesser known artists and the wealth of Japanese art offers a wider, deeper and equally insightful perspective.

"Looking East" will be on view from Oct. 30, 2015–Feb. 7, 2016 with the exhibition's final weeks marking the start of the museum's 50th anniversary year in 2016.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Happy Birthday Chardin

Happy birthday to 18-century French artist Jean-Siméon Chardin. See Self-Portrait with a Visor in Gallery 216A.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

'Looking East' at the Asian Art Museum

From the subtle to the exuberantly gaudy.. so much wonderful work that you will need several visits to take it all in. A real review to come...

From the MFA Collections Catalog:
"Silver, partially gilded, decorated in champlevé, basse-taille, and cloisonné enamels, with cut out base supported on four cast turtles, enameled with geometric patterns, naturalistic scenes, and facsimile prints surrounding a sea with carp. Fitted with a drawer etched and parcel-gilt in three colors. Base supports four shaped letter racks in geometric patterns flanked by two rolling blotters topped with "shi-shi" dogs holding brocade balls. Removable central section has a vase-shaped pen holder decorated with female figures, plants, and field mice in kimonos, flanked by nesting boxes enameled in landscape and geometric motifs. Removable lids topped by a beetle and a wasp in gold and basse-taille enamel." Did they leave anything out? I don't think so, but I admire the Parisian exuberance here!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Art from San Francisco's 1915 Panama-Pacific International Expo

One of the few images from the original show, showing the salon style of hanging which was popular at the time.

Review of the show here:

Edwin Deakin (American, b. England, 1838–1923), “Palace of Fine
Arts and the Lagoon,” ca. 1915. Oil on canvas. 32 3/8 × 48 3/8 in.
Crocker Art Museum
E. Charlton Fortune, The Four Seasons),” ca. 1915. Oil on canvas. 16 1/4 × 20 in.
Moonlight (Panama Pacific International Exposition),” ca. 1915. Soft- ground etching in color. 6 7/8 x 4 3/4 in. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Benjamin Chambers Brown (American, 1865-1942), “Art Palace, Reflections (Panama Pacific International Exposition),” ca. 1915. Soft-ground etching in color. 6 7/8x 4 7/8 in. Fine Arts Museums 
Bruce Nelson (American, 18881952), “The Summer Sea,ca. 1914. Oil on canvas. 30 × 40 in. Irvine Museum, California
Cecilia Beaux (American, 1855 1942), “Man with the Cat (Henry Sturgis Drinker),1898. Oil on canvas. 48 × 34 5/8 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, bequest of Henry Ward Ranger through the National Academy of Design
Edwin Austin Abbey (American, 18521911), “The Penance of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester,1900. Oil on canvas. 49 × 85 in. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Francis McComas (America, b. Australia, 1874-1938), “Navajo
Gateway, Arizona,” 1914. Watercolor. 26 3⁄4 x 21 1/16 in. Fine Arts
Museums of San Francisco, museum purchase, Skae Fund Legacy
John Singer Sargent (American, b. Italy, 18561925), “The Sketchers,1913. Oil on canvas. 22 × 28 in. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Fund

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Covert Operations' at the San Jose Museum of Art

Snowden and Manning’s revelations, NASA spying on citizens, the Chinese spying on Ai Weiwei, the Russians killing one of their spies by radioactive poisoning- at times, it seems like half the world is spying on the other half. Understanding our post 9/11 world is difficult enough; the artists in “Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknown” at the San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA) are attempting to present the more disturbing facets of our 'Brave New World" via multimedia. The exhibition’s conceptual themes include secrecy and disclosure, violence, power, subterfuge, surveillance, territory, geography and the visible versus the hidden. Subjects range from classified military sites and reconnaissance satellites to border and immigration surveillance, terrorist profiling to narcotics and human trafficking, illegal extradition flights to nuclear weapons.

The title of the exhibition was inspired by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s response to a question at a 2002 news conference about the existence of weapons of mass destruction. “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Rumsfeld’s insight into our post-9/11 landscape illustrates the logic behind the phrase “war on terror." Luckily, the artists here are free to use our democratic freedoms to bear witness to the attacks on liberty and abuses of power.

More at:

images courtesy of the SJMA/various artists