Monday, December 31, 2007

SFMOMA buys another Ed Ruscha

Ed Ruscha, "Parts Per Trillion,” 1987, acrylic on canvas, 50 by 120 inches. Collection SFMOMA, purchased through the Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions.

From "Antiques and the Arts":

SFMoMA Acquires Essential Painting By Ed Ruscha
Dec 28th, 2007

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) has acquired the painting "Parts Per Trillion," 1987, by American artist Ed Ruscha.

Purchased through the Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for Major Accessions, the painting joins more than 25 important Ruscha paintings, works on paper, and photographs already in SFMOMA's collection. Together these works tell the story of the rise of Ruscha's career from the 1960s to the present.

SFMOMA also recently acquired an important suite of photographs from Ruscha's cross-historical study of the landscape of Los Angeles ("Then and Now," 1973/2006), as well as the rarest and most valuable of Ruscha's artist's books for the SFMOMA Library. These recent acquisitions have allowed SFMOMA to be one of very few museums in the world with an entire collection of Ruscha's historically significant books.

In the early 1980s Ruscha began exploring a new visual vocabulary with silhouette paintings that do not carry an overt intermingling of text and image, yet evoke a textual narrative. At this time the artist created his first ship paintings, a series of 11 works created between 1983 and 1988 that feature silhouetted ships in varying sizes and formats; for Ruscha, the ship is a symbol for adventure and exploration.

"Parts Per Trillion," the one work from this series that Ruscha opted to keep in his own collection, is one of the two largest and the most visually compelling. Across the surface of this painting, the artist breaks up the visual cohesiveness of the basic black and white picture plane with stark white rectangles reminiscent of censor bars that are laid across text.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Marie Antoinette and Le Petite Trianon

The show at the Legion on Marie Antoinette’s decorative arts, paintings and sculpture that adorned the Petite Trianon is quite sumptuous. Based on the Grand Trianon, a retreat area the King had enjoyed as a child, Petit Trianon was completed on the Versailles grounds in 1768. Initially built as a gift from Louis XV to his mistress Madame de Pompadour, the main building of this “natural getaway” features architecture in the new neo-Classical style and exceptional interior woodwork.

When Louis XVI took the throne in 1775, he gave Petit Trianon as a gift to Marie Antoinette. Despite the fact that no cost was spared to make the building over to suit the Queen's taste and allow her to make it her own, it never really lost the taint of being associated with the most dominant royal mistress in French history. (PBS website).

18th Century artwork has never held much interest for me but it was fascinating to view the original works – works that have been copied so often and so poorly. They have an exquisite delicacy that reproductions cannot capture. Images of roses and cornflowers adorn everything – including some of the fancy porcelain that was used in the dairy at Trianon – show her exquisite taste but also, her complete distance from the reality of the majority of the French at the time. The carved and gilded furniture and the beautifully recreated rooms give a taste of what life must have been like for the elite, where, as Talleyrand said, “Whoever did not live in the years neighboring 1789 does not know what the pleasure of living means.”
[Fr., Qui n'a pas vecu dans les annees voisines de 1789 ne sait pas ce que c'est le palisir de vivre.]
(Images from the Legion’s website; information on Marie Antoinette from the PBS and Legions’ website).

Kitsch and Pinocchio

A lot of galleries are closed between now and the New Year so the pickings are slim but there are a couple of interesting (if uneven) shows. Berggruen is showing new work by Jim Dine based on the legend of Pinocchio. According to the press release, Dine perceives that "this idea of a talking stick becoming a boy, it's like a metaphor for art, and it's the ultimate alchemical transformation." His Geppetto is a self-portrait, alluding to the artist as creator, who in giving life has a connection with the Divine. Frankly, I think that’s way over the top for a show that has some visual interest but hardly gave me any frisson of excitement. The paintings have a nice (maybe that’s not quite the right word) slapdash painterly finish, a la Francis Bacon. The Pinocchio sculptures are made of wood, charred wood, stained wood and cast aluminum. Made mostly by his assistants, they have the same sort of finish as the wall paintings but don’t work particularly well as three-dimensional objects. I suppose that if you like Walt Disney, you'll love this show but for me, it was an unsuccessful juxtaposition of POP, paint and hype to promote his book. I kept seeing Mickey Mouse superimposed on Pinocchio’s long nose and felt that Dine has crossed the line from Pop into kitsch.

Berggruen: Jim Dine “Pinocchio as I knew him.”
Up until January 5th:
(Images from the Berggruen website)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Clyfford Still Changing

KQED has published a piece by Timothy Buckwalter about the condition of the Clyfford Still paintings at SFMOMA. Apparently he mixed his his own paints and some of his paintings are fading. Buckwalter talked to SFMOMA conservator Paula De Cristofaro who said, "Change in an artwork that is inherent to an artist's technique is not a condition we would consider ‘restoring.' We accept it as part of the nature of the work."

Read the whole story here.

(Image is from

Monday, December 24, 2007

Now it begins: the "Best of 2007" lists

"Woman with Scarf at Inspiration Point, Roger Minick, 1980

Robert Taylor at the Contra Costa Times lists his top ten Bay Area Art Exhibits for 2007. I give you the bare list below (go HERE for his commentary.)

The Top 10

1. "Yosemite: Art of an American Icon," Oakland Museum of California

2. "Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination," San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

3. "Picasso and American Art," S.F. Museum of Modern Art

4. "Masters of Bamboo," Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

5. "Goya: The Disasters of War," UC Berkeley Art Museum

6. "Footloose in Arcadia," Hearst Art Gallery, St. Mary's College

7. "The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend," de Young Museum, S.F.

8. "The Art of a Community," Arts Benicia Gallery

9. "The Edge," Oakland Museum of California

10. "2 of a Kind," NIAD Gallery, Richmond

How about you? What was your top ten Bay Area Art shows of 2007?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Scott Greene and Al Farrow at Catherine Clark

Scott Greene's enormous paintings of body parts are dutifully rendered and shined to a full gloss. There are plenty of nods to Phillip Guston's famous boots but the cartoonish, flat look of Guston has been replaced with a triumphant attempt at achieving renaissance style rendering and varnish. Judging from the sprawled legs and arms, it appears Scott created headless monster sculptures out of doll parts, removing the articulated arms and legs of superheros, knights and horses. I think he then creates very large paintings from these sculptures. The end result is a decadent image of war, chaos, and brutality.

Al Farrow architects cathedrals, mosques and other religious buildings using parts from guns and lots of bullets. The buildings are all large model sized and cold. The detailed metalwork is impressive and ominous. Many of the pieces had the bones of a finger encased in a glass enclosure. This impressive body of work must be seen in person. You can feel the weight of the metal when you stand in the room with these things. People are so transfixed by the pieces, it makes you feel anxious waiting your turn to see.

Scott Greene and Al Farrow will be showing at
Catherine Clark Gallery
From November 29th 2007 - January 12th 2008

See older work of Scott's at
More of Al Farrow's work can be seen at

View more photos on the Bay Area Art Quake Flickr Photo Group.

Bare Branches for Winter

This show is closing tomorrow: Gyongy Laky at Braunstein Quay Gallery
The Steinberg Farmer Report on the show:
So many red dots! This work is in a word stunning. Gyöngy Laky's work employs materials from nature, with the occasional inclusion of recycled elements. Her sculptural constructions, referred to as textile architecture, hang on the wall or are free-standing. Laky's themes cross varieties of subjects and social issues, often taking the form of words, letters, or symbols. Wondering from whence Laky's interest in tree branches sprang, she admits " I was taken by the winter pruning of orchards. I had a strong visual response to the trimmed branches. I was born in 1944 in Hungary during the war. We had nothing. I found the pruned branches beautiful and useful, and the idea that they were considered waste to be burned, abhorrent." My personal fav: "Multiplied Thinking" is a gorgeous basket of Manzanita branches neatly sawed into small pieces, burnished to a majestic burgundy that shimmers in the light. All this beauty is firmly held in place by sheetrock screws.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

More on "Off the Point"

KQED's Kristin Farr posted another review of the Hayes Valley Market show, "Off the Point," a group show of work by 35 Hunter's Point artists. (Nancy wrote about it here on Dec. 7th.)
From Farr's review:

The Hayes Valley Market is a gigantic, temporary gallery. It'll soon be reduced to a pile of rubble but, for now, it's an enormous art space that's difficult to contend with. As an individual artist, you'd be overwhelmed by the space, unless you happen to have several elephant-sized sculptures or an installation the size of a football field in the works. This is why most of the shows in the Market have been group shows like this month's Off the Point, the first annual Holiday Show featuring artists with studios in the Hunter's Point Shipyard.

The show's featured works are those of poet, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and mixed media artist, JoeSam. Ferlinghetti's fiery Elegy for the Iraqi People is on display, along with a photo print of the artist with a mannequin wearing nothing but shoes sitting on his lap. JoeSam has wall sculptures in two areas of the gallery made of things like wood, metal, handcuffs, a boxing glove, and a wheel that actually turns (don't ask me how I figured out that last part).

Rest of the story here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

SF Transbay in Top Five

Richard Lacayo at Time Magazine pronounced the Cesar Pelli proposal for San Francisco's Transbay Center to be the "Most Promising Development":

Most promising development? I was glad when Cesar Pelli's proposal won the competition for the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco. What's most interesting about Pelli's scheme is not so much the tower — which is a variation on a fairly elegant template he's already provided for towers in Hong Kong and Jersey City — but the 5.4 acre park that the design provides on the six block-long roof of the transit center, which is a hub for bus and rail lines. If all goes as planned it'll be a green roof that's also a true public amenity.

Full story here. Image of artist's rendering from the Time website.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Making a Body of Work

Unfortunately, this is a bit of old news, but I still wanted to write briefly about an installation last month at Side Show Studios (in Sacramento) by Susan Li O’Connor. Looking at the works and talking with Susan gave me some valuable insight into how she – or any artist – might choose to go in a certain direction or make a body of work.

detail - “Minus One But No One’s Counting”
“Minus One But No One’s Counting” (detail) mixed media work by Susan Li O'Connor, shown at Side Show Studios in Sacramento, CA; Nov. 2007

Susan is interested in exploring the idea of the individual versus society as a whole. How is the way people behave as individuals different from how they behave as a society? Why are some people “chosen” to stand out from society as a whole? What obstacles are there to our connecting with other individuals?

Several of the pieces in this show were mixed media collages that include elements from telephone books and fashion photographs. The idea came partially from the observation that telephone books list the names and numbers of thousands of separate individuals and then put them all together, making up a collective unit. The resulting artworks are studies in alienation and community, and the ways people can connect (or fail to).

“The Directory”

In one of these pieces, “The Directory,” (above) individual heads appear to float like balloons, anchored with strips from the telephone directory, which form a mass at the bottom of the piece.

“Crossing the Great Divide” (below) seems to be a comment on the ways men and women connect – or don’t. Looking at the piece, it feels amazing that people ever successfully navigate the space between them.

“Crossing the Great Divide”

One of the more unusual pieces in the show was “Minus One But No One’s Counting.” (Detail at top, more images here.) It’s a complex piece made up of dozens of pillow-like elements onto which photos of faces from magazines have been applied, then covered with wax. Each “pillow” is suspended from a separate string. Each is attached to the wall with a T-pin, then they are all hung together to form a collective, oddly fleshy-looking mound of humanity at the bottom.

Susan says about this piece, “My thought process for [this piece] stems from my interest in the subject of individual vs. the masses. The piece dates back to 2002, and several other pieces from that time also include images from magazines, particularly fashion magazines. At the time, I was interested in the idea of an average person being unrecognizable vs. a celebrity person, and how much we think we know that person simply based upon images we'd seen in the mass media.”

"MapQuest Series"

Also represented in this show was the “Mapquest series,” (above) a set of small mixed-media works on canvas based on the lines of interstate highways leading into and out of cities in each state. She follows the converging lines around cities, then as they begin to lessen and spread out, she emphasizes the lines reaching out to the edge of each small canvas. The result looks like a grid of abstract encaustic pieces – but each piece has an oddly familiar look to it, being based on the road maps we’ve all studied.

The largest piece in the show was a floating wavelike sculpture made of tealight holders and plastic twist-ties. You can see in the photo that it floats above the gallery’s seating area like a silver cloud-creature, responding to touch and any currents of air coming into the room as the door opens.

Taken all together, Susan Li O’Connor’s pieces show how an artist can begin with a question or an idea and then interpret it in a multitude of ways to build a body of related work.

More photos at the BAArtquake Flickr pool.

Monday, December 17, 2007

So many books, so little time

The Hand Bookbinders of California is having their 35th Annual Exhibit on the 5th Floor at the SF Public Library. The exhibit will be up until December 31st and it’s well worth taking a detour from the downtown galleries and museums to look at it. Each book cover is a small work of art and the craft that went into the making is simply astonishing. Calf Leather, birds’ eye maple boards, gold lettering, inlay, suede; the list of materials reads like an alchemist’s shopping list. But instead of the Philosopher’s Stone, contemporary bookbinders are in search of the perfect marriage of materials and technique to make books that transcend our understanding of “book” into an object that is both beautiful and unique.

Alissa Fleet: les Deux Magots: Altered book in dos-a-dos Structure of Miller's Tropic of Cancer, found endsheets and marbled paper. This one is so small that it fits in the palm of your hand.
More images at:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where ARE the women? Not at SF Moma

Frieda Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefe (only two images of work by women artists up on the website under "Permanent Collection"

There has been a flurry of articles (yet again) on the lack of women artists in major museums.
Jerry Saltz at ArtNet posted one and I've seen others. Being a curious sort of person, I downloaded the alphabetical list of artists from the SF Moma permanent collection and formatted the web pages in Word. There are seventy-three pages of artists listed in the permanent collection. Of those seventy-three pages, only six pages are of women artists -- approximately 1/12 of the entire collection. The museum is currently showing works by fifteen women artists. So, out of the whole floor devoted to the "permanent" collection, we get to see paintings by fifteen women.

There are whole sections of art movements that have no women represented (Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism). There are no women artists prior to the 1920’s and the one women artist displayed (Helen Minter) is one that I am not familiar with. The museum is not showing any works by Sonia Delaunay, Mary Cassat, Berte Morisot or even Suzanne Valadon. The museum does own one piece by Merit Oppenheim, the fur lined cup, which is a Dadaist icon and one of the most famous pieces in the history of 20th century art, but they have chosen not to display it.

Many of the women artists are dead; although the captions by their works do not describe when the works were purchased, it’s a safe assumption that the works were not purchased during their lifetime. In contrast, most of the male artists in the contemporary section are still alive: Jim Dine, Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Polke, Richter, Anselm Kiefer, Bill VIola.

The Rose, by Jay De Feo which is arguably the finest Bay Area painting of the last 50 years is not in the museum. The whole saga of The Rose and its entombment at the SFAI for over 40 years before being shipped to the Whitney is a salutary lesson on how women artists are viewed. 1 In the past, the museum has gone to great lengths to preserve fragile works by men artists, including some strange installations pieces involving honey, pennies and sheep that I remember viewing at the old SF MOMA and another one involving old tires. However, preserving and hanging The Rose seems to have been beyond their resources. Similar fragile works by Eva Hesse are on display but Hesse has reached iconographic status in the art world due to her beauty, her talent and her early death (probably due to toxic exposure of the materials used in her work). There is nothing like the early death of an artist to guarantee popularity.2

Only one image deals with a woman looking at a man – Kahlo’s painting of her self and her husband (who is infantilized in the painting and certainly not presented as an object of desire). "The body," which became a locus of so much academic theorizing is not represented in any part of the collection on display. In fact, the contemporary collection focus on non-representational women painters avoids the entire topic of the female gaze. While I would not necessarily say that the works displayed are “safe,” they certainly are non-confrontational in terms of women’s images of men.

The women painters represented in the permanent collection paint in the traditional (and more highly valued) medium of oil. There are no quilts, ceramics, needlework, or embroidery represented. Few of the paintings represent specific female areas of experience. The exceptions are the work by Kahlo of her and her husband and Brown of her son, Noel.

The work on the wall does not challenge any mainstream conceptions of the viewer. For instance, there are no works by Judy Chicago whose exhibit here in 1979 of “The Dinner Party” stimulated a wide variety of related exhibitions, performances and lectures at the museum and in the Bay Area generally. Unfortunately, the backlash that followed was so strong that it took 25 years before there was once again (at least on the West Coast) a major exhibition at a museum focusing on feminist art. 3

Women artists of color and especially those who deal with issues of color, race and gender are not represented at all. Betty Saar, Inez Sorer, Mildred Howard, and Viola Frey are not in the collection; many of them are from the Bay Area. The museum is in no danger of slipping into multiculturalism – at least as far as women artists go.

If art is a luxury that artists pay for, as the sculptor David Smith is supposed to have said, being an artist is an even great luxury for women. The world outside the museum does not present a level playing field for women but the work on the walls magnifies that inequality.

The more recent acquisitions do reflect a greater degree of equality. I saw works by Julie Nehru, an up-and-coming painter of Ethiopian descent, works by Tuba Chador, Chloe Pine, Shahs Islander and Rebecca Bollinger. However, there are no works by current Bay Area women artists including Katherine Sherwood and Squeek Carnwith, to name two. A current exhibit of "new and emerging artists" earlier this year showcased three men; one portrays women in a quasi-pornographic fashion (Zak Smith) and the other two artists also showed work that used sexuality as a theme but was not particularly interesting (IMHO).

According to the Guerrilla Girls newsletter (summer, 2005) the economic policies of the Bush Administration have come home to roost in the art auction market. A new generation of Bush Billionaires is the latest poker players in the world of contemporary art. They’re throwing millions of dollars at the work of a handful of living artists to see which ones will appreciate the most over time. Problem is, the super rich throw their money at artists who look like themselves: other white males. A recent feature article in The New York Times tracked two British artists of the same generation, with similar exhibition records, and similar critical success. An artwork by the guy brought not two or three but ten times the price at auction of a comparable work by the woman. Neither the SF MOMA website nor their descriptions of the paintings in the collection tell us who bought the work for the museum or when it was bought but the paucity of women artists leads me to the inescapable conclusion that while the politics of museum donors may be liberal, their views on women in the arts is not. Another statistic from the Guerrilla Girls Newsletter is for a different, but related art form:

“72% of NEA grants for Choreography in 2000 were awarded to men. Thirteen men received an average grant of $10,000. apiece. Three women received an average of $5000. apiece. Most of the companies appearing at prestigious NY venues_American Dance Festival, Brooklyn Academy Next Wave Festival, Joyce Theatre, etc.—were headed by men. Any dancers out there need some Guerrilla Girls posters? (Summer 2001)."

The evidence is overwhelming that women are discriminated against across the board so we shouldn’t be surprised that this extends to the SF MOMA, indeed, any museum. In fact, this is supported again by research done by the Guerrilla Girls:

“The Guerrilla Girls have always maintained that public museums have a special repsonsibility to be inclusive in their presentation of art and to not support discrimination, even if that discrimination has been perpetrated by one of their biggest donors. Four Decades of Art from the Broad Collections, now on exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, contains work by one artist of color and 4 women out of 25 artists. That's 4% and 14%, respectively. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME! (Summer 2001).”

And another note on collectors:

“Did you know that wealthy art collectors sit on committees that vote on what works of art museums should buy? Artists get no say, members of the public get no say, but individuals who donate lots of money do. A NYT article about Larry Rinder, a Whitney Museum curator, followed him to dinner with a novice collector who had just donated $25,000 to join such a committee. For that amount, the collector gets to tell the Whitney what to collect. “4

I know that the Whitney, like most museums, is desperate for money in a country where there is virtually no government support for the arts, but let's face it: this kind of behavior would be considered unethical, if not illegal, in other professions. And worse, it insures that most of the work being acquired by museums (and preserved for the future) is work that the marketplace has validated, i.e., the work of while males. SF MOMA is very discreet about who their donors are and what specific works are donated by whom, but their website lists ways to give – through Foundations, corporate sponsorship or private donations. Given what we see on the walls, is there any doubt that SF MOMA follows in the footsteps of the Whitey or indeed, any museum in this country? The evidence is there: seventy-three pages of artists but only six pages of women artists. Fifteen women artists are on display in the permanent collection – a collection that stretches for half a block or more.

Whatever gains women have made in the last decade are under constant attack by our current administration. The progressive forces outside the art world are fighting to maintain what they have gained, in some very significant ways losing (stopping the continuing war in Iraq being the latest example). In art, as in every other field, there is a glass ceiling. While we may dream that the ivory tower of the museum is a refuge from the racial, gender and economic issues that impact our society, alas, it is not so. So, when it comes to the institutions of the art world, liberal SF is right up there with the rest of the country.

1. Green, Jane and Levy, Leah. Jay DeFeo and The Rose. University of California Press. 2000
2. Wagner, Anne Middleton. Three Artists (Three Women). Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner, and O’Keefe. University of California Press. 1998.
3. Sackler, Elizabeth (ed) , Lippard, Lucy, Lucie-Smith, Edward and Wylder, Viki D. Thompson. Judy Chicago. Watson-Guptill, 2002. pp. 11-12.
4. Guerrilla Girls Website
Broude, Norma and Garrard, Mary D. The Power of Feminist Art: The American Movement of the 1970’s, History and Impact. Harry N. Abrams. 1994
Green, Jane and Levy, Leah. Jay DeFeo and The Rose. University of California Press. 2000.
Sackler, Elizabeth (ed) , Lippard, Lucy, Lucie-Smith, Edward and Wylder, Viki D. Thompson. Judy Chicago. Watson-Guptill, 2002.
Wagner, Anne Middleton. Three Artists (Three Women). Modernism and the Art of Hesse, Krasner, and O’Keefe. University of California Press. 1998.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Richard Misrach

Art wants to be interesting and meaningful. Beauty just wants to be beautiful. Their relationship, as a result, is often difficult. It doesn't seem to bother Richard Misrach, though, who regularly makes high art from the ridiculously beautiful.

How does he do that?

Richard Misrach, 1.1.99 5:20 pm, 1999

I think it might have something to do with distance. Not just the obvious physical distance between camera and subject, but emotional distance. Misrach photographs with a sense of perspective, a reserve, that allows him to present the beautiful without wearing it on his sleeve.

Richard Misrach, Submerged Gazebo, Salton Sea, 1984

And what about the light? Have you ever seen a Misrach in which the light was not itself beautiful? I wonder if the crystalline quality of his light - like water on hot metal - doesn't somehow help temper all that beauty and anneal it into art.

Richard Misrach, Untitled # 696-05, 2005

Or it may simply be that Misrach has uncanny taste, preternatural knowledge of where art ends and kitsch begins.

Whatever it is, it seems to work. And Fraenkel Gallery has an interesting exhibit of early Misrach night pictures until December 22. Don't miss it.

Art in Second Life

Exploring Art in Second Life

A few weeks ago, I was watching the monthly KQED video podcast, "Gallery Crawl", which usually covers art galleries in the SF Bay Area. This time they visited a couple of galleries in Second Life. Which is a virtual place. It's real enough, though . . .

I'd heard of Second Life, but had never visited before. I thought it was just a fantasy version of a singles bar. Even so, the art galleries looked interesting and I wanted to explore them myself. So I signed on and went into Second Life.

There is most definitely a wealth of art in Second Life, but before I get to that, let me say a few things about Second Life, as a place, as an experience. From my casual observations, it seems to me that the primary activities of the citizens of Second Life (in order of importance) are shopping, hanging out with friends, sex play, making art, and finding information. Vast amounts of land are filled with shopping malls, boutiques, and retail outlets (just like real life?) There are plenty of public gathering places like parks, beaches, museums, libraries, as well bars, clubs, theaters and the like. If you're into X-rated entertainment - it's easy to find, if you're not - it's easy to avoid. A variety of corporate and non-profit organizations have set up libraries, museums, universities, and interactive learning stations. Second Life reminds me of the early days of the web, but in 3-D, and it's much more interactive.

Exploring Art in Second Life

And for now at least, Second Life is heavily influenced by artists. It's a visually rich environment. If you're interested in architecture, fashion, landscaping, kinetic sculpture, color, pattern, design - you'll get hours of pleasure just wandering around the place, looking at everything. Imagine a world where artists got in at the beginning and had a say in how the place was built - this is it.

So it's no surprise that, not only is there plenty of public art, but there are tons of art galleries and quite a few art museums. Just like in the real world, some galleries are little more than souvenir shops for the tourists, while other galleries sell likable, forgettable paintings and photos (usually copies of real world works) and a few galleries show exciting, innovative work. The art museums are more conservative, but when you're talking about the Sistine Chapel (seriously) who cares?

Exploring Art in Second Life

KQED highlighted the galleries on Odyssey island, and justifiably so - it's an interesting space, with a couple of big galleries, some outdoor sculptures, an auditorium, and a strong emphasis on performance art. One gallery held photos of famous historical performance art pieces, next to photos of Second Life reenactments of scenes like Chris Burden's 1971 shooting.

One of the biggest galleries I've seen in Second Life is the Ginsberg Art Center, which is 6 floors of contemporary painting, photography and sculpture. It took me four visits to see the whole thing. Most of the paintings and photography look like they were brought over from real life. Here's a painting by Tommy Parrott (on right, below) called "3 birds and 2 beetles"- no other info available. Wall tags, and identifying info of any kind are somewhat lax in Second Life galleries. Sometimes, even in solo shows, I couldn't figure out who the artist was.

Exploring Art in Second Life

Some artists set up their own galleries, which operate like 3D portfolios. These places often did a better job of identifying the artist and providing web links to more info and contact details. For instance, on the island of Artropolis, artist Esch Snoats (aka Todd Tevlin) had a couple of signs up in his display area, "Esch Snoats in offline, touch here to leave a message for later." and "Want the real thing? Visit Esch's website to buy real life prints of his artwork! Click for website." Next door at the Gespot Gallery, was a space full of drums and colorful, symbolic narrative paintings (or collages?) for sale by Grimfiddle Dogpatch. Downstairs, next to a crowing rooster, I found his artist's statement, web link and real life name, Mark C. Meyers. Incidentally, Artoplolis has a free boat tour around the island. I took it at night, with a full moon, lots of stars in the sky, water sounds all around - and it was quiet, restful, and gorgeous. Pick up the boat at the dock by the photo studio of Shoshanna Epsilon. On the other side of the island were inventive portraits by Wake Idler - 3-D and hologram blendings of multiple images. The artist had another piece next to her dockside gallery, a sculpture of an oil drum, called "The Price of Oil." An info card next to the piece said that:
This piece serves to hammer home the true price of oil. The concept came to me while driving (what else?) and listening to Billy Bragg's song, "The Price of Oil." To get this piece, someone must die. Yes, die. This way we won't forget the thousands of Americans and the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have already died in the Second Gulf War. I don't want this going to alts, so your Second Life account must be real. To be real, your Second Life account must fufill the following characteristics:

1.) You must have been a member of Second Life for more than six months.
2.) You must either have payment info on record or rent land in a private island that doesn't require payment info on record.
3.) You must designate your heir to receive this work.
And of course ... you must die.

After you are gone from Second Life and have been gone from Second Life for 30 days, your designated heir will receive the piece. There will be no other charge for the item.

And then there are the out-of-gallery art experiences. One evening on Blackrock island, I ran into a guy, named Zenos Zond. He told me he was an artist, and when I asked him where I could see his work, he looked around and said, "Let's move over there, where there's more room." We walked a little ways to an open meadow and he began to conjure sculptures and paintings. One by one, an artwork would appear before us, I could walk around it, inspect it closely, ask him questions, and then it would disappear, to be replaced by another piece. Wow - talk about a spectacular portfolio presentation . . .

Exploring Art in Second Life

There are two museums in Second Life that I keep visiting again and again. The Dresden Museum is a recreation of the Old Masters Galleries in the real life city of Dresden and all 750 masterpieces in the permanent collection are on display. I still haven't seen everything in this building, and almost everything there is stunning. Yes, it's true that you can't get close enough to see the brush strokes and the accuracy of the colors depends on your monitor (among other things) but there's still a lot to be said for walking into a room full of great paintings that have been placed together by some kind of intelligent design . . . pausing in front of one, then stepping back to take in the pieces next to it, then stepping forward to check out a detail in one of them. It's an experience that you don't get in a book or in an online inventory where you click-through to the next slide. As a bonus, the Second Life Dresden museum gives away free t-shirts when you enter and the audio-guides are free, too.

Vassar College has established a campus in Second Life and on that campus, they reconstructed the Sistine Chapel. The really cool thing about this version of the Sistine Chapel is that you can fly up near the ceiling and hover there while you take your time looking at the frescos. Over in the Castle Vassar art gallery, they have life-sized reproductions of the Leonardo DaVinci's Last supper and Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece. The altarpiece is constructed so that you can open and close the side panels to see the work on both sides, and get an idea of the work as an single construction. I guess it sounds silly, but I got big kick out of manipulating the panels and getting up really close to the panels.

There are a few things that Second Life is missing:
-Smog, traffic, parking problems. There are almost no roads, and cars are novelty toys, because you can get around by walking, flying or teleporting. (And climbing the pyramid at Chichen Itza doesn't make you short of breath.)
- Weather, except as a controlled event, designed for your education and enjoyment.
- Sewage systems, landfills, power plants, except as art installations.
- Taste, smell, touch. Your experience of Second Life is mediated by your computer, just as your experience of the Real World is mediated by your body. The brain is the most important element in both places.

Exploring Art in Second Life

If you're thinking of checking out Second Life for the first time, you'll need a high-speed internet connection and a computer with a pretty fast graphics processor (ie: able to watch streaming video.) Go to and sign up for a new account (it's free to visit, it costs money to become a resident.) When you enter Second Life that first time be prepared to spend about an hour making your avatar and learning how to use it - how to walk, talk, and so forth. Also be ready to pick a name for yourself. First you will have to choose your last name from list of names presented to you and then you can invent your first name (and all the usual ones are taken.) If you get there, look me up - my Second Life name is Annalee Contepomi. I've been thinking of leading a gallery crawl in Second Life, and if there's enough interest, I might just do it.

(The images are snapshots from my most recent visit to Second Life. More photos and captions identifying the artists on my Second Life Flickr page.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Art for Peace at YBCA

from the San Jose Mercury News:

Expressions of peace
By Sara Wykes
for the Mercury News
published: December 11, 2007

Peace is one of those ideas with as many definitions as there are people in the world. The Dalai Lama - the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whose official title includes such powerful honorifics as "Ocean of Wisdom" - has symbolized the hope of peace for millions. And in this one man, who wears glasses and utilitarian shoes, lies a world of possibilities.

"The Missing Peace: Artists Consider the Dalai Lama," an exhibit of work by 88 artists from 25 countries, offers a symphony of images voiced by a full orchestra of aesthetic instruments riffing on the powerful life force of this religious leader.

This is not an exhibit to be rushed through like a cafeteria line. Within the high-ceilinged spaces of the first-floor galleries at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the paintings, photographs, sculpture and multimedia installations furnish long moments for meditation on the surprising ways the artists responded to the exhibit's organizing themes.

"Why do thousands go to hear him?" said Darlene Markovich, president of the Committee of 100 for Tibet and executive director of the show. "What is the message? How can art help to amplify that message?

Several artists in the "Missing Peace" exhibit are from the Bay Area - one of the show's most popular works was created by David and Hi-Jin Hodge of Half Moon Bay. The couple asked more than 100 people to talk about change. The process would stop, the couple agreed, when their subjects began to duplicate one another. But that never happened. And when technical problems led the Hodges to use iPods with video screens to display the many mini-films, this practical choice provided an appropriate visual wallop for our gadget-culture weary eyes.

The show is structured in sections that begin with work focused on the Dalai Lama himself. Here are photographs by Richard Avedon, Chuck Close and Sylvie Fleury. Bill Viola's video documents a blessing from the Dalai Lama so all can share in it.

A group of images focuses on Tibet and its people. One large canvas - it measures 6 1/2 feet by 10 feet - is titled "Brief History of Tibet" and its brilliant colors and intertwined images tell a story in striking fashion.

Another part of the exhibit springs from the artists' response to the basic beliefs of Buddhism, and visitors are guided through the works with a series of "lessons" from the Dalai Lama. "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion," or "Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them."

The exhibition has expanded exponentially beyond its original parameters. Its Web site ( includes an educational curriculum, a virtual tour and a wall of visitor responses. In development is an electronic gallery of work done by anyone who wants to participate by finding visual ways to express peace. Each answer will become part of a mosaic that can be accessed in a variety of electronic ways.

The works were originally intended to be auctioned off or to be sold as a group for permanent installation in a museum, but that future seems to be evolving, too. Just as the original idea for the exhibit changed in unexpected ways, it's impossible to predict just how the exhibit will end - or if it ever will, Markovich said. "You must let go of what you think you want to happen and something much more wonderful could happen."

Through March 16th at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission St. at Third Street, San Francisco.

rest of the story here

images from YBCA web site: Marina Abramovic, Binh Danh, Squeak Carnwath

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Comtemporary Jewish Museum in SF

SF Curbed has lots of photos of the inside of the new Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF - it's that tumbling blue box on Yerba Buena Lane. Last time I shot a photo of it, in March of this year, it looked like this:But by September it looked like this (photo from mlinksva's Flickr page):

. . . Which is looking close to the artist's rendering on the JMSF page:They don't open until June 2008, but Jimmy Stamp got an inside tour and posted 14 photos (check 'em out - they may need to provide Dramamine at the door.) This project has been in progress for so long, I thought it was never going to happen, but it's looking good now.

Institutional Art in Oakland

I'm clipping a couple of recent articles from the NYT and from Timothy Buckwalter's blog, about art in Oakland. We also have a new Oakland correspondent, Favianna Rodriquez, who will be checking in soon with news of the current Oakland art scene.

Where ‘Art’ Has Met ‘Craft’ for 100 Years
Published: November 11, 2007

WHEN the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his shop, Frederick Meyer, a German-born cabinetmaker with links to the Arts and Crafts movement, turned disaster into opportunity. The next year he and his wife, Laetitia, opened the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts with 3 teachers and 43 students. They had $45 in the bank and a vision of providing rigorous training to fine artists and craftsmen alike.

That school is now the California College of the Arts, a remarkable Bay Area institution that while perhaps unfamiliar outside the region has played an important role in shaping the past 100 years of California art.

“From the beginning the unity of arts and crafts was the most important principle at C.C.A., just like it would be at the Bauhaus, which was established 12 years later,” said Peter Selz, professor emeritus of art history at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1959, while a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he exhibited two little-known painters with connections to the college, Richard Diebenkorn and Nathan Oliveira.

Both those successful artists are now among the 100 alumni and faculty members whose work is in “Artists of Invention: A Century of C.C.A.,” on view until March 16 at the Oakland Museum of California.
rest of the story here

Final thoughts on the Oakland Museum.
By Timothy Buckwalter
Published: December 5, 2007

Dear Oakland Museum,

Your idea of trying to offer a showcase for California art is ridiculous. Your holdings are seriously lacking in any substantial numbers of recent work from So Cal.

Phil Linhares told me that the Museum will stand by this policy of claiming to show all of California, while in the same breath he said the Museum simply cannot afford to buy any work from these guys. Okay, if you are gonna stick up for a obsolete idea at least think of way around it – why not work on getting some pieces on long term loan? Or, hey, what about prints? As a matter of fact, San Francisco’s Crown Point Press has some Baldessaris available right now.

Here is a better idea, and one that requires much less work. Why not re-mission yourself and become the only Bay Area spot that shows an in-depth selection of 20th Century and 21st Century Bay Area art? There is no competition for the title. SFMOMA doesn’t show local art. Not with any serious commitment, at least. Rene di Rosa only shows the bargains he picked up in the last four decades. Oakland could be a beacon in Northern California of the best and brightest from the place we call home. I’m not talking about hosting a Roy De Forest retrospective. I’m talking about thoughtfully rehanging a vast selection of work that brings to life our proud, brilliant and freakish art heritage. How many schools began here? Let’s name them -- AbEx, Bay Area Figurative, Funk, the Mission School, and so on. Don’t be shy, throw some video and performance in the mix. Geez, SRL is still around and pumping its testosterone. Put one of their pieces outside for the kids to enjoy.

You probably haven’t noticed it, but in the last three years a self-supporting art scene has sprung up in Oakland. I say you probably haven’t noticed because I’m trying to be positive here. If you noticed it and ignored it, wtf Oakland Museum? And like you, it seems the scene is gonna stick around. As a matter of fact a few galleries are even bringing in work from out of town, trying to get a dialogue going with our scene, tossing in some new ideas. Mills has hopped on the bandwagon and promised to import more international and East Coast works into the mix. The Magnes is getting local artists to rummage through their archives to create fantastic shows. What are you doing to support us? (No, a bike tour of Oakland does not count.)
rest of the story here

(Images are from the Oakland Museum, top one via the NYT)

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Bay Area Art Museums in Presidio and Napa

From the SFGate Art Page:

Proposed Presidio museum would be modern addition to historic military site, by John King

Gap founder Donald Fisher has unveiled the design of the museum he wants to build in San Francisco's Presidio - a sedate but glassy modern building bearing little resemblance to the historic military structures that would be its neighbors.

The two-story, 100,000-square-foot structure would occupy the crest of the Parade Ground of the former military base that in 1994 became a national park. It would resemble a long stack of overlapping cubes, with white masonry walls broken by stretches of clear glass to allow views of work inside by artists such as Alexander Calder and Richard Serra.

If the proposal is accepted by Presidio officials, there also would be a network of terraces where sculptures could be displayed - including Serra's monumental "Sequence," a 14-foot-high, 65-foot-long maze of coiled steel that was the centerpiece of his acclaimed career retrospective during the summer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
. . . rest of the story here.

- - - - -

Art collector couple builds museum-size cave in Napa for collection, by Carolyne Zinko

San Francisco couple Norah and Norman Stone, already renowned in jet-set circles for their playful personas and modern art collection, created even more of a stir when they unveiled the cave - and a new experiential water and sky sculpture by James Turrell - to the art world and friends at a splashy party over the last weekend of October.

Like other homeowners who outgrow their residences or amass too much stuff, they needed an add-on. In their case, it wasn't a new bedroom attached to their Pacific Heights mansion or their Wine Country farmhouse, but a 5,700-square foot cave in which to display the vast number of oversize works they have purchased through the years. Most are simply too big to display in a home and require a museum-sized space to be seen. And with cost as no deterrent - Norman Stone's father was the late billionaire insurance magnate W. Clement Stone - the sky was literally the limit.

"It's a private gallery," Norman Stone said. "It's not big enough for a museum."

. . . rest of the story here.

(Images from SFGate - top photo by Gluckman Mayner Architects; bottom photo by Drew Altizer)

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Jasper Johns "Gray" at the Chicago Art Institute

I just returned from a short trip to Chicago and luckily had enough time to hit the Art Institute before I left. Their featured show is a Jasper Johns retrospective of his gray paintings on display until January 6, 2008.

This show was fantastic. I never cared much for Johns until I saw this exhibit. It was fascinating to travel from room to room starting at the beginning of his career and ending in 2006. There were rooms full of his flags, targets, maps, numbered pieces, letters, ripped canvases, mixed media pieces, and more (more than 120 works).

I was really taken by the amount of work this man created and the passion that drives him to create. Imagine devoting a lifetime to the study of gray? Johns pushed this color to the limit and did it in such a fascinating way. To visit this show is to be in the presence of genius.

One might think that visiting a show called “Gray” on a cold grey winter day in Chicago is a downer. But in truth, it was the brightest part of my visit.

This exhibit will be at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 5 – May 4, 2008

Jasper Johns image from the Chicago Art Institute's Website:

Friday, December 7, 2007

Off The Point

I don't have a car so I seldom get to Hunter's Point Art Studios. So, I was very pleased to see this show on Hayes St, within walking distance of home. The show itself is in a very large (if bare bones) corner space and is full of very nice work. I didn't bring my camera with me so I wasn't able to take any photos; however, there is a nice selection of small images up at their website. The show will be up until December 29th so it's a great place to buy art for people on your Christmas list.

"Off the Point" Holiday group show

A revolving exhibit of work by 35 Hunters Point artists. Featuring Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Joe Sam as well as glass blowers from Public Glass of Bayview.

At Hayes Valley Market, 580 Hayes Street

contact: Zannah Noe, Show organizer

(Images from "Off the Point" web site, added by Anna L. Conti.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Maria Forde, Veronia De Jesus, & Electric Works


MKC and I hopped around SF yesterday afternoon checking out some nice shows. The good folks at Little Tree were kind enough to let us in before the opening to check the work and snap some pics of Maria Forde's "Fetching Veggie Etchings" show, a tight but playful take on healthy eating.


Then we headed over to Eleanor Harwood for Veronica De Jesus' show. I really dig her drawing style. The NY Times page drawings on newsprint are quite clever...


We finished up at a great group show over at Electric Works (formally Trillium Press). The show is called "Civil Twilight". Here are some highlights...


Jason Jägel

Jason Jägel

Jason Jägel

Paul Madonna

Heidi McDowell

Heidi McDowell

Travis Somerville

Michelle Blade

Michelle Blade

Christina Mazza

Christina Mazza

Iva Gueorguieva

Jeremiah Maddock

Jeremiah Maddock

Julie Rofman