Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Goddess in Ancient Afghanistan

"Nowhere in antiquity have so many different objects from so many different cultures -- Chinese mirrors, Roman coins, daggers from Serbia -- been found together in situ," Viktor Ivanovich Sarianidi, the Russian archaeologist who made the historic find at Tillya Tepe in 1979, wrote in National Geographic in 1990. The inscription on the National Museum of Afghanistan states, "A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive."What is shown in the exhibit is the best of the Afghanistan past. I sincerely hope that they can build a future that honors this tradition. The outlook right now isn't too good and the art is probably safer now in the West than being returned to Kabul but I hope that time will bring an end to the conflict and the return of democracy to this war- torn country.

The Begram ivories are the smallscale equivalent of Gandharan sculpture, with curvaceous ‘goddesses’ in chiton. These ivories, believed to have come from a royal palace, along with the art of neighbouring Gandhara, are the link between Greek and Roman art and the Buddhist and Hindu art and shows how connected Afghanistan was to influences coming from both east and west. She is the kind of beauty that inspired poetry like this:

"O my idol! A cloud from Paradise
Has bestowed an emerald gown on the earth.
Deserts are like blood-stained silk
And the sky has the fragrrance of musk.
With a mixture of musk and red wine
An artist has drawn an image of my love on the desert.
The world has becom peaceful
For both the tiger and the deer.
For such occastions. we need a sun-faced idol,
And a moon. leaning on a cushion of sun.
We must have an idol with cheeks like rubies,
And red wine to match the cheeks.
The world has become a peacock,
With roughness here and smoothness here.
Mud smells of roses,
As though kneaded with rose water."

-- Daqiqi of Balkh


If SF has one world class museum, it’s the Asian. In "The Treasures of Afghanistan", the Asian continues its tradition of beautifully mounted exhibits of both artist and historical value.

Long thought to be lost, the collection of Afghan gold from the National Museum of Kabul has survived decades of war. Among the hidden treasures were Bronze Age gold pieces, hundreds of ancient coins, and the famous "Bactrian hoard," a collection of some 20,000 gold, silver, and ivory objects from burial plots at Tillya Tepe in northern Afghanistan.

Workers involved in the transfer swore secrecy and designated "key holders" for the vaults. They kept their covenant through civil war and Taliban rule at enormous personal risk.

The exhibit focuses on four main archaeological sites. Fullol is the oldest and gold vases found at this Bronze Age site are used to illustrate Bactrian sophistication c. 2000 BC. The gold was mined locally, but the decoration of the objects show that already at this early date the first recorded Afghans were reaching out to their neighbors and beginning to establish the trade links that would one day become the Silk Road.

The highlight of the exhibition must be the 1st-century BC Bactrian gold from the hoard found by Viktor Sarianidi at Tillia Tepe in northern Afghanistan in 1978. At the time the country was occupied by Soviet troops, and then closed to the world by the Taliban, so few archaeologists got to see these rare treasures before they were spirited off to a vault. They come from a part of the world we still know too little about due to decades of war and instability, but reveal both how affluent and sophisticated this region was, straddling the trade routes between East and West, and taking cultural influences from both. The six princely tombs from Tillia Tepe illustrate the funerary wealth of the period and its extensive trading links: a bronze mirror was made in China, the ivories came from India, and much of the jeweler is Graeco-Roman in design if not in origin,

The aim of ‘Afghanistan, Rediscovered Treasures’ is to raise funds to rebuild Kabul Museum and to raise awareness of the fascinating history of that great country. The hope is that when Afghanistan is secure the objects will return and the Afghans will also be able once more to appreciate their own ancient culture.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures from the National Museum, Kabul
Through January 25, 2009

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Flora David: Above And Below The Surface

Above And Below The Surface
The Artwork of Flora Davis & John Kuzich
November 12, 2008 - January 17, 2009

Working like a Zen alchemist, Flora Davis creates her own patined surfaces by applying an eclectic mix of chemicals and compounds to copper, brass, aluminum and steel. Through multiple applications she achieves an amazing range of patterns, textures and colors. These are then cut up and applied to geometric box shapes. Involved in Buddhist mindfulness meditation, Davis works intuitively and sees her work as surface oriented.

Flora Davis
Artist Statement

"Over the years, my Buddhist practice has reinforced the way I approach art making, which is to begin with an open mind/no mind. I may have an idea of what I want to create or an inspiration, yet I will allow my mind to become soft, and let the materials dictate the process of the unfolding creation. My work is thus spontaneously made.

I find my subject matter and inspiration in nature, such as in the textures and patterns on rocks, a field of blowing grass, or monolithic rock formations in Yosemite Valley. I am not interested in representing reality, but the beauty I experience in reality. My work is therefore abstract, as I strive toward simplicity of forms and shapes and textures.

For many years my materials were quite literally made from nature. I used clay, wax, sand, charcoal as my medium, adding leaves and sticks as accents. Gradually I began to add metals, and by 2002 they took over completely. Why did metal as copper, steel, aluminum, brass become my new fascination? I am not sure, other than they gradually grabbed my attention as I learned, through multiple application of ingredients, to work an amazing range of patterns, textures and colors on the surface. The "ingredients" range from kitchen staples like salt, water, vinegar, and baking soda, to cleaning products like bleach, ammonia, and Comet cleanser, to other agents such as sawdust, muriatic acid and commercially produced metal surfacers."

Reception For The Artists
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Gallery 645
at Michael Thompson Framing
647 & 645 7th Street
San Francisco CA, 94103
Telephone - 415-861-5717

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Open Studios this weekend

Great review of the opening show for the Lighthouse for the Blind over at:

I wanted to go but was overwhelmed with last-minute work for Open Studios. I will be open this weekend, October 24, 25 & 26th. The reception is Friday the 24th from 6-10 and then, we will be open both Saturday and Sunday from 11-5.
689 Bryant at 5th, San Francisco

Monday, October 20, 2008

Katherine Sherwood at Paule Anglim

Sherwood derives much of her painterly vocabulary from an occult book: Lemegeton or the Lesser Key of Solomon and the angiograms after her cerebral hemorrhage in 199. She merges the two into a distinctive style, using calligraphic emblems, thickly poured paint and collage. Her images come from the junction of medieval magic and modern science, using contrasting signs to express meanings both seen and unseen. The larger pieces in this show are somewhat dry and don't express the complexity of older work. In this case, bigger is not better. Her smaller pieces work better and continue to draw the viewer into her unique vision.

14 Geary
October 1 – November 1, 2008
image from website
Sherwood's website:

Brian Rutenberg at Toomey-Tourell

I'd seen photos of Rutenberg's art but the reality is much deeper, spiritual even, with layers of intense colors, played against dark forms. Rutenberg says that the inspiration for his complex pieces come from many sources - his native Carolina landscape, poetry, the shapes of words, and his studies of Neolithic and Celtic art. His comment, "An eye, told not what to see, sees more," speaks to an intense engagement with the philosophy, materials and methods of painting. The small gallery resonates with his vibrant colors and textured surfaces; it's one of the most beautiful shows of abstract art that I've seen in a long time.

"I love that, that merging of, of language and image. So I love the idea of that last line: "At every instant I expect/what is hidden everywhere." The idea that, that a painting can make the invisible visible, and that, at every minute, something could change or shift or dazzle your eye" BR

49 Geary St, San Francisco

Excellent write up at the gallery website
Artist's website with videos explaing the why's, the how's and the where-fore's

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

We've got bling!

If Chululy wasn't gaudy enough for you, guess what's coming. Well, I should be more respectful. I think that Ancient Egyptian art is gorgeous and far more "authentic" than that made by Mr. C. But really. Does the De Young need a continual diet of blockbuster exhibits to stay in the black?

The Mother of All Museum Exhibitions is coming to Golden Gate Park’s de Young Museum in June 2009. It’s Tutankhamun! It’s on! That’s right, the King of Bling is coming back to San Francisco for the first time in 30 years.

Well, maybe not King Tut himself:

“Tutankhamun’s mummy and the inner sarcophagus are still located in his tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. The outer sarcophagi and shrines are at the Cairo Museum. Neither the mummy nor any of the sarcophagi have ever traveled.”

But this show, Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs, is going to be way better than The Treasures of Tutankhamun, which is what what people were able to see the last go around three decades ago. (from SF Citizen)

Various links:,9171,349108,00.html

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vik Muniz Lecture Tonight At CCA

Vik Muniz will be speaking tonight at CCA. Vik is probably most famous for his portraits done in chocolate sauce. He likes to use unconventional mediums in his art making such as dust, sugar, catsup, or peanut butter and jelly.

Vik Muniz
CCA Graduate Studies Lecture Series
Tuesday, October 14, 7 pm
Timken Lecture Hall, San Francisco campus
Info: 415.703.9505
California College of the Arts
1111 Eighth Street, San Francisco, CA 94107-2247

A very similar lecture can be seen here:

From an interview on Egg: The Arts Show, PBS
"I think really my definition of success or celebrity is when people know more about you than you know about yourself. I started to learn who I am from what people tell me. You have to be very careful. See, my daily routine, I shave, I walk like this. And sometimes I do regular errands because I think it's important for me to keep doing things that I did before. It's keeping a little bit more in contact with the real world. And one of these days I took my bio and I was making Xeroxes, and a woman looked over my shoulder and saw my name in the pile of paper I was trying to work with. And she looked at me, the way I was dressed, and she said, "Oh, you work for Vik Muniz!" I thought a little about this, and I said, "Well, as a matter of a fact, I do." "Is he a nice boss?" I said, "Oh, he's a boss like anyone." You know, and she said, "Is he nice?" I said, "Well, bosses are not nice, you know you have to work." So I go about bad mouthing Vik Muniz the guy, you know. It was funny, cause I felt, I really felt, that I told that woman how I really felt about this guy, that was invented, that's not me at all and it's become a little bit part of what I am."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Art of Democracy

(c) Fernando Botero, Abu Ghraib 72, 2005
Collection of American University Museum, Washington DC

According to Peter Selz, art historian and author of Art of Engagement: Visual Politics in California and Beyond, "Not since the 1930s, facing the Great Depression and the impending danger of a Fascist New World Order, and the 60s with a previous illegal and immoral war, has there been such a great outpouring of political art. At the present, a great many artists, working in media, old and new, have again picked up their brushes, cameras or computers to protest against a foul war, destruction of the environment, obscene fiscal gains and abnegation of constitutional rights to express their rage and speak to the public."

Artists across the country, animated by response to events of the last seven years and mobilized over the past two years by Art Hazelwood, a San Francisco-based printmaker, and Stephen A. Fredericks, president of the New York, Society of Etchers have organized a series of forty exhibitions entitled Art of Democracy. The exhibitions, spanning the United States from Washington State to New Hampshire, including Puerto Rico, will analyze what went wrong within this millennium with an America that was admired not so long ago.

I'm sorry that I did not get to this sooner. As one who remembers the 60's all too well and the eloquent poster art of the time, I've been disappointed in whatever political art work I have seen. It has often been a carbon copy of earlier work, altered for today's consumer culture- recycling the images solely for profit without the original content and without acknowledging the original artist. However, the fact that this art is mostly to be found in galleries and university museums is a telling comment on how the times have changed. In the 60's, posters were all over the place - up on walls, in the free newspapers, even on t-shirts! I know that having an image of Angela Davis on a t-shirt is hardly an appropriate piece of political commentary on the Black Panther party and the political struggles of the time but at least the images were visible. The dialogue was - however juvenile at times - open, engaged and passionate. But then, the 60's, for all it's flaws, was a time of optimism and hope.

What I do find interesting is that none of these shows have been reviewed on our paper. I guess "educating the public" is de rigeur when it's a critique of a glass-blowing hack like Chiluly or the latest fashion show but not when it's difficult art about a painful subject. Check out their website for a list of related shows and events.

Meridian Gallery: September 4- November 4, 2008
Image from the website

The Art of Democracy: War and Empire at Meridian Gallery

Art of Democracy is building a network of exhibitions and events that will all take place in the fall of 2008. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Puerto Rico, Muncie, and several more locations are planning exhibitions. Join us as we work to amplify artistic voices willing to speak out in this dangerous hour.

The so-called Patriot Act gives the FBI the authority to issue national security letters to ordinary American citizens that can order them to unconditionally comply with demands for information while forbidding them to discuss the order with anyone - including family members or an attorney - without the prospect of facing jail time.

How will you feel if you get a national security letter from an abusive agent of the government – and you can’t even tell your best friend? Will you feel better knowing you said nothing while it was still legal to dissent?

The art is a mixed bag of decent graphics, good intentions and strong emotions. However, as art, well, some of it's not very good. But in this instance, I'm willing to waive some of my artistic criteria for the sake of the message. Whether it will reach anybody not already convinced is hard to tell. None of it has the power of Edward R. Morrow's documentary on migrant workers which shocked my generation. The music lacks the punch of "A hard rain's gonna fall" or "We shall overcome." But it's a different time, different mores. We are closer than we know to having our civil liberties taken away so I'm glad that it exists at all.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Insights 2008 at San Francisco City Hall:
Blind and Visually Impaired Artists

The 19th Annual Insights 2008 exhibition has recently opened in the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery in City Hall, Lower Level. On display are over 100 works of photography, painting, and touchable sculpture by 45 artists who are blind or visually impaired. There are also several mixed media works, my favorites being the combination of ceramics and weaving, and collage with water color. Shown above is an oil painting by Mari Cardenas, titled "Leaving."

The exhibition is presented by The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.

Braille and other format materials are available, along with audio tours, making the exhibition accessible to sighted, blind and visually impaired alike.

While you are there, you can pick up or drop off an absentee ballot, or vote, as the gallery is adjacent to the Registrar of Voters.

The show runs October 2 – December 12, 2008. The Opening Reception is Tuesday, October 21, 2008, 5:30 – 7:30 PM.

by Phil Gravitt

SF Public Library

Resources at the SF Public Library: This is such a marvelous place that I'm always surprised that more of us "arty" types don't know about it. Sure, the new (now not so new) library was poorly designed. There's less space for books than at the old Main Library and the Rotunda carries sound which can be very distracting when a group of kids is visiting the place. But better they visit and learn about the free resources available to them than out making mischief!

I'm an antique buff and I'm constantly consulting Maloney's. Now, I can't afford to buy what I covet but it's always fun to know what something is worth. Maloney's covers just about every topic you can imagine and is constantly updated. i
f you want to add to your collection, or to dispose of an item, or to simply establish its value beyond the worth you yourself attach to it, you will need Maloney’s. Maloney’s Antiques & Collectibles Resource Directory, now in its 7th, rev. edition is the undisputed No.1 resource for collectors, dealers in antiques, attorneys, insurance companies, authors, lecturers and anyone with an interest in collectibles and personal property. It does not give definitions or illustrations, but provides the names and addresses of more than 20,000 collectors, buyers, dealers, experts and appraisers, clubs, societies and associations, museums and centers of specialized research. Many of these entries include websites and e-mail addresses. It also lists reproduction sources, repair/restoration services and suppliers of parts. For some collectibles it provides information on antiques buying trips, internet and gallery auctions, specialized periodicals and computer software for collectors.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I love the book arts. Therefore, I was delighted by the show featuring the work of Robert Sabuta, the wizard of pop-up artists and a living example of the erasure of the line between craft and art with their unparalleled artistry and innovation.

The show features 60 colorful and fanciful illustrations and intricate pop-up books drawn from 11 books. His first published pop-up was The Christmas Alphabet (1994), followed later by The 12 Days of Christmas (1996), both of which have become best selling holiday classics. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-up
(2000), has been considered his masterpiece. Its linoleum-block print medium adheres to the style of the original W.W. Denslow illustrations, yet the intense visual power of the pop-up is all Sabuda’s.

August 31 through November 9, 2008
Main Library, Lower Level, Jewett Gallery
100 Larkin Street (at Grove)

Related Adult Programs:

History of Pop-Up Book-making with demonstration
Thursday, October 23, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Latino Hispanic Community Room,
Main Library, Lower Level,
100 Larkin Street (at Grove)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Susan Ashley pastels

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by the UCSF Faculty/Alumni House at 745 Parnassus before October 30 and see the landscape pastel paintings of Susan Ashley. Call 415-476-4723 first, as the Alumni House is not always open. Also on display are landscapes by Norma Paige.

Ashley has accurately captured the detail, colors and texture, as well as the relaxing beauty, of summer hillsides in California. From a distance, some of her paintings match the subject landscapes so closely, they appear to be photographs.

Some of her landscape paintings are more surreal, with the same attention to detail, as in this example.

Ashley has been working with pastel for eight years. She appreciates the immediacy pastel offers, along with freedom from color mixing, drying time, brush cleaning, etc.

Due to the large number of pastel sticks of varying hardness and shades that she uses, Ashley often takes photos and does sketches of the subject landscape. Working in the studio later allows her to work with care and attention at her own pace.

Ashley started out as a mostly self taught oil painter, then moved on to become a studio potter.

Ashley keeps her earlier connection to pottery by displaying her pastels in an annual show at the studio of accomplished and nationally recognized potter Mary Law in Berkeley. The show is the last weekend in November. See Mary Law Pottery for details.

Please note: Susan Ashley does not have a web site. The web site of the same name is someone else.

by Phil Gravitt

Friday, October 3, 2008

Open Studios, 2008

San Francisco Open Studios 2008

A citywide annual art event featuring nearly 1,000 artists. Opening party preview on Saturday features a buffet dinner and live auction ($40-$115). Collectors Public Preview Exhibition takes place Sunday (free). Go to Web site for details and complete schedule. 6:30-10 p.m. Sat., 4-7 p.m. Sun. SomArts Gallery, 934 Brannan St. (415) 861-9838. SF

SOMA Arts (689 Bryant St at 5th) - "my" studio will be open to the public on the 24th (reception), 25th and 26th. If you live in the Bay Area, please drop by. Wine, cheese and lots of art - all free!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

MORANDI (not local, but...)

I have never really wanted, in any serious way, to be wealthy (there are always the little conversations one has when, having sprung for a lottery ticket, for a few hours you MIGHT be a winner; those are mostly centered on the joys of philanthropy and don't count).

The only time I have any regrets about opting for my way of life is when a really good art show opens on the other side of the country. There was Cezanne in Philly in 1996, Vermeer in DC in 1995...the list goes on. Currently I'm ruing not being able to see the Giorgio Morandi exhibit at the Met in NY.

It was in the early 1990s that Larry Morace introduced me to Morandi's work, telling me about him and his still life paintings during a conversation while Larry was gallery sitting at the SF Open Studio's show. He was so enthusiastic that I couldn't wait to get home and look it up!

Morandi is kind of an "artist's artist." There is handling of surface and medium that is at once painterly and austere, a really admirable achievement hit time and again. But what a lot of us are really attracted to is his large body of work comprising still lives done in his studio using the same small grouping of simple objects in varying relationships to each other.

Peter Schjeldahl, writing in the New Yorker, notes "
It’s as if he had set out, time and again, to nail down the whatness of his objects but couldn’t get beyond the preliminary matter of their whereness." I don't normally like Schjedahl's writing, but his essay on this exhibit is superb; for me he nails what is so special about Morandi. Holland Cotter's piece for the NY Times is also worth reading (Is it a measure of the art that it brings out the best in the critical writing?).

It struck me, contemplating anew Morandi's work, that he had essentially created a kata for himself. By setting the limits, he could devote himself to refining and polishing his technique while exploring the possibilities inherent in the problem he had defined.

I'm not sure why I think this is wonderful, but I do.