Friday, January 25, 2008

A New Photography Gallery Coming to Town

In the March issue of Black & White Magazine, Richard Pitnick reports that Nile Tuzun, creator and owner of, will be opening a photography gallery here in San Francisco very soon. Tuzun's web site indicates the date for the opening of the Sacramento Street gallery is set for March 19th.

Tuzun has been representing about 15 Italian photographers on her web site and is now taking that big step into an "actual" gallery space here in the City.

A few years ago while in Rome, Tuzun was so taken by the work of contemporary Italian photographers, that she decided to create the on-line gallery to represent, exclusively, Italian photography.

According to Pitnick's article, photography in Italy is only now coming into its own. Tuzun believes that's because in Italy photography competes with such a rich tradition of fine art that it hasn't received the recognition it deserves.

What ever the reason, the opening of a new photography gallery in San Francisco, and one with a fresh and all together new perspective is more than welcome, and long over due.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Katy Grannan

Katy Grannan, Nicole, Potrero Hill, 2006

Katy Grannan’s most evident talent is for inspiring trust in subjects already eager to shed not only their clothes but whatever vestiges of dignity might remain to them. The resulting photographs have not been very good. Her latest effort is The Westerns.

In this new show, Grannan gives us pictures of Gail and Dale, transsexual best friends, and Nicole, a woman struggling with demons whose exact nature is left to our imagination. There are also a couple of pictures of men, equally troubled, whom Grannan apparently stumbled across on the beach.

Why The Westerns? The artist, we are told, considers these people to be “new pioneers” struggling “to define themselves under the scrutiny of relentless sunlight” in San Francisco, “a mythical destination and a real end-point where sunshine illuminates both the abject and the joyful.” I’d concede the aptness of "relentless" and “abject,” but there is no joy in any of these pictures.

Diane Arbus, Albino Sword Swallower at a Carnival, 1970

Instead, there is only Grannan’s exploitation of her subjects’ unhappiness and confusion. The degree of that exploitation is best illustrated by reference to another woman who photographed outsiders and was accused, in her day, of exploiting them. In fact, Diane Arbus’s freaks are paragons of dignity in comparison. Some of them are even joyful.

Katy Grannan, Gail, Point Lobos, 2006

The illuminating comparison is not with Arbus, with whom Grannan actually has little in common, but with the painter Andrew Wyeth, whose sticky taste for bathos is echoed by Grannan even in the peculiar pose she so often selects for her subjects. As far as I’m concerned, one Christina’s World is enough. More than enough, really.

Andrew Wyeth, Christina's World, 1948

(At Fraenkel, until February 9; also at Greenberg Van Doren and Salon 94 in NYC.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Book Review

I was recently browsing the craft section of Borders when I came across this wonderful book "Living the Creative Life, Ideas and Inspiration from Working Artists" by Rice Freeman-Zachery.

This is a book that can be enjoyed by artists and non-artists alike.  The author focuses on 15 contemporary artists who work in paint, mixed-media, quilting, clay, beads, journaling, or collage.  She interviews each of them, asking questions about where their inspiration comes from, their definition of creativity, how they use a sketchbook, what their work process is, how they organize their work space, collaboration and sharing their work with the public.  Each chapter is a different topic giving us each artist's viewpoint on the subject.

Included in each chapter are little sidebars that are titled "try this".  They include tips, suggestions, and activities to try and get creativity flowing.  For example in the second chapter "The Creative Childhood {It's Never Too Late}" the author suggests making a list of things that were fascinating to the reader as a child and then circling the ones that "cause a little shiver of interest".  These are topics one might explore in their adult art.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is the artwork.  The artists that Freeman-Zachery chose for her book are very talented.  Many of them are mixed-media artists.  As someone who is exploring this art form myself I find the work very inspiring.  I love the quilts by Bean Gilsdorf from Portland and the puppets of Scott Radke from Cleveland.

This is a beautiful full color paperback book.  Most of the pages are designed to look like collages.  It is filled with art, wisdom, and inspiration fro artists and art appreciators of every kind.  

( has a "Search Inside" feature for this book so you can see more of what it looks like)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dot-Com & Gone

Thomas Reynolds Gallery on Pine and Fillmore opened an exposition of photographs by Jean Collier Hurley this evening. The show chronicles the various help-wanted signs in the windows of the shops on Fillmore during the dot-com boom of 2000 when it seemed no retailer was safe from having their staff cherry-picked by the SOMA madness and runs through February 2nd.

The photos are quite interesting and from a collector's viewpoint different from most since damage to the negatives make each photo a 1/1 original with no copies to follow.

Mostly neighborhood folks in attendance, but one guest was a delight to see back on Fillmore. Iris Fuller, the owner of Fillamento, the store that revived the shopping scene on Fillmore, had dropped in from her home in Petaluma. Could a new Fillamento be in the offing? We can only hope.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart

Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart is the title of an exhibition at SFMOMA that will feature a performance by Banhart. He will perform 8:00 p.m., January 17, in the Phyllis Wattis Theater. The event is sold out, but the museum is selling tickets for a live simulcast of the performance. Banhart will also perform Jan. 19 at Amoeba Records. From the museum’s website:

Music was a consistent source of inspiration for Paul Klee, spanning the arc of his career and informing much of his practice. This exhibition features works by Klee that reveal his affinity for music, as well as new drawings by Devendra Banhart, a musician and visual artist, made in conjunction with his most recent album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Part of an ongoing presentation within Matisse and Beyond, the exhibition highlights the synesthetic relationship present in both artists’ works on paper, drawing on Dr. Carl Djerassi’s gifts and extended loans to SFMOMA of more than 150 works by Klee.

Video of a performance by Banhart up at

Monday, January 7, 2008

Artist's Model Builds Museum for SF

The San Francisco Sentinel has a terrific piece by Christopher Craig about Alma Spreckels: born to poverty in San Francisco's Sunset District, worked as an artist's model (she's the figure on top of the obelisk in Union Square) eventually marrying local rich guy, Adolph Spreckels:

"With the luxury of a staff of nannies and liveried servants, Alma began to focus her attention away from childrearing and towards the role of a proper high society hostess, not an easy feat, considering that most of San Francisco’s power elite turned their noses up at the freethinking firebrand whose humble origins and association with “bohemian” artists caused controversy in an era of stifling Victorian mores."

Not to be deterred, she headed for Europe, where she made friends with more artists and bohemians - this time as a collector.

"Alma returned to San Francisco just as World War I was breaking out in Europe, and she immediately set about acquiring several works by San Francisco sculptor Arthur Putnam, who would receive regular patronage from his new benefactor for the rest of his life.

Alma then recruited the assistance of dancer Loie Fuller to purchase the Rodin bronzes, which she successfully accomplished through much persistence, eventually securing 13 of the masterworks for Alma, as well as some of the artist’s drawings. Alma’s beloved statues made their San Francisco premiere at the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, where Alma, mesmerized by the beauty of the fair’s French Pavilion, got the idea to build a museum of equal attractiveness, to permanently house her Rodin pieces and other objects d’art she had begun to acquire.

After the exposition, Alma dove into charity work, focusing nearly five years on rummage sales and high-society raffles to raise money for war-torn France and Belgium. Her five-limousine garage at 2080 Washington became a constant garage sale, and a much-publicized relief raffle at the Palace Hotel drew gift donations from US presidents and renowned figures in the arts and sciences.

She even raffled off “The Genius of War,” one of her most prized Rodins.

With some convincing, the reluctant Adolph agreed to fund Alma’s museum project, which she envisioned not only as a cultural gift to the city, but also as a tribute to the 3,600 soldiers from California who were killed during World War One."

That project became the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Read Christopher Craig's full story here.

Image is top of the obelisk in Union Square - detail of plein air watercolor by Anna L. Conti

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Notes on an Exhibit of Huichol Art

From Janet Rosen at Zanshin Art:

One great pleasure in my life is knowing that despite being a pretty well-read and well-rounded person who has walked this earth over fifty years, there is still so much to learn and to appreciate.

This past week I was introduced to the Huichol people, thanks to an exceptionally well curated show at the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah. The show is ostensibly of Huichol ART. However (to turn to an earlier thread on this blog) there is no way to disassociate the art from the craft from the spiritual from the cultural well-being of the Huichol, so I say that via the art I have met the people a little bit.

The work is astonishing on all levels. As craft, it appears from a distance to be exceptionally well executed beadwork and embroidery. The first hint that something was unusual was when I came up to a highly sculpted three-dimensional mask and noted that the tiny seed beads were set with their holes sticking up, so clearly they had not been strung in place. A moment later, we saw a video that showed how both the beadwork and the yarn paintings are done:
A substrate is created of beeswax and pine pitch (both locally available resources). For beadwork, the beads are applied one at a time, with the aid of a needle, set into place, all freehand. The yarn paintings are not embroidered or in any way stitched or tied. A long section of yarn (looking like an embroidery thread) is essentially used to draw an outline, being pressed into place with a fingernail and nail scissors. The inner colors are then filled in by the same method, the artist working swiftly and surely, back and forth into the substrate until the surface is fully covered.

Artistically, the work just rocks. It is figurative, highly symbolic, and psychedelically complex (with good reason, see below). This artist/artisan is frankly amazed to realize that these compositions, however thought out they are, are actually executed completely freehand. Many of the larger yarn paintings are worlds to enter, demanding long and pleasurable study, eliciting conversations among the visitors, and are returned to for comparison after other pieces have been seen.

Regarding the meaning of the work, the show catalogue reads:

“The basis of this culture is the shamanic traditions Huichol people have practiced for many centuries. They believe that everything in their natural environment is alive and capable of feeling and action. There are a multitude of personified nature deities who are in charge of such things as animals, water, weather, and plants to whom the Huichol people send their prayers and petitions. Huichol shamans are the teachers, guides and mediators between the natural and the supernatural realms. To be a shaman is both a privilege and a demanding responsibility. Shamans conduct rituals to ensure the health and welfare of their communities and perform sacred chants recounting Huichol ancestral mythology.

“All Huichol ceremonial life centers around the sacred peyote cactus which is used in rituals to contact the spirit world. Huichol shamans obtain their power from these ceremonies and from the peyote visions they experience. Huichol art, whether two dimensional yarn paintings or three-dimensional masks and sculptures, use ancient symbols to represent these gods, to tell the cosmic drama of creation, and to document age-old Huichol traditions. With no written language, Huichol people rely on various types of artwork to maintain and communicate their beliefs and myths.”

Elsewhere in the show it is noted that for many Huichol, it is an annual 300 mile pilgrimage to go where the peyote grows and that vision quests are not unusual. Part of how the culture has remained so viable for so long is that many of its traditions are built around daily family life, and need connection with but not daily reinforcement from, the larger community (this reminded me of the similar home basis of much of Jewish life, and how it kept certain traditions alive for centuries among the “cryptoJews” of the New World.)

The yarn painting is a fairly recent aspect of Huichol life. Much of the artwork is being produced even now by their shamans as part of their responsibility to make the spiritual explicit or mediate reality for their people. At the same time there is artwork being produced specifically for sale, in order to help keep the people alive. Here is more information on that issue.
The closest parallel that comes to mind is the multifaceted and essential role of sand painting in the practical, spiritual and historic life of the Australian aborigines. To those who dither over whether or not “art is important” or try to define the difference between “arts” and “crafts” I offer these peoples as the only reply needed.

Moving to Ukiah, I will have the Grace Hudson as “my” local museum. It is a small place, with part of the building devoted to the painter for whom it is named (and whose beautiful craftsman home, the Sun House, is next door, with docent tours available) and a room of stunning Pomo baskets. The front area is given over to changing exhibits and for a small institution they have managed to put together some wonderfuls shows. Here were a couple of my favorites:

Puppets of the World

Pieces of the Past: Quilting Traditions

Landscape Interpretations

(This post was written by Janet Rosen - I keep trying to talk her into writing for BAArtQuake- until she does, I'll just have to copy a post now and then - check out her other art writings here. - Anna)

Interview: Rock Artist, John Howard

From Runaway Dinosaur, an interview with John Howard, who does poster designs for the Great American Music Hall, the Fillmore, the Warfield, and Bill Graham Presents. Excerpts below, full interview at Runaway Dinosaur.

What’s it like working with BGP? How often do they commission you for posters? Are you able to choose which acts you design for?

Working with BGP is cool because of their history and the fact that they take care of everything… you just send them the art and get paid. But that can also be a downside because you don’t get to work with the band/management, control the printing, or own the final art.

How do you get the 3-D effect with the silkscreen process?

The theory is simple. When viewing the image with red/blue glasses, the red lens shows the blue dot as black and the red dot as white and the blue lens shows the blue red as black and the blue dot as white. The brain is fooled into believing that the black dot seen by each eye is the same dot, which leads the brain to calculate the dots position as shown in these examples.
1 the dot appears to float above the paper
2 they overlap and appear on the surface
3 shift the other way dots appear below the surface

Can you tell me a little about TRPS Festival of Rock Posters that you were part of?

The Rock Poster Society is a volunteer army of poster art enthusiasts who put on poster shows in San Francisco that include rock art legends from the 60’s and new artists, too. Their regular shows are in the summer at Fort Mason and in the fall at the Hall of Flowers, but they are also involved in events like The 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love last year. A great bunch of folks who really care about the art, the artists, and the fans.

Image is Roky Erickson Halloween show at the Great American Music Hall, by poster artist John Howard.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Kenneth Baker's top 10 for '07

From SFGate:

1. "A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960s": The Berkeley Art Museum survey traced the Bay Area creative roots of one of the late 20th century's most influential American artists.

2. "Brice Marden: A Retrospective of Paintings and Drawings": A perfect marriage of art and venue - the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - this show let visitors walk within the sensibility of a major contemporary abstract painter.

3. "In the American West: Photographs by Richard Avedon": Avedon's 1986 album of portraits from chance encounters with ordinary folks in the West attained discomfiting intensity, presented in just the way the late photographer intended by Stanford's Cantor Center for Visual Arts.

4. "Hiroshi Sugimoto": The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum wisely gave the Japanese photographer free rein to design his retrospective, which showed both what a great visual artist he is and how complex the hidden conceptual dimensions of his medium are.

5. "Martin Ramirez": The San Jose Museum of Art collaborated with the nearby Mexican Heritage Plaza La Galeria to study an illegal immigrant "outsider" artist who produced his unforgettable drawings while confined in California mental hospitals.

6. "Listening Post": Yerba Buena Center for the Arts brought to San Francisco for four months one of the San Jose Museum of Art's smartest acquisitions: an elaborate device built by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen that spellbindingly harvests live Internet chat-room content, turning it into a social symphony of text and sound.

7. "Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination": (Through Jan. 6.) Two key practices of 20th century art - collage and assemblage - culminated in the work of this reclusive New Yorker who would have delighted to see the space and care the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has lavished on his oeuvre.

8. "Diebenkorn in New Mexico": (Through Jan. 6.) Although smaller than the version staged by the Harwood Museum in Taos, which organized the show, the San Jose Museum of Art's survey of Richard Diebenkorn's early work still has something to surprise even those who know this Bay Area titan's art well.

9. "Jeff Wall": (Through Jan. 27.) The work of Jeff Wall, a pioneer of staged photography, tends be large and scarce, so it is often seen piecemeal. His San Francisco Museum of Modern Art retrospective shows why he remains a controversial figure.

10. "The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend": (Through Jan. 13.) Nevelson staked everything on her own artistic confidence and won, at a time when women still faced extraordinary struggles for art-world recognition. The M.H. de Young Memorial Museum survey of her work displays its full power.

For the rest of the story, including Baker's High, Low, Most Improved, and Most Valuable Player awards, go here.

Image at top is "Listening Post" (#6) by Fenchurch! on Flickr