"God created the Maharajas to provide a spectacle to humanity” wrote Rudyard Kipling, and the Asian did justice to his observation in their next big show, "Maharaja, Splendors of Indian's Royal Courts. There wasn’t an object in the show that wasn't embellished, inlaid with gems and gold, looped with sapphires and diamonds or outlined with pearls.The gaudy display was a reminder that today's 1% aren't alone in ignoring the misery outside their mansions.
The FAMSF gave us a feast of European art - from Pissarro to the splendors of the old masters to the subtle skill of 17th century Dutch painting in the Von Otterloo collection.
Pissarro is probably the least well know of the impressionists and the show displayed his humanistic look at family, friends and the working people of the day as well as his political radicalism.
The behemoth blockbuster of the year was the two-museum tribute to the Stein family. Most of us know of Gertrude, the contrary, cantankerous and sometimes charming women who is notorious for saying 'There is no there, there" when referring to Oakland. Using a wealthy of archival material, the show brought to life her and Alice and a multitude of the famous and infamous of the Parisian avant-guard for decades.
Right across the road, at SFMOMA was an eloquent tribute to the family as art collectors. Seldom have so few bought so much art with so little money. It's difficult to say which is more amazing - the low prices paid for now priceless paintings by Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse or the Steins' (particularly Sarah Stein's) courageous support of art that was then new, provocative and revolutionary.
Across the bay, the Berkeley Art Museum hosted two unique shows, the first West Coast exhibit of the work of Karl Schwitters and "Create," a show of art made by artists with disabilities.
"Create" highlighted the extraordinary contributions of three of the foremost centers for artists with disabilities, all located in the Bay Area: Creativity Explored (San Francisco), Creative Growth Art Center (Oakland), and NIAD Art Center (Richmond, CA).
As I said at the time, "It's really a shame to call them "artists with disabilities" because they are artists first, and mentally challenged second. Yet, to ignore their condition is to make light of the difficulties they face.
Thanks to the lack of a safety net, the disabled roam our streets, beg on the sidewalks, mutter to themselves, are messy, dirty, frightening. They challenge us to define what it is to be human. They test the limits of what we can do, can afford to do, have the will to do. Unfortunately, they can't always communicate how extraordinary they can be, with help, with encouragement, with love and a support system."
The MoAD brought us a rare look at original works by Romare Bearden, the vibrant quilts of the Siddis, part of the African diaspora in India and "Textural Rhythms," swing, jazz and be-bop in fabric and thread,
The CJM brought us the work and tragic life of Charlotte Salomon, considered among the most innovative artists of mid-century Europe whose work defies categorization, and continues to influence artists in unusual ways.
In the galleries: Hosfelt bought up a rare look at works by Jay De Feo. Next year, a major traveling retrospective of Jay DeFeo's work, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, will be presented at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in the autumn of 2012.
These are a few of my favorite things from the rich offerings from my favorite city by the bay. But none of this would be possible without the people behind the scenes at the museums. I want to give a shout of thanks to the following: Jill, Robin Wander, Cheryl McCain and Peter Cavagnaro at the Berkeley Art Museum, Libby Garrison and Robyn Wise at SFMOMA. If I left out your name, accept my apologies.