Friday, November 30, 2007

Benefit Art Auction at Maverix Studios

This coming sunday Maverix Studios is hosting an Art Auction Fundraiser for Glide Memorial Church. The benefit's proceeds will go to support Glide's Childrens Creative Arts Media Center. From the Maverix blog: "The evening will include food, drink and the music of our talented DJ’s. Original and digital art from prominent contemporary artists will be up for bid in a silent auction, with the evening culminating in a live auction for the most sought after pieces! It is a great opportunity to get the jump on holiday shopping and support a wonderful organization working with and for the underserved children of our city." Maverix Studios is in San Francisco's Potrero Hill at 1717 17th Street. The event starts at 6pm and ends at 10pm.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Matisse at SF MOMA

I love to revisit the permanent collections in our various museums. We are lucky enough to have a very nice (if small) collection of Matisse's works at the SF MOMA. I remember when I first saw this piece at the old SF MOMA on Van Ness. When you got off the elevator on the top floor, it was facing you as you entered the museum. Even now, in 2007, although not as well placed as it was in the older museum, it still has the power to shock and impel.

In Femme au Chapeau, Matisse took the familiar form of the salon portrait and turned it on its head. He discards perspective, shadows, and three-dimensional space, in fact, any attempt at realistic portraiture. The subject is Matisse’s wife, Ameile Matisse. She is seated in a chair with her back turned somewhat toward the viewer. Her head is placed exactly in the center of the canvas, topped by a huge Edwardian hat. Her gloved hand rests on the arm of a chair and she carries a fan in her other hand. She looks over her shoulder at us, her small head tilted, with a look that is vulnerable, determined and melancholy.

Madame Matisse looks at us from beyond a barrier of color, her face overshadowed by the huge hat, which takes up the upper third of the picture frame. But what a face, what a hand, what a chair – all bursting with vibrant, indeed garish color! Her mask-like face hides more than it reveals, yet still shows a melancholy sadness that comes across through the strong colors. The colors are not blended and discordant, seemingly dashed upon the canvas with strong and fluid brush strokes. She looks at us but from a psychological distance; the bright colors both attract and then repel with their acid harmonies. The painting still radiates a ferocious energy that is at odds with the vulnerable melancholy on her face, the down turned drop of her mouth and the guarded expression in her eyes.

Impressionist paintings seem to glow with an internal light and generally reflect a sunny, peaceful world. The light from Femme au Chapeau is neither sunny nor peaceful but emanates from the flattened surface. The flat areas of color around the red-green, orange-blue axis invite us to view the surface of the painting but never invite us into the space as did the softer, more inviting space of Impressionist painting.

In this work, Matisse painted from his own emotional response, rather than from an attempt to reproduce (more or less realistically), on canvas what he saw in front of him. His brilliant and harsh colors give the painting surface a force and vibrancy. He was composing a painting, not describing nature, a person, or a thing. Femme Au Chapeau verges on the edge of abstraction but does not go over. reflecting Matisse's own definition of Fauvism as "The search for intensity in color, the substance being unimportant. Reaction against the diffusion of local tone in the light; the light is not suppressed, but expressed in a harmony of intensely colored surfaces.”

For Matisse, the Fauvist period was only one stage in his artistic life. He would later reject what he saw as some of the more excessive aspects of Fauvism, but it could be argued that it was Fauvism and his experiments in color that liberated him emotionally and enabled him to paint the calmer and more decorative works that were to come. We are the beneficiaries of his struggles and for me, his works never become boring. I find something new every time I look.

Further reading:
Elderfield, John, The “Wild Beast” Fauvism and Its Affinities. Oxford University Press, New York, Toronto, 1976
Guichard-Meili, Jean. Matisse. Praeger, New York and Washington, 1967
Janson, H.W. The History of Art, Volume II. Prentice Hall, Inc, and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 1995
Spurling, Hilary. The Unknown Matisse: A life of Henry Matisse: The Early years, 1968-1908. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1998.

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Blood at Sausalito's ICB Artists' Studios

30 year ICB Artist Elaine Gentile welcomes newcomer Dana King.

Sausalito's Industrial Center Building, the ICB, is zooming into its 40th year as an artists' building with new energy, new blood, and a great new PR Program.

All this is just in time for OPEN STUDIOS:
480 Gate Five Road in Sausalito.

We have a new PR program that's putting us on TV, You Tube, in the press and bringing writers and media people to our special press previews. You can search on You Tube and see a bunch of us already online. Everybody is psyched for Open Studios this year. The whole building feels electric, energetic and professional. We hope the public reading this and ALL the ARTISTS will come. The margaritas are in Studio 259D, that's me Sherry Miller, and everyone else participating has lots of food, drink, art, humor and music to offer.

Some recent events:

David Perry, ICB PR Guru at October 19th Press Preview - 300 attendees

November Marketing Tips for Artists. Presentation by
David Perry at ICB in Anne-Marie De Rivera and Jody Keane's Studio

Francis Galli (left), 89 years young, and painting every day,
takes time out for the October 19th Press Reception.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Black Friday at Frankenart

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who writes here and to any readers we may have accumulated. Hope you all have a good meal somewhere tomorrow. As for the next day, if you're undecided on participating in Black Friday, try this instead: Leslie Henslee hosts a green alternative at Frankenart Mart, the tiny experimental art gallery in the Richmond with an interactive art lab.

On Friday, from 1pm to 8pm, Frankenart Mart is hosting a "make a children's book" kinda event. I say "kinda" because it's hard to define what goes on there. I've participated in the events here in the past, plan to participate in this one, and still can't find the words to describe it. The Frankenart manifesto states, in part, that it aims to be "an inclusive meeting ground for artists, audiences and community members that blurs the boundaries between them."

(image is the Frankenart "Maps & Routes" show in May 2007)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Emerson Woelffer at Hackett-Freedman

Hackett-Freedman Gallery presents a selection of 1990s paintings by pioneering California abstract expressionist painter Emerson Woelffer (1914-2003), November 2-December 22, 2007

The show is important for historical reasons and their web pages are not only beautifully designed but full of information. In fact, what they do with their site could (should?) be a model for other gallery websites. I particularly appreciated hiis use of textural and geographic shapes set within a somber palate.
(image from the website)

Rob Harrell, Recent Oil Paintings at Hespe

Moody images of women, painted using traditional oil techniques. Quite interesting technically with a bit of a Hopper feel in the best pieces. (image from website)

Elaine Coombs at Hang Art

Her technique is “reminiscent of the pointillist painters of the 19th-century French Impressionist movement, most notably Seurat. Rather than using a brush, she carefully applies paint in small dots using the tip of a palette knife.” The pieces are quite lovely and do convey an impression of stillness and peace.
image from gallery website

Kris Cox at Ellins/Elkins (49 Geary)

Cox combines squares and rectangles with text on nicely textured canvas. The work is pleasant but lacks (in my opinion) much of an emotional charge. Of course, that may not be his intent. As they say, YMMV. Of course the gallery has a roster of good artists that they represent and have always, in my experience, been willing to show you works that are not on display. I particularly love Pia Stern and have had "private" viewings of her works from the back room but there are many others to chose from. (image from gallery website)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Web design and Art

I absolutely fell in love with this website, such a great concept and beautiful design. GYRE, designed by Shun Kawakami, happens to be the website for a commercial center in Tokyo's Omotesando district. When I visited this site what immediately came to mind was an art piece I saw a couple of weeks ago in the "Dark matters" exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts . The idea of one of the installations at YBCA is very similar to the GYRE website. The piece is called "Internet-eavesdropping installation Listening Post" by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, in which random information from blogs and chats from the world wide web is shown in real time on little led screens. This is what it looked like. When I saw the Gyre website I couldn't help but feel that its designers had taken a very similar concept and made into something even more artful then the piece at YBCA. The commercial setting is perhaps what might prevent us to call this website "art", but wouldn't you agree it belongs in an art museum just as much?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Amy Sillman SFAI Lecture November 5th, 2007

Amy Sillman uses her own invented visual language to create abstract paintings that skirt on the edges of graceful calligraphic expression and noisy, gestural awkwardness. She appropriates some of the formal styles of abstract expressionism and neo-expressionism while leaving the ideological baggage behind. As she said “I’m making fun while having my cake and eating it too. ”She mentioned her strong distaste for the Salle/Schnabel egotism while admitting that she employs a kind of awkward, wrong formalism that exists in expressionism.

Sillman names Phillip Guston, Louise Bourgeois, Jean Arp, as some of her biggest influences and inspirations. She seems to always have one foot in sculpture with her work, both in the way she deals with shapes and her desire for very thick application of paint. She talked about being interested in sculpture because she didn’t have any training in it and she saw it as a way of seeing things in a new light. She uses thick paint on canvas, building up sometimes inch-thick paint on her canvases.

Although Sillman is interested in a painterly surface, she wants her content to escape ornamentality. She strives for awkwardness of line and form. She says “people aren’t always driven by desire” and she is looking for that something else, ugliness, sadness, dismay, cynicism that she feels is more real than beauty. Despite her attraction to the ugly, Sillman’s paintings are beautiful. She has a powerful relationship with color and uses it as a one of the key elements of her invented visual language. She pairs bright, optimistic colors with muted, weighty colors. The result is a complex palette that could make an ugly painting beautiful.

Sillman says she would have been a linguist if she had a teacher that was any good. Instead, she had a bad linguistics teacher and a great drawing teacher. She said once she made the connection between calligraphic line and gestural painting, it was all over for her, she had found what she was looking for.

Sillman is a firm believer in getting things wrong. Could it just be accident that anyone winds up as an artist? You start on a path, then find that you’ve strayed from your original path and discover you like it better there anyway. She believes good artists all have a love/hate relationship with painting. It keeps them constantly questioning, and constantly discovering.

As a lecturer she is funny, articulate and charmingly scattered. She talked through her nervousness while getting loud laughs out of the audience. You can’t hope for a better artist lecture. Her connection and understanding of her own work is energizing. She comes off as both modest and confident. And though I wasn’t very familiar with Sillman’s work prior to this lecture, I now feel like a Sillman fan.

Amy Sillman is currently showing a new group of prints at Crown Point Press in San Francisco until December 29th, Visit for more information on the show.

You can view more of Ammy Sillman's work at:
Saatchi Gallery
Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

Bill Dunlap at Bucheon


Bill Dunlap has a well developed visual alphabet with references to the magic of triangles, demons, angels, spirits, and incantations. A number of his colorful works contain snippets of words, sort of non-sequitur phrases that, when paired with his inked and painted monsters, look like visual magical spells. Whether these spells attempt to ward off evil or invite evil to dinner is hard to decipher. Bill is probably the only one who knows for sure.


I remember seeing Bill's work at the now defunct National Product a few years ago. At that time the work was more character driven and less contextual. Bill's personal folklore reminds me of Howard Finster's work, especially when there is a juxtaposition of text and images with each occupying its own shaped cell or area within a constructed piece. It's exciting to see these constructs as well as the ink line works. Many of the works in this show are quite affordable. I bought a devil watercolor for $150 which is quite a steal.


Bill Dunlap's show runs through the end of December at the Bucheon Gallery.

Bucheon Gallery
389 Grove St. San Francisco CA 94102
Hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11am-6pm

Friday, November 9, 2007

Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall, Picture for Women, 1979

Most of us see art mainly in reproduction; it's a blessing and a curse. But if you're used to seeing Jeff Wall that way, his current retrospective - now at SFMOMA - will hold some surprises for you. Not the least of which might be the monumental cheesiness of it all.

The truth is that it's virtually impossible to disassociate Wall's lightbox format from the advertising displays that were its source. The consequence is a disorienting sense of having been transported from an art museum to that cathedral of 21st century anomie - the airport.

At the same time, the artificiality of Wall's display format perfectly complements the contrived nature of the photographs. I've complained before about Wall's contrivance - here, for example - but I take it all back now. In fact, I think it's essential to the ultimate success of the work that we know it was staged.

Also essential is the triviality of Wall's subject matter. Lots of subjects would be ludicrous in this format, but Wall's pedestrians and disco kids work just fine. If these photographs weren't staged, you might feel compelled to wonder why he took them. The fact that he made them up somehow obviates that question. Like reality tv, you know they were meant to be cheesy.

But simultaneously cheesy and pretentious as it is, this show works. Refracted through our knowledge that each of these scenes is the premeditated creation of the artist, the trivial subjects and grandiose displays set up an emotional reverberation that is sometimes annoying, sometimes boring, but often thrilling.

At SFMOMA until January 27.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Selling Out (podcast)

KALW's weekly arts & culture radio show and podcast, "Artery" usually covers performing arts but episode #30, "Selling Out" looks at the intersection of business and art, with a story about San Francisco's Southern Exposure Gallery.

Last year Southern Exposure was forced out of the location where they had spent 32 years, when the building was undergoing an earthquake retrofit.

The temporary location at 25th & Mission, an old flower shop, was more appropriate for retail than exhibition, so they decided to go with it, and they created an artist residency program "with an an opportunity to create and launch the framework for a business utilizing their creative skills. From a pie delivery service, a clothing company, and quarterly, mail-order subscription-based art project, "Free Enterprise" provides new inventive and creative services to Bay Area residents while creating real opportunities for artists to make a living."

They interview Southern Exposure director, Courtney Fink and one of the artists involved in the residency, John Herschend.

Listen to the episode here (8.5 minute mp3 file).

Southern Exposure has moved on and they're reopening on November 9th in a new location: 417 14th Street @ Valencia

Photo of SoEx storefront by Corinne Schulze, via

Joseph Cornell at SFMOMA

Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination at SFMOMA

I’m a big fan of Cornell. Up until this show, I’ve seen very little of his work in person. SFMOMA has several pieces in their permanent collection but they are only occasionally on display. From now until January 6th you can immerse yourself in Cornell’s world right in your own backyard.

When approaching the exhibit by stairs the first thing one sees on the 3rd floor is three interesting photographs: the family house in which Cornell spent all of his adult life located in Flushing, New York (he worked in the basement studio), a photo of a very gaunt looking Cornell working in his studio, and Cornell’s collections of objects, boxed and labeled. The photos are intriguing. They add to the mystery of Cornell’s art. Every time I look at this exhibit I find myself spending a lot of time with these photographs.

Cornell began his art career by creating collages. Interestingly I’ve read that he was so meticulous with his work that he never overlapped images but instead cut and fitted the collage pieces together. Cornell began working with commercially made boxes until 1936 when he learned to make his own.

The show is nicely curated. The first gallery you step into is called “Navigating a Career 1931-1971” which gives one an overview of Cornell’s work. The viewer sees boxes and collages representing Cornell’s many themes. My favorite display in this room is the glass case containing Cornell’s art materials. This is an interesting collection of paints, brushes, tools, jars, cylinders, pipes and other things. It gives some clues into the artist’s process. The other galleries are arranged according to theme, such as “Geographies of the Heavens” and “Nature’s Theatre”. Cornell is often associated with the Surrealist movement but was never an official member. He was friends with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. Their influence is clearly seen as you visit the galleries.

Cornell’s boxes are little worlds unto themselves. Cornell didn’t venture outside New York but he was an avid armchair traveler. I like to picture him in his little boxlike basement traveling to other places in his mind and recreating those worlds in his boxes.

As you look at Cornell’s work consider themes of time, female celebrities, metaphysics, nature, the cosmos, birds, games, toys, hotels, palaces, and spirituality. Look at his materials and colors. The color blue is seen repeatedly and is also painted on the gallery walls. Ask yourself, “What do these objects mean and how are these objects related?”

Some of the personal appeal of this show is that many of Cornell’s works remind me of my trips to the “Bargain Basement” in the Chicago area as a young girl. It was a consignment shop often selling pieces of furniture with all their original contents. While my mother and grandmother shopped I’d station myself in front of a dresser and start rummaging through someone’s life. Cornell’s work carries that sort of curiosity. The boxes have drawers that if not left open for us to peer into, tantalize the imagination.

One of my favorite pieces “Cabinet of Natural History: Object, 1934, 1936-40” is a chest full of labeled corked vials filled with various objects. Only some of the labels are visible, such as “Photographie” and “Mirage”. We are left to wonder how these titles relate to the content of the vial. This piece and others are based on curio cabinets, containing mementos from travels usually displayed in living rooms and popular in the early 20th century.

I can’t say enough about this show but also I don’t want to give away all its secrets. Perhaps you’ll see me there, gazing intently at one of the “Soap Bubble Sets” or bird aviaries, contemplating the mysteries of the universe and how it feels to be a bird trapped in a cage, or perhaps an artist who only needs his imagination to travel the infinite abyss of the mind.

Image borrowed from

F.F. Interviews Oakland Artist, Nancy Chan

Chris Pew talked to Nancy Chan, who paints isolated figures in black ink. She takes photographs of the models, and makes series of each subject. In the artist's words:
"My sumi ink drawings are, in a sense, portraits of figures interacting both with other figures and the spaces around them. Many of them are works in a series, and deal with a quiet intimacy between the subjects, the space, and the viewer. The sequential nature combined with the detail work is essentially a long, close study of all the little things that occur in a few seconds time - weight shifts, heads tilt, fabrics fold."

Read the full interview at F.F.
Image is installation view from the artist's web site:

New work in Berkeley, San Rafael, and SF

The Steinberg Farmer Report just posted eight short reviews of gallery shows around the Bay, including this one from SF:

Kelly Reemsten at CaldwellSnyder Gallery
Kelly Reemsten opens her first show at CaldwellSnyder with Recent Paintings, a delicious look at 50-60s fashion and furnishings. Reemsten liberally applies luscious layers of oil paint with an ever present hint of orange. Let me tell you, this woman can paint!

I was fortunate enough to be in the gallery while Kelly was inspecting the installation; hearing her insights and inspirations was remarkable; her work ethic really made me take notice. Reemsten is able to complete a full body of work approximately ever six months. She feels it her obligation to her collectors and viewing public to have new work available.

Now that Reemsten has gone back to LA, don’t fret; Roger Azevdeo, CaldwellSnyder’s charming secret weapon, will effortlessly guide you through the exhibit and give you all the 411 you’ll need for an enjoyable viewing experience. Roger is committed to great art, he believes in the work he sells, and is a huge resource for the Bay Area art scene. Wish there were more like him.

Image from the Steinberg Farmer Report - more here.

Triple Base Flat files

The Stark Report profiles Triple Base Gallery, in San Francisco, where they use the flat files to pay the rent. (Flat files are storage chests for unframed works on paper. Most galleries have them, and you have to ask to see them. It's been my experience that these are always a great place for bargains.)

Stark writes: "Close your eyes and imagine an art gallery that’s open on a Sunday in a cool neighborhood next to a joint where you can get a great fish taco. Now imagine that the gallery owner likes you and lets you look through her inventory in a no-pressure environment and takes the time to educate you about each artist whose work you’re viewing. And there’s more: the majority of pieces for sale are in your price range. . . Modeled after the Pierogi Gallery in Brooklyn, the 'flat files' pay the rent and allow the co-directors to use the rest of the space for sheer artistic expression including experimental performance and installation art. Artwork in the files is rotated out every six months and every month or so a new artist is added to the mix."

Rest of the story here

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

As Photojournalism Becomes Art

Today as more photojournalism finds its way into museums, we have an opportunity to study the imagery of some of the hardest working photographers the industry has ever known.

Tereska, a Child in Residence for
Disturbed Children, Poland, 1948

Photo: David Seymour

Being able to stand before a well made print of an image of the war-torn Balkans, or laborers in a gold mine in Brazil or an orphaned child in front of a black board, hopelessly lost in the twisting lines of a scribbled drawing, allows us to get beyond the captions and text of reporters and newspaper and magazine editors, and look into the hearts and honestly through the eyes of the photojournalist.

Through such exhibitions we are touched by the photographer's dedication to craft, his or her social sensibility, and determination to tell the truth. What we are seeing is far beyond the "news-worthiness" of the imagery. We are experiencing moments instinctively, artfully, frozen in time, that communicate the often sad reality of the world we live in.

The current exhibition of the photography of David Seymour at the de Young Museum in San Francisco is no exception. In fact Seymour's work makes a significant contribution to the definition of photojournalism as art.

Children at Play, Luciana, Italy, 1948
Photo: David Seymour

Seymour was born David Szymin in Poland in 1911. As a young man he studied graphic design in France where he received his famous nickname Chim. Friends found his last name too difficult to pronounce. Later when he changed his name to Seymour he made no effort to discourage the use of the nickname. He began work as a photojournalist in 1933 and earned a reputation during the Spanish Civil War. He served in the US army during WWII and became a US citizen in 1942. It was in 1947 that along with Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and George Roger he co-founded Magnum Photos. He died in 1956 while covering the Suez War.

Upon first view one might think Seymour's photographs unremarkable. But for most, certain of his images stick in the mind and compel one to step back for another look.

Seymour depicted suffering with a great respect for the subjects he chose. He often focused on children, the very individuals who often suffer the greatest losses, but who also have the greatest resilience and capacity to survive. Some have called his work sentimental. But when one sees Tereska, a Child in a Residence for Disturbed Children, Poland, 1948 and Children at Play, Luciana, Italy, 1948, it's easy to understand that Seymour was only telling the truth. He shows the suffering and the damage as well as the determination to overcome.

The exhibition at the deYoung is small and for this reason, I suspect, it was installed in a dim passage way between two features of the permanent collection. It deserves better. Still, this is a rare opportunity to see the work of one of Magnum's founders and a photographer who helped define photojournalism at its birth.

Chim: The Photography of David Seymour (1911-1956) is on view the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, through February 24, 2008.

All photos by David Seymour from

Monday, November 5, 2007

SFMoMA: Cornell, Wall, Eliasson

I walked through SFMoMA last Friday, intent on scoping out the three big shows currently there: Joseph Cornell, Jeff Wall, and Olafur Eliasson.  Here are some thoughts:
  • The Cornell show is on the third floor, which is normally the photography galleries, and has been that way since the museum opened.  I normally walk through the museum like a trained rat, knowing what era or medium will be in which gallery.  It was a little disorienting.
  • All three shows are in dimly lit or dark galleries.  Man, that's hard on my eyes.  Here we are having a wonderful streak of beautiful November weather, and I feel like I'm wasting the day at a matinée.  But I understand why the lights are low:
    • Cornell's materials are vulenerable to exposure;
    • Wall's light box photos need the lights dimmed;
    • Eliasson fun house installation depends controlled lighting.
  • Each of the shows involves a very different kind of looking, a different sense of scale to the body, and a different kind of space:
    • Cornell's space is close and intimate-- the head or face is in relation to the object;
    • Wall's is the public space of outdoor advertising-- the body in relation to the object;
    • Eliasson's is environmental-- the body in the object, and a kind of rubbing together of nature and architecture, which I guess would be something along the lines of landscape architecture or environmental planning.
  • They finally changed the paintings hanging in the Clyfford Still gallery! Nothing to do with Cornell, Wall, or Eliasson, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

More thoughts on Joseph Cornell
I thought I knew Cornell's work pretty well, the collages and boxes and films and drawers full of photographs and ephemera, but I was wrong.  Of course there is the myth about him as the obsessive naif, and I suppose I bought into that. But this exhibition shows him as an artist with extreme focus and clarity of vision, and the nerve and chops to realize his vision.

While Cornell's focus and vision might initially seem narrow, they were not simple; this work is complex in ways I don't think I can understand.  It's mysterious, and layered, and cinematic.  I think there is something in much of his images that is about capturing the feeling of singular moments in film- a moment or person of beauty, a certain juxtaposition, a movement, some kind of grandeur, something that happens in one moment in a film and then is gone; sitting in a dark theater watching moving images of projected light is thrilling, but certain moments in this medium can feel magical.  I think Cornell was after that magic.

That, and backyard astronomy, which is another kind of camera and cinematic experience. And celebrity worship, another kind of star gazing, And also the theater of the Peeping Tom or voyeur. And something that might look to us like nostalgia, but which was in Cornell's time the objects and images from his childhood, and from the generation just prior to him. These probably aren't original ideas on my part; they're probably in the literature, but Cornell's art definitely works in these many areas, as you can see for yourself.

Think of the Scrovegni Chapel, which is really one big box, and looking up at the ceiling, which is a deep cobalt blue above littered with gold stars, and substitute Lauren Bacall for Mary, and you're drifting towards Cornell.

It is a huge, impressive show, a bit of a landmark.  The biggest surprise for me was seeing the skill with with Cornell made things.  Components of some of the boxes are quite finely crafted, and there are collages that show genuine sophistication in terms of how color from different pieces are combined, how texture is laid next to another, how line and edge are used.  This formal kind of stuff is something I did not expect to be bowled over by. He knew what he was doing.

The low light in the galleries combined with the amount of work can tire the observer, so plan your visit: at first, you might quickly walk through the show; next walk back through and carefully see the first half the show; after that, take a break at a cafe; finally, go see the rest of the show.  Take your time-- it's worth it.

More thoughts on Jeff Wall
Lots of big photos, lots of light boxes.  Most look staged, though there are a few where you can't quite tell for sure.  I'm guess that they're all staged.  OK, so it's tableau. It's artificial. No Henry Wessel or Diane Arbus here. We're talking Baroque.

It's great to see the beautiful Northwest, and interesting to see the lower middle classes making it big in 20th century art.  Many of the people look a little downtrodden, and often wherever they are posed looks rundown, beat up, neglected.  What are the images in these light boxes supposed to be selling?  It doesn't look like a healthy product.  Maybe they're public service announcements. I can't tell.

Those light box images are kind of grainy looking-- bet they looked fantastic when they started showing up in the 80's.  It's a funny thing about, say, Vermeer or Bouguereau or Seurat or whoever you want to name- a painting made two hundred years ago still has the same visual resolution as a painting made today.  You know, no one at Sony's research labs is working on making paintings with a better resolution; every painting has 100% resolution, and always will... well, except for The Last Supper.  But I think it's a little depressing, you know, the state of photography-- all those light boxes, and they already look like relics stored in a billboard company warehouse.

Wait, am I looking at stills from some mid-80's TV show that I didn't know existed?

Wall wants to make paintings that have the impact of large paintings- impact in terms of size, and impact in terms of subject. He wants to be a history painter, like Jacques-Louis David or Charles Le Brun, but his history is that of the suburbs, the shabbily built and poorly planned, the oppression of being a capitalist worker pawn, the ordinary struggling person, our neighbor, how a fire engine pulls up to a house down the street we walk out on the porch and shyly watch from a distance.

They're spooky, and the size and the medium provide distance. We can look really closely without getting personally involved with anyone. We are witnesses with impunity. Whatever happens has so many witnesses that my testimony isn't needed. Something not so nice is going on, but there will never be any justice. That's the way things there.

We all know by now that photography lies. Knowing that Wall's work is a deliberate fabrication allows us to put that idea aside and to focus on a truth. The truth is that much of life is not glamorous. Most people, even famous people, still put their pants on one leg at a time. We are cruel and judgmental, although our conscience pushes us to overcome that base instinct. Wall's photos give us the opportunity to experience the distance between higher states-- consciousness and conscientiousness-- and more basic ones-- impulse, reaction, habit, and to observe how we move from one to the other. It's more cerebral than emotional, cool than hot. The notion is good; filling, but not that tasty.

More thoughts on Olafur Eliasson

Can anyone tell me why this show is better than anything at the Exploratorium? Sure, this is some family-friendly show. Makes you feel all good because you experience something kind of basic and pure and simple. But basically, it's purely simple backyard science-- fill a wading pool with water and drop rocks into it to watch rings collide and cross, and observe the shimmer of glimmering light on the pool's bottom.

What is the big deal here? Didn't Lucas Samaras already do the mirrored room? Why isn't Larry Bell a God, rather than this latest Golden Boy. How is Eliasson's moss wall a better work than any Richard Long stone or mud installation? Why is this better art than sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon watching a sunset? Why is this better than any waterfall? Why are major art institutions so enamored with this stuff? First Matthew Barney, and now this.

I don't care how many people laid on their backs in the Turbine Hall at the Tate gazing at the fake glowing sun of The Weather Project. This is some lazy stuff. And don't get me started on the BMW with the refrigerated exoskeleton-- you can keep your hi-tech message art.

What is with all of the clamor about this show? Why are people oohing and ah-ing? Geez people, go out on the balcony and walk through Barnet Newman's Zim Zum. Leave the museum, walk across Third Street, and enjoy the fountains at Yerba Buena Gardens.

Or, go back and walk through the Cornell show.

I like the groups of photos well enough, so some points there, but otherwise I can't even say, "Hey, Olafur, nice try." No Clapping Man-- he's napping.


All images borrowed from

Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination: Saturday, October 06, 2007 - Sunday, January 06, 2008
Jeff Wall: Saturday, October 27, 2007 - Sunday, January 27, 2008
Take your time: Olafur Eliasson: Saturday, September 08, 2007 - Sunday, February 24, 2008

Louise Nevelson at the de Young

"The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend"
de Young Museum, San Francisco
October 27, 2007 — January 13, 2008

San Francisco has had a couple of Nevelson sculptures in public spaces for several years, both of them Corten Steel, painted black: "Sky Tree" (1977), located at the Embarcadero Three in the Financial District, and "Ocean Gate" (1982), on view at the de Young’s Sculpture Garden (previously at the Legion of Honor.)
The Hackett-Freedman gallery in downtown SF had a show of Nevelson's work in 2004, including several of the large wall reliefs and mixed media collages, as well as some very early figurative sculptures.

But seeing the retrospective that just opened at the de Young made me finally comprehend her work. After passing through the first three rooms, I started thinking that she was more focused on line than form. And then I came to the room with her works on paper, where a big wall plaque has this quote from the artist:
"I have never left two dimensions, because I've always been doing etching and lithographs and drawing . . . If you really go through just one piece of mine, you can see drawing."

The first room (her earliest work) is mostly figurative pieces, including a row of rock-like terracotta forms that are scribed with faces and petroglyph symbols. (Right: "Moving-Static Moving Figure", Terracotta, 1945, from the Whitney)

The next, and darkest, room contains the Moon series and the Sky Cathedral. The dim light is a silvery blue that gives the black wood sculptures a graphite sheen and enhances the edge views.

The viewer then enters a bright room full of all-white sculptures, "Dawn's Wedding Feast" with bride, groom, and cathedral sculptures. This group was reassembled with loans from more than a dozen locations.

The huge, black, stacked-boxes sculpture, "Homage to 6,000,000 I" (1964), a loan from the Osaka City Museum of Modern Art in Japan, requires multiple looks. It's almost too big to take in from one viewpoint. It reminded me of an Irving Norman painting: the use of multiples, in which I could see machinery, bombs, bullets, bodies, and barriers.
(Above: "Mrs. N's Palace", from the NYT)
Two free-standing dwellings sat next to each other. One, a small, porous, gingerbread "Dream House" . . . the other a life-sized, luxury cottage called "Mrs. N's Palace." Apparently, she worked on the "palace" for thirteen years.

The wooden sculptures are made from multiple pieces of wood, all different sizes and shapes, stacked and pressed together to create an overall shape. The monochromatic paint covering the pieces forces the eye to follow the lines within the forms. She was drawing with wood.

My favorite review of the show, from its previous life in New York: link

Amy Sillman lecture tonight at SFAI

Monday, November 5
Amy Sillman
Distinguished Visiting Painting Fellow
7:30 pm in the SFAI Lecture Hall
800 Chestnut Street, San Francisco, CA
Free and Open to the public

From the SFAI website:
Foregrounding color and the layering of color in her paintings, Amy Sillman achieves a striking balance of opposites: spontaneity against struggle, intense form against loose improvisation, and childlike imagery against complex psychological implications. Her work has been exhibited at the 2004 Whitney Biennial; the Brooklyn Museum in New York; Susanne Vielmetter in Los Angeles; and New Langton Arts in San Francisco. Her awards include the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Painting, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, the Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Fellowship, and an NEA Fellowship in Painting. In Fall 2007, Sillman will be exhibiting a suite of new prints at Crown Point Press in San Francisco.

I will follow up with my description of the event in the next couple days.

Future lectures include:

Iona Rozeal Brown - Wednesday, November 7
Patty Chang and David Kelley - Monday, November 12
Pedro Reyes - Wednesday, November 14
Julie Mehretu - Monday, November 19
Choi Jeong-Hwa - Monday, December 10

All Lectures take place at 7:30pm
in the Lecture Hall
800 Chestnut Street campus
Free and open to the public
Visit this page for information on all lectures.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Art Can Be Dangerous (?)

From the Newmark Gallery blog:

October is a busy month here in gallery land and added to the excitement has been the anticipated delivery of a big shipment of paintings from the Netherlands for Paula Ever’s upcoming solo show. Apparently once the crates reached Oakland they triggered a “red alert” with the Customs and Border Protection and a hold was placed on the shipment under “INTENSIVE EXAM”. Many frantic emails and phone calls by Margaret only told us that the crates were going to be opened and searched and no one could tell us how long it would take before they would be released to us. Fortunately the shipper responded as best they could to the above mentioned frantic correspondence – our biggest concern was that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of irreplaceable paintings were going to be searched by who knew who looking for who knows what. A request that we be present for the examination went unanswered.

About a week later, out of the blue, with almost no warning, a trucker showed up with the crates, which indeed had been opened and searched and though not exactly closed up again, were copiously covered in green Department of Homeland Security tape. They even thoughtfully taped up little torn pieces of bubble wrap on a painting here and there so Margaret has a Department of Homeland Security Logo in vivid pop art Andy Warhol Green as an impromptu art installation over her desk. As the paintings appear to be in fine shape we now are happy to have done our part for the security of the homeland. Actually, there is some comfort in knowing that someone really is out there is watching out for our safety. It's got to be a tough and sometimes thankless job.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Libby Black at Heather Marx

Libby Black: The Past is Never Where You Think You Left It

Heather Marx Gallery | link

September 6th – October 27th, 2007

I was first introduced to Libby’s work during spring semester 2007 at a lecture she gave at CCA. I absolutely loved the lecture. I thought her work was so funny, odd, and inventive, with just enough neuroses to keep it interesting. I hadn’t gotten a change to see her work in the flesh so I was excited about getting to see her new work at the Heather Marx Gallery.

This small solo show consisted of 10 pieces in various mediums. Three of the works were of her paper sculptures of luxury goods. There were two graphite drawings and 5 paintings. The two highlights of the show for me were a very large multi-itemed paper sculpture piece entitled “You Must Always Know How Long to Stay and When to Go,” This piece is a camping kit complete with all the “essentials” for a women who want to camp in style. My other favorite piece was a large graphite drawing of a covered wagon with a Luis Vuitton strapped to the back. Though at first glance it is a fairly straightforward pencil drawing, her nervous hatchwork gives it life and energy. The care taken in rendering the wagon, surroundings and the belongings tied to the wagon gives you some insight into the intentions of the artist. The wagon becomes monumental both in size and the time and care it took her to render the drawing with so much detail.

All of Libby’s work has a slightly sloppy, unfinished, nervous quality to it and for me this is most effective in the paper sculptures and in her graphite drawings. In the paper sculptures, the amateurish nature of the way they are constructed adds to their charm. They aren’t perfect, they are made from Libby Black the artist, and her hand is ever present. The paper sculpture piece I mentioned above is a charming camping kit that includes a cot, suitcase, Chanel manicure kit, Ralph Lauren polo shirts, a Last Flowers of Manet book, Giuseppe Zanotti sandals, Burberry lotion and a journal. The manicure kit is spray painted gold and has rough edges. The maker’s mark is obvious in nearly all the pieces and it is fun to imagine the processes she went through to make them. With all her paper sculpture pieces, my curiosity is always driven wild, trying to unravel the pieces in my mind to figure out how they were created. Other paper pieces in the show include a stack of hat boxes, horse reins, and camping kits, a painting of gold shoes entitled: There’s No Place Like Home”, a stagecoach painting and a covered wagon painting.

The overarching theme for the show is about journeys, leaving, homecoming, and of returning to a place you no longer recognize. She is dealing with the passing of time, feeling unsettled, and trying to find one’s way in the world. Libby uses the imagery of designer fashion to express her emotions. She seemed to be poking fun at her own emotions, trivializing them by manifesting them in the shallow products of an elitist and shallow luxury goods culture.

Libby is transforming her relationship with these superficial luxury goods and using them in more complex ways with this new work. As well as being in conversation with the functionality and usefulness of these items, she is using them as a vocabulary tool to talk about more personal things in her life, such as her move back home to Texas. The work speaks as both tender and self deprecated.

Her work used to be more about her own uneasy relationship with these goods. She was both drawn to and repulsed by the designer name world she grew up around. She has expanded on these feelings to extend into her life experiences. I think it’s a good fit. It allows her to explore more personal content while keeping the work light and comedic. She can both express and trivialize her own experiences without having to feel insincere or over-dramatic.

Picasso and Guernica at SF Public Library

The Art, Music and Recreation Center of the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library has a blog! They also have an exhibit opening tomorrow called, "The Making of a Masterpiece: Picasso and Guernica." From the SFPL blog:

The Art, Music and Recreation Center will present an exhibit “The Making of a Masterpiece: Picasso” on the 4th floor of the Main Library from November 3, 2007 through January 3, 2008. This exhibit marks the 70th anniversary of one of the most powerful anti-war statements of the 20th century. We will feature the library's recent acquisition of a special limited-edition Picasso publication which offers exact facsimiles of each of the drawings rendered by Picasso in preparation of his 1937 masterpiece "Guernica." Each drawing has been reproduced precisely in the same size and on the same kind of paper as the original. Insights into the artist's creative processes will be included, along with historical accounts of the Spanish Civil War which set the works in perspective.
More info here.

Image is "Guernica" by Picasso from SFPL blog

Irving Norman in D.C.

The Katzen is showing a retrospective of work by Northern California artist Irving Norman (1906-1989). Scott Beal at Laughing Squid has a good rundown on the show, with many links to Norman's previous shows. The de Young and the San Jose Museum of Art have work by Norman in their collections - the SJMA usually has some of his paintings on display.

Image: painting by Irving Norman “Golden Calf 2” (1985)

New shows at SFMOMA

This is from Timothy Buckwalter's blog, dated Oct.26, 2007, and used with permission:

Two days ago at the annual SFMOMA press luncheon Neal Benezra began by saying that with the three current exhibitions the Museum was looking the best it ever had. I posted in agreement and promised more on this.

Absolutely, the three shows are fabulous (Eliasson being the weakest of the bunch), and seemingly related to each other - a lot more on this in a second. But I would also say, that the presentation of the permanent collection is still really lacking. Lacking? Yes, lacking. Where are the California artists? Outside of NYC San Fran has the biggest school of AbEx on the globe, many of the artists were on the caliber of the East Coasters. What about Wally Hedrick and his friends - amazing work done in the Bay Area. How about something from our Northern California's greatest living artist Bruce Conner? Okay, occasionally SFMOMA puts up a Conner. At least BAM had the foresight to purchase Conner's punk photo series.... And on I could go, instead here's a little something about the three new shows:

Currently, SFMOMA is offering retrospectives of American sculptor Joseph Cornell, Canadian photographer Jeff Wall and Icelandic multi-media artist Olafur Eliasson - three exhibitions that, looked at together, create an amazing art experience spotlighting themes and ideas that were carried out through much of the 20th Century.

Cornell met Surrealism back in the 1930s, Wall hit his stride in the 1990, and Eliasson has come to prominence in the last ten years.

The best place to start is with Cornell, because much of the dialogue and ideas that he helped propagate can be found in the works of the other two. Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination is the first survey of his work in more than a quarter-century. It was added to SFMOMA’s docket at the last moment, and the Bay Area is fortunate to have such a gem for a time. Born in 1903, Cornell was a self-taught artist who lived with his mother and brother in Flushing for most of his life. Early on he became a pack rat, trawling lower Manhattan for knick-knacks, books and movie memorabilia. He befriended many and worked with some of the European Surrealists who were exiled to America at mid-century.

Cornell had an obsessive personality, and with it he did wonders, creating hundreds of shadowbox sculptures. Using old watch faces, snippets of Victorian-era postcards, stuffed birds from Woolworth’s, wire and other bric-a-brac, Cornell created a self-contained enigmatic narratives in shoebox-sized wooden boxes. Whether a reflection of sweeping natural vistas or an homage to a movie star that Cornell adored each box gives off the heated glow of a romantic wrestling with the increasing homogeneity of his era. There may never be more of a master of the found object than Joseph Cornell.

With Olafur Eliasson, it is as if Cornell’s boxes have come to life, allowing a viewer entry to his strange worlds. Eliasson uses loads of low-tech gadgets – colored Plexiglas, mirrors and motion sensors -- to create room-sized environments that offer fun house quality experiences that challenge the viewer’s spatial and visual perception. They’re fun, but without as much heart as Cornell.

Jeff Wall’s large photographs maintain Cornell’s ability to collage seemingly disparate objects into densely-considered narrative. Many of the pictures are montages of multiple images that create a new story, often as enigmatic and rich as Cornell’s sculpture.

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Cockatoo with Watch Faces), ca. 1949; box construction with inoperable music box; The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection; © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York; photo: Michael Tropea