Monday, May 26, 2008

Cool: A Mash-Up

My pre-teen daughters recently excavated my high school yearbook from the archives and have been poring over it with dedicated concentration. Which both takes me back to those years in hell, and also puts me in mind of the whole concept of Cool, as I've felt the need to come to the defense of 80s trends that, in retrospect, are just plain ridiculous (e.g., rainbow suspenders, the Farrah flip, and boys stealing the Shaggy style from Scooby Doo--how did a nation of youth go so terribly wrong, I wonder. Lemminglike, we all shimmied into crayon-colored Ditto jeans and burned our hair with curling irons) by saying that it seemed Cool at the time.
It's not always easy to distinguish What Is Cool from What Is Not; sometimes the Not becomes Cool when placed in a new context, particularly if the context be fresh. However. We can definitively say that the 80s styles were Not. For one thing, those styles reek of effort and scream for attention, and nothing is less Cool. Cool is effortless (or at least appears as if it is). Cool doesn't care if you look or not. Cool needs nothing from you. And let us add to the criteria, that Cool is forever.
A mash-up of Cool Past and Present may now be viewed at the Oakland Museum in Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury and Cool Remixed: Bay Area Urban Art + Culture Now. NPR did a little piece on the exhibition, and just as I was sighing, "Ah, me" upon hearing the exhibition was put together by the Orange County Museum of Art (which, by the way? Looks as if it's got some banging stuff going on right now, but I confess to a partiality for disorderliness), came the welcome surprise: the exhibition is here May 17 through August 17.

We did go, on Sunday, and we were especially charmed by what would fit in the center of the Venn diagram of Curvy + Cool if such a diagram existed. One of my daughters asked why furniture is not always as beautiful as, say, the Verner Panton stacking chair.

P.S. Speaking of mash-ups, I am still waiting for a mash-up with some hiphop beats and "Fat Bottom Girls."

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Manolo Valdez at the Civic Center

I remember seeing some of his paintings at the late Campbell-Thiebauld Gallery on Chestnut Street. Then, as now, he was Interpreting Velazquez's Las Meninas and the Infantes of 17th Century Spain. I don't know if he intended his paintings to reference the largely tragic lives of these little girls, unhealthy from birth due to centuries of inbreeding. If so, he didn't succeed - or at least - not in my opinion. The paintings worked better in reproduction than in reality for the ones that I saw were very crudely painted on burlap canvas. At the time, I thought that the crude presentation didn't work with the subject but since I only saw them once, this could be quite a superficial impression. In any case, we now have several huge bronze sculptures at the Civic Center; I understand that they have been nicknamed "The Cowbells," and I can see why. I see traces of cubist influence in the angled face of the first image but the others have these wild headdresses which expand and dissect the space around each piece. No 17th century Spanish Infante wore a wig like that but it's a marvelous and inventive device to add more visual interest to a rather stylized sculpture. I like the straightforward face of the woman in the middle whose wig reminded me of those worn by Ancient Egyptians.
They are fun and a nice addition to the rather bleak plaza. When I googled Valdez's name, I found pictures of these images from cities all over the world so we are part of a international show which extends from Helsinki to Barcelona and now, San Francisco.

SF Mike has a great write up at his blog (Civic Center) about the ribbon cutting ceremony, which was attended by a ton of local politicians. The day I went, the huge bulky sculptures were being "guarded" by a couple of SF's finest - to keep them from being stolen? If they want to prevent any tagging, the cops would have to be out after midnight and I'd hate to think of the overtime bill for that.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Chris Hardman at the Presidio Officers' Club

Artist Chris Hardman has an interesting show titled "Transforming Art, Where Does Reality End and Illusion Begin" at the Presidio Officers' Club Exhibition Hall in the Presidio of San Francisco. Unfortunately I forgot to bring my camera so the image on the left is from the website

This show is primarily sculpture. Hardman uses wood cut with a jig saw, painted and constructed in an abstract and sometimes kinetic way. He uses light, shadow, reflection, illusion and movement to challenge the viewer’s senses. Many of the pieces are interactive and involve walking around the piece, carrying reflective viewers and wearing 3D glasses. Fun!

My favorite piece is on the left when walking into the Exhibition Hall. A wooden Picasso-like sculpture spotlighted by reflected light from two directions. It's shadow rests on two walls, one looks like an owl, the other a human head.

The Presidio may seem like an out-of-the-way place for an art exhibit but it's easy to get to. One can combine it with a walk on Crissy Field, a hike in the woods, or any other the other new and interesting venues the park has to offer.