Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Club of California: Searching for Richard Austin

Alastair Johnston went looking for Richard Austin and found that there were two of him: a father and son of the same name who were part of the graphic revolution that transformed printing and publishing in Regency-era Britain.

This explosion of printed matter and a concomitant demand for illustrated books and periodicals was coupled with increased literacy and much improvement in the quality of printing. British books, for the first time, were at the forefront of the world's publishing.

Richard Austin, Sr. cut type now known as Bell, Fry's Ornamented, Scotch Roman, plus the revolutionary Porson Greek of Cambridge University. His son produced wood-engravings that adorned books printed from New York to Edinburgh.

Alastair Johnston has assembled a checklist of 116 books (and counting) illustrated by Austin, Jr. This research will be published by the British Library next year.

And as usual, we can expect an engaging, lively and scholarly talk from Johnston.

The Book Club of California

312 Sutter, Suite 510 San Francisco 94108

(800) 869-7656 (415) 781-7532

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alysanne McGaffrey at Lost Art Salon

I was delighted to see this show. Alyceanne is an old friend from SFAI days. I've stayed in touch with her through our mutual friend Deloris and am always glad to see her works at the gallery in Half Moon Bay. She's an artist who should be ranked up there with David Park and Joan Brown (during her figurative phase) but somehow never got the publicity or the exposure that she deserved. The opening last Thursday was noisy, hot and crowded but her paintings were flying off the wall with lots more sales! The Lost Art Salon website has a complete biography of Alysanne plus more art works; got and rediscover the works of somebody who should never have been forgotten!

245 South Van Ness, Suite 303, San Francisco, CA, 94103
415.861.1530 or
Open Tuesday - Friday: Noon - 5; Saturday 10 - 5: close on Sunday and Monday

Monday, June 23, 2008

Land of a million cereals at Mission 17

One of the funniest and most clever shows that I've seen in a while - great use of American's infatuation with cereal to make some very relevant social commentary.

A Mixed-Media Installation by Ryan Alexiev
June 6-July 12, 2008

Artist Talk with Ryan Alexiev: Thursday, June 26, 2008, 7pm.

Please join us for conversation, wine, and Bulgarian peasant food! This event is free and open to the public. RSVP to

If we are what we eat, a significant degree of who we are, at least in this country, is cereal. In America, cereal is the most popular breakfast food and the third most popular product in the supermarket altogether-after only soda and cereal's constant counterpart, milk. In his show at MISSION 17, Ryan Alexiev explores this centrality of cereal to our constitution. But cereal, for Alexiev, functions as more than merely foodstuff. His engagement with cereal is informed by his appreciation of its history and continuing importance as a paradigmatic consumer product. Since the advent of cereal in the early twentieth century, the four basic grains-wheat, corn, rice, and oats-have consistently been packaged and promoted in a seemingly endless variety of products. Currently, there are 400 different kinds of cereals on the market, which ultimately are distinguished by little more than their ad campaigns. The substance of cereal is, in this light, ideology. And, when we consume it, we ingest more than merely calories. We literally incorporate a sense of who we are-not only through our identification with an image on the face of a cardboard box, but furthermore, for Alexiev, as rational subjects who imagine ourselves as free to choose.

Alexiev examines this ideology of free choice in American consumer culture, so vividly manifested in cereal, by presenting it from the vantage of a Bulgarian peasant. Drawing upon the history of his own family, he tells the story of a rustic who flees Communist oppression and comes to America: The Land of a Million Cereals. As if viewed through the eyes of this Second-World son of the soil, the works in the show exaggerate the aesthetics of cereal and its packaging. Everything is ecstatic: promising total, immediate, gratification in a pallet of fluorescent pinks, yellows, and blues, and-perhaps most importantly-an endless variety of what ultimately amounts to nothing but more of the same thing.

The show includes prints, sculpture, and video. And Alexiev, in the role of the peasant, does battle with Frankenberry, who wields the powerful "golden spoon," - free in every box!

- Clark Buckner (images from the website)\

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Women Impressionists at the Legion

Women Impressionists: Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzal├Ęs, Marie Bracquemond
June 21, 2008 — September 21, 2008.

Thanks to a dear friend of mine, I got to see a preview of the upcoming exhibit of women impressionists at the Legion. It's comprehensive overview which is long overdue. I enjoy impressionist painting but it's been overexposed. Of course, that's also amusing, given how controversial these works were when first shown but by now, they've become ubiquitous. What I wish we could see in the art - and don't -- is the enormous struggles these women went through to learn their craft and be exhibited.
Mary Cassatt is one of my favorite painters but I was disappointed that they didn't have more of her prints which did break new artistic ground when they were first produced. I prefer her clear eyed look at mothers and children to Morisot's sentimentality which is well represented in the show. What is apparent is how limited their viewpoints were, given the social strictures of upper class women. They painted women and children and members of their own families because they didn't have the freedom that men did - not only to attend classes but to simply come and go as they pleased, where ever they pleased, when ever they pleased. Cassatt was the only artist to attend school; the others had private lessons. She was also the only one who never married but she was still bound by family obligations.

Morisot came from very upper class French society and had to withstand savage maternal criticism to pursue her painting studies. Her sister wasn't as focused and settled for marriage; Morisot's biography shows her depression over losing her sister's company and her continual questioning of her own talent. She met Manet by chance and posed for several of his finest paintings. Unfortunately, while she's a fine painter, none of her fiery eyed personality, shown so vividly in Manet's portraits of her, comes across in her works.

Eva Gonzalez was just beginning to mature as an artist when she died in childbirth; she also studied with Manet and her style shows it. Bracquemond was saddled with that most common problem of women artists - an unsupportive and unsympathetic husband so it's a miracle that she produced anything at all. I was pleased to be able to view the exhibit before it's mobbed. It's a pleasant summer show and should educate those who still don't know about women artists. Unfortunately, as the current controversy over Dumas shows, women have continually prove themselves against harsh criticism and struggle with unfair disadvantage, generation after generation after generation.

See Eva Lake's blog: for a run down of the controversy over Dumas. Mark Harden's Artchive has articles and more images of the work of Cassatt and Morisott

Pinball! “Punball: Only One Earth”

Electric Works presents "Punball: Only One Earth," a fully-functional, playable pinball machine by William T. Wiley. More than a year in the making, this machine is the latest release in Electric Works' series of multiples.

They started with a 1964 game by Gottlieb called "North Star," a game celebrating the undersea crossing of the North Pole by the USS Nautilus. In typical cold-war era graphic kitsch, the original machine features Eskimos playing the guitar, miniskirt-wearing accompanists, and their friendly companions the polar bear and walrus.

Taking his cue from the original game, Wiley not only reconfigures the graphics of the game, featuring many of his recurring characters, but delivers a new warning from the polar north: "The Eye-Scabs are Melting." The icecaps are indeed melting and along with them Wiley mixes the threat of global warming with his usual good humored graphic and text combination. The pinball machine is published in an edition of five.

The original 1964 machine was exhibited along with Wiley's new version.

Both machines will be playable for the public during the course of the exhibition and a lot of people were playing with both machines. I tried playing a game or two but was glad that I wasn't playing for money.

Electric Works
130 8th Street
San Francisco, California 94103
vox 415 626 5496 fax 415 626 2396
wheelchair accessible

image from their flickr set: info from their press release

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


pictured: detail of Matthew Ritchie's "Day One."

I found myself in San Francisco with my husband and mother-in-law, with a couple of hours to fill between lunch and getting her to the airport, so we mosied over to check out the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

The building ROCKS from the outside. It is an intriguing melding of the old PG&E facade and modern shapes/textures. The gift shop, which occupies a large chunk of the new and interesting space, was fun to be inside of, looking out.

The building is less successful as a modern art space, as was made abundantly clear in going through the second floor gallery devoted to "In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis." Individual spaces allowed for a very good visual separation of highly disparate installations, and each was very well presented within its space. However nobody designing this space seems to have accounted for the incontrovertible fact that nowadays many art pieces integrate an aural component. There was NO sound separation. Each attempt to appreciate and understand the sound component of a given installation was ruthlessly undermined by the sound bleed from adjacent spaces.

The highlight of the exhibit for me was Alan Berliner's "Playing God." Seven monitors, one for each day of creation, are arrayed in a line across a wall. Before the viewer are two large buttons: one green, one red. It is essentially an elaborate slot machine. The 837 words that comprise the creation of the universe in the book of Genesis are programmed in. The green button starts them flashing past, the red button brings them to a stop. At the very least, each stop provides a phrase rife with possible meanings - sort of like randomly playing with a whole lot of word magnets on a big fridge. But there are three ways to "win":
1. if the word "God" appears on any one monitor;
2. if a direct quote from Genesis is formed;
3. if the seven days align in their corresponding monitors.

We witnessed several "winners." There would be a sound, then on one or more monitors, the words were replaced by still or short video images relevant to the winning phrase.

It was a fascinating and addictive piece and I think it hit the mark for being both well-conceived and well-executed.

The other two installations I recommend in the show are Matthew Ritchie's "Day One," which also uses multiple monitors but to make a very different point, and a piece that I neglected to note the title/artist of that includes a recreation of the antenna that first picked up the background noise of the Big Bang.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Birth of the Cool: Karl Benjamin

Related to the Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury at the Oakland Museum:

Artist and editor of, Julie Karabenick, has recently published an interview she conducted with Karl Benjamin. Born in 1925 and living in Claremont, CA since 1952, he is an important, inventive, and productive California artist who maintained his studio time while raising a family and working as an elementary school teacher until his appointment to Professor of Art and Artist-in-Residence at Pomona College. He also served as Professor of Art at the Claremont Graduate School from 1979-1994, where he is currently Professor Emeritus.

This bountifully illustrated interview is a landmark document, describing his approach, where images may come from and how they develop, what associations can be made to these images, and the importance of chance, series, limitations, and consistent, steady engagement. Read it.

#8, 1990, oil on canvas, 152 x 152 cm (60 x 60 in)