Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sunday at the Asian

Zorig Chusum: The 13 Traditional Handicrafts

10:00 am–1:00 pm

(Directed by Werner Wiedling, 2003, in English)

This four-part series is comprised of rare films commissioned by the Royal Government of Bhutan to document the country’s thirteen traditional handicrafts (zorig chusum). Among the crafts featured are: Woodworking, textile arts, painting, pottery, slate-carving, metalworking, papermaking, block prints, and calligraphy.

At 2 PM: Bhutan:Taking the Middle Path to Happiness is a feature documentary film featuring the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan and the Government’s effort to bring "Gross National Happiness" to its people. Imagine a country where happiness is the guiding principal of government. Imagine a people who see all life as sacred and the source of their happiness, a place with an abundance of clean and renewable energy, a nation committed to preserving its culture. Imagine a Kingdom where the King lives in a simple wooden cottage and judges his progress by the country's "Gross National Happiness." Can a place like Bhutan really exist? Can such ideals be realized? Can this small, geographically isolated country tucked away in the Himalayans truly protect its environment and culture as they open their doors to the West?

All events are free
Asian Museum Y-Tube Page (how cool is this?):

Friday, February 27, 2009

Trevor Paglen
Black Ops

Among the varied pieces in the 2008 SECA Art Award exhibit at SFMOMA, there is a display of military patches mounted on a long black display board. This is one of those simple exhibits where the closer I looked, and the more I investigated, the broader, more complex and fascinating it became.

Assembled by Trevor Paglen, the patches represent officially denied classified and clandestine military projects and operations, as well as spy, satellite and space missions. The ones where they say, “Mr. Phelps, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”Like emblems of secret societies throughout history, the patches include symbolism, jargon and imagery, with the added feature of occasional inside jokes to those involved.

Paglen is an Oakland artist, photographer, writer, and experimental geographer. He has traveled the world researching military and C.I.A bases, laboratories, and other secret sites that officially do not exist.

Paglen coined the phrase “experimental geography” in 2002, for engaging in an artistic experience of the earth. An example: A Geological Displacement project called When Faith Moves Mountains', organized by Francis Alÿs, with Rafael Ortega and Cuauhtémoc Medina. The project involved 500 volunteers in a "human comb" moving a sand dune in Peru.

Just think of what Andy Goldsworthy could have done at Woodstock.

In addition to the exhibit at SFMOMA, Paglen has a show opening today at Altman Siegel Gallery

February 12 - May 10th, 2009
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 Third Street
San Francisco, California 94103

February 27 - April 11, 2009
Altman Siegel Gallery
49 Geary St. 4th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94108

For more on Experimental Geography:

Independent Curators International

For more on space mission patches and rocket and nose cone decals:

The Space Review

By Phil Gravitt

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Julian Bell at the Book Club of California

Julian Bell - the son of Quentin and Anne Olivier Bell, the grandson of Vanessa and Clive Bell, Julian is more than qualified to speak on Bloomsbury. Born in 1952, he read English literature at Oxford University but has since made his living as a painter based in southern England. Over the past twenty years he has written many features about art for the Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and The New York Review of Books. His exploration of art theory, What is Painting?, appeared in 1999, and his introduction to art history, Mirror of the World, in 2007.

an impromptu talk at the Book Club of California | MONDAY, MARCH 2, 2009 | 5 - 7 PM
312 Sutter | suite 510 | San francisco 94108 | 800.869.7656 | fax 800.781.7537
club room hours: mondays, 10 am to 7 pm | tuesday-friday, 10 am to 5 pm
Julian Bell's website:

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Roy De Forest: “Painting the Big Painting,” at Brian Gross, SF

A strong selection of major paintings and drawings from the last decade or more of Roy DeForest's (1930-2007) life hangs at Brian Gross Fine Art in San Francisco (January 8 - February 28, 2009). It is a fitting and deserved tribute, though select and abbreviated, to a long career which produced joyous, energetic paintings notable for quirky drawing, dense composition, and exuberant mark making. Two key words applicable here are be "inventive" and "obsessive," which may then be combined into the single word "visionary."


De Forest's paintings are typically populated by dogs, especially dogs, but also by horses, picaresque characters and the occasional bird or rabbit born from the bright color, dark outlines, intense patterning, and dabs and dashes one long ago learned to expect and look forward to. Practically every inch of each surface is elaborately covered with colored shapes, scumbling, hatching, and Hershey’s Kiss-like smooches of paint pressed straight from the tube. Some areas are literally built up in relief. These surfaces are brilliantly adorned, and each work is enclosed in an eccentric, painted, artist-made frame. In terms of sheer, raucous, physical painting and presentation, De Forest always delivers.

De Forest’s cluttered and congested imagery may seem fantastic, but anyone who spends time in the desert knows there is plenty of life there. Besides, a story must have characters. Heads of both animals and people are, for the most part, portrayed in profile or straight-on, and even though each painting is littered and crammed with them none looks at or seems to be fully aware of the presence any of the others. Each is in its own world of now, faintly looking off into the near distance, as if trying to discern, in anticipation, what will happen next; this is the dog consciousness, the animal existence vigilance and self-containment. The space, light, and texture here evoke notions of some Ancient West, a place that is vast, broad, deep, silent and empty. The sense of time is the immediate and ongoing present. De Forest's visionary inclination is enhanced by his use of a very human-scale medium-- painting-- to channel a specific place and way of being, and is both acknowledgment and evocation of animal spirit: something pure, decent, keen, knowing, basic, and fragile. There is an ecology of the co-existence, cooperation, and equilibrium of living things. This is the big story De Forest tells.

The exhibition's eponymous work lifts figures from Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, which, given the inventive liberties both artists take with depicting the figure, seems quite apt. At the same time, more importantly, this gesture signals something more than De Forest's alignment with the senior artist’s effort towards invention or radicalism, but is also an extended reach for the much sought after, hard-earned, and almost serendipitous outcome of meaning compressed in and blossoming from a hand-made image. This historical reference might immediately spark another, say, James Ensor’s Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889. But perhaps even more to the point, this exhibition seemingly makes plain to this viewer that De Forest’s more significant model may be the devotional and decorative aspects of fourteenth century Sienese and Florentine painting, such as Duccio di Buoninsegna’s Maestà. In the nearly seven hundred years of Western art since then one rarely finds an artist, especially a modern or contemporary one, who consistently and commandingly uses similiarly dense, figure-filled compositions, artificial and invented settings, shallow spaces hinting at depth, elaborate framing, decorative components, and narrative as De Forest. Rather than being devoted to God, however, these paintings are devoted to the raw, open, and wild, yet very sophisticated energy of Dog (didja see that one coming?). One might say that De Forest’s religion is the natural world, the pure spirit of animals, a kind of animism found the joy of taking plain materials and making something true and vital come to life.

Chris Ashley
February 2009

Image: Roy De Forest, Incident at Devil's Island, 1992; acrylic on linen, artist frame with sculpture; 85 x 92-1/2 x 3 inches, Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco

Also published at Look, See.

The Dragon's Gift - another review

Wonderful review and photos up at SF Mike's blog - he captures the saturated colors and the spirit of the show much better than I could:

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Dragon's Gift: The Arts of Bhutan at the Asian

Originally organized by the Honolulu Academy of Arts in conjunction with the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs of the Royal Government of Bhutan, The Dragon’s Gift: The Sacred Arts of Bhutan is one of the most ambitious and eagerly anticipated exhibitions of Buddhist art in many years. Bhutan is a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas, wedged between the two superpowers of China and India. But it survives as both an ancient independent kingdom and the worlds newest democracy. The Dragon’s Gift explores Bhutan’s cosmology through the window of its sacred visual arts and ritual dance (cham), using Buddhism as a lens through which to explore the full range of Bhutanese culture. The works of art are combined with an enactment of Bhutanese religious rituals to present a mirror of a living culture.
Vajrabhairava is a wrathful form of Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom (* see Tom Christensen's blog for a delightful exposition of this "blue meanie)

The exhibition includes more than one hundred works of art. Exhibited materials include thangkas (textile mounted paintings), sculptures, metalwork, textiles, and ritual objects, all made for use in a Vajrayana (Tantric) Buddhist context.

Monks practicing one of the many cham, or sacred dances.
In a major innovation, the exhibition also explores the ancient ritual Buddhist dance and movement tradition known as cham, as a fundamental manifestation of Bhutan’s religious culture. Cham is a form of danced yoga in Tantric Buddhism. Indeed, “The Dragon’s Gift” is the first exhibition of its kind in having been jointly organized by art historians and dance historians. Unlike the situation in many other areas of the Himalayas, such as Tibet, where ancient traditions of Cham are threatened (for example, in Tibet and Ladhakh), the Cham of Bhutan has been preserved largely intact. One of the primary contributions of “The Dragon’s Gift” is its exploration of the ancient arts of a living culture, and its demonstration that the visual arts and traditions of sacred movement are two manifestations of the same cosmology.

These parallel explorations are motivated by the realization that the Buddhist dances of Bhutan embody and convey the same ontological, mythological, and philosophical underpinnings embodied in the visual arts, which together reinforce the fundamental values and worldview of Bhutanese culture.

Seated Goddess, posssibly Kongtsedemo (7-8th century), one of the twelve local goddesses knowsn as the twelve tenma who protect Buddhism.

Nearly all of the works of art presented in the exhibit are from active temples and monasteries and remain in ritual use. Most of the items are painted or textile thangkas or gilt bronze sculptures which date primarily from the 17th to the 19th centuries – a golden age in the Buddhist arts of Bhutan. Ranging from depictions of Tantric deities to individualized portraits of Buddhist masters, the exhibition presents outstanding works of art with a wide iconographic scope.
Guru Dragpo Marches (19th Century, Ink and colors on cotton)

A visitor to the exhibit also becomes a participant as monks will be continuing their religious practices throughout the museum space. So, by visiting the museum you will obtain merit and lessen your negative karma (surely a good thing!). From Friday through Sunday (until the exhibit closes), two monks from a Bhutanese monastery will perform daily purification rituals and prayers (puja) for sacred objects in the exhibition. Watch them create offerings for a Buddhist altar installed in the museum court in an ancient practice of Buddhist rituals. To immerse oneself in this exhibit is to understand (to some extent), the Buddhist concept of time and the Bhutanese links with the past.
The present does not remain
The past and future do not exist
Wherever you look, you cannot see them
So the three times are called imperceptible.
Dharma Protector Dorje Yudronma (19th century), a female deity who is one of the protectors of Bhutan.
There is an altar at one end of the courtyard, with numerous statues of the Buddha in niches above the altar and offerings in front. Along one wall is a section from a temple with prayer wheels which you can turn to offer prayers. I gave them a turn or two myself with a prayer for peace in these troubled times:
May all beings everywhere plagued
with sufferings of body and mind
quickly be freed from their illnesses.
May those frightened cease to be afraid,
and may those bound be free.
May the powerless find power,
and may people think of befriending
one another.
May those who find themselves in trackless,
Fearful wilderness--
the children, the aged, the unprotected--
be guarded by beneficent celestials,
And may they swiftly attain Buddha hood.

The lavishly illustrated catalogue is a "must buy" for anyone who wants to understand Buddhist and Bhutanese art, history, culture and religion. The twelve superb essays cover all aspects of the exhibit including conservation techniques and Buddist philosophy. It also includes a DVD of Cham dance performances, probably the first time these dances have been ever seen outside Bhutan.

200 Larkin St, SF: Through May 10, 2009 - check the website for a list of ongoing events organized about this exhibit which will include lectures, films and interactive activities for the whole family.
7 Junipers:
images courtesy of the Asian

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Patric Dougherty at Civic Center

Ever wonder what’s up at the plaza in front of City Hall? Artist Patrick Dougherty has been working on his woven tree sculptures for the last month or so. The site-specific piece is beginning to blossom and it’s well worth a visit.
There’s a great essay on him up at Venetian Red:
and a three part photo essay with commentary at Mike’s Civic Center Blog

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lecture at SF MOMA

looks interesting..

Caroline A. Jones on the 2008 SECA Art Award Exhibition

Caroline A. Jones, Professor of History, Theory and Criticism, Department of Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Phyllis Wattis Theater
7:00 p.m.

Administered by SECA (Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art), an SFMOMA art interest group, this biennial award honors local artists of exceptional promise with an exhibition. This year's four recipients — Tauba Auerbach, Desirée Holman, Jordan Kantor, and Trevor Paglen — employ a wide spectrum of artistic approaches, including painting, sculpture, photography, and video. They also share strategies and thematics (about veiling, media, and hidden systems). Tonight, art historian Caroline A. Jones, whose latest book, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (U of Chicago Press, 2008) re-evaluates the core values of mid-century modernism and its legacies, addresses the 2008 SECA artists. A book signing with Jones and the artists will follow.

$10 general; $7 SFMOMA members, students, and seniors. Tickets are available at the museum (with no surcharge) or online.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's Day: Museum of Broken Relationships

I Just can’t imagine why anybody over the age of 10 would be somewhat cynical about Valentine’s Day (ahem). But if you are, check out the exhibit at Roots Division, an alternative art space on the fringes of one of the more colorful parts of the Mission. Their current show, “The Museum of Broken Relationships,” displays anonymously donated objects from all around the world in an effort to expunge and heal painful memories of past loves. The tongue in cheek exhibit opens on Saturday (from 7-10 PM).

So, let go of of those memories by donating them to the collection, smile at the motley collection of objects from former loves and support a local art space.
3175 17th Street (at S. Van Ness)
San Francisco, CA 94110
images from Root Division Website

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bird Show at Tangent Gallery (Sacramento)

Parking Lot Bird by Summer Lee
Oil on canvas

There's still time to catch the Bird Show at Tangent Gallery in Sacramento -- but just a few days. The show comes down this coming week, but if you're in the area, be sure to arrange to go by and see it.

Like most Tangent shows, this one displays wide variations on a single theme. Previous months have featured, among other things, the Dead Show--in October, of course--and the Pink Show--in honor of Pink Week. So now, with art big and small, 2-D and 3-D, the Bird Show celebrates all things bird.

Here are some examples of the artwork on display until next Wednesday:

This piece made it into all three of the above-mentioned shows

Dead Pink Bird by Erwo
Bird and spray paint

Birds and Bees House by Mary Mortimer
Mixed media

Gaggle by Anthony Maki Gill
Reduction fired porcelain and stoneware

Divine Conception of the Flesh II
by Rogelio Manzo
Oil on canvas

Birdseed Rosary by Summer Lee
Birdseed and thread

(displayed with the box she made to store it in)

This ceramic piece, Mitosis #2, is by Ianna Frisby:

And, again from Summer Lee, The Rent in the Veil, made of porcelain and cremated birds

A little bit about Tangent Gallery--the following statement is from their website:

Tangent is an artist-run gallery/studio space established June of 2007. Designed and built in a corner shop that once housed a Safeway, Tangent is a modest gallery with three simple goals: to display dynamic and compelling modern art by local and non-local artists, to give back to the neighborhood in which they established the gallery by attracting commerce and visitors, and to serve to the community of Sacramento by offering art that, in many cases, other local galleries have been unwilling to display.

Even though Tangent is technically open only on Friday afternoons and every Second Saturday evening, the artist-proprietors are always happy to open up if you give them a call in advance.

Tangent is located at 2900 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95818. Their hours are Friday 12-5, every Second Saturday from 6-10 pm, and most any other time by appointment. Give them a call!: 916/956-2491.

See photos of artwork from Tangent's exhibitions at

Mai-Thu Perret at SFMOMA

Mai-Thu Perret, Unsold goods a thousand years old, 2008; courtesy of Timothy Taylor Gallery, London; photo: Christian Altengarten; © 2008

Since 1999, Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret has been developing The Crystal Frontier, a fictional account of a group of women who found a small utopian community in the desert of southwestern New Mexico in an attempt to escape the impositions of capitalism. Employing part imagined and part annotated diary fragments, letters and texts from handbills, she sketches a kaleidoscopic image of a group of women who have retreated, disillusioned, from the city and from Western, i.e. capitalist, society. They pick up their lives again in the desert of New Mexico but on a different footing with work, nature and themselves. According to an essay written for the Renaissance Society, she sees feminism, as a distinct tradition of self-empowerment and a master narrative in its own right

In addition to this script in the form of texts fragments, Perret's nascent oeuvre comprises objects of various kinds that she describes as 'hypothetical products' of this women's commune. Included are a series of small ceramic objects, made in 2003, each one produced in the commune workshops.

"Perret's work is first and foremost anachronistic. Although The Crystal Frontier is set in the present, nothing could be more frozen in time than the idea of establishing a feminist commune. If anything, The Crystal Frontier is a trope for exhuming not just a recent past but any and all points along the historical continuum of feminism. In her alternate universe, however, feminism does not serve to complement Utopian thought. It is, rather, the other way around. Utopian thought is accountable to feminism. Functioning as a master narrative coextensive with Modernity, feminism becomes a binding agent for Utopian thought, be it grounded in fact or fantasy." And I say - huh?

What I find ironic is that, in order to understand even a fraction of what she is trying to say, you have to resort to theoretical essays, cloaked in the thickest art speak. What ever happened to discussing the elements and principles of design in a work of art? These are the fundamentals in which to evaluate the success or failure of a piece. I guess now the evaluation is based on the art object's market value, exhibition track record, previous owners, and to what degree the studio employees and assistants participated in its execution. In addition, if you are making political art, you don't let the image speak for your politics; you weave a huge, scholarly narrative around it and hope (trust) that the viewer will have the patience and desire to read it.

One can define visual art as making ideas visible through form. Art and object can be made to serve other additional functions, in this case political ones. But if you can't communicate primarily through form, it's not visual art. It's really text, and in this case, text that's put up on a wall in a museum because no publisher would be interested in turning it into a book. A further irony is that recently there was an extended discussion on Edward Winkleman's blog about the works of a Arab woman artist and the need to explain these works through copious wall text. Many who commented felt that if art needed such explanation, it was not fulfilling it's purpose. Without the text and some essays found via the Internet, Mai-Thu's work is completely obscure. It did not speak to me of feminism or even resonate with the sources that she is supposed to have used. The ceramic wall pieces "work" as art but certainly don't - for me -- justify the hype.

I keep thinking that I'm not much of a feminist if I don't "get it" with works like this. But I don't want to feel like an old foggie either who automatically rejects new art. But, frankly, I have no problem with the ceramic wall pieces. They are rather lovely. Where I got lost was how this fit with her elaborate fantasy of an Utopian Feminist community, where New Mexico comes in with spiritual Buddhist imagery and what the heck the two huge rectangular glass floor pieces were supposed to mean. Back in my day (yadda yadda yadda), feminist art was pretty obvious. Judy Chicago, Faith Ringold and other artists did marvelous art while also promoting a specific point of view. You didn't need to read a tome to understand them. These works were also shown outside the museum. I got the impression with Mai Thu Perret's work that it was made primarily for museums. But I also felt the same for all of the work in the "interactive art" exhibit on the 4th floor - and I'm working on a report on that one next. It's unusual that I find nothing to admire in work that aspires to say so much - but while the intent may be admirable, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I went to the museum with two younger women from my class and they were even less impressed than I was.
But - as they say. Your mileage may varry. YMMV.

Mai-Thu Perret, The dragon gave birth to a golden phoenix that shattered the turquoise blue sky, 2008; courtesy of Timothy Taylor Gallery, London; photo: Christian Altengarten; © 2008

Essay at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago:

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Coraline at the Cartoon Art Museum

Scene from Coraline (2009). Image: Cartoon Art Museum

In a special, limited-time exhibition from January 24 through February 15, the Cartoon Art Museum presents original art from the new animated movie, Coraline. This exhibition features the storyboards, puppets, sets, costumes, and other exclusive items from the stop-motion animated feature, the first of its kind to be filmed in 3-D!

Fantastic, in-depth review of the film at Wired: