Friday, July 31, 2009

Friday Fish Wrap

Friday Fish Wrap: I'm trying to start a regular or semi-regular feature of weekend events and information, culled from various Museum blogs. Let me know how you like it:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sad news about New Langston Arts

"It was the worst of times, it was the best of times." Charles Dickens began his "Tale of Two Cities" with those lines which I think a lot of us have memorized. While many have not actually read the book, the saying has passed into common usage. I have thought about that a number of times this summer as I watch gallery after gallery closing - Bucheon, Reeves and Lincart in Hayes Valley and many others throughout the city. Now comes news that one of our oldest non-profit arts organizations is in serious trouble:

There may be some help for the arts on the horizon. I haven't followed the latest news on that front but I haven't heard about anything like a new version of the WPA. While some people think that it's OK that only the strong survive, I feel that's a harsh attitude to take toward art - any art whether music, painting, poetry or dance. In this country what's considered strong seems to be the ruthless and powerful who have no interest in anything that doesn't make a huge profit. Creativity - other than in manipulating the stock market - is ignored or denegrated. I remember when I read about the the "Society of Six," and how the Depression of the 1930's forced them to chose between their art or not being able to take care of themselves and their families. Only two continued to paint. Will that be true of the current generation?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The King and I
We get together whenever Tut is in town

We spent two hours at the DeYoung last Friday for the Tut exhibit. The lines were orderly--no cut at Tut--and things were running smoothly getting in, until it was time to pick up our prepaid audio devices. While there were two people with nothing to do waiting for non members to rent audio, prepaid audio members had to deal with just one new person. Half the Egyptian army marched by us into the exhibit while we waited for things to be figured out.

I liked using the audio 30 years ago during Tut First Visit to SF. This time, I got tired of Omar Shariff after two chats (too much embellishment and praise instead of just telling me what I'm seeing), so I hung the audio around my neck like a breastplate. Also, I would have preferred to see Tut first instead of his 40 relatives, as I came to see Michael Jackson, not Joe Jackson. Seeing the relatives on a separate day, I would have appreciated them more.

The museum did a good job of using the little movie at the beginning like metering lights on the Bay Bridge, so the crowds were not as bad as they could have been. Plus the show was spread out, making it easier to maneuver. Some of the organ storage jars were spectacular, and I was awed by the perfection of the braided hair on small carved figures.

We had a déjà vu moment when we read there were three dozen boat carvings in the tomb with Tut, for travel in the afterlife. We had just seen an exhibit of three dozen boat constructions, by artist Jennifer Ewing, as part of her Spirit Boat series.

There were two Tut stores. They sell everything but the light fixtures in the movie room, which were very cool. Before leaving, we went up to the tower to see a friend who was teaching a class at the museum, but found out the classes were in the tower tummy, not the tower top.

Leaving the show, we nearly joined Tut in the afterlife when we were almost run over by a bus (maroon and creamy yellow double decker, open at the top), which drove right through the stop sign in front of the museum.

The misallocation of resources came up again as we left the parking garage. Two men standing by the exit took my paid parking stub and fed it into the self service exit machine for me. I felt like saying, "Why don't one of you go help at member audio rental, and the other go have a talk with the stop-for-nothing bus driver."

It was a very big show, (really big shew for you Ed Sullivan fans) and took a lot of resources to put on, so the ticket prices for members didn't seem out of line.

By Phil Gravitt

Monday, July 20, 2009

Favorite items at the Asian Museum

There is a fun discussion going on at the Asian Art Museum blog as to what their favorite items in the collection are. I love playing this game but there are way too many gorgeous objects for me to settle on "just one. " However, I can never resist bringing up one of my favorite, almost contemporary Chinese painters, Chao Shan-An. His brilliant colors, sensitive brushwork and loving images of birds and flowers just make his pieces sing. So often, current traditional Asian ink painting looks stale and bland; his pieces are anything but.

Then, Tom (of Right Reading and 7 Junipers Fame) brought up one of the subtler and understated pieces, one that is easy to over look. The Betty Bogart Contemplative Alcove is located on the second floor near the walkway leading from Samsung Hall to the Japanese art galleries on the south wing. It features a basin (2000) by Masatoshi Izumi, which is made from a single massive basalt stone. The exterior is an oxidized brown color with a rough surface but the top is a dark gray, polished smooth. (The artist polished the surface by hand with a whetstone and water over many months.) Water flows so slowly from the center that it can go unnoticed by visitors who are hurrying by. I remember when I first saw the piece. I didn't quite believe my eyes and had to touch the top (very carefully) to verify that the shining surface was indeed water and not only polished stone.

According to Nico (Nicole Harvey), someone
once mistook the fountain for a seat, creating a completely unexpected result of mindfulness, for where one should and should not sit.

I confess to a mischievous moment when I tried to encourage a teenager to sit on it. He and his friends were text messaging their way through the galleries, not paying much attention to anything but their cell phones. Of course, I stopped him before he could do so. I didn't want him to damage this beautiful object but I did want his friends to stop and look. They all laughed at their clueless friend but they did take their noses out of the current text message of the moment to marvel. It was one small step for mindfulness. Maybe someday, they will be discussing their favorite pieces at the Asian and remember the moment when they almost sat on a piece of shinning stone.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Culture on a budget

I just posted an article on all of the Bay Area museums that I could think of that have free days and/or free admission for kids under 12. I never realized that a "simple" newspaper article could be so much work. I had to check and double check my spelling and my facts. The good thing is that I can post to a "real" newspaper web site. The bad thing is that I don't have an fact checker/outsider eye making sure I don't goof up before the fact. I'm reading Lillian Ross' book "Reporting Back: Notes on Journalism" which makes me very nostalgic for the good old days. She had superb editors who helped her develop her skills but she also pays tribute to the fact-checking department of the magazine where she worked for so many years. Remember to click on the link - I'm aiming for one happy meal a month.

The image on the left is from the current show of Mithila paintings from northern Bihar. For centuries, women’s paintings have been used to consecrate space for human habitation and ritual purposes. The paintings are filled with magical properties and cover the walls near their hearths with images of their gods and goddesses. For weddings and festivals, they embellish the outer walls of their homes with elaborate drawings based on familiar mythological stories. Hence a major theme here is women’s art for the domestic world, and especially art that is found in association with life-cycle events.

Paper was introduced into the Mithila painting tradition in the 1960’s. The changeover to a portable support for the paintings moved the locus of the artists’ efforts out of the home and removed the creation of this art from its ritual setting. Despite the persistence of traditional themes, the change to paper also allowed the women artists to experiment with newer themes, and allowed them a broader freedom of expression. The works at the Asian are a mixture of old and new and even include one work by a male artist. The current show is up until July 26th and then, it will go into storage for almost two years to preserve the fragile works.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


July 11 through Nov 8, the Grace Hudson Museum presents a show of Edward Curtis photos. I have not seen it yet (I expect to within the next 10 days and will post a review), but it sounds like an interesting exhibit: According to the museum's website:

In this exhibition Curtis' work is examined through the eyes of contemporary Native Americans who selected images from his body of work through which to examine issues of authenticity, tradition and relationships between Natives and non-Natives. The exhibition also explores the many challenges that Curtis faced in the course of his project, such as chronic under-funding, challenging physical conditions, inter-cultural mistrust, and marital difficulties ..... Curtis, it turns out, stayed with John and Grace Hudson when he came to the Ukiah area in 1923 to record Pomo culture. Curtis arrived in the summertime, when many Pomo people were scattered about the countryside working, so John Hudson took him around the county and introduced him to key people and families and allowed Curtis to use the Hudsons’ basket collection in his photographs. The Sun House Guild has since purchased and framed a number of Curtis’ original Pomo Indian photogravures. Grace Hudson Museum staff will mount a special section of the exhibit displaying many of these Curtis prints, along with the actual Pomo artifacts pictured in the images.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Art work of the Mithila Region

Art work of the Mithila Region:

The Frey Norris Gallery has been featuring the work of Shalinee Kumari, a contemporary Indian woman artist painting in the style commonly referred to as “Mithila” or “Madhubani” painting. Mithila is a region in Bihar, a state in NE India. Madhubani is the name of a town in this region

Traditionally (and still today), these graphically engaging paintings were done by women as mural art decorating the walls of their homes, often marking an important celebrations, a wedding or the birth of a child, for example, or religious themes. The show at the Frey Norris Gallery shows the transformation of this painting style into a contemporary form of expression on paper and canvas that is now sold to art collectors. While stylistically linked to traditional forms, some Mithila artists are exploring a wider range of issues.

The Asian Art Museum also has a collection of Mithila paintings some of which are currently on view on the 3rd floor. This installation includes a male painter in this genre, who is among those encouraged by the economic success of the women artists to enter this once purely local, folk art tradition. The museum installation of Mithila paintings closes after Sunday, July 26 and conservation policy states that these light sensitive works go into dark storage to rest for five years so that they may retain their brilliant colors for generations to come.

Information from the Asian Art Museum Blog
Email Nancy Ewart @

Some good news in these grim times

The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded $1.5 million in stimulus funds to 37 San Francisco arts organizations. The money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Grant Program and represents 5 percent of all the grants awarded nationwide and 38 percent of all the grants awarded to California.

According to the city Arts Commission, as of January 2008, some 4,837 arts-related businesses were located in the city, employing 29,561 people.

Organizations receiving grants of either $25,000 or $50,000 include: Alonzo King's Lines Ballet, American Conservatory Theater Foundation, Architecture for Humanity, Asian Art Museum Foundation of San Francisco, Aunt Lute Foundation, Bay Area Video Coalition, California Lawyers for the Arts, Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco, Circuit Network, Contemporary Jewish Museum, CounterPulse, Cypress Performing Arts Association, Eth-Noh-Tec Creations, Exit Theater, FoolsFURY Theater Company, Frameline, Jess Curtis/Gravity Inc., Joe Goode Performance Group, Kitchen Sisters Productions, Kronos Performing Arts Association and the Magic Theatre.

Also: the Marsh, National Alliance of Media Arts Centers Inc., National Film Preservation Foundation, Oberlin Dance Collective, ODC Theater, Performing Arts Workshop, PlayGround Inc., Playwrights Foundation, San Francisco Arts Commission, San Francisco Cinematheque, San Francisco Jazz Organization, San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco Symphony, World Arts West and Yerba Buena Arts & Events.

Stimulus grants were also announced for the following Bay Area organizations: Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, San Jose Museum of Art Association, San Jose Jazz Society, San Jose Children's Museum Theater, Regents of the University of California at Santa Cruz, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters Inc. in Oakland, the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation in Santa Rosa, Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, the Monterey County Symphony Association, the Monterey Jazz Festival, TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Kala Institute in Berkeley, Kuumbwa Jazz Society in Santa Cruz, Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, the Crucible in Oakland and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

list from the SF Chronicle

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Baldessari at the Legion

I saw the Baldessari show at the Legion yesterday - conceptualism is SO not my thing but as a good junior reporter, I have struggled to put together a decent piece. But struggling with the material was nothing compared to dealing with the cumbersome Examiner template. But, it's finished out and all intelligent comments are welcome! Now, more coffee!

Friday, July 10, 2009

What's up in Oakland

Grtrude Stein is famously supposed to have said about Oakland that there is “no there there.” Well, in 2009, it’s time to say that Gertrude was wrong. Sorry Gertrude, there is a there, THERE!

Oakland Museum:

Housed in an architecturally innovative three-tiered complex of galleries, gardens, terraces, and ponds, the Oakland Museum of California's collections, special exhibitions and educational programs provide a broader understanding of California's history, art, nature and people.

The African Presence in México: From Yanga to the Present, a look at the little-known history of enslaved Africans brought to Mexico in the 1500s and their contributions to Mexican culture. Organized by the National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago, the exhibition opens May 9 and continues through Aug 23, 2009.

The bilingual exhibition features paintings, prints, movie posters, photographs, sculpture, costumes, masks, and musical instruments. "It's a fascinating hybrid---a visual arts exhibition based on a cultural history," says co-curator Orantes.

Squeak Carnwath: Painting Is No Ordinary Object
April 25–August 23, 2009

This presentation of Carnwath’s work—the first organized by a major West Coast museum—includes more than 40 paintings not seen collectively since the artist’s last major exhibition, in 1994.As the title indicates, a painting is “no ordinary object” for Carnwath (American, b. 1947). Her recurring motifs—among them numbers, rabbits, and lists—reflect personal and universal themes; each meticulously applied layer of paint carries meaning and inquiry.

Kenneth Baker's review:

Museum of Children’s Art:

MOCHA provides hands-on arts learning experiencing for children and their families in our museum, in schools and preschools, and in public venues. MOCHA also prepares educators to teach art and integrate arts learning across academic subject areas. They advocate for the arts as an essential part of a strong, vital and diverse community and emphasize outreach to children in low-income communities that do not typically have wide access to the arts.

African American Museum and Library: The African American Museum and Library at Oakland is dedicated to discover, preserve, interpret and share the historical and cultural experiences of African Americans in California and the West for present and future generations.

AAMLO's archival collection is a unique resource on the history of African Americans in Northern California and the Bay Area. The over 160 collections in the archives contain the diaries of prominent families, pioneers, churches, social and political organizations.

Pardee Home Museum: The Pardee Home, including its carriage house and water tower, is a centerpiece of Oakland's Preservation Park Historic District, within a short walking distance of such downtown landmarks as Old Oakland, City Hall, and Preservation Park

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The good, the bad, and the “oh my god I can’t believe it”

The Fisher Museum is a no-go for the Presidio. I wrote at the time:

Even if the Fisher Museum is built, will it be able to generate enough revenue to support itself or will it be a money sink? Very few museums are profitable; they live off their endowments, grants and any other revenue producing properties that they may own. Furthermore, what impact will the construction of all these buildings have? How many building projects have been built on time and within the budget? What about cost overruns? Construction boondoggles? I do not trust the powers that be and perhaps that’s the bottom line. If the door is opened a crack, how much wider will it be forced open? Can we be really looking at a dozen more super-towers of luxury apartments lining up along the bay? We can’t see it now but it’s a real mistake to assume that everybody is honest, ethical and eco-friendly where there’s money to be made.

CM Nevis thinks is a classic case of "not in my backyard" but dismisses the very real issues involved. While the collection may be first class, the choice of site was inappropriate. This wasn’t simply a NIMBBY issue; it was a serious problem involving an inaccessible site without public transportation and a building that would have negatively impacted the existing environment. The footprint would have been huge and while the Fisher’s claim that they would donate the money to build it, what about staffing and future upkeep – and who will ultimately own the complex? Reading through the 521 comments at SF Gate was a depressing exercise. Obviously the park and environmental activists have not done a good job in educating the public because most of the comments were hostile and uninformed. This wasn’t a free gift but a 21st century land grab. The complex would have included a 119-room hotel, meeting space, a restaurant and a bar; two new theaters and a heritage center. Who would ultimately have owned all these buildings and who would have ultimately been responsible for their upkeep? Who would get the revenue, if any? The editorial is severely one-sided since Nevius overlooks the fact that building the museum there would have violate the terms of the Presidio Trust. The ultimate decision was made by the federal government, not San Francisco.

The good thing about this is the possibility that the collection (or part of it) might go to enrich SFMOMA, a far more accessible space. If Mr. Fisher wants more public acclaim, maybe they can rename the museum the Don Fisher/San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and put his name in big letters over the entrance?

Kenneth Baker reviews the Tutankhamen exhibit and is haughty dismissive of blockbusters and those who host them. But he raises a number of questions regarding the proper use and funding of museums, which I will attempt to discuss in a future post.

An Artist's Reality Show:
When I first read about this, I thought it was a joke, but apparently it’s serious. Richard Lacayo writes that Sarah Jessica Parker and Bravo are going ahead with a Top Chef like competition for artists.

“In each episode of the series, contestants will create unique pieces highlighting art's role in everyday life, while they compete and create in a range of disciplines including sculpture, painting, photography and industrial design (to name a few). In working beyond their preferred mediums, artists will have to adapt quickly in order to succeed. Completed works of art will be appraised by a panel of top art world figures including fellow artists, gallerists, collectors, curators and critics. The finalists' work will be showcased in a nation-wide museum tour.

This leads to a few questions. Are these artists, curators and critics going to issue the snap judgments that judges on Top Chef and Project Runway pronounce? You might be able to get away with that when you're talking about a tuna tartare on a pool of lingonberry foam but I don't think it will work for something, like art, that takes a little longer to process. And where will they find people even willing to try?

Hmmm....Jeff Koons, check your messages.”

Are artists really that desperate for fame and fortune? I'm one and I know that I'd rather have a visit from the Spanish Inquisition than under participate in this humiliating show.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Livia Stein
Paintings on canvas & works on paper
Andrea Schwartz Gallery

Stein's colorful work, often including birds, rocks, and pedestals, is at first playful and childlike. The pieces grow in complexity with each viewing moment, and I found myself looking at each object, attempting to identify and decipher it.

In her artist statement, Stein refers to her work as 'large scale diaries.' The objects and avian models sitting for her symbolize memories, events, visions.
After several days of screeching birds, I had a greater appreciation for her quiet canvas flock.

Also at Andrea Schwartz Gallery through July 31 are paintings by Eric Michael Corrigan.

Posted by Phil Gravitt