Vast Vagueness at Verge
When museums and galleries opened briefly last fall, I hit nearly everything open in San Francisco, Sacramento and points between. Good thing too because that didn’t last long.
So I was thrilled when Verge Center for the Arts reopened March 26. It reopened in a big way, showcasing new work by six artist who received Ali Youssefi Project residency awards last year: Justin Amrhein, Angel King, Brooklynn Johnson, Vincent Pacheco, Muzi LI Rowe and Terence Wong. Nearly every one of these artist fully engage both the eye and the intellect (their own and ours).
But the exhibition has many problems. More on that later.
In the huge gallery space, Justin Amrhein’s blue and white sculptural installation with videos and Vincent Pacheco’s wall of black and white drawings/paintings serve as bookends.
Amrhein has taken about 20 objects (a domed doghouse, the tub of a washing machine, car parts) transforming them with a coat of bright blue and painted white schematic lines. He has placed them on a similarly painted floor covering and surrounded them with small wall mounted video screens showing some of the objects in motion. The pieces bring to mind both architectural and mechanical drawings and props from a ‘70s science fiction movie. While it is tempting to try to figure out that the objects are, what he’s done with them is much more interesting than what life they may have had before, because he has given them a whole new life in a whole new world.
Where Amrhein’s work feels pristine and machine like, Vincent Pacheco’s are purposefully crude, like homemade tattoos. The simple black lines on white backgrounds, all 17 displayed on a giant pink wall, give them a pure and innocent feel as well. His drawings are populated by lowriders, voluptuous women with big eyelashes and bigger hair, crosses, Mercedes Benz emblems, rosaries. Work love, family, religion, and what he calls “cliches, stereotypes and old school Chicano art” are transformed.
Paintings by Vincent Pacheco and sculpture by Angel King.
Muzi Li Rowe is a photographer and a sculptor and while the content is the same, the approaches are very different.
Her beautiful still life photos are of photographic or computer equipment, usually outdated. The sculpture, as in some other recent show, is made of circuit boards, batteries and phone cases encased in resin. (Maybe a nod to UC Davis professor Lucy Puls?)
She also makes cameras that are themselves sculptures.
Rowe’s work is accessible and immediate in that it presents objects we regularly interact with such as computer and phones. Because they are mostly outdated object, they also tap into our memories. For the younger viewer, they present foreign technology that is as baffling as Maya writing systems from 2,000 years ago.
For everyone, her art provides a strong and direct reminder of where we stand in relationship to technology and it in relation to us.
Angel King’s “Buck, Tooth, Shot,” a sculpture made of an old couch stuffed with photos and draped with sheer lace curtains to which ceramic teeth and bullet shell casing are attached, speaks quietly. If there’s something Southern Gothic looking about it, King is from rural Georgia so she came by that honestly. Using other cast-off items, plastic bags, sticks, ribbon she’s made other delicate sculptures.
With just a few small “wool paintings” (dream-inspired landscape and still lifes made from colored wool) and a cutout painting on the floor, Brooklyn Johnson’s work get lost in the big room with such dominating pieces. They need an enclosed space where the viewer can have an intimate conversation with them.
It was hard to have a conversation with Terrance Wong’s work because the day I was there the sound piece wasn’t making any sound. The work includes a boom microphone encased in a small piece of ceramic, electronic equipment, photos attached to the wall, and a platform with a music stand holding score sheet inviting contributions.
Wong’s obtuse statement about the work posted nearby refers to a 1974 article written by composer/artist Max Neuhaus about policing “noise pollution” in New York. One can see where he is going, but he never follows through and the work itself does not either. One could, I suppose, look up the Neuhaus article.
Alas, the exhibition already requires one to look up so much.
The title of the exhibition is “Class of 2020.” What does that mean? It has no meaning without mention of the Ali Youssefi Project residencies. The Verge website has only the bare minimum about the exhibition stating that “The title is a nod to the unique challenges the artists faced pursuing their residencies during quarantine and largely in isolation as both the Verge and WAL communities were locked down.” What challenges? What is the Verge community? What is WAL? Unless you already know what the residence program entrails this means nothing. Verge doubles down on useless information with a text panel the lobby, not the gallery, with a vague statement about the Ali Youssefi Project. To learn about that, you’ll have to go to the Ali Youssefi Project website. (Here’s what I came up off the top of my head: local artists get a free studio space and a stipend and those from away get an apartment, a studio and a stipend. They all get to show at Verge.)
You’ll also have to go to the Ali Youssefi Project website to learn anything about the artists because there are no artists’ bios in the exhibition or on the Verge website.
Are all these oversights due to carelessness, cluelessness, a provincial outlook thinking everyone knows these things, or fallout from the pandemic? Probably a little of all this.
The Verge website does have an elaborate tour of the exhibition allowing one to virtually walk through the gallery. But you don’t really need that now that Verge is open.
And even so, this is not a well-designed exhibition virtually or IRL. Other than Amrhein and Pacheco’s installations severing as big bookends there is no design.
Although “contemporary” is not part of the Verge name, that is the art it shows. And with showing new, adventuresome art that can be daunting and difficult comes a responsibility beyond just sticking it in a room.
To its credit Verge is holding a series of online conversations with the participating artists. Maybe that will shed some light on what’s going on.
Last few days to see MFA exhibition (ends April 3)
Mercy Hawkins’ sculptures.
A real “class of” exhibition is taking in Sacramento. Second ( and final year) UC Davis Master of Fine students. COVID has once again put the annual graduate student exhibition on campus online, so the eight teamed up with UC Davis alum and artist Chris Daubert and the B. Sakara Garo Gallery to get their work out there. Taking part are Havilah Aos, Sam Arcara, Jesse Aylsworth, Dino Capaldi, Genevra Dale, Mercy Hawkins, Gretchen LeMaistre, Dani Torvik (Due diligence for the students and myself – this show is not formally associated with the university.)
The students take over the gallery and a larger space a few doors away with wide ranging, often fun, always thoughtful, and frequently monumental, works.
Several stand out for me:
Mercy Hawkins who’s sort of figurative sewn sculptures are imaginative and well-constructed and with the large number she has done they are an exhibition in themselves.
Genevra Dale’s big blue cloth sculptures, like Hawkins works seem friendly, but also are lush and luxurious. You may not be allowed to embrace them with your arms, but they embrace you.
Sam Arcara’s photographs of fire devastated California are powerful in capturing the destruction, but also formally beautiful. His photos are all in one smaller room displayed around a miniature fire-blackened cell tower he has built. The installation takes us to the place where this happened.
Gretchen LeMaistre is another photographer who like Arcara is focused on one thing. She is even more focused, aiming her camera from above on the stages of reconstructing a large swimming pool. Each piece is made up of several black and white photos pieced together and displayed frameless.
I’ve put off writing anything recently for a variety of reasons. Lazy, busy, masked. It’s been so long WordPress has changed its format.
Feeling visited by the past recently, kinda sorta bittersweet
(The first part of this has little to do with Northern California art, but indulge me or ignore me. Or ask the local media to cover the arts here.)
A couple of days ago I was able to go to a Zoom forum with Leo Twiggs, an artist I got to know fairly well during my former life as an arts journalist in the South. In the 1970s, he began using batik of all things for his paintings and at the same time began incorporating images of the Confederate Flag in his work. He has continued to address social and political issues in his work – leaving interpretation to the viewers – but along with the flag (usually presented as torn and ragged and fading), targets and silhouettes frequently showed up in his art. One of his most recent series was about the murder of nine people at a Bible study class by a white supremacist at a Charleston, SC, church in 2015 and more recently about the police killing of George Floyd.
Twiggs reminded me that I got him in “trouble” for quoting him calling the flag “that old rag.” We both agreed it was “good trouble.”
Twiggs is 86 and shows no signs of slowing down. (He has an exhibition at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Ga.)
Earlier this year another artist I got to know passed away. Philip Morsberger was a fun force of nature. When I posted on Facebook about his death, I began hearing from people who knew him from his decade at the California College of Arts and Crafts and they all liked and admired him as much as I.
I met him when he became eminent scholar of art at Augusta State University in 1996. He remained in Augusta after retiring. (He had also taught at UC Berkeley and Dartmouth and was the Ruskin Master of Drawing at Oxford.)
Morsberger was 88 when he died and although he’d been battling illness for several years, he kept making remarkable paintings. His art was full of life and color and funny faces, but it was also serious and in the ‘60s he did a number of paintings specifically addressing the Civil Rights Movement. The Morris Museum put together a nice video about him a few years back.
A few weeks ago, the UC Davis art history program held a seminar on Black representation in museum collecting, exhibitions and programming featuring art historians/curators/scholars Bridget Cooks and Susan Mullin Vogel. It was very insightful and informative event but I wish it had lasted three or four hours rather than two. One person whose name came up was Merton Simpson, mentioned for his role as a ground-breaking dealer of African art dealer starting in the 1950s. Not mentioned was that Simpson was also a great artist of often confrontational paintings – some titled “Confrontation” – and his work was shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim. He was also an accomplished musician.
Simpson was from Charleston, S.C., where there was no place for a young black man to study art. William Halsey, one of the few contemporary artists in South Carolina, gave Merton private lessons for free. They had a bond that continued through both their lives.
Halsey and Twiggs became friends and artistic colleagues as well.
To come full circle, one of Halsey and his wife the artist Corrie McCallum’s daughters, Paige, attended Twiggs’ online talk.
I’m lucky to have crossed paths with all these artists. And I could add a lot more to the list of artists, musicians, curators I’ve had to good fortune to meet. Thanks for allowing me to wallow in a bit of nostalgia.
CapRadio has some New Music Now!
One thing that has bothered me since moving to the area nearly 8 years ago (!!!!) is the lack of interest in what can be called, for lack of a better term, contemporary classical music. (I won’t bore you with all the details, but where I came from had an extraordinarily vibrant new music scene.) When I came to work at UC Davis I was thrilled to discover its doctoral program in music composition. During non-pandemic times I hear so many new works from these young composers.
My view on interest in new music in the area has become more positive thanks in part to “Saturdays at 6” (well we know when it is on, even if we don’t know what it is about) launched by Capitol Public Radio late last year. Hosted by Kevin Daugherty, the network’s classical music director, the two-hour program will provide something for nearly anyone’s taste in new music, including works that are very connected to classical, other bringing in the aural world of rock, jazz and whatever else you might think of.
I consider myself a big new music fan, but I’ve learned about so many composers by listening to the show (some who I don’t want to hear again.) Some names you might know recently featured: Arvo Pärt, Andrew Bird, Laurie Anderson, John Adams, Phillip Glass, Missy Mazzoli, Steve Reich, Danny Elfman, Max Richter, Gian Carlo Menotti — can you say “eclectic”?
The show has been getting plenty of feedback on the CapRadio Music Facebook page which is really encouraging. Maybe I’ve found some more of my people.
Personally and musically, I was very taken with “Through the Mangrove Tunnels,” by Scott Lee, inspired by Weedon Island in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he used to spend time while growing up — as did I.
Anyway, check in out.
Various visual art items
The second year MFA students at UC Davis have a big exhibition at the B. Sakaro Garo gallery and space next door in Sacramento. Opening event Saturday, 3-13. At this writing I’ve not seen it.
Two solid shows at the Pence Gallery in Davis.
“The Decameron” by Judith Foosaner (another octogenarian who taught at the California College of Arts and Crafts on and off for 30 years, is a huge installation in blacks and whites the parts of which she created during the 12 months of lockdown.
Across the hall is the smaller but no less impressive “Devoted Timelessness” by Susan Tonkin Riegel consisting of colorful drawings/paintings/collages (some with stitching as well) along with a number of black and white two-sided works displayed like sculptures in the gallery center.
I don’t really have the time or space to do a proper review, but will say they are well worth seeing. Both are up through April 18.
And finally, sadly, at the start of the year ArtSpace 1616 in Sacramento quietly announced that they were closing. The gallery opened around the time I moved to the area and it was an art home away from home. I also think it was the best gallery in Sacramento. I saw a lot of art in the wonderful huge space by younger artists, but also saw a great deal of art by older artists of the region who had been in the spotlight decades ago and were brought back into it by the gallery. It might have been a repeat performance for some art viewers, but to me it was all brand new and I learned as much about Sacramento art history there as I did anywhere. I don’t know exactly why the gallery, run by Mima and Numan Begovic – two fantastic people — closed but I wish them well. It was the fucking best.
Nov. 11. 2020
‘Wayne Thiebaud 100’
As imaginative as its title
The Crocker Art Museum reopened a month or so ago and I was there the next day to see “Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints and Drawings.” I took notes and photos and then proceeded to not write about it. The exhibition of 100 works celebrates Thiebaud’s 100th birthday this month. Half are from the museum collection, the other half from the artist, family and foundation. It covers his career from 1960 (with a handful of earlier pieces) showing the development of his distinctive style and subject of carefully and uniquely observed painting of cakes, pies, people, cityscapes, landscapes, and a few more subjects. While best known for his lushly rendered dessert paintings that you want to lick and that are justifiably celebrated, his other subject matter is just as strong and often more creatively adventuresome. He’s also a consummate printmaker and that work is well represented in this exhibition.
One reason I didn’t write about the show immediately is that I was underwhelmed. So I went back again and found the problem: the exhibition isn’t that good. Since 2104, I’ve lived in Thiebaud’s territory and worked at UC Davis where he taught for 30+ years and have seen many well-conceived Thiebaud exhibitions and so much amazing art by him, so maybe I’m spoiled. But that doesn’t negate the issues with this exhibition.
That doesn’t mean the art isn’t good. There are some of his finest still life and figurative paintings, with the large scale single and double figure works providing the visual monumentality in the main gallery that complement the mostly smaller still life paintings. But placement of two large landscapes – again some of his most distinctive and powerful paintings — in the adjacent hallway-like gallery steals power the big gallery could use. The exhibition is sorely lacking in his larger landscape and cityscape works. Most here are smaller and on paper (mainly prints that he augments with hand work) There’s not a single significant mountains/canyon work and those are as good and exciting as anything in his long career.
With all the art loaned by the artists the museum has some works probably not available to other institutions. If some of the works in the exhibition have never or rarely been seen by the public or there’s something extra special about them, the exhibition doesn’t emphasize that. And the inclusion of some of these needs an explanation. Maybe the Crocker couldn’t come up with a new spin on an artist it has been showing for 70 years; seems like that would make them qualified to come up with the best spin. Also, way too many mentions of Pop Art in the text.
Among the standouts on loan from the artist (and his family and foundation) are a view across a table and out a window of the steep hills of San Francisco from ‘93, a large drawing of a man on a gurney, a densely crosshatched etching of chocolates, and a wonderful completely naturalistic pastel of green hills and trees.
The museum has put up 13 of his 17-piece etching and aquatint series from 64 called “Delights.” They are delights indeed.
Thiebaud’s main subject matter (food, people, cityscapes, landscapes) emerged more or less chronologically from ’60 – 68 then he went from one two another as he wished. The exhibition follows this chronology/subject matter path which is logical, but also looks lazy. And chronologically the newest pieces just feel like an overflow into the hallway gallery. That space would have been better used as a showcase for something specific (drawing, prints, sketchbooks, pre-1960 work, only work from the past year or two, a biographical gallery, work by his students.)
The inclusion of a few pre-60s paintings (a jewel of a study for his SMUD mural, a self-portrait from the 1947) are good for background and context in that the museum gave the artist his first solo show before his mature style emerged. What doesn’t make sense is looking into the gallery, the first painting one sees is a painting of a breaking wave from 1958. Even those who know Thiebaud’s work would be hard pressed to recognize it as his work and that is unlike 99.7 percent of the rest of the show. It makes no sense.
Go to the Crocker and celebrate the great painter’s life and art, be happy he has been with us for so long and is still here and still making art. Just don’t go expecting a thoughtful, definitive exhibition commensurate with his centennial.
(Thiebaud grew up in the Los Angeles area and during high school worked on cartoons for Walt Disney Studios. He worked as a cartoonist and designer and after serving in the military during World War II earned art degrees from what is now California State University, Sacramento, and has lived in Sacramento since the 1940s. After teaching at Sacramento City College, he was hired by UC Davis in 1960 and retired in 1991 although he continued teaching for a decade.)
“Jerald Silva: Through Another Looking Glass” at Artspace 1616
For one reason or another I’ve just made it to “Jerald Silva: Through Another Looking Glass” at Artspace 1616. Silva been around his hometown of Sacramento and active as an artist for most of his 84 years, but I don’t ever recall encountering his work before. MY LOSS.
The gallery used a couple of photos of Silva’s painting in promoting the show and they looked beautiful, especially one of an older standing woman in a kimono glowing in the center of a room. A photo of an artwork, especially online, often tells one very little about the actual artwork. In this case the photo looked really good; IRL it looks even better. But then again, EVERYTHING in this exhibition – that in spanning 40 years is a mini retrospective — looks great.
Although he uses watercolors, these are not traditional watercolors. Silva uses sizing on the paper which means that the pigment does not become one with the paper. The paint stays on the surface; the colors looks like watercolor, but the overall effect is different. I must have seen this technique before but I don’t remember where or when.
The bulk of the exhibition is large figurative works, something I’m a fan of, sometimes solo figures, sometimes several. They are beautiful and well composed, intricately painted with colors, fabrics and flesh gorgeously rendered. There are a handful of faces. Several of the earliest works from the 1970s have a more traditional watercolor approach, but he subject matter and painting style are similar to later work.
Silva has also headed in a new direction, focusing more on the landscape, but seen in a very different ways, as if through a foggy window. These are also large works and it is so exciting to see an artist in his ninth decade continue to explore and push himself.
I go to a lot of art shows and this is one of the few that blew me away. It’s on display until Nov. 29. See it. He has a good website with many images and other goodies. I’m waiting for the museum exhibition now.
Here and there in Sacramento
I saw the newest show at b. sakata garo before it officially opened (opens Saturday) so no labels although gallery owner Barry Sakata was kind enough to walk me around the gallery and ID the artists. Some are unmistakable – starting with a Richard Diebenkorn ink drawing, and others that I sort of recognized are Paul Wonner, David Park, Elmer Bischoff. The exhibition celebrates Wayne Thiebaud’s 100th birthday. With artists like this you know it is good. Among my favorites: small abstract painting by Mike Henderson, a big painting of a sinking ships at sea and a kissing couple by Squeak Carnwath (pictured), a cubist tondo of a horse by Hung Liu, , and a beautiful large nude drawing by the man himself.
Through Dec. 5.
The huge space in the building across the alley from sakata garo that previously housed a wide range of mostly bad art, is now an art project space overseen by Sakata (I think.) The first project is a doozy by Robert Ortbal. Giant rabbit heads, tiny plastic figures he has muted, bunch or small sculptures of various shapes and sizes. There must be at least 100 works and it is all pretty wonderful. “The Be Cool Club” opens Saturday eve and continues through Dec. 6.
For both these contact the gallery directly for appointment and hours.
Also ducked into Jay Jay Gallery to see the solo show by Michael Sarich. He’s best known for his big paintings that incorporates pop culture imagery (think Mickey Mouse) and there are some of those in this exhibition. What really stands out are the smaller pieces of paintings/drawings/constructions surrounded by ceramic skulls. And there’s a giant free-standing sculpture with some smiley face knobs all over it that is a must see. (Not sure of the details; nothing on gallery website. Best to contact the gallery directly.)
And finally saw wonderful and weird “patience bottles” by Steve Moseley at Arthouse. The St. Louis artist constructs scenes with hand carved wooden figures inside bottles (and a few paintings) commenting on social, religious or political issues of the past and present. So you can find the three wise men visiting a strip club and a confrontation better a group of citizens and cops standing over a black man they have handcuffed and on his face. Sorry to say, but I think the show is over.
Mysterious objects in the dark, bright colors in the light
In Davis, we’re lucky to have the Pence Gallery where I’ve seen so many great shows.
The most recent is Chris Daubert’s “Firewood, An Installation.” Over the past couple of months I watched some of this work come together on Daubert’s FB page, but wasn’t prepared for this installation. The 10 individual works, made of wood originally destined for the fireplace, are mounted around the gallery perimeter behind black scrims, each individually lighted and the windows of the gallery blacked out. This lends the already strange objects an even greater sense of mystery.
The sculptures range from vase like objects to multiwheeled piece that reminds one of the wacky bicycles you can sometimes see around Davis. Three of the vases’ have beautiful turned bottoms with the tops remaining raw chunks of wood, while others are completely carved into complex shapes. Looking through the haze of the scrim your reminded of Morandi’s paintings of vases and bottles, and indeed, one is called “Morandi 2 A slatted house structure is the largest piece, shooting out light like it is burning with more than fire. A piece in the shape of three paper airplanes show how Daubert can do so much with so little.
Having been teased with earlier images of the works, I was a little disappointed to not get to experience the wood more intimately, but this is a bold show.
It is up through Nov 29.
Also showing at the Pence is Sara Post who has taken some new directions that show a new direction with an emphasis on line and color. “This is Not a Dream” is still dominated by the beautiful calm muted colors and shapes that are sometimes nebulous, other times solid and strong, evoking city and landscapes. I was most taken with a group of very small works by the gallery entrance. It can be seen through Nov. 1.
Just back from a residency in her native Mexico, Aida Lizalde’s new exhibition, “Vessel/Fountain” at Axis Gallery has more of an emphasis on 2-D works from an artist better known for sculptures. But with many of them being made of thick topographically surfaced paper, the material she was working with in Mexico, they’re still close to sculpture, and the larger pieces are hung from the ceiling to be viewed from both sides. All the works, including smaller framed ones, incorporate collage, printmaking and other techniques with the paper.
There is one large sculpture on the floor that mixes paper objects with bricks and cement block, and two smaller sculptures, one of which includes items found at culturally significant sites in Mexico City.
With 20 pieces all made recently and installed shortly after she returned to Sacramento it is an ambitious exhibition that fulfills its ambition. Though Oct. 31. The gallery is currently only open noon to 5 on Saturdays by appointment. If you can’t make it then ask if they can make another day/time work.
The supernaturally productive and energetic Julia Couzens (artist, writer, curator) has a BIG show of all new work at the b. sakata garo gallery in Sacramento. I’m never sure how her sculptures, seemingly construction of random cloth or cloth like material, actually hang together, but hang together they do.
She often uses fabric of ugly pattens and colors, pairs them with more of the same, tosses in some fake fur, nylon shock cord, an entire skein of yarn, and comes up with something that is fun and compelling and thought provoking. One can study the pieces for a long time, getting lost in the materials and compositions, watching sometimes representational elements emerge. There are two funny/scary figurative works. On many levels, Couzens artworks remind me of paintings in which the paint has decided to be a lot more active than paint normally is. With one exception, all hang unframed, sometimes spilling down the wall and onto the floor. It’s controlled chaos.
Most of the 15 pieces are on the smaller side (3-feet by 3 feet or so), but there’s one about 6 feet by 6 feet that resembles a landscapes seen from the air, with a large green swatch (a blanket) surrounded by whites and tans and brown, as opposed to the sometimes garish colors in other works. It’s a real stunner.
The exhibition is up until the end of October. Contact the gallery for an appointment.
(Full disclosure: Daubert, Lizalde and Couzens all hold degrees from UC Davis where I work and where part of my job is promoting the work of UC Davis alums. That’s not what this is. Also, I own art by Lizalde.)
Art Gets Rolling Again
Wanted to do a quick rundown of some exhibitions I was recently able to see before some others come up.
You only have a few more days to see Vincent Pacheco’s “Smile Now, Cry Later” installation at The Garage on the Grove in Sacramento. Pacheco, who I met when he was an MFA student at UC Davis a few years ago, has filled the garage/gallery with pinatas in the shape of pistols, a thick stack of Benjamins, a VHS tape, brass knuckles and more. For those who saw his rustic cabin in the graduate exhibition he was part of, this may come as a surprise. It’s a very compelling show, with the pieces finding a fine line between threat and humor. The bright pink walls make the whole place vibrate. The gallery will be open Saturday night (with a performance by another recent UC Davis MFA, Orang Hutan. If you want to go a different day/time, contact them.
From Garage to Barn
Also close by is a great exhibition at the Barn Gallery, that is part of Yolo Arts in Woodland. Memories of a New Future by seven artists explore time, travel, space … actually I’m not sure what it explores, but there is plenty of intriguing work by the Lynn Beldner, Steve Briscoe, Melissa Chandon, Chris Daubert, and Glenda and Jesse Drew (photo).
It’s a fun and thoughtful mix: Brisco’s playful non-functional shovels, Daubert’s beautiful scrap metal sculpture, and the Drews wall works that interact with videos.
This is the second time I’ve been to the gallery and the second time I’ve seen a solid show there.The show is up through Nov. 14.
Art and AI
I was at the DeYoung Museum of Art in San Francisco a few days after it reopened, mostly to get back inside a museum – which didn’t work out exactly as planned. I wanted to see the temporary exhibition “Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI” (that opened just before everything shut down) and to just wander around the collection.
Not surprisingly, “Uncanny Valley” involves many screens and quite a bit of sound and it is the kind of work that some people, including me, have trouble fitting into the category of art. Maybe I just needed to be in a museum or maybe this work is just strong, but I was taken with it. Nearly all is highly complex, mining all kinds of data, to create physical/visual representation that do more than simply convey the information.
The collective Forensic Architecture explores a widely-distributed teargas grenade called the triple-chaser, showing how to identify it among millions of other images and visual clutter through a hectic video with flashing colors and changing backgrounds. It also pairs the video with Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” a favorite of Warren Kanders, CEO of the company that make the grenades. Kanders was a vice-chairman of the Whitney Museum of American Art, until protests led to his resignation last year.
Trevor Paglen’s “They Took the Faces from the Accused and the Dead . . .” is a wall of 3,000 mugshots the American National Standards Institute used to train early facial-recognition technologies — without the consent of those pictured.
Visitors can become part of Lynn Hershman Leeson’s “Shadow Stalker;” it allows viewers to see the trail of data they have left behind online — their digital alter ego.
The entire exhibition is well designed and is fairly easy to navigate. There is a LOT OF TEXT and it is well written and extremely helpful.
“Uncanny Valley” runs through next June.
After getting through that I explored a few galleries in the museum (I’d forgotten there was so much 19th century American there) until a fire alarm went off and we all had to leave.
The Father of Bay Area Figurative
I was back at SFMOMA, I believe the day it reopened to members.
While I’d have been happy to return just to go to the museum, there was another great reason: a David Park retrospective. The first one in 30 years.
Park was a Bay Area artist who in the early ‘50s made the then-radical move back to the figure from abstraction – becoming the center of what came to be called the Bay Area Figurative Movement.
The exhibition covers his career from early figurative paintings from the 1930s to his death in 1960 at only 49. There are even a few non-representational pieces that didn’t go the dump with the rest he left there (most show the heavy hand of Picasso.)
Although it covers his entire careers, it is not a huge show, but has some of his finest works, many smaller pieces and a large number from private collections that are rarely seen by the public. I could have done with a bigger show and am wondering if the pandemic had an impact on what made it to the museum.
One of the best know paintings is “Four Men” from 1958 on loan from the Whitney, with its four simplified figures, three on the beach and one in a rowboat his back facing us.
Like many of his painting, Park’s placement of the figures from front to back adds a real dynamism. This can be seen most dramatically in a 1950 painting of boys on bikes one riding away and in the distance, the other almost coming through the picture plane.
Along with a handful of monumental (by Park’s standards anyway) are many medium and small work where his muscular brushstrokes and confident paint application can be appreciated even more.
The exhibition includes quite a few small paintings on paper (too many), Park did during his final illness. The prize among this late work is a 7-inch by 17-foot scroll painting that is a travelogue through his life. (About 10 feet of it can be seen but the whole can be video on video.)
A companion exhibition, “David Park and His Circle” contains mostly fast sketches of models done in weekly sessions with Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and others. If the model didn’t show up, they posed for one another. (That’s Park drawn by Diebenkorn.)
Last or No Chance Show
Because it is closing in just a few days, and I’m running out of time, I’d be remiss not to mention the decades-spanning photography exhibition An American Project by Dawoud Bey. It includes work from his “Harlem USA” series of the late 1970s, though a project commemorating the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and recently landscape nocturnes imagining the journey of a fugitive slave moving along the Underground Railroad.
The last day is Oct. 12, but the museum is offering free admission through Oct. 18 and I hear all the tickets are gone gone gone. Such a shame because nearly the entire run of this important show was wiped out by the pandemic.
Back in the galleries
After not being able to visit galleries or museums for months, this week I’ve been able to go to several. I posted on FB a few days ago about a couple of shows at the Pence Gallery in Davis, but those closed yesterday so I’ll skip them. And in a few days I plan to visit Axis Gallery and will report back on the exhibition there.
Some galleries in San Francisco are open with appointments, and it seemed like it would be a lot cooler there, and I’d not been since the start of all THIS, so I dropped out of a kayaking trip Saturday and headed down. I’m going to run through these in an order that makes sense to me, but I’m saving the best for last; yeah I know better, but I don’t care. (I’d also note that all these places are fairly close to one another, so it’s a lot of art in a concentrated area.)
“Orlando’ at McEvoy Foundation
The originating impetus for venturing out was “Orlando,” at the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, organized by actor Tilda Swinton and connected to the groundbreaking 1992 movie of the same name she starred in. And my motivation for that was the participation of UC Davis professor emeritus Lynn Hershman Leeson who has worked with Swinton several times. The exhibition explores identity, gender and history, largely through photographic techniques.
Hershman Leeson’s offering is primarily connected to the alternative character “Roberta Breitmore,” she became for several years, getting a credit card, apartment and seeing a psychiatrist as her.
Also included is “Orlando” director Sally Potter’s book about the movie made before the movie as a pitch device to studios. Almost no one was interested or thought it was possible to make a movie based on the Virginia Woolf book.
The works range from documentary to the experimental, with the medium reflecting the richness of gender and identity.
The exhibition is visually dominated by the huge lush, pseudo-historical photos (“Orlando Series”) by Mickalene Thomas.
Through Sept. 5, reservations required.
Two Shows at Minnesota Street
More or less across the street at the Minnesota Street Project, McEvoy has another exhibition, “In This Light,” by four artists showing work created during the pandemic or pieces that were going to be in exhibitions that were canceled.
The Minnesota Street Project was on the to-see list for the group show “Invincible Summer” drawn from most of the commercial galleries (many closed, some open by appointment) at the center where so many galleries now have homes. Each gallery selected artworks that responded to the “invincible summer” line in an Albert Camus essay, “that expresses hopefulness in the face of challenge.” Not sure the show succeeds at that or even if the specific pieces do, but if you’re like me you see most art as an expression of hope in the face of a challenge (such as the challenge of making art.)
As expected the work is all over the place in content and quality and is rich and fun and thoughtful because of that.
Standouts for me are the silver ghosts of Beverly Rayner’s “Holding On;” Agelio Batle’s shaped black “painting” in gold frame “Black Mirror;” Amani Lewis’ crazy mixed up media “Giovanni in the Meadows;” and Hung Liu’s docu-interpretation-expressionist “Fetching Water III.”
(See it online. You need a reservation to see the show and it is a complete pain to find the link to do so, so here it is: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/1275-minnesota-st-admission-tickets-110291625220)
30th anniversary at Brian Gross
The first stop was, as it often is on SF gallery trips, Brian Gross Fine Arts. The Utah Stret gallery is having a 30th anniversary exhibition including works by artist it has represented over that time and in some cases the entire time. As the gallery states, it isn’t a comprehensive exhibition, but is a great sampling of artists.
I knew there would be some UC Davis folks and there were. The earliest piece in the show is Robert Arneson’s “Blueprint for Self-Portrait” from ’69. There are also a couple of sculptures by Arenson, along with works by UC Davis professors Robert Hudson and Roy De Forest.
The show has a surprisingly large number of beautiful hard-edged abstract paintings (and one sculpture) by Pard Morrison, Mokha Laget, Cheonae Kim and others. Those who would rather looks a works that are made up of a bunch of tiny marks, turn to Andrea Way, Teo González, and Adam Flower. What I really liked: Dana Hart-Stone’s piece made up of repeated photos and the print-tin collage by Tony Berlant. With 32 artists, most represented by more than one work, this varied show goes quite a way toward quenching a thirst for art.
Up until Aug. 29, reservations required.
Hotheads by Julie Heffernan
I only decided Saturday morning to see what the Catharine Clark Gallery (in the same building as Gross) had going on. Oh, Julie Heffernan; sign me up.
Didn’t really know exactly what the show, “Hotheads,” would be, but when I left the gallery to make my next art appointment I told them, “I should have blocked out two hours for this show.”
The exhibition revolves around a series of huge paintings of a nude woman (a kind of self portrait) celebrating other women thought the scrolls she holds and portraits that surround her of women ranging from Artemisia Gentileschi to Joni Mitchell and a lot more, as well as well-known paintings from the past.
The more you look, the more you see. Heffernan is doing some rich cultural mining here, tapping into so many sources and loading the paintings up with content. As usually they are visually stunning,from composition to the miracles she makes the paint do. They’re full of magical power and some humor (check out “Girl Party”). Did I mention, they are BIG painting. The work in “Hotheads” goes back to 2014, but all of those full length “self-portraits” were done in the last two years which is remarkable.
Part of the show is a “hotheads” wall for which Heffernan invited other artists to make a work about other “hotheads.”
An aside: I first saw Heffernan’s work in person at P.P.O.W. in NYC around 2003. I was taken with the magic of the paintings where figures dissolved into light or butterflies or birds, where the world was lighted by strange fire, where the giant baby in the turban or the co-joined twin girls with 17th century French hair looked like places and people I wanted to spend more time with. Talking to the people at the gallery I learned they were interested in working with museums traveling the works, and I suggested they contact the Columbia (S.C.) Museum of Art. That worked out and the museum hosted “Everything That Rises” in 2006. The museum even purchased a painting.
The exhibition is up through Sept. 5. Although I recommend seeing it IRL there’s a great video interview with the artists on the Catharine Clark Gallery website where you can also make a viewing reservation.
Live from Folsom Prison in Photos
In May of 1968, the recording “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison” was released and if everything wasn’t closed, you could see a photo exhibition about it at the Pence Gallery in Davis. “Folsom Prison: A Redemption” is made up of 32 photos by Gene Beley and Dan Poush, mostly from the two January 1968 concerts at Folsom. The highlights are the concert photos, candid backstage shots and Cash posing outside the stony prison gatehouse.
A photojournalistic exhibition is unusual for the Pence Gallery, but it’s a nice addition thanks to the regional connection. An exhibition like this isn’t completely defeated by being viewed online either. Nearly half the photos can be seen online at the websites of the Pence and show organizer ExhibitionsUSA. In addition, gallery director Natalie Nelson created a nice video tour.
The performance photos that show the inmate audience are among the best, along with a handful of the backstage pictures that include June Carter. (Carter and Cash married two months after the concert.) Many photos include the other musicians who played at the concert, including Cash’s old Sun Records labelmate Carl Perkins. There’s a mix of black and white and color throughout, with all the portraits of Cash at the gates in color. Even those posed photos aren’t all that posed, seeming to catch Cash looking ready to move on.
There’s a photo of Cash with inmate Glenn Sherley who wrote the song “Greystone Chapel” that Cash performed and is included on the recording. We see Cash a few days before the concerts with his parents in Oakview, California, where they lived at and ran the Johnny Cash Trailer Ranchero. He and his wife Vivian and their four daughters had lived nearby. Scattered among the Folsom photos are shots from concerts in Riverside, Anaheim and San Bernardino.
The Folsom Prison concert was far from Cash first foray into making music by and about prison and prisoners. He wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” way back in 1953 and recorded it in 1955. Cash had been doing prison concerts since 1958. The first one was at San Quentin where Merle Haggard, serving time for robbery, heard him.
The Folsom album marked Cash’s comeback after a few slow years and a year later, Cash had his own television show. That’s really where I first encountered him as a kid although I was too young to realize how groundbreaking that show was. His career would take another dip again, and he was even dropped by his longtime record label in the 1980s before coming back as part of the country music supergroup The Highwaymen. The last decade of his life was among his most productive with his collaboration with producer Rick Rubin and songs from Trent Reznor, Nick Lowe, Chris Cornell and others that introduced him to a new audience. It was some of his best work.
I got to see Cash perform at a music park in the Georgia in the early 1980s. I even got to very briefly interview him then, but that that consisted of me asking about his custom-made boots in a gravel parking. (Turns out one of the camera crew there in the parking lot was from “60 Minutes” so I appeared with Cash on “60 Minutes” for about 60 seconds a few months later.)
Not all of the photos are technically great, and little of it will be a surprise to Cash fans, but it will still please them.
Axis Gallery in Sacramento has been one of my favorite places and one of the best places to see art in the last few years. Run by artists for artists, the gallery isn’t letting a pandemic get in the way of a good show.
That’s the show by Mark Emerson and Justin Marsh that you can see online. Emerson, who early a MFA from UC Davis in ’94, does colorful geometric painting, that explore color and form in a wide range of approaches, from grids to oddly overlapping blocks of paint. His 10 paintings were one between 2008 and 2014.
Marsh, a preparator at the Manetti Shem Museum at UC Davis, frequently has figurative elements in his paintings (sometimes human figures, sometime object like wheelbarrows) living in a world of broad swatches of painted background and geometric elements. But just as often he’s working completely abstractly in a very loose manner and also has two pieces where text in the primary element. In addition, there are two of Marsh’s videos. All of it is interesting, but it is too much. Where’s the curator?!
I will not pretend that looking at art, especially paintings like these, many of them quite large, is a substitute for the real thing, but here we are. And the work is really exciting. All that goes for the next item too.
An artist I met and first wrote about when he was just starting out, Brian Rutenberg, is in an online group show at Nancy Toomey Fine Art in San Francisco. He grew up in South Carolina (that’s where I know him from) but has long lived in New York where he has a show at Forum Gallery. Forum has created a video of his current show there.
Two recent UC Davis recent MFAs, Muzi Li Rowe, and Vincent Pacheco, have been awarded Ali Youssefi Project residencies in Sacramento. That makes four of the five recipients of the award’s recent graduates of the UC Davis MFA program, the others bring Jodi Connelly and Brooklynn Johnson.
The UC Davis Arts Newsletter is something I do every month and I’m happy to say it continues in spite of the pandemic. The university has arts events online and I’m happy that this downtime for performances has allowed us to share already existing videos of university performances .
Don’t judge to soon: landscape painting and narrative ceramics at Crocker Art Museum
After a recent conversations with a friend, I felt like telling him to avoid “contempt prior to investigation.” I didn’t have “contempt” for a couple of exhibitions that recently opened at the Crocker Art Museum, but admit to some unfounded negative expectations prior to seeing “Granville Redmond: The Eloquent Palette” and “American Expressions/African Roots: Akinsanya Kambon’s Ceramic Sculpture.”
It might be easy to dismiss Redmond, who spent nearly his entire career from the 1890s to his death in 1935, capturing the California landscape on canvas. Redmond was a very fine painter as this exhibition of 85 works shows, but he got pigeonholed as the “poppy painter.” He wasn’t happy with the title, but found that those works were the ones he could sell. The museum doesn’t completely help revise his reputation by making 50 percent of the exhibition poppy painting, several almost identical. At the same time, one can’t fault the museum for providing an accurate rendering of his artistic output. Fortunately most of the other paintings provide a much-needed broader perspective of the artist’s work.
The first painting, and I believe the only one from a few years he spent in Paris in the 20s during the 1890s, is amazingly accomplished for a 24-year old artist from California. It is a large work, about 4 by 5, of barges in a Paris canal on a foggy morning that could stand up alongside similar works by older artists who studied and lived in France.
Nearby is a small, horizontal gathering of lemons ‘round a teacup that I could look at for hours.
The early California paintings (1898 – 1912) are moody, falling into what is dubbed Tonalism, but they remind me also of some of the more subdued artists considered Impressionists. He captures the low rolling hills and valley oaks, more distant mountains and the light at all times of the day, but especially twilight. You feel them as much as you see them. Looking at these, I turned to another viewer and said “These paintings make you want to live in California, don’t they?”
What really grabbed me in many of these painting is the sky. We are not talking big billowy clouds or thunderheads, but dappled, subdued and subtle tones of light blue, gray, pink, gold, and lavender. (Later works come with big white puffy clouds.)
Redmond’s brighter palette, and poppies blossom after 1910, first quietly but getting turned up as time passes. There are great paintings with fields of flowers in the exhibition — really almost off of them solid, interesting paintings, but the repetition gets repetitious. And there are a scattering of not very good paintings that could have been cut. The exhibition spills out of the main gallery into a hallway gallery; the exhibition would have benefited from not having this space, because like many shows, it would be better with less.
I can understand the dismissal of Redmond as a painter of nothing more than pretty flower pictures, but once you see the breadth of his work that this exhibition provides you’ll see him as much more.
Though May 17.
(Interesting side notes about Redmond. A case of scarlet fever as a child rendered him deaf. He attended what would become the California School for the Deaf where his artistic skills were encouraged. Several of the painting in the exhibition belong to the school. He developed a friendship with Charlie Chaplin to whom he taught sign language. He appeared in several of Chaplin’s movies as well as those by others.)
I saw a photo of one of Akinsanya Kambon’s figures on horseback in a local publication and thought it didn’t look all that great. A fairly small figure looking rather crudely made with a monochromatic glaze. I’ve seen plenty of folk and outsider art and I can be a fan of crude and odd. But what I saw in my cursory glance is hardly representative of what’s in the exhibition: complex pieces that meld vessel shapes with full sculpture and relief sculpture along with a wide range glaze surfaces and colors.
Born as Mark Teemer, Kambon grew up in Sacramento and visited the museum when he was young. Early in his life he suffered serious illness, was sent to Vietnam, was in the Black Panthers, and was later diagnosis with PTSD. All that is reflected in his art as is his artistic training. He earned an MFA and was at California State University, Long Beach.
Although located in two fairly small galleries, the exhibition teems with energy, tapping into the power and presence of ceramics, the figure and spiritual/political content. Kambon isn’t afraid of mixing things up, be it content or form and it pays off. The works drawn on African and African American designs and history, religious art of Africa, and American folk art of the South. Although the picture of the figure mounted on the horse
that first made me underestimate what this exhibition would be, those mounted figures – linked both to African society and the black Buffalo soldier and cowboys of the American West – are some of the best work in the show.
It is a very solid exhibition. The only issue I have is that everything is under Plexiglas boxes. I sort of understand why they’ve protected like this, but it distracts greatly from the art.
Through July 5.
There are a couple more exhibitions at the Crocker I didn’t have time to take in during a recent visit. Hope to get back to them soon.
A Sort of Grand Tour
Circumnavigating San Pablo Bay for Art and Architecture
Timing (mine and the world’s) and geography worked out Saturday for an artistic circumnavigation of San Pablo Bay on Saturday. On the route were recently opened, or closing before long, exhibitions and an architectural landmark I needed to spend more time with. And it looked like a nice drive though vineyards and wetlands.
(If you don’t know what San Pablo Bay is, it is the bay that is north of and connected to the San Francisco Bay.)
di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
The first stop was a bit north of the bay proper at the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
There are one or two exhibitions depending on how you count them, by two artists, Davina Semo’s “Core Reflections” and Jim Drain’s “Membrane.” The two were commissioned to create works for di Rosa’s new “Conversations” series and make a good match.
Semo’s works, although at times using garish colors and materials, are also contemplative and quiet, even though some of the works are bells visitors can ring. A couple of the bells are polished bronze with a ringing tone, while one is dark and clunky in look and sound. Wall pieces meld mirrored pinkish surfaces with metal grids and 3-D printed seed pods.
The rest of the gallery visually vibrates from Drain’s pink walls and lawn chairs and chaises that have been rewoven with brightly colored rope and bedecked with tassels and fuzzy poofs, along with screens of similar materials. The works will be up for a year with elements put to use and moved around for talks and other events. You can sit in those chairs.
The di Rosa provides a fine description of Drain’s install saying it “riffs off of Northern California countercultural utopian design themes encompassing a mix of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes, macramé textiles, and colorful tie-dyed motifs and draws from the rich history of craft and handwork centered in the Bay Area in the 1960’s and 70’s.”
These shows are in the center’s Gallery 1 (I think it used to be called the Gatehouse Gallery) that looks out over the center’s lake, which always becomes part of whatever is in the gallery.
Unfortunately there’s no exhibition in the much larger gallery up the hill until May when Deborah Remington: Kaleidoscopic Vision opens. You can still look at the outdoor art on the grounds.
Di Rosa still seems to be suffering from fallout from its announcement about selling many of the works in its collection, loss of its chief curator and others. Maybe that has something to do with a five-month lull between shows, especially after the last two exhibitions at the center ran for 10 months each.
Next stop: Marin Museum of Contemporary Art.
I bet some of you didn’t even know there was such a place (on the edge of Novato and almost right on the bay. More about the location after the art show info.) I’d been once before several years back for an opening of an exhibition by mostly local artists which looked very much like a local artists’ show.
“Elmer Bischoff: A Survey of Paintings and Drawings, 1937 – 1972” is a whole different matter. In a word: GO!
Bischoff, along with David Park and Richard Diebenkorn, was at the forefront of the Bay Area figurative movement made up of artists who moved away from the abstraction dominant at of mid-century to re-embrace the (guess what?) figure.
This exhibition of 40 pieces starts with a couple of lovely still life paintings from Bischoff’s student days at UC Berkeley in the late 1930s. It also include many smaller drawings and sketches, a wide range of figurative paintings both large and small with a surprisingly wide range of approaches that don’t seem that connected to when they were done. Several early abstract paintings are very much of their time (in a good way) with one looking very much like Mark Rothko’s mid-1940s pictographic works.
And there are some remarkable landscapes, such as 1954’s “Landscape with Green Trees” that I felt I’d just driven past where highway 37 cuts through marshlands around the Petaluma River. More abstract and engaging though is “The Meadow” from 1954 with chunky black and blue paint/rocks/trees, leading through vibrant green slashes of tree trunks, all tightly framing a golden meadow. In many of the larger figurative paintings the landscape is a major character, especially “Cortez Square” also from 1953. For better or worse these three paintings, all done in the same small time frame, look like they could have come from three different artists.
Of the three core Bay Area figurative artists, Bischoff is the one I’m least familiar with and this is the only solo show of his work I’ve seen. I’d love to see a big Bischoff exhibition , but this one is quite good with many works on loan from private collectors and his family. (I’m interested in how this show came together, but I don’t have time at the moment to chase that down.)
Bischoff, born in 1916, was from Berkeley and after graduating from UC Berkeley taught high school in Sacramento for a few years, at the San Francisco Art Institute for a decade, and UC Berkeley for 20 years. He died in 1991. His son John carries on the artistic tradition as a composer, pioneer of live computer music and professor at Mills College.
The exhibition is up through April 12.
Exploring Hamilton Field
The last time I was at Marin MOCA it was evening and while I knew the building it is in, and surrounded by, seemed pretty cool, it was soon dark and I didn’t have time to explore. This time I did. The museum, along with artists studios, are in what was once the administration building for Hamilton Field, an Army air field opened in the 1920s and in various military uses until around 1980. Most of the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings were constructed in the 1930s and some are in good shape and been repurposed for MOCA and a history museum. Many of the houses for service members are boarded up, some giant beautiful barrack have been turned into housing and some big ugly new subdivisions have opened on some of the land.
Although some areas are off-limits there is plenty to explore, including the wetlands along the bay with a hiking and biking path. I suggest coupling it with a trip to Mare Island, another former military installation along San Pablo in Vallejo (where you can also find art and cool buildings.) Or the next stop.
An inside look at Marin Civic Center
I didn’t plan on spending that much time at Hamilton Field, but this is exactly the kind of free- floating exploration I don’t do enough of.
My next stop, the Marin Civic Center, took a similar turn. The center was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s final projects, completed in 1960, a year after his death. The entire structure as it now exists was finished in 1969.
Most of us have seen the bright blue roof and dome and golden spire speeding down Highway 101, but who the hell has time to stop? I’ve only done so once, but figured I’d do so again to get a closer look and better pics. But I’d spent so much time in Novato, that the sun was now in the west and the lighting not so hot, and the place to get close to the exterior was blocked off, and really you can see it all better from a distance. Then it turns out, the building was open. There’s a public library branch under the dome open on Saturday and there was also some primary election business going on. So I finally got a good look at the interior. (There are tours but on Wednesday and Friday mornings, so not very handy for me.)
I was thrilled to say the least.
Honestly, it’s just a lot of long hallways stacked around a four-story atrum under huge skylights (once open-air) with terracotta colored flooring, bronze-colored metal around the office windows, but it is the best in what it is; beautifully functional with just the right amount of decoration on both the exterior and interior with intersecting lines doing most of the decorative work. The library is actually under the dome, but it is not well lighted and has a rough texture so the effect is somewhat lost. But the library on entrance the fourth floor is one of the most enticing elements, pulling the eye in from afar.
There are so many fantastic details in the building, the kind of things that often get destroyed over time in public buildings: rounded water fountains, an information booth, curved benches that can be set up so they form a circle; pay telephone booths and banks (one actual pay phone), clocks, and a wooden display area for newspaper boxes. There’s room for six newspapers, and the biggest surprise (especially for me, a former and longtime journalist) is that four of them are still occupied.
This is what I learned last time I took the exit to take a closer look at the center; up close isn’t the best way to see it. You must be farther away to take in the magnificence. When you are standing next to the building, you are actually far below most interesting details. Maybe next time I can find the best places to see the building from both near and afar.
The center was Wright’s largest and last public commission and not surprisingly got wrapped up in design and cost controversies, Displays in the building provide a good primer on all that. There’s also a great model. Several adjacent Wright buildings — a post office, exhibition hall and auditorium — were completed by 1976. Make sure you include them in a visit.
Richmond Art Center
For the final leap over San Pablo Bay (officially SF Bay at this point), past San Quentin, the old and new shipyards, and on to a place that has a rich history and where I’ve always seen good exhibitions: The Richmond Art Center.
The center was founded in the 1930s and I’d tell you more about the rich history, but the center doesn’t provide that in its history. I do know that Richard Diebenkorn and other Bay Area artists had shows there early in their careers. I learned that from one of the first shows I saw there a few months after I moved here in ’14; a Diebenkorn exhibition. Since I’ve seen several more shows there and I remember them all as being good.
I’m not sure about the history and organization of the current exhibition “The Art of the African Diaspora. It appears that artists in the Bay Area were invited to drop off art and all that art was put on display. Maybe first come, first hung. A few good pieces got in.
This long-running annual exhibition was created to showcase local African American artists, but ends up being an insult to them. The intentions may be noble, but the result is not. If the center wants to provide a very inclusive forum it might be better to do so in a smaller space with a shorter run.
I don’t know it for a fact, but I do know it for a fact: there are African-American artists in the Bay Area doing important and accomplished art. They should be the ones the Richmond Art Center should show.
Got home, a nap, some food, and then a concert by The Academy of St. Martin’s the the Fields with music conductor/violinist Joshua Bell at the Mondavi Center. The chamber orchestra performed Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 6 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67.
Paganini’s music is usually played with too much flash for my taste (Hey, who do you think you are Mr./Ms Fiddler? Paganini?) With Bell it was all substance (not to say there were not fireworks).
How many times have I heard B’s 5th … probably more than 5 times, usually with a larger orchestra and orchestras that are not nearly this good. I almost felt like I was hearing it for the first time.
A quick note closer to home. The Pence Gallery in Davis mounts many solid shows in its fine downtown space. The current “Water + Color National Juried Exhibit” is not one of them. It reminds me of almost every juried watercolor exhibition I’ve even seen, and I’ll tell you, I have seen a lot. There are a handful of accomplished works that have solid content, content and a masterful use of the medium. Then there are those that are mainly showing off watercolor techniques (most of which all of the artists learned in watercolor workshops), the usual picturesque scenes (water, boats, fortunately no paintings of “exotic people” done from photographs), and some by artists who are not very good at watercolors. I am happy to report that these are all watercolor paintings and not the catch all “aqua media” that many watercolor exhibitions accept.
The other big problem with the exhibition is that although the artists are from all over the country, where they live isn’t included on labels. It would be useful info. (Not including this info in group shows is a regular, annoying Pence practice.) Also, the label copy is all over the map, apparently cut and pasted from whatever the artists provided. Most of it is not helpful. Though March 31.
A Great and Great Big Show at SFMOMA
The “Soft Power” exhibition (at SFMOMA only through this weekend) has gotten a lot of attention. It’s the largest single exhibition the museum has ever done with 58 artists from 22 countries and 58 new works, many commissioned by the museum. The exhibition (in the words of the museum) examines “the ways in which artists deploy art to explore their roles as citizens and social actors” which is a clear if open-ended description. And an accurate one.
I have long been wary of art used for political and social messaging and activism, because there has been so much bad art of this sort. I saw a lot of ill-conceived and shallow issue art during the 1980s “culture wars.” My feeling is if you want to make a political statement write an op-ed.
My takeaway from “Soft Power” (after viewing it twice) is that artists have gotten a hell of a lot better at this kind of work and museums have gotten better at picking it. Most of the work is engaging and accessible without (for the most part) pandering or oversimplifying; it addresses issues without losing the power of art.
I like that some of the work is right upfront about what it is addressing, some take a middle ground, and more leave the interpretation to the viewer. This is the kind of exhibition where curators and artists tend to rely heavily on text panels and while some of these do have a lot of words, most are helpful without trying to tell us what the work is about or what to think (with a couple of extremely annoying exceptions.)
There is a level of pure artistic accomplishment, from things that look purposely piled up and visceral to some of the most complicated, beautifully put together (if not traditionally beautiful) things I’ve even seen.
- Videos by Tanya Lukin Linklater of dances taking place among storage cases at UC Berkeley that contain the cultural belonging of the Alutiiq people of Alaska.
- Composer, musician and artist Jason Moran’s “drawings” made by applying pigment to his hands then playing the piano with paper covering the keys.
- Andrew Nguyen’s multiple viewpoint video project (above) exploring the complicated lives of children of Senegalese soldiers, part of the French occupation of Vietnam, and Vietnamese women.
- Tavares Strachan’s “Encyclopedia of Invisibility,” an ongoing project of about 17,000 entries on people and events that never made it into your history books.
- Tepee coverings by Duane Linklater with floral imagery inspired by goods traded between the Cree and English settlers in the 17th
- Eamon Ore-Giron’s large beautifully rendered geometric paintings (left.) They are what we old-timers would call hard-edge painting, so I don’t know how they fit into “soft power,” but they are so good.
ALSO AT SFMOMA
Photos of a time
“Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs” by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, and Hal Fischer, provide an insight into photography that is very much of a particular time and place. These range from quite conceptual piece (barely photographs) by Thomas and Phillips to a kind of pseudo-documentary approach to gay men’s lives and looks of the time. The show is really too big for its own good with the latter material (the weakest and most dated) undermining the groundbreaking and timeless pieces. Through Aug. 9.
Problematic but powerful
For his video and photography installation “Incoming” Richard Mosse used images made with infrared cameras that work at great distances to create a unique view of the mass migration and displacement of people in the Middle East, African and Europe. The cameras provide a kind of black and white photo negative feel that is glowing and ghostly. Several huge panoramic black and white photos of refugee camps draw viewers into a large room where across several screens we see people milling in refugee camps, border guard with binoculars, and fighter planes launching from aircraft carriers.
The work has been criticized for turning tragedy into eye candy. Not sure I agree with that, but the approach seems gimmicky. Why not just show us straightforward video of this terrible tragedy; would that make it not art? Still, I found it a riveting visual and emotional experience.
Like “Soft Power” it is only up through this weekend.
Play me now
Just for fun, check out the crazy musical instruments by Nevin Aladağ made by splicing many instruments (drums, zithers, didgeridoos, saxophones) together. I’ve seen a lot of great musical instruments (if you are ever in Phoenix, gods forbid, go to the Musical Instrument Museum), but these very fun and impressive. But I want to hear them (there are a couple of opportunities to do so.) Up to June 7.
Man Ray here, Monkeys there
Like SFMOMA, a couple of nearby galleries were open on a Monday.
At Gagosian the extraordinarily rare show MAN RAY The Mysteries of Château du Déthat includes screenings of his movies and many objects associated with them. I can’t wait to go back and spend more time. Though Feb. 29.
Mark di Suvero’s sculptures from the past few decades are the name show at Berggruen. The earlier to me are much stronger than the newer. But I was captivated by John Alexander’s paintings there. These are pretty painting of mostly pretty things (water with lily pads, a flock of ibis in flowering trees), but they are so well painted and have something going on beneath the literal and figurative surface. And there are monkeys, so that’s a plus. Both shows close at day’s end Saturday, Feb. 15.
An Amazing Week of Music – Nearly All New
From Thursday through Sunday, I heard 20 musical pieces I’d never heard before, nine of them premieres, over the course of six concerts. Most of this took place as part of the Taproot New Music Festival at UC Davis and one with the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble in Berkeley. I’m not unaccustomed to going to more than one performance a day for days on end (which I used to do at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC) but it has been a while. Didn’t seem like a particularly heavy schedule to me. I’d like to do it more often. Especially when the music and performances are as good as these.
For me the most exciting and eye-opening concert was by the Chicago based Spektral Quartet playing pieces by three of the eight composers (Daniel Godsill, inti figgis-vizueta and Emre Eroz) invited to write new works for the festival. These were very dramatic works, complex but accessible, engaging to the ear and the mind. I’d love to hear them all again. (not available for viewing right now, maybe that will chante.) Same goes for the two pieces by Inga Chinilina and Yuting Tan) premiered by the Empyrean Ensemble. Those you can see/hear along with performances by Spektral and the Quince vocal group here but I’ll warn you, it starts with a piece from the 16th century.
And the finale, Steve Reich’s “Music for 18” was fun and amazing. (You can watch it here.)
The next Taproot will be in 2022.
The new piece in Berkeley was by Kurt Rohde (a music prof at UC Davis) linked to a production he saw of Olivier Messiaen’s five-hour opera St. Francis d’Assise (his program notes with descriptions of the opera are inspired, and rather hilarious – “stretches of tedious, almost maddeningly incomprehensible enactments of mystical experiences …”) Right now I can’t really unpack the piece (for piano and violin), which is the problem with hearing so much new work. (Before the concert I talked to Kurt who vaguely chastised me for overloading my ears/brain.)
The concert ended with Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” – one of the few pieces of the concert marathon I’ve heard in concert multiple times. If you’ve never heard it, you need to because it’s a fucking masterpiece.
Art Shows Around
Still working my way through the two new exhibitions at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. Took some time with Stephen Kaltenbach’s “The Beginning and the End” and left intrigued, impressed and amused. The show has gotten a lot of (even local) press. Hope to do an interview the artist before long for my job.
The new Ron Nagle exhibition, “Handsome Drifter,” at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive is handsome. His quirky little sculptures are impeccably crafted, but seemed empty calories to me. Think I filled up on this, with more protein, at Kathy Butterly’s exhibition last year. Also – everything in is behind plexi.
A stunning surprise there was “Brave Warriors and Fantastic Tales: The World According to Yoshitoshi”,åabout a dozen small exquisite, dynamic and very modern woodblock prints. Created by Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839–1892), they are all about ancient tales from Japan and China, but there isn’t anything ancient about them as art. This is the sort of thing that inspired so many early modern artists in the west.
FOG and a few more things
Fog Art + Design fair was fine. First time for me. It seems to me the SF Art Market in March has more galleries from around the globe. While most of it is high-end art (so why isn’t Design first in the name?), there’s a lot of ostentatious home decor, which I guess falls under design. Next door at SFAI Fort Mason the much-hyped Rashaad Newsome exhibition left me underwhelmed too. Maybe you need to see the performance.
Ran down to Minnesota Street Project and environs where I was pretty much blown out of my shoes by the Damian Ortega papier-mâché sculptures that blend famous buildings with animals at Adrian Rosenfeld Gallery. Feel like I’ve seen four or five shows by Serge Attukwei Clotty at Ever Gold Projects, but I’m never less than thrilled by the constructions made of cut up plastic water jugs (mostly yellow.) And the Donna Ruff burned books, papers Jack Fischer gallery
In $3.5 million award cycle, Sac gets $10,000
Good to see that the Latino Center of Art and Culture has received an award of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts. A little less encouraging is that the center is the ONLY place in the Sacramento area to receive $$$ from the NEA in this recent round of funding of $3.5 million. ONE $10,000 GRANT OUT OF $3.5 MILLION.
Where are the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento Philharmonic, Sacramento Ballet, Verge Center for the Arts, the theatres, higher educational institutions? (Sidenote: a UC Davis design/art/science project got $20,000 from the NEA last year for a project that launches soon.)
Can someone with these organizations explain what’s going on – or not going on? Maybe I’m missing something.
A few (more or less) funding facts:
During the ’18 – ’19 fiscal year the California Council for the Arts received $1.4 million from the NEA and a lot of that gets passed on in grants. That year Sacramento groups/projects received about $602,000 of $24 million (46 of 1,337) grants made by the California Council. If anyone wants to see the list of 46, I have it; if anyone wants to crunch numbers or ask more questions, the folks at the council have been very helpful.
(You can find info about the recent NEA grants and Calif funding at the Arts Council.)
By the way, the grant to the Latino Center (one of my favorite places) will help pay for creation and performance of a play based on the experiences of residents in the Oak Park neighborhood of Sacramento. That the sort of community, underserved community, youth and education based programs most governmental funding goes to now.
A remarkable essayist
On Tuesday night Aisha Sabatini Sloan shared some of her remarkable words at the visiting writers series of the creative writing program at UC Davis. The series generally has poets and fiction writers; Sloan is a non-fiction writer, but there sure as hell is a lot of poetry in her writing and reading. There is also a great deal of music, art, theatre, dance, and politics big and small and personal. She read one piece that circled around Jean Michel Basquiat in the most remarkable. You can read it yourself: https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2017/10/26/basquiat-black-body-strange-sensation-neck/
A small disclaimer. I work at UC Davis, but at this point that will not prevent me from mentioning a/an event(s)/person(s)/thing(s) there that seem important. I will not use this site for simply promoting an event/person/thing there and for obvious reason I’m not going to trash UC Davis stuff.
A busy Saturday; Verging on appreciation
Started the day with the dark, early 20th century opera,“Wozzeck” by Alban Berg, simulcast from the Met Opera, designed by South African artist William Kentridge. Great, but I wasn’t blown away. Maybe the seats were too comfy (it’s been so long since I’ve been in a movie theatre so didn’t know first hand they had such things) or I’m spoiled by the intensity of seeing live opera (or in the case of recent operas I’ve seen in the Bay Area, no climate control, heat, traffic noise, the War Memorial Auditorium interior and lack of legroom.) For life balance we followed it with fried chicken.
- I may have seen Jennifer Pochinski’s art before (I think), but her solo show of large paintings, a few sculptures and monotypes at B. Sakata Garo Gallery caught me by surprise. Loose free paint with an underlying structure that holds it all together. Great show.
- Franz Kline sketches on phone book pages given to Wayne Thiebaud by Kline in the ’50s at Elliot Fouts Gallery. It’s all there in a few explosions of black. (If the concept of a phone book baffles younger viewers, the phone numbers will be an even greater novelty – GRammercy3-5642.
- Was very taken a couple of years back by paintings on paper bags by Beth Consetta Rubel during Verge’s Open Studios tour. She’s sharing space for a show at Axis Gallery. She’s done a great installation with video, a couple of huge drawings, but I wanted more.
- Speaking of Verge Center for the Arts, went in again to see the ALI YOUSSEFI PROJECT RESIDENCY EXHIBITS: JODI CONNELLY AND MICHAEL PRIBICH – such a good show coming out a a fantastic project. It may seem sparse but the works are monumental in every sense.
Also, I am reminded that Verge has been such an important place for me since I moved here. Looking back through past exhibitions listings realized that the first Verge show I went to was only their second one since re-opening in 2014. Haven’t missed one since.
After a Real Pie Company break was able to get into an open rehearsal for the Sacramento Ballet in the late afternoon, taking me back, mostly pleasantly, to when I was piecing together jobs and one of my clients was a ballet company and I spent a lot of time in the rehearsal studio. I don’t get enough dance.
Then on to the 5th anniversary show/celebration at Artspace. Maybe more later, but Ron Peetz’s FB page give an excellent overview.
Five years with ArtSpace 1616
Jan. 7, 2020
In January of 2015, I went to the inaugural exhibition at Artspace 1616 in Sacramento. I’d moved to area in April of 2014 and feel like we’ve been on a five-year journey together. The gallery has been an important part of my art experience here and I don’t think I’ve missed a show there.
Artspace digs deep into the regional art community showing work by younger artists, active established artist, and artists who were in the spotlight sometimes decades ago, but who have disappeared for a while. The gallery has been a significant component of my education on art of the region from the past 60 years.
The gallery is huge with lots of big white walls and many different kinds of spaces that make it an interesting place to show and see art. But if the art wasn’t good, the space wouldn’t matter.
Sure there are misses, but by and large it seems to be the most ambitious and consistent gallery in Sacramento. And then there are the people who run it — Mima and Numan Bejovic, who are obviously committed and hardworking, Also I like them.
The gallery generally has two shows up at the same time, with one of the shows swapped out a month or so later for another, so there’s an overlap that gives one a different perspective and a chance for a second view. Artspace has actual exhibitions, is open hours that allow those of use who have regular jobs to see the shows (that means Sunday hours!) and the owners (or whoever is standing in for them) talk to you when you come in.
Mima and Numan (who is an artist with a studio in the gallery building) fled the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. After periods in Germany and Great Britain, they came to the U.S. in 2000. I don’t know a lot of their backstory, but seems to me we are lucky they are here.
The gallery on Del Paseo Boulevard had a previous life as the Temporary Contemporary and apparently the whole area was/is part of a Design District that collapsed during the recession. When I first started going to Artspace, the area was pretty grim and empty, but lots of new businesses have opened. I don’t much care about the either way, but I’m sure the gallery has given a boost to the area.
Artspace opens its 5th anniversary show this weekend: “Five Years in 50 + 1 Voices” will include artists who have exhibited at the gallery. An opening reception takes place this Saturday, Jan. 11. The show is only up until the end of the month. See you there.
WHAT GRABBED ME in 2019 (to the best of my recollection)
JAN. 3, 2020
Art and music at or connected to the place I work (UC Davis)
Robert Arneson’s “The Palace at 9 a.m.” a huge ceramic “portrait” of the artist’s house on Alice Street at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art as part of a landscape show. Also there, UC Davis alum Cathy Butterly’s retrospective. Each of her ceramic pieces was magical and the installation was perfect, allowing viewers to see them from every single angle.
“Indigenous Futurisms: Explorations in Art and Play” at the C.N. Gorman museum has captivated many with its mix of sci-fi, speculative fiction, comics and Native American motifs. (Close end of January.)
“Slant Step Revisited” at the Verge Center for the Arts. Loved it loved it loved it. I got pushback from people who said they were sick of the Slant Step, but ya know what? I’m not from around here and found it fascinating. The local media gave it not one word, but SF’s KQED and Art News did.
The UC Davis Symphony Orchestra with Sacramento native Max Haft as soloist for Lutosławski’s “Chain II” (Violin Concerto) was a great surprise. Haft also gave one of my favorite concerts of new works by UC Davis doctoral music students a few days earlier. I hear so many concerts at the UC Davis music department (many with all new music by comp students) and some were early last year, so it’s difficult to picks specific ones, but they all have great pieces. (More at the Taproot New Music Festival at the end of the month.)
Presented by the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts:
- The Zurich Chamber Orchestra, led by the fantastic violinist Daniel Hope (also director of SF’s New Century Chamber Orchestra) paired Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” (1717) with Max Richter’s “Four Seasons Recomposed” (2012). Richter, who has done lots of soundtrack work, wrote the piece for Hope.
- For the 100th anniversary of Merce Cunningham’s birth, the French company CNDCd’Angers/Robert Swinston brought two important pieces to the Mondavi with live music. Also, dance company Ballet Preljocaj (I really need a lot more dance.)
- Joshua Bell, violin and Alessio Bax, piano (no offense to Bell but I wasn’t planning on going until I saw Bax was playing too.)
Music in the Bay Area
Premiers of Hiroya Miura’s mini-opera “Sharaku Unframed” by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and Michael Gordon’s new “Oceanic Migrations” by the SF Contemporary Music Players with Roomful of Teeth and Splinter Reeds.
Composer Missy Mazzoli (whose music I’ve long liked) and librettist Royce Vavrek in 2016 did an opera adaptation of the dark, disturbing and beautiful Lars von Trier movie “Breaking the Waves.” How’s that gonna work? I got the see and hear the incredible West Coast premiere by Oakland’s West Edge Opera. Sara LeMesh as Bess gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen
I usually see two W.E. operas each summer, but time and $$$ make SF Opera a little tougher. Still made it to “Manon Lescaut,” and hell yes.
Flashback to what I experienced for two decades at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston – the St. Lawrence String Quartet performing (among other things) Osvaldo Golijov’s “Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” with clarinetist Todd Palmer. The concert was part of the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society.
Art around the region
Pueblo ceramics and the contemporary Native American art at the Crocker Art Museum. Both are still up for a tiny bit longer.
“Changing And Unchanging Things: Noguchi And Hasegawa In Postwar Japan” at the Asian Art Museum.
“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983” at the de Young Museum. (Saw it twice.)
Early Rubens at the Legion of Honor. It’s Rubens.
William Wiley (retired UC Davis art prof) at the Hosfelt Gallery. It’s Wiley.
Viola Frey at the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. (Saw it twice.)
“Stay Awhile: A Nathan Cordero Show” at Verge. I didn’t know the late artist from Sacramento, but he seems to have been loved by many people. What I do know – excellent art and exhibition.
Gerald Walburg (UC Davis, MA, 1967) massive, diverse show at ArtSpace 1616 in Sacramento.
The Latino Center for Art and Culture in Sacramento has become one of my favorite places. I like the shows, the off-the-path location and the people who go there. I especially liked La Lucha: Convergence of Identity ~ A Visual & Interactive Exploration of Self by Andres Alvarez (and others.) And the Fiesta de Frida!
“Seeing Sound” at Davis’ Pence Gallery.
At SFMOMA: April Dawn Alison was the cross-dressing alter-ego of commercial photographer Alan Schaefer. High art and high camp that surprised me visually and emotionally. “Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again,” once again proving me and a lot of other people wrong about Warhol. I have to go see “Soft Power” again before I can figure out what I think.
Words Words Words
I’ve attended a decent number of readings, but few compared to art shows or concerts.
Several of the best for me were part of Poetry in Davis, led by UC Davis faculty member Andy Jones. A highlight was the reading by the legendary Gary Snyder (a UC Davis emeritus prof.) Katie Peterson, head of creative writing at UC Davis, whose work I knew, was great as expected, was joined by her friend Candice Reffe who really knocked me out. Elana K. Arnold (a graduate of UC Davis creative writing) read from her new novel and was joined by her sister poet Mischa Kuczynski (who works at UC Davis). Both are unbelievably brave and powerful writers and readers. Arnold will be back in the area for a reading in March.
For the UC Davis visiting writers series Jamil Brinkley and Tom Pickard stood out for me. Some great ones coming to up in the next few months in the series.
I did SacModern’s tour of Streng homes — what fun, even if these places make me jealous.
During a few days in L.A. at the end of the year I jammed in a bunch of stuff. Hit and miss Manet show at the Getty Center, but it had a lot of work from private collections. First visit to The Broad – so much so-so ‘80s art. Both places were madhouses.
First time to Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. I’d drive to Pasadena just to go there.
Got to see the outside and inside of Frank Lloyd Wrights’ Hollyhock House and outside of Ennis and Storer all in one day. Way cool.
Now I have to go reconstruct my hiking schedule for the year.