art talk


Live from Folsom Prison in Photos

CL-8 Before the First Performance; Blowing Smoke RingsIn 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.

CL-17 Johnny on Stage, WideThe 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.

CL-25 In AnaheimThe 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.


JGMarsh_ThreeStudies_Father-1004x1400Marsh, 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?”

IMG_9316What 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.)

PoppiesRedmond’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 show, 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

IMG_9295that 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

March 3/20

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.05.00 PMTiming (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!

IMG_8994Bischoff, 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

IMG_9034The 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.

IMG_9118My 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.

IMG_9084There 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.


Still from Andrew Nguyen video

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.


Eamon Ore-Giron painting

Some favorites:

  • 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.


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.

84270314_10156942974931918_1343268236052922368_nMark 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.

Feb. 3.20

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.


Six of the eight composers

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.

Yoshitoshi-Taiso_Fukami-Jikyu-Challenges-Moon_001_b_1200The 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.

Jan 20.20

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


Donna Ruff at Jack Fischer


Jordan Belson at Matthew Marks at FOG


Damian Ortega at Adrian Rosenfeld


Serge Attukwei Clotty, Everygold

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:

Or you could go to her website or you could buy her books. Or next time, you can come to her reading. Or those by others.

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.


Jennifer Pochinski

  • 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.
  • nay2QE1Hk61578080365 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


Mima and Numan Bejovic

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.

as1616The 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.


Art professor Annabeth Rosen’s retrospective at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF received the same installation attention, and the show is huge, and the work is stunning. (through Jan. 19.)

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 (1)

“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.


Sara LeMesh

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.


David Hammons in “Soul of a Nation.”

“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.


La Lucha

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.


April Dawn Alison

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.