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
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)
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.