Archive for May, 2009

Spelling Bee

05.30.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

When I was a schoolboy I competed in the National Spelling Bee, and got to represent New York State in the finals in Washington DC. Wow, that was a thrill, but the trauma of losing—well, I came in 9th—has stayed with me for many years and I would never go to see Spellbound or any of the movies or books that have focused on the sport. I was still in shock I think! And this from an event that occurred when LBJ was president and the Vietnam war was still on. Whenever I would stumble across the word I spelled wrong, say in a book or whatever, I would break out in a cold sweat and my face would grow red like a wound. (The word was “eponym.” There! I’ve said it!)

Thus when three years ago, Laura Moriarty of Small Press Distribution in Berkeley called me and asked me to participate in a charity spelling bee, I hung up on her. When she called back, I had to query myself, is this fate, or am I getting a second chance at therapy, by reliving the awful sequence of shame, and now... More

Johansson Projects: Val Britton, Michael Meyers, Jennifer and Kevin McCoy

05.29.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

As a resident of the East Bay for the past seven years, I’ve enjoyed watching a small and vibrant contemporary art scene emerge independently and gain some polish. Johansson Projects in Oakland remains among my very favorite spaces. Dynamic founder Kimberly Johansson has built a gallery on the corner of 23rd and Telegraph that would be as much at home in San Francisco or New York, but which keeps a certain East Bay DIY spirit deep inside. Johansson’s sensibilities range from delicate works on paper to kinetic, mechanical and electronic art, all of which is on display this month.

Through June 20, The Echo Fields features the work of Berkeley’s Val Britton and Oakland’s Michael Meyers in the main gallery. Brooklyn-based artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy are in the Project Space. Britton works by cutting, painting and pasting onto large sheets of paper. Her images are abstractions of maps, that could also be read as skyscapes. She has explained the origins of her im... More

“The Lost Kinetic World”

05.27.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

San Franciscans have but a few days to scurry down to Ratio 3 on Stevenson Street, there to check out “Liberation Upon Contact,” new work by gallery artists including Jose Alvarez, Sam Gordon, Jordan Kantor, Ruth Laskey, Barry McGee, Mitzi Pederson, Ara Peterson, and Jonathan Runcio. (Show closes May 30.) For those of you who have never been there, Ratio 3 and its director, debonair, saturnine Chris Perez, ”bring vastness to the mind.” That’s their slogan, and I always wince when I hear it first, then I think a little, forced to acquiesce.

A year ago I got a package in the mail with a few DVDs in it, each one an excerpt from Sam Gordon’s project “The Lost Kinetic World,” a 24 hour video montage of his wanderings through the art world. I scanned the accompanying press materials and was surprised to see myself listed among the hundreds of art figures appearing in the film. Dodie Bellamy too. She was on disk 4 and I was on disk 9 or something like that. Naturally w... More

On ‘Picasso and Truth’

05.26.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

Over the last couple months, art historian T.J. Clark has presented a series of lectures at the National Gallery of Art, as part of the prestigious A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts. Titled collectively “Picasso and Truth,” the six lectures each take on Picasso’s career in the 1920s and 30s: a curious period between the so-ca... More

100% Authentic: Interview with Imin Yeh

05.26.2009  |  By
Filed under: Conversations

Imin Yeh is a printmaker and recent graduate of the MFA Department at the California College of the Arts.  Her practice deflates cultural stereotypes and addresses issues of labor and consumerism through a critical and humorous lens.  Yeh’s piece “Everybody Loves a Skinny, White Boyfriend” was included in the exhibition For Lovers and Fighters that I curated at The Spare Room Project in February 2009. We sat down at a coffee-shop together last Friday and talked about her recent projects, her relationship to local art institutions, and the politics and negotiation inherent in making work that is deeply rooted in one’s own experience and identity. Yeh was a recipient of the 2009 Barclay Simpson award.  Her piece “Good Imports” is featured in the Chinese Cultural Center’s Present Tense Biennial 2009 and in a satellite installation in nearby storefront at 710 Kearny Street until August 23rd.  Her work will also be included in Intersection for ... More

One on One: Peter Samis on Ranjani Shettar

05.26.2009  |  By
Filed under: One on One

[As a complement to our Thursday evening curator "One on One" talks, we post regular ‘one on one' bits from curators, staff, and public, on a particular work or exhibition they're interested in. Today's post is from Peter Samis, associate curator of interpretation.]

Seen from afar, down the long enfilade of galleries on the 2nd floor, Ranjani Shettar’s Sing along floats above the other more floor- and earth-bound artworks on view. The poodles of Katharina Fritsch are stolid and rooted in their rippling pool of black, while Kiki Smith‘... More

Harry Jacobus

05.23.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

I’ve never met the painter Harry Jacobus but his position in San Francisco art history is unassailable, and his romantic vision has this sort of, oh I don’t know, sublime excess that speaks to me even today.  Maybe you have to be in the right mood to get him, and perhaps that’s why his reputation is highest among poets, musicians, and other artists.   That’s just a guess on my part.  The work is decorative, pleasing, and stops just this side of florid, but all these things are true of Cezanne, right, and yet Harry Jacobus is a name unknown except for, hmmm, I am tempted to use the term cognoscenti even though that seems dead wrong!  But I do love him.

Some find his work unbearably twee, even trite.  If you find the early, romantic pictures of Jess too sincere, you are definitely not man enough to stare down the limpid realities of Jacobus at his most characteristic. (With Jess and the poet Robert Duncan, Harry Jacobus founded the legendary King Ubu Gallery on Fill... More

On Graduate Exhibitions

05.20.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

The end of the spring term at art schools is marked by multiple convocations – symposia, commencements, barbecues, brunches, kaffeeklatsches – none more charged and peculiar than the graduate exhibition. A vast amount of effort, skilled thought, time and energy is expended on these events, by students, faculty and event organizers. And yet the exhibitions are as a rule ambiguous: grand, chaotic marketplaces where uneven intentions, practices and audiences converge upon one another.

My photographs, I should say, are from a specific event, Sa... More

Remembering Helen Levitt

05.18.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

[From Elizabeth Gand, SFMOMA assistant curator of photography.]

It’s a sad spring in the world of photography: Helen Levitt passed away at the end of March—quietly, in her sleep, at the age of 95. New York has lost its great visionary poet, who photographed scenes from everyday life with unsurpassed wit and imagination. We feel the loss acutely here at SFMOMA, where her work has been admired, collected, and celebrated. In 1991, SFMOMA collaborated with the Met on Ms. Levitt’s first retrospective—a major event that brought renewe... More

Charles Atlas and Mika Tajima

05.16.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

I must have met Charles Atlas fifteen years ago or so now, but odd to say that this is the first time I’ve ever seen him outside his apartment. I met him through the writer Joe Westmoreland, a novelist and the author of one of my favorite books, Tramps Like Us, and whenever I would visit Joe at their apartment just south of Chelsea, Charlie would be there, totally preoccupied with video work that looked so ambitious I could barely make out what I was seeing. One time he showed us the music video he had just finished for Antony (of Antony and the Johnsons) and Boy George—a duet version of Antony’s song, “You are my Sister.” I don’t know if this video ever made it to MTV, for it seemed like each of the two divas looked totally preoccupied with, “Do I look as fat as him?”

Anyhow, when SF MOMA said they were having a show of New Humans and that Charlie Atlas was going to come in person I knew this was one event I couldn’t miss. What is the psychic equivalent of killin... More

Action, Ritual, and Ephemerality: Julia Goodman and the (de)Appropriation Wall

05.14.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

We have an innate desire to preserve things: spaces, objects, memories. Preservation implies a sanctification, a remove from touch, and guard against eventual decay. Public spaces are redeveloped, graffiti is removed, and a new coat of paint added. Art objects, once delicately handmade, are often removed from touch by display cases and the demarcated spaces of museums.

Local artist Julia Goodman is interested in interrupting this process through a focus on ephemerality, ritual, and meditations on time. Goodman’s art practice consists of collecting junk mail once a week from her neighbors in Bernal Heights and transforming the junk mail into cast handmade paper sculptures. Her practice is multi-dimensional: community oriented as she travels door to door collecting paper and studio based as she engages in the laborious process of carving wood, making and casting paper. Goodman’s piece “Eleven Month Mourning Project: August 19, 2007 – July 14, 2008″ is repres... More

One on One: Julie Charles on Jasper Johns

05.14.2009  |  By
Filed under: One on One

[Alongside our curator "One on One" talks, we post regular ‘one on one' bits from curators, staff, and public, on a particular work or exhibition they're interested in. Today's post is from Julie Charles, associate curator of education.]

A couple of weeks ago I was in Philadelphia for a conference and went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Cezanne and Beyond exhibition. This exhibition displayed paintings, watercolors, and drawings by Cezanne alongside works by several artists for whom Cezanne has been an inspiration and whose work ref... More

Opening and Closing

05.12.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

Over the weekend I finally got over to Gallery 16 to see the last week of Bruno Fazzolari’s exhibition Cold Turkey, a selection of drawings broken up by six recent paintings. This is the last week you can see it, so get down there if you can. As you probably know, the Gallery is only a few blocks from SF MOMA, at Bryant and Third, and if you haven’t been there it is one of the pleasantest places I know with always plenty to see. This time around Fazzolari‘s show is a winner indeed.

The drawings come from a series called “Six Realms” on which the artist has been working for many years; apparently there are dozens of them. I took the traditional gallery walk, with a map in my hand of what I was seeing, and proceeded from left to right, an arrangement that usually adds no meaning, only the comfort of habit.  This time around however, I convinced myself I was catching something happening in those drawings, that I was seeing them progress from simple gestures towards more comp... More

‘A day is as long as a year.’

05.11.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

I am the last among my contributor-cohort to post, I must sheepishly confess. Suzanne gave us the simple remit of San Francisco in the present, which remit has nevertheless been singularly difficult for me to fulfill. I don’t live today, as they say. As the Spring semester at CCA has wound down, my teaching and writing has located me decisively i... More

SFIFF52: No Aesthetic Necessary?

05.11.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

The documentary Empress Hotel, which screened at the recent San Francisco Film Festival, tells the story of the eponymous halfway house in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district that provides unique assistance to the city’s homeless, offering rooms and support services to help them transition back into normal society. The film, directed by... More

Collection Rotation: Meara O’Reilly

05.11.2009  |  By
Filed under: Projects/Series

Once a month a local guest organizes lists, groupings, or ‘exhibitions’ from our permanent collection. Our wonderful guest this month is Meara O’Reilly, sound and visual artist, invited as timely accompaniment to our current LiveArt project, Mika Tajima and New Humans.  Thanks to  Meara for a truly AWESOME rotation. Enjoy.

̵... More

DirectorCam 321

05.10.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

Happy Mother’s Day! The rooftop sculpture garden is open at last, it’s a lovely spot, and this man definitely deserves a glass of champagne. This concludes our week-long experiment with DirectorCam. We’ll follow up in weeks and months to come, of course!  More soon. xxoo, SS

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Doll Parts

05.08.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

I saw this one doll had won the coveted Rondo award for best horror toy of the year 2008, and when I stopped laughing I fell in love. It is the new Barbie doll dressed as “Tippi” Hedren in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic The Birds. Heaven only knows the licensing fees that form the backstory of this one, but Mattel spotlights the Hitchcock name so avidly that you know his estate must be getting its cut. But what of Ms. Hedren herself? What’s she getting out of this, one wonders. America’s greatest actress is still alive and very beautiful at age 79 and she must approve in some fashion of this doll, and how do I know this? Because if you went on eBay and looked up this doll you can buy a copy she signed herself (comes complete with photos of her signing it, and of course, a “certificate of authenticity”). No living soul interested in Bay Area visual culture can turn their nose up at “Tippi” Hedren in The Birds, filmed largely right in our backyard in ... More

Friday morning, 11am.

05.08.2009  |  By
Filed under: Uncategorized

DirectorCam 184

05.08.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

Ellsworth Kelly, redux, by special request

05.07.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

Click for the bigger, prettier one.

More at Flickr.

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Robert Frank: Three Films. Tonight.

05.07.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

The first program of the extensive Robert Frank retrospective has arrived—prepare yourself for a turbulent voyage. The Americans evinced an underlying interest in narrative, and before it had been released in book form, Frank had made the leap into filmmaking, in the process helping to launch the spectacular era of “Underground Movies”... More

Ellsworth Kelly.

05.07.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

Ellsworth Kelly, on our rooftop sculpture garden for the first time, in front of his 1973 sculpture Stele I.

Many more pictures coming soon.

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The Official SFMOMA DirectorCam

05.06.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

I know by now you’ve all seen President Obama’s Official White House Photostream on Flickr, launched just last week. Yes? I thought I’d take the President’s cue and do something similar with our director, Neal Benezra, especially this week, as Neal, along with the whole staff, prepares for the opening of our brand new Roofto... More

Desiree Holman’s Alien Resurrection

05.06.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

Visitors to the 2008 SECA Art Award exhibition will remember The Magic Window, a suite of drawings and video from 2007 in which Desiree Holman invokes the enticing numbness of sitcom family fantasies from her 1980s childhood. In her latest body of work, on view at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco through May 30, she digs deeper into the complexities of familial psychology, tackling the thorny territory of motherhood. Holman’s practice originates in sculpture, with costumes and props that actors then bring to life in her psychedelic video epics. Her interest is in the mediation of deeply personal ideas, such as the relationship between parent and child, through the lens of popular American culture. The genesis of this project, which she titled Reborn, was Holman’s discovery of a movement among middle-aged American housewives to create lifelike baby dolls, complete with breathing mechanisms and individually-rooted eyelashes.

Holman spent more than two years researching the ... More

Have anything you’d like to ask Ellsworth Kelly?

05.06.2009  |  By
Filed under: 151 3rd

SFMOMA’s Education & Conservation teams have been working together on an SFMOMA Oral History Project, and have the unusual opportunity to interview Ellsworth Kelly on Thursday, re: the trajectory of his (sixty-year) career, and about some of his works  in our collection.  What would you ask him, if you could? Questions that land in the comment box before end of day Wednesday I’ll pass along to the team doing the interview.

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One on One: Joseph Becker on Otl Aicher

05.05.2009  |  By
Filed under: One on One

[Alongside our new curator “One on One” talks, we’re doing regular ‘one on one’ blog posts, from curators, staff, and public, on a particular work or exhibition they’re interested in. Today’s post is from Joseph Becker, assistant curator of architecture and design.]

A preeminent figure in graphic design history, Otl Aicher’s identity for the 1972 Munich Olympics remains a seminal project on which much of contemporary identity and branding design has been based. On view in SFMOMA’s Architecture and Design gallery is a ... More

The Brief Wondrous Film Treatise of Gus Van Sant

05.05.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

If you don’t know about 826 Valencia, my guess is that you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years. Started by local author Dave Eggers and educator Nínive Calegari, the tutoring center and pirate supply store has my vote for the best combination of community activism and creativity the world ’round. (You can watch Eggers talk about it at the TED Conference here.) It’s proof positive that writing and all of the arts should be an integral part of K-12 education, and lucky us that these centers have started to pop up all over the country in cities like Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, and Ann Arbor, too.

I was lucky enough to attend an 826 Valencia fundraiser breakfast this morning with the celebrated filmmaker Gus Van Sant, late of Milk and Paranoid Park. Eggers introduced the director and warned that he was going to read a 50-minute treatise on film without any accompanying imagery. Nervous laughter ensued as Van Sant took the podium ... More

NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW: Columnists @ Open Space!

05.05.2009  |  By
Filed under: Back Page

Have you noticed what’s been happening here on the SFMOMA blog of late? COLUMNISTS.

Launched late April, with Kevin Killian’s first post: our very first ‘cohort’ of extra-SFMOMA contributors. Our rotating columnists are writing in an editorial free zone, covering all things visual culture in the Bay Area. All local [most of] the time, they’re just getting started and have already taken on public art and redevelopment in the Mission; visiting filmmakers; the problems of exhibiting design objects in museums; and what Susan Boyle and local artist Matt Keegan have in common even though only one of them is ‘younger than Jesus’.

Please welcome (and admire!) our fabulous first group of writers:

Poet, novelist, playwright, critic KEVIN KILLIAN
Art historian JULIAN MYERS
Independent curator and writer ANURADHA VIKRAM
Designer & educator ERIC HEIMAN
Independent curator and recent CCA grad ADRIENNE SKYE ROBERTS

We’ll still be doing interviews, ... More

Orange Skies

05.04.2009  |  By
Filed under: Field Notes

We went to the exhibition “I am Kurious Orange” on Friday, having misread the invitation and me thinking that I was going to hear a band made up of artists I know, who were forming a de facto The Fall cover band. I guess I can’t read because when I pushed open the door, my pals were nowhere to be seen, but instead we wound up with ringside seats at a theatrical extravaganza it will take all my enthusiasm to describe.

“I am Kurious Orange” is organized by Anne Colvin and presented at David Cunningham Projects on Folsom Street. I know many of my readers will know the block of Folsom to which I refer when I tell you that it’s the block with “Truck” on the end. That’s the gay bar that wits used to call “Truc-kay,” in the French style. Anyhow it’s a decrepit block that hitherto I ‘d always scurried by, but now that I‘ve experienced the excitement of David Cunningham I will be lingering there on the street corners like a superannuated prostitute, or Ju... More