Visitor Flickr Photo of the Week

Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue! photo by SFMOMA visitor Rob Reich

I liked this fabulous image of  Alexander Calder’s Big Crinkly (1969), now on view in our Rooftop Sculpture Garden. Photo by Rob Reich.

Thanks Rob!

Art is a Gamble


Marcel Duchamp, Monte Carlo Bond (No. 12), 1924. Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2009 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp

Last week, I went to see Inventing Marcel Duchamp: The Dynamics of Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. In light of my ongoing ruminations on the economy’s effect on artists, one work especially stuck in my mind. In 1924, Duchamp proposed a project in which he invited investors to contribute to a fund, which he would use to play roulette in the casinos of Monte Carlo.

Monte Carlo Bond bears an image of the artist as the Roman god Mercury, photographed by Man Ray. His hair is whipped up with shaving lather to resemble the messenger god’s winged helmet. The print is designed to look like a roulette table. Along the right edge is a row of stamps, each denoting an investor in Duchamp’s gamble. The work is an overt comment on speculation in the art market, a phenomenon which benefited Duchamp both as speculator and as artist.

In the Bay Area, where the market for contemporary art is slow even at the best of times, artists have often turned to variants on Duchamp’s model. For example, Dan Nelson has recently initiated Make an Artist a Millionaire. Appropriating the philanthropic model of a non-profit organization, Nelson invites people to support him with donations of $1. He intends to solicit donations from 1 million individuals, which he will present as a bundle of cash as a work of sculpture. (Disclosure – I have donated to this project). Nelson’s art projects are frequently cumulative in nature, for example his artist book All Known Metal Bands which was a compendium of said bands alphabetized by title. Whereas earlier works were also research-based, this new project is entirely made by accumulation. (more…)

New Langton Arts In Crisis

One of the country’s longest-running nonprofit arts centers has just announced that its “continued existence is in serious financial jeopardy.” While dispiriting announcements like this are common enough during the current economic recession, this loss promises to be particularly devastating. Founded in 1974, the organization has been a center of the San Francisco arts scene for the last three decades and more; it has served in that time as a vital laboratory for conceptual art, poetry, installation and performance – which practices found little purchase in mainstream institutions in the Bay Area in the Seventies and Eighties – as well as a crucial point of contact with the national and international artists who were shown there.

New Langton Arts, San Francisco, Photo by Jennifer Leighton (Borrowed from White Hot Magazine)

New Langton Arts, San Francisco, Photo by Jennifer Leighton (Borrowed from White Hot Magazine)

Recent years haven’t been easy. In a review I published in Frieze in late 2007, of an exhibition at Langton by the Mexican artist-collective Tercerunquinto (an interview by curator María del Carmen Carrión here, another review here), I put forward the idea that the institution was then already at a decisive moment. I wrote,


“For non-profit organizations such as New Langton, ‘economic uncertainty’ is inevitable. Founded in the 1970s to capitalize on new forms of federal funding in the USA, these institutions found themselves in trouble when that funding largely dried up around 1990. There are other kinds of uncertainty too: New Langton’s founding purpose was to foster forms of art practice not then supported by museums: performance art, Conceptual art, video, installation, improvised and electronic music, poetry and so on. Now these forms have faded from view or been incorporated into the larger and more established museums, leaving the non-profit just one exhibition space among many. In the present New Langton must do more than support itself – it must figure out why it should survive.”

I hoped then that the board, and director Sandra Percival, might see Tercerunquinto’s project (and my review) as a kind of challenge: not only to raise money, but to re-imagine Langton’s role in the arts community, to locate and support forms of practice not addressed or exhibited adequately by larger institutions like SFMOMA and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and to pursue new audiences and new roles for itself. It doesn’t seem from outside that these questions were engaged within the institution; certainly they were not engaged effectively enough. Indeed it sometimes seemed as if the institution was moving in a conservative direction, considering its history (less poetry, less community, less chaos). And by largely showing artists who had been recognized and legitimated by institutions elsewhere, Langton lived problematically in those institutions’ shadow. (more…)

No More Posters! Let’s See Action!


Adjacent to the live/work loft building where our studio occupies the main storefront space is a large fenced-in parking lot used by the PG&E employees that work in the area. Last week I stepped out to take a personal phone call and noticed that the barricade facing Harrison had been tagged every 50 feet with small, orange metal plates emblazoned with the copy “Soon Obsolete: All fences, walls, and other impediments. Nonchalance Viability Survey O2C” and a phone number, credited to the Elsewhere Public Works Agency.

After concluding my own call, I dialed the 888 number and an answering service picked up, giving me the business hours for EPWA (11:57PM–4:38AM, Thursday–Sunday, third Tuesdays, and all lunar eclipses) and offering me more information on Survey o2C if I pressed 1. After doing so, the voice on the other end informed me that by November 2009 all tagged fences, et al, would be, indeed, obsolete. A quick Google search brings up a EPWA web site that is equally opaque with its old school BBS format that requires one to type in commands to reveal more content in a radical manifesto vein. Further investigation reveals a list of programs that one can’t be sure are real or not, including an “International Shoe Recycling Program” and “End Times Preparedness Classes.”

I’m a big fan of art and design that inserts itself into the public realm, more so when it makes a socio-political comment (as in the work of Rigo or the Billboard Liberation Front), and the contained parking lots that blight our urban centers are worthy targets. Only come November will we know for sure if these spaces are “rendered obsolete,” as EPWA says, but I’d wager that our neighboring PG&E employees will still be parking behind chain link after the Thanksgiving holiday. Only one placard remains on the fence today, not even 2 weeks after going up. The initiative did catch my attention and the issue it addresses is timely, but there is this nagging question—especially after spending time amidst the Rural Studio and Project M in rural Alabama: Does it really go far enough?


The Day Michael Died

RIP Michael and Farrah

Last week a friend, the poet Joshua Clover, asked me to be a call in guest on his radio program at UC Davis and read Frank O’Hara’s poem “The Day Lady Died,” as it was exactly 50 years ago that Billie Holiday died and O’Hara wrote his famous surprise elegy for her. In his poem O’Hara links fandom to, well, death in a luminous and memorable way. When you listened to Billie Holiday “live” (a telling term), he recalls, “Everyone and I stopped breathing.” Naturally this made me think of how we all heard about Michael Jackson’s death, and I offered that somebody somewhere is writing “The Day Michael Jackson Died,” and Clover asked why didn’t I write such a poem. Maybe this is it.

Christoph Bull, Royce Hall organist

Christophe Bull, official organist at Royce Hall at UCLA, playing the Jupiter Symphony as the crowd keft the auditorium

I flew out of SFO on the day Michael died (and Farrah Fawcett). I loved both of them probably for the same reason, they were both striking and glamorous stars who came to us cursed as though by jealous gods. At the Virgin America terminal, Virgin had transformed Gate 12 into a disco, the signage shook and glistened, while the stereo system boomed out “Scream,” “Beat It,” “Human Nature.” Next to the kiosk, the sign for Gate 12 announced Flight 945 for L.A. and beneath it read “Rest in Peace Michael and Farrah.” I actually didn’t want to get on the plane, it was more comforting to stay in that airport lounge and feel the community of people who Virgin thought would appreciate a greeting like “Rest in Peace Farrah and Michael.” That imaginary community Agamben predicted of people joined together by loss. (more…)

Visitor Flickr Photo of the Week

Photo: Jeanne Chung

Photo: Jeanee Chung

This pretty snapshot, taken by SFMOMA visitor Jeanee Chung (and scooped  up from Flickr), shows  a portion of Damien Hirst‘s painting Pray (2003)  and, in the reflection of the glass, one corner of a gallery in our current fifth-floor contemporary exhibition, Between Art and Life, organized by Gary Garrels.  On the left side of Jeanee’s picture you can see Ernesto Neto’s My Little Castle (2005) and on the right is Jim Hodges‘s series of photographs Even Here 1-12 (2008). (Which pictures, sweetly enough, are themselves of light reflections from windows on a gallery floor.) Nice. Thanks Jeanee.

Public Art and Improvement, Part 2

Back in April I posted a blog entitled Public Art and Redevelopment that looked at the new condominium building currently under construction on the corner of Valencia and 18th Street in the Mission District and more generally, raised the issue of the role of public art within the context of redevelopment. Today I’m focusing again on the Mission District and specifically, the impending public art project that is folded into one of the many city sponsored improvement plans.

The Valencia Streetscape Improvement Project was initiated and sponsored by the San Francisco Department of Public Works. In 2006, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) received an Environmental Justice Grant from Caltrans to create a Pedestrian Safety Plan for Valencia Street and for the past three years this plan has slowly been in the works to improve the commercial corridor between 15th and 19th Streets.  Improvements will include widening the sidewalks, removing the striped medians, creating curb extensions or “bulb-outs,” installing more bike racks, trees, kiosks, and art elements. Once component of the “art element” is a public artwork created by one artist and commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission.  Since April, the artist selection process has been underway juried by the San Francisco Arts Commission, along with a panel of Mission District residents and business owners.  A few weeks ago the four finalists were revealed, they are Ana Teresa Fernandez, Michael Arcega, Brian Goggin, and Misako Inaoka. (more…)

Blonde on a Bum Trip

Serena van der Woodsen

A crowded nook in my apartment, now dominated by “Blake” (2009), by one of my favorte painters Rachel Kaye.

Prompted by my colleague Traci Vogel and her admiring review in SF Weekly I took myself down to Triple Base Gallery, deep in the heart of the Mission, to check out the concurrent exhibitions by Hilary Pecis and Elyse Malouk, artists new to me, sort of, except when I saw these shows I realized each must have been operating for some time, just under my radar. Hilary Pecis takes up most of the front room at Triple Base, with her “Intricacies of Phantom Content,” sizable collage-based works of mind-blowing complexity. (more…)

“I am always on the outside, trying to look inside…”

“I am always on the outside, trying to look inside, trying to say something that is true. But maybe nothing is really true. Except what’s out there. And what’s out there is constantly changing.” –Robert Frank

Two photography shows currently on view at SFMOMA provide an intriguing point of departure from which to consider the roles of insider and outsider. Robert Frank is an iconic example of the artist as outsider, looking in on society, as expressed by the quote above. His subjects are the everyday people whose lives comprise the American experience of the 1950s. Frank seeks out sites of exclusion in the culture he portrays. He looks most closely at poor people, white and black, whose circumstances give the lie to the promise of prosperity. A German Jew and Holocaust survivor, Frank understands America in the way only an immigrant, studiously engaged in a performance of belonging, can do. His influence is so widely felt that this work has come to represent ourselves to us – a record of our collective memories of a turbulent period.

Robert Frank, Trolley—New Orleans, 1955; gelatin silver print; Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005; © Robert Frank

Robert Frank, Trolley—New Orleans, 1955; gelatin silver print; Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gilman Collection, Purchase, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gift, 2005; © Robert Frank

I’ll consider Frank in greater depth with a special guest later this week, but for now, let’s turn to Richard Avedon. At first glance, Avedon would seem to be photography’s consummate insider. Glamour shots of Suzy Parker and Marilyn Monroe are his calling-card. His subjects include the powerful – Henry Kissinger, George HW Bush – and the famous – Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis. But Avedon’s camera has an equalizing power.

One on One: Apsara DiQuinzio on Andrea Zittel

Alongside our weekly in-gallery curator “One on One” talks, we post regular ‘one on one’ bits from curators & staff on a particular work or exhibition they’re interested in. Follow the series here. Today’s post is from assistant curator of painting and sculpture Apsara DiQuinzio.

Andrea Zittel, A to Z 1995 Travel Trailer Unit Customized by Andrea Zittel and Charlie White, 1995; © Andrea Zittel

Andrea Zittel, A to Z 1995 Travel Trailer Unit. Customized by Andrea Zittel and Charlie White, 1995; © Andrea Zittel

I have a growing obsession for the desert; perhaps it is not even so much about the desert as it is about how art can activate it, both as a place and as a concept. This interest was set in motion while I was doing research on Mai-Thu Perret last summer. The genesis of her project involves a story she wrote called The Crystal Frontier, about a group of young women who abandon their rote, urban lives to form a utopian community in the desert of New Mexico they call New Ponderosa Year Zero. They do this to escape the constraints of capitalism in a phallocentric West. Shortly thereafter, I went to visit Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field from 1977 (an earthwork that informs Mai-Thu’s ideas) located very close to Ponderosa, New Mexico. There I witnessed how De Maria’s work yields to the sublime, shifting light of the desert and I listened to its engulfing silence. And dare I say it, I also carelessly swung around the stainless steel poles De Maria planted into the dry, crackling New Mexico earth to solicit lightening storms. During my brief stay I was hoping to catch a glimpse of a New Mexican Whiptail—an all-female species of lizard, indigenous to New Mexico and Arizona, that procreates parthenogenetically, laying complete female eggs. But, alas, I saw none. (more…)