The Lanterns Along the Wall
When I paid a visit to “The Fountain Of Giant Teardrops,” Neil LeDoux’s solo show at Silverman Gallery last year, I had seen only a very rough reproduction of one of the paintings in a newspaper. Underneath it was a small story regarding the roots of these pieces.
“He recounted seeing a fountain in the thick Louisiana forests, the fountain’s beauty was so astonishing that he immediately wanted to share it with his friends and family but when he took them back to see it it was nowhere to be found.” This piqued my interest, as the story seemed to work simultaneously as a veil and an entrance. When I was finally inside the gallery facing the paintings, I was immediately impressed by their size and their dealing so deftly in dark brown. I liked being given a story for work that was decidedly abstract.
Neil recently had new work hanging in the nave at CCA. When I saw the first piece, I was immediately reminded of the cover to a book by the great Moroccan story teller Mohammed Mrabet titled Harmless Poisons Blameless Sins. Neil’s work is more refined and the canvas still very large compared to any of Mrabet’s work, but their paintings share a quality of having cut a live and unknown organism in half, its tendrils flailing about in a dark pool unleashing some further form of pointed magic. They seem older than time, as if they had waited very long to be discovered.
In the mid-90s, on the block of South Van Ness bordered by 16th and 15th streets used to be a little art gallery called Bewegung. It was the brainchild of Heather Haynes, a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. Heather lived in the back and the gallery was in the front. Heather was my best friend for a bunch of that decade, when I was young and just moved to San Francisco. I would come over to the gallery and Heather would be giving the whole space a spiritual cleanse, mopping it with a solution of like cow’s milk and blue crumbly balls of something from a Botanica in the Haight plus flower petals and when she was done she’d go in the shower and give herself a spirtual cleanse as well, dumping this great-smelling potion over her shaved head. The whole space used to be a Chinese restaurant – Heather would find animal carcasses in the backyard while gardening – but now Heather had performance and art in the windowed storefront while she and a roommate lived in stilted wooden boxes in the back, like treehouses. I was always locking myself out of my own house and sleeping at Heather’s house, in her cloud bed made of piles of down comforters and tossed with throw pillows stuffed with vetiver. If it sounds magical it’s ’cause it was. I once even saw a ghost hanging out over Heather while she slept, but that is another story.
The best show I remember from Bewegung was Charles Herman-Wurmfled, the jack-of-all-trades who went on to make a bunch of movies, first Fancy’s Persuasion, a classic in which he cast Justin Bond as the mom a la’ John Waters’ choice of Divine as the matriarch in Hairspray. After that he did Kissing Jessica Stein and next, amazingingly, Legally Blonde 2, but I remember when he hung a bunch of art involving blue maribou on the walls of Bewegung and in front of it I go-go danced, topless and painted blue, wearing shitty cut-off jeans and combat boots, to the sound of Hole blasting through my Walkman, while balanced on a cinderblock. A few other ruffians were similarly Smurfed-up and stuck on a block to dance to the beat of their own Walkman, while off to the side a cellist played elegant music. It was kind of amazing.
Now Heather lives in Toronto, where she runs Toronto Free Gallery www.torontofreegalery.org an art spaced dedicated to showing work that deals with social justice, cultural, urban and environmental issues. TFG is sandwiched between a tattoo parlor and a Caribbean patti take-out joint, and the owners of the take-away place did a Caribbean patti workshop as a part of the current exhibition curated by Maiko Tanaka, Tejpa Ajji and Chris Reed. It’s that sort of true community space. The current exhibition, Toronto Free Broadcasting currently has an open call out for instructional videos and a bunch already received are up on their site, assisting with hands-on problems like How to Break Into a Hotel Room, as well as more conceptual issues like How to Become a Hot Chick or How to Ruin a Relationship. http://torontofreebroadcasting
Heather Haynes is also publishing the art, media + politics magazine Fuse, which has an awesome cover story on the art and career of Emory Douglas, the Black Panthers’ Minister of of Culture and the creator of all of the movement’s amazing graphics, an excellent mix of pre-punk folk art depicting yelling ladies and kids bearing protest signs, beaten pigs and of course Huey P. Newton with a gun. Some looks like zine art and some like propaganda and all are so full of beautiful energy and dynamic gusto. They look like they could have been created yesterday and, in the words of the artist, “You’re talking about unemployment, decent housing, dealing with the prison industrial complex, and the disproportionate number of people of color dying in the military. All those things still exist today.”
When Sister Spit was just in Cleveland some local queers gave us the hard sell on their town and claimed it to be akin to San Francisco in the 60s or the East Village in the 80s. I don’t think this is true, but the rumors are coming in that this might be the case for Winnipeg. Writer Eileen Myles was just up there reading from her brilliant new book The Importance of Being Iceland (so brilliant it made me cry in the tour van three different times with three different emotions) and she said it’s like the coolest place ever, and an article in Fuse that talks about the scene also makes it sound like one of those beaten down cities that eventually produces some cracked-out cultural diamond. But my favorite part of the article is the bit about how someone vandalized a new and heinous luxury condo development with the tag BAYAREA! Ouch. The truth hurts. http://www.fusemagazine.org/
SFMOMA’s Evening of Curiosities Halloween Costume Contest
Did you have your picture taken tonight at our Halloween party / Fall Members Opening? The full Flickr set is here!
Visitor Flickr Photo of the Week
Rita, a.k.a Seenyarita, snapped this picture at the entrance to the current Richard Avedon exhibition. From time to time, the SFMOMA freight elevator is in use during public hours and the doors open, much to the surprise of visitors. Rita explains her picture better than I could:
“I’ve been to see the Avedon show 3 times now. Probably will go back at least one more time before it’s over. I was intrigued by the way that the image on the elevator parts to reveal another world. I feel that Avedon was able to show worlds to us through portraits on a white background. There was no need to see anything in the background beyond the subject since the portraits themselves spoke volumes.“
1001 Words: 10.28.09
*an ongoing series of individual images presented for speculation and scrutiny, with only tags at the bottom to give context. Because sometimes words are never enough…
Woody Allen’s Interiors
It’s been many years since I’ve called myself a Woody Allen fan. By the early 80s—when I began my hardcore cinephiliac tour of duty—the critical darling of the late 70s had begun churning out such lighter and slighter fare that I was tempted to write him off entirely. By the time he’d entered a run of serious mid-career revitalization with such major works as Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Husbands and Wives, I routinely appraised his works sight-unseen with the assured jaundiced eye so characteristic of the post-adolescent. Unfortunately, the ensuing years have provided scant cause to knock me off my high horse, and now even Allen’s supposedly great works of the 70s have, for me, deflated to bagatelles, their former importance seemingly an effect of mass-hallucination. Yes, there’s much charm in Annie Hall, say, but the movie’s largely strung together by the most brazen ziggurat of intellectual referencing and name-dropping ever erected. I gotta admit I took mental notes watching these films which informed my reading and aesthetic explorations for quite a while, but now, almost at the end of the 00’s—the most nonintellectual era yet known to modern man—they can be seen for what they are: products of a largely anti-visual sensibility with a talent rooted in a brilliant display of absurdist verbal pyrotechnics better suited to the satirical mock-essay. “Look how much I know, how much I’ve read!“, they seem to scream. “Nebbish jokester that I am, I still must be taken seriously! I’m not just a funnyman! I’ve read Proust, Kafka, Freud, and Flaubert, my favorite director is Jean Renoir, and how ’bout that Sol LeWitt!” Etc, etc.
The financial success of this approach is a testament to the social basis of comedy—surely there weren’t hoards of graduate students making these films hits. Those who got the references laughed to inform everybody they were in the know, and those who didn’t laughed to disguise their ignorance. All this semi/pseudo-erudition set to laughter made audiences happy to plunk down the cash, but also for unfortunate aesthetic results. Love and Death applied the formula strictly to 19th Century Russian literature (plus a healthy dollop of Seventh Seal references thrown in for good measure), while the much-lauded Manhattan combined Annie Hall with coffee table photography book to produce one of the oddest amalgams in cinema history: it’s both a gorgeous orgy of widescreen black-and-white cinematography informed by a deep knowledge of still photography art, and an astoundingly non-visual dramatic romantic-comedy: while it’s true that much of its emotional palette is expressed by images, most of its dramaturgical and comedic highlights can be gleaned solely by listening to its soundtrack.
The gods overfilled Woody’s cup-o’-talent, however, and there are exceptions to the rule—works which find their home squarely within the Temple of True Cinema. Sleeper is one such film. Blending slapstick—a genre ever-threatening to petit-bourgeois inclinations towards decorum and social stability, and hence looked down upon by newspaper critics – with science-fiction and romantic comedy, and laden with references more topical than arch-intellectual, Allen evokes in Sleeper something close to the anarchic spirit of his beloved Marx Brothers. Brimming with visual inventiveness—whether in terms of its jaunty art direction, physical comedy, or the certain but unfussy manner in which Allen creates shots and puts them together—Sleeper is cinematically alive.
One on One: Michelle Barger on Robert Overby
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. This week and next, Michelle Barger, SFMOMA deputy head of conservation, & Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, assistant curator of architecture and design, together take on Robert Overby’s Hall painting, first floor.
Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher: I was so excited to learn that Robert Overby’s large latex rubber cast of Hall painting, first floor from 1971 would be on view, because I had been working on an exhibition proposal that would incorporate this work that, to my knowledge, had not been on view at SFMOMA since it was acquired in 2003. When the One on One opportunity came up, I knew I wanted to talk about this piece, but only recently noticed that Michelle Barger, Deputy Head of Conservation, has also selected this piece. As luck would have it, the talks were scheduled one week apart: a great opportunity to highlight on the blog the many different interpretations and voices within an institution on a single work of art.
Michelle, we know that Hall painting, first floor was a cast from the Barclay House, which was a recently burned and abandoned building in Los Angeles. As a conservator, what do you think of Overby’s attempt to preserve an imprint of house surely slated for demolition?
Michelle Barger: It’s interesting to explore Overby’s Barclay project as a sort of preservation project. I often think of the surfaces of Hall painting, first floor as topography maps—literally a one-to-one record of every hill and valley in the flaking paint and loose plaster. In the field of conservation, we are always attempting to document the life of a work of art: what are the materials, how did the artist manipulate them and create the work of art, what are the best display conditions, are those conditions variable, how will the materials age, and is this acceptable, etc. It’s interesting to think of Hall painting, first floor in the way one can think of documentation for performance art—a record that proves or confirms that an event existed and happened. It becomes a second-hand version of the real thing. But in this case, one can consider Overby’s documentation as the performance.
JDF: I imagine that the fashion for entropy in artworks from the 1960s and 70s can complicate a conservator’s role in preserving a work that is supposed to “fade away’ eventually, especially if it is a valuable work in a museum collection. In contrast, Overby appears to be attempting to capture the house before its demise, yet the material—latex rubber—used for the casts must be particularly hard to maintain, especially as it is embedded with bits from the house—the paint, plaster and even charred wood. How do you treat such a piece? Are the artist’s intentions taken into consideration, even when there is no documented conservation plan from the artist?
MB: The conservation staff here is very committed to understanding artists’ intent for their work; we consider this information to be an integral part of developing a preservation plan for works in the collection. Yet, as you note, we don’t always have the luxury of knowing an artist’s thoughts for how a work should age over time, particularly when the artist is no longer alive. In such cases, we may work with our curators, colleagues at other institutions who are familiar with the artist’s work, and family members and studio assistants to better comprehend the best course for treatment.
On the subject of Overby’s material specifically, we were fortunate to have spent many hours studying and examining the work of Eva Hesse—so much of her later sculptural work incorporated latex rubber—in preparation for our 2002 retrospective of her work. During the subsequent tour of the exhibit to Wiesbaden, Germany, and London, I had the wonderful privilege of handling and installing her work, and observing the qualities and limits of aged latex rubber. One very basic thing I learned is that you can extend the life of an artwork made with rubber by simply storing it in the exact configuration in which it is displayed. In other words, rubber will eventually become hardened and brittle, causing the work to “freeze” in whatever position it happens to be in at that point in time. Many of Overby’s rubber wall paintings from the Barclay House are so large that they must be stored rolled on a cylinder—in much the same way that large tapestries or rugs are stored. Luckily, Hall painting, first floor is small enough that we can store it completely flat and still fit the crate into our freight elevator, through gallery doorways, and into storage.
As for the bits of paint, plaster, charred wood—and even a telephone wire—in this work, they are remarkably well-adhered to the rubber surface. Flexing of the work during handling and installation could compromise this, especially as the rubber continues to become more brittle. But we’ve worked out an excellent system where the storage crate also serves as a tray to support the work when moving it from a horizontal to vertical position.
I’ll be speaking about Hall painting, first floor in a One on One talk this Thursday the 29th at 6:30, and will specifically address the challenges we face in preserving works made from latex rubber. I’ll bring some show-and-tell items—including some samples of rubber and cheesecloth panels—so please come on by!
At Home with Cristy Road
Drinking the most anemic, milked-down coffee at a breakfast joint in Providence, Rhode Island, I so wish I was back in Cristy Road’s lightless, ornamented punk rock palace. The walls are covered, like totally covered, with Cristy’s illustrations, inky and graphic and punk and female, girls breaking down or falling in love or both at the same time while crowd surfing with octopus at a punk show. Cristy is often asked to create art for the bands and businesses who, at a glance, know they share the same political aesthetic as Cristy. She did the T-Shirts for the feminist book store Women and Children First in Chicago, she did the cover of the 3-wave feminist anthology We Don’t Need Another Wave, she made Sister Spit’s 2009 graphics and she created an awesome burning cop car for a show about queer street protest I curated this summer. The cop car was blown up and submitted to the art director of the Green Day musical happening in Berkeley, who was soliciting art to plaster across the stage’s backdrop. This is super perfect for Cristy because her name was lifted from the lyrics of a Green Day song and she is so obsessed with the band her first artistic offering was Greenzine, a true fan-zine, and her current work in progress is an illustrated novel about her love for the band. After the publication of her last illustrated punk rock roman a clef, Bad Habits, Green Day’s Billy Joe sent Cristy a hand-written fan letter, calling her a miracle. The real Christie Road is a street in the East Bay, with a sign that is regularly stolen by mad Green Day fans. Cristy has one hung above her work station. She told me they’re really hard to steal now cause the workers hang it way high, out of the reach of thieving Green day fanatics.
The rest of the room half-plastered in Cristy’s artwork is wallpapered with various posters of glamorous women, mostly Madonna, as Cristy’s roommates are a gaggle of punked-out fags not too punk to love Madonna. They are, after all, drag queens as well as punks and on my visit one, a fashion designer, was holding white denim vest tricked-out crusty-style in patches and studs, under the kitchen sink, dying it sepia with tea. The other were sprawled in the cavernous living room, stoned and eating coffee cake and giving themselves clay masks and watching The Golden Girls amidst the decor – a live iguana, clown dolls, a crazy mannequin named Pompeii, a gun vase stuffed with glittery fake flowers. Diana Ross posters hang on walls, Hole, too. Perpetually exhausted as the endless tour rolls into its seventh week, I had tugged my luggage through the Hasidic Brooklyn neighborhood Cristy lives in, and she rewarded me by making me a giant cup of Cuban style coffee like her grandmother makes, in a metal espresso pot thick with sugar and cream. Even though this tour has given me a caffeine tolerance that has rendered Red Bull useless, I sip the Cuban coffee respectfully, knowing that it has the power to Fuck Me Up.
Five Questions: Andy and Kathy
Five questions to SFMOMA visitors, artists, staff, or guests.
Name/Place of residence/Occupation/Hobby?
K: Katherine, Tampa, Florida. I am an elementary school media specialist. Hobby: reading! What a surprise.
A: My name is Andy, Tampa Florida is our town. I’m an environmental consultant and my hobby is politics.
K: Not the same politics, sadly.
Do you collect anything?
K: Yes, I do. We collect sea shells since we live in Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. We have a lot of beautiful sea shells. I collect tea cups myself. I have a lot of cute little tea cup things. Not creepy tea cup stuff but nice tea cup stuff.
A: I collect rocks, minerals and shells. Not many, but just really nice samples. Things like that.
If you could invite any artist to dinner, who would it be and why?
K: I would pick Mary Cassatt. I just love her work: French Impressionism, it’s just amazing. And she’s from Philadelphia too.
K: He has a nice print in his office.
A: Yes, I find it very inspirational.
If you could steal any artwork in the world to have up in your house, what would it be?
A: I wouldn’t do it.
A: I saw some sketches that Picasso did at the Guggenheim that I thought were amazing. I’d like to have that collection just to look at.
What’s your favorite tool?
K: My KitchenAid mixer. I’m a big cook, a big time cook.
A: I have a lot of different tools. My 6 foot stick tape. I use it for work. You can use it to do some rough surveying too and a lot of site stuff.
K: Not a very romantic answer.
A: Plus my garden edger is really nice.
K: That is a good garden edger, that’s true. EBay, we got a good buy on that one too. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.
One on One: Rudolf Frieling on Candice Breitz
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 curator of Media Arts, Rudolf Frieling.
Do only fans truly understand pop culture? Anyone who has been a fan of one of our global pop stars knows it is the fans that make the star. Candice Breitz has explored—in four different parts of the world—how fans “become” their beloved idol, be it Bob Marley in Kingston; Madonna in Milan; Michael Jackson in Berlin; or, finally, John Lennon in Newcastle, England. I saw Candice Breitz’s Lennon-portrait-as-working class hero three years ago, when it was first shown in Vienna. Today, installed in the Media Art galleries on SFMOMA’s 4th floor, I’m still struck by the way twenty-five ardent Lennon fans have taken on the challenge to sing every single song of his first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. The record was released in 1970, the same year the Beatles split up; Lennon was deeply involved in global politics at the time, and working through the traumatic loss of his mother. Breitz’s impassioned “chorus” sings for 39 minutes and 55 seconds (the exact length of the album). Displayed on twenty-five individual screens, Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon) (2006), synchronizes the fans’ performances in off-kilter harmony; the album’s first song “Mother” linking this piece of collaborative acapella performance to Breitz’s second work on view, entitled precisely Mother (2005). For this second exploration of pop culture iconography Breitz edited film performances by Faye Dunaway, Diane Keaton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Meryl Streep, creating a revealing composite of the Hollywood cliché of the difficult mother.
While our series of One-on-One talks is typically hosted by a curator “only”, I’m happy to be able to invite you to join me and the artist Candice Breitz in a conversation dedicated to her show “On View: Candice Breitz” before we embark on a more extended panel discussion. The One on One talk starts in the Haas Atrium at 6:30 p.m. At7 p.m. please join us for “More on Pictures, or Appropriation Now” in the Wattis Theater.