A Queer Tour of the Permanent Collection: Claude Cahun

Claude Cahun (Lucy Renée Mathilde Schwob), Untitled (Self-Portrait), ca. 1929; photograph; gelatin silver print, 4 1/2 in. x 3 1/4 in. (11.43 cm x 8.26 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Robert Shapazian; © Estate of Claude Cahun

Last fall I taught a course called “Queer Modernism” at California College of the Arts. As a class project, my students traced a queer itinerary through the permanent collection at SFMOMA, culminating in a queer audio tour of the museum’s holdings. Each student first wrote an introduction to queer art at SFMOMA, explaining the interest of our queer intervention: How does looking at art through a queer lens show familiar works in a new light and, more generally, change our understanding of modernism and its canons?

We used the term “queer” loosely. It could apply to any work that lends itself to queer interpretation, contributes to a critique of sexual/social/artistic norms, celebrates homoeroticism, refuses a fixed identity, participates in the establishment of a dissident cultural lineage, and/or subverts gendered power structures.

Based on focused research, each student ultimately produced an audio stop illuminating one work of art from a queer angle. Carlsbad Oster focused on Claude Cahun:

Because Claude Cahun is a pivotal figure in my own research, I couldn’t resist recording an audiostop myself:

Posts in the “Queer Audio Tour of the Permanent Collection” series address other works in SFMOMA’s holdigs, such as Claude Cahun’s Untitled (1929), Jess’s The Mouse’s Tail (1951/1954)Robert Gober’s Untitled (1990), and Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather (1993-1994).

SECA 50th Anniversary Artist on Artist Talks: Rebeca Bollinger on Giorgio Morandi

In conjunction with Fifty Years of Bay Area Art: The SECA Awards, we’ve restyled our weekly in-gallery talks with a superb lineup of past SECA Art awardees. Each Thursday at 6:30pm an artist talks about something on view. Last week, Rebeca Bollinger (1996 SECA Art Award) talked about  Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta (Still Life), “translating” the painting five ways. Two of the translations are represented in detail below.

Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1952.

[audio:https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/sfmomaopenspace/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Bollinger-on-Morandi2.mp3]

Rebeca Bollinger on Giorgio Morandi’s Natura morta (Still Life).

[audio:https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/sfmomaopenspace/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Translation_No.5_of_5.mp3]

Detail, Rebeca Bollinger on Giorgio Morandi’s Natura morta (Still Life): “Translation No. 5″ translates the text from NY Times critic Holland Cotter’s review of Giorgio Morandi’s exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, text translated into sound.

Detail, Rebeca Bollinger on Giorgio Morandi’s Natura morta (Still Life): “Translation No. 2”.

 

Rebeca Bollinger, Blue, 2010; glazed ceramic, pigment print; 8½ x 16 x 9½ in.; Courtesy Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles

Rebeca Bollinger, Background, 2010; glazed ceramic; 7 ½ x 10 ½ x 6 in.; Courtesy Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles

Rebeca Bollinger, Everything is Everything (installation view), 2010: Courtesy Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles


 


Rebeca Bollinger (1996 SECA Electronic Media Award) works with ceramics, drawing, sculpture, photography, collage, animation, sound and sculptural video projection. She is represented by Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, and Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles.

Tomorrow night is our final talk in this superb series, please don’t miss it: Hung Liu on Rosana Castrillo Díaz.


Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. Talks last 20 minutes and are free with museum admission — which is half-price Thursday eves, or of course, totally free if you’re a member. If you can’t make it into the galleries, check back here on Wednesdays: we’ll record and post the audio to Open Space each week.

A Queer Tour of the Permanent Collection: Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin, Falling Blue, 1963; oil and graphite on canvas; 71 7/8 in. x 72 in. (182.56 cm x 182.88 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Moses Lasky; © Estate of Agnes Martin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Last fall I taught a course called “Queer Modernism” at California College of the Arts. As a class project, my students traced a queer itinerary through the permanent collection at SFMOMA, culminating in a queer audio tour of the museum’s holdings. Each student first wrote an introduction to queer art at SFMOMA, explaining the interest of our queer intervention: How does looking at art through a queer lens show familiar works in a new light and, more generally, change our understanding of modernism and its canons?

We used the term “queer” loosely. It could apply to any work that lends itself to queer interpretation, contributes to a critique of sexual/social/artistic norms, celebrates homoeroticism, refuses a fixed identity, participates in the establishment of a dissident cultural lineage, and/or subverts gendered power structures.

Based on focused research, each student ultimately produced an audio stop illuminating one work of art from a queer angle. Both Susannah Rea-Downing and Sarah Zehr chose to analyze Agnes Martin’s Falling Blue (1963).

Susannah Rea-Downing

Sarah Zehr

Posts in the “Queer Audio Tour of the Permanent Collection” series address other works in SFMOMA’s holdigs, such as Claude Cahun’s Untitled (1929), Jess’s The Mouse’s Tail (1951/1954)Robert Gober’s Untitled (1990), and Janine Antoni’s Lick and Lather (1993-1994).

Treasure Hunt

Whenever I feel surprise at having become an an art dealer, I remind myself that at 14 years old, like some suburban Medici prince, I commissioned my first work of art. For the grand sum of twenty dollars, or bag ‘o weed of same value, I got my friend Lance, who was something of an artist, and something of a hustler, to paint the cover of Relayer by the band Yes on the back of my denim jacket.

Robert Dean, cover art for Relayer by Yes, 1974, Atlantic Records

I had only one denim jacket with which to brand myself, and Yes seems an unlikely choice for a kid whose primary response to the world was “no.” But I made the commitment casually, the way a 14-year-old does, even though I knew that Yes was just the latest fling in a long line of musical infatuations, and that I would soon be repelled by the image. When you’re a kid, and you move on from a band, you don’t just let them go, you bonfire their albums because they stand for everything you are trying to grow out of.

As with so many boys of my generation, my first musical loves were the Osmond Brothers, Mormon dandies in white suits with white fringe, and the Jackson Five, 10 glittery lapels in seriously tight choreography. They were soon upstaged by the Monkees, who were conveniently delivered right to my bedroom every afternoon at 4, and the Beatles, whom I communed with for a long, long time. Then, along came the Beach Boys, who awoke in me a love for my future home, California.

Things picked up pace when I turned 12. I powered through a series of predictably unsatisfying affairs with the Eagles, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and Boston. But just when the music was getting harder with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and Jimi Hendrix, I took a strange detour, that cannot be understood by anyone who didn’t live through the mid-’70s, into the jazz fusion world of Billy Cobham, Chick Corea, and Al Dimeola. That road bottomed out with the queasy ambience of Yes. The musical equivalent of a Carlos Casteneda novel, it was my last escapist affair before encountering Bowie, the Ramones, and punk rock, which would deliver me from my sneering, sarcastic youth into adulthood.

Before that, I was a teenage stoner in a big, unhappy house, and I loved to astrally project myself onto the fantastical landscapes unfolded to me in Yes’s spacey New Age music and graphics. Unfortunately, the trippy ambience didn’t translate into a jacket thing, and Lance’s strange denim concoction, which would stump even Dick Hebdige, got nudged to the back of a closet full of cuffed jeans, blue suede high tops and army surplus jackets. At some point my mother must have given it away, and it has probably since been resold on eBay as folk art.

Detail from an eBay listing, March 24, 2012

It seems like, in America at least, art and music, not to mention clothes, have always gone together. The Abstract Expressionists painted to jazz, Warhol to the Velvets. In San Francisco we have the psychedelic poster to commemorate that brief moment when the Bay Area music, drug, and art scene ruled pop culture. For some reason, I never got into these posters despite the fact that I like some of the music, love art nouveau, and suffer from a slight case of horror vacuii. They just don’t call to me.

That all changed last week when a seller at the Alemany Flea Market turned up with a stack of large, brightly colored sheets of paper. I find a steady stream of amazing stuff at the flea market. I go almost every Sunday at 6 a.m. as though it were church. Aside from the pleasures of sharing space with a motley crew of misfits absorbed in the work of gleaning, I go there because I like having an alternative to the studios, galleries, and auction houses where everyone else in the business shops. The flea market deforms my inventory and collections in ways that make them less predictable. You really never know what’s going to pop up there.

Egyptology Box, c. 1940, carved and painted wood, acquired at the Alameda Flea Market, 2010

Peeking at the corner of the colorful sheets in the trunk of the seller’s car that morning, I thought to myself, This is interesting. Probably some Pop art–era billboard selling soap. Because of unusually high winds, it was too dangerous to spread them out on the concrete, where I and everyone else could see them. Not wanting more useless historical detritus, which sticks to me like flypaper, I was ready to blow them off when the seller agreed to delay a sale until I could examine them in the safety and privacy of my own gallery. In the never-ending game of winners and losers at the flea market, where pushing, elbowing, and line-cutting are the norm, a private viewing means Scoreboard!

I want to say that laying out these twelve, approximately 5-by-3-foot, screen-printed sheets of paper in their proper order was like watching a butterfly emerge from a chrysalis. But that lackluster cliche so wildly underrepresents the neuronal clusterfuck that took place when this psychedelic poster mural by Robert Fried came into focus. Fried, along with Wes Wilson, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, and others, pioneered the psychedelic rock poster in the late 1960s. I don’t know if he ever designed for Yes, but his LSD visions of extraterrestrial vistas made with intensely saturated colors would have fit them like a glove. Like some Proustian Madeleine, the mural put me right back on my teenage built-in bed, staring at the Larry Zox–style graphic my mom had had painted on the wall above, enjoying a druggy deliverance from the unpleasant tedium that was always me contemplating me.

Robert Fried, Wild West, c. 1970; silkscreen on paper; 9 x 21 feet

This is the perfect flea market score. I rescued an important work by a now-obscure artist: Wild West was one of only two billboard-size murals at Fried’s 1973 retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum; and it combines, like no other work I know, the nose-in-page intimacy of an underground comic with the ambitious scale of manifest destiny and American advertising. I will eventually make a lot of money on it — how much depends on how scarce these are. Can’t be that many around! And by introducing the randomness of the flea market into my curatorial practice, I have overcome the predictability of my own habits and limitations, which is saying something.

I’m sorry if what started as a sharing has turned into a vaporous boast. But that’s the flea market. Half the reason people shop there is so they can tell their fish stories after. Scoreboard! But after so many years and so many fish, I’m more interested in the weird glimmers of strange knowledge that one espies there. You can develop all manner of expertise at the flea market, from knowing how to fix and operate obsolete tools to the ins and outs of 19th-century fraternity pennants. I always think when I get up in the morning that I’m going there to prospect for treasure; but as in some cartoon where the character digs a hole in his backyard and ends up in China, I always end up tunneling back to me.

There Is a There There

California Dreaming, an exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, pays tribute to Jews whose dreams have shaped the character of life in the Bay Area from the Gold Rush era to the present. This is not a pantheon-building exercise, though. While iconic figures do play prominent roles in CJM’s historical pageant, the exhibition commemorates their deeds without representing history as a procession of “great men.” Levi Strauss, for instance, is represented by examples of the things his company made, including a policy of nondiscrimination, as well as 501 jeans and denim yarmulkes.

 

_California Dreaming_ (installation shot), Contemporary Jewish Museum

Honoring the Jewish spirit of inquiry, the exhibition unfolds as a series of questions: “What does it mean to be first?” “If I am only for myself, what am I?” “Is there a there there?” “What is a promised land?” “What is a Jewish leader?” As former CJM Director Connie Wolf, who conceived of the exhibition, explained, “We’re presenting this history in a new way, through a series of questions to engage visitors in thinking about their own role in creating and sustaining community.”

California Dreaming includes interactive components that invite members of the museum’s community to append their own personal photos and stories to this narrative. A constantly shifting montage of images evoking the diversity and complexity of “being Jewish” in the Bay Area can be accessed both online and in person. This open-ended visual narrative unfolds on a monitor at the very entrance to the gallery, an inclusive and expansive gesture that sets the tone for the whole exhibition.

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for _California Dreaming_

An adjacent installation, commissioned from the Bay Area conceptual photographer and cultural historian Rachel Schreiber, differently embodies the exhibition’s philosophical orientation. Schreiber’s Site Reading presents a series of counter-monuments — photographs of locales not distinguished by historical markers, where acts of untouted generosity, creation, courage, solidarity, activism, and ingenuity transpired. Schreiber has paired these images of unremarkable sites with short biographical texts that illuminate disproportionately remarkable lives. The image/text couplets span an entire wall, stretching out against a deep blue decor in orderly succession. This display contrasts with the warm palette and hodgepodge aesthetic that characterize the rest of the exhibition. The relative sobriety of Schreiber’s installation imbues this Site Reading zone with an aura of restrained reverence. Cumulatively, the framed works aligned here hint that there’s something sacred about the secular scenes Schreiber singled out to photograph. Because of the installation’s location near the exhibition’s entrance/exit, it is either the visitor’s first or last experience — and it works equally well as a prologue or a coda. As we come or go, we are confronted with Schreiber’s heterotopias, layered with historical significance that is always only partially visible. Each place, each non-place, is a monument to the engagements, struggles, triumphs, and failures to which ordinary scenes like these bear constant witness.

About the people whose spirits still haunt these sites, Schreiber says, “Their histories surround us: a typical San Francisco business district street corner formerly housed a Communist-affiliated labor school where a Jewish poet taught; a ranch amidst the golden hills of Petaluma was the site where Eastern European Jews taught themselves to raise chickens; a San Francisco convention center showcasing cutting-edge Silicon Valley technology was the location of a 19th-century union hall where a Jewish labor activist argued against anti-Chinese discrimination; east of the Sierras, in a remote desert valley, a memorial stands to a Japanese internment camp at which a Jewish woman cared for her son. As varied in topography as are the spaces that make up the Bay Area, these are all sites in which such histories can be revealed.”

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

 

Rachel Schreiber, _Site Reading_, 2011; commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the exhibition _California Dreaming_

SFMOMA Acquires an Iconic Hopper

Edward Hopper, _Intermission_, 1963; oil on canvas; 40 x 60 in.; Collection SFMOMA, purchase in part through gifts of the Fisher and Schwab families; © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art; photo: courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Big news this afternoon: SFMOMA just acquired Edward Hopper’s Intermission (1963), one of the artist’s largest and most ambitious paintings. Some details on the work, from today’s press release:

“Hopper came up with the idea for Intermission while he was watching a movie, and his wife, Josephine Hopper, arranged for him to work on the painting in an empty theater. However, Hopper decided to complete Intermission at his home and studio in New York City. A surviving preparatory sketch for the painting reveals that he considered including another figure in the third row. In an interview he revealed, ‘There’s half another person in the picture.’ The final composition depicts a solitary woman in a theater, sitting alone in the first row of a side aisle. Seemingly waiting for others to return from intermission, she appears lost in thought, staring off into the distance as she sits contently in a comfortable-looking dark green theater seat with her ankles crossed.”

Click the image for a bigger view. Read the rest of the news here.

SECA 50th Anniversary Artist-on-Artist Talks: Jordan Kantor on On Kawara

In conjunction with Fifty Years of Bay Area Art: The SECA Awards, we’ve restyled our weekly in-gallery talks with a superb lineup of past SECA Art Awardees. Each Thursday at 6:30 p.m. an artist talks about something on view. Last week Jordan Kantor (2008 SECA Art Award) talked about On Kawara’s MAR. 16, 1993, from the Today series:

On Kawara, MAR. 16, 1993, from the Today series, 1993; Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Hiroko and On Kawara in memory of John Caldwell; © On Kawara

[audio:https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/sfmomaopenspace/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Kantor-on-Kawara.mp3]

Jordan Kantor on On Kawara’s MAR. 16, 1993, from the Today series

“As I can”: Jan van Eyck and the assertion of the self.

Edouard Manet and the painting of modern life.

Giorgio Morandi and the daily practice of painting.

Jordan Kantor, Eclipse, 2009.

Jordan Kantor, Untitled (Wrapped/Unwrapped), 2010; chromogenic color print, mounted on 1/4” Plexiglas, face-mounted on 1/8” non-glare Plexiglas; diptych, two panels 30 x 45 in. ea.; Courtesy the artist

Jordan Kantor, Les Meules (installation view at Churner and Churner, New York), 2011; 16mm film, silent, color; Courtesy the artist.

Jordan Kantor with On Kawara’s MAR. 16,1993


Jordan Kantor (2008 SECA Art Award) is a San Francisco–based artist. When he delivered the talk on On Kawara archived here, he was 14,615 days old. Information on his work can be found at Ratio 3 and Churner and Churner.

Tomorrow night: Rebeca Bollinger on Giorgio Morandi’s Natura Morta (Still Life), 1952


UPCOMING SECA 50th Anniversary ARTIST-ON-ARTIST TALKS:

Mar 29: Hung Liu on Rosana Castrillo Díaz

DON’T MISS THESE! Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. Talks last 20 minutes and are free with museum admission — which is half-price Thursday eves, or of course, totally free if you’re a member. If you can’t make it into the galleries, check back here on Wednesdays: we’ll record and post the audio to Open Space each week.

From the Archive

Reissues

Several times a year we reissue a suite of articles from the archive, which is rich, deep, and various.

75 Reasons to Live

Organized by Suzanne Stein + Dominic Willsdon

Remember the end of Manhattan, when Woody Allen asks himself what makes life worth living? (“Groucho Marx, Willie Mays… Swedish movies…those incredible apples and pears by Cézanne…”) In celebration of SFMOMA’s 75th anniversary in January 2010, Dominic Willsdon & Suzanne Stein invited 75 people from the Bay Area creative community to give extremely short talks—7.5 minutes or less—on a single collection work they cared about. The talks took place during the museum’s three-day celebratory weekend: two at a time, every half hour, 25 a day (a single to close out each day.)

Proposal for a Museum

Organized by grupa o.k.

In 2013, SFMOMA announced its ambitious expansion project. As a means of reflecting on its then-impending closure, grupa o.k. asked several friends and colleagues to imagine their own proposals for a museum in San Francisco.

Pop-Up Poets

Organized by Samantha Giles + Small Press Traffic

Inspired by The Steins Collect and organized by Samantha Giles of Small Press Traffic and Suzanne Stein, this series of readings honored poet Gertrude Stein and her relationships with the visual artists of her day. Each Thursday evening, a contemporary poet presented a reading, performance, or talk on a single artist or artwork on view.