Positive Signs #37, 38, & 39
Positive Signs is a series of interpretive diagrams, quotes, and speculations on creativity and optimism.
Next: Positive Signs #40–45, on the ontological status of the positive, plus Venn diagrams of subjective well-being and hope.
See all Positive Signs.
Passing on (by Ben Kinmont)
“From musical compositions to recipes to instruction pieces, people have been sharing their making, meaning, and authorship with others. When a pianist follows a score, a chef cooks a dish, or a person follows an instruction piece, variations and interpretations are made and shared. In this way a sound, a taste, or an idea is passed on, appreciated, and yet also changed by this new maker, perhaps with new instruments and ingredients and within a new context. Whether the others involved are an audience, those around the table, or visitors to a museum, this experience takes on a broader meaning due to its place in a progression, an atemporal community of makers connected through their consideration of a given idea. But by acknowledging these other composers, chefs, and artists who have worked with the idea before, we can see authorship as residing in a multitude of makers and participants, and perhaps from this loosening of the idea of the single author, we can better get to the content of the work at hand. Perhaps this will make it is easier to say, sit back and enjoy the show, enjoy the meal, enjoy the idea we are passing on.”
Naoya Hatakeyama: Lime Hills (Quarry Series)
Lisa J. Sutcliffe
Naoya Hatakeyama: Natural Stories, which opened on Saturday, is the first solo exhibition of this important contemporary Japanese photographer in the United States. Drawn to landscapes in transition, Hatakeyama is known for large-scale color photographs that explore the collision of man and nature. His pictures examine the structures societies create to claim and process natural resources, and capture the extraordinary forces we deploy to shape nature to our will. Over the course of the exhibition we’ll share selections from the show with you on Open Space.
Last weekend I took Naoya and his partner, Corinne, on a driving tour of San Francisco. While we gazed upon the hills of San Francisco from the Marin Headlands they taught me some Japanese landscape terms, and I was delighted to discover that Hatakeyama’s name translates to field (Hatake) mountain (yama). It seems fitting that someone named for the landscape has dedicated his life to making pictures that transform our understanding of the natural world.
Today we’re featuring Hatakeyama’s earliest series, Lime Hills (Quarry Series), the work that launched his career. In 1986 the artist returned to the area near his hometown, Rikuzentakata, in Iwate Prefecture on the northeastern coast of Japan, to investigate the nearby limestone quarries and their corresponding factories. Over the next five years he broadened his scope to include mines throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Calling on the traditions of Romantic painting, these pictures blur the lines between man-made and natural environments, transforming industrial settings into awe-inspiring images. Reflecting on the physical connection between these sites and civilization, he later noted: “If the concrete buildings and highways that stretch to the horizon are all made from limestone dug from the hills, and if they should all be ground to dust and this vast quantity of calcium carbonate returned to its precise points of origin, why then, with the last spoonful, the ridge lines of the hills would be restored to their original dimensions.”
Lisa Sutcliffe is SFMOMA assistant curator of photography. Her March 2011 post Spirit in the Air, remembering the Tohuku earthquake, also includes work by Hatakeyama.
Today (and tomorrow)! Free with museum admission.
PLUS, check out Margaret’s weekly KUSF-in-Exile radio show ROLL CALL: music and interviews with Bay Area artists, writers, musicians, activists, glitterati, the awesome.
Happy Birthday, William Eggleston, and Bobbie Gentry
Today we celebrate the 73rd birthday of Memphis, Tennessee, photographer William Eggleston. Mr. Eggleston has been photographing in the American South since the ’60s, and there are a number of his fantastic pictures in the SFMOMA collection. While I was searching for something special of his to share this afternoon, I was struck especially by these three pictures taken in Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, in the early ’70s. “Tallahatchie” reminded me of that sad Southern Gothic top-4 Billboard hit of 1967, Ode to Billie Joe, and, thank the Internet, I’ve just discovered that Mississippi-born Bobbie Gentry, who wrote and recorded the song, also celebrates a birthday today (68!). Cheers to these two chroniclers of a very particularly American tempo, soul, geography, color, milieu.
Here’s Bobbie performing Ode to Billie Joe, on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967:
More William Eggleston.
Marina, Full of Grace
The documentary film Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present follows the artist in the months before and during her 2010 MoMA show of the same name, offering an addendum to the exhibition for those who saw it, and a fascinating secondhand glimpse into it for those who didn’t (like myself). With SFMOMA’s survey of theatricality in art and media, Stage Presence, having just opened, this seems an appropriate moment to reflect on one of the preeminent performance artists of our time — or at least the most notorious. The centerpiece of Abramovic’s MoMA exhibition famously comprised the artist herself seated in a chair with another empty chair positioned a few feet away; visitors were invited one by one to approach Abramovic and sit down opposite her, the cue for the artist to raise her head and look her visitor in the eye. Participants could remain seated there for as little or as long as they chose to.
What first strikes me about this performance is its incredible generosity. Forget the headline-grabbing nature of the piece and the adulation Abramovic received from hundreds of thousands of visitors, and consider the levels of energy and emotional focus required to sit motionless and silently address an endless stream of strangers for eight hours a day. Members of the public lined up in droves for their opportunity to be moved by the artist’s gaze. The film documents these wordless confrontations between artist and viewer in emotionally charged scenes, with Abramovic resembling a priestess or oracle, sitting day in, day out for three months in alternate floor-length gowns of red, black, and white, appearing to emanate love and warmth, and offering tears, smiles, and sincerity.
In return, though, Abramovic achieved near-messianic status. Has there ever been such a distilled representation of the artist as prophet — one endowed with special abilities to see things others can’t?
What most interest me are the motivating forces in this potent exchange between performer and audience. What compels viewers to sleep overnight on the street for their chance to take away something profound from this experience? The piece provides a window into the human need for confrontation, connection, love, and spectacle. And it’s hard not to parse the artist’s motivations, since this must have fueled her ability to complete the work.
One audience member in the film describes her wish to be as vulnerable as the artist when she has her moment in the hot seat. But is Abramovic really the vulnerable one in this exchange? Who holds the power? The fourth wall may have been broken down, relatively speaking, but when members of the public sit down opposite Abramovic, they enter a contract defined by the artist: no touching or movement beyond the seat is permitted, only looking. Abramovic says in the film that she wants to become a rock in the gallery space, and it is this sense of rootedness that perhaps grants her the magnetic presence that seems to dominate the space. And don’t forget, she likes playing this role. In the opening scenes of the film, the artist describes herself as a trifecta of personas, her favorite of which is Marina, the spiritually wise.
In the months prior to the show’s opening, Abramovic flirted with the idea of inviting the magician David Blaine to perform an intervention. One of her advisors argued against this, making the case that Blaine is an illusionist, while Abramovic’s work is real. But what is real about this interchange? Surely nothing staged in more ordinary circumstances, outside of a performance space and without an audience, could have produced these charged scenes? The time spent waiting to engage with Abramovic and watching others moved by the experience, the anticipation of one’s own time in the hot seat, all contribute to the event’s theatrical crescendo. But if this blog is anything to go by — http://marinaabramovicmademecry.tumblr.com/ — one imagines that audience members took away something that felt intensely real.
The piece manifests so much that is latent in contemporary popular culture — celebrity as religion, the fascination with reality television (Jerry Saltz makes a valid point about this performance provoking and expressing narcissism not only in the artist, which is clear, but also in her audience) — and is worth endlessly dissecting. I just wish I had been there to watch, voyeuristically, on the sidelines.
Backstage: Margaret Tedesco
All summer long, as part of the exhibition Stage Presence, we’re hosting LIVE performances in a specially commissioned fourth-floor performance space created by Tucker Nichols. Totally awesome artist lineup, and we’re posting rehearsal pix plus performance videos every week.
Margaret Tedesco’s accessories:
Tedesco works across performance, installation, and photography. In her weekend appearances she draws on and restages her 2005 work Cameo, in which a woman translates feature-length films with the sound off for an audience who cannot see the images. For Thursday evening’s Catalogue #3, she abandons the film for the inventory.
Check out this week’s performances: Thursday, July 26, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, July 28 and 29, 3 p.m. Free with museum admission.
Stage Presence: Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett
All summer long, as part of the exhibition Stage Presence, we’re hosting LIVE performances, in a specially commissioned fourth-floor performance space created by Tucker Nichols. Totally awesome artist line up, and we’re posting rehearsal pix plus follow-up videos every week.
Highlights from last weekend’s performance — Shana Moulton and Nick Hallett’s Whispering Pines 10
Moulton’s alternate persona, Cynthia, moves between domestic spaces, technology, and mental (if colorful) breakdown in her ongoing video series. In Whispering Pines 10, she inhabits a virtual environment of live animation alongside an electronic opera score by Hallett, featuring soprano Daisy Press.
“Bird Song” music and lyrics copyright Nick Hallett 2010
Videographer: Jim Granato
Thursday, July 19, 2012, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, July 21 and 22, 2012, 3:00 p.m. Free with museum admission.
Receipt of Delivery: Bernie Lubell’s Paper Mechanisms
Receipt of Delivery is a weekly series featuring Bay Area exhibition mailers selected from the SFMOMA Research Library’s collection of artists’ ephemera.
Bernie Lubell and I were catching up the other day, talking about his recent work. I mentioned that I was interested in learning more about his 1980s-era exhibition cards. He clarified that those particular invitations for his sculpture shows in San Francisco were not just instruction-based, but could actually be assembled into paper mechanisms. These cards were the perfect format for an artist who was becoming known for his interactive wood machine installations. Since I can’t take a scissor to our archival copies, Bernie sent me the lovely video (posted above) of him demonstrating the intricacies and wordplay of these assembled announcements.
Diary of a Crazy Artist: Looking at New York Right Now
Some pictures from walking around Manhattan last week.
From the Archive
Several times a year we reissue a suite of articles from the archive, which is rich, deep, and various.
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.)
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.
Organized by Suzanne Stein + Tanya Zimbardo
In conjunction with Fifty Years of Bay Area Art: The SECA Awards, Open Space hosted a series of in-gallery talks given by SECA Art Award winners. Participating artists selected and spoke on a single work on view.
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.