Positive Signs #37, 38, & 39

Positive Signs is a series of interpretive diagrams, quotes, and speculations on creativity and optimism.

Happiness is a diffuse term. It masks important distinctions between emotions such as gratitude, awe, contentment, pride, love, compassion, and desire. Dacher Keltner, Born to Be Good (2009) 14-15.

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #37 (Happiness is a diffuse term), 2011; glitter and neon pen on gridded vellum; 8.5 × 11 in./21.5 × 28 cm

People who are led to experience brief positive emotions are more creative, expansive, generative, synthetic, and loosened up in their thought. Dacher Keltner, Born to Be Good (2009) 116.

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #38 (Brief positive emotions), 2011; glitter and neon pen on gridded vellum; 8.5 × 11 in./21.5 × 28 cm

All things come into being by conflict of opposites. Heraclitus.

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #39 (Conflict of opposites), 2011; glitter pen on gridded vellum; 8.5 × 11 in./21.5 × 28 cm

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.”
BK 2011


Tucker Nichols, 2012; Commissioned by SFMOMA; Courtesy the artist

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

William Eggleston, Untitled, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, 1972, from the portfolio 14 Pictures, 1972, printed 1974; Collection SFMOMA, Arthur W. Barney Bequest Fund purchase; © Eggleston Artistic Trust

William Eggleston, Untitled, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, 1972, 1972, printed 1974; Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Eggleston Artistic Trust

William Eggleston, Untitled, Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, ca. 1974; Collection Randi and Bob Fisher and SFMOMA

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’s Catalogue#3 dress

Tedesco’s wigs for Cameo. Nights, and night.

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.

We’ll have video next week! More info. Follow the series.

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

Next up: Margaret Tedesco! More info. Follow the series.

 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.

The Dangling Participle: A Catastrophe of Self-Organization, 1987, Bluxome Gallery, San Francisco; (tri-fold, recto and verso) 4 3/4 in. x 16 1/2 in. (12.07 cm x 41.91 cm)

Bernard Lubell: Installation-Sculpture, 1984, Lawson Galleries, San Francisco; 10 in. x 7 in. (25.4 cm x 17.78 cm)

Propensity is the Mother of Invention, 1984, Southern Exposure, San Francisco; 5 in. x 14 in. (12.7 cm x 35.56 cm)

Installation sculpture – Bernard Lubell, 1983, Twin Palms Gallery, San Francisco; (tri-fold detail) 4 in. x 20 1/2 in. (10.16 cm x 52.07 cm)

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.

Wall Street and Nassau Street around lunch time. July, 2012.

Jewelery Inc., on Church Street near Ground Zero. Stores in New York that sell diamonds often have a large plastic or metal diamond mounted on their awning. July, 2012.

Times Square crowd waiting to see the new Batman film. July, 2012.

An elderly suit salesman pausing after trying to hand out fliers on Broadway. July, 2012.

Tall ships are still docked along the South Street Seaport, just as they were 200 years ago. July, 2012.

You can see the rebuilding of ground zero from all over Manhattan. Here the two towers are already rising high above everything near them. July, 2012.