Happy New Year!

 Umbo (Otto Umbehr) German (Düsseldorf, Germany, 1902 - 1980, Hanover, Germany) Untitled ca.1932 photograph | gelatin silver print. 5 1/2 in. x 5 1/16 in. (13.97 cm x 12.86 cm) Acquired 1987 Collection SFMOMA Purchased through a gift of Mrs. Ferdinand C. Smith © Phyllis Umbehr / Gallery Kicken Berlin 87.13

Umbo (Otto Umbehr),  Untitled, ca.1932.  Photograph | gelatin silver print.  © Phyllis Umbehr / Gallery Kicken Berlin

Like this! All year!

More by Umbo here. A little more here. And here.

Season’s Image

Edward Steichen, _Rock Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island_, 1920 photograph | gelatin silver print 3 9/16 in. x 4 9/16 in. (9.05 cm x 11.59 cm) Promised gift of Paul Sack to the Sack Photographic Trust © Estate of Edward Steichen

Edward Steichen, Rock Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island, 1920 photograph | gelatin silver print 3 9/16 in. x 4 9/16 in. (9.05 cm x 11.59 cm) Promised gift of Paul Sack to the Sack Photographic Trust © Estate of Edward Steichen

See it bigger here. More by Edward Steichen here. More about Edward Steichen here, here, and here.

Season’s Image

Beth Yarnelle Edwards, _John, Age 47_, 1997. Photograph | color coupler print

Beth Yarnelle Edwards, John, Age 47, 1997. Photograph | color coupler print

More by Beth Yarnelle Edwards here. More about Beth Yarnelle Edwards here.

Season’s Image

William Allan, _Traveling in Strange Circles, 1973. Acrylic on canvas.

William Allan, Traveling in Strange Circles, 1973. Acrylic on canvas.

More by William Allan here.

~ Happy Holidays ~

Martin Parr Untitled [meringue], from the series British Food 1995 photograph | chromogenic print 7 in. x 10 in. (17.78 cm x 25.4 cm) Acquired 2006 Collection SFMOMA Purchased through a gift of Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser and the Accessions Committee Fund © Martin Parr 2006.92.8

Martin Parr, Untitled (meringue, from the series British Food), 1995. Photograph | chromogenic print © Martin Parr

I’m a big fan of the photographer Martin Parr generally, and am the fan of fans of his series British Food, especially at holiday time. I love this picture: for the unnatural tangerine glow of the filling; that the edge of the crust that looks nearly as orange; and especially for that tiny bright triangle of sun in the picture’s lower right quadrant.  The browned top of the meringue reminds me of the painted frosting on any Wayne Thiebaud cake. (Or of the field in the foreground of this painting.) This plain pie dressed up with the topping with the fancy name, sitting for its portrait, seems as winter holiday to me as anything, although the sunlight in this picture makes me think it must have been taken on a late-summer afternoon (“British Food,” remember, not “California Food”), autumnal dessert plate be damned.

Open Space is taking winter intermission. Like last year, we’ll be toasting our boots by the all-natural wax-chip crackling flame firelog fire, catching up on a little light reading, and overindulging in the frothy meringue dreams of holiday sleep.

The museum is open: don’t forget how nice it is during the holidays to tuck your gloves in pocket and spend an afternoon in the galleries.

If you’re housebound, or live afar: Artscope.  (Just link over. It’s fun. I promise.)

Or, you could spend a little time in the Open Space archives:

Collection Rotation




Profiles + Interviews

There’s more, too. Just poke around.

Happy Solstice! Happy Holidays! Happy New Year! See you in two thousand and ten.


Save the Date…

SFMOMA Anniversary starburst design by James Williams

SFMOMA 75th Anniversary starburst design by James Williams, SFMOMA senior graphic designer.

For those of you who somehow missed the news, or for those in parts more distant: SFMOMA turns 75 this January 18. Bay Area, if it hasn’t happened already, you are about to become intimately familiar with this pretty starburst, as SFMOMA prepares to spend 2010 celebrating 75 long years of life.

This post is a ‘save the date’ card for our long weekend anniversary extravaganza, happening January 16, 17 and 18 (Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend).

Six special anniversary exhibitions, showcasing hundreds of objects from the permanent collection, will be open that Saturday. There will be installations by Bill Fontana (in the Wattis) and Allison Smith ( on the fifth floor); the Mike Shine Show will be parked out on our Minna pad—in a borrowed SFMOMA artists gallery truck—on Saturday and Sunday; the Schwab room (that ground floor room off of the Atrium, where the cocktail bars normally live at the member openings) will be opened to Caffè Museo as a cafe extension/lounge; Blue Bottle is installing an additional, temporary cafe/bar in the 5th floor garden overlook; there will be food carts out in the alley; and the museum will be open late for a party on Saturday, with Matmos headlining, & a cash bar. A full day of family programs—and films—on Sunday, a set of conservation-related programs happening all day on Monday, plus an art supply drive for Bay Area schools all weekend long.

Last, totally not least—75 Reasons to Live : Riffing on Woody Allen’s ‘why is life worth living’ list at the end of Manhattan we invited 75 Bay Area artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, arts professionals & fans, plus SFMOMA staff and curators, to wax passionate on some work in the collection they love. (Or hate.)  75 in-gallery talks,7.5 minutes exactly, two at a time, on the half hour, 25 each day of the anniversary weekend.

The whole weekend is going to be fantastic, and the exhibitions are stunning. Mark calendars please, and please everyone come down.  We all want to see you there.

Oh, and did I say free? FREE. All weekend. For everyone. Exhibitions included. Matmos included. Art supply drive included. 75 talks, films, music, family projects, included.

Five Questions: Mike Kuchar

Five questions to SFMOMA visitors, artists, guests, or staff.

Mike Kuchar, in the SFMOMA "offices"

Mike Kuchar, in the SFMOMA “offices”

After the Kuchar Bros. screening last Thursday evening (George and Mike Kuchar, Recent Preservations: Pussy on a Hot Tin Roof, Tootsies in Autumn, A Woman Distressed, and Lovers of Eternity) I trapped Mike Kuchar in the back of the catering kitchen, near the walk-in freezer, and conducted this tiny interview with him as part of the ongoing series “5 Questions.” His brother George had recently been asked the same 5 questions for the blog, but Mike’s answers were different. This controlled experiment revealed that twins don’t always think alike. Mike and George had very different answers to almost all of the questions. However, there was one question in particular they answered the same, and I think that their mother would be proud to know that neither Mike nor George would ever steal a great work of art…or anything for that matter. Finding out that the kings of depraved camp were such moral upstarts made me feel slightly warm inside.

Name: Mike Kuchar. Residence: SF/NY.  Occupation: Projectionist at a beatnik joint, senior citizen, Filmmaker. Hobby: Making movies since I was 12. Now I’m 67.

Do you collect anything?

Beautiful books. Art books. I find it relaxing and inspiring to look at pictures in beautifully bound books, especially religious art because it strives for the holy. A divine image. Spectacular murals in the Vatican and some of the modern, more tacky religious art, in that it’s very naïve and beautifully corny, but it means well. It’s very kitsch. But it is earnest and it tries to be meaningful and beautiful and somehow it falters, but the idea that an attempt was made is very endearing. I appreciate all of these expressions of trying to depict the divine. Some of these works will turn out to be very surreal. Which is another interesting element—but all in trying to depict the divine.

If you could invite any artist to dinner who would it be and why?

I like Neo-Classical art and the Pre-Raphaelites…so I would say Frederick Leighton. I love his paintings; they are evocative and beautifully crafted. I once met Wallace Wood, a comic book artist who did science fiction comics in the 1950’s and whose artwork I found very riveting. His visions of the future: spaceships, men, women and machinery. He had his own style that always captivated and horrified me. And I did meet him and I told him how his work had so affected me, in such a great way and he was a very delightful man who was taken aback that I would gush like that. I was with some intellectuals who would never dare do that.

If you could steal any artwork in the world to hang up in your house what would it be?

I wouldn’t steal to hide something in my apartment. It’s for history. I would only take something that was given to me by someone I greatly admire. I wouldn’t steal an artwork because then other people wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.

What’s your favorite tool and why?

The movie camera. Something that takes sharp pictures.

Larry Sultan, 1946 – 2009

Larry Sultan, _West Valley Studio #3_, from the series _The Valley_. 1998 Chromogenic print.

Larry Sultan, West Valley Studio #3, from the series The Valley. 1998 Chromogenic print.

from Corey Keller, SFMOMA associate curator of photography:

On Sunday, December 13, photographer Larry Sultan passed away at home, surrounded by his beloved family. For several months he had been fighting a rare and virulent cancer, one that would not respond to treatment. In a series of humorous, thoughtful, and heart-breaking emails, he kept us abreast of his condition until he finally said good-bye.

One of the unique privileges of working as a curator is the opportunity to work with artists, to engage in extended and frank discussions about their art, and to help realize their vision on the museum walls. As a specialist in nineteenth-century photography, I have this opportunity somewhat less frequently than my colleagues. Yet my first assignment when I joined the staff of SFMOMA in 2003 was to take over the organization and installation of Larry’s exhibition, The Valley. The topic—suburban homes being used as the sets of porn movies—fell somewhere outside my range of expertise, and I soon found myself having daily conversations with Larry on subjects I would not have imagined discussing when I got into this line of work. It became quickly apparent, however, that the pictures in The Valley were only nominally about the porn industry that flourishes in the San Fernando Valley where Sultan spent his youth and adolescence. They were, like so much of his work, an exploration of the physical and emotional place we call home.

The Valley began as a magazine commission to photograph a day in the life of a porn star at work. The film location was a suburban house in the Valley, rented from its upper-middle class owner—a dentist—for the day. Intrigued by the way that the familiar domestic setting of his youth could so easily be transformed into the backdrop for erotic fantasy, Larry went back on his own. Between 1998 and 2003, he photographed on the sets of nearly one hundred adult films made in Valley homes or on sound stages designed to look like them. On set, he kept to the edges, maintaining a physical and psychological distance from the narrative of the film itself. He found his subject on the margins, in the crude seams of the film’s backdrops and in the utter banality of the actors’ working day. By showing the places where the illusion fell apart, Larry’s pictures not only deflated the erotic fantasies of the pornographic picture, but also provided an object lesson in the fictions that even the most straightforward of photographs construct.


Two on Altamont: Sam Durant | Sam Green

Sam Durant

Sam Durant, Entropy in Reverse (Gimme Shelter Backwards), 2003 (video on dual monitors). Photo courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles

Sam Green

Meredith Hunter in the crowd at Altamont from Gimme Shelter by the Maysles Brothers. Film still from lot 63, grave c (2005), director: Sam Green

December 6th marked the 40-year anniversary of what’s well known only as “Altamont”—the end of the sixties.  Los Angeles-based independent curator Jenée Misraje talks with two artists (named Sam) who’ve dealt with the history of Altamont in distinct ways.



1969. It began with Richard Nixon assuming the White House, the last public performance of The Beatles, and the release of Led Zeppelin I. That summer Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and a multitude experienced peace, love, and harmony at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair. 1969 ended with the arrest of several Manson family members in connection to the Tate / La Bianca murders and with the controversial free concert that took place on Saturday, December 6, at Altamont Speedway.

Poorly planned and marred by violence, the day-long spectacle was captured by filmmakers Albert and David Maysles and incorporated in the documentary Gimme Shelter (released in 1970). It was attended by over 300,000. There were reportedly four births and four deaths (three accidents and one homicide). The victim of the homicide was eighteen-year-old Meredith Hunter, a young black man from Berkeley who was attending the concert with his white girlfriend. The Hells Angels had been hired as the event’s security. Hunter attempted to approach the stage during the Stones’ performance of Under My Thumb. According to the official account, Hunter had pulled out a gun during a fatal scuffle with the Angels broke out. He was stabbed and beaten to death.

Several years ago, while conducting research for my thesis, I began examining the era of the late 60—particularly 1969. I was focused on the art produced in ‘69, as well as living artists whose work was rooted in this moment. I engaged in conversations with fellow curators, scholars and others who had a prominent interest in the late 60s—and among those were the artist Sam Durant and the filmmaker Sam Green.


Blood Brought to Ghosts: Notes on Kenneth Anger


for Francis Heinzfeller

Magic is never settled; the one that should have it has it. The only definitive statement that can be made concerning its nature is that it is creative. Eros is the name of its agency.

Throughout my impassioned love for Kenneth Anger and his Magick Lantern Cycle I have heard of several stray films that over time have disappeared. At times it seems that his lost works outnumber the existing ones. These include adaptations of Lautremont’s Maldoror; The Story of O; a film of Thelema Abbey in Sicily documenting the Crowley murals that Anger spent 3 months uncovering; and perhaps most intriguing, a film of The Gnostic Mass. Sir Paul Getty was to have funded this last project, but his death in 2003 left it and others in limbo.

As to why these films have yet to surface, Anger is always quite telling: Strips of film were sent away, then destroyed by their developers for indecency; reels were stolen from trunks of cars; there were private films struck once for foreign collectors; the money ran out; they lost it, he’s tried to find it, and it’s untraceable, because a freeway to the San Fernando Valley was put through all those lovely 1920s houses. One starlet was removed from his set by her French ruling class family. Only a single still from The Story of O has survived. He can go on & on.