tag:artopticon.us,2013:/posts ArtOpticon.us 2018-02-11T22:12:33Z Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1246171 2018-02-11T22:12:32Z 2018-02-11T22:12:33Z Vanessa Woods and Ken Graves, “Somewhere Between Here and There,” Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco

Vanessa Woods
Jack Fischer Gallery, San Francisco, California  
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng  
Continuing through March 3, 2018

The great Dadaist and Surrealist Max Ernst developed the technique of collage in 1919, employing engravings from books and photographs from newspapers and magazines. Cutting up the source material and recombining it imaginatively intensified his already substantial “visionary faculties” and led him “beyond painting” (or at least the limits of painting at the time) to create strange worlds that reflected, with anarchic, absurdist humor, his and his colleagues’ disgust with conventional morality. His collage novel, “La Femme Cent Têtes (The Hundred-Headed Woman)” — Surrealists were fond of puns and wordplay — was described by André Breton as “veritable sllts in time, space, customs and even beliefs.” The collage technique was employed (with and without assistance from other media) with equally disturbing/satisfying results by kindred independent spirits like Joseph Cornell, Bruce Conner, Wilfried Sätty and Lawrence Jordan. If collage is taught and studied today more as method than madness, the subversive strain of collage — melding leftist politics with visionary poetry — thankfully survives in today’s mad, mad Moloch world. Which brings us to Vanessa Woods.

Woods' show, “Somewhere Between Here and There,” features twenty-five new collages that are small but fierce. They continue her investigations of recent years, including a dialogue with Ernst, as well as with her friend and mentor, the photographer/collagist Ken Graves, eleven of whose collages are included here [See Cheng’s review of Graves’ 2013 show at Gallery Paule Anglim, now Anglim-Gilbert Gallery: http://visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&aID=1815. — Ed.] When Graves died in 2016, he bequeathed Woods his collection of materials, so it is no surprise that Woods’ new works are meant as an homage, and are also revealing of Graves’ influence. 

As Maria Porges points out in her catalogue essay, the new works create implied narratives, as the figures are surrounded by theatrical environments rather than isolated against blank backgrounds. Indeed, Woods seems to move toward painting, literature and theater — and a bit away from abstraction. If her previous work featured contorted and sculptural bodies (sometimes headless) in isolation, these are placed in a dark, deep, cinematic space. No fewer than sixteen of the works feature standing protagonists, their features obscured by cloth hoods (or real feathers), standing as if for inspection. The source images are perhaps bureaucratic or medical. Wood’s places them in mysterious indoor/outdoor, real/simulated surroundings reminiscent of Joseph Cornell’s assemblage boxes or Giorgio di Chirico’s vertiginous plazas. Few artists these days celebrate a commonality of style and temperament that cuts across generations, given exaggerated notions of individuality and progress in art, but Woods clearly embraces such antecedents. Work of this caliber make these affinities interesting and empower the as a living tradition (albeit a subversive one). Collage may have been naughty art a century ago, but nowadays, done with commitment, it’s the real deal.

\
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1243396 2018-02-05T21:38:16Z 2018-02-06T20:07:51Z Elisabeth Ajtay's "Variations" @ Don Soker Contemporary Art


ELISABETH AJTAY: Variations
Don Soker Contemporary Art

If you have ever mistaken discarded umbrellas on rainy sidewalks for crumpled bats—it happens with wet glasses at times—you will enjoy the metamorphosen series of sculptures by Elisabeth Ajtay. Over a four-year period, the artist salvaged these fallen creatures, removed their black nylon membranes, and transformed the twisted skeletons, with loops of wire and other additions, into insectile robots. Mosquitos and dragonfly larvae come to mind, as well the newly photographed bacteriophage, or spider virus, but these nine strange and witty bricolaged lures, clinging to the gallery walls as if daring to be swatted, have no specific models: as the gallery press release states, “Ajtay has invented a typology of a non-existent species.”

 Also shown are five inkjet prints of the bots (which, incidentally, have names evoking scientific nomenclature, e.g., “RI-1617-11”), photographed against seamless white backgrounds, and four drawings in tonal reversal, white ink on black backgrounds, evoking photograms, with the silhouetted flattened forms suggesting fossils. Also shown is a sound installation entitled “babel,” with the gallery’s stairwell, covered with cloudlike quilt batting, standing in for the mythic tower blasphemously built to reach heaven; recorded voices repeat, in sixteen languages, including the lingua franca of English, Kant’s categorical imperative, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law,” a philosophical restatement of the reciprocal-altruism Golden Rule embraced, at least nominally, by all religions. —DeWitt Cheng

 








 

 

 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1235702 2018-01-21T22:28:25Z 2018-01-21T22:28:25Z Lew Carson: Secret Maps of the Body, Far Out Gallery, San Francisco

LEW CARSON: SECRET MAPS OF THE BODY
January 6-28, 2018

 Far Out Gallery
3004 Taraval Street (at 40th Avenue), San Francisco CA
http://www.faroutgallery.com

The human body was the central focus of western art for some six centuries, from the Renaissance, when anatomical studies began (at some risk to venturesome artists like Leonardo), until the advent of Modernism, when artists rejected academic style and the idea of man as semi-divine. Delacroix’s“admirable poem, that human body from which I am learning to read” had declined into, in essence, debased doggerel. With Dada and Surrealism, artists sought to portray the complexities of modern consciousness, not the dogmas of received wisdom from Greco-Roman and Christian culture.

 The East Bay painter Lew Carson draws on the Dadaist/Surrealist  collage tradition for his poetic imaginary landscapes (or, to use Roberto Matta’s term, ‘inscapes;) Inspired by anatomical diagrams, including the famous 1858 classic text, Gray’s Anatomy (still being published!), which he he found “familiar, complex and mysterious”—Carson layers his anatomical contour drawings atop printed maps mounted to wooden panels. Since the topography remains legible beneath Carson’s translucent glazes, he combines, in Secret Maps of the Body, the inner world and the outer, the self and the world. “Ascension,” “A Narrative of Longing,” “Bone Scape,” “Sequence/Consequence,” and “Luminous Entity” depict the body as a microcosm of the universe. All accounts of mystical experiences note the loss of self and ego—or, rather, their incorporation into the fabric of the cosmos. Carson sees art as a potential vehicle for “transport[ing] us from the ordinary to the ecstatic, a heightened state of clarity and bliss,” and these lyrical semi-abstract paintings, with their glowing, stained-glass palettes and biomorphic forms, show that art can be, despite the aesthetic cynicism of recent years, transcendent, merging the personal with the universal.

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1235657 2018-01-21T20:55:24Z 2018-01-21T20:55:24Z Julian Barnes' "Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art" (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, Jan. 18, 2018)

Eyes Only: Julian Barnes' "Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art"

I used to read fiction, but in recent years have found nonfiction about art, history and politics more relevant and interesting. Nevertheless, I found the novelist Julian Barnes’ 2015 collection of essays, Keeping an Eye Open: Essays of Art, enthralling, combining a fluent, almost conversational style with thoughtful commentary backed with a fair amount of what Herman Melville called swimming though libraries. Barnes never studied art formally, but clearly did his homework—no Great-Writer vaporizing!—while preparing his “one go” reviews of painters from Géricault to Hodgkin: reading Anita Brookner on Delacroix and Baudelaire; Alex Tanchev on Cézanne; and Redon on Redon, among, undoubtedly, many others. Barnes’ judgments are sound, based on his sympathy with other creative artists, and expressed in a “companionable and untheoretical” (as he declared in an interview with The New Yorker) manner that is both colorful and readable—and sometimes memorably pungent. It is impossible not to provide a few tasty excerpts.

On the massive ego and inveterate self-promotion of the Realist Gustave Courbet:

 “Shout loud and walk straight” was apparently a Courbet family maxim, and throughout his life—in person, in paint and in letters—he shouted loud and listened delightedly to the echo. In 1853, he called himself “the proudest and most arrogant man in France.”... By 1867, [he declared] “I have astounded the whole world ... I triumph not only over the moderns but over the old masters as well.” ... He also wanted to accept and refuse ... [official recognition]. He needed the public offer of a declaration so that he could be publicly offended by it. ... [The artist Honoré] Daumier, ... had been offered the Legion d’Honneur earlier that year, [had] refused it discreetly. When Courbet upbraided him, Daumier, ever the quiet republican [anti-monarchist], replied, “I have done what I thought I ought to do. I did, but that is no business of the public.” Courbet shrugged his shoulders and commented, “We’ll never make anything of Daumier.  He’s a dreamer.”

On the anomalous, almost-Michelangelesque musculature of the dying shipwreck victims in Géricault’s massively researched 1819 painting The Raft of the Medusa:

 ...but why does everyone—even the corpses—look so muscled, so… healthy? Where are the wounds, the scars, the haggardness, the disease? These are men who have drunk their own urine, gnawed the leather from their hats, consumed their own comrades. ... [F]or all its subject matter, Scene of the Shipwreck [the original title] is full of muscle and dynamism. The figures on the raft are like the waves: beneath them, yet also through them, surges the energy of the ocean. ... It is because the figures are sturdy enough to transmit such power that the canvas looses in us deeper, submarinous emotions, can shift us through currents of hope and despair, elation, panic and resignation. ... We don’t just imagine the ferocious miseries ... They become us. .... How hopelessly we signal; how dark the sky; how big the waves. We are all lost at sea, washed between hope and despair, hailing something [the rescue ship Argus, in the distance, which failed to see the raft at first] that may never come to our rescue.

 And finally, on a more cheerful note, here’s Barnes on the philistinism of the chic:

 In Amsterdam I was halted in front of the late and leering Cyclops [by the visionary Odilon Redon], uncertain what to make of it, when a party of Frenchwomen came past exuding that breezy yet proprietorial manner which somehow only the French are confident enough to affect in art galleries. The first woman donated to the painting a glance and crisply announced, as if art were merely life, “Ah, quelle horreur!” This ... caused her to companions to pause briefly and tame the portrait of the one-eyed giant. ”C’est une dorade,” suggested one, “Non, c’est un turbot,” replied the other; and having thus despatched Redon to the fishmonger’s stall, they passed on to the flowers. “Ça, c’est beau.”]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1231693 2018-01-14T01:47:14Z 2018-01-14T01:47:14Z There is No Alas Where I Live, Jenkins-Johnson Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)

“There is No Alas Where I Live”
Jenkins-Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, California  
Review by DeWitt Cheng  
Continuing through January 27, 2018

The title of this show of nine contemporary Bay Area photographers, “There is No Alas Where I Live,” is taken from Theodore Roethke’s 1951 poem, “I Need, I Need”: “Whisper me over, / Why don’t you, begonia, / There’s no alas / Where I live.” The independent curator Ann Jastrab, formerly director of San Francisco’s now-closed RayKo Photo Center, was fascinated by the idea of a photo exhibition based on Roethke’s words, and accordingly chose some eighty images by nine contemporary Bay Area photographers: Wesaam Al-Badry, Johanna Case-Hofmeister, Hiroyo Kaneko, Kathya Landeros, Eva Lipman, Paccarik Orue, Mimi Plumb, Josh Smith, and Lewis Watts. 

Jastrab writes: “… life ... can be so magnificent and challenging simultaneously. Photographs are documents of ... this dichotomy, and photographers are witnesses, participant-observers, lovers of life, those who rage over unfairness, and those who present truths. Beauty and truth. There is no alas where I live. There may be grief and there may be concern, but there is no pity. Really, there’s not. Because you can’t be alive, truly alive and use that word alas. It is a word akin to regret or being forced to accept those things that you don’t want to choose.”

In our age of assertive victimhood, the denial of ‘pity’ may sound as heartless as the victim-blaming delivered regularly by our debased capitalist Christians, but that would be to misread Roethke, who was emotionally sensitive but morally tough. It would similarly misconstrue these photographers, who document life in tough times with understanding and empathy but without polemics or political comment. Indeed, the photos could be interpreted as embodiments of Nietzsche’s concept of Amor fati, the acceptance of the totality of one’s life: “That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it ... but love it.” It’s a mystical concept, and not in tune with materialist American culture with its cult of bootstrap individualism. One picks oneself up and starts all over again.

Jastrab again: “A lot of [the] work is documentary based. Some of it is romantic, some of it is street photography, some of it is social documentary. But what brings it all together is that the places featured in the work have hit hard times.” Americans facing the prospect of hard times now or in the future should find these images of daily life in different cultures and places resonant.

Al-Badry’s documentary photos diptychs of the Deep South — the Mississippi River Delta, to be specific — capture the cultural strength of the black community. The two conjoined panels of “Wedding Party” show, respectively, a guest arriving for the ceremony and two young men, posing — presumably groom and best man. The pictures are formally linked by a stripe of red tile on the wall. Moving north, Case-Hofmeister’s two large photos depict young white girls swimming, idyllic images of summertime leisure given an odd, contemporary twist through the camera’s random disjunctions. “Ariel in the Quarry” might almost be a Degas woman bathing but for the striped bikini bottom, the inner tube, the reflections of trees and clouds in the calm, Bermuda-blue water, and Ariel’s hidden head. The traditional theme of people enjoying the outdoors in different seasons informs Kaneko’s “New Memories” series, depicting the seasonal activities of his hometown of Aomori, Japan — picnicking and bathing for spring and summer, harvesting for fall, and snow shoveling for winter — but with contemporary notes. “Bathing #10” shows a pale blue sea seen from beneath evergreen branches, but the bathers, two young couples in matching magenta T-shirts, sit in a square in the sand, we imagine conversing, picnicking or playing instruments, and flanked by a striped tent pavilion, a changing room rendered peek-proof with plywood sheathing.  

Landeros explores the Latino culture of the Central Valley (where she grew up) and of rural eastern Washington in her examination of Mexican immigrants in the West, finding beauty amid what we urbanites (sometimes not so urbane) consider flyover county. The posed but informal group portrait, “Juan’s Family, Eastern Washington,” conveys pride and dignity that even strangers can perceive and appreciate, while her “Main Street Laundromat, Eastern Washington” captures the humble, Hopperesque beauty of a laundromat at dusk, just after sunset, set against a curtain of dark hills. Lipman, a documentarian, captures the rituals of male adolescence and adulthood in the beautifully composed snapshots of her “The Making of Men” series. “Boy Scout Jamboree, Virginia” examines the male-pack phenomenon of scouting, while “School for the Humanities High School, Prom. N.Y.C.,” depicts the telling detail of young women, close-dancing with boys, holding reassuring hands with each other. Orue depicts the world of mining in Peru’s central highland in his “El Muqui” project (named after an asphyxiating goblin in Peruvian lore).  “Cruz de Paragsha, niños, cometas y desmonte” (Paragsha cross, children, kites and forest) depicts a rocky hilltop dotted with scrub, with villagers hiking past a huge concrete cross without observing it, and a small boy, the only one facing us, flying a kite that visually echoes the cross.

Plumb mines her images in the American West, both indoors, with flash photos of solo night-clubbers; and outdoors, with panoramic landscapes that belie their modest size, like the brooding and desolate “Mt. St. Helen,” or the bizarrely burned tree stumps and loping canine in silhouette of “Palm Desert.” Smith documents family life with two young sons in his “The First Years” series, balancing paternal tenderness with a sharp eye for ironic and humorous compositions; “Boys on Top of Vanessa in the Grass” is a wonderful hurly-burly of tangled limbs that probably lasted two seconds, while “Wyatt’s Hand From Under the Blanket” wittily conveys both the child’s wonder and wondrousness. Watts, the ninth in our alphabetical listing, has documented the unique African-American culture of New Orleans for more than two decades. His “Brass Band on Claiborne Ave. in the Tremé After Playing for a Funeral” (2008), shot three years after Hurricane Katrina, expresses the pride of its six young musicians, inheritors and eventual transmitters of a culture and tradition. “Raising the Casket, Funeral Procession in the Tremé,” perhaps shot on the same day, likewise acknowledges, with his white-gloved pallbearers supporting the deceased, the transience of life and the continuity of generations.


]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1228736 2018-01-08T21:55:54Z 2018-01-09T17:03:31Z The Walking Cure: Nature/Culture Photos by DeWitt Cheng, Avenue 25 Gallery, 32 West 25th Avenue near El Camino, 2nd floor, San Mateo (M-F 8:30-5)


THE WALKING CURE
Nature/Culture Photographs by DeWitt Cheng
January 13-March 9, 2018
Reception Saturday January 13, 2018, 1:00-4:30

 I never before saw a plant so full of life, so perfectly spiritual. It seemed pure enough for the throne of its Creator. I felt as if I were in the presence of superior beings who loved me and beckoned me to come. I sat down beside them and wept for joy. Could angels in their better land show us a more beautiful plant?  — John Muir
 
Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long. — Walker Evans1
 
 In March, 2011, I reviewed an exhibition on the life and work of the northern California naturalist John Muir: “A tireless champion for a wilderness that he believed to be divinely created, spiritually redemptive, and worthy of protection from Gilded Age laissez-faire industrial expansion, Muir saw getting back to the land at least occasionally as balm for "thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people" — a judgment shared by contemporary visitors to the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks seeking their own "mountain baptism."2

 While I as a longtime San Francisco resident, an art critic and curator, am anything but a rugged outdoorsman in the Muir mold, and largely confine my jaunts to urban and suburban fastnesses, I have found myself more and more interested in photography during the past decade or so. While I bought my first digital camera—a 4MP Canon A530—in order to make visual notes for reviewing gallery and museum shows, I found that I was seeing the everyday world more and more through eyes trained by art studies. Scenes reminiscent of Romantic landscape paintings, architectural photography, and mixed-media modernist abstractions seemed to appear with increasing regularity. Nowadays, I walk nearly every day, partly from visual curiosity, and partly for exercise, or cheap therapy: the ‘walking cure’ title is a joke version of Freud’s talking cure, which I recycled for a piece on the great photographer, Walker Evans2. I shoot several hundred shots a week, many of which I post on Facebook (after editing and some minimal tweaking). Everyone loves San Francisco, and I am happy to share my interpretations of its scenic splendors as well as its absurd or gritty side, especially these days, as the city is changing so radically: ‘refreshing’ and reinventing itself as the Digital Oz.

 My thanks to Gallery 25 Curator Charles Anselmo, whom I met, years ago, at Stanford Art Spaces, with whom I journeyed on photo safari to Havana in 2012, and with whom I serve as art juror for UC San Francisco’s Art for Aids annual auction. His interest in the images and his superlative printing skills are responsible for this show, my first foray back into the art world as a visual artist since taking up the camera of the itinerant, flâneur and pilgrim.

1http://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&aID=4307
http://artopticon.us/walker-evans-at-san-francisco-museum-of-modern-art-reprinted-from-visualartsource-dot-com-10-slash

2https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/john-muir-and-the-walking-cure/Content?oid=2507122-13-slash-17


]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1227323 2018-01-06T00:46:01Z 2018-01-06T00:46:02Z Way Bay at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from East Bay Monthly January 2018)  

ART
The Bay Area as Creative Center at BAM

Our local art museums have been on a roll lately, with exhibitions of Edvard Munch, Claude Monet, Walker Evans, Joan Brown, Charles Howard, Robert Rauschenberg, Martin Wong, and Gustav Klimt. Berkeley Art Museum continues the hot streak with an ambitious survey of two hundred-odd works— with film, performance, poetry, and ephemera as well as traditional paintings, drawings, and prints—from the past three centuries, including works by Joan Brown, Bruce Conner, Jay DeFeo, Richard Diebenkorn, Sargent Johnson, Chiura Obata, Charles Howard and Rosie Lee Tompkins. Several dozen of the works are new acquisitions made specifically for Way Bay, with sizeable representations of emerging women and minority artists. Complementing BAMPFA’s collections are artifacts borrowed from UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library and Hearst Museum of Anthropology.

Besides celebrating the area’s rich legacy of art, the show examines the influence of the place on its widely disparate artists, who range from precolonial Ohlone Indians and nineteenth-century settlers through postwar modernists educated on the GI Bill and today’s postmodernist, global-culture explorers of mixed media and sociopolitical commentary. Historical and documentary films will play, uninterrupted, with recordings of Bay Area artists and performances bringing the locale’s creative past to life and celebrating the continuity of artistic expression. Lawrence Rinder, BAMPFA Director and Chef Curator, who created the show along with Film Curator Kathy Geritz and Engagement Associate David Wilson, asserts the show’s goal:  “... not a conventional historical survey but rather an open-ended and provocative attempt to reveal hidden currents and connections among works from disparate times, cultures, and communities.”

Among the works to be shown are: Sara Arledge’s 1940s pioneering glass slide abstract paintings; one of Erica Deeman’s Brown series of photographic portraits of black men, “Marvin” (2015); Richard Diebenkorn’s Berkeley period (1953-66) painting, “Studio Wall” (1966); Joanne Leonard’s sensitive photographs of 1950s West Oakland neighborhoods; Gordon Onslow Ford’s Surrealist oil, “Painter and the Muse” (1943); and Xara Thustra’s monumental 9/11 memorial painting. Way Bay runs through May 6, 2018; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford Street, Berkeley, 510/642-0808; bampfa.org. DeWitt Cheng




 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1227209 2018-01-05T20:41:56Z 2018-01-05T20:41:56Z "Car Culture" at Peninsula Museum of Art, in Daily Journal

http://www.smdailyjournal.com/news/local/where-the-rubber-meets-the-road/article_f828e5f2-f1da-11e7-975c-33116aff4e50.html

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1211081 2017-12-04T06:07:36Z 2017-12-04T22:51:31Z Gods and Heroes in Color, Legion of Honor, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, 12/2/17)
Editors' Roundtable
by DeWitt Cheng

"But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul. .,, Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows — a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues — every stately or lovely emblazoning — the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtle deceits, not actually inherent in substances …"
— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Chapter XLII, 'The Whiteness of the Whale" 





After my recent dissatisfaction with the new, hip programming at San Francisco's Legion of Honor — which, in my opinion, trashed the institution's own collection of Rodins, not to mention the tragic humanist tradition of western art — it is a pleasure to see the balance between old and new restored. A pairing of Rodin sculptures with contemporaneous paintings by Gustav Klimt sheds light on the erotic dimension of these two late nineteenth-century greats; and the exhibition "Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World" presents a strong, if long standing case that the Greco-Roman tradition that we have come to associated with pure, if blanched idealized form, wrought with dazzling skill in Pentelic marble from quarries north of Athens, is a cultural myth. I'll focus on the latter in this column. 


The statues that we grew up regarding as pure, visually chaste (even when depicting the sexual harassments of Zeus/Jupiter), and (to cite Nietzsche) Apollonian, rational, intellectual and enlightened, as opposed to Dionysian, emotional and ecstatic to the point of violence, were painted, apparently rather gaudily. On my first visit, somewhat appalled by the busy patterning and bright colors, I was reminded of Marlene Dietrich's [actually Greta Garbo's] comment at the premiere of Jean Cocteau's film, "La Belle et la Bête," on seeing the tortured, mysterious Beast magically transformed into the pretty, perfumed prince (both played by the painfully handsome Jean Marais): "But give me back my poor Beast!" Even if historically inaccurate, I found myself missing the clarity of pure marble. On my second visit, I looked at the scientific and historical evidence and found it convincing, even if some of the restorations still seemed overly assertive in a way that the brightened colors of the cleaned Sistine Chapel frescos never were, a generation ago, after the removal of five centuries of candle smoke and soot. 

The exhibit's core works are painted reproductions of works held by the sculpture collection, Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung in Frankfurt and other institutions, produced by Vinzenz Brinkmann and Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann using up-to-date technology, including ultraviolet scanning (for more info go to buntegoetter.liebieghaus.de/en). When classical sculptures were excavated during the Renaissance, they were denuded by time and erosion of the paint they once wore, with the faint traces of pigment either nearly invisible, or, after neoclassical theorists had exalted their shining purity of form, scrubbed white. The exhibition makes clear that Johann Joachim Wincklemann (1717-1768), whose "History of Art in Antiquity" (1764) was to prove so foundational, acknowledged that classical statuary was indeed polychromed. Nevertheless, his championing of idealized classical form — which may owe something to his homosexuality — carried the day, perhaps answering to a cultural counter-reaction to the frivolity of the fading Rococo style. 

Even the best and brightest can be wrong, of course. A group of painted figures, laid out in Rosekrans Court, beneath the Legion's pyramidal skylight, reconstructs sculptures made for the Doric Aphaia Temple, built on the island of Aegina, east of mainland Greece, about 480 BC, and excavated in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Aphaia was a mother goddess, and this particular temple was a favorite subject for artists of the time, including Turner. The figures that were made for the temple's western pediment treated the Trojan war, so the supposition that the two kneeling archer figures represented, respectively, the Greek warrior Teucer, brother of Ajax, and the Trojan prince Paris, seems plausible, even if the flat egg-tempera painting and bright color, so reminiscent of dolls and plastic action figures, destroy any sense of Homer's "strong force of fate." Teucer is dressed in a white tunic soberly decorated with blue bands and a horsehair-crested war helmet; while Paris, in multicolored diamond patterned tights, is as gaily turned out as a, well, bridegroom — or, as the didactic wall labels suggest, a decadently feminized Asiatic. A trio of warrior heads nearby provokes the same response from this viewer: the unpainted one, in synthetic marble, roughly carved, with eyes blank, has a poetic mystery that is entirely absent from the two finely carved, painted heads on adjoining pedestals, which look fanciful and slightly absurd to my 21st century eye. It is like 2D comic-book characters popped into 3D space, which has thoroughly different pictorial standards that of course have nothing to do with 5th century BC visual intentions. 

The whiteness of marble, unpainted by time, lends a melancholy and even stoic dignity to the figures, which the painting, however skillfully done, removes. A case in point is how the Temple of Aphiaia figures are joined by other painted reconstructions, sometimes featuring gilding, metal or stone details, that share their visual impact: a pair of life-sized warriors, majestically martial, metallic, and nude but for helmets, shields and weapons, from the island of Riace; a mounted horseman from the Acropolis, wearlng leggings akin to Paris'; the Amazon princess Antiope holding the Greek hero/cad Theseus, the plaster cast painted only minimally; and a cast of a relief from the Parthenon, showing a boy and horseman, which through the magic of digital projection is alternately 'painted' and unpainted. 

Accompanying the painted reconstructions are classical and neoclassical (Canova, Cellini, Maillol) sculptures from the Fine Arts Museums and other collections, including two wonderful casts from the University of California, Berkeley: a monumental a caryatid (woman-as-column) made from the original at the Acropolis, in Athens, and a fragmentary horse and rider from the Acropolis Museum. Watercolor paintings made onsite at the excavations in the early nineteenth century by the antiquarian Edward Dodwell and the artist Simone Pomardi with the help of a camera obscura further enrich our understanding of how and why art is made and lost, rediscovered, appropriated, interpreted, misinterpreted and reinterpreted. I have merely touched on a few aspects of this important and revelatory show. In our age of enraged thersitical (a word that deserves revival) partisanship and Dionysian excess, it's also a call for scientific, historical, reality-based attention and analysis. 

"My life and fortunes are a monstrosity, partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty. If [only] I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect the way you would wipe color off a statue."
— Helen of Troy in Euripides' play, Helen,
5th century BC



]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1211077 2017-12-04T05:58:33Z 2017-12-04T05:58:34Z Connie Goldman and Mikey Kelly, Chandra Cerrito Contemporary (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)





Connie Goldman: GENEA and Mikey Kelly: VIBRATE
Chandra Cerrito Contemporary

 Hybridity, changing demographics and scandal are back in the news. A purportedly racially insensitive or even racist painting was shown at the Whitney Biennial to some liberal consternation; statues of Confederate generals were assailed by liberals and defended by conservatives in the wake of the shameful neo-nazi march in Charlotte NC; and sexual hanky-panky on a colossal scale has emerged, seemingly everywhere—including
the hushed precincts of influential art magazines. Some artworlders may have now come to believe, given the political correctness inculcated in colleges in recent years, that shouts and alarums are the goals of good art. They can be, especially in our tumultuous times, but we also need to consider, for aesthetic balance, the beauty and complexity afforded by art without sociopolitical overt agendas, art made because the artists were inner-driven and self-directed.

The dual solo shows by Bay Area artists Connie Goldman and Mikey Kelly—her second and his first at this Oakland gallery—make a compelling argument for the best kind of formalist practice: work of museum quality—both artists have been collected at that level—that explores pure painting creatively and, indeed, notwithstanding the crisp, immaculate facture—no painterly blobs and drips here—passionately. The dogma of 1960s hard-edge formalism deserved its ridicule by Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word, with critics supposedly squinting slantwise across the canvas surface looking for suspicious painterly bumps, but the geometric abstraction tradition was always bigger than even Clement Greenberg; and the best reductivist or minimalist work—Mondrian, Reinhardt, Rothko, Newman, Stella et al.—was always about more than paint on canvas stretched over wood.

Goldman’s show takes its title Genea, from the Greek word for becoming or emerging, as in ‘genealogy’ or ‘generate.’  The artist cites her interest in the “tenuous equilibrium” in which people and the world exist (always, and not just post-Trump). Goldman: “Life is constant change. From one nanosecond to the next, from a minute to a decade, from a millimeter to a mile, there’s no chance of escaping the push and pull of time, nature, and volition.”  Connie Goldman’s eight painted MDF (a fine-grained pressed wood) relief sculptures, with their irregular polygonal shapes, ‘split-level’ planes, and vibrant color palettes, are meticulously constructed puzzles, with double meanings and perceptual ambiguities. Some planes seem folded over, like origami, or read as the shadows of other planes; some planes in these reliefs are elevated or recessed, suggesting geological or architectural models. The multiple perspectives, overlapping forms, illusory folds, painted edges, and contradictory color and form make works like “Genea VI,” “Genea X” and “Genea XI,” my favorite pieces, vibrate with contradiction; distillations of imagination and experimentation that defy logic, but achieve a hard-won but effortless-seeming perfection.

 Speaking of vibration and vibrancy, Mikey Kelly’s six overlapping-stripe acrylic paintings in Vibrate marry Op Art—Bridget Riley and Jesus Rafael Soto come to mind— with a compositional process involving algorithms, with the goal of what he calls ‘spirituality hacking.’  I am not clear on how the words that Kelly picks as titles are transformed or encoded by algorithms into these dazzling yet delicate ‘woven’ arrays of stripes—made with an automobile paint striper and straightedge, by the way—which seem to change from afar with the viewer’s movements, and, close up, suggest complex crystalline or architectural structures. Be Love Now V1.0 and Be Love Now V2.0, sixty-inch-diameter tondos, suggest both the yarn-string projects that many of us made as children, and the scanned images of planets, simplified by pixelation. Affirmations, a series of five twenty-four-inch square panels, carries a similar hidden spiritual message in its title, with the colored lines changing color according to the viewer’s angle of view and distance, as with the pointillist Divisionism of Seurat and Signac. Seven Names of God Prayer V2.0 with its vertical adjoining panels suggests (incorrectly) a prismatic version of the ROYGBIV rainbow color chart—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet—or an abstract, meditative, New Age version, perhaps, of Monet’s sun-kissed Rouen Cathedral. The sun is god, as Turner said.—DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 ]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1202778 2017-11-02T14:58:43Z 2017-11-02T14:58:43Z Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80 at Fresno Art Museum (though January 8)

Joan Schulze: Celebrating 80 
Curated by Michele Ellis Pracy and Kristina Hornback
Fresno Art Museum

The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture—however unreasonable this may sound. The picture, if a picture results, is a by-product and may be useful, valuable, interesting as a sign of what has past. The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state. —Robert Henri1
 
At the heart of my work, whether it be quilts, collages or books, is the transformation of fabric and paper in layered constructions. Improvising during the painting, image-transfer processes and collaging of materials while chasing an idea at hand creates adventure in the studio—Thoughts are made visible. —Joan Schulze, 1999
 
Collage has declared to be the predominant aesthetic strategy of the modernist art of the twentieth century. (A slightly broader term, juxtaposition, might also be claimed for the postmodernist art of recent decades.) A century ago, the Cubists combined drawing and painting with glued printed images in order to depict, with ambiguous wit, modern life’s  new fast pace, jumbling images and sounds.. A decade later, the Dadaists and Surrealists employed collage to create nonsensical or dreamlike tableaux that excoriated the ostensibly rational leaders responsible for the Great War. In America, after the second world war, collage was employed similarly by the Abstract Expressionists and Pop Artists:  in Ab Ex, colors and shapes were combined with painted forms, echoing Cubist formalism; in Pop, real-world elements were painted or printed, or literally incorporated into artworks to both commemorate and satirize mass-culture daily life.

Joan Schulze, the eminent California quilt artist, has made collage the basis of her practice. She “embraces,” says art critic Peter Frank,  “the disjunctive quality of modern life and seeks to discover coherence and harmony within such disjunction. This is no mere demonstration of virtuosity; it is an ongoing display of discretion, a constant matching of medium to material, content to context.”2  It is a compositional method that reflects her creative philosophy of openness, improvisation and experimentation. A lyrical poet as well as an artist, Schulze is a careful observer of things, and, of her reactions to them, both visual and verbal.  Sarah E. Tucker describes Schulze’s “fascination with changing light, the effects of time and weather on the walls of buildings, the passing of time, and laundry (and to travel with Joan is to be ever alert to the cry, Stop! Look at that laundry! And yes, to stop and take photographs at regular intervals along the route.)”3  These photographs, transformed and  combined, make their way into the artist’s beautiful, poetic artworks. Tucker likens Schulze’s compulsive image-gathering to the writing method favored by the eighth-century Chinese poet and calligrapher Li Po (who drowned, apocryphal legend has it, while drunkenly trying to embrace the moon’s reflection), as well as the twentieth-century Beat writer William Burroughs, who labeled his method ‘cut ups’.

Li Po would ride out each morning, his servant walking by his side. Each time a thought came to him, he would write it down and drop the slip of paper and text into the black embroidered bag hjs servant carried. Returning home Po would spend each evening working these scraps of text into a poem.4
 
Method alone does not, however, guarantee the divine madness of art: imagination must be balanced with discrimination —Peter Frank’s ‘discretion’. The sense of form as well as a strong creative drive cannot be taught; they are inborn, as the painter Robert Henri writes (in The Art Spirit).  Schulze is a self-taught artist, an ‘outlier,’ to use her term, who never attended art school, but always apparently had a prodigious commitment to the art life. She remembers visiting Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Grande Jatte” at the Art Institute of Chicago, alone, at age seven, pretending to be part of a group in order to evade scrutiny.

…I grasped their patterns
Made by dots,
Those Morse Code messages
That reached out to me…
—From Morse Code, by Joan Schulze

Shulze waited until her late thirties, after becoming an accomplished poet and photographer, to focus on art quilt-making, or, to use the more exact and inclusive term, fiber art.  In the 1970s, she learned embroidery at a local stitchery guild; in the 1980s she explored traditional quilting materials and formats (though not traditional imagery); from the 1990s to the present she has expanded her scope to include nontraditional methods and materials (glue transfer, acrylic paint, Velcro, plastic fabric, monotype, cyanotype, creative photocopying, reverse printing, layering, metal foils, machine and hand stitching, mass-market printed imagery) and unusual formats (double-sided quilts; scrolls; and sequences of images either sewn together or affixed to wide strips of tape,  resembling filmstrips or contact sheets). Tucker sees this experimentation—which includes transforming old works into new ones— as akin to improvisation in jazz, one of the artist’s enthusiasms, demanding both technical virtuosity and perfect visual ‘pitch’5. Schulze also ventures at times from the lyrical into sociopolitical commentary with a feminist slant, proving that art engagé can combine visual beauty and even a wry sense of humor.  Schulze’s fashion-themed collages (Tango, Fast…Faster) celebrate youth, beauty and glamor, while hinting, with their distressed, faded surfaces, at the flip side of fabulousness, evanescence. Schulze’s affinity for wabi sabi, the Japanese appreciation of imperfect beauty. i.e., marked by weathering or age, or ‘living a life.,”7  is captured in four works depicting Japanese tea bowls, which the artist collects. These works collate multiple views of each cup at various sizes and seen from different angles, cubistically; some of the cup portraits are distorted by photocopy-machine manipulation; others recall photographic negatives, with their light and dark values reversed. Three of the collages—a long time ago, not so long ago, and the unknowable future—are accompanied by poems that ponder the mystery and miracle of enduring artworks “made to last through time.”

once upon a time, not so long ago
this bowl, this precious object
cared for, used, and admired
passed from one to another
then given as a gift
to one who received it
with delight and surprise
—Joan Schulze, not so long ago, 2017

Schulze’s restricted, delicate palettes, her elegant drawing in thread, her use of written or printed characters as semi-abstract visual forms, and her airy, open compositions suggest the nature philosophy of Asian art. In several recent works, however, Schulze confronts the racial divide in American culture in tape-strip collages that suggest the pervasive imagery of the digital era. Interior Lives and Vertical Daydreams suggest private reveries, while Opus: White and Opus: Black and Brown, subtly show how skin color is still unfortunately the filter through which we perceive each other.

While previous writers have focused on Schulze as the creator of extraordinary art quilts, it is a disservice to her art to relegate it to the craft domain. Schulze’s vernacular, everyday images taken from a variety of sources, mysteriously and miraculously synthesized through color and composition into compelling, hypnotic works—that, in Whitman’s words, “contain contradictions”—are fine-art collages comparable to any. Schulze acknowledges the assemblagist Robert Rauschenberg as a kindred spirit whose work influenced her, and both artists combine curiosity about the world and a passion for materials and experimentation. For both, the process and the experience are of equal importance with the resulting product, or ‘by-product,’ to use Robert Henri’s 1923 term. Fortunately for us viewers, both are consummate artists who magically and intuitively transform the diaristic stuff of daily life into universal visual experience; Schulze calls this quality that lifts a work beyond design and composition ‘the sixth dimension.’ 6 Henri, again: “It beats all the things that wealth can give and everything else in the world to say the things one believes, to put them into form, to pass them on to anyone who may care to take them up.”8

 
1 Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (1923), p. 159
2 Peter Frank, “The Collage Aesthetic,” in Deborah Corsini’s Poetic License: The Art of Joan Schulze (1999), p.113
3 Sarah E. Tucker, “Schulze: The Artist Who Dances,” in Joan Schulze’s Quilts (2005), p.9
4 Sarah E. Tucker, “A Poetics of Cloth, Paper, Stitch and Line,” in Deborah Corsini’s Poetic License: The Art of Joan Schulze (2009), p.85
5 Sarah E. Tucker, “A Poetics of Cloth, Paper, Stitch and Line,” in Deborah Corsini’s Poetic License: The Art of Joan Schulze (2009), p.90
6 Schulze, quoted in Dyana Curreri, “ A Life Without Limitation,” in The Art of Joan Schulze (1999), p.58.
7 Schulze, quoted in Jette Clover, “Looking for Beauty,” in The Art of Joan Schulze (1999), p.110.
8 Robert Henri, The Art Spirit (1923), p. 142

 

 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1201976 2017-10-30T15:53:39Z 2017-10-30T15:53:40Z Martin Wong Retrospective at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from East Bay Monthly, November 2017)

Martin Wong Paintings Revisit 1980s New York

In 1985, three years before his death, the Puerto Rican playwright and actor, Miguel Piñero, wrote “Lower East Side Poem”:  Just once before I die / I want to climb up on a / tenement sky / to dream my lungs out till / I cry / then scatter my ashes thru / the Lower East Side....  That tragic lyricism also characterizes the paintings of Martin Wong (1946-1999), Piñero’s friend and lover, who moved from San Francisco to New York in 1978 to pursue his art career. Trained in ceramics, Wong taught himself to paint while living in a rundown hotel, where he worked a night watchman, and later in an area blighted by heroin dealers and addicts, while working in a museum bookstore. Wong: “Everything I paint is within four blocks of where I live and the people are the people I know and see all the time."

Wong’s urban landscape paintings (pointedly devoid of greenery) document the graffiti and hip-hop era, now generally associated with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf and others. They combine gritty reality— brown and gray building facades, the brickwork and graffiti meticulously rendered in somber reds, grays and ochers—with the Romantic excess of gay street culture in all its outrageously colorful theatricality. The cowboy-hatted Chinese-American artist from San Francisco who had once earned his living as the Human Instamatic, making $7.50 portraits at art fairs (with a personal record of twenty-seven fairs in one day!), and designing sets for the hippie-radical street-theater commune, The Angels of Light, found the subject that combined his various interests—gay culture, graffiti, an updated social realism, and even autobiography of sorts—in the vibrant, polyglot, multiracial bohemia of Loisaida.

A roundtable discussion on Wong’s New York work will take place 1pm, Saturday, November 11; a talk on Wong’s use of American Sign Language will take place 3:30pm, Saturday December 9. Martin Wong: Human Instamatic runs through December 10; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford Street, Berkeley, 510/642-0808; bampfa.org. —DeWitt Cheng

Note: Not all the jpegs posted here may be included in the show. Will revise after I’ve seen the show. The piece was written in mid-September
 
 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1198321 2017-10-14T23:02:33Z 2017-10-14T23:02:34Z Walker Evans at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, 10/13/17)

   


Editors' Roundtable
DeWitt Cheng
"The secret of photography is, the camera takes on the character and personality of the handler." —Walker Evans 

The painter (and Depression-era photographer) Ben Shahn wrote, "Style is the form of content," meaning that in the best art, the visual and conceptual (including political) elements reinforce and amplify each other. To the degree that there exists a schism between the optical/sensuous and conceptual/intellectual realms is, in my view, attributable to doctrinaire neophilia, love of the new, accompanied by art-historical amnesia about Dead White European Males. The heartlessness of much contemporary art, with cerebral PC propaganda on one end of the spectrum and escapist eye candy on the other, reflects the lack of an ethical center in American culture. 

Today's political situation has, however, awakened many to the spiritual crisis engulfing us. It is heartening, amid all the doom and gloom, to note that the social documentarian photography of the Depression is once again on our minds. The images of Dorothea Lange — her "Migrant Mother" never lost its power or relevance — resonated with viewers at the Oakland Museum's retrospective a few months ago. Across the bay, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has just opened a large exhibition of Walker Evans which promises to inform and elevate today's huddled masses. 





Evans is best known for his photographs for the Farm Security Administration of the rural South during the Depression. I have always gravitated to that work for its acute observation of the small-town American scene; its sympathy with the people portrayed (without sentimentality; and its elegant, sometimes witty compositions. Evans idolized French writers like Baudelaire and Zola, dating to his 1926 stay in Paris, and adopted the modernist detachment of the flaneur, or stroller; his curiosity about social reality is thus never strident or programmatic. One writer described his work as "stoic, reserved and minimal." Evans, who saw himself as an "untethered eye" and a "social historian," aspired to make images that would be "literate, authoritative, transcendent." 

Evans and FSA colleagues like Lange and Shahn inherited the earlier progressive documentarian tradition from Jacob Riis and Lewis Hine, and developed it according to the new social conditions, technological capabilities, and even career opportunities for photographers. Evans, for example, was the first photographer accorded an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art; he was also active in publishing books: "American Photographs" in 1938, and "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" in 1941. He worked for Fortune magazine as an independent editor/photographer from 1945 to 1965, before leaving to teach at Yale. 




But back to the photographs. In contradistinction to contemporary art, which generally declaims its timeliness, Evans's photos of the 1930s, are immersed in the past, saturated by memory, documenting the gradual disappearance of small-town America as mass culture penetrated even the lowly shanties of Appalachia. And so he preserved it, photographically. One critic, noting Evans's debt to Eugene Atget (transmitted by Atget enthusiast and Evans's friend, Berenice Abbott), characterized his work as "social fact[s], suspended in time." Lloyd Fonvielle, in one of two Aperture magazine monographs on Evans, wrote: 

"He appropriated the potent, head-on style of naïve vernacular photography and transformed it into an instrument of conscious elegance … The visual incongruities of the American landscape — rusted auto bodies in a pastoral farmyard, rows of factory workers' houses built up next two rows of tombstones, crude hand lettered signs tacked on to gracious (and crumbling) old buildings … This particular evidence of American innocence might almost be said to constitute the core of Evans's vision; it's certainly accounts for the disquieting, melancholy aura of his best images …" 

In the second monograph, David Campany cited Evans's interest in 

"… the poetry of the street, vernacular architecture and design, the way the past persists in the present, and the anonymity of modern citizens … He was on the side of the genuinely popular, but against the populist (and often patronizing) manipulations of the mass media, with its love of product turnover, consumerism, easy stories, and celebrity.” 





These two writers sum up, with their evocative descriptions of the photos, Evans' enduring appeal as both fine-art photographer and social documentarian: as an artist who perfectly merges style and content, and bringing to life the vanished past. The claims implicitly made by these photographs — for connection with the world; for high standards; for aesthetic independence; for cultural curiosity; for transcending mere artiness — seem to me to be a necessary correction to an art world too awash in a false sense of the new. I concude with a couple additional quotations: first Evans' translation of "Mad," an essay by the French poet Blaise Cendrars, which might almost serve as the photographer's credo, echoing William Carlos Williams: "no ideas but in things," and is included in the SFMOMA show; and second, Evans's Dutch-uncle exhortation to fellow artists: 

"About this time, I was taken with a violent passion for objects, for inanimate things. I do not mean the utensils and the art objects with which the palace was stuffed, and which, by a sort of intellectual or sentimental exaltation, invoke, suggest, recall an old civiilization, some period of the past, some faded historic or family scene; objects which charm you and captivate you by their distorted shapes, their baroque lines, their obsolete refinement, by all that places them and dates them, names, and so curiously reveals the stamp of the mode which imagined them; no; my fancy was for unaesthetic objects exclusively; unfashioned objects of coarse and elementary material. I surrounded myself with the most uncouth things. A biscuit tin, an ostrich egg, a sewing machine, a piece of quartz, a bar of lead, a stovepipe. I spent my days handling and fingering and smelling these things. I rearranged them a thousand times a day. They were my amusement and my distraction; they were to make me forget the emotional experiences which had so tired me out. This was a great lesson to me." 

Stare. It is the way to educate your eye, and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.




]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1197577 2017-10-11T14:06:36Z 2017-10-11T14:06:36Z Kirk Crippens: California Plates at SLAC


CALIFORNIA PLATES
Documentary Photographs by KIRK CRIPPENS at SLAC Building 52

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is proud to announce an exhibit of works by the acclaimed Bay Area photographer, KIRK CRIPPENS. California Plates features large-scale color photographs taken from several separate bodies of work shot in northern California over the past nine years.

Documentary photography began at the turn of the 19th century with Lewis Hine and Jacob Riis, recorders of the grim lives of the American working class in the Gilded Age. It received further impetus in the 1930s, during the Depression, when government agencies hired young photographers to capture the plight of migrant laborers and tenant farmers in the American South in order to generate support for New Deal programs. Two of the photographers associated with New Deal agencies—the Farm Services Administration and the Resettlement Agency—were Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, who have been given recent retrospectives in the Bay Area, at the Oakland Museum of California and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, respectively. While these photographers were given subject assignments by their bosses, the works vary with the artists’ personalities. Lange was more polemical and political than the reserved Evans, for example. The works of both succeeded, however, because of their striking aesthetic form (informed by abstract painting and sculpture) and powerful, dramatic storytelling, qualities that make them succeed with contemporary viewers experiencing a renewed empathy for the “forgotten man” of eighty years ago.
 
Kirk Crippens’ work derives from the documentary tradition, but it operates as well as pure photography, as form and color orchestrated into memorable, even inevitable configurations. Understated elegance and an occasional bemused, dry humor are “the general note,” to use a phrase of Walker Evans, as is interest in the people who agree to pose for the photographer; indeed, Crippens has much in common with Evans, who lived with his subjects and was accepted by them almost as family. The nine landscape-format photographs shown here come from Crippens’ The Great Recession series, depicting hard times in the San Fernando Valley town of Stockton, due to its foreclosure crisis; from the Mary Elizabeth Moves series, beautiful domestic-interior slices of life; and from The Point series , with a semi-bucolic view of “CIty Goats” through a grid of cyclone fencing and an arabesque of dead vines.  Seven portrait-format photographs come from Crippens’ 2011-12 The Point series: formal, posed views of San Franciscans from the Bayview-Hunters Point area. Crippens: “My life changed that Sunday morning.  I was adopted by the congregation of Providence [Baptist Church].... The Point is a collaboration with and celebration of ... the kings and queens of Bayview-Hunters Point.” KirkCrippens.com

SLAC’s Building 52 is not open to the public except during receptions by reservation. For more information, please contact Curator DeWitt Cheng at 415-412-8499 and acdcmr@earthlink.net.  Artopticon.us is the successor program to Stanford Art Spaces.

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1197180 2017-10-10T01:34:56Z 2017-10-10T02:02:05Z LAINA TERPSTRA and TAMA HOCHBAUM @ George Lawson GGallery





LAINA TERPSTRA: Departures
TAMA HOCHBAUM: Bi Series
George Lawson Gallery

Two artists look at the great mystery, time, through painting and photography in this provocative curatorial matchup. Laina Terpstra’s small to mid-sized oils on canvas at first appear to be elegant., curvilinear abstractions in muted palettes of brown, ocher, black and white, but it soon become clear that they represent the motions of absent actors, like the blurs in long-exposure photographs. Motion became a subject for artistic interpretation at the dawn of modernism with the influence of photography. The most famous example would be Duchamp’s 1912 “Nude Descending a Staircase,” but also in the running would be the lesser-known but equally memorable contemporaneous oil by the Futurist Giacomo Balla, “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,” with lady and pet dachshund endowed with a panoply of rotating legs, as if photographed under strobe lighting. Terpstra joins this witty tradition by making works—all visually satisfying by themselves—as variants or homages to Old Master paintings by Pieter de Hooch, Jan Steen, Jacques Louis David, and, the master of chiaroscuro and tenebrism, Caravaggio. If the monochromatic “Room of Resistance” suggests, with its ectoplasmic white veils floating in darkness, Max Ernst’s grattages set into a Redon noir, “From Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy” seems to depict the swirling Baroque draperies of that painting minus the actors of the sacred drama, Raptured to a better place? Don’t miss the small and large versions of “From Pieter de Hooch’s Man With Dead Birds and Other Figures in a Stable,” compelling mashups of Old-Master gravitas and modernist abstraction: postmodernism worth its salt—and, wonderful to relate—such contrapuntal pairings can be done!—worth hanging with the originals.

In the smaller gallery are four nocturnal-landscape photo mosaics by Tama Hochbaum, a former painter and printmaker, who now uses a camera to depict “an unfolding of time, a story told.” Shown here are four 48”x48” squares composed of eight 16”x16” prints, with the center squares absent. Hochbaum’s centerless square polyptychs, featuring shots of the night sky in various locations, and shot presumably forty-five degrees apart, are based, I am told by gallerist George Lawson (thanks for the memories!), on the neolithic jade bi, a carved circular disc with a circular hole at the center, representing heaven. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1195027 2017-09-30T22:19:41Z 2017-09-30T22:19:42Z Gay Outlaw: Ozone at Anglim Gilbert Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, 9/29/17)


GAY OUTLAW: Ozone
Anglim Gilbert Gallery

 The Bay Area conceptual artist Gay Outlaw infuses her inquiries into epistemology—what makes something a work of art, or not—and the properties of varied materials, some unusual, like the caramelized sugar of a few years ago, with craftsmanship and wit. Her current show, entitled Ozone—a reference to the damage wrought by global-climate change?—comprises work in bronze, clay, wood, aluminum, encaustic, digital photography, cast glass, and pâte de verre, or glass paste, made from firing colored pigmented glass powders in a mold. While the works explore different ideas, and do not obviously come from the same artist, a spirit of experimentation and discovery pervades all. (By the way, everything is officially untitled, but the pieces are given humorous parenthetical designations.)

 The stars of the show were the eleven pâte de verre Meatloafsunset sculptures, life-sized renditions of those familiar ingots of mystery meat, arrayed on a tabletop, as if posed for a Wayne Thiebaud painting. Each is given a glazing or topping of an unusual color e.g., teal, cyan, yellow, pink, amber, etc., suggestive of sweets rather than savories. A pair of abstract folded-metal sculptures adorned with paint—Kitchen Sink and Bent Box—and a quartet of bronze or glass sculptures, idiosyncratically evoking vessels, modelmaking and hats, are dispersed throughout the gallery. Outlaw’s strangely funny, memorable mixed-media wall pieces pair color photos of street photography with blobs or ‘flows’ of colored glass paste, as if someone had flung colored mud onto the picture-frame glass, and the artist had found the desecrations to be  mprovements (as Francis Bacon sometimes flung oil paint onto canvases that he wanted to save or improve, gambling with destruction). The glass blobs, or lava flows, also recall the free-form poured urethane sculptures of Lynda Benglis. Outlaw’s titles are as droll as the idea of the works playfully tantalizing the viewer (or spy), but, like Hamlet, pointedly retaining their mystery: Untitled (Spring Green Flow with Artist Hair), Untitled (Orange Flow with Waders), and Untitled (Navy Flow with Wistful Poodle).— DeWitt Cheng

 

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1194856 2017-09-29T18:39:04Z 2017-09-29T18:39:04Z Joan Brown Works on Paper at Richmond Art cobbler (from East Bay Monthly, October 2017)

RAC Exhibits Works on Paper by Painter Joan Brown

In 1958, the twenty-year-old Joan Beatty, about to marry, was ill and bedridden; art books provided by her fiancé, the painter Bill H. Brown, changed her life. She later recalled: "I'd never seen any of this stuff”—i.e., on Rembrandt, Goya, and Velasquez—“and I felt this tremendous surge of energy.” Enrolling at the California School of Fine Art, she was encouraged by her mentor, the painter Elmer Bischoff (later a colleague at UC Berkeley), to find her own artistic way, and she worked through Bay Area Figuration, beat and funk toward her mature style, which combines a refined lyricism with the kind of eccentric-outsider outlook which the Bay Area nurtures.

In San Francisco galleries in the 1970s and 1980s, Brown was, if not ubiquitous, at least highly visible; some of us young know-it-alls found her simplified drawing, flat modeling and bright colors a bit too easy to like, Matisse for the masses; and the autobiographical element too sweetly northern California and even New Age, Kahlo without the angst. However, when the painter died in 1990 at age fifty-two in an art-installation accident in India—she was a follower of Sathya Sai Baba—her thirty-four year long creative life assumed a retrospective gravitas that had always been in the work, just not foregrounded. You can see the depth of her emotion in the early Abstract Expressionist works of the late 1950s, caked and crusted with oil paint. The artist Wally Hedrick said of her: "There was the innocent child, sort of flowing through time, and there was the mature artist, and they just happened to be in the same body at different times." He also remembered Bischoff’s non-judgmental judgment: “I have this extraordinary student. She's either a genius or very simple.”

Is that a false dichotomy? The art world is quick to move on to the eternal new, so fans of Brown as well as those unfamiliar with her work are well served by Joan Brown: In Living Color, a selection of works on paper borrowed from private collections. Through November 18. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Street, Richmond; (510) 620-6772; www.therac.org. —DeWitt Cheng

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1191825 2017-09-17T18:26:59Z 2017-09-21T04:10:57Z Is Nothing Sacred? Sarah Lucas at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco


A few months ago, I wrote about the new curatorial strategy in effect at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, of showing contemporary artwork interspersed with the permanent collection of traditional European art. The artist was the sculptor Urs Fishher, and I had mixed feelings about the exhibition, which was installed both in the French neoclassical courtyard dominated by Rodin’s iconic  TheThinker, and inside, amid the works of Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, and other dead white males of lesser note.

 It’s at http://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&aID=4169.

The current sculpture show, entitled Good Muse, by Sarah Lucas, is stylistically similar, hip and ironic, apparently geared toward attracting younger viewers unable or unwilling to confront the boring, passé art of politically incorrect creators. While Fischer achieved a certain piquant charm by juxtaposing his large bronze casts of amateurish clay sculptures with the columns and courtyard, and Rodin’s pensive colossus, Lucas’s soft figurative sculptures merely disrupt whatever contemplative atmosphere may remain in the museum in this year 100 or so of Our Duchamp.

But first, a quick tour d’horizon. A large pair of women’s boots cast in concrete, Jubilee, stands at the center of the foyer gallery, with its permanent Rodin residents now flanked by translucent cast-resin toilets placed atop small refrigerators and pedestals. The visual discontinuity is enough, but the pretentious banality of the curatorial notes is in my opinion excruciating. Jubilee is presented as a contemporary riposte to Rodin’s Gates of Hell (placed, as it is, amid details from that monumental work): the material, we’re told, conjures up the cement boots of gangster lore, “and thus aligns a woman’s sexual power with ... renegade violence.” The seven Floppy Toilet works, cast in urine yellow, and seemingly melting or dissolving, “serve as a reminder of our servitude to the biological needs of our bodies,” with their “unexpected and often comical grace ... contradict[ing] their scatological implications in favor of more existential considerations.” Two abject, dolllike sculptures made from tights stuffed with cotton fluff, and entitled Tit Teddy (Gates of Hell), are ignominiously placed atop the pedestal for Rodin’s The Three Shades, while two similar stuffed-tights figures, sit in adjacent galleries. Titti Doris, a cluster of balloonlike breasts with long spindly legs but no torso, arms or head, slumps in a chair, “a fertility goddess wrapped up in the insecurities of a little girl.” Washing Machine Fried Egg, a pair of flaccid legs surmounted by sunny-side-up eggs for breasts, “simultaneously iterates and lampoons the patriarchal idea that a woman’s purpose is ... serving a husband’s sexual appetites and domestic needs.” The monumentally ithyphallic Innamemorabiliumumbum “combines the iconic tropes of the reclining odalisque or harem girl with that of the predatory satyr eternally ready and on the hunt for love.”

Even more appalling is a trio of nude female figures, truncated at the waist and sprawling or reclining suggestively. Cast from life in white plaster, they derive from the Greco-Roman marble-statue tradition, but they’re the anithesis of classical dignity and gravitas: the supine Margot has a cigarette inserted in her anus; the sitting Pauline has one in her buttocks; the prone Michele, legs spread, has a cigarette placed in her vagina. The explanatory labels discuss female exploitation and empowerment—you go, girl, victim!—but how can any self-respecting woman, especially an enlightened, educated one,  see these as anything but deeply offensive and, yes, misogynistic? To be fair, Lucas trashes the male gender as well, as we’ve seen, but are people really as contemptible and mindless as portrayed here? (Rodin’s portrait of Camillle Claudel and hers of him stand, by the way, near the entrance to the toilet-rich gallery.) The classic tradition, with Rodin as its Romantic culmination, often ennobled man, and we live in an antiheroic and sometimes misanthropic age—for out anthropogenic sins?— but it was also cognizant of madness and tragedy, none of which is on display here.

These two shows, Fischer and Lucas, purport to honor the work of Rodin. Want to do that, for real? Tolle et lege (take up and read): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Burghers_of_Calais

(Reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1190047 2017-09-09T23:42:34Z 2017-09-09T23:42:34Z Jessica Hess "Less is More" at Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArSource.com)


JESSICA HESS: Less is More
Hashimoto Contemporary

The San Francisco painter Jessica Hess, who mixes a realist vision, photorealist technique and a bent for conceptualism and even social comment, is back, with fifteen new hyperrealist works depicting slices of architectural life of urban America, from New England to Alameda, and from Portland to Detroit.  Her decidedly unglamorous views of dilapidated or graffiti-enhanced buildings attain a kind of poeticization of the everyday and banal —what most of us walk right past and overlook—but without politics or pathos: most exude a kind of wry humor, delight in the idiosyncratic, an attitude that one associates more with Pop art than with visually punctilious photorealism, which tends to glorify and memorialize its subjects. Hess’s use of photographs is actually closer to David Hockney’s multiple-perspective Polaroids than to the measured classicism of, say, Robert Bechtle’s views of suburban California.

Hess shoots up to a hundred photos of each site and constructs from the 4x6 prints a collage, altering color and even weather and time of day to suit the direction that evolves during the painting process. If her previous show, More is More, in 2015, focused on capturing the abstractions that graffiti glut could create on abandoned buildings’ walls, Less is More (with its implicit reference to the functional Bauhaus architecture, sans ornament, of Mies van der Rohe) examines the mostly unadorned structure—except for the “buff” painting made by building managers covering up graffiti with irregular rectangles of tan and gray paint, suggesting Hans Hofmann canvases with the saturation levels nearly zeroed out. Hess: “I love weathered surfaces, faded colors, decay. The older I get, the more I appreciate subtlety.”—DeWitt Cheng

 

 




 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1189547 2017-09-07T19:20:58Z 2017-09-07T19:20:58Z Christian Maychack's "Reciprocals" at Gregory Lind Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from Artillery magazine)

CHRISTIAN MAYCHACK: Reciprocals
Gregory Lind Gallery
By DeWitt Cheng

In Kafka’s “The Cares of a Family Man,” we meet a small, strange creature lurking on the narrator’s stairway and in his foyer. No animal, but a spool affixed to wooden crosspieces, trailing bits of thread, it’s a “broken-down remnant” composed of scraps, an animated bricolage. When asked its name, it stops rolling, and replies, in a voice “like the rustling of fallen leaves,” Odradek.

Some of Kafka’s absurdist humor—gentler in this story than elsewhere—informs Christian Maychack’s mixed-media artworks. The artist combines painting, sculpture and installation into bricolages that seem almost animate, and playfully subversive. Maychack studied art in the San Francisco Bay Area, and absorbed its traditions of assemblage, trompe-l’oeil illusionism, and personal mythology; but also the post-minimalist interest in imbuing emotion and presence into abstract structures; he cites the personal, idiosyncratic work of Jessica Stockholder and Martin Puryear as major influences. While working as an art installer and preparator, Maychack began using the skills and materials from that job to go beyond traditional painting and printmaking. One might describe his weirdly humorous works as a quest to “re-enchant” art (to use the term employed in 1991 by the then-disenchanted art critic Suzi Gablik), although the work achieves its effects abstractly, through the interplay of wood, steel, and pigmented epoxy clay.

“Reciprocals,” Maychack’s fourth show at Gregory Lind, comprises eleven assemblages, all from 2017: nine wall-hanging reliefs, with two small sculptures mounted on pedestals. They’re small- to medium-sized, but charged with energy and humor, reflecting the artist’s interest in interchange and interchangeability “between painting and sculpture, front and back, an object and its surroundings, etc.... I often use color to create moments of seeming flatness. Pastels and tinted whites interact with negative space, the pieces’ irregular shapes, along with shadows and the whiteness of the wall, to create a disoriented object.” That phrase may suggest Harold Rosenberg’s term, the ‘anxious object,’ used to describe the experimental works that came after Abstract Expressionism’s existential drama, but did not denote work deliberately provoking viewer anxiety. Rosenberg imagines the works pondering, “Am I a masterpiece, or an assemblage of junk?”

Well, maybe both, such is the dichotomous magic of art. Eight of the works—untitled, but numbered—belong to Maychack’s Compound Flats series, begun in 2011, all employing pigmented epoxy clay pressed into the apertures of chair caning, like fossils in a clay matrix. Some viewers saw the clay-embedded caning as photographic, so the pieces had a provocative ambiguity. (Art history mavens will remember that one of Picasso’s 1912 Cubist still lives employed a printed textile of chair caning to similarly playfully discombobulating ends.) The new works forgo the chair caning but without loss of complexity. Compound Flat #62 is composed of a rectangle and triangle fashioned from wooden sticks suggestive of stretcher bars that have been combined or superimposed; ridges and fields of red, gray and whitish epoxy clay transform this patched scaffolding into deconstructed painting; Manolo Valdes’ heavily impastoed (and faceless) takes on Renaissance portraiture come to mind. Compound Flat 50, 52, 59, and 58 (subtitled Pink Dropout) are based on stacked double rectangles, suggesting open sash windows—or, again, stretcher bars—divested of their glass or canvas, with swaths of fabric (actually pigmented epoxy) inserted into the mechanisms, holding them in place, or together; the window idea is borrowed, of course, from traditional painting. Perpetual Climber and Compound Flat 60 deviate further from rectangularity into idiosyncratic shapes that perfectly balance the centrifugal, expansive  accidents of the creative process with the centripetal, contractile shaping of the organizing aesthetic sensibility.

 

 

 

 

 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1187150 2017-08-28T22:12:03Z 2017-08-28T22:12:03Z Claire Colette Re-Enchants Geometric Abstraction at Johansson Projects

Claire Colette Re-Enchants Geometric Abstraction at Johansson Projects
(reprinted from East Bay Monthly, September 2017)

Geometric abstraction is usually considered to have originated in the United States in the 1960s, with innovative painters like Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland, Lawrence Poons, Ellsworth Kelly and others, whose ostensibly took the modernist painting to its logical conclusions. Perhaps the art-critic and prophet of that era’s formalist analysis, Clement Greenberg, was unaware of it, but geometric abstraction actually originated a half century before, in Europe—with Kasimir Malevich’s revolutionary Suprematism, and it was anything but an exercise in formalist pure visual aesthetics. Malevich was utopian without reservations or embarrassment, a Christian mystic from the Ukraine who found in the black square (a motif which adorns his grave) an icon for a new age; Mondrian, similarly, now known for his primary-colored stripes, was deeply influenced by Theosophy, the alternative religion of disaffected fin-de-siècle intellectuals.

 Claire Colette’s abstractions in Monument Eternal continue this lineage of spiritual abstraction. The show’s title is borrowed from Franya Berkman’s creative and spiritual biography of Alice Coltrane (the wife of John Coltrane in the 1960s), a brilliant musician and composer who fused gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, bebop, Hindu devotional hymns and European classical music, and, as Swamini Turiya Sangitananda, performed with other musicians pursuing “spiritual aesthetics.” Colette’s paintings depict the sacred architecture and the creation myths of various cultures, along with the astronomical phenomena studied throughout human history, but they’re filtered though a minimalist, modernist sensibility. Without titles like The End is the Beginning, or The First Hour of the World, or Adityas, referring to the offspring of Aditi, mother of the Hindu gods, one might not discern the spiritual dimension, still problematic for those raised on the outworn creed of dogmatic materialism yet capable of suspending considerable disbelief in art, fashion and politics. Monument Eternal runs through October 28. Reception Saturday, September 9, 3-5pm. Johansson Projects, 2300 Broadway at 23rd Street, Oakland; open Thursday through Saturday 1-5 and by appointment, (510) 444-9140; johanssonprojects.com. —DeWitt Cheng

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1185796 2017-08-22T21:35:07Z 2017-08-22T22:01:10Z Fall Picks 2017 (reprinted from Oakland and Alameda magazines, September 2017)

STATE OF THE ARTS

Garry Knox Bennett at Transmission Gallery, 770 West Grand Avenue, Oakland, www.thetransmissiongallery.com. Oakland’s master of witty and immaculately fabricated art furniture (including hippie-era Art Nouveau-ish roach clips) returns to the East Bay gallery scene, twelve years after his 2005 Oakland Museum show at the large lobby at 555 12th Street. Details on the show are sketchy at the moment, and might includes lights and lamps, but however things evolve, the show, which might include chairs, desks, clocks and tables, will be amazing, delightful, and a testament to old-school craftsmanship, freewheeling imagination and irrepressible humor. Bennett: “Some people call me an artist. It’s flattering, but I’m not. I have friends that are artists, but I’m a damn good furniture maker.” Reception Friday, December 1, 6-9pm. December 1 - January 20.


About Abstraction: Bay Area Women Painters at Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. www.bedfordgallery.org. The recent regressive turn in American politics points up the fact that the social progress many of us foolishly took for granted was never safe from attack. It’s no surprise, either, that women artists are still under-represented; some change has taken place since the 1970s, but too little, and too late. Still, shows like this one, focusing on local living artists who happen to be abstractionists—and women, Reg!—are valuable in keeping things moving forward. The seventeen painters are Lorene Anderson, Eva Bovenzi, Donna Brookman, Heather Day, Amy Ellingson, Linda Geary, Rebekah Goldstein, Danielle Lawrence, Naomie Kremer, Michelle Mansour, Alicia McCarthy, Mel Prest, Cornelia Schulz, Ema Sintamarian, Michele Theberge, and Canan Tolon. September 24 - December 17.


August Muth: Tactile Radiance at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, 480 23rd Street, Oakland, www.chandracerritocontemporary.com. Muth is a Santa-Fe-based artist who has been working with holograms, those three-dimensional projections (now familiar from Star Wars and other movies) for thirty years. He creates his own works (with a proprietary emulsion) as well as assisting other artists; the James Turrell holograms shown recently at Pace Gallery in Palo Alto are collaborations, I presume. Muth’s holograms convey not desperate appeals to Jedi knights, but geometric forms floating in color fields, hovering almost tangibly in the viewer’s space. Muth considers light to be a tactile medium, and these holograms are not illusions, but “photonic truth.... Through my work, I strive to record with precision the perceptible light-space-time phenomena.  As these three elements intertwine, a three-dimensional topography of pure light is formed, revealing a window into the elusive realms of the light-space-time paradox.  Luminous veils of light invite the viewer into a multi-dimensional journey.... Light is the faithful archivist of time.” First Friday reception, September 1, 6-8pm. August 4 - September 28.


Earth, Wind and Fire at Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, www.richmondartcenter.org. Remember when postmodernist art theory declared nature dead a decade ago, and long live culture? It’s not worked out exactly as we in the fact-based universe would have hoped, but maybe the sullen kid at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg will take a hike.  This show, Earth, Wind, and Fire, explored the reality of our place in the natural world through the artifice of — art, made by the social landscape (for lack of a better term) painter Chester Arnold, the conceptual artist Paul Kos, the figurative glass sculptor Clifford Rainey, and the painter Abel Rodriguez, a member of Colombia’s Nonuya people, now in exile, who shares his intimate knowledge of the Amazon ecosystem entirely from memory: "I had never drawn before, I barely knew how to write, but I had a whole world in my mind asking me to picture the plants.” Reception Saturday, September 9, 5-7pm (probably). September 12 - November 18. —DeWitt Cheng

 

 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1185012 2017-08-19T21:43:04Z 2017-08-19T22:31:59Z Chad Hasegawa: Wall Colorings @ Andrea Schwartz (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)

Chad Hasegawa
Andrea Schwartz Gallery, San Francisco, California  
Recommendation by DeWitt Cheng  
Continuing through August 31, 2017

The San Francisco satirist Ambrose Bierce defined painting as “the art of protecting flat surface from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” San Franciscan Chad Hasegawa, known for his mural work, has created a body of abstract paintings on canvas that focuses on the issues of working outside (although, curiously, there is no mention of exposure to sidewalk critics): i.e., dealing with “wind, dust, and all angles of direct sunlight of all hours of the day.” Hasegawa aims for long-term survival “as if [the works] were outside in heavy conditions” — as well as for the immediate visual impact necessary for the street. 

These large latex (“bucket paint”) and acrylic works, with their geometric shapes, eccentric and sometimes complex, suggesting three dimensions; their taped edges; and their textured paint, are monumental, in accordance with the artist’s admiration for the abstract expressionists Franz Kline, Phillip Guston, Joan Mitchell and Robert Motherwell; yet they’re also personal, befitting their inspiration in the traditional quilts of the artist’s native Hawaii, where these handmade objects are regarded as serious artifacts (as some of us continue to regard paintings). Hasegawa’s palette derives from the “royalty colors” of Hawaiian kings and queens, as do his high-contrast graphic compositions, which derive not from the natural world, as do traditional quilts, but today’s cultural world, and personal associations. Four small paintings, “Kahuku,” “Waianae,” “Haleiwa” and “Kapo Lei,” aligned vertically, constitute a symbolic map of four districts of Honolulu. The large works from the "Lean On & Against" series exemplify Hasegawa’s aesthetic of harmony through contrast, of painterly intuition layered into dynamic equipoise.


]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183856 2017-08-15T13:33:32Z 2017-08-15T16:48:39Z Beth Fein. When Words Fail," at Transmission Gallery, Oakland (until Sept. 26)



Beth Fein: When Words Fail

Last year, Beth Fein—then a resident artist at Women’s Studio Workshop, in New York—created, during that particularly heated election season, “When Words Fail Me,” a mixed-media work composed of pyramids printed with typographical fragments that are mounted magnetically to a galvanized steel sheet; the pyramids suggest word fragments, but their message indecipherable and, since the pieces can be moved, random, indicative of the artist’s desire “not to make more words.” In a recent interview, Fein criticized the plethora of fake news and alternative facts in our current national discourse: “Words aren’t working.” At such times, art, including abstraction, can provide an alternative commentary. The artist’s work both as a dancer and creator of dances and as a multimedia artist working in prints, sculptures and installations investigates how movement and flow combine in art and life: in the real time and real space of dance; and in artworks dealing with impermanence and metamorphosis both thematically and, in the case of open-ended works with multiple configurations, literally. Fein embraces experimentation and chance: growing up in the New York, she absorbed the expansive ideas of 1960s avant-gardism: “I have this John Cage influence about chance and choice. It is a way of looking at our lives—responding to chance and making choices. It is a balancing act.”

Fein balances impulses that are inherently in conflict: a conceptual, abstract approach to subject matter and a curiosity about the possibilities of materials. Included in When Words Fail are sculptural installations and mixed-media sculptures from her Voices Project that ironically both subvert and assert the power of language.

The installation, “Around Again,” is composed of thirty-six circular eight-inch discs of paper, suspended and seemingly floating, mid-air, like water lilies. The discs are printed in color on both sides, from deep red or black lightening gradually to white, so they suggest (using a symbolic, non-naturalistic palette) the daily solar cycle as well as the monthly lunar cycle. In past performances, dancers moved between the discs, gently displacing them and causing them to oscillate gently before returning to a new equilibrium. “Betrayed,” from several years ago, featuring printed cones suggesting teeth or stalagmites, indicts the pursuit of money and power, carried, in the absence of moderating influences, to toxic or even self-destructive levels.

Two printed sculptures combine traditional woodblock and letterpress printing with modular compositional structures, reflecting the distortions of advertising, political slogans, and other forms of official persuasion.  Conjunctio means, in Latin, the marriage of opposites; in alchemical lore, it refers to the ‘marriages’ or conjunctions between cosmic pairs of opposites: the active, masculine, sulfurous principle symbolized by the sun, Sol, and its complement, the passive, feminine, mercurial principle symbolized by the moon, Luna; in psychology, it refers to psychic balance between the self and others, making possible “three dimensional relationships [devoid of ego illusions] in the real world.” Fein’s “Conjunctio (Marriage of Opposites)” is a set of eight-inch-square prints placed upright in a radial configuration on a semicircular wooden rack.  Six abstract images in black on white (woodblock) are placed back to back with their negative images in white on black (photopolymer letterpress). Alternating with these are seven woodblock prints of the words chance, change, choice, yang and yin; square cutout windows afford views of the abstract images, which suggest hieroglyphic symbols or pictorial road signage.  The pieces can be rotated into different orientations, and the sequence, too, can be altered, making this work a kind of philosophical game board.  Fein’s pendant wall piece, “Conjunctio II (Marriage of Opposites),” arranges sixteen eight-inch square woodblock prints, eight in black on white, eight in white on black, within a 4x4 grid that suggests, again, a game board, a tray of movable type, or a manuscript; the sequence of verbal units, or morphemes, can be altered, creating different implied ‘messages,’ Fein’s comment on the slippery meanings of contemporary Newspeak. (In 2016, Fein sent prints from a similar series to pairs of opposite personalities: to Michelle Obama and Roger Ailes, of Fox News; and to Pope Francis and Donald Trump.)

The large wooden wall relief accompanying these abstract images, “Speak Truth to Power,” echoes the words of activist Kerry Kennedy, addressing the Center for Justice and Accountability on various civil-rights abuses; and, further back in history, the mandate of eighteenth-century Quakers. Fein creates a kind of international monument or manuscript, laser-cutting the dictum, translated into twenty-four languages, into a stele-like panel honoring “those who have had the courage to speak out,” with the letters emerging from the matrix and fallen and scattered, below.

Words can fail, if we abuse rational discourse; but, imbued with meaning and urgency, they can also succeed. The same holds for images. In 1861, as the Civil War began, the landscapist Frederic E. Church painted “Our Banner in the Sky,” a small oil at San Francisco’s de Young Museum depicting a spectral Stars and Stripes waving from a bare tree, stripped of its foliage by shot and shell. The stripes merge with the red clouds of sunset; the stars dissolve into the deepening night sky.  Fein’s new version of the American flag, “Distressed,” is on white silk, with the edges unraveling, the stars replaced by printed eyes, and the red and blue leached from the flag, and fallen to the ground; the flag’s familiar pattern are printed upside-down, denoting (United States Flag Code, Title 4, Chapter 1) “dire distress ... [and] extreme danger to life or property.”—DeWitt Cheng






 
]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183845 2017-08-15T12:55:53Z 2017-08-15T12:55:55Z Trudy Myrrh Reagan retrospective at Peninsula Museum of Art
Trudy Myrrh Reagan
Physical/Metaphysical: Mixed Media Works

Science, the patterns found in nature, and sociopolitical commentary have been the abiding concerns to Palo Alto artist Gertrude Myrrh Reagan for fifty years. The Peninsula Museum of Art is proud to exhibit a small selection from her varied oeuvre. Reagan, who grew up as the daughter of a geologist, and married a physicist, shows that visual art can be a compelling and beautiful way to explore scientific phenomena from biology, geology, botany, anatomy, mathematics, physics, and even philosophy and metaphysics. She has been active in bringing together “the two cultures” of art and science, founding, in 1981, YLEM: Artists Using Science and Technology, which served as a forum for the then developing field of computer graphics. Reagan is also a reader of sacred texts from both eastern and western cultures, and her artistic practice (which has a political component, represented in the show by a pair of satirical drawings) informed by Quaker and Buddhist teachings. Sadly, the breadth of Reagan’s career can be represented only with twenty-five paintings, drawings and sculptures, but her website (www.myrrh-art.com) is a rich resource for those interested in further pursuing the  connections between science and art.

Among the show’s treasures is a sizeable selection from Reagan’s Essential Mysteries series, developed over almost two decades (and available as digital prints); these abstract paintings in acrylic paint on large (45”-diameter) plexiglas discs zoom spectacularly from the microscopically small to the cosmically large, from subatomic particles to galaxies, affirming the aesthetic beauty of the laws of science, and warning us of the dangers of transgressing beyond natural limits.  “The World of Small and Large,” “Energy Becomes Matter,” “Life Creates,” “Intertwingled,” a portmanteau word combining intertwined and mingled,  and “Catastrophe” might almost sum up the human adventure on earth., not forgetting our cultural contributions, nicely intertwingled in “Brains Imagine,” a depiction of the brain’s convoluted twin lobes, composed of Michelangelo nudes—the universe inside our heads, externalized as art. 

Also shown are works from Reagan’s Patterns in Nature series, spanning more than three decades, exploring how physical laws generate aesthetically pleasing form in geological landscapes, in the veins of leaves or insect wings, and acoustically generated wave patterns; and exploring collage, batik, and even traditional realist landscape painting. — DeWitt Cheng

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183043 2017-08-12T19:35:16Z 2017-08-12T19:35:16Z A new Book Captures the Legendary Art Curator Walter Hopps in His Own Words (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com, August 4, 2017)

Editors' Roundtable
by DeWitt Cheng

Some years ago I became aware of the art curator extraordinaire Walter Hopps. He was the subject of Ed Kienholz's affectionate assemblage portrait of 1960 (now in the Lannan Collection, Los Angeles), "Walter Hopps Hopps Hopps" which captures his dual aspects: the mild-mannered, bespectacled scholar, Clark Kent, and the indefatigable (if often drug-enhanced) Art Superman. Then there is the art pusher, opening his overcoat to display avant garde wares such as deKooning postcards. Hopps was in fact not much of a salesman, more an enthusiast and champion. By his own estimation, he was a guy who found a painting in a cave and held up the illuminating torch. 

Hopps' role in developing the Los Angeles art world of the 1960s as gallerist, curator and tireless proselytizer is well detailed in Morgan Neville's excellent documentary "The Cool School" (2008), narrated by Dennis Hopper. In 2015, Robert Berman E-6 Gallery in San Francisco replicated the famous 1963 Marcel Duchamp Pasadena Museum of Art show that had been curated by the then thirty-one-year-old Hopps, a show that would have massive repercussions in the art world. One of the photos by Julilan Wasser depicts the curator and artist playing chess; it's not as memorable as the shot of Duchamp playing chess with a nude Eve Babitz, but reflective of Hopps' rapport with and unwavering support for interesting artists. 

When Hopps died, in 2005 of pneumonia at age seventy-two (while in L.A. to see a George Herms retrospective), it was as if an era had passed. Paul Richard of The Washington Post ("Walter Hopps, Museum Man With a Talent For Talent") wrote: "Most museum men are smooth. Walter Hopps wasn't. He was sort of a gonzo museum director — elusive, unpredictable, outlandish in his range, jagged in his vision, heedless of rules. That's if you could find him, which wasn't always easy. But Hopps, who died Sunday in Los Angeles at the age of 72, had a peculiar gift. He found artists, wonderful artists, and he found them first." 

The roster of artists that Hopps showed in a hundred exhibitions over forty years at galleries (notably his Syndell Studio, and his and Kienholz's Ferus, both in L.A.), museums (Pasadena Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery, Smithsonian National Collection of Fine Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, The Menil Collection) and in other venues (São Paulo Biennial, Venice Biennale) is astonishing. To name just a few: John Altoon, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Wallace Berman, Llyn Foulkes, Robert Irwin, Ken Price, Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, Frank Lobdell, Roy DeForest, Jay De Feo, Bruce Conner, George Herms, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ellsworth Kelly, Yves Klein, Wayne Thiebaud, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Max Ernst and Robert Crumb. I could go on. 

If Spinoza was a "Gott betrunkener Mensch," a man drunk with God, Hopps was, Hopps was, after his epiphany following a high school encounter with the modern art collection of Walter and Louise Arensberg, the pluperfect "Kunst betrunkener Mensch." Substitute art for God. Paul Richard again: "Hours, sometimes days, would pass before one heard his low, rich voice, often on the telephone in the middle of the night. It was always worth the wait. He was the best art talker I have ever heard. His speech was like a Jackson Pollock drip painting, swooping, swelling, doubling back. He mesmerized. He taught." Yet little of that mesmerizing talk survived — until now. A few years before his death, Hopps taped a hundred hours of interviews with artist, critic and editor Anne Doran; those interviews have been edited by The New Yorker Fiction Editor Deborah Treisman, who had known Hopps for years, into "The Dream Colony: A Life in Art," just published. 

I attended a reading in late June at City Lights Books, in San Francisco, with its bohemian, free-speech history, a singularly appropriate venue for such an iconoclast. (Digression: Hopps had seen the paintings by City Liights' founder, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in the 9 Mission Street warehouse during the late 1940s, as a teenage cultural tourist.) While organizing that quantity of recording must have been a herculean task, Treisman notes that Hopps, who seems to have never forgotten anything, was an accomplished and practiced storyteller and lecturer. Some of his anecdotes had been clearly polished by repetition into memorable prose. Whatever the degree of editorial reshaping, the book reads smoothly and conversationally, detailing the adventures and passions of a remarkable eye and intellect driven by passion and imbued with so little of the bureaucratic spirit — the San Francisco art critic Mark Van Proyen calls it art administrativism — prevalent today that Corcoran Gallery colleagues made gentle fun of his perpetual tardiness with a pin reading, "Walter Hopps will be here in 20 minutes." Hopps' story makes for welcome reading in our current floundering art scene, with its aesthetic claims and counter-claims, and, always at our back, the wingèd chariots of money, power, glamor and fashion. 

Ed Ruscha, in his introduction to the volume: "There was such vitality to the things he said. He had the ability to rhapsodize ... He didn't just talk about famous artists and preach their success, He talked about artists who were obscure, oddballs who were out in the sticks, not necessarily accepted by the mainstream of the art world ... the dust bunnies. He was very catholic in his tastes, and he had real respect for every bit of it." Hopps' memoir would make a fine one-person stage show (with slides), or perhaps the serious, passionate, funny movie about art and artists that we've all been waiting for. But the book, almost universally praised, will probably have been better.



]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1183041 2017-08-12T19:27:13Z 2017-08-12T19:27:13Z Richard Misrach, "The Writing on the Wall," Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco




Richard Misrach,  "The Writing on the Wall," Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco
(published in  fttp://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&pcID=17&aID=4211 without the intro paragraph on Bible lore)

RICHARD MISRACH: The Writing On The Wall

Fraenkel Gallery

‘The writing on the wall’ refers to the story in the Book of Daniel of the end of the reign of the Babylonian king Belshazzar (son of Nebuchadnezzar, conqueror and enslaver of the Israelites during the Babylonian Captivity) in 539BC. Belshazzar is interrupted at his impious feast by a terrifying disembodied hand writing fiery letters on the palace wall. Mene mene tekel upharsin is decrypted by the Jewish sage Daniel as a warning that Belshazzar’s reign has been divinely weighed and found wanting, and is thus forfeit, and prophecy is verified that very night when the kingdom is overthrown by the Medes. The story is the subject of religious, moralizing paintings by Rembrandt (1635), Washington Allston (1817) and John Martin (1821).

Richard Misrach, who has been documenting the environmental damage of America’s capitalist culture for decades—“these cultural manifestations in the natural landscape, ... the collision between nature and civilization”—may not be assuming the role of prophetic doomsayer per se, but the signs of incipient collapse are there for anyone to see and decipher: the government environmental-damage report asserting that climate change is real, leaked on Wednesday in order to evade death by redaction; and, of course the ongoing comic tragedy and tragic comedy in Washington. Misrach began working on this series of ruined houses in the American Southwest bedecked with anonymous graffiti during election year, and found in the swastikas and racist comments (as well as some rejoinder a compelling record of “the dystopian side of the American dream” now familiar to everyone: desperation, despair and vicious scapegoating. Misrach: “These are the hieroglyphics of our time.”

Five large photos depict abandoned houses seemingly invaded by malefic spirits. Swastika, Barstow, California presents three layers, or registers: the dry gray-brown dirt; the blue sky dotted with clouds; and, separating them, a beige wall of a building, with a sky-blue door decorated with a swastika. A similar tripartite composition structures “Trump Loves American People,” North of Reno, Nevada, with a crudely lettered. misspelled sign the only evidence of human presence. Shotgun practice, "he will return," Nevada shows a trio of cinder-clock walls crowned by rebar stems, with a crucified Jesus serving as target, all but obliterated by bullet craters, only his limbs still recognizable.

Also included are smaller-format graffiti shots taken with an iPhone, and grouped in clusters, from the Obama years: ‘premonitions’ (to use Misrach’s term) of the current culture war; and Tagged Boulders, Lucerne Valley, California, a thirty-two piece grid of medium-sized photos of rocks upon which messages have been written: $, thug life, We color the world! —DeWitt Cheng

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1180094 2017-08-03T13:47:27Z 2017-08-03T19:12:44Z Chris Antemann at Crocker Art Museum (reprinted from Artillery magazine, July 2017, http://artillerymag.com/chris-antemann)





CHRIS ANTEMANN: Forbidden Fruit

Crocker Art Museum

By DeWitt Cheng

The term forbidden fruit nowadays refers to mere guilty pleasures, but it once designated the fatal, tragic fruit of knowledge — knowledge of sex, or course, being a discovery that every generation makes defiantly, with mingled trepidation and delight. Chris Antemann’s Forbidden Fruit sculpture installation depicts that pleasure principle in action, minus moralizing; the tiny porcelain youngsters, dining and dallying, are charming and seductive, like Bosch’s naked figures in the central panel of his great triptych, but without a lost heaven or future hell waiting, so to speak, in the wings. Antemann wrote her master’s thesis on the porcelain figure tradition, and made figurines in the style for fifteen years before being offered, two years ago, the use of Meiseen’s facilities and skilled artisans, resulting in an inspired collaboration.

The Rococo art of the mid-eighteenth century, succeeding the religious dramas of the baroque era (e.g., Caravaggio) and preceding the political moralizing of the later neoclassic era (e.g., David, Ingres), is witty, decorative and aristocratic, and commonly associated today with the artifice and pomp of Louis XV’s court. If one later critic mocked its "jumble of shells, dragons, reeds, palm-trees and plants," we in the late capitalist era can accept and admire its light-hearted fantasy and fanciful profusion. The Rococo painters Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard depicted fêtes galantes, with costumed figures lounging and flirting in manicured gardens, often endowed with mythological or allegorical themes. Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera (1717), a mythological land of love and youth, epitomizes the style and worldview.

Antemann updates the elaborate, symbolic dinner settings, or surtouts-de-table, created by Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-1775) for Ancien Régime festivities. At the center of the gallery—which is decorated with pink Rococo wallpaper, created digitally— sits, atop a large pedestal, Forbidden Fruit Dinner Party (2013), a multi-part installation. The central Love Temple ((2013), is a circular Roman temple or pavilion housing doll-like banqueters in various states of erotic abandon, the structure festooned with allegorical figures: three Graces and four personified seasons. Two flanking works, Tempted to Taste and Fruit of Knowledge (2014), depict pyramids of fruits associated with the Temptation—pomegranates from Asia; figs from Italy; and apples from western Europe. Surrounding the fruit pillars are four small sculptures, Pursuit of Love, Secluded Kiss, Coronation, and Love Letter (all 2013), based on paintings that Fragonard made for Louis XV’s mistress, tracing romantic passion from vernal urgency to autumnal nostalgia. Around this central feast table are related works: Covet, Trifle and A Taste of Paradise (all 2013); and A Strong Passion, Little Maid, Ambrosia, A Delicate Domain, and Chandelier (all 2014).

Antemann’s meticulous craftsmanship and obvious affection for this tradition make for an interesting commentary on our times, beset byf economic hardship and ruling-class denial: Apres moi, la déluge. In the wake of much postmodernist agitprop flattering today’s aristocrat colletors with ironic winks, Antemann’s elegant, humorous, girl-power updates of this pre-revolutionary tradition manage, improbably, to hit a cultural nerve. They may appear a mere spoonful of sugar, tiny cousins of Kara Walker’s gigantic sugar sphinx, but their subtlety and ambiguity are seductive, and, I would say, like Kändler’s fruits, which were once made from sugar but later metamorphosed into porcelain, more lasting.


 

]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1177934 2017-07-28T02:39:25Z 2017-07-28T02:39:25Z Charles Howard,abstract surrealist painter, at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from East Bay Monthly, August, 2017)



Charles Howard, abstract surrealist painter, at BAM

The Berkeley Art Museum looks back to the 1940s, when modernism was making its way to California, with a re-examination of the painter Charles Houghton Howard (1899-1978), who came from an illustrious family of Berkeley artists and architects. His father, the architect John Galen Howard, supervised the design for UC Berkeley’s campus; brothers Robert and John were renowned in sculpture and painting, respectively; and Robert’s wife, Adaline Kent, became a prominent sculptor. Howard, who was shown in New York in the 1930s with the likes of Man Ray and Joseph Cornell, along with the European Surrealists, deserves to be remembered nearly seven decades after his Legion of Honor exhibition. This large retrospective of some 75 drawings and paintings on canvas celebrates a local talent (Berkeley High School, class of 1917; UC Berkeley, class of 1920; 1940s Bay Area art star and shipyard worker) who contributed significantly to the modernist tradition.

Despite his famously artistic family, Howard was educated in journalism at UC, becoming a convert to art only after graduating, in a 1924 epiphany over a Giorgione painting in Venice. Moving between New York, London, and the Bay Area he absorbed a host of influences, developing his trademark style of complex geometric constructions or environments suggestive of stage sets, carefully designed and immaculately rendered, and brightly lighted or deeply shadowed, with caravaggesque drama and mystery. The ex-journalist described his paintings with deliberate ambiguity and bohemian understatement as “portraits of the same general subject, of the same idea, carried as far as I am able at the time.”  Elsewhere he characterized his work as “a balance between reasoned construction and free intuition.” Howard’s biomechanical forms—reminiscent of Mirò, Picabia, and Duchamp—always appear (despite their tendrils, whiskers and buds) designed for construction, and oddly palpable. A catalogue written by Curator Apsara diQuinzio and others, including artist Robert Gober, is available. A Margin of Chaos runs through October 1; Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, 2120 Oxford Street, Berkeley, 510/642-0808; bampfa.org. DeWitt Cheng








]]>
Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1175151 2017-07-19T18:28:03Z 2017-07-19T18:28:04Z Stuart Davis "In Full Swing"at deYoung Museum, San Francisco, through August 6 (fromVisualArtSource.com) STUART DAVIS “In Full Swing”





 


"… realism doesn't merely include what one immediately sees with the eye at a given moment. One also relates it to past experience, … to feelings, ideas and … the totality of the awareness of it … By realism I don't mean realism in any photographic sense. Certainly not." — Stuart Davis 

San Francisco is fortunate this summer to host three exemplary museum shows: the young Claude Monet at the Legion of Honor; and, less heralded but no less important or inspiring, or revelatory, Stuart Davis at the de Young. Davis may be less well known than the others, but his dazzling work deserves the red carpet treatment, too. Donald Judd, not someone who might be suspected of maximalist tendencies, after seeing a Davis show, suggested that an appropriate reaction might be applause: "Stuart Davis has more to do with what the United States is like than Hopper." 

"In Full Swing" features some seventy-five of the artist's works, mostly oils on canvas, but also preparatory drawings and smaller paintings in gouache and casein. The show originated at the Whitney Museum last year, and is accompanied by an excellent short film tracing Davis's evolution from Ashcan-school street realism; through Cubism, which the artist encountered as an exhibiting young watercolorist at the famous 1913 Armory show, and in more concentrated form on a 1928 yearlong stay in Paris; to his mature style, dating from the 1930s, which derived from American-scene observation but transformed it utterly into joyous, electrifying visual music.  Davis's ebullient syncopations of bright colors and interlocking shapes are uniquely his own (despite occasional resemblances to Picasso, Matisse, Léger, and Miró). Peter Schjeldahl characterized Davis as "a polemicist and a happy warrior for modernity as the heart's blood of what he called, invoking the nation's definitive poet, the thing Whitman felt — and I too will express it in pictures — America — the wonderful place we live in.” 

     

Occupying several meandering galleries on the museum's second floor, the works are hung for the most part chronologically (although the careful viewer will need to look at dates, as the direction of pedestrian traffic flow is not always clear). Deviating from this progression are several groupings of paintings and drawings showing Davis brilliantly reworking themes, sometimes from decades past, like a musician riffing on old standards. Jazz was one of Davis' longtime passions, beginning in his youth, when, "hep to the jive," he frequented  the rough bars of Newark, and he continued to do so throughout his life.  

A playful but telling inscription from Duke Ellington in "American Painting" (1932/1942-54) makes this clear: "It Don't Mean a Thing if It Ain't Got That Swing." The painting also features stylized renderings of Davis and Federal Arts Project colleagues Willem deKooning, John Graham and Arshile Gorky. Gorky's cavalier attitude toward politics ended his friendship with Davis, who for a time abandoned painting for organizing, before becoming disgusted with lefty kowtowing to Stalin. Davis: "I took the business as seriously as the serious situation demanded and devoted much time to the organizational work. Gorky was less intense about it and still wanted to play."  Gorky, who killed himself in 1946, when the painting was yet unfinished, may be the figure who has been canceled out. 

     


If Davis' paintings are timeless, they are also historic windows into the art of the early twentieth century, combining aspects of Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and, with their playful deployment of the everyday imagery of commercial America, Pop. To follow Davis' career is to recapitulate the phylogeny of American painting (except for Surrealism, which had no appeal to this son of artists, high-school dropout and student of real life). Davis died in 1964 at the age of seventy-one, of a stroke. His final, unfinished painting is here, still bearing the masking tape that he used to achieve the crisp lines that contrast so well with his pastry-chef paint surfaces. Its title, "Fin," or End, inspired by a French movie's final frame, is the last thing Davis painted.  

Holland Cotter wrote:  "What Davis got right was belief: the belief that he was doing the one sure, positive thing he could do, and that he would keep doing it, no matter what, in failure or success, in sickness or in health. That's the lesson young artists can take away from his show ..." In our faithless, feckless times, governed by academic learned helplessness and commercially induced moral slackness, these are lessons worth learning or relearning.—http://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&pcID=22&aID=4096



     
]]>
Dewitt Cheng