Resolution, or, The Trial of Democracy (reprinted, 12/6/19)

Amid the malarkey and malevolence emanating from Washington, and spreading across the country—Trump a better president than Lincoln, Republicans?!?—and the seemingly endless chain of climate change disasters around the world, it’s difficult to focus on matters of less urgency. Artists, who generally require a modicum of security and calm, may be having a rough go of it—although many artists have accepted the challenge of Trumpism instead of bewailing it, and re-engaged with society, defying the intellectual solipsism of recent years when, as the Beatles put it fifty years ago, nothing was real, and there was nothing to get hung about. (Tell the Iraqis.)

Peter Schjeldahl, in his review in The New Yorker of a current show about war, disparages Jean Baudrillard’s essays which seem to assert that the Iraq War never happened; the philosopher was making a point about media spectacle and fake news, but the fact is that many on the academic left were distracted by the glittering baubles of terminology and jargon from the harsher realities nominally in question.

I recently read I. F. Stone’s The Trial of Socrates (1979), which rebuts the notion (proffered by generations of Platonists, abetted by Jacques-Louis David’s nobly iconic painting), that Socrates was the noblest of the Greeks, a kind of humanist prefiguration of Christ; and that he was crucified (in effect) in 299BC by the demos (people, republic) of Athens—for being too virtuous, too much of a gadfly? Stone was a leftist muckraker of some renown in the 60s and 70s, the publisher of an influential weekly newsletter, and his opinions are consequently not those of today’s self-righteous, ignorant firebrands of the left and right, lost in the cloud-cuckooland of cool new ideas (Nietzsche’s eternal return, again?) or sunk in the mire of unquestioned dogma about messiah, manichaeist FInal Battles, and the Republican utopia of invisible hands (at the public till, or, God Helps Those Who Help Themselves). The GOP shibboleth of plucky independence is nicely illustrated in the painting, “Teach a Man to Fish,” by the conservative Christian artist John McNaughton; in it, the blue-suited Trump instructs a young student who has abandoned his Socialism textbook: no more miracles required—if only you believe in the fish or Fish (an early secret symbol for the subversive martyr), or the 1%er fishers of men.

In a New York Times interview. Stone summarized his argument, based on extensive research with original sources, for which he learned Greek. The accounts that survive, by Socrates and Xenophon, two of Socrates’ disciples, are partial and biased. Today we believe that the charges of not respecting the gods and corrupting the youth are fundamentally conservative-lifestyle attacks on a liberal philosopher and precursor of our wonderful selves; in fact, they are political charges made by the Athenian polity against a teacher who had taught his students to mock and oppose, even to the point of violence, the very idea of democracy.  Two of the wealthy students whom he had instructed in the arts of rhetoric and persuasion were among tyrants who, a decade before Socrates’ trial, had seized power from the rising mercantile ‘middle classes.’

The Thirty Tyrants ruled only about eight months, but it was a time of terror. In that period they executed 1,500 Athenians and banished 5,000, one‐tenth or more of the total population of men, women, children and slaves ... all who were of the democratic party. A few months later, the moderates who had originally supported the Thirty Tyrants began to flee, especially after Critias murdered their leader, Theramenes. He, who had been one of the original Thirty Tyrants, was executed without a trial when he began to criticize the Thirty Tyrants for their brutality... Socrates was neither exiled with the democrats nor forced to flee with the moderate oppositionists. He did not suffer at the hands of the Thirty Tyrants unlike his chief accuser, Anytus, who lost much of his property when he fled and joined the fight to free the city. Socrates, in Plato's “Apology,” calls himself “the gadfly” of Athens, but it seems his sting was not much in evidence when Athens needed it.

Western Civ students may remember that Plato’s Republic with its men of various metals, its Guardians, and its philosopher kings, is not egalitarian, and Greek culture was already strongly predisposed toward Homer’s warrior aristocracy. Odyseeus, chastising the ignoble, deformed, antiwar commoner Thersites, in Iliad: “It is not good for the many to rule. Let one man rule, one man be king.” It is understandable, then, that Socrates was considered a traitor in such dangerous times. In addition, he feared old age, and at age seventy may have been committing suicide memorably by public trial. It is also understandable that the aristos of later times should exalt the virtues of their philosopher kings against claims of the dark and dirty (and dangerous) peasantry.

Plus ça change, you say? The cycle of anarchy-democracy-dictatorship was well known by the Founding Fathers, of course, hence their fear of factional partisanship, unprincipled demagogues and foreign entanglements. It’s a democratic republic... if we can keep it. The President’s desk is not named Resolution casually. Happy new year, neo-Spartans!




Kate Kretz at Jen Tough, San Francissco


Jen Tough Gallery, Popup show, 1599 Tennessee Street, San Francisco, August 2-4, 2019

“It can’t happen here” used to be Americans’ complacent response when confronted by reports of political upheaval and revolution in Third-World countries. It was a comforting thought, but an illusion, that we were somehow able to sustain despite many warnings in books, movies and popular culture. Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel, It Can’t Happen Here, portrayed the rise of a fascist demagogue. Jack London’s 1908 novel, The Iron Heel, had treated the theme two generations earlier.  1984 and Brave New World were universally read by high-school students, and cited as bywords. In addition, repressive inhuman states have been a staple of realistic films like The Black Legion (1937) and A Face in the Crowd (1957) as well as the various dystopian iterations of Star Wars, The Matrix, and the hyperactive Marvel Universe. Were we not entertained? The increasingly corrupt, bullying, incompetent and destructive acts of the Trump administration teach us that history is not to be mocked or ignored; nor, considering the weather reports, Sharpie-enhanced or not, is it nice to fool Mother Nature, either

Artists are making a stand against humanity’s slide into catastrophe. The Maryland-based artist Kate Kretz employs a mixed-media, conceptualist approach to examining the burning issues of the day, and Jen Tough Gallery scheduled a solo show at its location in Benicia CA, an hour’s drive north and east of San Francisco, liberal Ground Zero. Unfortunately, some of the good people on the extreme nationalist side found out about Kretz’s creation of “Hate Hat,” a Ku Klux Klan hood fashioned from red MAGA caps, and began harassing her online. Their complaints about her ostensible violations of “community standards” resulted to Facebook’s temporary suspension of her account; and  phoned-in threat to the gallery was taken seriously in this era of random partisan violence.

Jen Tough found an unused gallery location in San Francisco and kept its location secret until just before the weekend of August 2-4, when interested parties who had signed up online were informed via e-mail. As it turned out, the location, near the Minnesota Street Project in San Francisco’s gentrifying Dogpatch area, was inspired, and the exhibition, monitored by a trio of young security guards, was well attended and proved to be incident-free. San Francisco liberals could take pride in having stood up to the numskulls and yahoos who were in reality, like the Proud Boys in April, less than formidable, despite their bluster.

Kretz’s work takes such diverse forms that it is quote possible to attribute them to several artists.  Her themes are, besides the racist terrorism of the extreme nationalists, which dates back four centuries, American society’s current wave of sexism, misogyny, religious fundamentalism and its de-facto guns and rape cultures pervading not just the rural south, but, shamefully and cynically, the corridors of power and prestige.

The artist deconstructs the symbols of fear and hatred by combining them with real-world objects, and humble, homemade fabrication methods.  She creates a red Nazi armband from unsewn MAGA caps in “Only the Terrorized Own the Right to Name Symbols of Terror” (2019), and embroiders a swastika inscribed, “Make America Great Again,” a phrase used by both Reagan-Bush in 1980 and by the insurgent Republican Pat Buchanan in his infamous red-meat fascist-rally speech to the GOP convention in 1992. Likewise, “Eminent Domain for Unwilling Vessels” (2019) transforms the inner parts of MAGA caps into the white bonnets worn by the breeder-stock class of women, the offered Offreds, in The Handmaid’s Tale.

White-male privilege and power in all its brutal stupidity comes under attack in both deconstructed works, like those just cited, and in traditional paintings on canvas or board and drawings on paper. “Readymade: Brass, with Lock” (2014) recasts one of those commercially available bumper scrotums (TruckNutz—I am not kidding), made of silicone, in brass, with its connotations of shameless ostentation, and outfits it with a lock and chain: a chauvinist male chastity belt for the immature-ejaculation community. “V.I.P (Very Important Penis)” (2018) is a gold-plated erect member‑—‘ithyphallic’ is the art-historical term—bearing a “VIP All Access” dogtag. Continuing the theme of threatened-male ultra-violence is “Rupture” (2018), a simulated but embroidered bullethole in glass with an aureole of radiating cracks fashioned from the gray hair of people (crowd-sourced) who have suffered devastating loss.

Kretz’s representational skills are evident in several drawings and paintings satirizing the misogyny and cruelty of gun/phallus culture.  “Appetites of Oligarchs” (2018) is a large, dramatic painting on canvas depicting a man, dressed only in an unbuttoned white shirt, faceless and pot-bellied, boldly masturbating in front of a nocturnal industrial landscape. “Gunlicker I” through “Gunlicker IV” (all 2015) are 16”x20” oval-format paintings depicting engrossed young men passionately fellating firearms. “Testosterone,” Kretz’s portrait of a snarling bulldog with the word inscribed in cursive text beneath, reminiscent of Magritte’s word paintings, and a glittering frame worthy of a pop icon, mock-extols the current notion of manhood as aggressive dominance in our capitalist-winner-take-all society.  “Democracy Detox” (2019) is a colored pencil rendering of a limousine in up in flames, with JUSTICE 4 ALL spray painted on the door. Finally, “Futile Fantasy:  A Glimmer of Self-Awareness, & The Subsequent Remorse”  (2017) is a portrait of our self0styled favorite president, ‘woke’ at last to his wasted life: tearful, despondent, and repentant, like a baroque sinner finally turning saintly: wishful thinking for those of us who are totting up the damage costs of this disastrous and depraved regime which Kretz has depicted with saeva indignatio, ferocity and rage. — DeWitt Cheng














Fwd: Anthony Kyle Hall's "Tensions" at Avenue 12 Gallery, San Francisco

    Avenue 12 Gallery, San Francisco

One of the Surrealists, probably André Breton, declared that everything is connected by invisible lines, a dictum that we ubercapitalist extraction-miners might do well to reaffirm as disaster stalks the planet. Many contemporary artists are making the case for sociopolitical engagement—and implying that art should be judged by its politics. The opposite point of view holds that art is pure expression, and should be judged only in its visual merits. Neither argument seems indisputable, yet much art explores this tension between style and content, the visual and the implied verbal, to great effect.

The paintings and drawings of Anthony Kyle Hall in Tensions are abstract expressionist in general affect, with calligraphy and neuromuscular shapes/gestures set atop white grounds, recalling Frans Kline, Adolph Gottlieb and others, including the graffiti-influenced expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat. But Hall includes little fragments of reality, as the Cubists occasionally did: drawn renderings of objects and persons, and even strips of paper bearing text: scholarly footnotes, clipped memoranda, or cookie fortunes. We view the compositions holistically, but the fragments assert themselves, causing a push-pull between modes of perception and interpretation.

 Hall writes:

At the center of my work is documenting my personal narratives in response to current cultural and social climates. Through exploring the gap between existing and perceived spaces of existence, reality vs. channels of distorted information - the goal is to highlight substance in the human experience at large. Themes and subject matter dictate the visual aesthetics and materials used, and over time this is to be the vehicle for visual ideas to deepen and evolve.

Each work is thus a constellation or miniature world of his concerns and interests, including jazz and improvisation, and painterly impulses and improvisations. Three 36-inch square paintings constitute a kind of triptych. “Preservation,” a mixed-media collage, is a collection of disparate sketches and painted shapes, some recognizable, like a black luchador (?) mask, with others abstract, aligned on two sides of a vertical black line, probably, an inch thick; we ten to interpret this as the sketches a painter would have on his studio wall—random, but visually held together by Hall’s eye for balance and contrast: preserved in a painting. “Embrace (Moonlight)” depicts a cluster of boldly drawn black and white circles, probably traced around a receptacle; their spatial interaction, supplemented by the smudged areas where they are concentrated, lends the abstract image drama and density; and is that a drawing table depicted on the far right? “Three Tensions” repeats the circular cluster motif, with the spheres here contained by two slim diagonal lines. “Room” preserves the mask motif (possibly a surrogate for the artist and/or viewer), with colored geometric bars and free-form shapes to depict the artist’s state of consciousness, his mental furniture. In “I Repeat," “Wild” and “Uncharted Overhaul,”Hall adds cutout text, word by word, in the style of aleatory Surrealist word games, and William Burroughs’ cut-up technique, to harness chance: e.g., 

growth is free and “The price of delay is steep.

Everything may be connected only tenuously in real life, but disparate things can be brought together and decisively connected in art through intuition and application.




Avenue 12 Gallery, 1101 Lake Street, San Francisco CA 94118 Tel (415) 750-9955


Harold Terry Lindahl Open Studio at 312 Connecticut Street, October 26-7, 2019; opening Friday Oct 25

HAROLD TERRY LINDAHL is an architect, philosopher and painter, as well as a former gallerist during the San Francisco Beat Era. He creates intricate, elegant ink drawings demonstrating the principles of his philosophical researches; abstract paintings based on those drawings that marry evocative form with color, recalling the works of Kandinsky, Klee and others; and large, totem-like structures related to Constructivism, expressing his views of the human condition at this moment in evolutionary history.


Ontologically, over billions of years, evolutionary processes have produced a three-brained biped species whose experience ... includes, beyond hunger and reproduction, awe, yearning, and aspiration. From Lascaux to Falling Water, Democritus to Einstein, and from Pagan rites to Psyvolutionary self-examination, we humans conduct and express anagogical [mystical] pressures through the lenses of Science, Art, and Religion. Sensorially we’re in awe. Emotionally we yearn. Intellectually we aspire. —Harold Terry Lindahl, Signals from the Vagus Gyre, 2010, p.3


The art world often seems caught between the Scylla of pointless shock and awe and the Charybdis of status consumerism. Art and life have converged, unpleasantly, in the art-as-business (and entertainment and fashion) era. We take heart, however, at the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future of the Swedish mystic artist.

A polymath and visionary who supported herself making traditional botanical drawings and painted landscape and portrait paintings during a six-decade career, af Klint (1862-1944) worked, in secret, on abstract paintings that are, a century later, garnering amazed interest. She left twelve hundred works, including one hundred ninety-three paintings. The seventy-six paintings in the Guggenheim show are both huge and ambitious: in scale, they are unmatched until the Abstract Expressionist era, fifty years later; and in their cosmic/philosophical themes, embodied in geometrized organic forms and singing color harmonies, they are far from the safe decoration of domesticated rote abstraction. Indeed, Peter Schjeldahl of The New Yorker abandoned critical understatement and called the show nothing less than ‘flabbergasting.’

As important as the works’ visual impact is their new place in art history: begun in 1906, they precede by some five years the abstractions of af Klint’s generational contemporaries who had been heretofore accorded discoverers’ honors: Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Frantisek Kupka (1871-1957), Konstantin Malevich (1879-1935), and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944). This is not to diminish the men’s work, or to cite yet another ‘obstacle race’ (to employ Germaine Greer’s term) that women artists have always faced.

Af Klint made no effort to compete with the boys, and worked in virtual seclusion, known only to four women friends who studied the Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and other esoteric Spiritualist practices—New Age avant la lettre— that flourished at the turn of the century. The Five (as they dubbed themselves), who even held séances, were far from unique: William James and Arthur Conan Doyle studied the spirit world; Mondrian studied Theosophy; and utopianism was in the air. Af Klint, however, took such a dim (or realistic) view of the art audience of a century ago that she stipulated in her will that her work not be shown until twenty years after her death, for a presumably more enlightened audience. It is gratifying to report that both her work found her audience and received its overdue accolades, if only posthumously. It is also refreshing that af Klint’s art is free of the fashionable irony and cynical commercialism of current art fashion. Her major series, The Paintings for the Temple, (1906-15) was created at the behest of Amaliel, a “High Master” spirit guide, and was intended for a circular Temple, never built, which would have centered on a spiral, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum. The poetic justice of af Klint’s show appearing—like an apport, a substance materialized at a séance by a medium—in Wright’s cultural “temple of the spirit” (his words), almost suggests supernatural connivance.



The art of San Francisco architect and painter Harold Terry Lindahl, like af Klint’s, transcends artistic zeitgeist, and is both deeply personal and universal, offering beauty and meaning to viewers of both aesthetic and philosophic bents. Like her, he worked in solitude, “carried along by a persistent Scandinavian/Scots hermeticism.”

Lindahl, now in his late eighties, worked fin Bay Area or nearly five decades as a modernist architect, in the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition of Organic Architecture, before turning to painting full-time in 2008, in order to express his views about humanity and its evolution. Studying at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s with Bruce Goff, who was influenced by Wright, Lindahl became fascinated with geometric order and metamorphic form-generation through systematic variations and modulations. After discovering the teachings of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, the Greek-Armenian philosopher and gnostic, he studied with the Gurdjieffian, Lord Pentland, in New York and San Francisco from the late 1960s to the 1980s, when he would eventually found the Intropy=Entropy Institute, housed on Potrero Hill in a building that had housed San Francisco’s first silent movie theater. The theater has been transformed into a kind of red-brick temple, partly modernist and partly Greco-Roman, replete with cast-concrete columns. It’s a fitting display space for Lindahl’s artwork, living quarters, office and workshop. (‘Intropy,’ incidentally, is a neologism coined to express the opposite of ‘entropy’: an increase in energy, potential and organization; a reduction in random.)

Gurdjieff posits the coexistence of three brains in human beings: the ancient, primitive lizard brain, controlling our bodily functions; the more evolved mammal brain, with emotional functioning; and the neocortical human brain, endowed with logic, emotion and imagination: ”coherent conscience and reason, in Lindahl’s words. These ‘internecine’ brains have different functions, and too often the lower, atavistic brains rule us when coherent conscience and objective reason are required. So do the habits and institutions from previous eras.

Lindahl discerns a spiritual crisis in contemporary culture. In 2010, in an art-exhibit catalog Signals from the Vagus Gyre, he wrote (p.2): “Traditional religions are and logical speculation moot. Yet we’re in awe, we yearn for meaning, and aspire to realize our psychological potential.” Like the visionary English Romantic, William Blake, Lindahl sees a mystical marriage between competing modes of perception as the cure for our rootless anomie. In Lindahl’s cosmology and philosophy, ancient lore (Parmenides, Lucretius, and Gnosticism) and contemporary science (Darwin, Einstein, Schrödinger) converge. The synthesis of these normally antagonistic worldviews and modes knowledge results in “an Objective Religion and an Objective Art that informs science of religion and religion of science, ” or, alternatively, “Objectivity in Art and Religion and Morality in Science.” Such an integration of our fragmented consciousness sounds appealing, of course; even without any explication of the underlying philosophy, Lindahl’s complexly beautiful works stands on their own, but a brief introduction to this hermetic polymath’s drawings, paintings and sculptures may be helpful.





Gestation History and Potential of Man (2018) is a suite of forty-nine India-ink drawings, each15-1/2” high by11-1/4” wide, on Arches watercolor paper, and mounted on 8-ply museum board, which is them mounted to 24”x84” sheets of polished copper, seven to a panel.  They represent the potential for human evolution, with evolved cortices overlaid atop earlier cortices, from ‘post-simian’ man (endowed with a Paleozoic reptilian brain) into a true Homo sapiens, worthy of  the name (endowed with a Mesozoic mammalian brain).  There are seven levels of development: School Man, Transition Man, Psyolving Man (i.e., psychologically and psychically progressing), 3-Brained Gestation Man, Native Virtue Man, Indulgent Man, and Searching Man. Each developmental level is represented by an octave of variations, eight tones as in music, do re mi fa so la ti (or si) do, or rather seven, since the first tone and the last are the same note. In Lindahl’s schema, these tones have mystical resonances:

Do      Dominus, the process of creation and the natural cycle of growth and decay

Re       Regina Coeli, Queen of the heavens, the Moon

Mi      Microcosmos, the small universe, Earth

Fa       Fata, Fate, ruled by the planets.

So       Sol, Sun

La       Lactae, milk, the Milky Way galaxy

Si        Sider, star, all galaxies

Do      Dominus, Lord
Replacing the tonal scale’s full-stop keyboard intervals —i.e., the black keys—are geometric variations or progressions of form modulation: acute (re), rectified (mi), obtuse (fa), circular/arc (so), oval (la), spiral (si) and mobile (do). Likewise, colors, chords, geometric figures and behavioral characteristics are linked in a nine-part color circle in a chart entitled The Harmonics of Planetary Ergodicity; 1 lies tonally between C Major and D Minor (Cadmium Orange Light, Rational); 9, lies between B Diminished and C Major (Light Yellow-Green, Irrational).

The Harmonics of Unity (2017) is an array of forty-two small, vivid watercolor paintings, 9” tall by 7” wide, accompanied by an explanatory treatise.  These abstractions give full range to Lindahl’s technical talent, and are accessible as independent artworks to those unfamiliar with their theoretical foundations; with their stylistic affinities to Cubism, Surrealism, and even Abstract Expressionism and Symbolism, they would complement with the best modernist art of the first half of the twentieth century.

Displayed on a long wall, as they are at the Intropy=Entropy Institute, they’re imposing en masse, arranged in fourteen vertical rows in three bands or registers, which are to be read vertically, bottom to top, as 1) Involutionary Formation; 2) Evolutionary Transformation; and 3) Psyvolutionary Transformation; or, again from bottom to top, the Lizard Brain of physical survival, the Lithosphere; the Mammalian Brain of consciousness, the Atmosphere; and,at the top, the Higher Brain of an evolved humanity, the Cognosphere. “Objective art,” writes Lindahl, ...arises from the psychologically “vertical” or existential dynamics of aspiration; it functions to illuminate the relations between biological place and psychological purpose; it awakens one’s consciousness to the otherwise subconscious potential latent in ... our manifold of being-brains.”

Lindahl also associates geometric forms with various personality traits: acute angles, for example, denote a shrewd and ardent character, while obtuse angles denote a mundane and credulous one, and mobile, random lines denote a desultory, chaotic one. Whether or not you accept Lindahl’s existential vision, linking geometry with psychology, his formidable gift for orchestrating and modulating color and form to suggest evolution makes one a believer at the very least in the artist’s conviction and aesthetic vision, a marriage of systematic process—“Geometry is the alphabet and vocabulary of artistic expression”—and artistic intuition.


Pensive and Vigilant (2016) are stunning abstract sculptures that depict the relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the Autonomic Nervous System. The ANS, Lindahl writes (The Harmonics of Unity, p.24), is “a semiotic medium through which assessments and assignments of energy to fight, flight, or freeze reactions, or to the innervation of the vital organs, are processed.” If you imagine the spine as a bodily tree trunk, then the vagus nerve, enclosed by spinal vertebrae, is a communicative lattice, processing incoming signals from nerve receptors, evaluating them, and commanding the appropriate responses from muscles and organs. In Lindahl’s sculptures, triple layers of laminated glass and colored plexiglass are cut into wing forms surmounted by volutes that suggest bowed, intently focused heads, in simplified form. With the wing forms radiating from the cylindrical aluminum cores, or spines, and illuminated by colored LED lighting, the sculptures suggest both organs or embryos, self-contained and self-monitoring, and futuristic guardians or messengers, both avian and angelic.

While it is natural these days to wonder if we clever primates can manage not to exterminate ourselves, the model of intellectual evolution presented by Lindahl’s brilliant, Beardsleyesque draftsmanship and his surrealist/abstract metamorphic bipeds (Reptilian Man, Neo-Mammal, Impartial Conscience, et al., including Catholicism’s Seven Deadly Sins) is compelling and ingenious. As with religious art and even aesthetic art, we need not necessarily subscribe to the program—Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos, for the profane? Duchamp’s Large Glass, for the uninitiated?—to appreciate the art on its own visual terms. We may even be able to absorb, osmotically, a bit of the content. Even in our skeptical age, we must renew our faith in the human adventure, and the power of reason. The New Man, that dream of modernist artists, a century ago, may prove to be, in the words of long ago and far away, our last hope.



Lindahl, H.T., Post-Simian Pre-Homo Sapiens Conundrum, 2019, I=E Institute San Francisco, California,

Lindahl, H.T., Gestation History and Potential Of Mankind, 2018, I=E Institute San Francisco, California,

Lindahl, H.T., The Harmonics of Unity, 2017, Trioctave Editions, San Francisco, California.

Lindahl, H.T., Signals From The Vagus Gyre: Studies toward Objectivity in Art, 2010,Trioctave Editions, San Francisco, California

Selz, P.; Lindahl, H.T.; Hays, S.: Harmonics of Unity: An Interview with Art Historian Dr. Peter Selz, 2011; Trioctave Editions, San Francisco, California

Moan, Rebekah, “Gurdjieff Society Mounts Exhibitions on Harmonics,” The Potrero View, April 2015

Annabeth Rosen at Contemporary Jewish Museum (reprinted from KQED Art Blog10/)

Annabeth Rosen’s Earthen Humor at CJM

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped at Contemporary Jewish Museum, Jul 25, 2019–Jan 19, 2020

Annabeth Rosen’s extraordinary exhibit of clay sculptures—resembling serving vessels, table settings, and standing figures—is a virtuosic display of craftsmanship, but also of experimentation. Subtitled Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, this retrospective features thousands of ceramic fragments assembled into modestly-sized but visually and emotionally powerful composites. Rosen, the Robert Arneson Professor of Ceramics at UC Davis, shares some of that Funk artist’s outré sense of humor, but she also takes from the ceramic abstract expressionist Peter Voulkos, one of her teachers, a love of clay’s versatility, physicality and malleability. I suspect also that Stephen de Staebler’s use of broken and normally discarded pieces from the kiln nay have influenced her, and can easily imagine her reconstructed potsherd vessels in curatorial dialogue with his tragic, broken archaic figures. Tracing these possible genealogies takes nothing from Rosen’s achievement, however. We overvalue what appears unique and novel in our era of insecure individuality and compensatory braggadocio; we should acknowledge that art transcends generations, and that the best art is voraciously informed, not wilfully ignorant.

The show’s arrangement—clusters of related works separated by long risers festooned small vessel-like sculptures— suggests a festive gathering. The banquet analogy may suggest both Judy Chicago’s powerful The Dinner Party, with its place settings commemorating women short-changed by male-dominated history; and the more playful 1971 sculpture,  “Smorgi-Bob, The Cook,” by Arneson, with its forced-perspective table of serving dishes leading to a vanishing point occupied not by Leonardo’s serene Jesus, but the young artist (his first self-portrait), the master of ceramic gastronomy.

Nancy Princenthal, in her catalogue essay, “Annabeth Rosen: Shape-Shifter,” describes the effect, both oddly disturbing and hilarious, of Rosen’s aesthetic balancing act: 

... the slope-shouldered new sculptures seem to have neither fixed contours nor stable shape; even their scale appears to shift as you look. Some hint at volcanoes, others at featureless heads. Not so much covered with as compounded of hundreds of writhing, snakelike elements, they are variously volcanic, beastly, catastrophic, and unnervingly funny, suggesting ... granite, bone, molten lava, cascading water, and substances less noble: cake frosting, lanky hair ... dirty snow. Many are blackened in their recesses, as if soiled with age.

The exhibition is exciting and exhilarating, with the 120 or so works impeccably displayed. But because of the absence of labeling, it’s also somewhat difficult to absorb and navigate. The pertinent information—titles, dates, etc.—is available in binders that one can carry around, but it’s cumbersome and time-consuming. I understand the argument that labels get in the way of aesthetic engagement, and agree, to some extent, that some viewers judge work only by brand names; but let’s leave it to the viewers to decide if they want to follow the artist’s progress. Also, Rosen’s witty titles, some of which are probably invented words, are not to be missed. That quibble aside, here’s a brief verbal tour of the show, with the five bodies of work listed in chronological order.

Section 1 includes works from the 1990s upon her arrival in California from New York, with substructures resembling plates and tiles supporting dense encrustations of animal and plant life, but the geometry nearly disappears beneath the imagery, like Hindu temples swarming with statuary. Sample (1999), a grid of squirming, tentacular yellow froms reminiscent of noodles, kelp bulbs and split avocados, suggests a gigantic lasagna, albeit one the size of a bed or car; it is easy to spot at the rear of the gallery.

Section 2 comprises ten “mashup” works that abandon the pedestal format in favor of looser compositions. Rosen fabricates hundreds of ceramic forms and then combines them into surprisingly anthropomorphic structures that are perched atop steel structures that are outfitted with casters, like bizarre kitchen carts or work stations. With their ungainly, bulbous, bowling-pin forms and striped patterning, Nella, Rool, and Talley are wonderfully absurd and exuberant.

Section 3 features “mound” structures composed of hundred of pieces fired and refired “until failure and fatigue sets in,” to quote the museum notes, and then tied together with steel baling wire, which is sometimes covered with clay and sometimes left visible. The twelve small mound sculptures like “Atlas,” Block,” and “Fray, set on a low, round pedestal, suggest miniature landscapes, or Chinese scholar stones— as well as the odd confections that might have been crafted by Chef Philip Guston (in an alternate universe).

Section 4 is composed of six “bundle” sculptures, with the component pieces constrained by rubber straps (inner tubes?) rather than steel wire.

Section 5 comprises 28 works in acrylic, ink and gouache on paper that are related to the sculptures, since some are studies, but stand as independent abstract artworks.

This twenty-year retrospective, Rosen’s first in a Bay Area museum, is both fun and funny, as well as an object lesson in creative variety within aesthetic consistency. We get to follow the progress of sensibility that is combines humor, both wacky and a little mordant, with a fearless, restless creative drive. This thrilling exhibit is a visual banquet, an embarras de richesses, and should not to be missed. The Bay Area has another ceramic master to add to its pantheon.