tag:artopticon.us,2013:/posts ArtOpticon.us 2024-01-25T03:10:04Z Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/2079642 2024-01-23T17:37:12Z 2024-01-25T03:10:04Z Floral paintings by Stephanie Peek, Stanford Faculty Club, to March 25.

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1998448 2023-07-10T19:37:29Z 2023-07-10T19:37:29Z The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England, at Palace of Legion of Honor, San Francisco

We Americans may consider ours a classless society, but American culture belies our national myth of democratic equality. So does our fascination with dynasties and royalty, whether monarchic or capitalist. The Legion of Honor’s new treasure-trove exhibition, The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England, coming after the inauguration of Charles III and the conclusion of the popular Succession television series (based on the Murdoch media empire), is thus timely and informative, an eye-popping spectacle of luxury goods—paintings, prints, ritual vestments, tapestries, vessels, and other artifacts. Created as state propaganda to legitimize an upstart dynasty, the artifacts still gratify the eye, while providing us moderns, half a millennium later, an object lesson in how power shaped and shapes official culture.

 

The Tudor Dynasty began in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field, with the defeat of the last of the York kings, crookback Richard III. That battle ended the Wars of the Roses (1455-87)—a  power struggle between descendants of cons of the Plantagenet Edward II (1312-77): John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (1340-99), his side symbolized by the white rose; and Edmund, Duke of York (1341-1402), his side symbolized  by the red rose. Shakespeare’s history plays—Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI—detail the fratricidal conflict, with Richard III ’s villainy contrasting with the current enlightened patroness of the arts, Elizabeth I.

 

Henry Tudor (1457-1509), crowned Henry VII, was not in fact of the York line, but of the lowborn Welsh Tudors, one of whom had become the secret husband of the young widow of Henry V. Henry legitimized his reign as the de-facto head of the York side by marrying Elizabeth of York, and uniting the Lancastrian and York roses into the composite Tudor rose. Succeeding Henry (reigned 1485- 1509) were his son, Henry VIII (r. 1509–47), and then Henry VIII’s three children, Edward VI (r. 1547–53), Mary I (r. 1553–58), and Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603).

 

The exhibition, which originated at the Metropolitan Museum of New York, was curated by European art specialists Elizabeth Cleland and Adam Eaker, and comes to San Francisco in a somewhat abbreviated form due to covid and insurance factors that came into play after 2020. While it is large, it is not exhaustingly so; furthermore, the show is laid out chronologically rather than thematically, one or two galleries per monarch, making it easy to negotiate without time-tripping mental gymnastics.

 

In the catalogue’s introductory essay, Cleland and Easter note the backwardness of English art at the time: “When it comes to the visual arts, the English have a long- standing tradition of national self-deprecation. Writing at the end of the Elizabethan era, Richard Haydock lamented that the art of painting ‘never attained to any great perfection amongst us.’ Almost two centuries later, Horace Walpole apologetically prefaced his Anecdotes of Painting in England by acknowledging that its ‘chief business . . . must be to celebrate the arts of a country which has produced so few good artists.’” The most accomplished paintings in the exhibition are Hans Holbein’s the Younger’s portraits of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, in 1536-7; her son, the young Edward VII, as a regal two-year-old princeling, in 1538;  and the young German nobleman and humanist, Hermann von Wedigh III, in 1532; all three are masterpieces of detailed observation and human sympathy. Mention should also be made of a 1540 full-length portrait of Henry by Holbein’s workshop, capturing the young monarch’s outsized personality, every inch a king, and Paolo Torrigiano’s 1510-15 polychromed terra cotta bust of John Fisher, the ascetic Bishop of Rochester, beheaded in 1535 for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as head of the Church of England, a tour de force of sympathetic realism.

 

The homegrown English talent, working from a more conceptual, decorative aesthetic, produced striking works as well: Nicholas Hilliard’s iconic, bejeweled 1576-8 portrait of Elizabeth I captures the Virgin Queen as national symbol; and George Gower’s earlier 1567 portrait portrays the young, fashionable (and supposedly marriageable) Elizabeth as a paragon of female virtue and fecundity.

 

Those who might enjoy a deep dive into English Renaissance culture—and the human stories behind the artifacts— can delve into the scholarly catalogue, which traces the myths and symbols of Catholic and Protestant culture in England and the Continent (from which a prosperous England imported the best artistic talent); the role of religion at this crucial period; and, as always, the role of strategic marriages between members of transactional ‘frenemy’ aristocratic families. 

 

 

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1987901 2023-06-14T11:43:01Z 2023-06-14T11:43:02Z John Roloff, "Sentient Terrains" at Anglim Trimble Gallery, San Francisco (reprinted from VisualArtSource.com)

JOHN ROLOFF: Sentient Terrains
Anglim Trimble Gallery

 

Ecological concerns, once disparaged as the alarmism of elitist’ scientists, are now accepted as legitimate, as we edge closer to climatic tipping points. The Bay Area artist John Roloff has made environmentalism one of the cornerstones of his diverse art practice since the mid-1970s, when he finished his studies in art and geology and the University of California in Davis. “Ecology in an expanded frame,” i.e., an understanding of the interrelationship between human and natural processes. the “global metabolism,” has informed Roloff’s multifarious practice in sculpture, site-specific installations, and visionary conceptual works, which draw upon the fine-art ceramic tradition established in the Bay Area, its longtime political progressivism, and its aesthetic embrace of sociopolitical content(with and without overt polemics). The new show at Anglim Trimble, Sentient Terrains, showcases the artist’s considerable breadth and depth, even as it reminds us that late-Anthropocene-Era humans can no longer believe that dominating nature autocratically is our prime objective.

 

Modernist abstraction abandoned illusionism in order to create new realities arising from the relationships between shapes, forms and color. Conceptual art makes s similar claim on the viewer: to find meaning in material that may not be explicitly related, visually. This show, which is a kind of miniature museum retrospective, assembles four types of artwork: nine long vertical-format Meta-Site flags, digitally printed on satin; digital inkjet print assemblages and videos depicting various site studies and proposals, resembling scientific or architectural presentations; images on glass panels, set atop against wooden blocks, and leaning on the gallery walls; and ceramic sculptures set in long vitrines that depict wedges of seemingly excised landscapes, ruined and ravaged, but possibly regenerating.

 

If the exact content of the works is ambiguous to science or geology novices, the works are nonetheless visually compelling. The Meta-Site Flags, depicting the vascular facies between chemical substances— lava, orchid, chlorophyll, hemoglobin, hematite and ancient earth’s iron rain—have a heraldic banner look, due to the tall vertical format, with the elements grafted together by a spiky sawtooth cut suggestive of dovetail wood joinery. The site studies and proposals for the Great Valley Complex of California, a San Francisco Wharf Complex, and even the old Geary Street location of Gallery Paule Anglim (in 2001) situate specific regional locations within the wider context of vast natural forces and immense time scales. More immediately appealing are Roloff’s more pictorial works, including two large glass panels, both dated 1996-2023, bearing digitally printed black ad white images of historical or art-historical motifs .urban/Coal (Witness/Seance) conjoins and juxtaposes the face of a man in a red turban (by Jan Van Eyck?) with what appears to be semi-liquid coal slurry: carbon to carbon, dust to dust? Equally enigmatic and fascinating is Biotic Knight (Witness). featuring the full-sized image of a slenderly built knight in armor who, printed onto glass as he is, appears to hover in space, awaiting commands. Roloff’s geological tableaux—composed of ceramic, glass, silicone, and wood—are decidedly Romantic and surrealist evocations of blasted landscapes—and, with their shattered wedge shapes, fracture ship hulls. Caspar David Friedrich’s The Sea of Ice (1823-4)—also known as The Wreck of The Hesperus, or The Wreck of Hope, comes to mind as an artistic predecessor, but so do the war-torn landscapes of the English war artist, Paul Nash (especially Totes Meer, Dead Sea). Roloff’s Vector Ship: Vascular Sea sculptures, set within plexiglass boxes like relics or artifacts, depict fragmented forms—both architectural and biological/botanical/human—arrayed along exposed wedge-shaped ridges that are here and there bisected by glass shards, and half-buried by snow or ash that has been sprayed red or black by explosions. They depict the horror of war and desolation, as well as its terrible beauty, dramatically, without melodrama. 

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1958525 2023-03-28T03:29:01Z 2023-04-11T03:42:35Z Bernd and Hilla Becher Retrospective and SFMOMA, 3/27/23

Amazing show documenting the  industrial architecture of the 20th and late 19th century in Europe and US. The Beckers' architectural archaeology was embraced by Minimalists and Conceptualists, but stands on its own as extremely skilful and thorough documentation of a lost world never previously considered aesthetically. I was introduced to their work by Sol Lewitt's piece in Artforum (?) back in the 60s or 70s. Today I was particularly taken with the Pennsylvania "tipple" mineheads, shot between 1974 and 1978, ramshackle scaffoldings constructed ad hoc, as needed—"Form genom funktion"—by small groups of independent coal miners. Catalogue available. Show ends April 2!


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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1957936 2023-03-26T19:48:59Z 2023-04-11T03:42:37Z Amalia Mesa-Bains Retrospective at Berkeley Art Museum (reprinted from TheDemocracyChain.org)

AMALIA MESA-BAINS
Archaeology of Memory, Berkeley Art Museum
Emblems of the Decade: Borders,  Rena Bransten Gallery

The Trumpian Confederacy may be censoring actual, factual history (AKA Biden-Marxist fake news), but the socially liberal art world has embraced the populist, multiracial history of the United States.

One of the pre-eminent artists involved in this paradigm shift is the Bay Area’s Amalia Mesa-Bains, who has championed Mexican identity and culture since the 1970s. and is the subject of a major retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum and a related show—an installation and a set of digital collages on canvas— at San Francisco’s Rena Bransten Gallery. These shows follow a suite of recent museum retrospectives by a quintet of distinguished artists of color: all with ties to the Bay Area: Ruth Asawa, Bernice Bing, Dewey Crumpler, Carlos Villa, and Carrie Mae Weems.

Mesa-Bains, an author, educator, and curator as well as an artist, works in a variety of forms, butt is best known for her multimedia installations. These theatrical assemblage environments  conjoin old glamor photographs, postcards, toys, figurines, vintage furniture, shells, ceramic fragments, candles, crystals, mirrors, pearls, broken glass, draperies, gold leaf, dried leaves, rocks, sand, dried flower petals, branches and soil. ‘Voice-over’ quotations are inscribed over the imagery in collages, and in her installations, on the wall, or handwritten in the scattered materials on the floor.

These bricolage shrines to the dead—which commemorate strong-willed culture heroines like the seventeenth -century scholar-nun Sor Inès de la Cruz and the actress Dolores Del Rio—draw on the Mexican tradition of the ofrenda, a home altar created during the Day of the Dead to welcome the visiting souls of deceased family members. Photos of the dead honoree are displayed on the wall surrounded by crucifixes and images of the saints and the Virgin Mary; below, the ancestors’ favorite foods and drinks, along with candles, mirrors and yellow marigolds (cempazuchitl, a flower the Aztecs associated with death) complete the offerings. The Berkeley retrospective features almost sixty works from Mesa-Bains’ long career, including ofrenda along with shrines, altars, codices, and digital-collage prints. The wealth of information may seem daunting, but the artist’s homages are poetic and associational rather than literal and historic. I was particularly taken with the ghostly imagery that seems buried within the antique mirrors; the effect is achieved by abrading the silvering behind the glass surface and fixing the image of the saint or scholar in question so as to appear floating within the vaporous aperture: historical memory confronts the viewer like an apparition.

Mesa-Bains’ profusely decorated shrine installations center on items of antique furniture reflecting the artist’s studies of history, religion, culture, identity, and myth, which merge and collide, illuminating the conditions of the present.

A woman’s vanity or dressing table is the central focus of the anti-Freudian Venus Envy, Chapter I: First Holy Communion, Moments Before the End. In this examination of the virginal role model traditionally inculcated in adolescent Latinas. Surmounted by boudoir cloud of white satin ruching, the white table supports a clutter of artificial pearls, frame photos of young women, perfume bottles and Madonnas, with a suggestive seashell on the floor, but intimations of mortality intrude: a gold and silver skull peep from the half-opened drawers, and revealed in the mirror is the fearsome Aztec goddess Coatlicue, one of whose aspects, Cihuacōātl, "snake woman,” is associated with deaths in childbirth.

Sexual purity is again the subject in The Virgin’s Garden, featuring a hand-painted, moss-bedecked armoire or wardrobe, its half-open door revealing clothing and books inside. Inspired by a fifteenth-century German Renaissance painting, a copy of which is displayed nearby, the piece examines the hortus conclusus, or closed garden, the traditional emblem of female chastity—and especially of the Immaculate Conception— dating from the Song of Solomon: Hortus conclusus soror mea, sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus. A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up…. Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.

The liberating education of the female mind during eras of male repression is the subject of The Library of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. The seventeenth-century colonial-era Mexican nun and intellectual, who had educated herself in her own library, which came to include four thousand books, hosted a salon in her nunnery of  for other learned women; wrote poetry and prose in Latin and Nahuatl on religion, love, feminism and the misogyny and hypocrisy of the dominant male order in a  “philosophical satire” entitled Hombres Necios, Foolish Men; and was punished, predictably, for her transgressions by being forced to sell her beloved library and return to traditional duties, dying in 1695 at the age of forty-seven, of plague while tending to her Hieronymite Order sisters. (Octavio Paz postulates that entering a nunnery was the best option available for ambitious, independent women at that time.) Sor Inés’ imagined work table, adorned with books, lamps, musical scores, and manuscripts, is flanked by a small stand being an Aztec figurine, an oil painting of a bespectacled inquisitorial grandee; and a heavy leather-upholstered chair lighted by large candlesticks, all painted gold. Stands of hair lie on the seat of the chair, suggesting the punitive shearing of tresses, or even the pulling out of hair in despair. (A twin of this chair appears, in silver, in the artist’s show on the US-Mexico border at Rena Bransten.) In the mirror above the desk Sor Inés appear, among her books, beneath a radiating pattern of fracture lines in the glass. These cracks were due to an art mishandling error, but the artist, perhaps remembering Duchamp’s embrace of accident in the Large Glass, liked them for their suggestion of a radiant intelligence, albeit one silenced by social duress.

This short article provides only a small sample of Mesa-Bains’ work, which also includes codices and digital collages addressing, among other things, the friction at the US-Mexico border (also in the San Francisco gallery show) and the artist’s recovery from a serious car accident through traditional curandera treatments. Two large sculptures, however, require mention. Cihuateotl with Mirror in Private Landscapes and Public Territories depicts Mother Earth as a voluptuously curvy woman, perhaps a sister to those zaftig Neolithic Venuses, but here covered in moss inscribed with Aztec glyphs for fertility, reclining on a carpet of verdure, admiring herself in a large, ornate hand mirror. It’s an environmentalist/feminist take, of course, with perhaps a poke at property-as-theft rights, of traditional love goddesses inspecting themselves, with the pre-eminent version being Velásquez’s Rokeby Venus. A specific landscape, that of the Rio Grande,  is the impetus behind What the River Gave to Me, the title of which must surely allude to Frida Kahlo’s elegiac 1939 painting, What the Water Gave Me. Mesa-Bains’s large sculpture reconstructs the river demarcating the border between the United States and Mexico as a luminous channel cutting through mountainous terrain carrying irregularly blue glass globes or bubbles, each bearing the name of a person who completed the perilous crossing, an illegal or undocumented alien now, but perhaps someday one of the “job creators” that we so fervently revere.





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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1874715 2022-08-30T06:16:07Z 2023-04-11T03:39:36Z "Review of Florian von Donnersmarck's "Never Look Away," a pseudo-biopic of Gerhard Richter (originally published inVisualArtSource.com)

Never Look Away (Work without Author)

A month ago, I listed a number of films about art and artists that I thought worthwhile. Naturally, I forgot or missed some. Recently I watched Maurice Pialat’s 1991 film, ”Van Gogh,” with Jacques Dutronc  in a mesmerizing performance as the artist: quiet and observant—internalized—and very different from Kirk Douglas’s energetic interpretation in Lust for Life (which Dutronc said in an later interview that he liked, as I do). It’s a naturalistic film, verging on cinema verité, unbound by Hollywood script mechanics, and a wonderful recreation of 1880s rural France that might almost have sprung from a Renoir or Lautrec painting. It even refuses to hit the usual hagiographic high notes of Vincent’s wounding or death, which take place offscreen, but is no less affecting for that reticence.

A few days ago, I finally saw Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s new film (only his third), Never Look Away, loosely based on the life of the painter Gerhard Richter, who has intriguingly disavowed the film, as was recounted in a New Yorker profile a few months ago. The story of a young artist’s development in Nazi Germany in the1940s, in Communist East Germany in the 1950s and then in free West Germany in the 1960s sounded, with its interweaving of biography, history and politics, almost too good to be true. It was, slightly, but I still recommend it. The three-hour-long film’s recreation of the past is faultless, and Caleb Deschanel’s photography is gorgeous; in those respects NLA is similar to Mike Leigh’s 2014 Mr. Turner, another mixed success for me, sumptuous, but suffering from a flawed script.

Von Donnersmarck’s first film, The Lives of Others, from 2007, was an astonishing début, comparable to Orson Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane, and one of the best movies I have ever seen in its integration of art and politics. In it, a leftist playwright, played by Sebastian Koch, in Communist East Germany, is suspected of subversion by a dedicated Stasi agent, played by the late Ulrich Mühe, who spies upon him—and is gradually converted from rigid conformity to a humanist appreciation for beauty and ambiguity; sitting hour after hour, listening through headphones, he’s humanized. We almost feel humanized, watching him. When he helps save the playwright fro prison, he is discovered, and demoted. Ten years later, the playwright, having discovered the facts, dedicates a memoir to his benefactor, who is now sweeping streets; he sees it in a bookstore window. Fade out. That’s an ending worthy of the best Charles Chaplin: sentimental, moving, and profoundly human.

Unfortunately, Never Look Away, for all its plot contrivances (which I won’t spoil for you), and political melodrama and comedy, does not soar into filmic immortality in the same way. Kurt, the young protagonist is a born observer, but powerless and seemingly unaffected when his young ‘artistic’ aunt, given to spells of madness, is seized by the Nazis for sterilization and exterminaton. Members of his family die in the war, and after the war Kurt tells his father, a former teacher reduced after denazification to scrubbing floors, that everything is connected (echoing his aunt’s delusion) and that he need never worry; later, Kurt discovers that his father has hanged himself, a bit stolen from Philip Guston’s life, but not, to my knowledge, Richter’s. Kurt enters art school in East Berlin and soon becomes a star pupil, charged with an important Socialist Realist mural due to his professor’s efforts. Kurt betrays him when he flees to West Berlin shortly before the wall is completed, with his young wife, who has, shall we say, some issues with her gynecologist father (Sebastian Koch again), a former Nazi who has managed to stay undiscovered. We see the mural—and it’s not that great, for Socialist Realism: a bit too lumpish for officialdom, frankly—being whitewashed after the defection, and we’re supposed to feel—what? Genius is too good for this wicked world?

Given this richly tragic story, we might expect a fittingly triumphant ending, but alas, no. Kurt, faced by the artistic liberties of the west, embodied in the Joseph Beuys figure at Dusseldorf Academy, is reduced to creative paralysis, experimenting with meaningless avant-garde trickery (walking on and slashing canvases, which, according to his teacher, are “not you”) before finally sitting immobile at his easel for entire days. Salvation comes when he seizes upon old photos of himself with his doomed aunt in happier times and of his odious Aryan father-in-law (who might be reasonably expected to approve of Kurt’s blond Siegfried poster-boy looks); he grids the photographs and paints them in grisaille, then takes a dry flat brush and smears horizontal streaks across them, simulating the depredations of time and history. When a rich classmate exhibits the work, they are a sensation, and at the end, at the Wuppertal Kunsthalle, Kurt answers questions from the arty audience about his imagery—and lies: they’re nobody in particular, he says; it’s easier when I don’t know the people. As for doing more gray snapshots, no: I am interested in color charts now. It’s an oddly antiheroic, banal conclusion—no matter that it follows Richter’s career, but trivializes it— to what we might have expected; it’s as if there had been no discovery of Rosebud’s identity at the end of Citizen Kane. (There are, however, metaphoric choruses of bus horns, resoundingly linking the 1940s and the 1960s.)

Mine is a minority opinion, so see it for yourself. A lot of it is memorable, even astounding—particularly the recreation of the 1937 Degenerate Art show in Berlin, for which duplicates of lost paintings were made—and I look forward to the director’s next effort, even if, like Welles, or Shyamalan, he should turn out to be a one-hit wonder, which is not such a bad thing, in the big picture. As for including a Monkees-style montage of art-student hijinks, set to Francoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de L’Amour” (I had the album during my francophile phase), well, it was the Sixties, everywhere, and everything is connected.Never Look Away (Work without Author)

A month ago, I listed a number of films about art and artists that I thought worthwhile. Naturally, I forgot or missed some. Recently I watched Maurice Pialat’s 1991 film, ”Van Gogh,” with Jacques Dutronc  in a mesmerizing performance as the artist: quiet and observant—internalized—and very different from Kirk Douglas’s energetic interpretation in Lust for Life (which Dutronc said in an later interview that he liked, as I do). It’s a naturalistic film, verging on cinema verité, unbound by Hollywood script mechanics, and a wonderful recreation of 1880s rural France that might almost have sprung from a Renoir or Lautrec painting. It even refuses to hit the usual hagiographic high notes of Vincent’s wounding or death, which take place offscreen, but is no less affecting for that reticence.

A few days ago, I finally saw Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s new film (only his third), Never Look Away, loosely based on the life of the painter Gerhard Richter, who has intriguingly disavowed the film, as was recounted in a New Yorker profile a few months ago. The story of a young artist’s development in Nazi Germany in the1940s, in Communist East Germany in the 1950s and then in free West Germany in the 1960s sounded, with its interweaving of biography, history and politics, almost too good to be true. It was, slightly, but I still recommend it. The three-hour-long film’s recreation of the past is faultless, and Caleb Deschanel’s photography is gorgeous; in those respects NLA is similar to Mike Leigh’s 2014 Mr. Turner, another mixed success for me, sumptuous, but suffering from a flawed script.

Von Donnersmarck’s first film, The Lives of Others, from 2007, was an astonishing début, comparable to Orson Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane, and one of the best movies I have ever seen in its integration of art and politics. In it, a leftist playwright, played by Sebastian Koch, in Communist East Germany, is suspected of subversion by a dedicated Stasi agent, played by the late Ulrich Mühe, who spies upon him—and is gradually converted from rigid conformity to a humanist appreciation for beauty and ambiguity; sitting hour after hour, listening through headphones, he’s humanized. We almost feel humanized, watching him. When he helps save the playwright fro prison, he is discovered, and demoted. Ten years later, the playwright, having discovered the facts, dedicates a memoir to his benefactor, who is now sweeping streets; he sees it in a bookstore window. Fade out. That’s an ending worthy of the best Charles Chaplin: sentimental, moving, and profoundly human.

Unfortunately, Never Look Away, for all its plot contrivances (which I won’t spoil for you), and political melodrama and comedy, does not soar into filmic immortality in the same way. Kurt, the young protagonist is a born observer, but powerless and seemingly unaffected when his young ‘artistic’ aunt, given to spells of madness, is seized by the Nazis for sterilization and exterminaton. Members of his family die in the war, and after the war Kurt tells his father, a former teacher reduced after denazification to scrubbing floors, that everything is connected (echoing his aunt’s delusion) and that he need never worry; later, Kurt discovers that his father has hanged himself, a bit stolen from Philip Guston’s life, but not, to my knowledge, Richter’s. Kurt enters art school in East Berlin and soon becomes a star pupil, charged with an important Socialist Realist mural due to his professor’s efforts. Kurt betrays him when he flees to West Berlin shortly before the wall is completed, with his young wife, who has, shall we say, some issues with her gynecologist father (Sebastian Koch again), a former Nazi who has managed to stay undiscovered. We see the mural—and it’s not that great, for Socialist Realism: a bit too lumpish for officialdom, frankly—being whitewashed after the defection, and we’re supposed to feel—what? Genius is too good for this wicked world?

Given this richly tragic story, we might expect a fittingly triumphant ending, but alas, no. Kurt, faced by the artistic liberties of the west, embodied in the Joseph Beuys figure at Dusseldorf Academy, is reduced to creative paralysis, experimenting with meaningless avant-garde trickery (walking on and slashing canvases, which, according to his teacher, are “not you”) before finally sitting immobile at his easel for entire days. Salvation comes when he seizes upon old photos of himself with his doomed aunt in happier times and of his odious Aryan father-in-law (who might be reasonably expected to approve of Kurt’s blond Siegfried poster-boy looks); he grids the photographs and paints them in grisaille, then takes a dry flat brush and smears horizontal streaks across them, simulating the depredations of time and history. When a rich classmate exhibits the work, they are a sensation, and at the end, at the Wuppertal Kunsthalle, Kurt answers questions from the arty audience about his imagery—and lies: they’re nobody in particular, he says; it’s easier when I don’t know the people. As for doing more gray snapshots, no: I am interested in color charts now. It’s an oddly antiheroic, banal conclusion—no matter that it follows Richter’s career, but trivializes it— to what we might have expected; it’s as if there had been no discovery of Rosebud’s identity at the end of Citizen Kane. (There are, however, metaphoric choruses of bus horns, resoundingly linking the 1940s and the 1960s.)

Mine is a minority opinion, so see it for yourself. A lot of it is memorable, even astounding—particularly the recreation of the 1937 Degenerate Art show in Berlin, for which duplicates of lost paintings were made—and I look forward to the director’s next effort, even if, like Welles, or Shyamalan, he should turn out to be a one-hit wonder, which is not such a bad thing, in the big picture. As for including a Monkees-style montage of art-student hijinks, set to Francoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de L’Amour” (I had the album during my francophile phase), well, it was the Sixties, everywhere, and everything is connected.

https://www.visualartsource.com/index.php?page=editorial&pcID=22&aID=5215

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1863231 2022-08-02T20:32:39Z 2023-04-11T03:41:31Z Diego Rivera's Greater America

An edited version of this appears in TheDemocracyChain.orghttps://www.thedemocracychain.org/dcheng0722


RIVERA’S GREATER AMERICA

My mural which I am painting now—it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent, that is all. I believe in order to make an American art, a real American art, this will be necessary, this blending of the art of the Indian, the Mexican, the Eskimo, with the kind of urge which makes the machine, the invention in the material side of life, which is also an artistic urge, the same urge primarily but in a different form of expression.
—Diego Rivera, 1940

The January 6 hearings have been a bombshell, exploding the myths of Trump’s patriotism, character, and competence for all to see—and for his MAGA-cult minions to deny with their usual alacrity. The ex-Trumper men and women who are finally coming forward to testify or to write tell-all books are being lauded by the excitable mainstream press as heroes; Adam Kinzinger, Rusty Bowers and Cassidy Hutchinson, braving threats to life and career do merit our respect; while Liz Cheney, William Barr, and a number of other published Trump apostates, however useful their current testimony, may have ulterior motives and should be considered heroes only qualifiedly. So why did it take the mob-and.mobster mayhem of January 6 to awaken these loyalists (some of whom bizarrely assert that they would still vote for Trump again,) who mocked the ‘woke’ liberals for four years, from their dogmatic slumbers?

The truth about Trump has been evident to anyone without rose-colored (or Rose-Garden-colored) lenses for decades. He’s a capitalist embodiment of the old Seven Deadly Sins, after all: Lust, Envy, Glutton, Anger, Sloth, Envy, and —hmmm, that’s six—oh, Greed. If there is one good feature about the horde of evils released by the Pandora of Trumpism, it is the exposure that—to quote Republican political operative Stuart Stevens’ 2020 book characterizing Trumpism as Reagan Republicanism on steroids, It Was All A Lie.

Any reader of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (1980) —which should be required reading for high-schoolers, in an ideal, literate world—could have told us that before Reagan was elected, but the myth of American virtue and exceptionalism persisted in the mass mind and mass-media mind. Horatio Alger’s best-selling up-from-poverty-with-pluck capitalist versions of Dickens survive, despite the ‘concerning’ realities. Tucker Carlson, a day or two ago, touted his own estimable 90-hour-a-week work ethic—not crafting chicken pies for his Swanson-heiress mother, but polishing paternalistic moral tales for keeping the benighted both blessed with progeny and in debt: dependable wage slaves for the Masters of the Universe. Work for nothing, teens; show us your character.

If the United States is to prosper and even survive, mainstream Americans must shake off the toxic lie of Christian capitalist white supremacy. The demographics are on the side of a pluralistic, multicultural America; so are common decency and the real history of an immigrant America, not Hollywood tales of jut-jawed gunmen defending the “sacred American way of life,” to use Dubya’s felicitous term from 2001, against The Other. The last, final existential battle between equal and opposite contending forces/principles— good guys and bad guys—curiously never seems to be the the last, just the penultimate—or the one before that. There’s always a new clash of the titans when historical time (complex reality) gets morphed into mythic time (simplistic fantasy). Epic cosplay adventure time again!

The current exhibition of 150 little-seen artworks by Diego Rivera at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is entitled Diego Rivera’s America. That claim to sovereignty is a corrective to those of the flag-bearing European colonists of the New World that reflects the artist’s own background as a Paris-trained modernist who returned to Mexico to renew his affiliation with his homeland and its mestizo (mixed) culture. America for Rivera was the entire western hemisphere, “the territory included between two ice barriers of the two poles.”  The exhibit resurrects for younger audiences an artistic giant who merged sociopolitical convictions with compelling power and beauty. Rivera is an epic history painter (without the establishmentarian negative connotations of the word); his sprawling, packed murals, collapses and conflate eras and cultures, violating the time and space unities of classical historiography. While the exhibit includes large-scale videos of murals painted elsewhere, Rivera's colossal Pan-American Unity, or, The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and the South on This Continent, from 1940, on loan at SFMOMA until January from City College of San Francisco, should not be missed, either —as if the ten-panel, multi-ton, 22’ x 74’  panorama, mounted to the wall in the museum’s foyer, could be overlooked.


Take the time to take it in again. Mid-century murals like Rivera’s Pan-American Unity and Victor Arnautoff’s George Washington High School murals, the subject of political controversy in recent years, are artistic/historic time capsules in which San Francisco, liberal and tolerant (most of the time), is blessed—if we resist the desire to ‘cancel’ them for current political sins.  NelsonRockefeller ‘canceled’ Rivera’s 1932 New York City mural for depicting, amid the hordes populating Man at the Crossroads, that antichrist of capitalism and idol of 1930s communists like Rivera, V.I. Lenin. (By 1942,Rivera had concluded, after learning of pogroms and show trials: “Communist revolution has only one outcome: totalitarian dictatorship…. democracy is the only alternative….”)

Rivera’s universal history of the Americas is encyclopedic and maximalist; it’s almost a God’s eye view of the history of the New World. He includes the cultures (indigenous and Anglo-immigrant) and personalities that shaped the New World for centuries and those world-stage actors still important during the 1930s. The nameless weavers, miners, farmers, and other laborers whose contributions go unsung by history are here ennobled and commemorated, without the false pomp of Socialist Realism. Eminent persons of all kinds are included as well: the poet Netzahualcoyotl, king of Texcoco; Helen Crlenkovich, Olympic high diver, and Timothy Pflueger, San Francisco architect and Rivera patron;  the engineers and industrialists Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, along with Samuel F.B. Morse and Robert Fulton, the last two painters as well as inventors; the political leaders Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln with their Mexican counterparts, Miguel Hidalgo and Jose Maria Morelos; the revolutionists Simòn Bolivar and John Brown; cultural figures like Charlie Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Edward G. Robinson, Albert Pinkham Ryder, Frida Káhlo, Emmy Lou Packard (one of Rivera’s assistants) at the easel, now the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Richmond Art Center), Frank Lloyd Wright, Maronio Magaña (sculpting the stone head of the Aztec Feathered Serpent god of sun, wind, air and learning, Quetzalcoatl), and Rivera himself; and even the dictators of the day, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler—whom Chaplin jokingly chided for having stolen his tLittle Tramp toothbrush mustache and parodied as Adenoid Hynkel in his 1940 film, The Great Dictator. That film begins in satirical buffoonery and concludes with Chaplin’s little Jewish barber, disguised at Hitler in Nazi uniform, pleading across the airwaves for universal tolerance and goodwill. Democracy is the only alternative.

It’s a compendium of his past history, of his European artistic heritage and his love for working class people and his love of indigenous history. You know, I mean, it's all there. And his idea of progress and change, that it's not scary. For him, the idea of change is moving forward all together within this piece. To me, [the forbidding Aztec goddess] Coatlicue [at the center of the mural] is not just the earth. Coatlicue is the cosmos. In all its beauty and humbleness and its scariness, you know, which he does not shy away from. So, it it's really like, it is an exuberant, magnificent, life-affirming piece. — Yolanda López, Chicana artist and activist

Yeah, it is magnificent, it is beautiful. But it’s also really complex because it’s Rivera’s vision of this American continent shaped by similar historical forces, the Indigenous past, colonial history, but also this confidence in innovation and technology. Like a lot of his work, for me, this mural is, it’s just super optimistic: if we emphasize what we share more than what divides us, across ethnic or class or political borders, if we empathize, you know, we might actually achieve greater harmony, greater equality. It’s a utopian idea, of course, but it’s a very powerful one. —James Oles, curator of Diego Rivera’s America






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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1863195 2022-08-02T19:07:03Z 2023-04-11T03:41:26Z Laura Van Duren "Gut Feeling" at Transmission Gallery San Francisco; new curated selection of recycled plastic figures by Jerry Ross Barrish, 7/31/22 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1863186 2022-08-02T18:49:37Z 2023-04-11T03:08:25Z Patricia Araujo's "Tomorrowland Today" at Institute for Research in the SocialSciences, Stanford. August-December, 2022 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1852048 2022-07-06T23:59:43Z 2023-04-11T03:08:42Z "Moving Pictures: The Photography of Irene Poon" at Fine Arts Gallery at SFSU (https://gallery.sfsu.edu), San Francisco, through July 29. 7/6/22 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1850387 2022-07-03T15:43:56Z 2023-04-11T03:09:15Z Carlos Villa at Asian Art Museum, Civic Center, San Francisco, 7/2/22 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1850237 2022-07-03T04:24:23Z 2023-04-11T03:11:05Z Carlos Viila at San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, San Francisco, 7/2/22 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1844619 2022-06-21T00:09:24Z 2023-04-11T03:10:14Z Pancho Jimenez, Impressions & Revelations, Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, June 4-July 2, 2022 (published by VisualArtSource.com, 6/11/22)
Pancho Jiménez, "Impressions & Revelations"
by DeWitt Cheng
Pancho Jiménez, “Progression #1-5," ceramic, 8" diameter;10" diameter; 10" diameter; (l. to 4.) 12 x 10 x 10"; 10 x 14 x 11"
Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco, California
Continuing through July 2, 2022
 
With a seemingly endless supply of reports of catastrophes assailing us — freak weather, gun massacres, corporate corruption, and fascist putsches — nervous doomscrolling has become a fact of current American life — at least for those with a strong enough gut not to tune out in defeat. Remember when post-apocalyptic fantasies were innocent fun? I remember seeing the “Warheads” ceramic sculptures of Robert Arneson during the militaristic Reagan 1980s and admiring their combination of politics and aesthetics, Jonathan Swift’s saeva indignatio (fierce indignation) expressed with over-the-top, take-no-prisoners comic ferocity. Tell us what you really think, Bob.
Pancho Jiménez, “Fulfilled,” 2019, ceramic, 23 x 10 x 9”
The ceramic sculptures of Pancho Jiménez in “Impressions & Revelations” continue the Bay Area tradition of ceramic satire, but in a subtler vein, minus Arneson’s larger-than-life polemical brio, but no less meaningfully or effectively. The neutral presentation of Jiménez’s pseudo-artifacts — featuring cute mass-market imagery jumbled together as if caught by fire, flood, earthquake, or lava flow, and covered with a glaze that suggests amber-trapped insects — lets us do the interpretive work rather than accede passively to the artist’s dictates. Post-apocalypse now, if you want it.
 
The ten free-standing pieces placed on pedestals and the nine wall-mounted reliefs in the show could easily be taken by a cursory viewer as brilliantly colored archaeological artifacts. Jiménez uses massive, compressed forms to contain his cultural plasmas, made from commercial molds used for what used to be deemed kitsch — figurines and tchotchkes — at least before A-list artists embraced low-class motifs for high-class patrons. Easy irony is not the point of Jiménez’s cultural critique, however. He conflates the past in the form of tripods, plaques and other ceremonial artifacts; the present with his mass-market decorations; and a hypothetical future in which these transtemporal works (or ruins of works) can be surveyed by a perhaps wiser, gentler race of survivors.
The artist depicts America’s current mass culture of easy fun, historical amnesia, and incessant distraction in the wider context of history: sub specie aeternitatis, under the guise of eternity, in the “eternal present” of art, especially the ancient pre-Columbian art that has long fascinated the artist.
 
The idea of geometric wholes, broken or eroded to reveal their innards, was employed by the Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro. Jiménez revives it — with a pop-culture dimension — to good and timely effect. “Cenotes” is a three-legged glazed ocher sculpture that suggests the bronze tripods of ancient cultures, as well as a giant’s molar, yellowed by time. Where the tooth’s nerves should be, encased in dentine, are deep cavities in which we discern composite mechanical parts thrown together, like rubble encased in Roman concrete. Cenotes are sinkholes in limestone that have been flooded with fresh water that are found in the Yucatán peninsula. A circle of them surrounds the Chicxulub meteor crater. 
Pancho Jiménez, “Nucleus," 2017, ceramic, 26" diameter
Pancho Jiménez, “Gaze," 2022, ceramic, 13 x 13 x 3 1/2"
“Gaze” is a purplish-gray glazed circular wall plaque in low relief, covered by faces cast from molds, their eyes closed, with the boundary between the faces suggestive of a stylized closed eye. The totality resembles the ommatidia-faceted eyes of flies and dragonflies. “Nucleus” is a large reddish-orange sphere covered by impacted tchotchkes that suggests a world overtaken by trash and trivia, while its formal obverse, the five smaller “Progression” sculptures, suggest a sequence of explosions from within as a delicately textured spherical cell sacrifices itself in order to replicate. Jiménez's five bleached-white plaques of internet company logos — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat — posit an archaeology of the ephemeral, and would make for wonderful tiles in some future corporate temple done à la Frank Lloyd Wright.
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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1843609 2022-06-18T14:45:27Z 2023-04-11T03:01:33Z Gale Antokal "Intensity of Silence" at Sanchez Art Center, Pacifica, June 3-26, 2022 Gale Antokal's body of work, on view in the Main Gallery, is aptly titled Intensity of Silence. Intensity is defined as extreme degree of strength, force, energy or feeling. The drawings made with graphite, flour, ash and pastel on paper are forceful in their quietude. The medium addresses the artist's personal iconography, with ash the finite end of all material, while flour is the sustenance of life. Antokal shares that the vulnerability of her materials "serves as a metaphor for the human condition that has potential of being erased and can vanish in a brief moment”.

Her images on the paper appear in a space that is undefined evoking a sense of mystery that invites the viewer to linger trying to discern what's beyond the edges. In Place 6, a solitary rower is centered on the paper in such a way that you think you can hear the quiet gentle rhythm of the oars in the water. One wonders is the background clouds or trees on the shore? Where has the individual come from and where they are going? Are there others?

Inspiration is taken from photographic collections in books and online archives, with figures and transportation conveyances seemingly from another time and a place that once was, though the artist has noted that recent works are motivated by stories of recent war, trauma migration and loss.

Gale Antokal was born in New York, New York, and received her BFA (1980) and MFA from the California College of the Arts in 1984. In 1992 Antokal received a Visual Arts Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is a Professor Emeritus at San Jose State University in the Department of Art and Art History. Antokal held several visiting artist positions and teaching positions including the San Francisco Art Institute, Instructor of Art History at the Lehrhaus Institute, and the American College in Jerusalem. She was an affiliate faculty member in the JSSItaly program in Civita Castellana, Italy in 2015.

The public is invited to enjoy a conversation between Gale Antokal and Richard Whittaker (founder, Works & Conversations) on Sunday, June 26, 3:30 pm. This talk is presented through Sanchez Art Center's free art education and engagement programming.

Sanchez Art Center is located at 1220 Linda Mar Blvd in Pacifica, about a mile east of Highway 1. Following opening night, the galleries are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 1–5 pm, through June 26. For more information, email  info@SanchezArtCenter.org, or call 650.355.1894. 
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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1843587 2022-06-18T14:13:17Z 2023-04-11T03:01:36Z A World Free of Plastic Imagined, curated by Hanna Regev, Ruth's Table, San Francisco

A World Free of Plastic Imagined exhibition aims to call attention to and expand our understanding of the issue of plastic pollution through the lens of Bay Area artists and inspire each of us to consider how we can all engage on this increasingly critical issue to secure the wellbeing of our planet.

In a contemporary culture of consumption, the negative consequences of the excessive use of plastic are real and harmful to the environment and our health. If the current pattern is to continue, it would have damaging effects on our ecosystems and threaten the stability of the ocean life. Imagine if we could reverse and change this pattern. 

The exhibition brings together a group of artists to send a strong message about the damaging impact of plastic pollution our planet through photography, mixed media work, assemblage, installation, and painting. Some works in the exhibition approach the issue creatively by documenting, repurposing, and reusing plastic waste. A number of works bring together arts and science to communicate critical data about plastic pollution, shine light on solutions aimed to mitigate the crisis, and help inspire change.

The result is an impactful visual narrative that aims to educate, raise awareness, and offer a provocative look at the impact we each have on our world, and a reminder that small individual changes can bring about major and necessary change.


Jerry Barrish
Irene Carvajal
DeWitt Cheng
Antonio Cortez
Tess Felix
Michal Gavish
Tanya Knoop
Liz Mamorsky
Federico Panigue
Dianne Platner
Ruth Tabancay

Opening reception was June 9, 2022. Show continues to August 26
Ruth’s Table, 3160 21st Street, San Francisco
Tuesday- Friday  10am-5pm
First Saturdays of Each Month 11am-3pm
or by appointment
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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1826398 2022-05-04T22:36:57Z 2023-04-11T03:01:49Z Duane Michals "Portraits" at Crocker Museum, Sacramento, 2018

Duane Michals: The Portraitist
Crocker Art Museum

It’s an era of celebrity worship—and, with Instagram selfies, of democratic self-aggrandizement—so the timing of this large exhibition of Duane Michals’ photographic portraits of our cultural royalty, with a few commoner friends and relatives thrown in, could not be better timed. “Portraits,” curated by Linda Benedict-Jones, and presented by Curatorial Assistance Traveling Exhibitions, features more than 125 photos—“recently discovered by the artist in his New York apartment,” according to the museum press materials.  Old and young familiar faces—musicians, actors and actresses, artists, writers— appear, but seen in unfamiliar ways: personally, and idiosyncratically interpreted.

Michals, a self-taught photographer, has had a long career photographing for publications, but came to art-world notice in the early 1970s with Sequences, a book of narrative sequences of staged/posed photos that married age-old themes—youth, love, loss, old age, death, transfiguration—with the spare, cool, minimalist aesthetic of that period. These multi-shot mini-stories might be stills from a movie made conjointly by Michelangelo Antonioni and Wim Wenders, preceding by two decades CIndy Sherman’s famous fake-film stills. Influenced by writers as well as artists, including Balthus, William Blake, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Eakins, René Magritte (whose memorable multi-exposure portraits are on view), and Walt Whitman, Michals, who, born in 1932, and an exact contemporary of Andy Warhol (whose portraits are also included) balked at the limitations and superficiality of ‘pure’ photography. (Warhol famously embraced superficiality.) He defiled the sanctity of the pristine photographic objet-d’art by jotting ironic or even at times elegiac inscriptions about the subjects on the prints in a distinctive spidery, ultra-thin handwriting. Michals: “My writing grew out of my frustration with photography. If I took a picture of you ... it would tell me nothing of you as a person.... Sixty percent of my work is photography and the rest is writing.” Like some other celebrated photographers (e.g., Walker Evans, and Andre Kertesz, who appears in Michals’ homage to Hockney), he ventured beyond photography into painting as well, repurposing old tintypes with geometric motifs in oil paint.

It’s extremely difficult to sum up a six-decade career in a few hundred words, but certain themes are present throughout the portraits, which are, like good portrait paintings. as much about the artist as the subject: a respect for individuality; a recognition that life is transient, yet miraculous; and a delight, sometimes whimsical, sometimes ironic, in the power of the imagination and the ambiguities of reality—hence his interest in creative personalities. Michals writes of his subject, the Romanian absurdist playwright, Eugene Ionesco: “Always hovering over his writing is the melancholy of our essential loneliness, and yet he found ways of illuminating this through a filter of humor and satire.” This might be Michals’ credo as well. He annotates another ‘imaginary’ portrait with these octogenarian words of wisdom:

I’m a miracle. We’re walking, talking miracles. You probably gave to be on your death-bed to realize that you’re a miracle, just when it’s too late. But it’s possible to know now, saints know now. If there’s some way that we could understand that being alive is not simply a matter of consuming things and using deodorants. It really is a matter of being a walking, talking, once-in-a-lifetime offer in the universe that’s never going to happen again.

Some noteworthy ‘straight’ portraits—aside from shots of Meryl Streep and Barbara Streisand at the beginnings of their careers—are Veronica Lake, past her glamor-girl peekaboo era in the 1940s, in middle age, laughing at a hotel restaurant where she once worked, while a customer seated behind her booth reacts in surprise; Toshiro Mifune, standing beneath a leafy park canopy of foliage, caught talking, and rather less superhuman than usual, by Michals’ shutter; and a young Carol Burnett, demonstrating the extreme flexibility of her “Freaky Fingers.” Michals examines the human condition in “Self-Portrait as if I Were Dead,” a double-exposure shot of the artist contemplating, with equanimity, his sheeted body on a morgue gurney; and affecionate portraits of departed friends and lovers. Michals’ enjoyment of mirrors, reflections and the theater of self-presentation shines forth in his five-photo sequence of Tilda Swinton as Sibyl, as she progressively removing the veils covering her face; Swinton again, in the Magrittean “Mr. Backwards Forwards,” as an “androgynous phantom” in a man’s suit who rotates her head 180 degrees to look into a handheld mirror, from which she regards us indirectly, like Perseus avoiding Medusa’s gaze; the film director François Truffaut, standing in a darkened hotel room, silhouetted against the window, reflected in two mirrors on adjacent walls; Ludmila Tcherina, the ‘older’ ballerina, Irina, in the 1948 film classic, The Red Shoes, peering at us from a handheld mirror against a rain-streaked view of Paris; a triple view of the artist Ray Johnson and his storefront reflections; Joseph Cornell, reduced by the camera to a Giacomettian wraith;  the author Joan Didion, her features seen through openings in a sheet of cut paper (or is it a photographed photograph?), with her face framed by the shadow of her head and shoulders. Notable for their good-natured kidding are: two images of Chuck Close, seen up close and from afar; two photos, shot years apart, of Sting resembling a young Danny Kaye, and Danny Kaye, an old Sting; and René and Georgette Magritte, holding hands, the clasp unseen behind a tree trunk. Susan Sontag, also photographed here, as a young prodigy, wrote, “All photographs are memento mori,” but some achieve the status of immortal “privileged moment[s]” that join “the image-world that bids to outlast us all.” Some of them are miracles.


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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1808273 2022-03-18T04:01:18Z 2023-04-11T03:02:42Z Minnesota Street Projects, San Francisco, 3/17/22.
A potpourri of art from Minnesota Street Projects, San Francisco, 3/17/22. "Superposition" mixed-media geometric abstractions by Carrie Ann Plank at Themes +Projects; conceptual sculpture (“Tuning the Fork”) by Paul Kos at Anglim Trimble; monochrome landscape paintings by James Chronister (“Only Sunrises”) at Eleanor Harwood; cut-paper assemblages (”A Clear Day”) by Zaida Oenema at Municipal Bonds; “Oil and Clay” at Jack Fischer Gallery, pairing abstractions by Jenny Bloomfield with painted, gilded ceramics  by Dennis O’Leary; and “O, the FinalLetter in the [ :] Alphabet, a group show curated by Isabelle Sorrell, at Anglim Trimble (downstairs).

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1806741 2022-03-14T01:36:58Z 2023-04-11T03:02:57Z Spiritual Mountains: Wesley Tongson at Berkeley Art Museum




Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson
Berkeley Art Museum
January 12–June 12, 2022

Originality is the tacitly assumed essence and sine qua non of creative art. Young artists in ultra-individualistic America sometimes avoid looking at older artists for fear of being influenced, or contaminated—to their detriment. Artists of the past learned from the masters by copying and assimilating. Arshile Gorky famously copied Picasso (“If he drips, I drip.”), himself an omnivorous eye; and Ben Shahn praised the artists of the past as friendly ghosts, not obstacles or enemies. Creative talent may be inborn but it has to be developed.

Adding to the confusion in recent years was postmodernist theory. The deaths of the author/artist and of individuality itself were widely accepted in academia. Jorge Luis Borges parodied the death of originality in his prescient 1939 pseudo-article considering the literary achievement of “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote.” ”His admirable ambition,” writes Borges,”was to produce pages which would coincide—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.” And then there are the complexities of digital art, with appropriation and plagiarism shading into each other.

The Hong Kong painter Wesley Tongson (1957-2012) exemplifies the synthesis of tradition and innovation. In 2018, the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco presented a small but impressive exhibition of his work, entitled The Journey.  Curator Catherine Maudsley noted that Tongson’s ink paintings were grounded in the nature motifs and calligraphy of classical Chinese painting, but enlivened by daring Abstract Expressionist brushstrokes, ink splattering, marbling, resists, decalcomania (pressing painted papers onto the surface and peeling them off), and even brushless painting done with fingers and hands. She cites his training by Gu QIngyao, in Suzhou, and Huang Zhongfang, in Hong Kong, but concludes that “Tongson’s journey was primarily a solitary one.” Hong Kongers will need no introduction to the artist, whose genius was recognized early in his home town, but others seeking background information can look up my review at https://artomity.art/2019/02/04/wesley-tongson.

If I, following Maudsley, saw Tongson’s oeuvre as a spiritual quest through art, it is evident from Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson, at the Berkeley Art Museum, that he had many teachers and mentors guiding his singular, solitary way. The exhibition features eleven magnificent works recently acquired by the museum, interspersed with paintings by like-minded artists, drawn from the museum’s permanent collection or borrowed from private collections. Thus it celebrates Tongson not as an artistic isolato (though his schizophrenia and reticence make his career mysterious), but belonging to a tribe or secret order, its members separated by time and space but united by a shared vision. This show deliberately eschews a chronological sequence, offering instead, through the erudite wall-label commentary by Julia M. White, Senior Curator for Asian Art, a time-traveler’s tour of a group of Chinese painters, all trained in the way of the brush yet guai (eccentric) enough to infuse personality and even dash into a tradition that, by incorporating change, evades formulaic repetition. (In this context I cannot resist mentioning the artist Arnold Chang, whose wonderfully anachronistic (i.e., outside time) ink painting, Thinking of Spring (2010), is included in the show; in 2006 he wrote: “The response I seek from the viewer is that the work has the look and feel of an old master painting. And yet, one can’t point to any specific image or artist that I am copying.” )

But let’s return to Tongson’s pilgrimage. An untitled mountainscape from 2000 from the Mountains of Heaven series is composed of large irregularly shaped blocks of bright color, painted wet into wet, with a wide brush, without any preliminary black-ink drawing framework. Its loose, soft-edged organic forms, which recall the organic abstraction of Frankenthaler, Louis, Olitski and Dzubas, are given specificity by black ink textures suggestive of rocky scarps and forests. How these effects were achieved remains an enigma, but Tongson’s absolute mastery of technique in realizing an inner vision inspired by Taoist/Buddhist lore could not be clearer. Scudding Clouds, Misty Peaks (1996)  is equally virtuosic, with loosely brushed and splashed ink and color suggesting  microscopic realism without any concession to photographic reality. White in the walls label notes that Tongson wished to splash ink to the point of resembling photographs; here he creates, through seemingly random means, a timeless metaphor: the holy mountain rises as a seeming emanation of art materials governed by a shaping intellect. Slope (1990) and Mountain Range (1993) are equally stunning cosmic landscapes. Hung between these four powerhouse works are two landscapes by Zhang Daqian (1889-1993), one of Tongson’s artist heroes, whose melding of free-form techniques and effects were crucial to the younger artist’s path. An untitled work on the opposite wall, a horizonless landscape, from 2001, carries the proliferation of marks achieving a hallucinatory level.

The works of many other artists—too many to enumerate here, with some dating back to the Ming Dynasty and beyond—show that Tongson’s spiritual and artistic quest was guided by his artistic ancestors. The path forged by the self-styled Mountain Daoist (Shandao Daoren) will guide future metaphysical/poetic explorers.
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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1806403 2022-03-13T07:56:16Z 2023-04-11T02:12:12Z Opening of "Women Rising 2022" at The Drawing Room, 780 Valencia Street, San Francisco ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1806357 2022-03-13T04:23:02Z 2023-04-11T02:10:42Z "Through the Lens": Photographers Joeann Edmonds-Matthew and Raphael at Far Out Gallery, San Francisco, 3/12/22 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1806181 2022-03-12T18:51:37Z 2023-04-11T02:12:08Z Eva Bovenzi, "Present Perfect" reception, Pastine Projects, San Francisco 3/22/11 Hard-edged but lyrical abstractions in acrylic on panel, and collages on Yupo paper mounted on Arches paper at Pastine Projects,360 Langton, San Francisco, until April 23.
Gallery statement:

"I’ve never grown blasé about the fact that a painting can actually summon people to the present moment; it seems like a form of magic”, Eva Bovenzi writes. She titles this exhibition “Present Perfect” in a nod to the capacity of art to bring a viewer to the Now.

Bovenzi’s visual vocabulary is poetic and entirely her own. Her paintings are fresh and original, yet also read as timeless iconic forms. Having studied sources as varied as Spanish manuscript painting, Romanesque and Byzantine frescoes, Tantric images and Native American ceremonial objects, Bovenzi describes herself as “in the tradition of artists who have tried to give visible form to the invisible”. Her work deliberately evades an easy verbal summary, gesturing towards the ineffability of experience.

Alluding to the shapes of shields, sentinels and masks, Bovenzi's images are bold, emphasizing physicality—yet their materiality is countered by luminescent veils of color that seem to expand past the structures that contain them. Constructed with matte, fluorescent and metallic colors, the surfaces of the paintings alternately absorb and reflect light, adding a subtle depth and movement to the work.

Eva Bovenzi’s art simultaneously suggests solid and void, presence and emptiness, stillness and movement. Mysteriously emblematic, the work’s sheer beauty offers the viewer an experience of transcendence, inviting the present to become perfect. — https://www.pastineprojects.com/project-09




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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1804312 2022-03-08T05:49:59Z 2023-04-11T03:12:50Z OСЛАВА УКРАЇНІ, SLAVA UKRAYINI, GLORY TO UKRAINE! (FromThe DemocracyChain.org, 3/6/22)

Motherland Kyiv monument (1981), dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the Second World War. Its base is the Kyiv WWII Museum’s Hall of Glory, inside which one can find the names of over 11,000 soldiers and workers who earned the title of Hero of the Soviet Union or the Hero of Socialist Labor during the war engraved on massive marble slabs. The statue itself is 62 meters tall and is made entirely of stainless steel. For more information: [https://destinations.com.ua/news/big-cities-life/915-the-observation-platform-at-the-motherland-monument-in-kyiv]

For the last five days as this is written, everyone who understands the gravity of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been riveted to the news. Most Americans — with the exception of the insensate, incensed Trumpist right — are rooting for the Ukraine resistance. Fox News wavers between attempts to blame Biden for the situation and, forgetting its decades of anti-green tirades funded by petrodollars, asks why isn’t the US energy-independent? Rhetorical questions based on false premises and predetermined conclusions are, of course, the demagogue Tucker Carlson’s infuriating stock in trade.

The outcome is far too early to predict. A few days ago, the massive advantage of the Russians in troops, material, and high-tech weaponry seemed to be the decisive factor. Now, after a determined, heroic resistance by Ukraine by its menfolk ages 18 to 60, armed with Molotov cocktails, light arms, and Javelin and Stinger missiles, the Russian blitzkrieg has slowed. (The fiercely independent Cossacks apparently survive in the Ukrainian DNA.) 

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered this message 

on social media: "I need ammunition. I don't need a ride."

Putin has agreed to negotiate with Ukraine without preconditions while simultaneously brandishing nuclear weapons against Ukrainian allies. He retains a single military ally in his vassal state Belarus; it is there that the negotiating teams have now met (let us not get our hopes up for a quick settlement). Contrasting with this bluster is the quiet, determined courage of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the onetime comedian and actor (and Jeremy Renner lookalike) who has rebuffed attempts to spirit him to safety: “I need ammunition. I don’t need a ride.” Already he has been compared in Western media to Winston Churchill standing up to Hitler, and the gladiator Spartacus taking on the slave-holding Roman Empire. Is Putin now playing the nuclear madman (as Nixon thought himself clever to do, once upon a time)? Or is he just engaging in KGB/GRU brinksmanship — being "smart,” in Trump’s words, pulling off this daring coup attempt at the low cost of only a few “two-dollar sanctions?” 

I had originally intended to write a brief précis of Ukrainian history leading to the present crisis, but, silly me, the complexity of the area’s history defies an easy synopsis. Putin’s claims that Ukraine was never a real nation; that it was founded by a diplomatic error on the part of Lenin after The Great War; and that Ukraine was, is and will always be an indissoluble part of Mother Russia and that the Ukrainians and Russia are “one people” are absurd. Why decimate your own people? All national origin stories tend to be vastly over-simplified myths in any case. Both Russians and Americans suffer from propaganda gone viral — from a 24/7 barrage of “fake news“ (Trump) and “alternate facts” (Kelly Anne Conway) — and fear of facticity. The opposition to critical race theory and the censorship of “disturbing” books are arguments for ignorance and serfdom.


Vasily Vereshchagin, “The Apotheosis of War,” 1871. Courtesy of Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, dedicated “to all great conquerors, past, present, and to come.” Pyramids of skulls refer to Mongol “shock-and-awe” practices of 1220. — Wikipedia

Ukraine, a vast, Texas-sized steppe bereft of natural barriers but rich in agricultural soil and industrial resources, has been fought over for centuries by various regional powers. Think of Anselm Kiefer’s painted panoramas of mud occasionally mixed with the blood of indigenes and invading armies. Ukraine entered history with the creation of Kievan Rus (more properly in Ukrainian, Kyivian Rus), a Slavic/Baltic/Finnic empire united by a Norse or Slav Prince Rurik (d. 879). His descendants, the Rurikids, ruled the geographically blessed “small city on a hill” sitting on the Dnieper River astride several trade routes, for approximately four centuries, from the late 9th to the mid-13th century. Russia takes its name from Rus, as does Belarus. Vladimir the Great (r. 980-1015) was the Constantine of the Rurik empire, converting it to Christianity — for aesthetic reasons:

 …when Vladimir had decided to accept a new faith instead of the traditional idol-worship (paganism) of the Slavs, he sent out some of his most valued advisors and warriors as emissaries to different parts of Europe. They visited the Christians of the Latin Rite, the Jews, and the Muslims before finally arriving in Constantinople. They rejected Islam because, among other things, it prohibited the consumption of alcohol, and Judaism because the god of the Jews had permitted his chosen people to be deprived of their country. They found the ceremonies in the Roman church to be dull. But at Constantinople, they were so astounded by the beauty of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia and the liturgical service held there that they made up their minds there and then about the faith they would like to follow. Upon their arrival home, they convinced Vladimir that the faith of the Byzantine Rite was the best choice of all. (Wikipedia)

Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy are Vladimir the Great’s current namesakes. Dynastic quarrels (including the 1015 familicide of Syvatopolk the Accursed), the increasing power of clans, and constant warfare weakened the principate, which fragmented into twelve principalities that succumbed to the Mongol (or Tartar) invasions of 1223 and 1237-42, becoming tribute-paying vassals of the Golden Horde. Kyiv was sacked by the Mongols in 1240, ”reduced almost to nothing,” in the words of one witness. It was Mongol rule, however, that created Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moscow, which threw off the “Mongol yoke” centuries later, in 1480:

Moscow's eventual dominance of northern and eastern Rus' was in large part attributable to the Mongols. After the prince of Tver joined a rebellion against the Mongols in 1327, his rival prince Ivan I of Moscow joined the Mongols in crushing Tver and devastating its lands. By doing so he eliminated his rival, allowed the Russian Orthodox Church to move its headquarters to Moscow, and was granted the title of Grand Prince by the Mongols. As such, the Muscovite prince became the chief intermediary between the Mongol overlords and the Rus' lands, which paid further dividends for Moscow's rulers. (Wikipedia)

After that colorful prelude we fast-forward through centuries of domination by Polish, Lithuanian, Austrian and Russian overlords. Ukrainians who resisted serfdom imposed by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and later the Russian tsar rose in periodic revolts that were eventually suppressed in the late 18th century. 

With the rise of nationalism in the early 19th century, Polish, Russian and Ukrainian intellectuals extolled Ukrainian culture, publishing dictionaries and histories, writing new works in Ukrainian, and advocating the teaching of Ukrainian despite official efforts to suppress ukrainopihila. These had begun earlier, with Catherine the Great (ironically, a Rurikid) in about 1768, when she gained control of Ukraine from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. By that time her youthful fascination with the Enlightenment had yielded to realpolitik. This trend continued under the tsars until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Under the new tsars of Communism,  in the 1930s, Ukraine suffered purges of dissenting intellectuals and the tragic Great Famine, caused by Stalin’s ruthless expropriations of grain, a drought, and a labor force decimated by the Great War and the Russian civil wars. Whether the famine was planned genocide is a matter of contention; its effect, however, was as genocidal as the relocations of Native Americans in this country.


Viktor Vasnetsov, “The Invitation of the Varangians.” Rurik and his

brothers Sineus and Trevor arrive at the lands of the Novgorod Slavs.

Vladimir I of Kiev (c. 958-1015)

The massive protests in Russia against Mr. Putin’s “war of choice,” in President Biden’s words, serious matters to a dictatorship, give us a flicker of hope that Putin’s time may be ending. If Ukraine can stay in the fight, and create another military morass similar to Afghanistan, and the eight (or is it now seven?) oligarchs turn on the Vozhd so as to render him and his imperial fantasies void, then Russia may escape becoming an irrelevant declining power. The future is calling. For the moment, remember that after 9/11, people all over the world claimed to be Americans. Right now, we are all Ukrainians. Glory to Ukraine!

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1803717 2022-03-07T00:51:09Z 2023-04-11T02:10:44Z Keira Kotler @ Bran Gross contemporary ; Carole Jeung @ Don Soker; and Bruce Katz, Claire Lau and Jenny Wantuch at Inclusions, SanFrancisco., 3.5.22 ]]> Dewitt Cheng tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1803663 2022-03-06T23:59:48Z 2023-04-11T03:07:26Z Wanxin Zhang's "Witness" at Catharine Clark Gallery, San Francisco,3/5/22 The Chinese-American Bay Area sculptor infuses his AbEx-influenced ceramic sculptures with contemporary political satire.
Also shown: videos by TT Takemotot and paintings by Chester Arnold, currently the subject of a career retrospective at Fresno Art Museum.

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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1799937 2022-02-26T00:26:24Z 2023-04-11T03:07:32Z Ora Clay, "Living My Truth," a fabric art installation at the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, Stanford 2/23/2 Ora Clay, "Living My Truth," a fabric art installation at the Institute for Research in the Social Sciences, Stanford 2/23/2
Fabric art on racial politics and family ties, at Institute for Research in the Social Sciences (IriSS), 30 Alta Road, near Stanford Golf Course.
Open to public during normal business hours. Show runs probably through June 2022.
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Dewitt Cheng
tag:artopticon.us,2013:Post/1799842 2022-02-25T19:27:05Z 2023-04-11T03:08:04Z "When Light Becomes Form" at Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco State University, to March 31, 2022 "When Light Becomes Form" at Fine Arts Gallery,San Francisco State University, to March 31, 2022.
Alternate-process photography by  Lisa K.Blatt, Rachelle Bussières, Adam Chin, Binh Danh,  Chris Duncan, Amy Elkins, Kija Lucas, Felix Quintana, Ron Moultrie Sanders, Andrew Wilson et al.