At the Strangers’ Gate

I just finished reading Adam Gopnik‘s latest book At the Strangers’ Gate:  Arrivals in New York.  For anyone interested in art, and particularly contemporary art, I encourage you to read it.

Let me just say, however, that there may be some bias at work here.  I’m a huge fan of Gopnik’s writing.  I find it easily accessible , despite his  knowledge and creative thought that far surpass my capabilities and capacities. He is a superb essay writer:  in Paris to the Moon, the book about his family’s years living in France, he ably discussed politics, philosophy and history, while grounding the narrative in the quotidienne-his daily life with his beloved, Martha and their children.

I may also be biased because he speaks fondly and respectfully of Canada.  American born, he was raised  in Montreal;  Martha is Canadian born.  In 2011, he delivered (and subsequently published) the fiftieth anniversary Massey Lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Company entitled Winter:  Five Windows on the Season.  (Is there anything more Canadian than discussing the weather?)

At the Strangers' Gate: Arrivals in New York, Adam Gopnik

At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York, Adam Gopnik

In the chapter SoHo, 1983  Gopnik begins by recounting the story of how he and Martha were able to secure an apartment in SoHo.  It remains the strangest and luckiest thing that has ever happened to us.  He reports that… The SoHo we moved to in 1983 was still a village, a village of art.  He makes the case that New York, and specifically SoHo, was the art capital of the world in the 1980’s.  He discusses how the art produced was a product of its environment, and, of course, the cultural and economic influences of the decade.  He provides an insider’s view of the era with engaging physical descriptions and anecdotes:  This is how a Saturday morning in SoHo would unfold in the middle years of the 1980s…… you would inevitably bump into friends, eyes set professionally aslant from the work of looking, and exchange a warm greeting and a few terse words about the things just seen.

It’s his reflections about the art and art making, the dealers and buyers, and, really, the meaning of art at a specific time, in a specific place, that are most insightful.  The social life of those Saturday mornings was at least as important as the chance for solitary looking.  All art serves a double function, and the double function of American visual art by the eighties was as both a mark of generational identity and a luxury good for the wealthy.

At the Strangers’ Gate serves a double function, too.  It’s an entertaining, amusing read (you won’t want to miss the candy factory story)  as well as an insightful analysis of art, artists and culture in North America.

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Emily Carr: DFP

After walking through the brightly lit rooms of  Entangled:  Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting  (previous post) at the Vancouver Art Gallery I wandered into a cozy, dimly lit space displaying Emily Carr paintings in the show   空/Emptiness: Emily Carr and Lui Shou Kwan.

The paintings are gorgeous:  the Vancouver Art Gallery has some of the best examples of Carr’s work I’ve seen.  They are damn fine paintings–bold, strong, studied.

Grey, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Grey, 1931-32 Emily Carr

untitled (Tree on a Rocky Profile) 1922-25 Emily Carr

untitled (Tree on a Rocky Profile) 1922-25 Emily Carr

A Young Tree, 1931 Emily Carr

A Young Tree, 1931 Emily Carr

This is work to be experienced in person. Many of us have seen her art reproduced on mugs, greeting cards and book bags and think we know it.   I have thought, “Oh, yeah.  Emily Carr.  Eccentric west coast woman painting trees.”  Then I encounter some of these paintings and think, “Wow. Gorgeous. Lush. Remarkable…….. I wish she hadn’t had such a struggle to make a living, and could have spent more time painting.”  (Sad and sobering facts:  Carr could not always make a living from her artwork, and spent much time and energy for many years managing tenants in a rental house and engaging in other schemes to earn money.  In 2015 one of her paintings sold at auction for $1.53 million. Click here for a National Post article about the sale.)

It seems I have a short memory, for I have expressed the very same views about her paintings in other posts I’ve written.  Click here and here to read other brief postings about her works.

untitled, 1931-32 Emily Carr

untitled, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-32 Emily Carr

Emily might be horrified to know her images are on greeting cards, magnets and bookmarks.  Or maybe she would have laughed at the irony of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

En-tangled

The Art Caravan briefly visited the Vancouver Art Gallery a couple of weeks ago, and was pleasantly surprised by the exhibition Entangled: Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting.

People are People, Sarah Cale, 2013

People are People, Sarah Cale, 2013

Twin of Concealment, 2016, Colleen Heslin

Twin of Concealment, 2016, Colleen Heslin

Polarisation NNB, 2013, Julie Trudel

Polarisation NNB, 2013, Julie Trudel

N=32%, 2006, Francine Savard

N=32%, 2006, Francine Savard

I walked into the various rooms of the show, experiencing the artworks without reading the curatorial statement, or the explanations….somewhat unusual for me. Instead I moved through the show twice, discussed some of the pieces with my companion, and took a few photos of the works I found particularly intriguing and satisfying.  Only while preparing this posting,  did I read the VAG’s brief description:

Entangled: Two Views on Contemporary Canadian Painting offers an insight into two distinctly different modes of painting that have come to dominate contemporary painting in this country. The origins of both can be effectively traced back to the 1970s, to a moment when the continued existence of painting was hotly debated. Within that debate two new strategies were devised, one that proposed the possibility of conceptual painting—a highly refined notion of painting that emerged from and returned to the idea—and a second, ambivalent proposition that valued actions and materials over ideas—in short, doing and making were pitted against ideas and concepts.

So:  the conceptual as opposed to the material.  When I look at the paintings I photographed, I realize I had unconsciously gravitated towards the second proposition:  the materials and the making were more interesting to me than the conceptual works.  I suspect it may have something to do with the tactile, textural works being more easily understood and appreciated.

For example, Colleen Heslin‘s work is composed of canvas, dyed by the artist, and pieced together–referencing collage, fiber arts, quilting, and even tie-dyeing from the 70’s.

Pause, 2016, Colleen Heslin

Pause, 2016, Colleen Heslin

Painting fragments, adhered acrylic and oil make up Sarah Cale‘s pieces.  They, too, have a collage feeling, reminiscent of the groundbreaking work of Picasso and Braque at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Strange to be Yourself, Sarah Cale, 2015

Strange to be Yourself, Sarah Cale, 2015

Strange to be Yourself; People are People, Sarah Cale

Strange to be Yourself; People are People, Sarah Cale

Perhaps Francine Savard‘s pieces combine both the conceptual and the material.  Les Couleurs de Cézanne dans les mots de Rilke reference the poet Rilke’s writings about the Impressionist painter, Cézanne, who was, in turn, extremely interested in the poet, Baudelaire. The ‘painting’ is composed of  vinyl and acrylic paint on canvas, mounted on fibreboard, and includes a framed book.

Les Couleurs de CEZANNE dans les mots de RILKE, Francine Savard

Les Couleurs de CEZANNE dans les mots de RILKE, Francine Savard

Les Couleurs de CEZANNE dans les mots de RILKE (detail), Francine Savard

Les Couleurs de CEZANNE dans les mots de RILKE (detail), Francine Savard

There are 31 Canadian painters in this show…..and I was only familiar with one of them.  It’s exciting to learn about contemporary Canadian painting. I encourage you to visit the VAG soon, if possible.  The show ends January 1, 2018.

 

 

Ruth Asawa…..finally!

I’ve been fortunate to encounter Ruth Asawa’s work several times over the last few years.  I enjoy it–a lot!–but have never written about her.  The visit to the de Young Museum in San Francisco provided the decisive impetus. I knew she was American, but I didn’t realize she was born in California.  She lived and worked in San Francisco for much of her life.

The de Young has a small, odd space devoted to her works.  (The Art Caravan feels her works deserve better than the concrete area surrounding the elevators and stairs, well off the beaten path, but it is an interesting experience to see several of them displayed together.)

Ruth Asawa (T. Vatrt image)

Ruth Asawa (T. Vatrt image)

Ruth Asawa (T. Vatrt image)

Ruth Asawa (T. Vatrt image)

Ruth Asawa is probably best known for her sculptural wire hangings, but her œuvre is extensive.  She died in 2013, and her family/estate maintain an informative website.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that she studied at Black Mountain College with Joseph and Anni Albers, Merce Cunningham and Buckminster Fuller.  I was sad to learn that she was interred during World War II and delighted to read she was good friends with Imogen Cunningham, who left gorgeous photographic images of Asawa.

Ruth Asawa Working on her Wire Sculpture (Imogen Cunningham image)

Ruth Asawa Working on her Wire Sculpture (Imogen Cunningham image)

Ruth Asawa (Imogen Cunningham image)

Ruth Asawa (Imogen Cunningham image)

Best of all, perhaps, was learning about her arts activism, particularly in the area of public arts education.   Not only did she co-found the Alvarado School Arts Workshop (an innovative ‘artists and gardeners in the public schools’ program) in 1968, but she also helped establish a public arts high school, now known as the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts.

Her philosophy and pedagogy may appear simple, but it is sound:

A child can learn something about color, about design, and about observing objects in nature. If you do that, you grow into a greater awareness of things around you. Art will make people better, more highly skilled in thinking and improving whatever business one goes into, or whatever occupation. It makes a person broader.

I think that I’m primarily interested in making it possible for people to become as independent and self-sufficient as possible. That has nothing really to do with art, except that through the arts you can learn many, many skills that you cannot learn through books and problem-solving in the abstract.

Ruth Asawa’s legacy is impressive.  Imagine how many people she has influenced, both through her arts education initiatives, and her large body of work.

 

As promised! Art at the de Young Museum

One of the first rooms I entered at the de Young contained only two pieces of art.  It wasn’t a small room, even by museum standards.  The two works were very different, and yet, the room felt complete.  I lingered for a long time, as did a young man with a toddler.   (It’s always a good sign when children are engaged in the art on display.  For an interesting testimonial about children and art viewing, see Rumaan Alam’s short New Yorker article here.  Thanks for drawing it to my attention, HM.)

At one end of the rectangular room was El Anatsui’s Hovor II.  I have written about El Anatsui in a previous posting, Gravity and Grace.  (He would definitely be on my list of “Favourite Contemporary Artists” ….. If I had such a list.)   He’s Nigerian, and creates contemporary art that references the history and struggles of many Africans.

Hovor II, 2004 Ewe people/El Anatsui (Terry Vatrt image)

Hovor II, 2004 Ewe people/El Anatsui (Terry Vatrt image)

The work is stunning in size, texture, material composition and meaning.  Take a closer look…..

Hovor II (detail), 2004 Ewe people/El Anatsui (Terry Vatrt image)

Hovor II (detail), 2004 Ewe people/El Anatsui (Terry Vatrt image)

Hovor II (detail), 2004 Ewe people/El Anatsui (Terry Vatrt image)

Hovor II (detail), 2004 Ewe people/El Anatsui (Terry Vatrt image)

Yes, the shimmering tapestry is created from recycled packaging-often the foils from liquor bottles. The de Young Museum writes that the work is a …..comment on a global economy fueled by massive commercial consumption.  However, these recycled materials also convey the ability of African traditions to adapt and evolve over time.

Facing El Anatsui’s tapestry, and filling the other end of the room, was Anti-Mass, by the British artist Cornelia Parker.

Anti-Mass, 2005 Cornelia Parker (Terry Vatrt image)

Anti-Mass, 2005 Cornelia Parker (Terry Vatrt image)

 Cornelia Parker’s work is also composed of recycled material;  Anti-Mass is constructed from the debris of an African American Baptist church in Alabama, which was  destroyed by arson.  It is one of two related installations she created.  The sister piece, Mass (Phoenix Art Museum) uses the charred remains of a Texas Baptist church (with a white congregation) that was destroyed by lightning.  I like this comment from the de Young Museum…..Her resurrected church is a monument to the positive powers of creativity and love to triumph over the negative forces of destruction and hatred.

I could have started and stopped my art viewing for the day in this one room.  Experiencing both of these works was very fulfilling:  visually gorgeous, conceptually rich and ideologically challenging.

 

 

Faces, Places

You may have already heard about or seen the documentary, Faces, Places (Visages, Villages) as it’s getting some positive press these days.  The Atlantic called it  a one-in-a-million crowd-pleaser that deserves to be seen by the widest audience possible.

Agnès Varda and JR (IMDb.com image)

Agnès Varda and JR (IMDb.com image)

It’s a quirky, charming film about two artists, Agnès Varda, and JR,  who work together to create some art.  Click here to watch the official trailer.

Faces, Places documents some lovely moments.  There are images in it that will stay with me for a long time.  In an unassuming, non-didactic manner, it shows the power of good art.  It is a film that affirms the importance of beauty in our lives……and that we are surrounded by that beauty in the landscape and in others.

Agnès Varda is an intriguing person.  Faces, Places only hints at her background; the documentary is the story of the colloboration between Varda and JR. She’s been making films since the 1950’s.  She was one of the lesser known, but, perhaps, most groundbreaking of the French New Wave  (Nouvelle Vague) filmmakers.  She met Jean-Luc Godard (the more famous of the New Wave directors)  at a film festival in 1958. He was working as a film critic, and she had two films in the festival.  It’s worth reading this short review of Faces, Places in the New Yorker for a bit of history, and Richard Brody’s opinion on the differences between Varda and Godard’s films.

I’m looking forward to watching more of her films.  There are 52 films listed on her Filmography….lots of choices for the winter evenings ahead.

Agnès Varda (variety.com image)

Agnès Varda (variety.com image)

 

 

 

8 reasons not to miss the de Young Museum when you’re in San Francisco

You can add the de Young Museum in San Francisco to the list of my favourite art museums.  (I know, the list is getting longer, and longer.)  Here are some of the reasons why you should visit it…

Location:  Golden Gate Park.  Home to other museums, speciality gardens, an historical carousel and much more, Golden Gate Park‘s western border is the Pacific Ocean.  Need I say more?  One could spend days enjoying the park.

Japanese Garden, Golden Gate Park image by Terry Vatrt

Japanese Garden, Golden Gate Park image by Terry Vatrt

image by Terry Vatrt

image by Terry Vatrt

Architecture  The museum is gorgeous, covered in varying textured metal sheathing. The current building, designed by Herzog & de Meuron (Switzerland) and Fong & Chan (San Francisco) Architects was opened on October 15, 2005.

de Young Museum (Terry Vatrt image)

de Young Museum (Terry Vatrt image)

exterior: de Young Museum image by Terry Vatrt

exterior: de Young Museum image by Terry Vatrt

exterior: de Young Museum image by Terry Vatrt

exterior: de Young Museum image by Terry Vatrt

exterior: de Young Museum image by Terry Vatrt

exterior: de Young Museum image by Terry Vatrt

Sculpture Garden  It’s always a bonus to have a sculpture garden as part of an art museum.  To discover a permanent Turell installation as part of the sculpture garden is, for me, a gift.

Tunnel to Three Gems, James Turrell( image by Terry Vatrt)

Tunnel to Three Gems, James Turrell (image by Terry Vatrt)

Three Gems, James Turrell (image by Terry Vatrt)

Three Gems, James Turrell (image by Terry Vatrt)

Three Gems, James Turrell image by Terry Vatrt

Three Gems, James Turrell (image by Terry Vatrt)

Three Gems, James Turrell ( image by Terry Vatrt))

Three Gems, James Turrell (image by Terry Vatrt)

View  The Hamon Tower Observation Deck offers a 360 degree view of San Francisco in all its splendour.

de Young Museum (SF Chronicle image)

de Young Museum (SF Chronicle image)

de Young Museum (LA Magazine image)

de Young Museum (LA Magazine image)

Gift Shop/Book Store  There are two floors of great shopping;  I ran out of time.

Cafeteria  Lots of food choices, but best of all:  indoor and outdoor seating looking onto the Sculpture Garden.

de Young Museum (Terry Vatrt image)

de Young Museum (Terry Vatrt image)

The Art!  The museum was founded in 1895, and has a vast collection.  I saw some great work, which will provide abundant material for future postings.

Ruth Asawa hanging (Terry Vatrt image)

Ruth Asawa hanging (Terry Vatrt image)