Category Archives: de Young Museum

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.

 

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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.

 

 

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)