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.

 

 

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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)

 

 

 

Arachnophobes, beware!

SF MoMA also has some of Louise Bourgeois’ spiders showing….and don’t they make a show?

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois

My first encounter with a Louise Bourgeois spider was at the National Gallery of Canada.

Maman, Louise Bourgeois, 2003 National Gallery of Canada image

As you can see, (or may have experienced) Maman is an imposing sculpture.  I am not afraid of spiders, but the size of this artwork, in combination with the textures and finishes, add to the ominousness of the work.  I certainly wondered about Bourgeois’ relationship with her own mother, and hastily assumed that, perhaps, she had been a domineering and threatening figure in Bourgeois’ life.

SF MoMA offered a more nuanced interpretation of the work:

The artist saw spiders as both fierce and fragile, capable of being protectors as well as predators. For Bourgeois, the spider embodied an intricate and sometimes contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions.Partly a reference to her mother, partly to herself, spiders for her represented cleverness, industriousness, and protectiveness.

I think this is summed up in Spider, 2003.  This sculpture is encased in a cube, located in a room off of the main display area.

Spider, 2003, Louise Bourgeois

Spider, 2003, Louise Bourgeois

Spider is on a more manageable scale in terms of appearing less threatening, and yet still depicting strength.  The figure makes it somewhat human, and more accesible. The tapestry work contrasts with the steel of the legs, and softens the structure. (Her parents ran a tapestry restoration business in Paris in the first half of the 20th century.)  I found it beautiful, and unsettling…..a contradictory mix of psychological and biographical allusions.

Louise Bourgeois was a very prolific artist, who died at 98 years of age.  The cataloguing of her prints and books alone will total 5,000 entries. There is much moe to explore.

Walker Evans: Rich in spirit

In my last post, I briefly mentioned Walker Evans.  I would guess that most of you are familiar with his work, especially his iconic photos taken in rural America during the depression years of the 1930’s.

Lucille Burroughts, Daughter of a Cotton Sharecropper, Hale County, Alabama, 1936      Walker Evans

Floyd and Lucille Burroughs, Hale County, Alabama 1936      Walker Evans

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art has a major retrospective of his work until February 4, 2018.  I found the show enlightening, for the extensive collection of images,  documents and ephemera highlighted various interests in Walker’s life.  It was organized around themes such as City Series, Window Gazing, The Charm of Main Street, Ordinary Folk, Three Alabama Families.

The entrance to the show was marked by a giant reproduction of a self-portrait from 1927.  It makes me smile;  it’s a joyous selfie.

Self-portrait, 1927 Walker Evans

I was particularly entranced by his photographs of tools in the Utilitarian Elegance section.  (Yes, tools.)  The images were beautiful.  They seemed to be simple (an everyday tool) and yet, complex in the detailed description of the utensil.  They conveyed a respect for the object, (the design and the utility), as well as the manufacturer/creator.

Tin Snips by J Wiss and Sons, Co., $1.85 Walker Evans

Bricklayer’s Pointing Trowel, by Marshaltown Trowel Co., $1.35 1955 Walker Evans

At the end of the exhibition,  some of Walker Evans’ comments on art exhibitions, published in the Boston Globe in 1971, were highlighted.

A good art exhibition is a lesson in seeing to those who need or want one, and a session of visual pleasure and excitement to those who don’t need anything – I mean the rich in spirit.  Grunts, sighs, shouts, laughter, and imprecations ought to be heard in a museum room.
……….
I suggest that true religious feeling is sometimes to be had, even at church, and perhaps art can be seen and felt on a museum wall; with luck.

All the serious photojournalism we associate with Walker Evans is only a part of his creative life.  SF MoMA  in association with the Centre Pompidou,  have created a retrospective  which adds to our understanding of Walker Evans, particularly his passions, his muses and his personality.  It seems he was rich in spirit.

 

Stopped in my tracks….

So, there I was, enjoying the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, wandering from Walker Evans to Louise Bourgeoise  when I was stopped in my tracks by this work of art…..

Wedding Portrait, 2012, Njideka Akunyili Crosby

It was such a compelling piece that a complete stranger and I struck up a conversation.  We were both excited about the image, (acrylic paint, pastel,coloured pencil, marble dust, transfers and custom fabric on paper) and wanted to share our enthusiasm and admiration for Wedding Portrait.

If you’re interested, take a few moments to look at my photo of the artwork (which, of course, doesn’t do it justice.)  Notice the shapes, the layering, the negative spaces…..it’s a work beautifully composed.  It’s intriguing to have the face of the (presumed) groom absent, even though the other figures focus on him.

Click here for a link to Akunyili Crosby’s website.  There are many more images to savour there.

The Baltimore Museum of Art opened a solo show of her work today!   Front Room:  Njideka Akunyili Crosby / Counterparts closes March 18, 2018. That gives us plenty of time to plan a trip to Maryland.

 

Make way!

It’s the 75th anniversary of the wonderful children’s book, Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey.

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

In honour of the anniversary of this classic story set in Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is exhibiting Make Way for Ducklings:  The Art of Robert McCloskey. Robert McCloskey was awarded two Caldecott Medals (honouring distinguished American books for children) and three Caldecott Honours during his career as an artist, illustrator and writer.  Click here for a brief NPR feature about Robert McCloskey and the ducks.

If you do get to Boston (and who doesn’t want to go?) make sure to see the charming Make Way for Ducklings sculpture by Nancy Schon in the Boston Public Gardens.

Make Way for Ducklings (detail) Nancy Schon, photo by T. Vatrt

Click here for more information about Nancy Schon.  (You’ll want to see her sporting her Red Sox sweatshirt!)

Make Way for Ducklings by Nancy Schon