March 30, 2004
Yesterday was jammed full of art, starting with my 8am wake up soy chai at the Corner Cup cafe, where Amanda rearranged the art again, just to make sure we all keep looking at it.
Then it was onward, to SFMOMA, where I hoped to get an early start and avoid the crowds that prevented me from seeing much last time I was there. I went straight up to the video installation by Swiss artist, Pipilotti Rist. Just outside the entrance to the darkened galleries, is “Hello, Good Day” – a mirror, the size, type and height you would see in the bathroom of a cramped city apartment. In the center of the mirror is a little video screen with an image of lips repeatedly coming forward to kiss the viewer (or other side of the glass.) The jolt of pseudo intimacy was the perfect preparation for the main event – “Stir Heart, Rinse Heart”. The first room is hung with clear plastic objects from every day life. A video collage is projected from the floor of one wall diagonally across room, through the hanging plastics, to opposite corner walls, floor, and ceiling. The hanging plastics cast shifting, semi-translucent shadows into the video images. The viewers also become part of the show because you have to walk through the projector’s beam to get to the next room. One little girl kneeled in the center of the beam, playing with her plastic horse and cast a crisp image on the wall. Adolescent boys kept sticking their hands in front of the projector, throwing giant fuzzy hand shapes into the mix. With all the shadow play, it was hard to tell what the video images were, but I thought I caught a glimpse of a cervix at one point. In the next room (big space, with seating) a cinema-sized wall screen showed two side-by-side but slightly overlapping movies. On the left was a psychedelic view of landscapes, both terrestrial and human. Rivers and mountains seen from a plane would become an endoscopic view of someone’s intestines. Red blood cells flowed through interior spaces and flew through the sky like birds. On the right, a woman sat a table and ate an orange. The setting reminded me of the “heaven” scene in “2001, Space Odyssey.” But this was much more carnal. Later the woman is striding down a city street when men see her, and her blood spot, and they fall to their knees to receive her blessing. The films are full of saturated color, primarily red, pink, orange, & yellow and they shift from scene to scene with fluid, lyrical motions. I stayed for two loops – I found it beautiful, sexy and funny. But the graphic orange-eating scene drove a lot of people out of the room.
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On my way out, I stopped to see that little flickering spot on the floor of the vestibule, that always had a bunch of people in a circle on their hands and knees. I soon joined them. It was “Selfless in the Bath of Lava”- a tiny ragged hole in the floor, which looks into a cavern of hell, with a nude woman looking up and crankily yelling at us about things she would have done differently if only she’d known. I’m now a fan of Pipilotti Rist. I’d put her right up there with Bill Viola.
Next, I went over to take another look at “The Art of Romare Bearden”. I’d seen it awhile ago, and enjoyed it for all the analytical, symbolic elements that always attract me. But this time, coming from the Pipilotti Rist show, I saw Bearden’s work with new eyes. I’m tempted to gush about the warmth and humanity in his work, but after reading Chicha’s complaint (Be careful what you wish for) along those lines, I’ll just say that he is very engaged in life. This is a huge show, with room after room of his work. He experimented with many mediums, but mostly worked on paper. The earliest paintings were watercolor and gouache on large sheets of brown paper. They’re very dark, and I wonder if the paper was lighter when he made them, but darkened over time? He tried many mediums over the years, using collage, printmaking, mixed media, and abrasion of the surface to get interesting mottled effects. My favorite piece is “Departure From Planet Earth.”
It’s one of the collage, abrasion, ink-wash pieces. It’s a moon-lit city scene of people engaged in sex, drugs, and other forms of escape. The clear, calm sky contrasts with chaos below. The colors are primal. I left there to cross the street, sit in the sunshine on the lawn at Yerba Buena, and watch the pigeons and seagulls try to snatch lunch scraps.
Re: Tyler Greens’s April 1st thoughts on reinstalling permanent collections – SFMOMA is changing out the permanent collection, “From Mattisse to ..” It was all blocked off yesterday, but I peeked thru the plywood barricades and it looked like a major rearrangment, with some stuff coming out of storage.
The Varnish gallery is only a couple of blocks from SFMOMA, so I stopped in to see the “Skin Deep” show. I hadn’t been here before – this is a great looking gallery, with a full bar. The show was OK. The best work was four acrylic paintings by Annette Hassell. They’re lushly painted still life images using animated toys. Great photos of the opening at Art Business .
Next show was a few more blocks east, to the Contemporary Jewish Museum to see “100 Artists See God”. This traveling show was put together by Independent Curators International. I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. The work was by 105 different artists, and it was mostly photography, video and installations, with a few drawings and paintings. And the paintings were things like a Gerhard Richter canvas that was solid grey. A nicely done drawing on paper, called “My Homunculus” came with an interesting accompanying statement. It was an invitational show, and much of the work was made specifically for this show. What I found depressing wasn’t so much the lack of painting (I’m getting used to that), it’s that when 105 artists were asked how they see god, they mostly came up with trite, sarcastic, sophomoric responses.
Believe it or not, when I left the Jewish Museum, I wasn’t done with this day, but the sun was getting alarmingly low in the sky. Mosaics were next on the agenda. I was heading over to the Museo Italo Americano at Ft. Mason, for the “Opus Veritas: Fragments of Truth” show. Since the Ferry Building was on the way, it seemed appropriate to stop by and take another look at the historic mosaics which have recently been restored. I heard that it took five workers a year to repair and replace thousands of square feet of tiles. The rehabilitation also included a polishing technique that uses ground walnut shells on the tiles in order to restore them to their original sheen. I can’t believe I didn’t take any pictures there… must be because I was getting weak from hunger and walking past all those stalls with organic olives and chocolate monkeys was making me dizzy. (I’ll be heading over there again on April 12th to hear Marty Eggers , Jim Cullum and friends play at Pier 23 (5-7pm), so I’ll snap some photos then.)
After walking over the hill from Fisherman’s Wharf to Ft. Mason, I managed to make it to the Italian Museum just before they closed (got in for free.) Terrific show, and a great way to end the day! It’s an international show of mosaics and they have a mixture of older work (by Bennie Bufano) and contemporary pieces. One of the most exciting works was a screen made from corrugated cardboard!
Different shades of brown and widths of corrugation defined the pieces that were precisely cut and pasted on bigger sheets of cardboard. My first reaction was, “this is a thing of beauty” and it was a second later that I noticed it was cardboard. It reminds me of hobo and prisoner art. I’d love to see more by this artist, Luci Lytle
Then there was the “Inspiration House”, by Laurel True , a mirror-lined booth, enclosing a velvet cushioned chair, covered with wild mosaic designs.
Best in show was “Identity” by Jennifer Tipton. A background of flat black slate-like ceramic, as a field for a brilliant purple-green fingerprint design done in dichroic glass. Interview with her here.
There were many, many more impressive pieces in this show… but the staff were rattling the doors. I managed to catch the 5pm bus back to the Sunset district, then ordered a pizza, opened a beer and watched the sky change colors.