Archive for the Contemporary Art Category

Venetian Red in Tuscany: Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri

Posted in Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Sculpture, Site Work, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 25, 2010 by Liz Hager

Editor’s Note: During the month of June, Venetian Red posts from Italy, as well as from San Francisco.

Daniel Spoerri, Grass Sofa, 1985-93

By LIZ HAGER

Daniel Spoerri’s delightful sculpture park lies just past Seggiano on the country road to Castel del Piano. Filled with contemporary art, Il Giardino provides a refreshing respite from the days upon end one spends in Tuscany viewing 13th century altarpieces. Respite, that is, if one has the good fortune to find Il Giardino. Even armed with a detailed map and explicit directions, this visitor nearly missed it. The spider web of poorly-marked roads that criss-crosses the area easily confounds even the most experienced of navigators. On the verge of making what I was sure was another in a sequence of wrong turns, I noticed, less than 100 meters up the road, two large but tasteful signs announcing the garden.  And, of course, the entrance was exactly where the directions said it would be. . .

Spoerri (born 1930) was born Daniel Isaac Feinstein in Romania and emigrated with his mother to Switzerland in 1942.  The artist is best-known for his “snare-pictures,” sets of objects (such as table settings) found in chance positions, which he affixes together on boards for posterity. In fact, Spoerri has produced a wide body of work, which generally has its artistic roots in Dadaism.

He opened the garden in 1997, but it is still off the beaten track for English-speaking visitors (though German and Italians seem to know it). Think of Il Giardino as a scaled-down version of Storm King—a network of paths, fields, and forested knolls punctuated by about 100 pieces of sculpture. Spoerri is of course well-represented by perhaps two dozen works, including the 1991 very clever Circle of Unicorns and Chamber No. 13, Hotel Carcasonne, Rue Mouffetard 24, Paris 1959-1965, a full-size fun-house-like reconstruction in bronze of the room in which he wrote An Anecdoted Topography of Chance. But he has also filled the park with many other artists, most of whom, though well-known in Europe, might be new to American visitors. (Nam June Paik, Jean Tinguely, and Meret Oppenheim are exceptions.) Swiss-born Eve Aeppl is well-represented by scores of her “extraterrestian” busts, but the park also includes “one-offs” from artists like Roberto Barni (figures on seesaw); Olivier Lucerne (whimsical gaggle of concrete geese); and Italian Giampaolo di Cocco (astartling and sobering Ars Moriendi, which consists of elephant carcasses).

My favorite piece at Il Giardino has to be Israeli artist Dani Karavan‘s site work Adam and Eve. The sliced and gilded trunk of an olive tree creates an abstract pas de deux that speaks to deep layers of symbolism, which are all the more enriched by the work’s siting in Tuscany. Perhaps it was just that they had colonized my subconscious, but I couldn’t help but think of Adam and Eve as a contemporary echo of all those 13th century altarpieces.

Wider Connections

Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri
Daniel Spoerri images
Daniel Spoerri: Coincidence As Master

What’s Trending: The SF Fine Art Fair

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Mixed Media, Painting, Photography, Printmaking, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 22, 2010 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Klari Reis, Hypochrondria
Installation: Epoxy resin in 150 petri dishes
(The Cynthia Corbett Gallery)

How visitors to Miami Basel do it?  Walking the comparatively-miniscule 80+ booth show at the SF Fine Art Fair yesterday afternoon left me psychologically knackered.  Of course, I only stopped at a small portion of what was on view. Drive by scanning is a necessity. Still, I’m not sure I could be an Art Fair warrior.

Klari Reis, Hypochrondria (detail)
Installation: Epoxy resin in 150 petri dishes
(The Cynthia Corbett Gallery)

Despite the fatigue factor, fairs offer the most effective platform from which to view the commerce of contemporary art. Given the necessities of the gallery business, fairs aren’t always the best place to see truly inspiring new work (isn’t the much touted “up and coming star” an oxymoron?), but they do offer an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on “trending” in both the art- making and art-buying communities. Evesdropping among the Influencers and Buyers is inevitable, but it can be both an enlightening and depressing experience.

Jae-Hyo Lee,  0121-1110=106062, 2010
Stainless steel bolts, nails, burnt wood,  and sealer

Jae-Hyo Lee,  0121-1110=106062 (detail), 2010
Stainless steel bolts, nails, burnt wood,  and sealer

In terms of art making, the SF Fair (through Sunday at Fort Mason) sports the spectrum of expected artists: the established (and dead), the well-vetted,  and a sprinkling of the nearly newly-minted MFAs.  Painting dominates; no new trend there.

Alyssa Monks, Vapor, 2008
Oil on linen
(Scott White Contemporary Art)

Alyssa Monks, Vapor (detail: just to make sure it was actually painted. . . ) 2008
Oil on linen
(Scott White Contemporary Art)

Figurative styles, in particular hyper-realism, are alive and well—Janet Fish, Alyssa Monks (gloriously rendered bathing water, a subgenre all her own), Jeanette Pasin Sloan, and Alan Magee (he’s cornered the stone market, but VR readers will appreciate his portrait of Hannah Höch) are all on the walls. Much abstraction too adorns the walls; lots of dots, it seemed, though for my taste Barbara Takenaga and Teo González do them best. Patterns abound: Mark Emerson’s Utfart (at JayJay’s booth) is the equivalent of Steve Martin’s “wild and crazy guy.” Stylistic granddaddy of the genre Robert Kushner, represented by a stunning and muscular gold and copper infused arabesque at DC Moore booth, makes everyone else’s attempt look whimpy. Figurative/abstract mixes à la Squeak Carnith and Inez Storer are very much in evidence. Does the scratchy gestural style still have runway? Text also puts in a strong showing, from the obvious attempts to engage the viewer—Carnith’s Is This Painting?—to the more subtle  like Dunce at Rebecca Hossack’s booth.

Teo González, Beach (study), 2010
Acrylic on clayboard
(Richard Levy Gallery)

Barbara Takenaga, Black/White/Blue, 2008
Acrylic on canvas
(DC Moore Gallery)

Anecdotally-speaking, acrylic seems to be gaining ground on oil. Perhaps understandably (it doesn’t have the sell-power of painting), drawing was not much around, Alice Attie‘s pen and ink text-pictures caught my attention for their use of text as a structural element and finely-detailed work.

Katherine Sherwood, Neuron Nurse, 2010
Mixed Media
(Gallery Paule Anglim)

On the photography front: Sebastiao Salgado’s magnificent black & white journalistic shots inspire awe no matter what their environment; Erika Blumenfeld‘s ethereal abstractions of the Polar environment are a welcome change on both a visual and intellectual level from the legions of more mundane landscapes; and Isidro Blasco‘s  3-D stage set-like landscapes are intimate visual delights. I can’t shake the feeling that Robert Silvers’s work (Marilyn and dollar bill ) feels like a photographic retread of Chuck Close territory, but I imagine his prints are wildly popular for the a-ha moment inherent in the gimmick..

Stuart Frost, Gaiola, 2009
Medium seagull feather quills
(Richard Levy Gallery)

However, a lot of unconventional fine art media were on display, though not all of the pieces were successful.  Jaehyo Lee’s burnt wood and nail “Starry Night”-ish abstraction was sublime majesty, but Gugger Petter’s  “Madonna” at Andrea Schwartz’s booth felt overly gimmicky.  (“Look Ma, I can weave newspaper into a real picture.”) In a refreshing moment, glass artist Jeff Wallin was actually in the Patrajdas booth talking about his portraits.  Canadian artist Cybelé Young’s quirky miniature sculptures (at Rebecca Hossack) offered a refreshing respite from the scores of more self-consciously wrought work (which is not to overlook the loads of care that went into fashioning them).

Cybelé Young (no identifying tag)
Rebecca Hossack Gallery

A special thanks to Catherine Clark for the only two (that I saw) video-related pieces—John Slepian’s stamen and a Lincoln Schatz “generative” video, both of which use the digital medium in richly-complex and visually-arresting ways.

John Slepian, stamen, 2009
Computer-based sculpture: computer, LCD monitor, speakers, glass bell jar, moss, stand
(The Catherine Clark Gallery)

And finally, but not least, San Francisco’s own Arion Press had a small sampling of its collection of artists’ books—I could have looked at more.

And on the art buying side, I think Fine Art Fair Director summed it up perfectly in his introduction to the Guide: “With a rebounding economy, there is no better time to invest in art.” Consultants and designers referred to large-scale paintings as “right for the so-and-so project” and legions of young blonds, as well as older couples, seemed intent on buying.

Art on the Horizon: 2010 Exhibitions Calendar

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Female Artists, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2010 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Welcome to a new year of art.  Here we give you a small sampling of the exhibits to open in major museums (US) in 2010. If you needed an excuse to travel this year, here it is. Mark your calendars and feast your eyes!

NB: It’s not an exhaustive survey (and purposely does not include shows already opened), so let us know what we’ve missed through comments section.

Larry Sultan, Denise Hale, 2007/9, c-print.

January

“An Autobiography of the San Francisco Bay Area, Part 2: The Future Lasts Forever”—SF Cameraworks, Jan. 7–April 17.

“Long Play: Bruce Connor” SF MoMA, Jan. 16–May 23.

“The View from Here”—SF MOMA, Jan. 16–June 27.

“The Drawings of Bronzino,” The Metropolitan (New York), Jan. 20—April 18.

Miroslav Tichý—Untitled photograph.

“Miroslav Tichý” and “Atget: Archivist of Paris”—International Center of Photography (New York), Jan. 29–May 9.

February

“Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage”—The Metropolitan (New York),  Feb. 2—May 9.

Malian textile.

Rhythm and Hues: Cloth and Culture of Mali” —Museum of Craft and Folk Art (SF),  Feb. 5–May 2.

“By a Thread”—San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (San Jose, CA), Feb. 6–May 15.

“Wayne Thiebaud: 70 Years of Painting”—San Jose Museum of Art (CA), Feb. 16–July 3.

William Kentridge, Drawing for Stereoscope 1998–99.

“William Kentridge: Five Themes”—MoMA (New York), Feb. 24–May 17.

“Poetic License: The Fiber Art of Joan Schulze”—San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, Feb. 16–May 9.

“Abstract Resistance”—Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Feb. 27–May 23.

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas.

“American Stories: Paintings of Everyday Life, 1765–1915”—LACMA (Los Angeles), Feb. 28–May 23.

“The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600-1700”—National Gallery (Washington, DC), Feb. 28–May 31.

Josef Albers, Homage to a Square: Glow, 1966, oil on canvas.

“Joseph Albers: Innovation & Inspiration”—Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden—Feb.11–April 11.

March

“Stripes”—Seattle Art Museum, March 6–May 8.

“What’s It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospective” —Berkeley Art Museum (Univ of California campus), March 17–July 18.

Hendrick Avercamp—A Winter Scene, ca. 1615-1619, oil on panel

“Hendrick Avercamp: The Little Ice Age”—National Gallery (Washington, DC), March 21–July 5.

“Epic India: Scenes from the Ramayana,” The Metropolitan (New York), March 31—Sept. 19.

“Building the Medieval World: Architecture in Illuminated Manuscripts”—The Getty Center (Los Angeles), March 2–May 16.

April

James Ensor, The Assassin, 1888, etching with gouache.

“James Ensor and George Baselitz: Graphic Works”—Seattle Art Museum, April 10–Oct. 24.

“Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century”—MoMA (New York), April 11–June 28.

“Ted Muehling Selects: Lobmeyr Glass from the Permanent Collection”—The Cooper Hewitt (New York), April 23–Fall.

Ellsworth Kelly—Cyclamen, 1964/65, pencil on paper.

“Plants, Flowers and Fruit: Ellsworth Kelly Lithographs”—Norton Simon Museum (Los Angeles), April 23–August 23.

May

Lucienne Day, Helix (textile design), 1970.

“Art by the Yard: Women Design Mid-Century Britain”—The Textile Museum (Washington, DC), May 15–Sept. 12.

“Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia”—Freer Gallery (Washington, DC), May 15–Jan. 23, 2011.

“Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers”—Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden (Washington, DC), May 20–Sept. 12. In conjunction with the Walker Art Center, see November.

Renior, Whistler, Monet.

“Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay”—de Young Museum (SF), May 22–Sept. 6.

June

“Hiroshige: Visions of Japan”—Norton Simon Museum (Los Angeles), June 4–Jan. 17, 2011.

“Arshile Gorky Retrospective”—Musuem of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), June 6–Sept. 20.

“Engaged Observers: Documentary Photography since the Sixties”—The Getty Center (Los Angeles), June 29–Nov.14.

July

Henri Matisse—Bathers by a River (three versions), 1910-1916.

“Matisse: Radical Reinvention”—MoMA (New York), July 18–Oct. 11

“Edvard Munch: Master Prints”—National Gallery (Washington, DC), July 31–October 31, 2010

August

“Robert Irwin: Slant/Light/Volume”—The Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), August 6–Nov. 21.

“Leo Villareal”—San Jose Museum of Art (CA), August 21–Jan. 9, 2011.

September

“Latin American: Light & Space”—Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles), Sept. 12–Jan. 1, 2011.

“Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay”—de Young Museum (SF), Sept. 25, –Jan. 18, 2011.

October

Goya, The Anglers, 1799, brush and brown wash on paper.

“The Spanish Manner: Drawings from Ribera to Goya”—The Frick (New York), Oct 5–Jan. 9, 2011

“Colors of the Oasis: Central Asian Ikat”—The Textile Museum (Washington, DC), October 16–March 13, 2011.

“Guillermo Kuitca: Everything—Paintings and Works on Paper, 1980–2008”—Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Oct. 21–Jan.16, 2011.

November

Yves Klein, Untitled Anthropometry (ANT 100), 1960.

“Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers” The Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Oct. 23–Feb. 13, 2011. In conjunction with the Hirshhorn, see May.


Venetian Red Salutes the Decade

Posted in Christine Cariati, Contemporary Art, Drawing, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Film & Video, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography, Public Art, Quilts, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 31, 2009 by Liz Hager

We thought a Venetian Red salute to a decade of art would be a fitting subject for a final post in 2009.  Admittedly, we weren’t interested in throwing up an amalgamation of critically-lauded highlights of the decade. Rather, we wanted to share with you our own very personal short list—a selection of artists, whose work when we were able to see it during the past decade inspired us emotionally and artistically. We hope that our list will motivate you to collect and share your own list of “art in the aughts.”

William de Morgan, Vase, 1888-98,
earthenware painted with luster glaze. (V&A Museum.)

2000
This little vase opened up two big worlds to me—William Morris and the Ottoman Empire.  In the winter of the Millennium, I didn’t know much about Morris, his workshops, or devotees. My education began unexpectedly on a visit to the V&A one morning. As the textile galleries were closed, I ambled through the V&A’s cavernous rooms, eventually ending up in the ceramics galleries. After hurrying by the cases filled with fussy 18th-century pieces, I came to this gem, a small vase by William de Morgan. Such a gorgeous design and luxurious glow! I later learned a great deal about de Morgan, including his passion for things Middle and Far Eastern. Lusterware was one of his  enduring interests.

As the Ottomans before him, De Morgan made luster glazes by mixing metallic oxides with white clay and gum arabic. He would have packed the painted pieces closely in a kiln and fired at a low heat. At the critical moment, he would have added dry material, such as sawdust, and after a brief, but intense firing period, the kiln would have been shut down, closing off the source of oxygen. The resulting smoke-filled environment produced the irresistible iridescence. —Liz Hager

Henri Michaud, Untitled, 1968.
Collection of Catherine Putman, Paris.

2000
My pick for 2000 is Untitled Passages, a show of work on paper by Henri Michaud at the Drawing Center in New York. Henri Michaud (1899-1984) was born in Belgium and was mostly known as a poet. In his youth he was attracted to the Surrealists, and he admired the work of Paul Klee, Max Ernst and Giorgio de Chirico—but his independent nature kept him apart from all movements and isms.  Michaud felt there were things beyond words that he could not capture in his poetry, and his drawings were experiments with creating work that hovered between writing and drawing.  He drew, scratched and threw ink on to paper to make illegible marks, letters that were part of no alphabet, simple calligraphic marks that had no conscious meaning—Michaud was drawing from l’espace du dedans (the space within). In the 50s and 60s, Michaud also experimented with the drug mescaline and his “mescaline drawings,” done under its influence, using ink, acrylic, watercolor and gouache and collage, represented this state of intense, heightened awareness, the fluidity of time and space, the bridge between control and abandon. Michaud’s drawings and paintings are about the journey, the passage of time and life. From his unconscious, under the influence of drugs or not, his work  reveals itself as part lexicon, part landscape, with evocations of cellular structures, maps, water, membranes, clouds, planets, beasts and insects—a hidden, interior universe made visible. —Christine Cariati

Albrecht Dürer, Self Portrait, 1500,
oil on limewood, 26.38 x 19.25 in.
(Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Seated Woman, 1907
oil on canvas.
(Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich)

2001
The two paintings above hang in buildings across a plaza from one another in Munich. Although it didn’t strike me at the time, juxtaposing them in this setting amply demonstrates the evolutionary paths that painting traveled during the four centuries that separate the two portraits.

When I was learning to paint as a teenager, the Dürer self-portrait was one of my favorites. That gaze casts a powerful spell. The incredible precision with which Dürer elaborates every strand of fur, every lock of hair, garnered my respect (still does). When I was finally able to see the portrait in the flesh, although I hadn’t thought about it for years, it still packed a mighty punch.  And yet, for all the pyrotechnics of the Dürer, my older self favors the Kirchner for its electrifying color palette. —Liz Hager

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Pauline Astor, 1898/9
oil on canvas, 96 x 50 in.
( The Huntington Library.)

2002
Sargent has always been one of my favorite painters for the sheer virtuosity with which he applies paint, particularly in the depiction of fabrics. The strong connections between Gainsborough and Sargent had somehow eluded me until a 2002 trip to the Huntington.  Gainsborough’s Blue Boy also hangs there and the luxury of viewing the two in such proximity demonstrated how much Sargent ‘s portrait owes in form and style to Gainsborough’s. And how much they both owe stylistically to Van Dyck.

The connections among the three are freaky. To wit: Pauline Astor was 18 years of age, the same age as Jonathan Buttall when Gainsborough painted The Blue Boy. Sargent was 43 years old at the time he painted Pauline, the same age as Gainsborough when he painted The Blue Boy. It was 129 years after the death of Van Dyck that Gainsborough painted The Blue Boy; and it was 129 years after the creation of The Blue Boy that Sargent began painting Pauline.  —Liz Hager


Mark Lombardi, World Finance Corporation and Associates, 7th version,
1999, 69 x 84 in.

2003
An exhibition of Mark Lombardi’s drawings, Global Networks, was at The Drawing Center in New York in late 2003. In his drawings, Lombardi kept track of political and financial misdeeds on a global scale, linking people and events related to various scandals from the 1960s-1990s. Politics aside, Lombardi’s drawings are things of beauty in themselves. His work was art, not political reporting. Lombardi’s drawings, often very large and delicately drawn in pencil, call to mind the charts of the ancients that delineated arcane knowledge. These works portray webs, networks, labyrinths. The lines arc and loop and intersect, creating order out of chaos. His work seems to be about elusive connections, the flattening of time and space and the fleeting nature of truth. Lombardi’s reputation as an important artist was beginning to take hold when he committed suicide in 2000, at the age of forty-eight. —Christine Cariati

Diane Arbus, Boy with a Toy Hand Grenade, 1962.

2004
Because it included all her published works, many photographs never before exhibited, diaries and other paraphernalia, SF MoMA’s 2004 show “Diane Arbus” was the most complete survey of her work—no, her life—ever assembled. Arbus’ work kindled my early photographic fires; in fact, she was the first artist to inhabit my consciousness. (A copy of the catalog of her small posthumous 1970 show at MoMA is still a prized possession.) The SF MoMA did not disappoint. Arbus’ iconic pictures looked every bit as unconventional as they did in the 1960s. But the truly exciting elements for me in this show were her diaries and the pictures of her studio; they added a dimension of insight I couldn’t have possessed earlier.

Larry Sultan, Boxer Dogs Mission Hills, from the “Valley” series, 1998-2002.

Additionally that year, MoMA mounted an exhibit of Larry Sultan’s Valley series—shots taken inside SoCal tract-homes turned pornographic studios. Though Sultan sought a different message through his work, these photos of a hidden world owe a lot to the territory uncovered by Arbus.  Sultan died earlier this month. He was only 63. —Liz Hager

Maggie Orth, Leaping Lines, 2005
woven circuitry in Jacquard weave, 16 x 72 in.

2005
As a design museum there is none better than the Cooper Hewitt. The “Extreme Textiles” exhibit in 2005 presented a large and fascinating array of cutting-edge textiles. Loosely grouped into categories—stronger, faster, lighter, smarter and safer—the exhibit demonstrated resolutely that fabric isn’t just for making clothing. Maggie Orth’s electronic fabric, designed with an ever-changing surface pattern controlled by software, struck me as one of the most interesting combinations of art and technology I’d ever seen.—Liz Hager


Hans Memling, Portrait of a Young Woman (‘Sibyl’), 1480
Panel, 46.5 x 35.2 cm.
(Stedelijke Musea, Memlingmuseum – Sint Janhospitaal, Bruges.)

2005
Memling’s Portraits, an exhibition of 20 of the 30 existing portraits by Netherlandish painter Hans Memling (c.1435-1494), was at The Frick Collection in the late fall of 2005. Memling was an apprentice to Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels, where he learned the still-new technique of oil painting from van der Weyden, the first Netherlandish painter to master the medium. Memling is more famous for his religious paintings than his secular work—his superb Nativity and Virgin and Child paintings are masterpieces of tenderness and true religious feeling. In 1465 Memling moved to Brussels, where he did very well painting portraits of wealthy Flemish and Italian emigré families. As in all his work, the exquisite detail and use of glazing showcase Memling’s mastery of technique. In the middle ages, when life was fleeting, and death often came early, portraiture was a means of providing a record, proof of existence. By the 15th century things had changed a bit and portraiture also became a way of  documenting one’s wealth and status. Memling’s portraits are criticized for being cool, because the subjects rarely look at the viewer, and are lost in introspection. While it is true that the portraits are not easy-to-read psychological studies, I felt strongly that Memling’s attention to detail, his faithful recording of what he saw in these faces, made them quite revealing. The subjects are undeniably serene and enigmatic, but I felt that I came to know something very significant about these people. In many of the portraits, Memling placed his sitters by a window, through which we see landscapes and glimpses of buildings and activity that add another very interesting dimension to his work, an innovative device that later Italian painters admired and emulated. —Christine Cariati

Loretta Pettway, Quilt, ca. 1960,
corduroy tied with yarn, 84 x 84 in.

2006
I can vividly recall the moment when I turned the corner into the first exhibit room at the de Young’s exhibit of “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. A group of stunningly-bold pieces nearly took my breath away.  I was dumbstruck: how could so traditional a folk form created by a group so isolated from the modern world appear so strikingly modern? In their abstracted and geometric patterns, the quilts displayed an uncanny kinship to the paintings of Frank Stella or maybe even Barnett Newman from the 60s and 70s.

I felt deep emotion basted into the panels of these quilts. As I moved through the exhibition, the pieces offered me something the work of the Minimalists never has—quiet but intense joy. The reverence and love was palpable. They emanated a kind of spirituality. —Liz Hager

Fra Angelico, The Coronation of the Virgin,
tempera on panel, 10 5/8 x 14 5/8 in.
(Cleveland Museum of Art.)

2006
The work of the Italian Renaissance master, Fra Angelico (c.1395-1455) was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from October 2005 through January 2006. This exhibition of 75 paintings, drawings and illuminated manuscripts was the first comprehensive show of Fra Angelico’s work since 1955.  Much of his later work, the altarpieces and frescoes, are not movable, so the work in this show was on a small scale—such as portraits of the Virgin and Child and intimate narrative scenes. Many of these were fragments from larger works, which gave the viewer an opportunity to study them closely which would not have been possible in their original locations. Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar, was long mythologized, by Vasari and others, as merely saintly, humble and devout. Recent scholarship gives us a fuller picture of the man, and what is now known about this tremendously intelligent painter—who learned much from Masaccio’s masterpiece, the Brancacci Chapel frescoes—only enhances our appreciation of these luminous, color-saturated, intensely gilded, works of art. Fra Angelico is often considered a transitional painter, but he is more than that—his work anticipates the late Renaissance while in a sense perfecting the Gothic. He continues to use the sumptuous pinks, blues and reds of the earlier period, and perfected the Gothic love of gold leaf—using it masterfully not just for halos, but stamped and engraved as draperies and clothing. It was a transporting show, Fra Angelico’s masterful technique enhances the deeply felt spiritual quality of his work. —Christine Cariati

Francis Bacon’s studio.

2007
While in Dublin in 2007 I did make a pilgrimage to see the famous “lost” Caravaggio (spurred on by a reading of the The Lost Painting
which is a most readable book about a work of art). In the process, I stumbled upon an exquisite Vermeer.

But it was at the Hugh Lane Gallery where the faithful and permanent re-creation of Francis Bacon’s studio (i.e. 7 Reece Mews in London)  cast its indelible spell on me.

What a mess! At first scan, I was tempted to conclude that Bacon was a deeply-troubled hoarder. How in the world could he have painted here? And there, amidst the horrifically gargantuan piles of debris—newspapers, photographs, magazines, paint cans, rags, old socks, trousers, a shirt or two—I saw an answer. A carefully-cleared path makes its way through the piles from the door to his easel. It seems as if Bacon knew after all exactly what was most important. . . focus. —Liz Hager

Mauerweg ©2008 Liz Hager

2008
Berlin is a city chock full of museums and galleries, so there was a lot of art to see there in the Fall of 2008.  Curiously, however, it was the Berlin Wall that made the deepest impression on me.

Even in its remnant state, the Wall inspires awe, not just for the wealth of its symbolic meaning, but for the sheer enormity of its once considerable physical presence. Since the Wall came down in 1989, points along its former path are marked by ceremonious memorials—public facilitators of a collective remembrance.

Other segments, however, have been marked by an unobtrusive path—two parallel lines of cobblestones—embedded by turns in asphalt or earth. It struck me that the path was a powerful work of art, although it wasn’t billed overtly as such. Though physically subtle, the message it conveyed was in some ways more compelling than the public memorials. The path too reminds us of the demarcation of a country and the collective pain of a people separated from itself. Given its horizontal nature, however, the path invites one on a personal journey.  I walked the line, traced the past, and in doing so, I couldn’t help but meditate on what that past meant to me.

Finally, like all great works of art, the path embodies a potent axiom of the cosmos.  These cobblestones, already wearing a mantle of moss, gently reminded me that all things irrevocably return to dust. —Liz Hager

Giorgio Morandi, Natura Morta (Still Life), 1954,
oil on canvas, 40 x 46 cm.
(Private collection.)

2008
My top pick for 2008 was Giorgio Morandi, 1890-1964, a retrospective of his work  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the fall of 2008. I went back to see this show over and over. These small paintings, so similar in subject matter and painted in an extremely limited palette, open up as you look at them—the seemingly simple color scheme expands and deepens, and they become monumental in scale. They are very personal paintings, full of mystery—meditations on loneliness, stillness, perseverance. The cumulative effect of seeing so many paintings of Morandi’s at once was astounding. I started to see them as sections of one continuous painting and I’d find myself watching the progress of certain favorite vessels as they changed bearing and grew in presence, dignity and meaning from painting to painting. In fact, for days afterward, every time I looked from my window out at the New York skyline, the rooftops and water towers, in the winter light with a dusting of snow, took on a Morandi-like existence. The quiet, the self-sufficiency, the balance, the stillness of these works put me in a meditative state that lasted for days. —Christine Cariati

2009
William Kentridge is quite possibly the most gifted artist and original thinker working today. From the mail we received in response to our Kentridge post this spring, it’s safe to say that we were not alone in being blown away by the “Five Themes” exhibit at SF MoMA.  In a way, this exhibit does define the decade, for much of the artist’s prodigious output on view was completed in this decade.

A magnificent draftsman, Kentridge might have been content with just producing his drawings. But thankfully, theater is in his DNA, and his drawings are but vehicles for his inventive and intriguing animated films—What Will Come, Artist in the Studio—as well as his tour-de-force staged pieces—The Magic Flute, The Black Box, and the upcoming Shostakovich opera of Gogol’s The Nose.Liz Hager

William Kentridge in his studio

2009
I have to second Liz’s appreciation of William Kentridge. From the first time I saw his work a decade ago, I have wanted to see more, and Five Themes provided that opportunity. In fact, I’d put Five Themes on my best of 2009 list five times, one for each time I went to see it. The work is so rich and deep, every time you view it, it gets more interesting. Kentridge’s work is inspiring and completely original—thoughtful, personal, political, humorous, satiric and filled with meaning—and with an almost unimaginable level of skill. His sense of stagecraft and the integration of music into his work is masterful. I love the way he crafts his animated pieces, fearless about erasing one image as it morphs in to the next—he’s not worried about holding on to anything, there is always more in the well. I also love the way he involves you in his process, you see and feel his creative process unfolding, literally in the case of Artist in the Studio. I can’t wait to see Five Themes again at MoMA this spring in New York—I am sure the work will reveal itself in new ways in a different location and installation. — Christine Cariati

Wider Connections
Francis Bacon’s Studio
Narrative & Ontology—More on The Boy with Toy Hand Grenade
Inner Sympathy of Meaning—The Quilts of Gee’s Bend
William Kentridge—William Kentridge: Five Themes (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) catalog
Antony Beever—The Fall of Berlin 1945

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Installation, Liz Hager, Painting, Sculpture with tags on December 7, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

MOAD, 685 Mission Street, SF—The Art of Richard Mayhew. Mayhew describes himself as an “improvisationalist,” a painter who employs paint as the medium of discovery.  Known predominantly for his landscapes (although he paints other subjects), his paintings are free-form, bordering on the abstract.  His muted color palette—delicate pastels, lush greens and deep purplish-blues—as well as his mastery of light, create moods that are real and imagined, both recognizable and ethereal. Says Mayhew “My art is based on a feeling—of music, mood, sensitivity and the audio responses of sound and space. I want the essence of the inner soul to be on the canvas.”  Through January 10, 2010.

Ratio 3, 1447 Stevenson Street, SF—Ara Peterson—Turns into Stone. In this exhibition Ara Peterson presents two distinct bodies of work—one, the series of backgammon boards, is a collaboration with his father; the other, a series of sculptures.  A 1997 graduate of RISD, Peterson has already logged in some impressive art world stats, including exhibitions at New York’s PS1; San Francisco’s Yerba Buena; Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory, as well as inclusion in collections of MOMA and the New Museum, among others. Through December 19, 2009.

Art in Storefronts—Bayview/Hunter’s Point. Kristine Mays (above), Elisheva Biernoff, Malik Seneferu, and others transform vacant store fronts in the Bayview/Hunter’s Point neighborhood into evocative creative expressions. It’s the final installment in the Mayor’s pilot program Art in Storefronts that includes locations in the Central Market and Tenderloin districts. In her installation Strong Women, Precious Pearls, Mays vividly conjures up the hard-working women of Bayview through intricately-sculptured garments of wire.

Dark Day Picks—New York Roundup

Posted in Contemporary Art, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , on November 23, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Today Dark Day Picks departs from its usual coverage of San Francisco to highlight noteworthy events in New York.

Onassis Cultural Center—The Origins of El Greco. Holland Cotter reviewed this show as: the “most enwrapping and enrapturing art in town, framed by alert scholarship, a lambent environment (the installation design is by Daniel Kershaw), and a score of Byzantine music, arranged and performed by the Greek ensemble En Chordais, that will soak into your system and stay there.” See also VR The Making of an Iconoclast.  Though February 27, 2010.

International Center for Photography—Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photography and Video. A global survey of some of the most exciting photographers interpreting the theme of fashion. Through January 17, 2010.

American Museum of Natural History—Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World. Making stops at Xi’an, Turfan, Samarkand and Baghdad, this multi-faceted show includes dioramas, interactive exhibits, artifacts, performances by Yo-Yo Ma and a variety of films bring the legacy of the ancient Silk Road alive. Through August 15, 2010.

Dark Day Picks

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Liz Hager, Mixed Media, Painting with tags , , on November 16, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. Dark Day Picks highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.


Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery—Frances McCormack, recent paintings. For McCormack loosely interpreted botanical forms and architectural elements are the vehicles through which she explores the restraints/opportunities presented by the rectangular picture plane. Through Dec. 12.

Caldwell Snyder Gallery—Cole Morgan. Morgan harnesses his signature style—graffiti-like paint notations and pencil scratching—into the grid format. Sometimes Morgan’s work gets a little too self-conscious, but joy and whimsy always shows through. Through Nov. 30.

111 Minna Gallery—The Novemberists, including collages by former SF Supervisor Matt Gonzalez. Through Nov. 30.

Venetian Red: Notes From the Field

Posted in Contemporary Art, Design, Liz Hager, Sculpture, Travel with tags , on November 10, 2009 by Liz Hager

Today Venetian Red launches a new feature, Notes From the Field. Periodically, we’ll highlight innovative, witty, and thought-provoking design elements recorded by our readers from around the world.

Paris- Notes from the Field
Furniture store display window, 11/9/09, Rue du Bac, Paris. (Photo courtesy of Tia Lombardi.)

The City of Light inaugurates Venetian Red’s new feature. Though occupying a back seat to New York, London and Berlin in the juggernaut that is contemporary art, this delightful display is an unexpected reminder that the legacy of Rodin lives on in powerful, if quiet, ways.

Venetian Red Notebook: Don Hong-Oai’s Arresting Photographs

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Liz Hager, Painting, Photography with tags , , , , , , on November 6, 2009 by Liz Hager

By LIZ HAGER

Don Hong-Oai, Only Me Yellow Mountain, 14×11,”
sepia-toned gelatin-silver print (courtesy Gallery 71).

Though the landscape genre has long been appreciated in Western art, “nature art”—the depiction of nature and her species—has struggled to be taken seriously as a fine art form.  Not to be confused with domesticated animal portraiture, essentially a form of still life (i.e. animals as possessions), “nature art” is most often categorized as “illustration.” Perhaps that’s because, in the West, the depiction of the natural world has historically served science.  Even Audubon thought of himself as a scientist first; drawing and painting were just the means of documenting his findings.

John James Audubon, Belted Kingfisher, Havell plate no. 77, ca. 1812; 1822 (courtesy New York Public Library).

Asian masters seem to have been free from such constraints, no doubt because of the long tradition of purposeful reverence for nature there. Taoists believe that harmony with the Tao can only be achieved by living in accord with nature. Nature should be understood, befriended, not conquered or exploited. Additionally, Sung Dynasty (960-1979) Confucianists sought knowledge through “things,” reflecting their interest in observation and understanding of the world through nature.

Fan K’uan (990-1030), Sitting in Contemplation by a Stream, ink on silk.

Long before the Impressionists then, Chinese tradition dictated that a painter actually observe nature for long periods—notice how animals behaved, interacted with flora; record how the landscape changes with the seasons, distances, and times of the day—so that it would deeply resonate with him. In China’s tradition ofbird and flower painting,” which dates from the Tang Dynasty (8th/9th centuries), the birds and flowers are but one among many elements in an overall composition. The image isn’t meant to convey specifics, but the emotional impact of nature. Eventually two main trends evolved, one, Gong Bi, in which artists focused on small details, careful application of color and meticulous technique, giving their art a realistic and ornamental feeling; the other,  Xie Yi, looser and more expressionistic.

Don Hong-Oai, Winter Fog, 14×11,”
sepia-toned gelatin-silver print (courtesy Photo Eye Gallery).

With the rise of photography as a fine art medium at the dawn of the 20th century, it was only natural that photographers would at first imitate the motifs and techniques of painting. Stieglitz and his contemporaries did much to champion American “pictorialism, ” recognizable through its soft-focus, painterly style. (See Venetian Red’s The Birth of Photographic Pictorialism).

In the 1940s, possibly in Hong Kong, photographers popularized a style of composite image, which came to be known as “Asian Pictorialism.”  The images, based on the motifs of the “bird and flower” paintings, made extensive use of double negatives and montaged elements, all assembled in a vaguely realistic way.  Like the paintings, realism was not the goal; these photographic images were supposed to communicate the emotive power of nature.

Don Hong-Oai, Hoops, 11×14,”
sepia-toned gelatin-silver print (courtesy Photo Eye Gallery).

Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004) was one of the last photographers to work in this tradition.  Although the influences are recognizable (down to the “chop,” or calligraphic signature on the photographs), Hong-Oai’s images are truly unique. The photographer managed to create idealized scenes through hauntingly-specific details. He’s suggested whole worlds through the sparsest of details. His images are often atmospheric, although never overtly sentimental. However, the penultimate magic of these images lies in their alluding to the passage of time without being rooted in any specific time. Time passes; time is arrested.

Don Hong-Oai, Returning at Dusk, 11×14,”
sepia-tone gelatin-silver print.

Born in Canton, China, Hong-Oai was the youngest in a family of 25 children. His early life was dominated by poverty. As a young child, after the sudden death of his parents, he was sent to live in Saigon. Beginning as a seven-year old, Hong-Oai apprenticed to a photography studio, where he learned the basic techniques of photography. He nurtured an interest in photographing the landscape, which he did on his time off with the studio camera. (Who knows how long it must have taken him to save the $48 necessary to buy his first camera?) Later, he studied at the Vietnam University College of Art, eventually becoming a teacher there.

He studied with an earlier master of the Asian pictorial style, Long Chin-San. Chin-San had been trained in the techniques of “bird and flower painting,” and searched for ways to translate the overall effect into photography. He is reputed to have perfected the negative layering method around 1939.

Long Chin-San, Longevity, 1961, photograph.

Hong-Oai remained in Vietnam through the war. In 1979, however, because of disturbances between China and Vietnam, the photographer fled the country by boat, arriving at the age of 50 in San Francisco speaking no English. For years, he lived in Chinatown, where he had a small darkroom. He sold his prints at local street fairs.  Periodically, he returned to China to replenish his inventory of images.

Don Hong-Oai, Solitary Wooden Boat, 11×14,”
sepia-tone gelatin-silver print.

Only in the last decade of his life was Don Hong-Oai discovered by a wider public. These days, print of his work often start at $2,600 and a first edition of his book, Photographic Memories, now out of print, was recently offered on Amazon for $1,242.

Photographer Don Hong-Oai

Wider Connections

Utata—Don Hong-Oai biography

The Nonist—The World According to Chin-san Long

Birds: The Art of Ornithology

Dark Day Picks: Photography

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Photography with tags on November 2, 2009 by Liz Hager

On Mondays Venetian Red celebrates the day of the week when most galleries and museums are traditionally closed. “Dark Day Picks” highlights current exhibitions, new installations, books, and art world tidbits. Get a jump on a week filled with art.

Carleton Watkins- Pompompasos, Three Bros, Yosemite, 1878-81

Fraenkel Gallery—Carlton Watkins: Discoveries. Twenty-four recently discovered photographs from one of the most important photographers of the 19th century. November 5–December 30

Holly Andres—The Heart Shaped Locket, 2008

Robert Koch Gallery—Holly Andres: Sparrow Lane.  In  this recent body of work, Andres, the queen of fictitious memories, maps out the transition from adolescence to womanhood. November 5–December 24.

Scott Nichols Gallery—Rolfe Horn: Shinjosui ~ Mind Like Water. Horn is is a master at creating drama in least expected places. By using complex and advanced printing processes, his luminous images glow with their own sources of light. This exhibition is the culmination of his fall 2008 trip to Japan and focuses on serene, calm, more meditative landscapes. November 5–January 2, 2010.

%d bloggers like this: