View of the Pacific Ocean from Marin County, with the Farallon Islands in the distance

How does it work, those mysterious tendrils that some part of us knows how to sprout, rooting us to the places that feel hospitable, that feel like our native habitat? I spent my childhood in California but expatriated to the east coast when I was just 21 years old. But the years away can’t wash out a primal sense of homecoming. There are those smells, earthy and fragrant, that I have only encountered on that western coast of this country. And then of course there is the issue of the light. I remember an article in the New Yorker many years ago that offered up the scientific explanation for what makes the sunlight so distinctive in California, none of which I can remember now. But it IS different, decidedly, and I loved the chance to bask in it for 10 days in the company of my daughter Kellin and so many good friends.

Some public art viewing highlights, of which there were many:

Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. What a collection ranging from Asian to European to contemporary. A special show, Divine Demons: Wrathful Dieties of Buddhist Art, was small but spectacular.

From the Norton Simon site:

As embodiments of the “demonic divine,” wrathful deities serve as protectors and guardians of the Buddhist faith. Mahakala is an especially fierce deity who militantly tramples a figure that represents obstacles. Resplendently adorned with a tiara of skulls, writhing snakes and a multitude of spiritual weapons, he is one of the most important protectors of the religion.

But then I do have a thing about Mahakala, with a massive image of him hanging in my living room.

My own personal wrathful protector, Mahakala

MOCA Los Angeles is currently featuring an exhibit, “Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years.”

From the MOCA’s site:

On the occasion of its 30th anniversary, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), debuts Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, the largest-ever installation of its renowned permanent collection featuring more than 500 artworks by over 200 artists. MOCA’s collection, which numbers nearly 6,000 works dating from 1939 to the present day, is internationally regarded as one of the most important collections of postwar art in the world. While works from the collection have been seen in more than 100 thematic exhibitions at MOCA since the museum’s founding in 1979, the new installation will make a significant portion of the collection accessible to the public on a long-term basis.

The show spills out of the Grand Street location into the massive Geffen exhibition space a few blocks away. This was a day-long feast of more Robert Irwins than I have ever seen in one place as well as some gorgeous works by Agnes Martin, Ed Moses, Mark Rothko, Franz Klein, Sol LeWitt. Arranged chronologically, the later years feature artists who are primarily working in and around Los Angeles. That bias is to be expected given how many west coast artists have been given little or no traction in places like New York.

Robert Irwin, Untitled (Dot Painting), 1965 (Photo: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles)
Note: This image is extremely subtle—you may need to look very closely to see the intricate pattern of dotting that sits on the surfave of the painting. One of the reasons Irwin hated photographic representations of his work!

SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) is also featuring works from its collection, “75 Years of Looking Forward” as well as a companion exhibit, “Focus on Artists.”

From the SFMOMA site:

From its early days, SFMOMA has been devoted to fostering close relationships with artists, and these ties often have led to significant holdings of their works. This exhibition looks at SFMOMA’s long-term relationships with 18 modern and contemporary arists whose iconic works have been influential in defining movements from Abstract Expressionism to Postminimalism and beyond, with individual galleries featuring works by a single artist. The first half of the exhibition includes eight American artists whose practice fundamentally impacted the development of abstract art in the United States: Richard Diebenkorn, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Frank Stella, and Clyfford Still. The second section showcases an international selection of artists — Diane Arbus, Matthew Barney, Robert Gober, Dan Graham, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Doris Salcedo, Kara Walker, Jeff Wall, and Andy Warhol — whose work has signaled a shift toward more psychological, social, and historical content in art.yuuuuuh

Another jaw dropping set of amazing art, particularly rich with works from some of my all time favorites. A gorgeous wall of drawings by Brice Marden. A room full of Diebenkorns that includes pieces from the Ocean Park series as well as earlier work. Exquisite Robert Rymans. Richter. Salcedo. And most powerfully for me, two of the most spectacularly visual and visceral Sigmar Polke pieces I’ve ever seen, both from the “The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible” series from 1980s.

The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible III, by Sigmar Polke (Photo courtesy of Sigmar Polke)

De Young Museum. Just being in this exquisite space (hats off to Herzog & de Meuron) is a joy. And this trip I was particularly moved by the Art of the Americas collection, one of the best assemblages of Pre-Columbian art I’ve ever seen.

Figure of a Crawling Baby, Olmec, 1200-900 BC (photo courtesy of The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

Much more to share, so check back later this week.