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Marsha Cottrell, A Black Powder Rains Down Gently On My Sleepless Night (detail), 2012; iron oxide on mulberry paper; Courtesy the artist; © Marsha Cottrell

If you are contemplating a trip to San Francisco in the next year, do it before June 2013. That’s when the entire SFMOMA will close down til early 2016 for construction of a significant expansion. As the second largest contemporary art museum in the United States, SFMOMA will be tripling its endowment and adding 78,000 square feet of additional indoor gallery and public space (SFMOMA currently has 59,500 square feet of galleries and a 15,000 square foot Rooftop Garden added in 2010.) Unlike MOMA’s alternative space at PS 1, SFMOMA hasn’t announced anything specific for that 3 year hiatus.

In addition to the Cindy Sherman show which ends on October 8, SFMOMA had a number of other memorable exhibits. My favorite was Field Conditions. Here is the description of the show:

Can there be architecture without buildings? What if a wall or a floor went on forever? What happens when people move through a room? From immersive installations to intricate drawings, the works in Field Conditions pose provocative questions about the construction, experience, and representation of space. This exhibition assembles an array of projects by both noted architects and contemporary artists — including Stan Allen, Tauba Auerbach, Sol LeWitt, Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Lebbeus Woods, and others — that redefine the relationships between invisible and visible, field and boundary, finite and infinite. Field Conditions invites us to imagine beyond the frame.

Marsha Cottrell‘s stellar drawings (pictured above) were included in the exhibit and unforgettably masterful.

In the permanent galleries I was pleased to see a number of Bruce Connor works on display. (I am a big fan and have written about him in several posts here including Authentic Tomfoolery) and Moving in the Landscape as One of its Details.) I was also delighted to see a rich and dense Petah Coyne sculpture, a wall of Joseph Cornell boxes and some timeless Ray Johnson collages from the 60’s and 70’s that look completely contemporary. (He is so underappreciated.)

In an effort to support the local art scene, one gallery is devoted to San Francisco’s Mission School, part of the “lowbrow” art movement that took its cues from street culture (and highlighted in the excellent documentary, Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Art Culture, directed by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard.) Several San Francisco Mission School artists have become well known such as Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen.

Marsha Cottrell, Hypothetical Place 2, 2002; inkjet print on paper; 35 x 47 in. (88.9 x 119.38 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund purchase; © Marsha Cottrell

Petah Coyne

Bruce Connor

Wall of Joseph Cornell boxes

Ray Johnson

And a bonus shot: Louis Vuitton’s windows facing Union Square sporting an homage to Yayoi Kusama‘s brilliant show at the Tate Modern in London and most recently at the Whitney Museum…

Kusama display at Louis Vuitton

Read the FAQ about SFMOMA’s expansion here.


Francesca Woodman, Polka Dots, Providence, Rhode Island, 1976; gelatin silver print; courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman

A few highlights from a day spent at the San Francisco Museum of Art, a visit that followed the feast that was Pacific Standard Time in Los Angeles over Thanksgiving…

Francesca Woodman‘s life was a short one. The daughter of two visual artists, her precocious gifts were apparent early on. She attended RISD, did a residency at the McDowell Colony in Peterborough New Hampshire. She committed suicide in 1981 at the age of 22.

Thirty years later, Woodman’s work is still timelessly haunting, deeply personal, darkly envisioned but not without moments of light and a redemptive glimmer. Most of the images are self portraits of some kind. Her body is her highly plastic terrain, creating landscapes of skin and flesh that are exploratory, not exploitative, direct and yet hidden.

The show is enormous and yet I felt drawn to spend time with every image. Her work has that kind of mystery and intrigue. I’m generally not a photohound but this was work so painterly and distinct it was hard to not give it your full attention.

Her parents, George and Betty Woodman, have been careful stewards of Woodman’s body of work all these years. They waited for just the right venue and opportunity for Francesca’s first retrospective.

Further reading: Ted Loos has written an excellent article in the New York Times that provides a good overview on Francesca and the show.

Francesca Woodman, Self-portrait talking to Vince, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–78; gelatin silver print; courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman

Francesca Woodman, Untitled, Providence, Rhode Island, ca. 1976; gelatin silver print; collection of Susan Turner and Scott Purdin; © George and Betty Woodman

A few other viewing highlights:

Richard Serra

The Richard Serra drawing show that was at the Met this summer is now at SFMOMA. They look different in every venue. Some of these are exquisite and are reminiscent of those gorgeous overworked drawings by Brice Marden in his MOMA retrospective from a few years ago. Others feel less enchanting but the statement being made is a big one. This is, after all, Richard Fucking Serra.

A quote from Dieter Rams.

SFMOMA does a lot of design shows, and the latest features the iconic head of design at Braun for many years, Dieter Rams. Rams is associated with a variety of iconic pieces and is known for his memorable edicts, most famously his advocacy for “less but better” design.

Richard Aldrich, Untitled, 2008; oil and wax on panel; 11 1/2 x 9 in.; private collection, New York; © Richard Aldrich.

Richard Aldrich, a young artist from Brooklyn, has a room of new paintings. The work is open, fresh, painterly and smart. He’s someone I will be keeping track of from here on.

The ever playful Eric Hundley

Close up view of the Hundley

Rosana Castrillo Diaz’s exquisite hallway mural

Diaz close up. This piece is dazzling in the sunshine.

Rosana Castrillo Diaz is a fabulous artist who moved to the Bay Area from Spain. She’s another I’ll be tracking. Her work is subtle, lush, minimalist and yet expressive.

Ray Saunders

Ray Saunders was a prominent influence on me during my formative years in the Bay Area. In the small circling way of art thermals, my son studied with him at CCA a few years ago.

Matthew Barney leaves his mark, Drawing Restraint, inside SFMOMA

Follow up on an earlier post: Chloe Veltman has written a very good piece in the Times highlighting the two shows I reviewed here (Reporting on the Other Coast) currently on view at MOCA Los Angeles and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I am always pleased to see increased commentary and coverage of the left coast art scene. It’s my home town bias speaking.

Good follow up:
Keeping up on the intelligent writing found on Chloe Veltman’s blog.
New York Times’ new Bay Area blog.

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.

Richard Tuttle, artist and wisdom worker

From time to time I have observed how protracted, focused work in the studio can leave me feeling a particular kind of tightness. It could be described as a slow motion contraction that has moved me away from that elemental sense of expansion and playfulness that should always be present.

This proclivity can be remedied by a number of techniques, and here’s one to add to my list: The San Francisco MOMA has assembled a cache of video interviews with or about Richard Tuttle, any of which take me right back to the reason I started making art in the first place. Whether he is talking about his small work or his use of language, Tuttle is the best human reminder of what is magical, enchanting and beguiling about making something out of nothing. In one of these short video clips he says, “Art is a kind of food, a food for the spirit”. Just hearing him say that, with no pretension, artifice or posturing, moved my set point higher, wider, lighter.

And referencing my post from two days ago, I think of Tuttle as an episodic narrativist–his is a wild adventuresomeness with an overarching connection to meaning. And yes, happy endings.

BTW, I’ve written about Tuttle a lot on this blog over the years since he is one of my all time favorite artists. For a listing of those postings, go here.

Photo: Richard Tuttle

Thanks to my friend David Novak for alerting me to this link.

An unforgettable exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: Photos of Silicon Valley by Milan-based architect and photographer Gabriele Basilico.

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I remember well when the Valley was mostly apricot orchards and vegetable farms. But Basilico’s images do not sentimentalize the past or assault the viewer with a harsh, urban, edgy vision. These photographs are quiet–almost apocalyptically silent–and most of them capture a people-free version of a region that has become notoriously overpopulated, overtraffiked and drenched in a smug layer of “we’re just a little smarter (and richer) than everyone else” self satisfaction.

That isn’t what captures Basilico’s eye however. Instead he discovers what urban theorist Manuel Castells calls the “space of flows.” As described by Jeff Byles in Modern Painters magazine:

That’s what you see beyond the galvanized steel guardrails. That is the informational city, a land of virtual networks ever more severed from their social context…Check out Basilico’s view of US Highway 101 gashing through the flat valley in ominous shades of black and white, a vast parking lot to the left, an empty field to the right. Transmission wires arc low across the sky and trail into the distance. This is the space of flows. On the horizon sit carceral towers, the seeming prison houses of software engineers and product managers. Latent in the image are layers of spatial data: vestigial scraps of nature; the low, defining hills; cars streaking along the highway, their own vectors in the landscape.

Byles goes on to draw specifically from the writings of Castells:

This is where the social meaning of place evaporates… “There is no tangible oppression,” Castells wrote of the informational city, “no identifiable enemy, no center of power that can be held responsible for specific social issues.” There are just flows. Input, output: service stations and taco stands.

Basilico’s photographs capture a centerless, ambient foreboding that something here isn’t right. How he does this is beguiling and mysterious. And he achieves it without resorting to manipulative gestures or a need to patronize the viewer. These images feel fresh. Raw, yes, but starkly fresh.

Perhaps it is his method of work: “To slow down vision,” Basilico wrote, “was for me a small revolution in the way of seeing.” In Byles’ view, the emptiest photographs are the most powerful. “Basilico is the de Chrico of sprawl.” Well put.

To view the Basilico images in the SFMOMA show, click here.


Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination by Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, was reviewed by Leah Hager Cohen in the New York Times on Sunday. (I have an excerpt from this excellent review on my filter blog, Slow Painting, if you didn’t catch it.) Hartigan’s book is the catalog for the show that just closed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and was previously at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem Massachusetts (and which I wrote about on this blog last summer.) This is the first volume about Cornell that captures some of the magic that happens in the presence of a real life, breathing Cornell. Hartigan keeps a respectful distance from Cornell’s quirky, complex internal life and avoids the proclivity to psychoanalyze, a tendency in hagiography I find particularly irritating.

Hartigan’s closing paragraph is a strong statement of Cornell’s unique approach to art:

During a lifetime that coincided with an emphasis on change for the sake of change, theory and art as ends unto themselves, and upheavals in technology, science, and international relations, Cornell deliberately chose to make art as a life-affirming act of communication and educational outreach. In describing his purpose as “making people ‘at home’ with things generally considered aesthetic,” he sought beauty, wonder, spirituality, and humanity as the outcomes of his invitation to journey with him into diverse arenas. First and foremost, Cornell–navigator of the imagination–was idealistic, radical and contemporary in embracing the prospect of endless transformation while honoring the thread of history and the revolutionary strength of objects.