Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Category: art (Page 2 of 2)

SF Neighborhoods: another view

san francisco neighborhood map from ork posters

This cool San Francisco neighborhood map is currently sold out from ORK posters, but I assume it will be back in print at some point. It’s much more sophisticated from a graphic design point of view than this version.

The typeface appears to be FF DIN Condensed.

(Note that the map is copyrighted by ORK design and should be purchased from them.)

An alternative to the Fisher Museum?

An alternative proposal to the Fisher Art Museum in the Presidio has been put forward by a group of historians and conservationists. The group supports a smaller museum devoted to the local history. Will the proposal get a fair hearing? Doubtful. The Chronicle reports:

Opponents of Fisher’s museum plan complain that the competition sounds more wide open than it is. The formal request for proposals, for example, says that any new building “should take advantage of roof levels for display of public art,” something that works a lot better for an art museum than a history center.

The trust’s plan “was specifically designed to accommodate the contemporary art museum,” said Whitney Hall, one-time commandant of the Presidio and now a director of the historical association.

Trust officials deny that the art museum is a done deal. The directors will listen to the competing proposals at a Dec. 3 meeting and then make a decision based on what’s best for the Presidio, said Dana Polk, a spokeswoman for the Presidio Trust.

Joseph Cornell exhibition overview

The SFMOMA exhibition page.

Pan American Unity

pan american unity detail one

In 1940, Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera, who had been divorced for a year, met on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Rivera was in town to paint Pan American Unity, a large mural commissioned by the Golden Gate International Exposition.

pan american unity friday kahlo detail

In the mural, Rivera had depicted himself with his back to his ex-wife. In the image he was holding the hand of Hollywood starlet Paulette Goddard. The gesture, Rivera said, symbolized “closer Pan-Americanism.” When the mural was unveiled, Kahlo did not attend the ceremony. “I do not want to meet Paulette and other dames,” she said.

Then, to the surprise of many, Rivera and Kahlo showed up together on December 8 at City Hall. There they were quickly married for a second time. But within a couple of weeks Kahlo — who had married on the condition that there would be no sex between the two and that Rivera would support her financially — left for Mexico, never to return to the city.

At the advent of the war the mural was put in storage, where it remained for two decades. Today it hangs in the lobby of the theater at City College, testament to the midcentury affairs of artists and nations.

For more, see Intersections: True Tales of San Francisco

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Fisher Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio

don fisher, gap founderGap founder Donald Fisher’s announced intention to build a new museum in the Presidio has been widely reported. Namastenancy has posted a good summary. Apparently Mr. Fisher has a fine collection of modern and contemporary art, although it is difficult to tell at this time “whether the Fisher collection has institutional quality, like the Frick, the Barnes, the Hirshhorn, the Phillips, the Mellon (the National Gallery),” as Howard Junker asks, “or whether it will be merely a beau geste like the The Hess Collection (in Napa) or a dreadful provinciality like the di Rosa Preserve (also in Napa).”

But let’s say the collection is world class. There are still some things about this story that I find a little disturbing. First, Mr. Fisher negotiated with both SFMOMA ad the Fine Arts Museums to donate his collection to one of San Francisco’s existing museums that feature modern art. Negotiations in both instances proved fruitless. Maybe the problem was just finding an adequate space for the collection. But it doesn’t sound like that was the biggest stumbling block. Instead, it sounds like Mr. Fisher wanted to dictate curatorial content: what is displayed, when, and how. Money speaks in this town, but should it curate our art in this blatant a manner?

Second, the plans call for a 100,000 square foot museum, with more gallery space than SFMOMA. That sounds great, but the Presidio is a city treasure, and I fear this is another step in its destruction. Isn’t this too large a museum for the location that is proposed, especially considering the massive parking structure that will no doubt come with it?

But there is no effective review process for what is being done to the Presidio. (When the army pulled out, the Presidio was supposed to have become a national park. Instead, it is being given over to enterprises like George Lucas’s private business campus.) The only approval required is that of the seven-member Presidio Trust Board. Guess who was a founding member of the Presidio Trust Board?

Don Fisher (pdf link).


The image of Don Fisher is taken from an interesting article by Daniela Kirshenbaum that appeared on Fog City Journal.


A scholar’s rock by Zhan Wang

Yesterday’s mystery image was a detail from a stainless steel “scholar’s rock” by the contemporary Chinese artist Zhan Wang. The example shown is displayed on the patio near the cafe at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park; the green colors were reflections of the trees and plants outside the museum.

zhan wang

zhan wang

zhan wang

What is it?

mystery san francisco artwork

It’s a detail from an artwork prominently displayed in an often-visited place in San Francisco. Who can guess what the artwork is? Take a wild stab! Points for artist, style, well, anything really …

Answer tomorrow.

Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales

a woman protects the nation, by taiso yoshitoshi

The above image fascinates me. It’s from an exhibition of the prints of Taiso Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), currently showing at the Asian Art Museum in the city’s civic center.

Yoshitoshi witnessed a period of great transition in Japan, during which the country essentially went from feudalism to modernism. He works out of the ukiyo-e or “floating world” woodblock tradition, but instead of beautiful pictures of actors and courtesans he prefers themes from folklore and history — as well as thinly veiled comments on contemporary events, despite a prohibition against such subjects. He is often associated with the macabre and unsettling (curiously, like his European and American literary contemporaries Baudelaire and Poe), but this dismissive characterization does him a disservice. Besides his sophisticated design skills, he is a master of psychology, often capturing telling moments when stories devolve on some poignant revelation — the moment of seeing in a mirror that a beautiful women is actually a demon, for example.

This work is called “A Woman Saves the Nation.” The figure in the middle is the shogun Tsunayoshi . He has been duped by a conniving minister, Yanagisawa, and is essentially in the grip of a magic spell. On the left is his wife. With a troubled expression she holds the knife with which she will kill the minister and then commit suicide.The large figure on the right is a woman in the emperor’s dream. The pattern of cherry blossoms and cracked ic on her robe has connotations of sex between a young woman and an older man.

The entire work has an extraordinary decorative quality that is almost Klimpt-like. The blockprint colors are unusually bright and saturated. The planes of the composition are staggeringly complex and assured. I think this is an absolutely brilliant work.

Yoshitoshi at the Asian Art Museum

San Francisco Street Art

A youtuber named Ryan Erickson, whose handle is AlwaysThrowROCK, has posted an interesting video of San Francisco graffiti and street art. The video is “dedicated to those who make San Francisco a city of unbridled love compassion and beauty.” As a local I would have liked to have known the locations of the images; still, it’s an interesting and extensive collection, lovingly assembled.

Summer 2007 Art Exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area

I’ve moved this post to a static html page because it wasn’t formatting properly here.  The new location for the summary of 2007 art exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area is here.

Dissing Asia

south court, asian art museum

I have in front of me some travel guides to San Francisco. I’m curious to see how they cover the city’s museums, and specifically the Asian Art Museum (hereafter AAM), because I will be putting up a page on the Asian (as it’s commonly known) soon. The results are interesting. Here’s a selection:

  • Fodor’s barely covers any of the museums (it gives about a third of a page to the AAM and about the same to SFMOMA). But it tags SFMOMA “Fodor’s Choice.”
  • The Rough Guide gives the AAM about a quarter page while devoting a little under two pages to SFMOMA, including a full-page picture. It lists SFMOMA #1 on its “25 things not to miss.”
  • The DK Guide gives the AAM about a third of a page. It gives SFMOMA four full pages, or about 12 times as much space.

Is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art twelve times better than the Asian Art Museum? If you travel to San Francisco 13 times, should you visit the Asian once and SFMOMA all the rest? Comparisons, so they say, are odious, and I don’t want to run one institution up by putting another down. SFMOMA’s collection has improved a lot over the past couple of decades, and with its spacious newish building in an attractive location it is likely to continue to improve, despite recent management problems. As a Bay Area resident I would love to see the museum become a truly great one.

But it’s the Asian Art Museum that has the best art collection in town. The core of the collection was donated to the city by Avery Brundage (a Chicago industrialist and head of the International Olympics Committee). Brundage put the collection together when not many people were collecting Asian Art, and before many art trade restrictions were put in place. He benefited from his international connections (for example, because he was instrumental in having the 1964 Olympics hosted in Japan — that country’s first big international event since World War II, and the first time the Olympics had been hosted in Asia — he was allowed to acquire some national treasures that would otherwise have been impossible to obtain). Today a collection comparable to Brundage’s could not be assembled at any cost.

The Asian has also been persistent in expanding its collection, recently acquiring significant gifts of Indian prints, Sikh art, Japanese bamboo baskets, Chinese calligraphies and paintings, and Southeast Asian art, to name a few; the Brundage collection now constitutes about half of the museum’s total holdings. The collection is San Francisco’s second most valuable asset after its real estate. The museum is one of the largest outside of Asia devoted to Asian art. It is housed in a historic building in Civic Center that was redesigned by Gae Aulenti (whose other projects include the Musee d’Orsay in Paris) and restored and expanded at a cost of about 170 million dollars.

Why do the guidebooks give short shrift to what is clearly one of the region’s most significant cultural institutions? Let’s not attribute it to plain prejudice. Instead, let’s say they perceive the museum as a “niche” institution. We might examine that. Asia is the largest region in the world, home to three-fifth’s of the world’s population. It embraces cultures as diverse as South Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, China, Korea, and Japan. The museum’s holdings span six millennia of history. (They include the world’s oldest dated Chinese Buddha.) What’s more, under the museum’s current director, Emily Sano, the AAM has been engaged in a strong program of presenting modern and contemporary art by Asian artists.

So which museum is a niche institution?

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