Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Category: civic center

Video: Opium burning, San Francisco, 1914

This 1914 video shows opium paraphernalia being burnt in what is now the Civic Center area. At the time the area had not yet been rebuilt following the ’06 earthquake (because voters would not pass bonds for funding the project because of the corruption of city leaders), but here you can see the new city hall under construction.

The burning was associated with anti-Chinese sentiment. But the opium habit had been acquired by the Chinese when it was forced on them by the English in the Opium Wars in the mid-nineteenth century.

 

 

UN Plaza Crafts Market

un plaza crafts fair

United Nations Plaza was conceived as the entrance to a grand walkway leading from Market Street to City Hall, a vision that never quite materialized. The plaza commemorates the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco.

On Wednesdays and Sundays the plaza hosts a farmers market, while an arts and crafts fair holds sway on most Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. In the photo above the fair is at its colorful best (but sometimes it is a little too colorful).

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Library main branch remodel

The main branch of the San Francisco public library unveiled its new remodel today. Somehow they have created a great deal more space, so that the entire fiction collection is now on the shelves.

fiction stacks, san francisco library main brnch

The audio-visual center has moved from the fourth floor to the ground floor. It looks pretty spiffy.

audio-visual center, san francisco library main branch

I like the automated checkout machines, which have been operating for some time now.

automated checkout machinese, san francisco library main branch

I’m not so sure about the automated return. It’s said to automatically sort books by intended destination, which must be a help, but it has no safeguard to prevent people from returning empty CD cases without the CD inside.

book returns, sf library

I like libraries.

get a library card for the san francisco public library

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

Celebrating Sisters

sisters of perpetual indulgence

click photo for larger view

Laughing Squid has posted a notice of the 28th Anniversary celebration of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The free event, called Night of the Living Easter, will be held in Dolores Park from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm on Sunday, April 8.

“The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence celebrate our 28th year of raising money, eyebrows (and a smidge of Hell), all for you, our community,” the announcement says. “As always, the event is free to all, and donations are gladly accepted. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to pick up some really cool Sisters’ schwag including t-shirts, buttons and indulgences! Remember: Salvation comes to those who bring trash bags and clean up after themselves. Night Of The Living Easter is a Perpetual Indulgence production.”

Two of the sisters kindly gave me permission to take the photo above during an antiwar rally in January 2003.

Asian Art Museum

I’ve completed a draft of a basic information page on the Asian Art Museum.

I’ll move on now to other San Francisco musuems.

And, of course, the usual Frisco miscellany.

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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