Growing by the Bay

Category: museums

Bouquets to Art, 2009

blue and white bouquets to art

In what has become a tradition, this year we again visited the de Young Museum for its Bouquets to Art, in which flower arrangers present displays inspired by artworks in the museum’s collections.

Each year distinct trends can be identified. This year the popular color schemes were blue and white, as above, and combinations of orange and pink or peach, as below.

Time for blogging has been hard to come by lately, but I’ll try to post some more photos from Bouquets to Art soon, as many of the arrangements really were spectacular.

orange and peach bouquets to art 2009


Hazel White wants you to end racism

sfmoma open space: hazel white wants you to end racism

Back in the 1990s I ran a publishing company called Mercury House. One of the free-lance copy editors and proofreaders who worked on many of our books was Hazel White. I always admired her judgment and balance. Since that time she edited an edition of the Sunset Garden Book and wrote several books for Chronicle Books, as well, no doubt, as working on many other excellent projects. Now her picture will appear around town as part of a campaign to end racism. The reasons for this are explained at SFMOMA:Open Space. Bravo Hazel!


Celestial bodies


This photo shows visitors exiting the Planetarium at the recently opened Academy of Science building in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The building was designed by Renzo Piano. I’ll be running some more photos from this building over the next few days as I try to get caught up on my blogging.


Exporatorium Roof Cam

The Exploratorium has a pretty cool roof cam. It is set to shift its view every fifteen minutes, or you can select from several presets.

If several people are visiting the site at the same time they queue up to take turns controlling the camera. When you are in control of the camera you have the ability to scroll right/left and up/down. You can also zoom out or in, between 1x wide angle and 25x telephoto).

The presets include:

Golden Gate Bridge

Wind Surfing Area


Golden Gate Bridge Approach

Palace of Fine Arts Lagoon

Weeping Women at Palace of Fine Arts

The Exploratorium’s Weather Station

Another Bridge View (this is the one shown above)

And the Wave Organ (an Exploratorium project with artist-in-residence Peter Richards)


SFMOMA rooftop garden

sfmoma rooftop garden

Construction has begun on a new rooftop garden at SFMOMA. Making a virtue of the necessity of providing parking, the museum will install the garden atop the parking garage adjacent to their galleries.

I suspect the space will often be used for fundraising parties.

The image shows the glass walkway that will connect the garage garden with the museum. More images like this one at


SF MOMA walkbridge

sfmoma walkbridge

This unusual view of the walkbridge at SFMOMA was from jasper’s photostream. Foreshortened figures are silhouetted by the skylight overheard.

Bouquets to Art

The Fine Arts Museums presents its 24th annual Bouquets to Art at the de Young March 11 through 15 this year. It’s always a good idea to go early before the flowers start to look a little wilted (prepare for crowds). This year floral arrangers will prepare some 150 bouquets to accompany the museum’s regular artwork.

I posted quite a few photos of the 2006 Bouquets to Art but, although I took photos the next year, I don’t think I ever managed to find the time to put many of them on the web. The light level in museums is always low, and this is a case where a digital SLR would be a real benefit. Instead, I still shoot with my Canon A620 — without a flash of course; it pains me to see people ruining their photos that way! — and then fix the images in Photoshop. Because of the low lighting I keep the aperture wide open and the zoom at the wide extreme (I just move the camera closer if I need to zoom in). Since I can’t bring myself to post raw images, my photo prep work is a little time consuming

Here are a couple of images from last year’s event.

bouquets to art 2007

bouquets to art 2007

Lee Friedlander retrospective at SFMOMA

 photography by lee friedlander

From February 23 through May 18, SFMOMA will presents an exhibition of photographic works by Lee Friedlander (the show was organized by organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York). B in the D, when photography was getting a little full of itself, Friedlander infused it with irony and energy. His B/W photos often have remarkable immediacy, and they are always cunningly framed. The SFMOMA show will present some 500 of his photographs.

Lee Friedlander, Nude, 1982, Gelatin silver print 8 1/16 x 12 1/16” (20.4 x 30.7 cm). Purchase The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2006 Lee Friedlander

Abstract rhythms

Abstract Rhythms: Paul Klee and Devendra Banhart is the title of an exhibition at SFMOMA that will feature a performance by Banhart. He will perform 8:00 p.m., January 17, in the Phyllis Wattis Theater. The event is sold out, but the museum is selling tickets for a live simulcast of the performance. Banhart will also perform Jan. 19 at Amoeba Records. From the museum’s website:

Music was a consistent source of inspiration for Paul Klee, spanning the arc of his career and informing much of his practice. This exhibition features works by Klee that reveal his affinity for music, as well as new drawings by Devendra Banhart, a musician and visual artist, made in conjunction with his most recent album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Part of an ongoing presentation within Matisse and Beyond, the exhibition highlights the synesthetic relationship present in both artists’ works on paper, drawing on Dr. Carl Djerassi’s gifts and extended loans to SFMOMA of more than 150 works by Klee.

Here is a video of a performance by Banhart.

Donors to secret nonprofit revealed

“Secret” and “nonprofit” are words that should not appear together. But the donors who have been financing Arnold Schwartzenegger’s jets and luxury suites have until recently somehow managed to keep their names private (despite nonprofit disclosure laws).

The donors receive tax breaks because their donations are made to an organization with nonprofit status. According to the Los Angeles Times, “the governor’s aides and the foundation say the arrangement takes a financial burden off taxpayers while allowing Schwarzenegger to serve as an ambassador for the state. Watchdog groups contend it has the potential to allow moneyed donors to wield undue influence without public scrutiny.”

Among the donors whose names were recently revealed is Don Fisher, founder of the Gap clothing stores, who is attempting to create a museum in San Francisco’s Presidio for his personal art collection.

Donors to secret nonprofit named – Los Angeles Times

Mission Bells

Here’s a song from The Aislers Set that evokes San Francisco (lyrics below the video).

i’ve been in the narrow slashes
velvet red and real as rashes
california’s got me wanting more
four years got me from this caption
generation came to kill
i know you and i know you will
who’ll be sleeping on the mission bells?

leave me or let me go
oceans on two sides
optimism parallel, breaking in rich tides
how they must soothe you, now day and night

hypocrisy has smashed that atavistic take
on my commitment, one mistake
how’s the new kid, all the new truths and the vileness, god forbid
i lie here waiting while the mission bells are ringing, ringing
out over the city and the sunshine and the doubt

Old De Young

Now that the excitement of the opening of the new de Young Museum has cooled a tad, it might be a good time for a moment of nostalgia. The main entrance to the old de Young is shown below. Straight ahead was a large room with high ceilings, popular for events. The Asian Art Museum was housed in a wing to the left. I used to park in the lot to the right, enter by the staff entrance over there, and cut through the darkened museum. It was wonderful to pad across the tile floors in the near dark. Sometimes I would stop briefly to enjoy the de Young’s marvelous Maya stela, its cool limestone fairly glowing amid the old building’s eerie shadows.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to go back to that museum. It was, for one thing, earthquake unsafe, and the de Young could not get insurance indemnity to host major shows. Still, I especially loved this space in the early morning before the lights went up.

lobby of old de young building

Free Days at San Francisco Bay Area museums

Most museums in the Bay Area waive the regular attendance fee one day a month. Following is a list of these free days. Museums may changes which day is free, so it’s worth calling or checking their websites (links provided below). Please let me know of errors or omissions in this list.

First Monday
Contemporary Jewish Museum (now closed through spring 2008)

First Tuesday
Asian Art Museum
Cartoon Art Museum (“pay what you wish”)
De Young Museum
Legion of Honor


First Wednesday
California Academy of Sciences

First Thursday
Berkeley Art Museum (BAM/PFA)
SF Museum of Craft and Design

Second Sunday
Oakland Museum

Museum of the African Diaspora

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

“The worst-programmed major museum in America”

That’s what Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes is saying about the De Young Museum under the relatively new directorship of John Buchanan:

Remember this ending to SF Chron art critic Kenneth Baker’s Hiroshi Sugimoto-at-the-de Young review?

Probably the de Young has never seen an exhibition of gravity and elegance to compare with “Hiroshi Sugimoto” and a look around the institution suggests that the next one like it will be a long time coming.

Now we know what Baker was expecting: FAMSF released its 2007-2009 exhibition schedule yesterday. It reveals that FAMSF is well on its way to becoming the worst-programmed major museum in America. Heck, considering its programming and ethics problems, by the end of 2009 FAMSF might not be a major museum.

For more, and the DYM’s schedule of forthcoming shows, see the original Modern Art Notes post.

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

Manga Lounge


Some folks at the Asian Art Museum are installing a “manga lounge” for their summer Tezuka exhibition. The lounge will have videos, books, and even a photo machine. The lounge has a youth orientation, but no doubt the occasional old fart will avail himself of the facilities as well.

Astro Boy image from the AAM website

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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