Vija Celmins and spiders

I have been wanting to see Louise Bourgeois’ massive bronze spiders at the remodeled San Francisco Modern Museum of Art, and finally got there this week. They were as wonderful as I expected, muscular, dynamic, fun.

The bonus was the Vija Celmins retrospective. Her work starts as representations of single objects (very moving, somehow, painted with love on gray backgrounds) and moves into meticulous graphite representations of the ocean, the desert floor, the night sky. All very tenderly, lovingly done.

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Egon Schiele

In New York I went to see an exhibit of drawings by Picasso, Klimt, and Schiele. Schiele, who died at 28, saw Klimt as a mentor, but took his erotic drawing further, I think. These certainly seemed like the best of the show to me. I wonder what it is that makes a line on paper come to life?

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The hills of Valparaiso

We mostly went to the seaside town of Valparaiso because Neruda had lived there and his house is a museum we wanted to visit. But what captivated us more than the house was the incredible street art. Art on walls, on doorways, on steps on lampposts, just about anything that can be painted or collaged. Here is a gate made of bicycle parts:

The city is  built on steep hills with ravines between them, and there are many concrete walls and concrete and stone sides of houses that lend themselves to large murals. To get a sense of the variety, look here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every time you turn a corner, there’s some new marvel. Here are a two of my favorites:

A skeletal sax player–on a house wall next to a barred window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And an eye painted on a corner wall. Continue reading “The hills of Valparaiso”

Hats

We made it over to the exhibit of impressionist paintings of all thing millinery today. It was billed as an exhibit of Degas’ paintings about that include hats, but had many impressionists and also glass cases with sample hats from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. You can read about it and see paintings here.  It was great fun, and I was tempted by a hat at the museum store:

But it was $200.  Instead, I kept wearing my blue hat that I bought at a thrift shop this week for $2.

Then I took a couple of pictures of others with good hats:

 

 

 

 

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After the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?

picksimg_splashThis is a line from Mirele Laderman Ukeles’ Manifesto, written in 1969. Part of the avant-guard art scene in New York in the sixties, after having her first child she noticed there was no time for art–only maintenance: diapers, cooking, cleaning, dressing, undressing. The basic idea of the manifesto is that maintenance is art. You can see the full Manifesto here. It includes these intriguing paragraphs.

“C.        Maintenance is a drag; it takes all the fucking time (lit.)

The mind boggles and chafes at the boredom.

The culture confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.

clean your desk, wash the dishes, clean the floor, wash your clothes, wash your toes, change the baby’s diaper, finish the report, correct the typos, mend the fence, keep the customer happy, throw out the stinking garbage, watch out don’t put things in your nose, what shall I wear, I have no sox, pay your bills, don’t litter, save string, wash your hair, change the sheets, go to the store, I’m out of perfume, say it again—he doesn’t understand, seal it again—it leaks, go to work, this art is dusty, clear the table, call him again, flush the toilet, stay young.

D.          Art:

Everything I say is Art is Art.  Everything I do is Art is Art. “We have no Art, we try to do everything well.” (Balinese saying)…

E.         The exhibition of Maintenance Art, “CARE,” would zero in on pure maintenance, exhibit it as contemporary art, and yield, by utter opposition, clarity of issues.”

I was so intrigued by these ideas (having spent most of my adult life in Maintenance) that I came to New York to see her 50-year retrospective at the Queens Museum.

sanit18n-2-webThe photo above is of Ukeles standing inside an arch she created from used, signed workers gloves, walkie-talkies, subway straps, valves, lights, gauges, etc.  It’s one of the more visceral pieces at the Queens Museum show. Because most of her work is performance pieces–washing a stage or floor or wall and engaging others to participate, a ballet of sanitation trucks or snow blowers or other heavy equipment, a piece where she invited workers to see one of their eight hours of work as maintenance art and photographed them–much of the work is shown as video or photo with documentation.

In 1977, Ukeles became the artist in residence for the New York Department of Sanitation. Although her residency was unpaid, the title gave her a platform to conceive and find funding for a wide variety of projects. In her project  Touch Sanitation she went to all five boroughs to shake the hands, thank, and talk with every one of NYC’s 8500 sanitation workers.

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touchsanOther projects, such as a visual bridge of recycled materials overlooking the dumping of garbage onto barges at the 59th street pier, were never funded.

Recently, she has been engaged in the transformation of garbage “our garbage, not their garbage.” She has created hallways of recycled garbage, videos of the garbage process and proposed radical redesigns for expired garbage dumps, most notably Fresh Kills, on Staten Island.

Her ideas about the invisibility of maintenance workers, maintenance art as revolutionary, and garbage as an essential concern of art seem visionary to me. I’m only sorry that I won’t get to meet her in February, when she will lead a tour of the Fresh Kills project.

Fischli and Weiss

imageThe Guggenheim Museum is showing the work of two collaborators, Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The highlight of the show for me is a 30-minute video, The Way Things Go, of a series of objects interacting in an extended chain reaction, one object moving in a way that propels the next. But unlike most assemblages of this sort, this one is often excruciatingly, deliciously slow, as one object grows or turns coming closer and closer to affecting the next. It is a delightful exploration of balance, motion, and fire, with explosions, suds, clouds of steam, old tires, bottles of flammable liquid, moving blocks and ladders. You can see an excerpt here.  Continue reading “Fischli and Weiss”

Thinking about poetry

Sometimes I just get tired of poetry altogether and need a break. I had a period like that this month–no writiing, reading nothing that seemed worth the trouble. Then I went to see the wonderful claymation film: Shaun the Sheep Movie. It made me laugh out loud, restored my good spirits and opened me to whatever poem might find me next, which was this one, from a sequence about the end of a long drought.

redstaretmuddy boots
lined up inside
the barn door
cows miserable
in the lee
of the hill
it’s all I do
now he said–
holding the bucket
in one hand
stripping tit
with the other–
and I know each
one by its humid
eye–the ground
outside plopping
it’s deafening–say
what? say–cow
cocking an ear–the rain’s
falling pretty
healthy it
smells like
heaven in here

from Redstart
by Forrest Gander and John Kinsella

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Ukiyo-e at the Asian Art Museum

grabhornLast week, a new show of wood block prints, scrolls and artifacts from Japan’s “floating world” opened at the Asian Art Museum. The wood block prints are from a collection donated to the museum by the widow of Robert Grabhorn, who first with his brother Edwin and later with Andrew Hoyem, ran  Grabhorn Press, the iconic letterpress print shop. This press exists now as Arion Press and the Grabhorn Institute.

In any case, the prints are worth a long, leisurely look. There are some videos of the process, too. It’s an intense, collaborative effort.  The artist draws the image, and the woodblock cutter makes a block for each color.  The papermaker makes the paper, and the printer prints a single run for each color. The blocks must match exactly to provide the perfect registration of each color into the whole.

If you can’t make it, here’s a taste. The text accompanying the prints is comprehensive, and it noted in the bathhouse image below, there are shadows of the objects on the wall, probably influenced by Western engravings:

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I had never noticed that these prints are generally shadowless. Continue reading “Ukiyo-e at the Asian Art Museum”

Anders Zorn

Last Sunday was a perfect, mild winter day, sun and mist. We took a walk at Land’s End and then went to see an exhibit of the Swedish painter, Anders Zorn (1860-1920), at the Palace of the Legion of Honor. I’d never heard of him, and while I didn’t think much of his later work, I loved his early watercolors. He was a painter who came from very humble origins and achieved fame early. He wound up making ~$15,000 a week in the early 1900’s painting portraits in the mode of John Singer Sargent. In his final self-portrait, he looks plump, content, and more like a wealthy merchant than an artist.  Still, I think it’s worth a trip to see the rooms of watercolors. The personalities of his subjects seem to shine through, and his water is especially vivid.

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Continue reading “Anders Zorn”