Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fifteen megabytes of fame.

Mary, the woman in my portrait from The Gift, left a comment on my blog today. We made it onto the SFMOMA blog. For an art geek like me, that’s a whole lotta fun.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The gift that keeps on staring back at you.

Just because I’m back from San Francisco doesn’t mean the San Franciscan fun has to come to an end. As part of Jochen Gerz’s work, The Gift, Felix and I received photographs that previously hung in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). You can check out my previous post for more of the story. Our “gift” came with instructions. “The last step is to exhibit your piece of the collection, and document how you display it.”

The Gift was highly interactive with a Web presence that serves up photographs of all the participants on a random basis. You can see it here. I’ve been trying to find my photo on the site but have had no luck. I did find the photos that were given to Felix and me. And they were even next to each other.
The project includes mentions on the SFMOMA blog and a Flickr site where participants can post photos of where they’ve shown their “gift.” Since most of the people participating in the gift were from San Francisco, I thought it would be fun to post some photos from snowy Salt Lake City, Utah. So we took our "gifts" on a tour of Salt Lake City’s best parks.

For now, Felix and I have decided to hang the photographs in my office, where they stare creepily at anyone who walks by. And hopefully they’ll encourage discussions about art and community.
One last note, I love the label that appears on the back of each photograph.

San Randomcisco.

Just a few leftovers from my trip to San Francisco. First, Rodin at the Legion of Honor. The Legion of Honor largely exists because of Alma Spreckles. Not only did she concoct the plan to build the museum, she also convinced her husband to pay for it. She was also an avid collector of the sculptures of Auguste Rodin. She donated it all, the building and her Rodin collection to the City of San Francisco. There are very few places on the planet where you can see this much work by the guy that some call the father of modern sculpture.
There are plenty of known works. In addition to The Thinker, you’ll also find The Age of Bronze (one of my favorite works from a recent UMFA show) and The Kiss, the only work that the BYU Museum of Art refused display when a traveling Rodin exhibit recently stopped in Provo.
I also liked some of the smaller, unknown works, many of which were studies for other sculptures. I particularly liked the hands.Just outside The Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park is this sculpture. I'm pretty sure it’s a copy of something famous. I should probably know what it is but I don’t. Nonetheless, I liked it.
We also spent some time at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. I read the garden is trying to find funds to renovate the current buildings. I suppose it's necessary but I loved the way the buildings in the park are showing their age. And the gardens are beautifully tended. This is definitely a worthwhile stop.
And finally, because it was the big Chinese New Year celebration while we were in San Fran
cisco, we decided to pay a visit to China Town. I hadn’t been to China Town in decades. It was more fun than expected. We stopped in a little dive bar where we met a couple of Canadians whose ideas about Utahans were hilarious. And we spent plenty of time looking for “year of the bull” and other Chinese trinkets. Sometimes it’s fun to just be a tourist.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Is this where the Teletubbies live?

Here’s one more view from the California Academy of Sciences. This is the building’s innovative green roof. The roof is 197,000 square feet of nine native plant species chosen for their ability to survive in the environment. They need no water (although a spray system has been installed in case of severe drought years.)
The living roof is also expected to sustain a variety of life. In fact, a future project is planned that will try to introduce two endangered butterfly species to the habitat.

There's also an amazing view of the De Young from the roof.

We're having a heat wave. A tropical heat wave.

On my last visit to San Francisco I made an impromptu visit to the California Academy of Science based on the recommendation of a cab driver. It was amazing but we didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything we wanted. So this trip we returned. We still didn’t get to see everything. But this trip was even more fun than the first.

The highlight was a trip through the tropical rain forest. This amazing section of the Academy is a giant glass sphere filled with fauna and flora. A ramp circles up around the sphere with informative exhibits throughout. At the end, you take an elevator down to the underground level where you can walk under the “river” that is in the sphere.

The stars of the show are the butterflies—hundreds of them in bright colors flittering and fluttering about the rain forest. They frequently land on visitors, to the point that you’re asked to do a butterfly check before you leave.

But there are other characters that are just as dazzling as the butterflies. Tropical birds zoom throughout the rain forest. And several displays feature tropical frogs—and I love tropical frogs. They’re like little jewels. In fact, they reminded me of the jeweled insects and reptiles created by Faberge and Tiffany that we’d just seen the day before.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Other things I liked at SFMOMA.

Here are few other things I liked at SFMOMA (with minimal commentary—and believe me I could bore you with plenty of commentary).

From Katharina Fritsch comes Kind Mit Pudeln (Child with Poodle). The installation includes 224 poodles surrounding a baby. Fritsch hints that this might be a reaction to the story of Faust, who while walking home sees a black poodle and brings it home, unknowingly inviting Mephistopheles (the devil) into his home. Or maybe the dogs are heroes, guarding the baby. It’s either creepy or heart warming.

Arturo Herrera’s 2000 work I Am Yours is made from cut industrial felt. I don’t know what it means but I like it.

You gotta love Kiki Smith. This work is beautiful and disturbing all at the same time. The photo does not do justice to the haunting glass eyes. Here is a sculpture
called Lilith that hangs strangely on the wall.
If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this is a sculpture by Jeff Koons. But this predates Koons by at least 60 years. La negresse blonde (The Blond Negress) was created in 1926 by Constantin Brancusi. I love the innovative form that brings to mind so many images. And the sexy, shiny, seductive finish is well ahead of its time.

Finally, (and I’m about to go out on a big limb here) here is the work that changed art more than any other—Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. I love crazy, provocative, outrageous, challenging, silly, emotional, horrifying, kind, happy art. And in my life, all that art starts with this work. Marcel Duchamp definitively answered the question, “what is art.” And then he asked a more provocative question, “what is the artist?” Thanks Marcel.

The artist as ego.

Artist Clifford Still is all over the art-world news these days even though he’s dead. Why? Well Clifford’s attitude toward his art is unique. Still kept almost all of the hundreds of paintings he created, about 95 percent were in his estate when he died in 1980. Stranger still, he allowed almost no one to see these works—he ordered them to be sealed off from the public and from scholars after his death.
Still had a big ego, even by artist standards. He despised galleries (which he called “sordid gift shoppes”) And he wasn’t much kinder to critics, curators, and museums. I don’t even think he liked collectors. I’m not sure he’d be happy about me looking at his paintings. He even refused to give his paintings names because it might encourage deplorable interpretations.

Clifford Still’s will was one sentence: “I give and bequeath all the remaining works of art executed by me in my collection to an American city that will agree to build or assign and maintain permanent quarters exclusively for these works of art and assure their physical survival with the explicit requirement that none of these works of art will be sold, given, or exchanged but are to be retained in the place described above exclusively assigned to them in perpetuity for exhibition and study.”

Still’s heirs have had a hard time finding a city to undertake such a demanding requirement. Caring and maintaining for so many paintings is an expensive proposition. But believe it or not, as part of the city’s amazing race to create a serious art presence, Denver, Colorado will be the new home of the Clifford Still Museum, which is currently under construction.

Why am I boring you with all this information? Because one of the few places you can see a significant group of Still’s work is at SFMOMA where an entire gallery is dedicated to the artist, probably because the artist demanded that no other work could be shown in the same space. Or maybe the curators are just afraid that if they included other artists in the gallery, Still would wake from the dead and rip their hearts out. Someday I want to be a crazy artist.

The store of lights.

Not only did the Faberge, Tiffany, Lalique exhibit make me think back to my youth. A walk through San Francisco had the same effect—for similar reasons. My parents ran Paris Jewelry in Worland, Wyoming for nearly 50 years. They retired and closed the store just a few short years ago. I worked at Paris Jewelry for much of my youth. So imagine my surprise when I encountered Paris Jewelry alive and well right in the heart of San Francisco.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

And now, the real reason for my trip to San Francisco.

You may recall that last November I took another trip to San Francisco. During that trip I visited The Art of Participation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). As part of the exhibit, Felix and I participated in a work called The Gift by German-born conceptual artist Jochen Gerz. As part of the installation, thousands of museum goers were photographed during the first month and half of the exhibit. Both Felix and I had our pictures taken. All those pictures were printed, framed, and hung in rotation on a wall at SFMOMA. As a thank you for our willingness to participate, we were invited to the closing reception on Sunday, February 8, 2009.

At the reception, thousands of other participants joined us to receive a gift from Mr. Gerz. Each person received one of the photographs from the exhibit. Felix and I too received our “gifts.” The artist made it clear, that he didn’t want anyone receiving his or her own photograph.

Duanne, the person in front of me almost received a picture of one of his friends, until the artist realized the situation and chose to give him another photo. I received a picture of his friend Mary. Later, Duanne asked me if I would trade. But I couldn’t do it. I told him that I felt it wouldn’t be in keeping with the wishes of the artist. And after all, this was a gift from Mr. Gerz—how could I simply trade it away. I don’t think Duanne was necessarily happy but he seemed to understand. And I told him I’d e-mail him with pictures of the photo in its final location.

Before leaving the museum, Felix and I decided to document the travels of our photos with a few snapshots in and around the museum. We even took pictures of the two as they watched over our hotel room.
We were worried the photos were too big to carry on the plane and we didn’t want to check them so we decided to ship them. We entrusted them to FedEx. After a hectic afternoon trying to figure out how to package them, we finally packed them up in a rather sketchy box. And then hoped they would make it safely to Salt Lake City.

I’m proud to report that the photos arrived in perfect condition just two days later. I haven’t installed mine in a final location because I still want to take a few photos around town before I put it on my wall. SFMOMA has created a Flickr site where recipients of The Gift can post their photos.Thanks Jochen Gerz. I like to complain that artists, in their scramble to romance the galleries, the collectors, and the auction houses forget about the ordinary viewer. This is one time when I felt like the artist was more interested in me as a viewer than anyone else. And the sentiment was appreciated.

This won’t be my last post about The Gift. I’ll keep you updated on Mary’s travels and where she lands.

Art lobster.

Anyone who’s willing to listen to my boring musings on art knows that lobsters fascinate me because they show up in the world of fine art so often. And lobsters just seem like a strange creature to get so much canvas time. That’s given me a soft spot for the bright red crustaceans. So I’ve decided to start tracking my encounters with lobsters in art.

While I was at the Legion of Honor I ran into this massive still life complete with lobster. This is Still Life painted in 1666 by Dutch artist Abraham van Beyeren. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Room without a view.

Welcome to the Handlery Hotel, home for my most recent trip to San Francisco. This is a comfy hotel, in a great location just off Union Square, and it feels quintessentially San Franciscan. It is not without its quirks. Exhibit A: the view from our room. It consists of a concrete wall a couple of yards outside the window. And if you look out the window in just about any direction (you can actually throw the windows wide open), you find a similar view. (See inset photos.)

At first, this view was unnerving. But after a while it began to grow on me. For starters, this is one quiet room. If you want a great night’s sleep in the middle of San Francisco, I highly recommend room 317 at the Handlery.

And the view seems to fit the quirks and cubbyholes of the rest of the hotel, which is a mishmash of maze-like hallways, secret staircases, and mysterious dead ends. If I were a kid, I could spend hours exploring this unusual place. Hell, I’m not a kid and I still went looking for the weirdness.

This is an old hotel that has been lovingly cared for. It offers modern amenities, yet the owners have not modernized so much that the building has lost its strange charm. Combine that with a friendly staff that is never over bearing, a decent onsite breakfast, and reasonable rates, and this is a hotel at which I’ll likely stay again.