CASANOVA: The Seduction of Europe at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

If you have ever wondered about time travel, the ability to wake up and live in an entirely different era, the exhibition CASANOVA: The Seduction of Europe comes very close to letting you live surrounded by the greatest luxury in 18th century Europe. On view in the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, February 10-May 28, the paintings, decorative art pieces, furniture, period costumes, sculptures, plus your imagination may whisk you back to a luxurious era which may have seemed – to those who lived at the top tier of their societies – to promise to continue in an unchanging bubble of perfection forever. It did not, of course, as the century ended before its due date with violent revolutions in England’s American colonies (1776) and France (1789). However, it was gorgeous fun for those on top while it lasted.

Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)

Giacomo Casanova was born in Venice to a family of actors. He left home when young to study in Padua and received his doctorate in law at age sixteen. He was an avid reader with a gift for witty conversation and the ability to fit in to ever higher classes of society. He became an autobiographer, writing an enormous multi-volume work that is as much an autobiography of the 18th century as it is of him;  spy; world traveler; gambler; and, most certainly, every bit the seducer-womanizer extraordinaire as he is most remembered. The exhibition is less about Casanova than it is about the world through his eyes. Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of SF said, “The cosmopolitan Casanova is a fitting guide to lead our tour of the glittering art capitals of eighteenth century Europe…” Casanova lived a quarter of his life in Venice, but he also traveled extensively in an era when getting around the globe took serious efforts. Casanova traveled to the Ottoman Empire, Russia, what is now the Czech Republic, and lived in Italy, France, and England. The idea of creating an exhibition through Casanova’s eyes originated with the Kimbell Art Museum, Ft. Worth, TX. The Legion of Honor and the Fine Arts Museum of Boston collaborated in creating the exhibition which features works on loan from many great museums.

Melissa Buron, Director, Art Division for Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco, and Museum Director Max Hollein discuss the approximately 200 art works of the exhibition.

The significant painters whose works are featured include Francois Boucher, Jean-Honore Fragonard, Canaletto, Tiepolo and William Hogarth. Canaletto’s works place the viewer within Venice’s unique city-scape of light and water.  As Melissa Buron pointed out, indoors, the world was lit by candlelight. Candles were expensive; one way to show wealth was to be extravagant with candles. In addition to the imprecise glow of the candles, an air of mystery characterized Venice. The Venetians, known for  masks and masquerades, often wore their masks from October to Mardi Gras. This enhanced their ability to change or hide their identity, a useful ruse for seduction.

(Left) Franceso Guardi (Italian, 1712-1793) The Ridotto of Palazzo Dandolo at San Moise with Masked Figures Conversing ca. 1750. The ridotti were state sponsored gambling rooms, sometimes places of music and dancing. Everyone was required to wear masks which made it easier for thieves and prostitutes to mix with the elite. (Right) 18th c. Sedan chair which belonged to Alma Spreckles, founder of San Francisco’s Legion of Honor

CASANOVA: The Seduction of Europe offers a look at the intimate, erotic and sensual arts which stirred passions in 18th century nobles as well as the opportunity to see the grandeur of porcelains, silver objects, fanciful and exquisite snuff boxes which were all part of the matchless luxury of palaces from St. Petersburg to London. Especially useful for those visiting the exhibition to aid time travel are three tableaux vivants — displays of life size mannequins dressed in richly embellished period costumes. The one representing Venice shows a man visiting a convent where he will have an assignation with a young woman he desires. The Parisian tableau, described by Martin Chapman, Curator-in-Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture, presents an aristocratic woman sitting by a small table covered with vessels to “make her toilette,” cleanse and make up her face and hair. Nearby a male caller who faces the lady is holding hands with the lady’s maid. In London, there are elite gentlemen gambling; one has just discovered the other is cheating.

(Left) Parisian tableau. (Right) Nathaniel Hone (Irish, 1718-1781) Kitty Fisher, 1763. Kitty Fisher was London’s famous courtesan. Outrageous accounts or her life appeared in the 1750s. She was determined not to be an ordinary prostitute. She secured her fame when she posed more than twenty times for three portraits by Joshua Reynolds.

Visiting this exhibit is a rare opportunity to enter another world through its art. The last gallery has paintings and sculptures of great individuals Casanova met: Catherine the Great, George III, Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire. Walking through the door on the far end of that gallery, one might feel the balance of the 18th century slip.

See famsf.org for more information.

All photographs by Jonathan Clark

BEETHOVEN & STENHAMMAR: BLOMSTEDT & OHLSSON, FEB.8-10

The San Francisco Symphony has a great program coming up, February 8, 9, & 10, Davies Symphony Hall. Herbert Blomstedt, Conductor Laureate of the SF Symphony, will lead the SFS and pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto and the SFS in Stenhammar’s Symphony No. 2. The concerto is so exciting, one sometimes feels not just on the edge of one’s seat but on the edge of one’s seat on a roller coaster. There is an exultant, thrilling sense to it which makes audiences embrace it. Ohlsson is well known for his mastery of Chopin’s perfect piano jewels; the Emperor concerto will reveal him in Beethoven’s expansive energy.

from left: Beethoven, Herbert Blomstedt, Garrick Ohlsson

Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871-1927) is considered by many to be Sweden’s greatest composer. He was also widely admired as a great pianist.

Wilhelm Stenhammar

Herbert Blomstedt, Music Director and Conductor of the SFS from 1985-1995, has led San Francisco audiences to discover and love the works of other Scandinavian composers, Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius. While Stenhammar began his music studies in Stockholm, he continued in Berlin and became attached to the works of Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner. After writing his Symphony No. 1, Stenhammar decided to “free” himself from late Romantic German music. His later work, such as Symphony No. 2, leans toward a more classical style. He was Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony, Sweden’s first, full time, professional Symphony. He died very young, age 56, of a stroke. However, February 7 is his birthday. This is a great opportunity to hear his work and celebrate this great Swedish artist.

Klimt & Rodin: Gold & Bronze at the Legion of Honor

In a few weeks it will be the 100th anniversary of Gustav Klimt’s death. He died aged 53, in 1918, due to the deadly influenza of that year.* Gustav Klimt’s work never really went away. Posters bearing the images he created were popular throughout the 1960s, for example, and a movie about the remarkable painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, an image unmistakably Klimt’s, brought back his art for a vast audience.  San Francisco’s Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum is the perfect place for the gorgeous Klimt exhibition which will be on view through January 28. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) (not part of this exhibition)

The Legion of Honor was built to honor the California “boys” who died in World War I. It is a site which will always be in harmony with early 20th century visions.

Gustav Klimt and his Cat (Katze), photo by Moritz Nahr

The Legion’s exhibition has paired Viennese Gustav Klimt’s work with that of Parisian Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), great master of early 20th century sculpture. At first, it might seem an unusual pairing, but it turns out that the artists met each other, in 1902. Their meeting was at an exhibition organized by the Vienna Secession movement. Rodin gave the exhibition his enthusiastic response. Klimt was a leader of the Secession which he helped establish, in 1897. He stayed with the movement to 1908. The movement’s goals were to provide exhibitions for young, unconventional artists and bring the best foreign artists to work in Vienna. It was an inclusive movement which did not limit itself to a narrowly defined style.

On left, Klimt, The Kiss (1907-1908); right, Rodin, The Kiss (1881-1882)

The Legion of Honor has one of the best, most extensive Rodin collections. Roaming through the galleries of this exhibition, seeing the paintings and sculptures close together, can give a feeling of being a time traveler suddenly able to see even familiar art works as gloriously new. In a gallery corner, there is a letter from Loie Fuller, the groundbreaking, creative dancer whose combination of light, timing, and movement opened the eyes of artists and scientists. Ms Fuller’s contacts with Rodin and Alma Spreckles, museum founder, were responsible for the beginnings of San Francisco’s great Rodin collection.

Left: Klimt: Portrait of Ria Munk III, (1917) detail; Right: Rodin: The Age of Bronze, (1877)

A relationship between the works of Rodin and Klimt can be found in the insightful portraits that are so important to each, the attraction they each felt for allegory, and especially the expressive representation of the human body. There is no self-censorship in approaching the erotic. Klimt’s Nuda Veritas (Naked Truth) shows that the naked woman’s body, not just her face, is her portrait. Klimt’s portraits involve overall designs of shapes, colors, and gold. Does the person emerge from this dense, colorful aura or is the overall patterning expressive of the personage? Or is it all design? His landscapes themselves become overall patterning whether a stand of narrow trees growing so closely together or a distant house seemingly overwhelmed by exuberant, thick growths of flowers. Rodin’s work always has drama in the power of the individual’s presence in The Age of Bronze;  the physical strain visible in the Burghers’ of Calais, or the eroticism of The Kiss. This is a Must-See exhibition. The Legion of Honor has added hours for Jan. 27 & 28, the last weekend. Experience Klimt & Rodin soon.

Klimt, The Virgin, 1913

Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter, Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, through Jan. 28, 2018. Legion’s hours: 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m., Tues – Sun; SPECIAL KLIMT & RODIN HOURS: 9;30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 27 & 28. Timed entry tickets needed (also for members but no charge to members). Tickets to the Legion include same day entrance for the de Young Museum and vice versa. 24/7 Call 888/901-6645 or, for members, 800/777-9996.

photo credits for pictures of Klimt’s The Kiss, Rodin’s The Kiss, Klimt’s Portrait of Ria Munk III, Rodin’s The Age of Bronze, Klimt’s The Virgin all courtesy Klimt & Rodin: A Pictorial, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: Legion of Honor

  • The Department of The More Things Change (The More They Stay The Same) Klimt was born, 1862, in town just outside of Vienna. While I have read that Klimt became interested in using gold leaf from the art he observed while visiting Venice and Ravenna, it must have also been important to him that his father, who came from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. Gustav grew up in poverty as his father did not find much work, and it was an economically difficult era for immigrants.
  • Here we are in 2018 with another influenza sweeping the world. Can we know which artists we might lose from North America, Africa, Asia, anywhere?

 

 

Ax & SFSymphony: Mozart & Schoenberg, A Brilliant, Varied Concert

January 13, 2018, the San Francisco Symphony performed a sensational concert with pianist Emanuel Ax. The variety of challenging pieces chosen for the program demonstrated the excellence of the SF Symphony and Mr. Ax, surely one of the absolute top pianists in the world.

Emanuel Ax     First on the program was the Leonore Overture, #3 (1806). This overture, written with Beethoven’s only opera in mind, has so much energy and color, the listener can absorb the revolutionary new principles of freedom embraced by Fidelio, the female character who comes to rescue her lover, a champion of liberty. These were also Beethoven’s principles; they imbue the music with the celebration of the rights of man instead of the rights of dictators.

Ludwig van Beethoven

After the rousing beginning of the concert came Mozart’s Piano Concerto,No. 14, in E-flat Minor(1784). Complicated and beautiful, this concerto manages to offer inventive, complex music which is written so perfectly by Mozart that the listener absorbs its beauty rather than be transfixed by its complications. Mr. Ax transmitted the restlessness and concentrated construction without a hesitation. He so completely embodied the music that he and the SF Symphony nearly disappeared. The music became a living presence. The second movement, Andantino, came as a surprise. It was elegant, almost peaceful, an incredibly eye opening change. The Concerto ends with a rondo, Allegro ma non troppo. The rhythms are engaging; the movement sweeps the audience away to a new level of aesthetic excitement.

Wolfgang Amadeo Mozart

Matching the Mozart concerto with Schoenberg’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Opus 41 (1942) was daring and brilliant. When Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas turns to address the audience, everyone present is tremendously lucky, about to be enlightened by SFS Music Director, MTT, about what we will hear. It was a very beneficial offering. In addition to describing the famous, or infamous, 12 tone method, MTT had Mr. Ax play some of the music from the Concerto as it would have been written in the traditional, major -minor system. That provided an “Aha!” moment. While I wouldn’t pretend to “understand” the composition principles, hearing that example opened a door. It was an intense, dramatic, performance. Both Mr. Ax and the SF Symphony showed that they were able to triumph in this “new” music as well as in the Beethoven and Mozart.

Arnold Schoenberg, photograph by Man Ray

The concert finale was Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, After the Old Rogue’s Tale, Set in Rondo Form for Large Orchestra, Op. 28 (1895). This piece has a special place in my musical education. In my elementary school in St. Louis County, one year, maybe during 4th grade, a Music Lady came to play music and talk about it. She played Smetana’s The Moldau and Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks. No Peter and the Wolf for us. Ever since that time, I have avoided Till because I remember being told that he was so mischievous, had so much delight in his practical jokes, that he was hanged. The story terrified me. Too much fun? Off to the gallows.

Medieval woodcut of trickster, Tilll Eulenspiegel, courtesy, San Franciso Symphony

Fortunately, I pushed that memory aside and enjoyed a performance that revealed the determined individualism of Till, a character in  many German legends. The music does not involve moralistic commentary. It plays hide and seek with Till’s personality and adventures. The concert, which had begun with the inspiring Leonore Overture, closed with an emphatic exploration of  a character who came to life on the outside of accepted society. The audience was completely charmed by Till and roared its approval.

 

 

GODS IN COLOR at SF’s Legion of Honor Museum

Close your eyes and think of ancient Greek statues. Do you see them in their gleaming white marble? Do you see how the classical purity of their forms is presented without enhancement or any distraction from colors or other decor? That’s certainly the way anyone interested in art history would have envisioned them for the past several centuries. Turns out, that vision is wrong. The astonishing exhibition, Gods in Color, will be at the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum through its last day, January 7th. It’s more than an eye-opener. It will not just invite you to reconsider everything you know about aesthetic values; it will force you to blink a few times and conclude the past is something different, maybe more complicated, than we thought we knew it to be.

Reconstruction of Trojan Archer, 2005. Original: Greece, Aegina, ca.480 B.C.E.Glyptothek Munich. Copy synthetic marblecast with natural pigments in eg tempera, lead, and wood, height 37 3/4in. Leibieghaus Sculpture Collection (Polychromy Research Project), Frankfurt, on loan from the Universit of Heidelberg, LG157. picture courtesy Fine Arts Museums San Francisco.

This writer had heard years ago that the Acropolis was thought to have been painted in bright colors (my mother, a student of Art & Archaeology at Washington University, St. Louis, called this “a wake up call.”) Improved technology has now analyzed the bits and traces of color especially on statues and architectural remnants. The Gods of Color exhibition shows reconstructions of famous statues, friezes and even an Ionic capital all painted according to what the scientific detectives have found. Shown with the reconstructions are outstanding, original, unchanged works from classical Greece, Egypt, the Near East. The exhibition is fascinating not only for the chance to see these art works in a way close to the way the ancient Greeks saw them, but also for what is revealed about the science and economy of the times.

For example, one color is called Egyptian blue. The color was entirely synthetic. The Egyptians had worked out the science of producing a blue for their art through their knowledge of chemistry. They used silica, lime, copper and alkali. Blue made from lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone, was too costly for a multitude of projects. Other colors in the Greek works were derived from natural mineral sources: red and yellow ocher, red cinnabar, azurite and malachite. The cave paintings in Lascaux (ca. 17,000 B.C.E) demonstrate that even then the artists could create colors from minerals. Dr. Rene Dreyfus, Curator in Charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation, explains that although they might have found a way to make the deep black for their art work from local sources, it’s most likely that they used hausmannite, a rare manganese oxide that would have come from the Pyrenees, 150 miles away. The use of color derived from minerals like lapis lazuli suggests that even in these eras so far away from us in time, artists could have relied on far flung trade routes for color. The lapis, for example, would have come from Afghanistan.

When you first enter the exhibition, you will see two magnificent male, warrior statues. They demonstrate that bronze statues (these from ca. 460 B.C.E.) also were enhanced by color. Silver, colored stones, gold, copper were used for teeth, eyes, eye lashes, lips, and nipples. The color was an integral part of all of the “glory that was Greece.” It appears that during these golden eras, nude art works would have been naked without their colors. Will you see these statues and think them garish? That is surely what our culture had long ordained. Rush to this exhibition and consider how much you will, or will not, reconsider.  Warrior picture: Two bronze warriors from Riace, originals ca. 460 BCE, These were found underwater off the coast of Reggio di Calabria.  The last day for Gods in Color is January 7, 2018. See legionofhonor.org     Museum Admission: Free for members; $15 (ages 18-640, $12 (over 65), $6 (college students with ID), Free for age 17 and younger.

 

Wortham Ctr, Houston, Hit Hard by Hurricane Harvey

The Hedgehog is sorry to report great damage to Houston’s Wortham Theater Center due to the terrible force of Hurricane Harvey. Wortham is the home for the Houston Grand Opera and the Houston Ballet. The Hedgehog reported on the many contemporary dance events of the Dance Salad Festival held there in March, 2016.

More than a month after the Hurricane, the stage floor was still damp. Storage spaces below the orchestra pit had housed costumes, shoes, and other stage properties. These items, ruined by water, added toxicity and bad odors to the space as they mouldered away . Dressing rooms for the corps de ballet were in ruins with broken mirrors and furniture as well as ruined floors.  Dyes used for costumes also added to the dangerous chemical soup. Air conditioning, electrical and mechanical systems were wrecked.

Nevertheless, the show went on: the Ballet opened in the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, September, and the Opera had its season opening in the George R. Brown Convention Center, October. Predictions for the return to the Wortham Theater Center range from May, 2018, to October, 2018. Living in San Francisco where rebuilding and repairs to venues including the Opera House, Veterans Building, and City Hall from the 1984 earthquake continued for years, the Hedgehog wishes Houston a speedier recovery.

DARPAN: SHAMBHAVI DANDEKAR KATHAK CONCERT

October 15, in Santa Clara, CA, Shambhavi Dandekar presented a concert of Kathak dances performed by expert performers including herself and guest artists as well as performances by her students. This was a brilliant program: the students added a great deal to the presentation while the artists were able to explore the further reaches of Kathak both as movement art and storytelling. It was a delightful excursion through the realms of the classical dance art from ancient times in Northern India.

Shambhavi Dandekar, Kathak artist and director of SISK, the Shambhavi Institute of Kathak, of California and India

The program opened with extraordinary works performed by Tejaswini Sathe, Director of SISK in India and sister in law of Ms. Dandekar. As Ms Dandekar had injured her shoulder and needed to restrain her movements, Tejaswini flew in from India. A dance element that was most noticeable was her eloquent arm movement. In Kathak, the essence of the dance is usually the complexity of the rhythms beat out by the feet. Ms Sathe’s movement was expressive throughout her body. She opened and defined the space through which she moved by the graceful, generous use of arms, while traveling through the stage space still keeping rhythms in her feet, arms and head. She performed Devi Stuti, a tribute to the feminine energy in the universe, and Rudra Taal, an explosion of challenging rhythms.

Tejaswini Sathe, Guest Artist, Director of SISK, India

Mr. Rann Shinar ably performed a story in Kathak. He enacted a son devoted to Vishnu, a cruel father angry at his son’s devotions, and Narsimha, the fourth incarnation of Vishnu who came to slay the father whose true identity was the Demon King.

Chief Guest of the event was Kala Ramnath, Indian violinist, singer, composer, and recent recipient of the Sangeet Natak Academy’s award, India’s most honored arts award.

Ghungroos/Footbells worn by Kathak dancers

SISK’s adult students performed a musical teen tal in Raag Kalaavati. It included traditional dances, footwork and gestures. The eight dancers were accompanied by music by Chinmay Kolhatkar. The students performed very well. Obviously well trained and well rehearsed, their performance and the dances performed by other students created an excellent tour through Kathak, both its technique and meaning. Ms Dandekar achieved something special with her students: she had choreographed works which were suitable for their abilities and therefore let them shine. The dances were clean, strong, and expressive.

The announcer and narrator was Samita Pradhan. She was outstanding. The commentary added a great deal to the audience’s appreciation for the program.

Tabla Drums

Tabla player Tanmay Bichu was central to the performance. Performing with Shambhavi he played abstract forms of tabla compositions, Peshkaar, Kaida, and Chalan in a ten beat taal, Jhaptaal. One needs to see and hear a fine tabla performer such as this one to appreciate and be knocked off one’s feet by the seemingly endless mathematical complications of the rhythms and the speed of the musician’s hands and fingers as he plays. These complex rhythms were incredibly matched by Ms Dandekar’s feet as she danced with him. It appeared to be a conversation but one that might not be put into words. The audience must be available in the moment, all senses tuned only to the rhythmic sounds. Once it stops, one may become aware that during the rhythmic slicing and mixing of time in the music, time had stopped.

Senior students danced Chatrang, meaning four colors, representing four elements of music depicting storytelling (Nritya). The four are Bandish, melodic composition; Taraana, abstract syllables set to melodic composition; Sargam, notes of melodic composition; and rhythmic syllables. It is fascinating to this audience member how much of the music and dance plays with abstractions even while a story floats on top. In Chatrang, Krishna and the Gopis (young women keepers of cows) play Holi in Vrindavan. Holi is the holiday when devotees exult in spraying bright colors on each other. Vrindavan is the garden in which Krishna loved to frolic as a child. These dancers succeeded at communicating the essence of the story while dancing Kathak’s rhythms and turning movements. For the audience, it was another, more advanced step in learning about Kathak.

In Chatrang and all of the program, the costumes were elegant and colorful. Care was taken to match or vary color and styles, but there was never a chance for a great costume innovation to trip up a dancer. Costumes were by Sheetal Oak, Isha Phadke, of Pune, India.

Three artists visiting from other cities performed a Shiva Drupad in Raag Natbhairav and taal Dhamaar, a fourteen beat cycle. Each of them is the founder and director of a Kathak school and each one comes to the Bay Area to acquire further learning from Ms Dandekar. They are Meenal Chakradeo, Meenal’s Academy of Performing Arts, San Diego; Shaili Bhandari, Nrita Shaili School of Kathak, Phoenix; Ekta Popat, Storytellers School of Dance, Houston. Their dance had choreography and vocals by Param Guru Pandit Maneesha Sathe. These dancers made a beautiful and powerful trio.

Triveni, meaning the confluence of three rivers, was a dance of the three moods of Raag Kedar: taraana (abstact syllables set to melodic composition), tabla compositions, sargam (notes of melodic composition). These students in their third year of Kathak study performed beautifully.

Tejaswini Sathe and Shambhavi Dandekar

Ms Dandekar demonstrated her polished acting skills in an Abhinaya piece, Yashodhara. Named for the wife of Bhagwaan Buddha, the touching dance represented the sacrifices of a wife whose husband is seldom available to her and leaves her alone. She longs for a true marriage of companionship and love. When, at last, her husband returns, he has become Gautam Buddha and helps others to achieve enlightenment. She understands and follows. The dance is based on a Hindi poem by Maithili Sharan Gupta.

A change of pace was a challenging Kathak piece set to music by the contemporary rock group, Coldplay. The song, Sky Full of Stars, expressed the dancers’ passion for dance and its role in their lives according to the narrator. It was an exciting, energetic piece skillfully performed. The dancers reveled in the challenges of cross cultural art.

The program closed with a fantastic match up with Shambhavi Dandekar, Tejaswini Sathe, and Tanmay Bichu. They outdid each other and themselves, each set of rhythmic divertissements over coming the next. It was dazzling!

 

 

REVELATIONS: Art from the African American South

This is the exhibition you must not miss. It will open your eyes and pull on your heart. Here is art that so many of us do not know about by artists whose names one may not yet know. REVELATIONS: Art from the African-American South at the De Young Museum, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, shows sixty-two works by African American artists of the Southern US. These pieces are now in the permanent collection of San Francisco’s Fine Arts Museums. Let’s all say, Hurrah!  The work represents artists of several generations. It reflects history and emotions of the African diaspora from the centuries of capture and transportation from homelands, slavery, brutal segregation and racism, to civil rights struggles and current battles for equality and freedom of expression. Strains of African traditions are intertwined with other aspects of American culture in the art.

Lonnie Holley (b.1950), Him and Her Hold the Root, 1994. Fine Arts Museums San Francisco

As most of the artists did not have formal art education, they taught themselves through individually developed processes. They use found materials, both natural and man made. in assemblages  as often as they might use traditional paint and brushes. Lonnie Holley’s work above uses rocking chairs; a smaller, “female” one leans on the taller “male” one. They support a root which must have been picked especially for its expressive shape. The root can reflect both the historical family roots of the rocking chair couple and the potential future created by the couple. Lonnie Holley said, “My thing as an artist, I am not doing anything but still ringing that Liberty Bell, ding, ding, ding, on the shorelines of independence. Isn’t that beautiful? Can you hear the bell I’m ringing? And will you come running?”

Joe Minter(b.1943), Camel at the Water Hole, 1995, Fine Arts Museums, San Francisco

Joe Minter’s work was displayed in his yard in Birmingham, AL. He called it the “African Village in America.” It was the best known of the yard displays which were often the only exhibition of work by these artists. His sculpture above is made of pick-axes and shovels which refer to the hard labor of the African-Americans exploited during Jim Crow days and slavery. Minter has said, “The way you make an African a slave, you make him invisible. I’m making the African visible.”

Born in Emelle, AL, 1928, Thornton Dial is one of the better known, more widely exhibited artists in this group. He said, “My art is the evidence of my freedom.”

Thornton Dial (1928-2016), Lost Cows, 2000-2001, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

His surprising sculpture above is constructed of cow skeletons, golf bag, golf balls, mirrors, enamel, Splash Zone compound. He said, “When I start making something I gather up the pieces I want to work with. I only want materials that have did people some good but once they got the service out of them they throwed them away. So I pick it up and make something new out of it. That’s why we pick up these things. Negroes done learned how to pick up old things and make them brand-new. They had to learn them things to survive, and they done got wiser for doing, wiser by looking at the things and taking them into the mind. You call that ‘smart.'” The cow bones are painted white; the pelvic bones are placed to remind one of Ku Klux Klan masks and bring doubts about white supremacy when the “white” humans are so dependent on darker individuals to do their daily work from cooks to nannies to caddies.

Thornton Dial (1928-2016), New Light, 2004, Fine Arts Museums San Francisco

Thornton Dial’s New Light is powerful and mysterious. His materials are wood, wire, twine, caning, cloth, wire screen, cow bone, enamel, Splash Zone compound on wood. The statement is overwhelming, an example of why art often is not well represented through verbal description; why those who know say “if he wanted to write an essay, he would have written an essay, ” instead of painting a picture, composing a sonata, or creating this assemblage. Mr. Dial, who passed away, 2016, however, is an eloquent spokesman for himself and his art. “Art is like a bright star up ahead in the darkness of the world. It can lead peoples through the darkness and help them from being afraid of the darkness. Art is a guide for every person who is looking for something. That’s how I can describe myself. Mr. Dial is a man looking for something.”

This magisterial acquisition includes paintings, sculptures, drawings and quilts by twenty-two artists. Eight of the artists were included in the 2006 exhibition of The Quilts of Gee’s Bend. Some of the works are clearly representative and some more devoted to pure design, like the quilts; there are revelations throughout. Often pigeon-holed as “outsider” art or “folk” art what you see here is art. The exhibition opened June 3, 2017, and will close April 1, 2018. Do you really need a reason to come to San Francisco? Put this show at the top of the list.

Artists’ quotes from the magazine, Fine Arts, published by the Fine Arts Museums San Francisco. Photographs courtesy Fine Arts Museums San Francisco. For a fascinating profile of the man who amassed the collection of art by African Americans in the South,  see https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/lifestyle/bill-arnett-african-american-art-collection/

DEGAS, IMPRESSIONISM, & HATS: SF LEGION OF HONOR

For lovers of the French Impressionist painters and those interested in French, fashion, and women’s history, there is just one more week to see the extraordinary exhibition, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade, at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum. The exhibition can be enjoyed for the exciting collection of paintings by Degas, Renoir, Morisot and others and also for the rich context of the paintings.

Edgar Degas, The Millinery Shop, 1879-1886, Art Institute of Chicago.

In late 19th century into the years just before World War I, a hat was a necessary part of one’s clothing. It clearly described one’s place in society. The more embellished with ribbons, plumes, and in some cases whole birds, the more one could be regarded as part of the idle rich. A straw boater was a necessity for men and women even if one never owned a boat. At the same time, a woman wearing a straw hat might also be a woman who wore bloomers and rode a bicycle. The craze for elaborate hats gave the millinery industry a huge economic boost at exactly the same time that the invention of the department store allowed middle class shoppers access to a vast variety of purchases. The independent millinery shops existed side by side with the department stores’ mass produced products and became more exclusive, catering to the desires of wealthier women competing for the finest, most up to date hats.

Edouard Manet, At the Milliner’s, 1881, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Although their customers might be very wealthy, the women who worked at a milliner’s shop were not. The head of the shop, called the premiere, could make a fair living, but she needed an array of workers who were skilled with a needle, knew about felting, and were desperate enough to work exceedingly long hours for next to nothing in pay. The hours could extend around the clock at the height of a “season.” Millinery workers were exposed to the dangers of mercury used in the felting process and arsenic used in taxidermy to keep from decay the birds or small animals on the hats. Twelve or fifteen hours of breathing such elements in an attic room without ventilation could cut short a milliner’s career if not also her life. This was a good setting for the spread of  tuberculosis.

The reputations of millinery workers were compromised by the idea of female workers as prostitutes. Income was slight; additional resources might be accepted and surely were offered. The milliners often wore samples of their creations or were seen working in the shops either making the hats or selling them. For the middle or upper class shopper-onlooker, the woman was a commodity much like the hat. Manet’s painting above with a woman whose shoulder is bare may represent a customer trying on hats or a milliner revealing more about herself.

Edgar Degas, The Milliners, ca.1898, Saint Louis Art Museum

The Impressionists took a strong interest in the changing society around them and found inspiration in the emerging middle classes, contemporary sporting pastimes, and real occupations. All of this is examined in the paintings in this exhibition. Additionally, one may look at the pictures of the millinery shops and see, for example, Degas’ focus on color and design. The hats can be seen as pools of color making an all over design and the women working with the hat part of the design themselves just as they are both creators and tools of the millinery industry. The exhibition includes a fascinating array of hats of the era. Don’t miss a chance to see them: the hats have stories to tell. Not least of the stories is how at least 300 million birds were killed for their plumage in the year 1911 alone. Perhaps only the Great War, which changed fashion to less extravagant styles, slowed the massacres by imposing massacres of its own.

This exhibition was organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Simon Kelly, Curator & Head of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Saint Louis Art Museum also organized the 2014 exhibition Impressionist France: Visions of Nation from LeGray to Monet. Read about it at www.livelyfoundation.org/wordpress/?p=486

The exhibition is open through Sunday, September 24. Tickets will be timed during the closing week. Hours: Tues.-Sunday, 9:30-5:15. see legionofhonor.org/visiting

ANN WOO: ARTIST, COMMUNITY LEADER

With great sadness, The Lively Foundation announces the passing of Ann Woo. Ms Woo was a participant and supporter of the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley. She taught a week long (M2F©) workshop and a class on Full Day of Dance© in Classical Chinese Dance, IDF@SV 2015. In addition, she choreographed a premiere work for her dancers to perform in the 2015 Festival Concert. It is a shock to realize she has been taken from us.

It was a special delight to offer her teaching Classical Chinese dance to both adults and young dancers, age 12 and up. She was an exceptional person in so many ways. She was the Founder and Director of CPAA, Chinese Performing Arts of America. She earned a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and was a successful business woman in Silicon Valley. She has an incredible 9 patents to her name. When she studied EE at UC, Berkeley, she was the only woman out of 120 students!

Ms Woo turned her energies to advancing the understanding of Chinese culture through the arts, especially dance. She received many awards. she was the Co-Founder of the Asian Heritage Council, Chair of Arts & Culture for the Cupertino-Hsinchu Sister Cities Association, Executive Director of the Chinese Folk Dance Association in San Francisco. Her company has performed in major theaters in San Jose and San Francisco, and she has been profiled by SPARK on KQED-TV.

Ann Woo (2nd from left) with some of her students at IDF@SV, 2015. Usha Srinivasan, far right.

Chinese Classical Dance has a very special way of moving that makes the dancer seem to glide through the air, just above the floor. Ann determined that her IDF@SV students would learn that and the beautiful manipulations of props, enormously long silk scarves or fans, which is an integral part of the dances.

A personal note: I met Ann Woo through Usha Srinivasan, Founder & Director of Sangam Arts. Ann and I met and immediately hit it off. We shared personal and artistic values. Then, I learned that another friend, Leianne Lamb, had taken Chinese Folk Dance classes from Ann. So, although we saw each other far too seldom, there was a feeling of the net of community holding us together. When I saw her at her Center, she had beautiful roses from her garden on her desk. She loved her roses. She invited me to present my dance, Face to Face, a  quartet, on her Gala Spring Festival. It was an honor to be part of this exceptional program which included music and dance of several different Chinese cultures. I admired her immensely hard work in establishing her Center and her dedication to expanding understanding through sharing culture. This is a very great loss.