Tag Archives: de Young Museum

Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey at de Young Museum, SF

The story of Paul Gauguin’s life (1848-1903) lends mystery and romance to the idea of an artist. He left the over developed, over civilized, expensive world of Paris to free himself and find his art in Tahiti. The exhibition at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, Gauguin: A Spiritual Journey, expands the reality of Paul Gauguin as artist and spiritual seeker. It is not so much denying the romance of a man working as a stockbroker, a humdrum job, and revolting against number crunching to seek primitive beauty as it is enriching our understanding of the complicated, thoughtful greatly talented individual. The works in the exhibition come from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek , Copenhagen, and from works in the Fine Arts Museums of SF own collection.

Photograph of Paul Gauguin

In his early life in France’s Merchant Marine and Navy, he sailed around the world and completed his military service. When he returned home, he established a close relationship with Gustave Arosa, who became his legal guardian after the death of his mother. Arosa had a an art collection distinguished by works of Delacroix, artists of the French Salon, and ceramics from world wide origins. In this environment, Gauguin’s interest in art became a passion. Through Arosa, he met Camille Pissaro. The great Impressionist became Gauguin’s friend and mentor. Gauguin had no formal art training. Mette Sophie Gad, a Danish woman, met him in Paris; they married in 1873 and had five children. The stock market  crash in 1882 was a fortunate fall; it opened a door for Gauguin’s full time devotion to his art. Although Mette and Paul would eventrually separate when he turned to painting full time, she loyally supported his work, organized an exhibition in Copenhagen, and sold his paintings. Other painters were also important in his life as friends and companions. He and Emile Bernard met in Brittany where Gauguin made important strides in creating his own style. The Bretons with their distinctive dress and their emphatically not-Parisian life style and environment were nearly foreign and exotic.

Breton Girl, 1889, is in exhibition at de Young

Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh painted side by side in Arles, in the south of France. Each had his own vision creating art, but the few months together surely had an impact. Gauguin left Provence shortly after Van Gogh cut off his own ear. Gauguin continued searching for a pure, wild or “sauvage” home in which he could get in touch with a culture and spirituality which was not influenced by the industrialized, urban world of Copenhagen or Paris. He left Mette and his family to travel to Panama and Martinique. He made his first trip to Tahiti in 1891 under the auspices of the French Ministry of Fine Arts. What he found in Papeete was not an untouched paradise; the colonialism of the French empire had inevitably modified Tahitian existence. He moved onward to another part of the island, Mataiea. On his second trip to Tahiti, his ship was delayed in Auckland, New Zealand. He closely observed and collected Maori art.

Flowers and Cats, 1899, Tahiti, in the de Young exhibtion

His story is not one of finding the original, pure society he sought; instead, it is one of continual seeking. He went to Hivo Oa in the Marquesas Islands, in 1901, and died there in 1903. Among the many glorious surprises in this brilliant exhibition are Gauguin’s ceramics. These are not thrown on a wheel but hand worked in fascinating character. To see his earlier paintings which glory in nature and humanity in nature, and his drawings and paintings of Breton life which present the differences of life style, forms, and pattern established through the shapes of costume and patterns of movement is a spiritual journey for the exhibition visitor. It expands one’s understanding of this artist’s many journeys to come closer to the world as a whole and to immerse himself in particular ways of living which were never entirely his own. Gauguin was also a collector of art. His collections expose his profound interest in other forms of living and other forms of worship. The exhibition closes on June 23. Do not miss it.

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/

Turner’s Paintings at San Francisco’s de Young Museum

Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th of October 1834J.M.W. Turner’s paintings and watercolors make an eye  opening exhibition at the de Young Museum. It opened on June 20 and stays up through September 20. It is a privilege to be in the same room with these great works created in the last fifteen years of Turner’s life and rarely seen in the US. He was born in London, 1775, and died in 1851. This is the first exhibition devoted to work from this period, 1835-1850. It is being shown at the Tate Britain, in London, the Getty Museum, in Los Angeles, and here at the de Young. It is not to be missed. Although many of the works have subjects from mythology and religion, it is the atmosphere of the natural world which most interests Turner. Even in the paintings which have titles from a mythological or historical event, what one sees in the painting is swirling color and light. Titles such as Rough Sea with Wreckage, Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834 (pictured above), Fiery Sunset, Fire at the Grand Storehouse, Tower of London reveal his true focus on forces of nature: fire, storms, bodies of water, clouds. He was admitted to the Royal Academy at age 14 and had his first exhibition in 1802. Throughout his artistic life, especially in these later years, he was an artist only like J.M.W. Turner. It is said that he influenced modern artists such as Monet and Rothko. While that is possible, it is important not to reduce him to be only a forerunner of Impressionism or Abstraction. Fascinated by light and the atmosphere, he did something so strange: he painted things that have no shape, like fire, fog, and wind. The exhibition, J.M.W. Turner: Setting Painting Free, has 65 works. There are large oils on canvas and some smaller water colors. It includes paintings meant to be hung side by side which are now reunited for this exhibition. As one enters the galleries, one sees a full wall taken up by a video of ocean waves. It is a wonderful way to enter Turner’s vision of a world in constant motion.   Elements of nature, the sunlight of Venice, the watery atmosphere of London are the real and yet evanescent subjects of this great artist whose work is a category of its own. The de Young, in Golden Gate Park, is open Tues-Sun, 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Fridays, now through 11/27, until 8:45. Closes 4 p.m., July 4th. Admission to the exhibition is $20, Tues-Fri; $25 Sat, Sun, & holidays; $17and $22 for Srs.; $16 & $21 for Students. Members free.Turner_Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship Into Port Ruysdael, exhibited 1844Turner_The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella, from the Steps of the Europa, exhibited 1842Pictures: at top: Snow Storm–Steamboat off a Harbour’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The author was in this Storm on the night the Ariel left Harwich, 1842, oil on canvas; below article, Left, Fishing Boats Bringing a Disabled Ship into Port Ruysdael, 1844, oil on canvas; Right, The Dogano, San Giorgio, Citella from The Steps of The Europa. 1842, oil on canvas.

Georgia O’Keeffe in San Francisco

lakegeorgeFine Arts Museums of San Francisco presents Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George at the de Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park, from Feb. 15-May 11, 2014. The exhibition of 55 works by the great modern painter reveal so much about O’Keeffe’s inner vision as well as how the outer world looked to her. Erin B. Coe, Chief Curator of the Hyde Collection, Glen Falls, NY, explained that in studying O’Keeffe’s life work, she found that the works created in Lake George had been overlooked and never exhibited for their own importance rather than as a sort of warm up preparation for the artist’s relocation to New Mexico. Georgia O’Keeffe spent nearly half each year from 1918-1934 at Lake George, in upstate NY, staying at the 36 acre farm that belonged to Alfred Stieglitz’s family. It is an exhibition of great depth that shows O’Keeffe’s close connection to the land: specific old trees, flowers and fruits that she planted herself, views of the lake and nearby mountains. The works, wonderful in themselves, served to revitalize interest in landscape, still life, and paintings of buildings at a time when art critics and collectors had decided those subjects were “out.” There are no people in the paintings. The fruits and trees have enough presence on their own, and O’Keeffe lets them fill the canvas. She brings us close to the heart of the trees. Each work of a flower or fruit is a portrait of a being which is very clearly alive, or in the case of the fruit, the product of a living thing, and has its own powerful character. In Lake George, gardening became very important in her life. She had grown up on a farm in Wisconsin. She took more than an acre planted in corn and renewed her interest in botany and horticulture. Among the riveting images are those in a series of paintings of jack-in-the-pulpit flowers. The paintings progress to ever closer close ups as the essence of the flower is presented in a simplified but powerful vision. This is an eye-opening exhibition, one that deserves a close and slow look. O’Keeffe was certain that her work took time to see and to assimilate as she seems to have incorporated each flower and tree into her own understanding. She could then transmit a painting that opened up a way to see them better than one might just walking by. Here’s Georgia O’Keeffe on why she painted the flowers as she did:

“A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower – the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower — lean forward to smell it — maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking — or give it to someone to please them. Still — in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time … ’So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it — I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers: ‘Well — I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower — and I don’t.”

A wonderful experience to get this close to O’Keeffe’s thought and vision; don’t miss it. 628x471GO'KPetuniasPictures: at top, Lake George, 1922; L to R:Autumn Leaves, 1924; Petunias, 1925, all by Georgia O’Keeffe.

Bulgari Jewels at SF’s de Young Museum

Bulgari CataloguebulgaripressThey are like beautiful candy but without the calories! Those were the perfectly descriptive words of wisdom of Mrs. Diane B. Wilsey, Pres. of the Board of Trustees, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, in introducing the exhibition to the press. There was a movie star atmosphere at this press preview. Reporters for print, tv, and online outlets rushed to find seats. There were no seats. There were Very Special people in front of the room. The reporters trailed nearby hoping to understand whatever was being said whether in Italian or English or both. One or two individuals were checking out shoes in order to determine who was someone Very Special from Italy. The theory, usually sound, would be that the Very Special Italians would be wearing Very Special Italian shoes. While the chattering continued, some of the press decided to take the opportunity for just one more bite of goat cheese quiche. The Museum Director and others who had been seated rose to join the chattering class. Mrs. Wilsey had to repeat, “Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen,” three times before the press, perhaps not used to being called with those titles, came to attention. Mrs. Wilsey recalled the time when she was a little girl living in Rome with her family and, age 11, received the gift of a Bulgari ring from her father. She wore the ring that day. The history of Bulgari (accent on the first syllable) presents a fascinating relationship to the history of European and American culture. In the early 1950s, there were those who considered it bad taste to wear yellow gold jewelry at night. Mixing colored cabochon stones was not done. Bulgari revolutionized jewelry by freeing designs from the formal restraints of platinum and white gold. Bulgari works were the favorite of international stars like Elizabeth Taylor. Her husband, Richard Burton, claimed the only word Elizabeth knew in Italian was Bulgari, that “nice little shop.” Andy Warhol considered it the most important museum of contemporary art. The design collections reflected the era of flower power, changes in hem lengths, and many threads through which art created the wider culture. Jean Christophe Baban, Bulgari director, explained that Bulgari respects the difference between luxury items and art. The master jewelers of Bulgari find ways to glorify particular stones which nature created over millions of years. He said that diamonds are an “easy way” to sell jewelry, but it takes more to use different stones and turn them into something rarer still.  The exhibition includes 145 objects; two thirds of them are from Bulgari’s heritage collection. The visitor will find brilliant colors and surprising shapes in jewelry often combining precious and semi-precious stones. The design of the exhibition itself engages the eye with dramatic lighting and appropriately jewel-box like display cases. For this visitor, the watches made to resemble bejeweled serpents were a favorite. Did we misunderstand the true story of Cleopatra and the asp? When Cleo lifted the slender snake to her throat was she thinking of personal adornment, not death? Was the asp anxious to assert its own splendor as a natural jewel? Did it strike out of rivalry with the Queen’s beauty? Here we have proof that Shakespeare was not the pen name of a woman; his sister might have thought this through more carefully. See The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950-1990, at the de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. It opened Sept. 21 and stays through Feb. 17, 2014. Remember: Christmas is coming! Photos at top: Snake bracelet watch in gold, enamal, rubies, Bulgari heritage collection; Bulgari bib necklace, 1965, gold with emeralds, amethysts, turquoise, & diamonds, formerly in the collection of Lyn Revson.