Tag Archives: Fine Arts Museums San Francisco

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.

 

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/

A TALE of TWO MUMMIES at SF’s Legion of Honor Museum

Mummies 1The ancient Egyptians longed for immortality, but the afterlife they achieved as eternally-popular museum displays may not be what they expected. At San Francisco’s Legion of Honor Museum, we can contemplate the mysteries of mummification in The Future of the Past: Mummies and Medicine, on view through August 26, 2018. The museum has transformed its intimate Gallery 1 into a showcase of Egyptian antiquities from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s own collection, featuring two mummies: Irethorrou, a 2600-year-old priest, and a woman called Hatason who is 500 years older. A team of scientists, Egyptologists, physicians, museum curators and conservators has explored how thse embalmed individuals lived, died, and were prepared for eternity. Rebecca Fahig and Kerstin Muller of Stanford University Medical School’s Dept. of Radiology conducted high-resolution, three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) scans of the mummies, and the resulting data

Mummies 2

was studied and interpreted by Jonathan Elias of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium.

Mummies 3The exhibit reveals information that has been gleaned about Irethorrou’s lifestyle, the society in which he lived, his religion, and the funerary beliefs of his time. The second mummy and her coffin have not fared as well and present a stark contrast to Irethorrou’s perfectly preserved body. In high-tech contrast to these ancient Egyptian practices, visitors can examine both mummies by means of an interactive “virtual dissection table.” A fascinating group of amulets and tomb furnishings is also on view.

Mummies 6In a brilliant move, the museum commissioned Los Angeles-based artist RETNA to cover the gallery walls with his signature  painted calligraphic shapes, based on Egyptian as well as Arabic, Hebrew, runic and other sources. The ghostly white writing enrgizes the space and evokes a sense of mystery akin to what the ancients must have felt in the presence of hieroglyphics (meaning “sacred writing”) Originally a graffiti artist, RETNA (born Marquis Duriel Lewis, in 1979) has built a formidable reputation as a studio painter and public artist; appropriately enough, his stage designs grace the current San Francisco Opera’s current production of Veridi’s Aida. Renee Dreyfus, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco’s Curator of Ancient Art, explains: “The history of graffiti goes back far into the reaches of antiquity….When I look at RETNA’s words I get the same sense of power that I get when I look at hieroglyphics. He has managed to create the same feeling that I get when I walk into an Egyptian tomb.” While the interpretive panels in the exhibit are excellent, the sense of unfathomable mystery remains.

Mummies 7ALL PHOTOS ©JONATHAN CLARK.

Entry to this exhibition is included with general museum admission: adults $15, seniors 65 + $10, students with current ID $6, members and youth 17 and under Free. Legion of Honor Museum, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave., SF, Open 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m. Tues-Sun; open select holidays, closed most Mondays. see Legionof Honor.famsf.org

 

Pierre Bonnard at Legion of Honor, San Francisco

BonnardPhotoPainting Arcadia is the title of a landmark exhibition of works by French artist, Pierre Bonnard, who lived 1867-1947. The 75 works on display make a gorgeous show. It will be at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, until May 15. Hedgehog readers should go very soon so that they will have time to go back and see it all again. Oddly, there has been controversy about the title. Should it really be called “Arcardia?” Aren’t there dark notes mixed in with all the sunshine? If he is a great artist, surely he could not be so superficial as to be painting Arcadia? This viewer comes down on the side of the correctness of the title. Arcadia was a mountainous region of ancient Greece whose populace was known for being contented in their simple, pastoral life. The word has come to mean anyplace, real or fictional that offers a peaceful life. Right, it’s not Painting Olympus; we are looking at beauty in ordinary, middle class life. The world near Bonnard was filled with women, croquet players, cats, actually quite a lot of cats. It is a world of humans and so could not possibly be without its dark notes, but they are dark notes within a sunlit world.

PBonnardYoungHandsome and intelligent, Bonnard could have done well as a lawyer and satisfied his father. He painted instead. In the early years of his career, he identified as part of the self-named Nabis. Influenced by Paul Gauguin, the Nabis found their subjects in everyday life and favored brilliant color. Their title, Nabi, is Hebrew for Prophet. Bonnard was deeply interested in the Japanese prints which made their first appearances in France while he was beginning his work. Their impact shows up in his flattened perspective and planes of color. The cats reflect, if not an influence of the Japanese artists, then agreement on interesting shapes and movement.                                                           TheWhiteCat1894Cats and dogs, indulged with treats and taken along on picnics, were an essential part of the life represented by Bonnard and also offered extraordinary liveliness and character to his depiction of breakfast tables and living rooms. His interest in these settings is for their resources as design not for a sociological study. A woman’s blouse matches the design of the wall paper behind her. Part of the whole picture could have the impact of an abstract design even though there are recognizable individuals, chocolate, biscuits.

Woman&Cat1912The overall impression from this writer’s first visit? Color. Bonnard’s world either was full of intense yellows, pink, and the deep, heavy green of summer, or this was the part of his world he chose to celebrate and honor forever. It is a world of white cats stretching on breakfast tables, choosing to pose in the exact spot where their ideal, feline forms will be highlighted by the well lit back drop of the mistress’s checked blouse. The painter’s lover relaxes on a bed, comfortable in her nude body and happily playing with her cats on the bed. A man, we assume Bonnard, stands to one side. Also nude, he is separated from woman, bed, and the happy encounter with the cats by a curtain. The onlooker does not know if he is arriving or departing. His strong vertical self balances the design with the roughly circular pattern made by the woman and the cats. We are allowed to look onto this intimate moment. The man is slightly in a shadow; the woman, looking downward at the cats, is in a warm though not bright light.

PBonnardOlderYes, this is Arcadia. Our real world, so full of light, the color yellow, the leafy summer green, dogs, cats, and time for love; what else could it be. Misia plays the piano. Madame lets her cat lick the chocolate off her spoon. Each breath a moment in what may as well be paradise. From June, 2010 to Jan., 2011, San Francisco hosted two extensive, grand shows of French Impressionist art on loan from the Musee d’Orsay, Paris. A surprise star of the show was the collection of works by Pierre Bonnard. The current exhibition offers a unique opportunity to see Bonnard through his life time works. Bay Area museum goers and the many visitors from everywhere else owe Diane B. Wilsey, President of the Board of Trustees, and the late John Buchanan, former Director, a heartfelt, “Merci millefois.” pictures from top: photo of P. Bonnard; The White Cat, 1894; Self-Portrait, young; Woman and Cat, 1912; Self-Portrait, older.

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.