Tag Archives: San Francisco

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.

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.

 

BAY AREA UPDATE: ART, MUSIC, BASEBALL, PRIDE

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This is it, the weekend of the perfect storm of San Francisco Bay Area events. It is a harmonic convergence of absolutely everything. The 45th Annual Pride Parade will be the biggest ever, well over 100, 000 people will crowd into the narrow streets of San Francisco to party and parade. The arts of music, personal adornment, and social action will be represented. The party at the end of the parade, around 5 p.m., occupies Civic Center.

th-3Both the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s  are playing home games. The Giants’ game is at 4:05 p.m. The Pride Parade will have moved past the stadium by then.

teahouseIn Golden Gate Park: The Turner exhibition is up at the de Young Museum, Alice Radio’s Summerthing brings live music and food trucks from 12-4, the Dunsmuir dance company offers Scottish music and dance from 1 -2:45 (free), and all the usual attractions from the Japanese Tea Garden to the Bison are there for you.

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The San Francisco Symphony’s Beethoven Festival offers its final performance of Beethoven’s opera Fidelio with an all-star cast including Nina Stemme in the title role and Alan Held. It will be an inspiring performance. With liberty and fidelity as its noble themes, this opera is more than worth whatever transportation challenges you think you might face. It begins at 7:30 p.m. You will have the treat of mingling with the revelers near by. Celebrate Liberty and Fidelity!  Pictured here: Opera star Nina Stemme.

 

Beethoven: The Marathon Man

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The San Francisco Symphony, led by Music Director & Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, recreated an extraordinary day in music history. On December 22, 1808, at the Theater an der Wien, in Vienna, Beethoven premiered his 6th and 5th symphonies, the Piano Concerto No. 4, Choral Fantasy, movements of his Mass in C major, the aria Ah! Perfido. It was a four hour long concert. The story goes that the evening was a disaster. The musicians were not well prepared to play either symphony. The errors in the Choral Fantasy were so egregious that Beethoven stopped its performance and demanded it begun again. Reports include the continuing disappearance of the audience and that the weather was unusually cold. The SF Symphony recreated the event (the weather in SF being fine) with the Beethoven Marathon, June 20. The Hedgehogs were fortunate to hear the full program but divided into two separate evenings, June 17 and 18. (Previous posts about the June 17th concert and the June 18 performance of the Symphony No. 5 are below.)

             mtt_09-black_0598-5-120x67  MTT opened the June 18 program with Symphony No. 5. The shock and awe (isn’t this a truer way to use those words than their more recent history as a pair?) of the Symphony still occupied our beings when the second half of the program opened with the Sanctus movement from the Mass in C major. It begins with only four measures played by the orchestra and then is sung by the chorus without accompaniment. The San Francisco Symphony Chorus with soloists Nikki Einfeld, soprano; Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Phan, tenor, Shenyang, bass-baritone gave us a stellar presentation of the prayer of praise. The Sanctus is also a central Hebrew prayer: Kodosh, Kodosh, Kodosh, Holy, Holy, Holy, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus; the words, meaning and purpose are the same. The purity of the singers’ voices created a new atmosphere in Davies Hall, peaceful and exalted.

Jonathan_Biss_171_credit_Benjamin_Ealovega-120x67 Beethoven was a great pianist as well as a great composer and sought after for his performances. Spontaneous, improvisational “fantasies” were greatly valued by music lovers; Beethoven was a master of this kind of playing. Improvisation disappears as it happens unless a recording device is present. There is some documentation of cadenzas which were written after an improvisation or descriptive writing reporting on the music. Fortunately there is a document of Beethoven’s Fantasy (Opus 77), 1809. This exciting music may be as close as we can get to Beethoven improvising. Performed by Jonathan Biss, the Fantasy was a roller coaster ride of rapidly changing forms and exquisite, high spirited energy. Mr. Biss obviously relished exploring Beethoven’s free ranging imagination. His performance was thrilling.

The Choral Fantasy demonstrates the Beethoven who stretched his arms to encircle the world. It is set to a poem attributed to Christoph Kuffner. It begins, “Ingratiating, lovely, and loving/are the harmonies of our lives,/the sense of beauty brings forth/flowers that bloom forever.” Performed by the SF Symphony; Jonathan Biss, piano; Nikki Einfeld, soprano; Brielle Marina Neilson, mezzo-soprano; Abigail Nims, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Phan, tenor; Matthew Peterson, baritone; Shenyang, bass-baritone; and the SF Symphony Chorus, it was a musical expression of the triumph of the human spirit. It is propelled by the same joy in life that lifts up Symphony No. 9 and takes us with it. On December 22, 1808, Beethoven himself played the piano. Mr. Biss’s power and expression are his own, but one finds him a grand stand-in for the master. Feeling lighter, more optimistic the audience could depart as though at the beginning of things instead of an ending. The SF Symphony fulfilled the Choral Fantasy‘s promise: “When music’s magic exerts its power/and words speak consecration,/something wonderful takes shape…”

Pictures: top: Beethoven; Michael Tilson Thomas; Jonathan Biss

 

 

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.