Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Anonymous Fashion

This is a very sinful thing that I am doing here, because I am letting fashion trump art. I caught sight of this painting in one of the American galleries of the De Young Museum as I was passing from one part of the building to another. The seated figure arrested my attention enough for me to stop and take several hasty pictures. However, these were not so much pictures of the painting as they were pictures of that impossibly charming silver-blue/silver-green silk-chiffon dress. Worst of all, I neglected to take the customary photo of the wall-mounted identity card that paintings always have to carry with them inside museums.

Airplane House

Walking east on Fulton in San Francisco this afternoon I stopped when I passed this house looking so pleasant in the sunshine. Rows of these houses face Golden Gate Park and I've passed them often enough that I hardly notice them anymore, but there was a time when this particular house seemed thrilling just to look at. Grace Slick and her band the Jefferson Airplane bought the place in 1968 and were still there in the seventies when I arrived and starting checking out significant landmarks. Earlier this year the online version of the local paper reprinted on old feature article on the house, in case more facts are wanted.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New From Korea

At the San Francisco Asian Art Museum I saw installations by two Korean sculptors reinterpreting traditional ceramic forms. The first four photos are views of a single large case crammed with purple-tinted iridescent vessels, all of them rendered in soap and coated with varnish by a young woman named Meekyoung Shin.

The four photos that follow give views of Meekyoung Shin's second piece, located in the colonnade. This one is called Soap "ceramics" from the Translation Series. It pretends to be a shipment of precious vessels in the midst of uncrating at a museum such as this one.

Also in the colonnade as seen below is Yeesookyung's From the Translated Vases Series, 2011. She took broken pieces of newly-made Korean whiteware porcelain and stuck them together with a special "gilded adhesive" to create these blue-and-white statues.

Finally I walked through the vast empty room that housed the very vast card catalog when I first knew this building during its time as the San Francisco Public Library. The Asian Art Museum keeps all kinds of activities rotating through here, so it's a little unusual to find it quietly shining like this in contented vacancy.

One of those red Italian sofas is the one (in a different position) on which Mabel Watson Payne once famously posed here.

Around the doors in the catalog room are these elaborate bronze frames featuring mottoes in large raised letters, all caps:


Monday, November 28, 2011

The History Boys

The History Boys by Alan Bennett debuted in London as a play in 2004, directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre. The production traveled with great success and fanfare to New York in 2006, when a movie version (directed by Hytner, with the original cast) also went into release. Sometime during those History Boys hoopla years I did read the play, and I remember liking Alan Bennett's introductory essay better than his actual text, but with no very strong feelings one way or the other. Not until last night did I get around to the acted-out version, on DVD. So what I was watching had already been in circulation as a film for five years, this I know – but I do not think that time-lag is what gave me such a bad case of the heebie-jeebies. The whole project was a huge false sentimental muddle, if you ask me, and the problems all kept spiraling back to the same irresolvable conflict between the story Alan Bennett wanted to tell and the vehicle he built to tell it.

In that twenty-page introduction Bennett frankly talks about his problems trying to fit terrestrial realities of time and place and social change into the constraints of a thoughtful 90-minute script about the upper reaches of the ancient English rituals of education. Crucially he confides that his own provincial, working-class, gender-segregated, state-funded school possessed a core of bright hardworking boys in 1951 (of course including Bennett himself) whose examination results gained a good many more places at Oxford and Cambridge than was usual for that undistinguished institution. At several other points in the introduction Bennett goes out of his way to point out spots in the text where Posner, the central schoolboy character, mirrors his own recollection of his own private, personal circumstances and feelings.

Bennett seems never to have considered setting the play in the 1950s, but never explicitly says why not. Instead, he explains that he wanted his play to be "timeless" and conceived it initially set in the present. After he was well into a draft he learned that the entire process for application and acceptance to or rejection from Oxford and Cambridge had changed so radically since 1951, that none of his own vivid memories of that watershed ordeal could be used if the play occurred in the "present time" of the early 2000s. The sorts of extended essay-based exams that Bennett and everyone else over the course of several centuries crammed for and then sat for had been abolished, and he concluded his best choice was to set the play in the 1980s . . .

"... when people seemed to think the system had changed. It's significant that without looking it up nobody I spoke to could quite remember the sequence ..."

"Luckily," Bennett goes on, "the eighties were a period with no special sartorial stamp, no wince-making flairs, for instance, or tie 'n' dye."

The decade of David Bowie and Vivienne Westwood had "no special sartorial stamp"? This is fatal for any artist, to suppose that because he is not paying attention, nothing is happening. Little wonder, then, that the finished film absolutely shimmers with phoniness – as if it truly does belong to every decade and no decade between 1950 and 2010. It sounds like the 1950s, but you're told it isn't. They say it's the 1980s, but you don't buy that either. So what happens to the suspension of disbelief? It never happens at all. You don't believe. Therefore, you don't care.

Intended For Use

Shozo Michikawa produces these slab-like pots in Japan. They are displayed and sold all over the world. His core fans appear to be Europeans, judging by various art sites I scanned after coming across a glossy image of Michikawa's work in Apollo, the London-based "international magazine for collectors."

According to Galerie Besson, "Though his techniques are diverse, Michikawa always strives to create ‘functional’ pieces. He writes, "no matter how styles change I always insist on creating pieces that can actually be used. Pottery was originally an integral part of people's lives.

Above, the potter and his workshop in Seto, Aichi, Japan.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November Polaroids

Polaroid round-up for November, a month that began with a lightweight cardigan (worn originally in the 1970s by the Mabel's mother).

By the end of the month the it was chilly enough for the new furry pink winter coat.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Yang Fudong

It's been a couple of years since the work of Yang Fudong first caught my attention – when Prada commissioned him for a short chic promotional piece. Despite that commercial connection Yang's independent films are relentlessly non-commercial, as he explains in an interview:

"People always ask whether I should show my films in a cinema or a gallery. And it’s a valid question – we already have the cinema, so why use the gallery space? But it would be torturous to show films like mine in a cinema! They have no plot, and are disordered in a traditional film sense."

"It’s not about nostalgia. People might make that assumption because it’s shot on black and white film, but for me that has nothing to do with nostalgia. Black and white film is another kind of colour screen – one that is pure and consistent."

"There is a popular trend in Chinese contemporary art which considers a piece of art as a revolution – and I can’t agree with it. Contemporary art should not have the burden of such functionality. It can’t resolve political issues. Sometimes I kind of agree with those who hate contemporary art, who think contemporary art is useless: it can’t cure diseases; it is not food. That’s why my work has nothing to do with politics or ideology. I am fascinated with the traditional aesthetics of yihui (意会, sensation) which never directly articulates a particular object but, instead, lyrically expresses its subjectivity."

Friday, November 25, 2011

High School


Assigned to a table with Kristin Johns
and gems tucked in a box.
Our washing spigot gleamed bronze,
dripping our Xerox:

Moh's Hardness Mineral Test.
A metal file and glass.
Her T-shirt stretched across her breasts.
We knew, the whole class.

"Do you want to see my baby?"
Kristin Johns asked.
"I got a picture of my baby
here in my bag."

Pearly talc is softer than gypsum,
but mirrors scratch both.
Gypsum looks like a rose blossom
I dutifully wrote.

At thirteen I'd seem sonograms
from when Mom had Abbey.
At thirteen Kristin's sonogram
showed a ghostly baby.

Smoky quartz can crush talc,
a greasy white poweder.
The baby's face was white as milk,
its fists closed on a ladder.

"My daddy says the baby's ugly,"
Kristin Johns laughed.
"He said my baby is ugly,"
Kristin Johns laughed.
She rustled open a Tastee-Cake,
put the picture away.
The baby slept in its glossy lake
someplace far away.

– by Tyler Mills
(from Antioch Review, Summer 2011)


Mimmo Paladino is an Italian painter, printmaker and sculptor now in his sixties, not in the first rank of fame, but with a solid résumé of museum and gallery shows, respectable sales, and press coverage.

It has been more difficult than usual for me to decide how I feel about this particular body of work. The main virtue it seems to carry is sincerity. Earnestness and honesty, those are considerable qualities and certainly deserve respect.

On the other hand, once you have seen a bunch of examples, it starts to feel like you are looking at an anthology of 20th-century technical tropes – all of them pioneered by other people (now dead). I see the harsh outlines of Dubuffet, the melting ovals of Munch, the spidery calligraphy of Giacometti, the brazen curves of Picasso.

Seen that way, Mimmo Paladino becomes interesting as a phenomenon rather than as any kind of path-breaker. I suspect what he represents is the exact spot where the marketable (i.e. derivative) commercial product intersects with the established expectations and tastes of educated, middlebrow art consumers. Voilà, a successful career.