Christo’s ‘Running Fence’ 40 years later

November 20, 2016 § 1 Comment

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In 1976, Running Fence was installed over 24.5 miles of Northern California farmland.

THE HAMLET OF Valley Ford hasn’t changed much in the last four decades. There’s more traffic, of course: It’s located on scenic Highway 1, and Bodega Bay is just 8 miles to the west. But Dinucci’s Italian Dinners is still there, serving the family-style meals that made its initial reputation more than a century ago.

Running Fence came through Valley Ford.

Running Fence crossed Highway 1 in Valley Ford.

Local ranchers still come to the Valley Ford Market for coffee and the latest talk on lamb prices and government regulation. And the land itself seems immutable: The rolling pastures broken by eucalyptus windbreaks — speckled with fat sheep and sleek cattle — present a prospect as timeless as the nearby Pacific Ocean.

But something happened here 40 years ago that changed everything. A discreet monument marking that event stands at the Valley Ford post office, a single, corroded metal pole 18 feet high, with a small commemorative plaque at its base. It was at this spot that Running Fence came through, completed on September 10, 1976.

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STILL MORE:
Smithsonian Magazine: “Christo’s California Dreamin’
The Wall Street Journal: “A California Dream Come True
Christo’s Archives

VIDEO: In Valley Ford, the post office is also a museum of Christo’s work.

Paul Wonner and the ‘Femme au Coq’

November 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Paul Wonner | Still Life with “Femme au Coq”

By MATT GONZALEZ

For several years in the early 1950s, Paul Wonner returned to a subject matter in his art making practice: the painting of a still life with femme au coq, translated from the French as woman with rooster. Anyone familiar with modern European painting would recognize the motif as it was explored by many artists, including Pablo Picasso and Marc Chagall. The trope presents the rooster as a symbol of sexuality, virility and fertility.  Paired with the woman, it exalts romantic love and the heterosexual coupling traditionally associated with marriage.

It is curious that Wonner would find the subject matter interesting enough to return to it over the years — at least four known times in a four- to five-year period — while he was a student at U.C. Berkeley. Of course, painters often return to the same landscape, or paint a subject’s portrait repeatedly, but the painting of a subject that is so allegorical and laden with symbolism is not as common. It suggests Wonner was intrigued by or wrestling with its meaning in connection with his own life and art.

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Cradle of Arts & Crafts

September 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

A TOUR OF the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco, birthplace of the Arts & Crafts movement in the United States.

MORE: “The Arts & Crafts movement started here

Searching for the Pyramid of Cats

September 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Marion Seawell | Pyramid of Cats (1971)

AN EMAIL ARRIVES:

I am looking for a print of “Pyramid of Cats” by Marion Seawell. I have found you through a strange set of circumstances. Stranger still is that this story may sound a bit familiar.

My grandfather had a print of “Pyramid of Cats” hanging in his home for as long as I can remember. He used to teach me how to draw those cats, and partially due to his influence I became an artist and gallery curator. When I think of my grandfather, this is the image I see. When he died, my uncle threw away most of grandpa’s stuff and the poster was lost. I was crushed, but at least my parents still had many of my grandfather’s things, so we still had some good sentimental family heirlooms.

However, I’ve never stopped looking for that poster. The only thing is, I had no idea who the artist was, what the title was, if it was an original drawing or a poster. Nothing. So no matter how I searched, I never found anything.

Fast forward 25+ years to this summer. My parents retired, packed up everything they owned and moved across the country. Only the moving truck never arrived. It was stolen, along with everything they owned. We were absolutely devastated — 70 years of collecting and memories gone. As I tried to help my parents pick up the pieces, I thought again of this poster.

So I went on Facebook and reached out to my cat lovers group and asked everyone if they could help me keep an eye out for it based on my foggy recollection of what it looked like 25+ years ago. Not only did someone find it within 10 minutes, but she found it in connection to an article written by one of your clients. Reading her story sounded so much like my situation it was a little strange; at one point I wondered if we had the same grandpa.

Her story was really inspiring and started out similar to mine. It also led me to you. So I wanted to reach out to you and see if you have one of these posters or know of someone who might be interested in selling.

EARLIER: “Pyramid of Cats

Ed Ruscha’s gas stations

September 11, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Ed Ruscha | Standard Station (1966)

ED RUSCHA WAS 18 when he drove a 1950 Ford sedan from Oklahoma City, where he lived, to Los Angeles to attend art school. That 1956 trip was the first of many in which he roughly followed the fabled Route 66 through western Oklahoma, northern Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and the California desert.

The architecture and symbolism of the gasoline station — that archetypal element in any modern vision of the American West — has long fascinated Ruscha. He brought a camera on successive trips and decided to record in photographs the many stations he encountered.

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Ed Ruscha | Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1962)

For his book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, Ruscha photographed gasoline stations between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. One of these, a Standard station in Amarillo, Texas, intrigued him more than the others and launched a major series of paintings, prints and drawings. “There was something new and clean about it. That gas station had a polished newness that I just had to draw and then paint,” he later recalled.

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Ed Ruscha | Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas (1963)

For his first painted rendition of a Standard gasoline station, Ruscha employed one-point perspective to emphasize its angular architecture. The compositional device provided “a zoom quality” that, with the addition of roving searchlights, visually projected the building out of the night sky and into the viewer’s space, situated below the pumps as if encountering the scene from a car on the roadside. Painted in this way, the station became Ruscha’s iconic symbol of the new, brash culture that was emerging from the western United States.

In early versions the station most often appears as a sleek, modernistic red-white-and-blue symbol of the new American West, robust in the age when gas was cheap and great highways connected the land. Ruscha’s more recent renditions suggest meanings of change and obsolescence, whether they depict the station as a dark abandoned building, in a fiery haze, or as a ghostly apparition.

The exhibition “Ed Ruscha and the Great American West” continues at the de Young Museum in San Francisco through October 9, 2016.

Jay to Bee

August 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

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IN 1951, just days before her scheduled lobotomy after years in a mental hospital, New Zealand author Janet Frame’s first collection of short stories unexpectedly won the Hubert Church Memorial Award, one of the country’s most prestigious honors. The procedure was cancelled, and Frame would go on to become one of the seminal authors of contemporary New Zealand literature.

During her time at the MacDowell artist’s colony in New Hampshire, Frame met painter William Theophilus Brown, and their friendship resulted in a whimsical and artistic correspondence that lasted until Frame’s death in 2004. A new book, Jay to Bee: Janet Frame’s Letters to William Theophilus Brown, captures their moving and enlightening correspondence.

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Bye Bye, Dede — or not?

July 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

VIDEO | Dede Wilsey recalls how she helped bring treasures from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris to San Francisco.

 

THE BOMBSHELL many people had been expecting — and some had been hoping for — came last Sunday when a pair of crack Chronicle columnists reported that longtime president Dede Wilsey was stepping down from the helm of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The story was picked up by The New York Times and others, including an extensive report by KQED.

But it appeared to be news to Dede Wilsey herself. On Facebook, one of her friends posted a message she’d sent:

Dear Ann, thank you so much for your kind words. In actual fact I have not resigned from the museum board. I am still the president and I expect to be president for a long time. That whole article is pure fabrication and I have my attorney working on it. Please spread that word, if you would, because I am on the East Coast and can’t really defend myself from here. Much much love, Dede

By the end of the week, the Chronicle’s new art critic took his turn in a story headlined, “Dede Wilsey pile-on isn’t fair.”

Stay tuned. This could get interesting.

WILSEY

MORE from The New York Times: “No quiet exits

STILL MORE: “The defiant socialite

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UPDATE: “After power struggle, Dede Wilsey prevails

Embattled philanthropist Dede Wilsey, who waged an all-out campaign to stay on as head of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco amid probes into whether she improperly spent the institutions’ money, has won approval to extend her reign as the city’s queen of culture — although with a new title and possibly less power.

Wilsey called the changes “minimal — none — and mostly at my request. I’m delighted.”

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