A Mathews mural is in limbo

October 15, 2017 § 1 Comment

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The center panel includes Apollo and the muses, plus Hygeia, goddess of health.

ARTHUR MATHEWS CREATED his three-panel mural Health and the Arts in 1912 for what is now the Health Sciences Library in San Francisco. It has hung there for more than a century. Now the library has gone digital, disposed of its books and put its classical home in Pacific Heights on the market, leaving the fate of the mural uncertain.

The mural was commissioned for the reading room of the library’s classical home, designed by architect Albert Pissis. Mathews at the time was perhaps California’s most important artist, and one who exerted considerable influence over the education of a generation of early California artists and the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire. Other murals by Mathews include a series of 12 panels tracing the history of California in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Sacramento.

A spokesman for the library said “it is too early to tell” about the fate of the mural and that it “depends on a buyer’s intended use for the building.” The Beaux Arts building is being marketed as a “one-of-a-kind development opportunity.”

“Although the murals could be removed, it would be a costly conservation process that would make them even more difficult to sell,” said Harvey Jones, the longtime curator who built the Oakland Museum’s expansive collection of work by Arthur Mathews and his wife, the equally talented artist Lucia Mathews. “It seems unlikely that a new owner will be able to utilize the murals in a new configuration of the spaces. Their artistic appeal is dubious to contemporary business sensibilities.”

Jones, author of The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews, added: “I wish there were some reasonable possibilities for optimism here.”

MORE: “Medical library is on the block

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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.

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.

He painted what he saw

June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

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By JEAN STERN
Executive Director, The Irvine Museum

I first met Ken Auster in 1998. Up to that time, I had been a lifelong collector of historic California paintings and had not really considered works by contemporary plein air painters for my collection.

One day in 1999, Robin Fuld and I were discussing the contemporary plein air art community and she took me to the Laguna Art Museum to show me two paintings by Ken Auster that were on display in the back stairwell. I was immediately struck by these remarkable paintings. They were wonderful works, full of light, color and movement. It was clear that this artist knew what he was doing, knew how to do it, and most importantly knew why to do it. This was no ordinary painter, this was truly a master.

A few days later, I visited Ken and Paulette in their studio in Laguna Canyon. There, I saw paintings of traffic jams! In addition to beautiful landscapes and beach scenes, Ken was intent on painting what he saw in everyday life, and for those of us who live in California, we do indeed know traffic jams.

While many self-described “Impressionists” were painting elegant scenes of ladies with parasols in a carriage on the Champs-Elysees — scenes from the past century they had never experienced — Ken painted the same concept, but as it appeared today. He painted people in cars trying to get home at the end of the day. He found beauty in a setting that most of us consider a predicament to be endured.

That day, I talked at length with Ken and he impressed me as a knowledgeable and deeply committed artist. He could talk about anything regarding art and he had a deep working knowledge of art history. Before I left, I purchased a striking painting entitled “Electric Avenue.” It shows Market Street in San Francisco during rush hour, with numerous cars and an electric trolley. He signed it, “To my friend Jean, 1999.”

Ken and I became friends and I saw him many times at the Crystal Cove Art Festivals, the Plein Air Painters of America Annuals, the Maui Plein Air Painting Invitationals and the Laguna Plein Air Painting events. I have presented him with several painting awards over the years, including Best in Show at the 2013 Maui Invitational.

He was a wonderful person, a brilliant man and a great artist. May he rest in peace.

MORE: The Palette from the Irvine Museum

Legacy of the Jewel City

January 3, 2016 § 1 Comment

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Jules Guérin | Panoramic View of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition

By NANCY BOAS

It is almost impossible to imagine how isolated California artists were from the world’s art centers and new artistic ideas before 1915. Travel was difficult. Ships had to go around South America to reach the West Coast. The Rocky Mountains and the Sierras presented their own high barriers to travel.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 — the focus of the “Jewel City” exhibition at the de Young Museum — had a transformational influence on the art and culture of the Bay Area.

In particular the fair was crucial in shaping the artistic development of the Society of Six, a group of plein air painters working in the Bay Area considered one of the country’s most important modernist developments in the early 20th century. Their work changed dramatically as a result of what they experienced there. « Read the rest of this entry »

Still teaching its lessons

October 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photograph of the Swedenborgian Church by Laurie Passey

The Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco is a National Historic Landmark.

By TED BOSLEY

My earliest memories of the Swedenborgian Church are from about 1957. I would have been three years old. I remember the welcoming fire behind the hearth and the home-like atmosphere of the sanctuary. And there were the welcoming people, too: Rev. Othmar Tobisch and Mrs. Tobisch, and Jane Sugden — “Miss Jane,” as we called her — who taught my sister Kathy and me to sing. I recall especially the sound and feel of the rush-bottomed chairs that my little backside swam around in.

Our father died in 1959, so most of our childhood memories of the church are connected with our mother, Phyllis Bosley. The church became our home away from home. Kathy and I were there four or five times every week for one reason or another: children’s choir practice, adult choir practice, Thursday night supper or to help Miss Jane with a project.

I don’t recall exactly when I became interested in the church building as a potent physical object, but I do remember why. Sitting at the back of the church waiting for a wedding to conclude so I could blow out the candles and sweep up the rice (Mr. Tobisch paid 75 cents per wedding), I picked up a copy of the little pamphlet written in 1945 on the 50th anniversary of the first service. It described historic features of the church, practically all of which — and this is what captured my complete attention — remained decades later exactly as they were described. It seemed incredible that a place might be so loved as to be left unmolested for so long.

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Charles Campbell (1915-2014)

October 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

Glenna Putt | Charlie Listening to Music (2000)

Glenna Putt | Charlie Listening to Music (2000)

By KENNETH BAKER
San Francisco Chronicle

Charles Campbell, a San Francisco gallery owner who represented major Bay Area contemporary artists for more than 60 years, died of natural causes Friday [October 3, 2014] at his San Francisco home. He was 99.

Mr. Campbell became famous locally for showing what he liked, irrespective of fashion or potential profit. He happened to admire and exhibit many artists later identified with the region’s signature art movement, Bay Area Figuration. They included Nathan Oliviera (1928-2010), Paul Wonner (1920-2008), Gordon Cook (1927-85), Theophilus “Bill” Brown (1919-2012), James Weeks (1922-98) and Joan Brown (1938-90).

The back room at Mr. Campbell’s gallery was long known to locals as a treasure trove of artistic miscellany. There visitors might pore over an ever-changing array of works on paper and small paintings by American and European artists both famous and obscure, interspersed with Indian miniatures and the odd pre-Columbian or African artifact.

Nothing comparable exists, or perhaps could exist, in the supercharged and economically polarized art market of today.

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