Two from the neighborhood

March 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

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Claude Monet | Adolphe Monet Reading in a Garden (1866)

MONET: THE EARLY YEARS,” the new exhibition at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, provides convincing evidence that Claude Monet had special talent from an early age — even if many of the paintings don’t rank among his greatest hits. Two standouts come from local collections: a painting of the artist’s father reading in a garden from the Larry Ellison Collection, and boats at rest from Ann and Gordon Getty.

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Claude Monet | Boats in the Port of Honfleur (1866)

 

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Ignored, and relieved

January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

Bruce Conner | Breakaway (1966)

Bruce Conner | Breakaway (1966)

REVIEW | JEROME TARSHIS

During the early and middle ’60s, when I was thinking about moving from New York to San Francisco, one of the inducements was that Bruce Conner lived here. My avant-garde film friends thought his first film, A Movie (1958), was an instant classic, followed by one success after another.

The objects he made — assemblage sculptures — were being shown at major galleries in New York, London, Paris, Rome and Mexico City. He was in great collections on both sides of the Atlantic. Not bad for a 30ish artist born and brought up in Kansas.

A more complicated Bruce Conner is the subject of “It’s All True,” his fullest retrospective so far, almost worshipfully received earlier this year at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and now at SFMOMA through January 22.

In 1965, Conner wrote to his poet friend Michael McClure that he had “a feeling of death from the ‘recognition’ I have been receiving. I feel like I am being catalogued and filed away.”

Unlike New York, San Francisco offered him an art scene in which very little avant-garde work by serious artists was sold. The artists could complain they were being ignored and, at more or less the same time, feel relieved they were outside what Conner referred to as “the art bizness.”

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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.

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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Two from the Wild West

July 14, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Francis McComas | Taos Houses (circa 1910-20)

HALF OF THE two-part show of iconic western images now on view in San Francisco is at the Legion of Honor. It’s called Wild West: Plains to the Pacific, and is intentionally a mixed bag. Two paintings stand out.

Taos Houses, a “watercolor with wiping” by Francis McComas, one of California’s early tonalist painters, is a beautiful painting that manages to be both tonalist and alive with color.

Hanging around the corner in the same golden palette is an early Maynard Dixon, Corral Dust, from 1915.

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Maynard Dixon | Corral Dust (1915)

 

MORE: An interview with the curators

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

Creating a new art form

June 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

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AMONG THE SPLENDORS of San Francisco’s massive new Museum of Modern Art is Typeface to Interface, a selection of graphic design from the museum’s collection that includes dozens of vintage rock posters.

Rock and roll impresario Bill Graham helped launch a new era in music when he began presenting shows at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium in the ’60s. He also helped launch a new art form by commissioning artists to create posters to promote and commemorate the shows — a practice that continues today.

MORE: “The art of the Fillmore

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