A very pretty show
December 13, 2019 § Leave a comment
“ONE LEAVES THE Legion show with a deep sense of disappointment,” writes San Francisco Chronicle art critic Charles Desmarais in his review of the Tissot exhibition at the Legion of Honor, while acknowledging Tissot “was a skillful painter who left us intimate glimpses into the styles and customs of wealthy France and England in the 19th century.”
More to the point are Desmarais’ comments in his weekly newsletter:
“James Tissot: Fashion & Faith,” at the Legion of Honor, is the kind of exhibition we had once come to expect from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco: uncritical, untethered to the issues of today, and very pretty to look at. Then things changed, we thought.
I chose not to go down that critical road in my review. I think the museums are still shaking off the decorative flourishes of the Buchanan/Wilsey years, and in a big institution that doesn’t happen overnight. I’m willing to cut the new team some slack as it works through the deep investments made in the backlog of long-planned projects. And “Tissot” is, after all, a very pretty show.
REVIEW: “A story more of love than of art“
Wonner-Brown estate to the Crocker
March 30, 2019 § Leave a comment
THE CROCKER ART MUSEUM in Sacramento has received more than 1,800 works of art by Paul Wonner and William Theophilus “Bill” Brown and established the Paul Wonner and William Theophilus Brown Endowment Fund.
In accordance with the artists’ wishes, the fund will support museum projects relating to emerging artists or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning and intersex artists.
By 2023, the Crocker Art Museum will use the fund to mount an exhibition of the work of Wonner and Brown — the most comprehensive show of the artists’ body of work ever presented — and produce an accompanying catalogue.
“Paul Wonner and Bill Brown were trail blazers, both individually and as a couple,” said the museum’s associate director and chief curator, Scott A. Shields. “It is wonderful that their legacy will live on, not only through their own art, but though their forward-looking support of other artists. It is what they wanted, and everyone at the Crocker is honored to be able to realize their vision.”
Read more from the Crocker Museum
Making it precise
July 6, 2018 § 2 Comments
A MAGICAL THING sometimes happens when an unexpected door opens. The excellent Precisionism exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco starts off with two of the few surviving paintings by Gerald Murphy. Who?
Gerald Murphy’s introduction to painting began in September 1921 when he happened in Paris to come upon some paintings by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris. “I was astounded,” he said. “My reaction to the color and form was immediate. To me there was something in these paintings that was instantly sympathetic and comprehensible.”
He began immediately to take lessons from the Russian painter Natalia Goncharova, and in the next seven years he completed 14 paintings, of which only seven have survived, and it is on these seven that his reputation rests.
It is said that although the artist chooses his subject, at times it seems rather that the subject has chosen the artist. Such was surely the case with Gerald Murphy. Outwardly his life on the Cote d’Azur was the essence of gaiety and vitality. It was not the bright colors that surrounded him on every side that he chose for his canvases, but the somber tones, the 14 shades of gray in Watch (1925) that overwhelm the watch’s gold encasement. His greatest paintings depict with great objectivity and precision the triumph of time and death.
— William Jay Smith in Making It New
Feasting with the Staprans
April 23, 2018 § Leave a comment
I FOUND MYSELF in the lucky seat between Ilona and Raimonds Staprans at an intimate and artsy dinner party down the peninsula the other night. They are two fascinating people. She’s a scientist at UCSF. He’s one of California’s preeminent painters, still going strong in his 90s, and an eminent playwright in their native Latvia, where they spend a part of every year.
Raimonds Staprans is getting some of the recognition he richly deserves, with an exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art through May 20 called “Full Spectrum.” It was seen last fall at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, which organized the exhibition and published a beautiful catalog. Even if you’ve seen his paintings, you may be surprised by the breadth of his work over the past six decades. And the paint and light and color are luscious.
In a talk in San Jose, he described how his work flows out of his daydreams.
Two from the neighborhood
March 12, 2017 § Leave a comment
“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.
Ignored, and relieved
January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment
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.”
Ed Ruscha’s gas stations
September 11, 2016 § 2 Comments
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.
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.
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.
MORE from The New York Times: “No quiet exits”
STILL MORE: “The defiant socialite”
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.”
Two from the Wild West
July 14, 2016 § 2 Comments
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.
He painted what he saw
June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
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