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

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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

What about SFMOMA?

May 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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In the inaugural Art of Northern California exhibition, three Thiebauds and an Arneson.

SO WHAT ABOUT San Francisco’s extravagant new Museum of Modern Art? Well, it’s big, that’s for sure. And there is much to recommend:

• Photography gets respect. There are hundreds of photographs in dozens of galleries — almost the entire third floor and more. The “California and the West” exhibition is terrific.

• California art gets greater prominence, including a three-part “Art of Northern California” inaugural exhibition.

• The highlights of the permanent collection — Matisse! Rivera! — still have pride of place in the still-grand second floor galleries.

•  Unlike much of the Fisher Collection, which will appeal to some more than others, the Calder sculptures are a delight, especially in front of the living wall.

Mostly the new building works. It is a huge cruise ship beached between the Mario Botta building (a relic from all the way back in 1995) and Timothy Pflueger’s magnificent Art Deco backdrop from the 1920s. But it is functional — and it has beautiful wooden stairs and windows framing views of the city.

Two complaints about the architecture:

• Botta’s beautiful entry has been eviscerated and replaced by a vast empty space with the kind of lean-to staircase that might take you over the dunes onto the beach. A crime.

• And the magisterial enfilade of galleries marching across the front of the second floor has been blocked off to create separate spaces, presumably. Surely this is not permanent.

Go and visit. There are much worse things than another new museum in town.

MORE: “Transforming SFMOMA

The ambiguities of pleasure

March 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Pierre Bonnard | Les danseuses

REVIEW | JEROME TARSHIS

When I first read that the Legion of Honor in San Francisco was going to have a Pierre Bonnard show, I looked forward to an hour or two or three devoted to simple pleasure. “A happy painter of happy pictures” was the idea I’d been carrying in my head.

What’s more, I had a memory to go with the idea. Many years ago the Museum of Modern Art in New York had a Bonnard show on the same floor as a show of Robert Motherwell’s sad paintings collectively titled Elegies to the Spanish Republic. (By sheer chance, I trust, San Francisco’s De Young Museum opened a small show of the Elegies last fall.)

At MOMA, all those years ago, the Motherwell galleries were empty and the Bonnard galleries crowded with people who wanted happy pictures. And so, looking at the title of the current retrospective, Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia, I thought I was in for another “happiness wins, elegy loses” comparison, on a large scale. The exhibition was organized jointly by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, which has the world’s leading Bonnard collection, and the Fundación MAPFRE, in Madrid.

Nothing so simple. There are enough outwardly happy pictures to be going on with, but my overall impression was that the subtitle could have been and possibly should have been Painting Arcadia, or, the Ambiguities of Pleasure.

« Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

The PPIE at 100

December 10, 2015 § 2 Comments

By JEROME TARSHIS
The New Fillmore

Like California itself, like the fair of which it was a part, the art exhibited at the Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915 looked two ways.

In principle the fair celebrated recent accomplishments made possible by big money and entrepreneurship: the completion of the Panama Canal and the rapid rebuilding of the city after the earthquake and fire of 1906. From the time of the Gold Rush, San Francisco had been a place where people could make a lot of money very quickly by exploiting the latest technology. Taking the edge off that reality, the city cultivated an image of Mediterranean charm, offering food, wine and art — in addition to venture capital.

The artistic aspects of the fair also looked two ways. Its buildings were in soothing pastel colors; the architecture looked back to a tranquil agrarian past; but many of the exhibits were devoted to the high-speed wonders made possible by machines and electricity and gasoline if not yet by silicon.

Nahl_PosterThe De Young Museum’s “Jewel City” show reflects both aspects of the fair. From all accounts, the more than 11,000 artworks exhibited at the fair must have included vast swaths of instantly forgettable art, and the 200-odd works exhibited at the De Young certainly offer many soporific moments.

Among all the academic genteelism and quickly pleasing Impressionism, however, there are more than a few pleasant surprises. Here a portrait by Oskar Kokoschka, there a provocation by Edvard Munch, and even among the usual suspects as they would have been listed in 1915, strong work by Cecilia Beaux and John Singer Sargent, among others.

The gallery devoted to pictorialist photography looks tranquil enough. By way of a surprise, the exhibition offers the earliest known work of Ansel Adams, a soft-focus print made when he was 13 years old. His father, far from keeping the boy’s nose to the grindstone, gave him a PPIE pass and ordered him to go to the fair every day instead of wasting his time in high school.

Prints of the Fair,” a supplementary exhibition on the main floor of the De Young, is worth more than a passing glance. Predictably, it offers high-quality work by Whistler and other artists who were influenced by Japanese art and design. Less predictably, it offers a far less tranquil section of prints addressing the urbanization and mechanization of America.

The exhibition ends with a gallery of avant-garde art that pushes a bit farther than New York’s Armory Show did in 1913. Almost as if to echo the high-tech aspects of the fair in general, the art shown at the Palace of Fine Arts included a large selection of Italian Futurist work, as the Armory Show did not.

James A. Ganz, the principal curator of the show, says he intended that contrast to shake up visitors to the De Young. “They’ll experience that surprise, that same shock, that visitors did in 1915,” he says, “when having been soothed by the harmonious color scheme of the Jewel City and French Impressionism, they found themselves in a raucous roomful of paintings by Boccioni, Russolo and Severini.”

The passage of time has made the respectable art seem less worthy of automatic acceptance and made the perversity of the avant-garde seem less novel, but the sense of surprise and discomfort is still there.

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