The 4th

July 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

The ambiguities of pleasure

March 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

bonnard_13_les-danseuses_print

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.

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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.

A love letter

November 17, 2015 § 2 Comments

LOVE LETTER to a beautiful place — Paris just last week. It will again be a city of light and love.

That city feeling

June 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

“I LIKE SPEED, I like buildings, I like cars,” says painter Veerakeat Tongpaiboon. “It’s all art.”

Botticelli to Braque

March 9, 2015 § 1 Comment

ANYONE WHOSE APPETITE for painting has gone cold will find it inflamed again by “Botticelli to Braque: Masterpieces From the National Galleries of Scotland,” a spectacular exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Read more: “Scotland’s stupendous stash

Lessons in stained glass

January 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

Putting finishing touches on the Swedenborgian's St. Christopher window

Putting finishing touches on the Swedenborgian Church’s St. Christopher window

FIRST PERSON | DOUGLAS G. STINSON

Like many people, I had been active in church life from childhood into early adolescence. Then, confronting what my teenaged mind saw as cowardice and hypocrisy within my church, I swore off religion.

In college I became aware of the writings of the 18th century scientist and Christian mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg and, as a scientist, was drawn to his insistence that the teachings of faith and reason must conform. But I had no interest in being part of any organized religion.

Until I walked into the San Francisco Swedenborgian Church.

I was awestruck by the building’s humble strength and simple beauty. Everything breathed a spiritual essence. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

By 2012, the condition of the stained glass windows that had graced the Swedenborgian church at the corner of Lyon and Washington Streets for more than 100 years had deteriorated. We learned that if action were not taken, the beautiful windows — an integral part of the National Historic Landmark — could be lost forever.

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Capturing an essence

October 21, 2014 § 1 Comment

A HIGH SCHOOL art class stopped by to visit Sandy Ostrau’s exhibition. They had a few questions.

At long last roses

October 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

FOR THE FIRST TIME in his long and storied career as a painter of florals, master watercolorist Gary Bukovnik paints roses.

Plein-air in the park

June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

THE RENOWNED PAINTER Ken Auster takes his plein-air workshop to a favorite park in San Francisco.

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