Mary Corse: A Survey in Light, Whitney Museum

We at CatSynth spent the better portion of a recent afternoon at the Whitney Museum of American Art, taking in the entire museum top to bottom.  In the first of our reports, we start at the top with a survey of the work of artist Mary Corse.

The exhibition – Corse’s first solo survey at a major institution – focuses on her work in the mid-to-late 1960s as part of the West Coast Light and Space movement.  Like many of her contemporaries, Corse was very interested in the use of light as a medium in itself, but her output of light works was almost entirely focused on flat art, i.e., the kind you can hang on walls.  This made her a bit of an outlier in the movement.

Installation view of Mary Corse: A Survey in Light (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, June 8-November 25, 2018). From left to right: Untitled (Two Triangular Columns), 1965; Untitled (Space Plexi + Painted Wood), 1966; Untitled (Two Triangular Columns), 1965; Untitled (White Diamond, Negative Stripe), 1965; Untitled (Hexagonal White), 1965. © Mary Corse. Photograph by Ron Amstutz

At first glance, it might be tempting to dismiss her work as “another round of white-on-white paintings from the 1960s.”  But what makes it interesting is that light is at the center, rather than texture or pigment; and that she delved into emerging technologies and media to move beyond painting.

The most intriguing pieces in the exhibition were those that used plexiglass and lighting technologies.  Corse studied physics and engineering in preparation for this body of work.  We see this in her series where custom Plexiglass elements of different depths are juxtaposed next to one another allowing different amounts of light to pass through. 

Untitled (Space Plexi + Painted Wood), 1966.  Series of 3. Plexiglass and acrylic on composition board.  24 5/16 x 24 5/16 x 2 5/8 in. (61 x 61 x 6.4 cm). Collection of Andrea Nasher

It is a subtle but fascinating set, and I found myself moving back and forth and looking from either side in my own exploration.

Corse also made her own light elements with a variety of technologies, including this piece from 1968 which employed an argon light and frequency generator, once again with her own custom plexiglass. I would have loved to have seen it in action, but it was unfortunately broken at the time – Tesla coils are notoriously temperamental.  But they did have a video guide on hand with a video to let us experience the work.

Untitled (Space + Electric Light), 1968. Argon light, plexiglass ,and high-frequency generator, 45 1/4 x 45 1/4 x 4 3/4 in.(114.9 x 114.9 x 12.1 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art SanDiego; museum purchase with funds from the Annenberg Foundation.Photograph by Philipp Scholz Rittermann

Looking at the bands within the light, I immediately found myself thinking of the amplitudes in a time-varying sound wave, or perhaps a frequency-domain spectrum.   It would have been quite interesting to “hear” it.

The final set of work in the exhibition takes an abrupt turn, making the end of this period in Corse’s career.  In 1970, she moved from Los Angeles to Topanga Canyon and embarked on her Black Earth Series of paintings.

Untitled (Black Light Painting), 1975. Acrylic squares, glass microspheres, and acrylic on
canvas. 108 x 108 in. (274.3 x 274.3 cm). Collection of Sangbeom Kim and Sunjung Kim

Beyond the obvious switch from white to black, there is a break from technology and a return to working with more traditional materials and textures.  The “black” in the Black Earth Series are ceramics made in her own kilns.  The glossy material is reflective, but also thick and covered in bumps and curves.  This is in stark contrast to the plexiglass surfaces of her earlier work and makes a fitting bookend for the survey.

Unfortunately, the exhibition is closing this weekend, but if you happen to be in New York I recommend checking it out.  It makes a fine escape from the overwhelm and sensory overload of holiday season.

Wordless Wednesday: Ocean Beach (5454)

Ocean Beach, San Francisco.

René Magritte: The Fifth Season at SFMOMA

We at CatSynth have been extraordinarily busy since the start of summer with work, music, and other obligations.  As a result, our explorations of visual art have suffered a bit.  But we start correcting that today with a report from the blockbuster René Magritte: The Fifth Season exhibition at SFMOMA.  I’m glad I was able to get in to see it before it closes in two weeks!

The exhibition focuses on his later works, from World War II through the late 1960s.  It is billed as “If you think you know Magritte (1898–1967), think again.”  Yet, this period includes many of his most iconic works – other than perhaps his most famous La Trahison des images (aka “this is not a pipe”), including many of my favorites from the broader Magritte retrospective I had seen at SFMOMA in the early 2000s.

Les valeurs personnelles
Les valeurs personnelles (1952)

The work depicted above,  Les valeurs personnelles, is perhaps my favorite of all.  I find myself drawn to it not just because of the stark juxtaposition of larger-than-human-sized objects in a smaller-than-human-sized space, but for the various textures that defy painting.  The objects themselves have the hyperrealistic sheen of graphics from the 1990s (we were all proud of our ability to render glass) with the more pedestrian room space and strangely realistic sky on the wall.  These are the characteristics of many of Magritte’s pieces during his Hypertrophy period in the 1950s.  It’s taken to an extreme in a piece that features one of his iconic green apples swelling to gargantuan proportions and pushing against the walls of a modest room.

The Listening Room
The Listening Room (1952)

And of course, there were many bowler-hatted gentlemen, some with green apples, some without.

The Son of Man
The Son of Man (1964)

The image of the bowler hat and the bowler-hatted man has appeared throughout Magritte’s career, but it was more closely associated with the artist himself in his later works, a form of self-portraiture.

The Happy Donor
The Happy Donor (1966)

In addition to the green apple, we see many objects and concepts that appear in other works from this period applied to the bowler-hatted man, such as the small round stone, birds, and negative spaces.

In both sets of works, we see the discrete juxtaposition of elements that may or may not fit with real-life experience.  I see this is as “quintessentially Magritte” and consistent throughout most of his career.  In that sense, I disagree a bit with the thesis of the exhibition that this later period was a break with surrealism, but rather a reimagining of it with different subjects and techniques and without the heaviness of the movement’s manifesto.  If there was one section of the exhibit that truly represented a break from what I know of the artist, it was the first section that featured his vache period immediately following World War II.

Lyricism (Le Lyrisme) 1947
Lyricism (Le Lyrisme) 1947

I would never have guessed these grotesque parodies of van-Gogh-style impressionism were his work if they were not presented and explained.  At the same time, it is not surprising that the experience of the war (Magritte remained in his native Belgium during the Nazi occupation).  It feels like his weakest and least memorable work, but one theory suggests that his retrograde style during this period helped avoid Nazi attention and persecution.  We are certainly glad he returned to form in his later years.

One of late series, collectively called The Dominion of Light, brings together a nighttime city streetscape with a daytime sky. 

The Dominion of Light

It takes a moment of adjustment to realize the confounding of night and day in the image, as our eyes are so used to assumptions about the passing of time and light.  The series is at once playful, but also a bit melancholy, pointing to the later years of a life and life’s work.   Fortunately, there was one more chapter to come that was both more curious and more uplifting.

A Sense of Reality (1963)

This bizarre series of boulders floating in space or sitting isolated on an apartment terrace is a return to form, but also an exploration of time and gravity and even more fundamental assumptions that we make in everyday life.  Their lightness and starkness also make an interesting statement at the end of a career that spanned several decades and saw the massive changes of the 20th century.  We should note that the bowler-hat portraits featured in this article were done during the same late period, and are stronger both as works in themselves and as a career-spanning statement. 

The exhibit was overall a delight to experience.  It was hung in a minimalist but also warm style without too much crowding or overwhelm, and it weaved a narrative even as I took in the works as individuals.  It also marked a return a place of solace, the museum, after a long period of intensity and focus on other practices.  I won’t stay away as long again.

If you are in San Francisco over the next couple of weeks, I strongly recommend checking this exhibition out before it closes on October 28.  For more information, please visit https://www.sfmoma.org/exhibition/rene-magritte/.

Wordless Wednesday: Sutro Baths Graffiti and Cliff House

Sutro baths and Cliff House in the distance.

Graffiti on some ruins in the Sutro Baths.  The Cliff House restaurant is visible in the back.

You can see one of our previous photos from this Hipstamatic shoot in a previous Wordless Wednesday.

Wordless Wednesday: Mechanique (Ukiah, California)

A scene from an auto shop in Ukiah, California.


Wordless Wednesday: Kate (I-80 Bay Bridge)

I-80 towards the Bay Bridge from Kate St.

I-80 towards the Bay Bridge from Kate St.


Wordless Wednesday: SQUARED (Hayes Valley, San Francisco)

Squared, Hayes Valley, San Francisco

SQUARED by Charles Gadeken, a 50-foot LED-and-metal sculpture currently on display at Patricia’s Green in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.


Wordless Wednesday: Mussel Rock

Mussel Rock

An evocative spot at Mussel Rock Park, which is along the Pacific Ocean south of San Francisco.

I used to stop here periodically eight years ago when I worked at Digidesign/Avid but hadn’t been back in a long time until a couple of weeks ago.


Weekend Cat Blogging with Sam Sam

It’s a good time to check in with Sam Sam.  Life is good for her at CatSynth HQ, as she relaxes, gets brushed and cuddled, runs around, plays, explores…it’s good to be the cat!

Here we see Sam Sam on the upstairs balcony.

Behind her to the left is a painting/collage by Kasper Rodenborn.  We acquired it at his solo show at Far Out Gallery here in San Francisco last year.  You can read our review of the show and also watch our video (it was one of our earliest on the CatSynth TV channel).

Of course, Sam Sam never misses an opportunity to demonstrate her trademark “scratch’n’roll” move.

It’s irresistible and definitely gets my attention whenever I’m sitting nearby.  She does love getting attention.  For example, her she is yesterday in the studio while I was busy working on our latest synth-demo video.

We hope you are all having an enjoyable and relaxing weekend.

 

The Making of Lake Merced

Today we talk about Lake Merced, as well as the recent video we made featuring it.

Lake Merced is located in the southwestern corner of San Francisco, in the vicinity of the SF Zoo and SF State University.

Lake Merced in San Francisco

Despite its odd shape and the fact that it borders three golf courses, it is actually a natural lake.  It is fed primarily by an underground spring.  In the 19th century, the lake briefly had an outlet to the ocean, approximately where the Great Highway breaks off from Skyline Boulevard, just south of the zoo.  The outlet is long gone, but the lake’s ecosystem retains some of its saltwater heritage among the fish and other wildlife that inhabit it. Lake Merced and its surrounding park remain one of the last and largest natural spaces left in the city (in spite of the golf courses), and is home to a variety of plant and animal life.  On the day I visited to shoot video, I encountered this egret.

But it is definitely an urban natural space, with sounds and sights from the surrounding city mixing with nature.  I am particularly fond of this view looking east over the lake to some apartment buildings.  It brings to mind Flushing Meadows in the New York City borough of Queens.

I have been spending more time in the western neighborhoods of San Francisco of late, and Lake Merced is one of the spots I revisit.  This is what inspired me to make it the subject of a CatSynth TV video, complete with original synthesizer music.

Here is see the final post-production on the video in Pro Tools.  Front and center is Tracktion’s BioTek software synthesizer, which I reviewed during NAMM 2016.  It was among the primary instruments used in this video where I blended its mix of natural and traditional-synthesizer sounds with the sounds of the field video.

I also made extensive use of the 4ms Spectral Multiband Resonator and Epoch Modular Benjolin (designed by Rob Hordjik).  They both have very elemental sounds that resemble air and water.  The Benjolin is chaotic by design, and a small turn of a knob can change it from liquidy to screeching, so it’s sometimes a challenge to get a good recording that fits the concept of the music.  The SMR is a lot of fun to play, especially using alternate tunings and changing the spread and morph parameters.  A clock is used to constantly shift the bands.

 

Rounding out the sound palette were the Arturia MiniBrute 2Mimimoog Model D, and Metasonix R53 vacuum-tube waveshaper and ring modulator.

The Moog Model D, the MiniBrute and several of the modules make cameos during the video, as does Sam Sam.  Watch the video all the way through to spot her 😺

This was a fun video to shoot and put together, something a bit more creative and abstract than our usual demos or live-show reports.  I have more of these waiting in the queue to be made…