2009 APAture Festival: Opening and Gallery Exhibition

The two-week APAture festival began last Wednesday with a kick-off event at Goforaloop Gallery. The APAture (Asian Pacific American) festival showcases the work of Asian American artists and is produced by the Kearny Street Workshop, who also co-produced the Present Tense Biennial exhibit, and runs from September 16 through September 26. This article focuses on the visual-art exhibition at the gallery. (You can read about the festival’s music night in a separate article.)

There was no single theme or thread that connected all the works, except for the connection to Asian-Pacific American culture either through authorship or influence. However, it was possible to piece together trends such as identity (or various forms of Asian identity) and the relationship of art and technology.


[Heroes, Martyrs, Legends by Taraneh Hemami. Click image to enlarge.]

Heroes, martyrs, legends by featured artist Taraneh Hemami presented images of students and activists who were executed before, during and after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The images were created in beads from photos on Internet sites. The beads give these portraits a very grainy quality, which mirrors the pixels found in low-resolution online images. This piece is simultaneously a document of historical people and events, a tribute to activism, and a representation of a technological phenomenon with traditional materials.

Jacqueline Gordon’s Black Matters was interesting as a set abstract objects with a sonic element. The piece consisted of two large black surfaces composed of fabric, and whose shapes were inspired by mandalas. From Gordon’s website, I learned that the speakers are “inked through amplifiers to sine wave oscillators and play a composition of binaural tones.” It was, however, difficult to hear the sounds during the opening reception, with the noises from conversations, the karaoke booth, and such. Fortunately, when I revisited the gallery I was able to get the full experience. There were multiple sine wave oscillators which produced chords that gradually changed over time. Pitches and amplitudes shifted, faded in and out, and when the frequencies got close enough one could hear the beating effects. The oscillators were generally quite stable, but did exhibit minor variations which I found quite interesting.


[Black Matters by Jacqueline Gordon. Click image to enlarge.]

Nearby was Natives and invaders! a large mix-media piece placed directly on the walls of the gallery by artists Natalia Nakazawa and Stephanie Mansolf:


[Natives and invaders! by Natalia Nakazawa
and Stephanie Mansolf. Click image to enlarge.
]

Raised elements of wood, string and other materials pop out from the painted wall in a variety of both geometric and natural shapes. This was one of the more abstract works in the show, and one that I would consider “modernist.” I particular liked its placement next to Black Matters, as the shapes and textures seemed to fit together.

Another work that fused art and technology was a pair of graceful and delicate constructions by Joanne Hashitani made of wires, sticks, LEDs and other natural and artificial materials. They occupied very little space, both in terms of their overall extent and the thinness of the elements, but they nonetheless caught my attention and were among of favorite pieces in the show.


[Untitled by Joanne Hashitani. Click image to enlarge.]

The abstract shapes, which were very linear, but not particularly “angular” seem very natural and ethereal, but at the same time the LEDs and wires make it very modern and technological. They could blend subtly into the wall, which is perhaps the direction that modern technology is taking. From Hashitani’s artist’s statement:

The effects of light alternately make pieces appear and disappear, while moments later they might create a web of shadows. Air currents cause pieces to sway back and forth. Together with the ambiguity of the space and the shifts in scale, I hope this allows the work to reveal itself slowly.

Warren Jee takes a less subtle look at technology with Bug Robot, a life-size humanoid robot with a very “boxy” 1960s/1970s appearance. In the middle of its torso is another, smaller, humanoid robot. This was not an infinite regress, just two levels of “robot inside robot”.


[Bug Robot by Warren Jee. Click image to enlarge.]

Jee’s biography for the exhibition discusses how popular culture recognizes robots as or lacking emotion and other ‘human’ qualities”. Yet in this robots one recognizes all the basic signs of humanity that one recognizes in representations of humans in primitive art. I personally have a soft spot for robots, and the imagined future with humanoid robots that never happened.

The combination of technology and Asian identity was explored in Hui-Ying Tsai’s video and mixed-media installation Who R U. Two video screens, decorated with flowers a large stuffed rabbit, depicted the artist presenting her body in various, poses, motions and frames of reference, with a particular focus on hair (her own and a wig with exaggerated straight black hair). From her statement: “Through repetitive self-deconstruction and re-construction in this video, the contradiction of fitting myself in the stereotype beauty, and at the same time, resisting become the fetishistic object creates a dialogue between my objectized self and my self-awareness.”

Charlene Tan’s Eat Me, I’m Asian was a very playful and very literal take on Asian identity. Like her Cornucopia from the Present Tense Biennial, it featured photocopied replicas of commercial food packaging, this time arranged as a shelf in a grocery store, perhaps from the aisle that carries Asian or other “ethnic foods.” Among the items were various Happy Panda products, and a box of soup base with a cartoon fish (yes, I like cartoon fish).

Sandra Ono’s conceptual works combined seemingly natural and surreal elements. She presents a surface that is at once completely artificial made of fabricated cells, but seems so much like wine grapes or other natural (and edible) objects that one wants to reach out and touch it. Indeed, it seemed to be one of the more popular pieces in the show, with groups gathering around it. Ono’s other work Leak could easily be missed if one did not look down at the solidified puddle of black tar that seemed to be seeping out from under one of the walls.

The Kearny Street Workshop blog has a behind the scenes article that includes additional background and some images of the artists installing their works.

A few additional pieces that caught my attention: Raymond Wong presented a pair of photo-realistic paintings entitled 40:22 based on still images captured motion pictures. Lordy Rodriguez presents a fictionalized map of Wyoming with territories out of place and marked by varying types of ownership (part of his States of America series). Thalia When’s meticulously created You can’t have my soul but everything else is free features an array of hand-drawn faces and stories for each.

The opening night of course featured drinks and music. While the main musical attraction for many attendees was the karaoke booth, I was more drawn to the occasional tracks of long-forgotten 1970s Asian pop being played by DJ Victor Chu. I wish I could find some of these albums myself.

The APAture festival continues this coming Wednesday (September 23). Visit the official website for program details.

Weekend Cat Blogging and Photo Hunt: Electric

This weekend we at CatSynth sing the body electric (with apologies to Walt Whitman) and present another combined Weekend Cat Blogging and Photo Hunt.

Electricity and electronics are a central part of our existence:

Luna poses with an electric guitar, cables and our Mr. Echo delay pedal. Below we see Luna posing with another of our electronic devices, a Korg Kaos Pad:

Electricity permeates not only our music but art as well. Here we see a piece entitled Reflective by artist Roy Forest. It contains a red neon light running the length of bamboo tube.

For WCB, note the Suzhou cat and maneki neko on the shelf about the sculpture.

It’s interesting how there is a black and red theme throughout the images in this post. I only noticed that after completing it. It has a suggestion of fire to it, and fire and electricity have a strong connection.

More electricity. This morning, we were awakened by a large electrical storm with loud thunder and flashes of lightening. It’s a remarkable coincidence, as thunderstorms are quite rare in San Francisco. They lasted most of the morning, and some neighborhoods lost electricity. Our area was not affected by the outages, and in the end things just got a little damp.


Weekend Cat Blogging is hosted by our friends LB and Breadchick at The Sour Dough. We know they will appreciate the audio and music gear featured in this article.

Photo Hunt #178 at tnchick features the theme of electric, with the prototype image being an electric guitar.

Kashim, Othello and Salome are hosting the Carnival of the Cats this Sunday.

And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Present Tense Biennial, Chinese Culture Center

In August I had the opportunity to take a private curator-led tour of the Present Tense Biennial exhibition at the Chinese Culture Center here in San Francisco before it closed on August 23. The exhibition was a joint project of the Chinese Cultural Center and the Kearny Street Workshop and included 31 artists with works that interpreted contemporary Chinese culture. There was no single direction or theme to these interpretations. There were plays on Chinese language, heritage, stereotypes, geography, artistic techniques, history and iconic objects.


[Nostalgia No 24 by Maleonn. Image courtesy of the CCC online gallery. Click image to enlarge.]

The above image, featured on the posters for the exhibition, is a photograph entitled Nostalgia No. 24 by Chinese artist Maleonn. It features a young man looking at a miniature model of the Tiananmen Gate in Beijing.


[Manuscript of Nature V by Cui Fei. Courtesy of CCC online gallery. Click image to enlarge.]

In keeping with the exhibition title of “Chinese Character”, several works dealt with plays on language. For example, the New-York-based artist Cui Fei’s Manuscript of Nature V was a large wall installation composed of plant tendrils resembling Chinese calligraphy. It was immediately reminiscent of handwritten Chinese characters (as I had seen many times in my recent visits); however, this was an entirely made-up character set.

Tamara Albaitis presented an audio and sculptural installation, with two planar arrays of speakers. Each speaker played a human voice uttering sounds (not strictly phonemes, but vowels, consonants, diphthongs, etc.) from various languages. On one side were sounds from languages arranged strictly horizontally (e.g., English and other Indo-European languages) while on the other were languages that could be written vertically, such as several East Asian languages. One could walk through the middle of the installation, with each bank as a “wall” of linguistic sounds, or around the outside. Out of context, it was not easy to distinguish the sounds from one language or another. One could use directional cues to determine whether a language was “horizontal” or “vertical”, but that served more to demonstrate similarities or “confusion” among languages.


[Larry Lee, Endless Column. Photo courtesy of the CCC online gallery. Click to enlarge.]

In addition to the plays on language, these pieces were in the minority that I would consider to be “modern art” (rather than more loosely defined “contemporary art”). Another was Larry Lee’s Endless column takes a simple and familiar object, the traditional porcelain rice bowl,and arranges them in an “endless column” of spheres that extend from the base to the ceiling of the gallery. From a distance, it appears as a large piece of modernist abstract art, and the rice bowls are purely there for their shape and texture, rather than their function. However, the detail and functional context of the bowls are an interesting contrast to some of Lee’s other abstract sculptures (some of which can be seen at the CCC online gallery) with the simple geometry and solid colors that are the norm for abstract art.

Among my favorite photographs in the exhibition were Thomas Chang’s images of a Chinese-government-sponsored project in the United States that did not go so well. Spendid China was a theme park in Orlando, Florida (where else could it be?) that featured to-scale models of great Chinese monuments, including the Great Wall and others. The park closed in 2003, after which it became a frequent target of vandalism and fell into disrepair. Chang’s photographs document the ruins. I have a long-standing interest in ruined buildings, particularly as they appear in the context of a modern city, so I was intrigued by these photos even without knowing the full context. I think it would actually be interesting to visit this park in its current state.


[Thomas Chang. Great Wall. Splendid China Theme Park, Orlando, Florida.
Image courtesy of the CCC online gallery. Click image to enlarge.
]

Other photograph sets explored the concept of “Chinese identity” as well as the intersection with American identity. Whitespace by David Yun presents portraits of an extended Chinese-American family (presumably taken around Christmas time). There are individuals we conventionally think of as “Asian”, a young blonde girl, and others who look vaguely Latino or Mediteranean, yet these are all blood relatives in the same family. I can certainly identify with a family whose composition defies traditional expectations, with relatives who appear to be from different parts of the world. Yet both my own family and the family presented in Whitespace are quintessentially American, i.e., this is what many American families look like when you get everyone together. Another take on family is presented in Sean Marc Lee’s portraits of his father. We see the typical “American Dad” in the Los Angeles area. But we also a man who seemed to have an exceptionally fun and playful attitude towards life even while raising children; and someone who knew how to “ham it up” for the camera. We see him blowing out candles with his children, posing like a TV still in a 1970s leisure suit in front of a sports car, going for a swim in a mountain lake. We also see him later in life, aging, resting, and receiving medical treatment. There are similarly familiar and intimate portraits of Lee’s father on his flickr site.

Kenneth Lo combines commentary on Asian identity in the United States with a lifelong dream to be a basketball star, in one of the shows more entertaining pieces Happy Feet Lucky Shoes. This conceptual work centers around a new brand of athletic shoes marketed as the AZN INVZN (i.e., the “Asian Invasion”) with their own superstar “K Lo.” There was a commercial, in which a young man is getting crushed on a basketball court. But once he receives the “magic touch” from K Lo along with a pair of “Yellow Fever” shoes, he magically acquires unstoppable basketball prowess (along with straight black hair), overpowering his opponents and winning the admiration of attractive cheongsam-clad young women. In addition to the video, and themed t-shirts for sale, the piece also included a Chinatown storefront made into a shoe store that specialized in the AZN INVZN, and even actual reviews on Yelp.


[Kenneth Lo Happy Feet Luck Shoes storefront. Photos by CatSynth. Click to enlarge images.]

This was one of several installations scattered in the nearby blocks of Chinatown, beyond the boundaries of the standard gallery. Another was Imin Yeh’s storefront of household objects wrapped in the Chinese patterned fabric often used for gift boxes. Among the wrapped objects were dolls, fans, TVs, even an Apple Macbook:


[Imin Yeh. 710 Kearny Street. Photo by CatSynth. Click image to enlarge.]

Charlene Tan’s The Good Life incorporating “wrappings” of a very different sort. The piece was entirely made of photocopied fast-food wrappers from various locations in Asia. Several were clearly recognizable as McDonald’s wrappers, but for unfamiliar items. There was one that caught my in particular. It featured an Asian cartoon cat making the universal facial expression for “yummy!” surrounded by fish, and was presumably a wrapper for a fish sandwich or snack. I wish I could find a picture of that wrapper somewhere online.

We close with another of the neighborhood storefronts, a text-based work by Tucker Nichols in the Chinese for Affirmative Action window, declaring “YES WE ARE”, a riff of Barack Obama’s “Yes we can!” slogan. It faces inward, as if for the occupants of the office to affirm themselves while looking out at the world.


[Window installation by Tucker Nichols. Photo from the Kearny Street Workshop blog.]

A special thanks to Ellen Oh, Executive Director of the Kearny Street Workshop and co-curator of the exhibition, for hosting our tour.

The Kearny Street Workshop will be hosting their annual APAture festival, showcasing Asian Pacific American art. We at CatSynth look forward to attending at least a few of the events.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Rocks, and remembrance

This weekend we are again combining Weekend Cat Blogging with the week’s Photo Hunt theme of rocks.

Here we see Luna in repose behind one of our sculptures here at CatSynth HQ:

This sculpture has appeared in a few of our pictures before. It is called Red Rock Maquette by Steven Reiman, an artist in the Joshua Tree area who primarily works in large-scale metal works. This piece combines metal elements with a rock base.

I would like to more formally introduce more of the artwork here at CatSynth HQ, which has been lurking in the background of many of our photos. But time has been quite limited of late. Two performances in the past week, the reports still pending; and of course the regular business of daily life.

But time is also precious, and the Othello and Astrid remind us in this Weekend Cat Blogging #215: in honor of Sher, a regular at WCB who passed away a year ago. Life will hopefully slow down a bit in the next week, and one way to enjoy a quiet evening would be to prepare another of Sher’s recipes and spend time with Luna.

Art notes: SFMOMA, Kentridge, Shettar, First Thursday

This was a rather art-intensive weekend, even by our recent standards at CatSynth., spanning Thursday through Sunday. This article will only touch on a few items.

At an unplanned visit to SFMOMA, I encountered for the first time work of William Kentridge. Kentridge is a South African artist working with stop-motion films, multimedia, dance and theatre. His work spans from whimsical to overtly political, often dealing with themes from both South Africa and the region. My initial impression of Kentridge’s work from the exhibition ads and the first passing glance at the gallery were mixed. The figures in his earlier animations, such as Soho and Felix are caricatures, with squat bodies and exaggerated features, are usually not that inviting to me. But one can quickly see the immense time and skill that went into these works, which are made from a sequence of charcoal drawings. And having seen the craft, I started to notice the art, and able to step away from the figures themselves to see the mixture of film, animation and music at a more abstract level. His later works, such as 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès, Journey to the Moon, and Day for Night, allow for a more abstract viewing, and also introduce his self portraits and self-deprecating sense of humor. Set on six screens, I moved between abstract animations of star and insect movements, and the artist spilling coffee onto his blank paper.

Probably the most interesting was his newest piece, I am not me, the horse is not mine, 2008, loosely based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose. There was of course a partly live-acted, partly animated nose as the “star”, but also other elements depicting the demise of the Russian avant-garde under Soviet rule, and elements mixing abstraction and Soviet-style realism, with muted color fields, geometry and text. There was also an interlude of South African choral music for good measure. I wish I had been in town for the performance and lecture last month.

The final works, based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute, were the most elaborate, with video projects based on archival film, animations and stills projected into wooden stages with live mechanized shadow puppets. It was clear that the audience was transfixed in a way I usually don’t see for multimedia and video presentations in an art gallery.

This is probably worth going back to see in more detail. I simply did not have the time to stay and watch every video and animation.


Also at SFMOMA were some exhibitions I had seen but not written about previously, including the portrait photography exhibit Face of Our Time. I usually don’t go for straight-out portrait work, but these mostly large images worked in the context of the other exhibits at the museum.

I did take note of the abstract and whimsical sculpture of Ranjani Shettar. Her work combines modern technologies and traditional Indian craft techniques, but with none of the nostalgia or adherence to cultural stereotypes that often dominates Indian art, at least as it is presented in this country. Her sculptures do have a very naturalistic quality, reminiscent of much contemporary work in the western U.S.


Last Thursday was also the First Thursday open galleries in downtown San Francisco for April (this year is going by so fast, isn’t it?). I should first recognize Trevor Paglen, who was showing both at SFMOMA as a SECA Art Award recipient, and at the Altman Siegel Gallery. It is quite a coincidence to see the same artist at two venues in a single week.

Perhaps my favorite show was Ema H Sintamarian at the Jack Fischer Gallery. Her drawings/paintings consisted of surreal, curving architectural elements, with an almost cartoonish quality. Bright colors and shapes against a white background.

The show by South African artist Lyndi Sales was intricate and very meticulous, work digital cuttings of found and printed objects – it was also a poignant tribute to her father’s death in the Hederberg crash.

Portraits seem to sneak their way into many of my experiences this week, with Gao Yuan’s “12 Moons”, a series of photographs with a Chinese take on the “Madonna and Child” theme. She was featured at MOCA Shanghai last year in 2008 (MOCA was of course closed the main weekend I was there).

Susan Grossman presented chalk and pastel drawings of photographs, that quickly revealed themselves to be familiar scenes of San Francisco. The black-and-white coloring and soft edges also serve as a fitting close to an article that begin with the soft charcoal drawings of William Kentridge, even if the subject matter could not be more different.

Art and music notes from the past week

During one of my long walks this weekend, I stopped in at Crown Point Press and found in the hallway several prints from Changes and Disappearances by the composer John Cage, a hero of ours here at CatSynth. My first impression was that these were graphical scores (i.e., scores where the performers interpret visual images), but they are in fact intended as independent works of visual art. However, many of the same compositional techniques can be found in both Cage’s music and visual art, as described in this essay by Ray Kass:

It occurred to me that his etchings had an extraordinary correspondence to the methods he utilized in composing his music – and that they were visual counterparts of sorts, related in a manner that one might not have expected…But the connection between Cage’s use of “chance” methodology in his various kinds of work (composing, writing, installation & performance art, & now printmaking) made sense in a way that awakened me to the great scope of his work.

I don’t think this was a special exhibition per se, as Cage had a longstanding relationship with Crown Point Press and they have displayed his work on several occasions. The main exhibition was a series of works by Tom Marioni.


Both Marioni and Cage were featured in The Art of Participation at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Among the works in the exhibition were Marioni’s Free Beer (sadly, no free beer was being dispensed at the time, even though it was “Superbowl Sunday”), and John Cage’s most famous piece 4′ 33″. The full score was posted on a wall, and it was also displayed on a grand piano in its original form. I can’t say this was presented as a “participatory work”, however. Simply looking at the piano and listening to the museum commotion for the alloted time does not constitute a proper performance of the piece.

There were, however, plenty of other interactive pieces in the exhibition to explore, such as Lygia Clark’s Diálogo: Óculos (Dialogue, Goggles):


Last week, I attended an evening of electronic-music performances at the Climate Theatre, part of the regular Music Box Series. This series usually does not feature electronic music, but this time they darkened the room and presented “electronic soundspaces.”

Christopher Fleeger opened the evening with lively performance featuring a touch screen, percussion controller and laptop. The music mixed synthesized and other familiar electronic sounds with some odd and amusing recordings, such as a rap extolling the virtues of Tallahassee, Florida as a center for faiths of all kinds, and a very memorable piece of “stand-up tragedy” about one man’s experience with “the store” – in the poem, every line ended with “the store” and often included other references.

The second performance was by James Goode and featured a mixture of acoustic sources (percussion, toys, etc.) with sampling and looping, and reminded me a bit of my own performances at the Santa Cruz Looping Festival and other venues (it reminds me that I haven’t written about that). It can sometimes be a challenge to sustain full energy for an entire solo set of this nature, but Goode made this seem easy.

Goode and Fleeger closed with an extended duet improvisation. At least one balloon went flying into the audience.


I also attended the Saturday performance of the 2009 San Francisco Tape Music Festival, which I will discuss in a separate article.

Jackson Pollock’s Birthday

Yesterday (January 28) was the birthday of the artist Jacskon Pollock.

Regular readers know that we at CatSynth are big followers of modern art, and Pollock was one of the most well-known and influential artists from the rich period of American art in the 1950s and 1960s. He is most often associated with the large and diverse movement abstract expressionism, but his work is quite distinctive even with in that context, and his large “drip paintings” are instantly recognizable.

I first encountered Pollock’s work at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and later at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). I did have an opportunity to see a major retrospective at the MoMA in 1999, which brought together not only his large iconic paintings, but his earlier works that mixed abstraction with Native American and folk influences – although these works were “modern” they were more conventional for contemporary art of the time. I managed to find this article from the News Hour (PBS) discussing Pollock and the 1999 retrospective.

Although Pollock is held in high regard by those who follow and care deeply about modern art, he is often treated derisively by people who simply don’t like modern or abstract art. He is perhaps the most associated with the phrase “my five year old could do that.” The idea is laughable. This is unique and skillful art, especially on such a large scale. Such paintings were not seen before the 1940s, and centuries of five-year olds never produced anything like it.

Google has a tradition of honoring major artists on their birthdays with a themed home page, and yesterday they did so for Jackson Pollock:

Thanks to The Madville Times for capturing the above image.

Wordless Wednesday: MoMA Atrium, NYC

MoMA, Miró, Modernism and Theremins

In addition to my adventures on the F train, I did have a small amount of time to enjoy art and music while was in New York for the Thanksgiving holiday.


One of the featured exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was Joan Miró: Painting and Anti-Painting 1927–1937. Miró often appears in my artistic travels – I have been to multiple retrospectives and visited the Miró Museum in Barcelona. This exhibition was more specific, focusing on a single decade of his career, during which he challenged the definition of “painting.” It opens with his declaration in 1927 “I want to assassinate painting” and features several examples of “non-painting”, including collages (such as Composition with Wire, shown to the right) and wooden sculptures. At the same time, however, many of the works are things we would consider paintings. Some of the canvases are unprimed, and several use new media such as masonite. But there are still primarily two-dimensional works involving paint on a surface. And most of the paintings and non-paintings include Miró’s signature elements in his more famous works such as bulbous abstract figures, curing shapes, stars, and scarabs. In addition to the theme of “anti-painting”, the exhibition follows the events in Europe, and particularly in Spain, in the late 1920s and 1930s, with the impending civil war and rise of Fascism. It ends with the Fascists coming to dominance in 1937 and the painting Still Life with Old Shoe that marks the end of Miró’s period of anti-painting.

The MoMA’s website includes a detailed online exhibition.

A few of the smaller exhibits also caught my attention. Dreamland: Architectural Experiments since the 1970s featured experiments in architecture, primarily centered around New York, or the modernist urban ideal of New York, as seen be architects. Some of the ideas, such as those in Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, can be quite fantastic, such as an island oasis in a glass bubble atop a highway. Others were not only more realistic, but also realized, including some impressive homes in the country surrounding New York. It’s always great to see a celebration of modernism as it once was, before contemporary design and architecture took a turn away towards more mundane ideas.

Keeping with the idea of the 1960s and 1970s as particularly modern decades, the exhibit Looking at Music features visualizations of music from the era. This includes direction visualizations, such as the scores of John Cage, as well as early media works by Nam June Paik, Laurie Anderson, Steven Reich and others.


I did have a chance to hear some music as well. The weekend after Thanksgiving is often low on opportunities for new music (which is probably why I was able to book an NYC show without much difficulty after Thanksgiving in 2005). But the reliable Issue Project Room in Brooklyn hosted a show sponsored by the New York Theremin Society. The first set featured rather graphic stereo photos from World War I – still a horrific war when viewed a century later – with theremin accompaniment, presented by Robert Munn and Sara Cook. By Munn’s own admittance, this was not a performance for the faint of heart. The second set featured “Master Thereminist” Kip Rosser, who treated us to a series of jazz and pop standards that would be very much at home at a wedding or bar-mitzvah. It is interesting to think about a hybrid program featuring Rosser’s light jazz on theremin against Munn and Cook’s disturbing images from the Great War. But perhaps that would be a bit too ironic.

Art Overload! SF Open Studios (and the Anderson Collection)

[For Weekend Cat Blogging, please follow this link].

Since last Sunday (after my performance at the Y2K8 Looping Festival), visual art as taken over. October is Open Studios in San Francisco, where artists open up their studios to for public visits. I took advantage of the opportunity to get acquainted with local artists, mostly in the neighborhoods in walking distance, and the local art scene.

Taking in so much art and so many artists in such a short period of time is quite overwhelming, and I will only be able to describe a small fraction of what I saw. What makes a particular artist memorable and noteworthy is not only the quality of his or her work, but the conversations and personal connections. In some cases, I remember artists whose work may not fit my own aesthetic, but whose meeting was memorable. It was also the setting, and how their work fit in with my vision and sense of the neigbhorhoods.

Potrero Hill, The Mission District, and Bernal Heights

My first day out was last Sunday during which I visited several large studios in the Potrero Hill and Mission districts. The first stop was Art Explosion Studios. Here I met and had a change to talk with Amy Seefeldt; and Victoria Highland, whose large city-scape on a hill in front of a bay (where have I seen that before?) was one of the better large-scale paintings I saw. Heidi McDowell had an interesting large-scale painting featuring a young girl at Lassen National Monument, which I visited last year. The recent work of Melisa Philips is perhaps closer to my own interests. One of her paintings featuring stenciled text is shown to the right. I have discussed here on CatSynth in the past my interest in text within visual art, and whether the words and letters are simply visual elements or retain their meaning. Melisa Philips and I had an interesting conversation about this topic. Additionally, her earlier work includes some of the more interesting female figures I encountered on this particular day.

It is hard to tell specifically where Potrero Hill ends and the Mission begins, and many of the venues on this particular trip sit in that ambiguous area of old industrial buildings dotted with lofts and art spaces. Within these spaces, I encountered not only traditional fine art, but other media as well, some which would have been traditionally classified as “craft.” There were several jewelry makers, for example – there is a fuzzy dividing line at which things like jewelry become art, perhaps when they become more an item to collect and display, rather than to wear. There were the chandeliers by “adventurer” Derek E. Burton, which were quite intricate and intriguing, and although they are completely opposite of my personal style and the style of CatSynth HQ, I enjoyed hearing Derek’s story and his passion for his work. Aliza Cohen presented mix-media art, but it was her wool pillows that caught my attention. I did also encounter more traditional media, such as the photography of Christine Federici that incorporated some architectural and space details, as well as a mixture of natural and artificial textures.

Interestingly, it seemed that “modern” art, which is my main interest, was a distinct minority among the works encountered on this first trip. Certainly, there were many artists working with abstraction, but overall it did not have the stark geometric or textural qualities that I have come to expect.

When searching for “abstract” on the main website, the work of Pauline Crowther Scott showed up on the list. Her works features images of cats. Cats and abstraction seem like a good combination, so I made the trip out to her home studio in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. The trip to the narrow and sometimes vertical streets and older houses in this neighborhood in the southeast of the city, on a somewhat chilly late afternoon, was an interesting experience in itself. Scott’s work was much less abstract than I had expected (she was in fact surprised by the designation), but she did have several works featuring cats that were added to earlier (and indeed somewhat abstract) images. One example was Three Cats on a Bedspread.

South of Market and Mission Bay

This weekend featured open studios the South of Market (SOMA) area, which is my own neighborhood. Overall, the works I encountered were decidedly more modern, and often seemed to take inspiration from the industrial and urban surroundings. Indeed, the mixed media works of Rebecca Kerlin draw upon the highway overpasses, such as I-80 and the approach to the Bay Bridge, that I have featured in many posts here at CatSynth, such as in this Wordless Wednesday post. Her work incorporates photos of familiar landmarks and details into mixed media pieces.

One of my longer pieces about walking in SOMA included this photograph featuring an onramp to the Bay Bridge over Bryant Street, near the landmark Clock Tower:

It turns out that building in the foreground contains several artist studios. Among the artists at this locations was Paule Dubois Dupuis. Her work includes large abstract modernist paintings, the type of art I am currently quite interested in. Some of her pieces also included stenciled text, another common theme among works that draw my attention. In addition to the art itself, her studio is in quite a location, with windows that look out onto the bay, the industrial/office buildings and the highway supports, depending on the direction of one’s gaze. I was inspired to take this photo:

At Clara Street Studios, I encountered the work of Jerry Veverka, whose work involves plays on architecture and geometry, with some surrealist elements. I had seen an example at the SomArts exhibit, and was particularly drawn to his “Impossible Cities Series,” an example of which is displayed to the right. (Click on the image for a full size version at his website.)

Two other photographers I also encountered at included familiar sights from both New York and San Francisco in their work, and I had fun identifying and discussing them. I have unfortunately misplaced both photographers’ contact info (and I cannot find them on the original list. Hopefully, I will be able to get in touch them soon.

Back at Soma Artists Studios (same location as Rebecca Kerlin), I saw an interesting progression the work of Flora Davis. Her early work featured oil paintings of cats, while her more recent work involves sheet metal. They were quite separate, indeed they were displayed in two separate studios. However, I think it would be interesting to place one or two of the smaller cat paintings next to her multi-panel metal works, and considering them as a unit. Indeed, it would summarize my experience as modernism, abstraction, geometry, and cats.

After an exhausting but rewarding walk around the neigbhorhood, I did have to time for a brief excursion south to some studios in the Mission Bay area, which includes much of the old industrial waterfront.

The view behind the studios at 1 Rankin Street onto the Islais Creek Channel were quite inspiring, even without the presence of art. Fitting with the environment, this studio featured metal sculptures. The large sculptures of Béla Harcos greeted visitors. No matter how much I am supposed to be looking for prints and paintings, I am still drawn to abstract metal sculpture. Rebecca Fox also had large works on display, and I able to glimpse her workspace and her collection of metal waiting to be used. The “artist blacksmith” Wolf Thurmeier has some smaller, even “miniature” abstract metal sculptures (what I would consider “apartment-sized”), forged from recycled metal.


The Anderson Collection

Quite by coincidence, I also had the opportunity this weekend to attend a private tour of the Anderson Art Collection. The collection is located in Menlo Park (south of San Francisco, near Stanford University), and features late 20th century and early 21st century American art. It includes over 800 works, spanning about five decades and several notable styles and schools, including color fields, minimalism, the New York school of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Jasper Johns and Robert Rauchenberg). There were also recent computer-assisted works by Chuck Close, as well as emerging artists that the Andersons are supporting. One interesting discovery for me was Frank Lobdell. I will have to look for him on the outside. I found it interesting how some of his work resembled the Jasper Johns’ prints featured in the collection (especially the reductions in the very detailed brochures).

This visit to one of the premier private collections was an interesting contrast to many local independent artists over the past week. I would to think that my art experiences will continue to include both.