While I remain ambivalent about much of SFMOMA's "out-of-the-building" programming this year I am genuinely curious about the upcoming SECA Art Award commissions from the 2012 awardees (Zarouhie Abdalian, Josh Faught, Jonn Herschend, and David Wilson). From when the finalists were announced last September:
SFMOMA assistant curators Jenny Gheith (painting and sculpture) and Tanya Zimbardo (media arts) have just announced the finalists for the 2012 SECA Art Award. This installment of the museum’s biennial award is especially exciting: for the first time in the award program’s history, the museum will be commissioning new work offsite.
I also have to confess that I'm slightly less enthused about the winners than I was about the finalists, who included many friends and associates from Headlands and elsewhere. Those with the ability to create site-specific art seem to have been favored over those with impressive studio practices in a couple instances, and then I'm surprised a couple artists in particular were passed over given the strength of their installation work. Still, personal biases aside, I remain interested to see what the winning quartet presents.
Being a short photo essay about a few things I will desperately miss about SFMOMA's building while they close it for several years. Yes yes the museum will be doing many partner exhibitions with other major institutions around the Bay Area during the closure blah blah. It's just not the same. I'm letting my membership lapse for the first time in 16 years unless they surprise me and do some forward-thinking projects with local independent galleries and curators.
Goodbye, revolving glass door.
Goodbye, stylish and friendly ticket-rippers.
Goodbye, all my favorite artworks.
Goodbye, Blue Bottle Cafe and your multitudinous delicious and artistic desserts.
Goodbye, sunny and peaceful rooftop sculpture garden.
Goodbye, playful and revelatory gallery installations.
Goodbye, serendipitous glimpses of art on the move.
The Tony Cragg Ice Cream Cone at the SFMOMA Blue Bottle Cafe. The Cragg sculpture after which it is modeled is being de-installed this week after a good run up there on the fifth floor.
Two rounds of illness, a magical overnight jaunt to Chicago (thank you again, Ms m!), and a couple creative-type extra-curricular gigs have kept blogging sparse in the preceding weeks. I assure you I've been absorbing a lot in my spare time, however. A brief snapshot of this last week that was:
Closing soon: Sharon Lockhart's Lunch Break installation at SFMOMA, photographs and a film that provide documentation of the year Lockhart spent with industrial workers at the Bath Iron Works in Maine. The museum has been celebrating the last weeks of her exhibition with special events including a pop-up lunch room at SFMOMA on Friday (the vegan duck banh mi from Rice Paper Scissors was out of this world, as was Blue Bottle's homemade crackerjack) and a short series of Lockhart's films. Thursday night I attended the first half of her 2005 film Pine Flat before running off to John Wiese's show at The Lab, but the part I saw was wonderfully meditative. Really just a sequence of extended shots in which very little happens (people started sneaking out of the theater after about fifteen minutes), Pine Flat focuses on adolescents who are growing up in the foothills of the Sierras, catching them at that poignant moment in between youth and adulthood. The settings are pastoral and recall classical figure painting as Lockhart's subjects find ways to pass the time, some with patience and others exhibiting a more restless spirit. For more Lockhart this coming Thursday SFMOMA will be showing two more of her films, Podworka and No, or just head up to the museum's fourth floor to experience Lunch Break.
Yesterday was free day at SFMOMA, and I slipped over on my lunch break for a special screening of three short subversive documentaries picked out by filmmaker Paul Clipson. The first, Luis Buñuel's 1933 Las Hurdes (aka The Land Without Bread), purports to describe the difficult lives of rural Spanish peasants, but there is some distinctly surrealist flavor lurking beneath the straight-faced voiceover. I had first seen the film at the museum a couple years back in conjunction with their 2007 Picasso exhibit and pretty much took it at face value, and only later did I realize Buñuel was winking at the documentary genre itself while also deliberately stirring up strong emotion in his home country during an extremely volatile period of Spanish history. George Franju's 1952 doc Hotel des Invalides similarly deals with national self-perception, this time using a bland tour through a Paris military museum to highlight the true cost of war. I felt my heart tighten in my chest at the end as elderly veterans stand during a service with their medals on their chests and their scars right there on their faces. Clipson saved the best for last, however, in Alain Resnais's 1958 ode to plastics, Le chant du Styrène. Filmed in Cinemascope and literally brimming with vibrant colors, the documentary is narrated in epic poetry and also features an avant-garde soundtrack by Maurice Jarre. Industrialism has never looked so appealing.
I remember that the first time I saw South African artist William Kentridge's animated piece Tide Table at SFMOMA it brought me to tears with its powerful contrast between the dark charcoal lines Kentridge uses to illustrate the aftermath of colonialism in Africa and the gorgeous music from that continent he uses as score. I had a sneaking suspicion the work in the museum's current William Kentridge: Five Themes exhibition would break my heart all over again, so I put off seeing the show until last Sunday, very close to when it closes on May 31. I shouldn't have been so worried. Yes, there are some hard things to see in the show as Kentridge unapologetically grapples with a host of difficult political issues, but there are also many moments of sheer beauty. I gasped with pleasure at the surreal image of teeming ants transformed into a constellation of stars by reversing black for white in one video, in a room full of other films similarly inspired by the whimsical genius of Georges Méliès. Another gallery is devoted to Kentridge's designs for the upcoming Metropolitan Opera production of Shostakovich's opera based on Gogol's story The Nose, and they thrillingly synthesize shadowy figures marching across a white scrim, elements of Russian constructivism, and quotes by Nikolai Bukharin from the 1938 trial that led to his execution. That room was instantly my favorite part of the entire exhibition, but the section that displays Kentridge's work on Mozart's The Magic Flute is also breathtaking, the way it features a rotating presentation of projections (some on miniature working sets!) soundtracked by the opera's transcendent music. I had not realized how deeply Kentridge has integrated his work with theater, and I am now totally kicking myself for sleeping on the production of Monteverdi's The Return of Ulysses that was staged at Theater Artaud earlier this spring in conjunction with the SFMOMA show. Hideous Sunday, however, can tell you all about it.
And speaking of music, I was delighted to hear Mika Tajima would be doing a special installation at SFMOMA last weekend called Today Is Not a Dress Rehearsal since I had just encountered her work for the first time when I was in New York back in March. The Dia space in Chelsea is currently being occupied by an arts non-profit calling itself X for one year, during which time they will be presenting exhibitions in four rotations as well as a wealth of associated programming. For X's first phase Tajima had constructed a series of psychedelic backgrounds and other set pieces that took up the entire ground floor gallery and seemed to be lying in wait for actors and a film crew to come make use of them. Tajima brought similar sets to SFMOMA and constructed a performance space inside the museum's Schwab Room, and when I arrived Tuesday night filmmaker Charles Atlas was also there to live-edit Tajima with her noise band New Humans. It did get very loud inside the Schwab Room once New Humans got going, looping sounds of electrical drills and breaking glass into thunderous rhythms. Tajima watched intently from behind Atlas's edit station at first as multiple cameras (including one mounted on a crane that rolled along a short track laid on the floor) captured footage, but soon she moved onto the set to move the backgrounds and then to start smashing things herself. I was loath to leave while the music was going on but wanted to see what Atlas was cooking up with Final Cut, so I ran over to the Phyllis Wattis Theater where I was treated to a gorgeously warped, fragmented version of what was being enacted live just a few feet away. The power blew out halfway through, cutting off the video projection as well as the sound for New Humans, but they got everything restarted within a matter of minutes and went right back at it.
I'll quit bitching about it eventually, but I still really miss the Sol LeWitt murals that until a few months ago smacked me in the face (in the best possible way) every time I stepped into the SFMOMA atrium. His rainbow curves and stripes had been added for the LeWitt retrospective the museum hosted back in 2000, and though they were never meant to be permanent (like much of LeWitt's work) they just seemed like such a natural fit with the striated marble of Mario Botta's building design. And they were just so darned cheerful. Nevertheless the decision was made to paint over them, and now in their stead Kerry James Marshall has put up a duo of new works called Visible Means of Support as part of what's meant to be a new ongoing Art in the Atrium series. It's been fun to watch his team of painters balance on scaffolding the last few weeks as they carefully filled in his designs, and now that they're finished the paintings themselves have been growing on me. One features George Washington and the other Thomas Jefferson, presiding over their lush estates, and only when you look closely do the murals reveal a bevy of the slaves that each of those freedom-loving presidents owned. It's a sly commentary on American history and perfect for this historical moment. I also like that you don't have to buy a ticket to the museum to see the murals since the atrium is open to all. I'm not a huge fan of audio tours so when I was there today I passed on the cell phone tour on offer, but Kerry James Marshall himself will be speaking at the museum at the end of April. I've been interested in his work since I first saw it at SFMOMA back in 1999, and he was also featured in the first season of PBS's awesome Art:21 series. The museum's Koret Center is screening the "Identity" episode daily, and all I'm saying is that besides Marshall it also has my faves Bruce Nauman and Louise Bourgeois in it. In other words, check it out.
A few weeks ago now I was able to attend the opening for SFMOMA's 2008 SECA Art Award show (thank you, Suzanne!), and though I was too shy to talk to any of the artists that night I did enjoy getting a first glimpse of the exhibition. SECA stands for the Society for the Encouragement of Contemporary Art, and every two years they pick four local artists and give them a cash prize and a show at the museum. I went back today to get a closer look at everyone's work without the throngs that were present on opening night. It will surprise exactly no one that my hands-down favorite among this year's winning quartet is experimental geographer Trevor Paglen, with his gorgeous large-scale photographs of surveillance satellites as they streak across starscapes and his collection of patches produced for secret military operations, also featured in his book I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have to Be Destroyed By Me. He's just published a new tome called Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World, and to say that I am excited to read it would be a vast understatement. I have also long been interested in Tauba Auerbach's work, and where in the past she has played primarily with words and letters I like her recent photographs of television static like the one pictured here, images of supposed randomness that turn out to contain clear patterns. Desirée Holman's videos and drawings are probably the most mystifying to the casual museum-goer, her hollow-eyed, masked cast of characters (drawn from Roseanne and The Cosby Show) dancing and silently acting out scenes, but as someone who grew up with sitcom TV families I see her trying to peel away the layers of what is real and what is constructed. Finally, Jordan Kantor is the one artist whose work was completely new to me, but one look at his paintings of camera lens flares and his own rendering of an X-ray of Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and I understood instantly why his work has been compared to Gerhard Richter's. Exhibition curators Apsara DiQuinzio and Alison Gass made very smart decisions for the award this time with these artists who all seem to be thinking hard about representation and what art can still reveal in an age of mass reproduction and Photoshop. You can hear DiQuinzio and Gass discuss their process and their decisions at an upcoming free Tuesday program next month, but before that DiQuinzio will be discussing Paglen's patches in depth at a Thursday night One on One talk at the end of March. I'm going to try to make it to that one for sure.