Monday, December 31, 2012

Eureka! Boy led horse to San Francisco's de Young Museum!

Two weeks ago this morning I posted about my month-ago-yesterday visit to MOMA in New York, Finding what I wasn't looking for. I wrote:
I was hoping that I would also get to see an old favorite from MOMA's collection, Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse (1905-6), a painting I've mentioned twice before on this blog. Alas, it wasn't on view at the end of November...
Well, guess what?

I visited San Francisco's de Young Museum yesterday, and found where MOMA was hiding the canvas. Yes, I'd figured it out before showing up to see The William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism, but the monumental, Rose Period canvas doesn't need surprise to deliver dramatic effect, time after time after time.

I could have known last month that the painting was on local (to me) loan, as the de Young show opened to the public on 15 September; but I hadn't paid close attention, figuring that I'd visit during the holidays when I'd have time off from work. Regrets if you didn't get to see the show yourself by the time these words hit the intertubes: yesterday was the exhibition's last day in San Francisco.

Glad as I was to salve last month's specific disappointment, the Paley Collection exhibit included beautiful work I don't ever recall seeing at MOMA in New York, including a ravishing Degas drawn in charcoal and pastel, Two Dancers (1905).

I can't say I'm an ardent fan of Degas' work ... in fact, I'll even admit that I start to go cross-eyed when a museum gallery mounts canvas after Degas canvas depicting female dancers performing, rehearsing, at the barre, adjusting their shoes, taking a curtain call, etc., etc., etc.

Two Dancers cut right through my Degas defenses. Judge for yourself, at left.

The curator's note for this piece claims that:
Of all his paintings and pastels, nearly half depict dancers. [...] When asked why he made so many drawings and paintings of dancers the artist replied, "It is only there that I can discover the movement of the Greeks."
I could just about see what Degas meant in those charcoal lines, on paper from which color is almost entirely absent.

Drawn in the same year Picasso began Boy Leading A Horse, both works give a window onto artists' fascination in the early twentieth century with the tension-in-stillness of classical form. (How much more dramatic the connection between Picasso's boy and horse because the boy is grasping reins that do not appear in the painting? It's as if they had melted into the centuries between the classicality -- is that a word? -- of the image and the century in which Picasso painted his canvas, as if the reins had been mere twists of hemp, while the figures were painted in enduring stone.)

If there had been museums in Heraclitus' time, might he have observed that one can never step into the same exhibition twice?

Thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for his photos...

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Finding what I wasn't looking for
Art bliss at MOMA
The Steins Collect at SF-MOMA

Friday, December 28, 2012

A petulant landlord's agitprop: politics, art, or irony?

Ken Sarachan owns a number of properties and businesses on Berkeley's iconic (and much-decayed) Telegraph Avenue, which is not to be confused with a stretch of Telegraph Avenue a couple miles south, in Oakland, where Michael Chabon set his eponymous novel, published in September of this year.

Since the 1980s Blondie's has been the go-to spot for thick, greasy pizza slices; the store is sited a single block south of Sproul Plaza, epicenter of UC Berkeley's Free Speech Movement in 1964, and many more since. Rasputin Records (now called Rasputin Music, since "records" is something of an anachronism in the current century) is one of The Avenue's remaining well-stocked, independent music chains (Amoeba Music, founded by former employees of Sarachan's Rasputin Records, is another).

One of Sarachan's undeveloped properties is a lot on the northeast corner of Haste and Telegraph, where the Berkeley Inn used to stand before it burned to a crisp more than twenty years ago. Sarachan assumed more than six hundred thousand dollars in liens against the property when he bought it in 1994: costs associated with cleaning up the site after the Berkeley Inn fire. The city offered to waive those liens if Sarachan builds stores and affordable housing on the corner lot; the first deadline for development that would trigger forgiveness of the liens was in 2004, according to a Berkeleyside article last year, City hands ultimatum to Sarachan on vacant Telegraph lot. That deadline was not met.

It's hard to get a straight story about who's to blame for the fact that the lot stands empty 18 years after Sarachan bought it, but here's an excerpt from what the NY Times reported in a February 4, 2012 article titled Berkeley’s Telegraph Avenue, Hit by Hard Times, Needs a Makeover:
Once the home of the Berkeley Inn, the lot has been vacant for 25 years, despite city incentives to its current owner, Ken Sarachan, to waive $640,000 in liens and interest if he builds stores and affordable housing.

Mr. Sarachan, who also owns Rasputin Records and Blondie’s Pizza nearby, and the vacant Cody’s bookstore building, has offered a number of ideas for the property over the years. But he has never submitted completed plans, city officials said.
So those of us who walk down Telegraph Avenue to get to work, school, or Café Milano were bemused last month to see that someone had erected a sign on the fenced-off property. A big sign. Was it Sarachan himself? Someone else? (The original message was signed "Ken and Kirk," as can be seen in an image published alongside a Daily Californian article of 20 November, but Kirk -- Kirk Peterson, the architect Sarachan hired to develop plans for the lot -- claimed he knew nothing about the sign before it went up; it is now 'credited' only to Ken Sarachan.) In any case, here's what the sign looked like a couple days ago when I walked by:

Yep, it says "Free Speech Board" across the top, as you can see. 'Merican flag motif, peace sign, it's ... well, it's Berkeleyesque, isn't it?

But something smells funny about this little construction, I thought to myself when I first caught sight of it.

Sarachan's "Free Speech Board" is erected on private property, apparently by its owner, and serves a single purpose: to advance the owner's economic interests. The rest of the text goads recently re-elected Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates to push Sarachan's latest plans for his property through the city bureaucracy.


Ken Sarachan is as entitled to put signs up on his property as anybody else, and to goad -- nay, even skewer -- all the public officials he chooses to goad or skewer. But ... assuming the mantle of "free speech" when he does so?

A little over the top, I'd say. The notice is on his own property after all, and no one is trying to tear it down.

Take a step back and the "Free Speech Board" on the corner of Haste and Telegraph smells even stranger.

See, unless you're holding a camera between the bars -- as I was when I snapped the image above -- you can't help noticing that the only vantage points available to the public from which to view the "Free Speech Board are ... wait for it ... outside a heavy, pointy-tipped iron fence designed to keep out the riffraff. The property has been fenced off for years.


That doesn't look like a free speech board to me. Does it to you? To me, it looks downright incarcerated.

(It's Berkeley, you have to wonder whether someone will start a movement to Free the Free Speech Board. That's People's Park in the background, if you're curious.)

I've got a feeling that Ken Sarachan didn't get the memo explaining the free speech concept, particularly with respect to its local historical context.

The irony would be amusing if it weren't for the fact that his property has remained a blight and eyesore in a commercial district that has gotten shabbier and shabbier as Sarachan diddled around, playing chicken with the City Council, instead of doing something with his corner lot and paying off its debts.

According to the NY Times article,
After years of frustrating and unsuccessful negotiations, the City of Berkeley finally sued Mr. Sarachan on Jan. 28, 2012. The city wants to seize the lot to pay off the liens and interest that have accumulated since it cleared the land after the Berkeley Inn burned down in 1990.
I'm not a big fan of cities seizing property from citizens ... but I guess a court will decide if Sarachan has been playing too fast and too loose with the 'bank of Berkeley' as far as those liens -- which he freely assumed -- are concerned. I guess we'll see where that goes.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
The Occupy Movement and UC Berkeley's Free Speech Monument
A lost midwestern pizza opportunity
The blurry line between Landlord and Supreme Power

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mayan apocalypse spoofs were funny, but Weather Underground was right

No, not the Weather Underground, as in Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, and Bernardine Dohrn.

I mean the Weather Underground you do need to know which way the wind blows.

On the morning of 21 December 2012, yesterday -- the day some said the world would end because they had some whack take on an allegedly-implicit prophecy in a Mayan calender -- Weather Underground (as in meteorology) had something to say about San Francisco.

I had an errand in San Francisco yesterday morning. I wondered if it would be raining as I walked from BART to California Street.

Here's a screenshot of yesterday's actual weather report (no, not Weather Report as in I Sing the Body Electric ... this could recurse forever but maybe I should stop).

The screenshot is of the actual weather report for San Francisco. Actual, I mean, as opposed to the gone-viral spoof depicted above.

'What to cue up on the soundtrack?' I asked myself as I decided whether to bring an umbrella along to the city (answer to the umbrella question: yes).

Candidates for the soundtrack: REM, Simon and Garfunkle

If this blog post goes live as planned, on the morning of 22 December 2012, either I can gather all the news I need on the weather report or Google's servers are very well-protected.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:

Bubblegum: an affliction in every generation
Who was that masked man: Mr. Trololo leaves our earthly plane
Apocalypse and Zeno's paradox

Monday, December 17, 2012

Finding what I wasn't looking for

In New York late last month I visited MOMA to see Edvard Munch's 1895 pastel The Scream, one of four versions of this image produced by the artist between 1893 and 1910, and the only version that is privately owned. It's on view at MOMA for only six months, through April 29, 2013.

My lo-qual photograph is taken at a poor angle because you would not believe how many viewers were crowded around to view (and photograph) this rare exhibit. I had to jockey even for even that position. At least it proves I was there. Sort of proves?

I was hoping that I would also get to see an old favorite from MOMA's collection, Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse (1905-6), a painting I've mentioned twice before on this blog. Alas, it wasn't on view at the end of November, but I was glad to revisit the artist's Three Women at the Spring, and also a favorite by Marc Chagall, I and the Village.

The next day I took the subway up from Union Square, where I was staying, to the Guggenheim. I wanted especially to see another favorite painted by Chagall, Paris par la fenêtre, also the topic of a prior blog post (because the painting figures in my novel Consequence). But that canvas, too, had gone missing, taken from the gallery walls in favor of other work from the museum's collection. Well, you can't always get what you want, as that skinny English fellow once sang.

Up on the top floor of the Guggenheim -- not the iconic core of the building, the spiral ramp that Frank Lloyd Wright wound around the building's open atrium, but the north side of the museum where the concept of "floors" actually applies -- I found something I hadn't known I wanted to see until I saw it laid out on the gallery floor.

Sandstars, a "monumental, sculptural carpet of nearly 1,200 objects" (says the curator's note) that the artist found on a playing field in New York City, and on a wildlife reserve at Isla Arena, Mexico, was created by Gabriel Orozoco.

It's ... just a bunch of old stuff, worn out by the city or the sea, things you certainly wouldn't stare at if you were hanging out on a playing field in New York City, and might be only mildly curious about if you found them washed up on a beach in Mexico. Yet the artist's arrangement of the objects -- by size and color, more or less -- made a compellingly beautiful floorscape:

I was glad I'd come. Paris par la fenêtre will have to wait for another visit...

Related posts on One Finger Typing:

Art bliss at MOMA
The Steins Collect at SF-MOMA
Allusion in fiction

Sunday, December 9, 2012

An Egon Schiele vision in Berkeley

Late yesterday afternoon, walking to the grocery store, the night sky glowed cobalt and purple-grey and pink and yellow through bare winter trees. This photo, taken with an iPod, really doesn't do the scene justice.

Matthew and I were both reminded of a Egon Schiele painting, Vier Bäume (1917), that we saw in October at Vienna's Belvedere Palace:

What great fortune it is to be in a world brimming with life and art.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:

Amateur food porn from Austria and Italy
Déjà vu at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna