First Thursday San Francisco

A number of downtown galleries in San Francisco stay open late on the first Thursday of the month, an event I have known about for a while (and even attended occasionally before moving to the city). Here are a few of notable items from the most recent “First Thursday”:

Now that I have large walls, I am actually looking for large abstract pieces, like the works of Ricardo Mazal at Elins Eagles-Smith Gallery. Several of these would have worked quite well. Unfortunately, these “monumental paintings” come with “monumental prices.” I’m not one to put down all high-priced art automatically, but I do sometimes find the pricing of art to be a bit of a mystery.

Sometimes abstract is “too abstract,” even for unapologetic modernists. Such were the large monochromatic and gradient works of Ruth Pastine. These could actually work quite well, on large bare white walls, but they would get lost in an environment with other activity and texture. Such stark paintings need space to themselves.

More down-to-earth are the offerings of the Hang Gallery, from which I have acquired some artworks in the past. This months show at the Annex, called “Give and Take”, was one of the better ones I have seen in the while. It featured more traditionally abstract paintings (Hang often seems to feature contemporary mixed-media works in the Annex), such as the work of Phillip Hua. Although not as large as some of the others featured in this article, I could definitely see one of Hua’s paintings hanging in CatSynth HQ. His work is an interesting mixture of abstraction and “industrial grit”, with moments that seem recognizable.

One “recognizable” image was Back Up by Carolyn Meyer, also at Hang. I’m pretty sure this is yet another view of the I-80 freeway through my neighborhood, as I have describes in previous articles such as the recent March “walking tour” and our highway underpass photographs. But what does it mean to see a similar scene so “painted”? It’s something entirely different from the photos, or real life.

And of course, we could not go without mentioning this delightful feline-themed work Spell by Ulrike Palmbach at the Stephen Wirtz Gallery:

It always comes back to cats here at CatSynth, doesn’t it?

This article was included in the April 9 Carnival of Cities.

SF May 13 Part 2: Picasso and American Art, and Brice Marden

i]As described in Part 1 of this series, I had an opportunity to visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and view two exhibits that were going to close shortly thereafter. The first of these was Picasso and American Art, in which the influence of Picasso on American artists of the 20th century by placing works side by side. For example, several of Picasso's iconic Cubist works were displayed alongside works of Max Weber that they inspired. My favorite of the Picasso works in the exhibition was The Studio (1928):

This work is considered an example of Synthetic Cubism. Compared to earlier Cubism, this style is typified by more abstract shapes and simple lines, along with brighter colors. Picasso's Synthetic Cubism had a strong influence on several prominent American artists, including tuart Davis, Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky. Below is Gorky's Organization (1933-1936), which is quite clearly influenced by (and indeed a response to) The Studio:

Artists such as de Kooning and Gorky were influential in creating the American art movement Abstract Expressionism, and their interest in Synthetic Cubism can be seen a direct predecessor along with other abstract styles. I also see works such as Organization as a bridge between Synthetic Cubism and the Surrealist work of Spanish (Catalonian) artist Joan Miro, and then through Surrealism back to Picasso's later work. Miro is among my favorite artists, and I did have an opportunity to visit the Joan Miro museum in Barcelona in 2005. I found many works with a similar (yet quite distinct) combination of sparse geometry and bright colors:

Actually, I had seen this same exhibition in New York last November at the Whitney Museum. It was interesting to see how the two museums presented the same exhibit. The main difference was the galleries themselves, SFMOMA was more light and open, while the setting at the Whitney was more intimate and somehow “quiet.” Additionally, the Whitney made the audio tour available at no additional charge. I usually don't do audio tours, but since it was “free” I decided I would sample specific parts and thus it influenced my visit.

Additionally, I found myself more drawn (during both visits) to the earlier works, mostly before 1960 (up through an including Jackson Pollock), and less interested in the pop art and 1980s styles in the last section. That being said, I do like many artists from the 1970s and later, and this is a good segue to the retrospective of Brice Marden. Marden began in the 1960s as Minimalist painter, and I think most viewers would agree with that characterization. His early work is primarily large monochromatic fields, often arranged in diptychs and triptychs, as in the Grove Series and D?apr├Ęs la Marquise de la Solana (1969):

The Guggenheim collection, which includes the above work, describes it as ” a response to Goya?s portrait of the Marquise, which Marden saw in the Louvre.” With that in mind, here is a computer-generated work in the spirit of Marden's early Minimalism using a photo of Luna as the source for a triptych of color fields:

All fun aside, I did find the large monochromatic works interesting in the context of the full retrospective, especially when several large examples were placed around one of SFMOMA's spacious galleries. The retrospective also gave the opportunity to see Marden's remarkable transition in the late 1970s and early 1980s with his interest in Asian calligraphy and his adoption of more complex images filled with organic curves. He continus to use this style to this day, as in the recent 7 Red Rock 2 (2000-2002), shown to the right. He did have an interesting digression in his work into complex series of crossing lines, such as the 4 and 3 Drawing, shown below. This was probably my favorite from the exhibit:

I suppose I don't really have a “conclusion” to draw here, except that as usual I walk away both appreciative and a bit overwhelmed and bewildered by major exhibits, and always go back for more.

CatSynth pic: synth studio, with cat

Another from our friend Knox Bronson at SunPopBlue:

This is a rather abstract representation of his “almost all-analogue synth studio.” Mars kitty can be seen in the bubble at the lower right (and in the enlarged clip to the right). The overall composition suggests a blend of the CatSynth banner with my Music of the (Blue) Spheres graphic artwork.

The original photo is from 2002, and Mars has since passed away. You can also see a close-up video at the original SunPopBlue posting.