The Fisher Collection at SFMOMA: Calder to Warhol

I have been meaning to write reviews on some recent exhibitions I have seen set SFMOMA: the selections from Fisher Collection and New Topographics photography exhibition, both of which I have actually seen multiple times. This article covers the Fisher Collection, which will be closing this coming Sunday, September 19.

I have been spending some time thinking about what it means to write “CatSynth reviews” for a major exhibition like this about which so much has already been written. In the end, it’s about personal significance. It was really a microcosm of many of the exhibitions and artists that I have followed or discovered over many years – indeed, the exhibition included artists that i had first discovered through retrospectives at SFMOMA including William Kentridge and Chuck Close, or artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Sol LeWitt whom I have gotten to know better through the museum’s programs. It is also an opportunity to explore what does (and does not) captivator me with modern art.

One of the things I find most compelling about modern art is the simplicity and sense of calmness I can feel in its presence. This is particularly true of the more minimalist and geometrically inspired works shown on the upper floor of the exhibition. This included those labeled formally as minimalism like Sol LeWitt, but also the large monochromatic panels of Ellsworth Kelly and Richard Serra’s geometric metal sculptures.


[Installation view with Janus by Gerhard Richter (1983) and multiple pieces by Richard Serra. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.]

There is something about this type of art that I find very comforting, especially in a large scale presentation like this. I can focus on lines and curves and colors and nothing else. I can get absorbed into the repeating variations in Sol LeWitt’s drawings and sculpture, or allow my mind to go blank in Ellsworth Kelly’s simple series of panels. (Perhaps this is what made the placement of Anselm Kiefer’s straw-infused works inspired by the Holocaust in the middle of the same gallery all the more jarring.)


[Ellsworth Kelly, Blue Green Black Red (1996). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art]

Even Alexender Calder’s more organic forms fit into this category and were placed together with the others on the upper floor of the exhibit. It would be interesting to consider Calder’s curving but solid mobiles next to the intricate and delcate straight lines in LeWitt’s Hanging Structure 28c and Antony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud VIII.


[Alexander Calder, Eighteen Numbered Black (1953) . Sol LeWitt, Hanging Structure 28c (1989).]

LeWitt also touches on my interest in mathematics and algorithms (and technology) in art, and conceptual art, most notably in his Wall Drawing, which was created directly on the wall of the gallery in colored pencil from the artist’s specifications.

Gerhard Richter was a bridge between the minimalist and geometric art and the other parts of the collection. His Farben 256 with its array of solid-color rectangles was closer to the previously described works (and although I liked it I couldn’t help but think of a paint chart). Other pieces were more photographic – my favorite of these was Verwaltungsgebaude with its modern arctecture and motion.

The other direction that my artist interests tend is towards urban environments, including graffiti or industrial scenes. Cy Twombly’s large paintings in the exhibition feature repeated curving scribbles that remind me of the graffiti that I often photograph. The white scribbles on gray background in Untitled (Rome) reminded me specifically of walls I saw shooting photos in Warm Water Cove.

Twombly was placed along other works from the middle of the century. A large-scale piece by Lee Krasner was prominently featured (I have yet to see a solo retrospective of her work). A canvas with bright blue by Sam Francis caught my attention. The permanent collection of SFMOMA prominently features works by Richard Diebenkorn, and I think I liked those more than his work in this collection.

In addition to minimalist and geometric works, I also tend to notice art with a playful or surreal nature, or things that are particularly unique. William Kentridge’s installation based on Mozart’s The Magic Flute falls in this category. He built an entire miniature stage with archival photographs and moving images set to selections from the opera. While much more elaborate and complex than the previous works, the performance was still very arresting.

Strictly speaking, there was relatively little photography in the exhibition (although many of the paintings seemed derived from photographic sources). Of the few photographs, the strongest was an image by Sophie Calle which depicted a decaying bed in a courtyard of an apartment building, and was accompanied by a rather morbid story. Another of the featured photos, John Baldessari’s Blue Moon Yellow Window, Ghost Chair was quite painting-like with its extreme contrast and colored overlays.

I certainly did not touch upon everything within the exhibition in this brief review, so those who are interested are encouraged to check out the online exhibition page, or visit if you are in the area in the next five days.

[The photos in this article can be seen on flickr.  You can also see photos by others tagged SFMOMA on flickr or via SFMOMA’s online communities page.]

Wordless Wednesday: Billboard Perpendicular

Wordless Wednesday: Stripes (Contemporary Jewish Museum Plaza)

Performa 09: In Order of Appearance

This past weekend, I attended several exhibits and performances from the Performa 09 biennial.

On Saturday evening, I saw the New York premier of In Order of Appearance by Youri Dirkx and Aurélien Froment. The piece began with a spare, white on white stage, which was gradually populated by Dirkx with various geometric objects.

I was quite taken with the silence, which in its way became musical (I have long had a musical appreciation of silence in art). It also allowed me to concentrate on the objects themselves, their shapes, colors and perspectives, and the dramatic gestures Dirkx used to manipulate them. The main objects were a cube, rectangular prism, ball (sphere) and cylinder, all in white to match the walls. Sometimes they were stacked, at other moments placed side by side. There were also miniature versions of these same objects, in a dark gray shade. Beyond these were a variety of shapes, clothing and architectural elements, some in bright primary colors, which gave the impression of a modernist/minimalist gallery in a museum.

I really liked seeing this work, with its minimal take on motion and geometry. The spare stage and the silence made it quite arresting to watch. And like a museum, I could switch my attention from one simple object to another on my own terms.

The piece ended with full complement of objects on stage:

I came to this performance without any context, so I pretty much experienced it as described above. It was only afterwards that I reviewed the notes, and found this excerpt quite matched my own perceptions:

“In Order of Appearance” questions ways of presenting an artwork. The presentation takes place amidst architecture made of paper, modelled on the white cube of the museum. This draft version of the gallery space is used here as an operating table, an abstract playground where objects and artworks are transformed in one way and then another, exploring their identity and functions. The piece explores the different viewpoints that one has of objects according to their context of exposition.

Weekend Cat Blogging: at the table

I have been waiting for an appropriate moment to post this nearly perfect photo of Luna sitting at the dining room table:

and today seemed as good as any, especially with a Photo Hunt theme of “anything goes.”

Luna is quite fond of the glass furniture here at CatSynth HQ. We have seen how she likes to sit underneath this table as well and soak up the bright morning sun. The chairs are based on an Eames design. The table itself is of unknown origin, but I suspect it’s actually at a few decades old now. We tend to keep the decor relatively sparse and geometric as well, such as the simple blue bowl behind which Luna sits so politely.


Weekend Cat Blogging #228 is being hosted by Kashim at Paulchens FoodBlog?!

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at ArtsyCatsy. Do scroll down while visiting to read and hear their Cry Out for Health Reform.

The Photo Hunt theme this week is Anything Goes 🙂, with apologies to Cole Porter.

And of course the Friday Ark is at the modulator.

Wordless Wednesday: Three Circles

Wordless Wednesday

Weekend Cat Blogging: Photo Hunt – Triangles

This weekend we are combining Weekend Cat Blogging with the weekly Photo Hunt theme of triangles. It’s been quite a “triangular” week here, including our last wordless wednesday architectural photo. Simple geometry like triangles are often featured in my photos, as well as the interior design at CatSynth HQ, so it’s not hard to find Luna and a triangle together. Indeed, the contrast of Luna’s organic curved form to the angular geometry of of her surroundings has been a regular theme.

This particular glass table, one of our favorites, features multiple triangles (anyone care to count them)?


We at CatSynth also wish everyone a happy Pesach (Passover) and Easter.

Our friends LB and Breadchick host the Easter edition of Weekend Cat Blogging. No rabbits or resurrections, but plenty of feeling antics by LB and the other participants.

Samantha and Tigger host this week’s Bad Kitty Cats Festival of Chaos at Life from a Cat’s Perspective.

The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at Artsy Catsy. We are joining them today is sending thoughts for the pets and other animals last week’s earthquake in Italy.

The friday ark is at the modulator. And also check out this week’s photo hunt.

Wordless Wednesday: Luna and Textures

Suzhou Humble Adminstrator’s Garden and Tiger Hill

In addition to its many canals, Suzhou is famous as one of the major centers of classical Chinese gardens. Perhaps the largest and best known is the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

The garden is about 13 acres and about 500 years old (at least one site suggests it is exactly 500 years old, having been built in 1509). The “humble administrator” was a government official Wang Xianchen, who clearly could not have been that humble with a spread like this. It is interesting to note that gardens such as these were almost always private, and the idea of maintaining them is relatively recent.

The elements of the garden include the plants, water, architecture (much of it the more minimalist and geometric Ming Dynasty style) and rocks, such as the lakebed rocks in the photo above. The natural and geometric elements fuse in a way that seems very fresh and modern, and one can see where many twentieth century artists, architects and designers may have gotten their inspiration.

This is the sort of place where I could easily get lost in the visual elements for a long time.

But of course we had to move on. We next visited one of Suzhou’s other well-known landmarks, Tiger Hill. The highest point in the city, Tiger Hill was originally the site of a king’s tomb, and later a Buddhist monastery and temple.

Although this photo makes the pagoda at the top of the hill look perfectly straight, it is actually leaning quite strongly to one side:

Supposedly, it is the many attempts over the years to locate and excavate the tomb in the hill that has led to the weakening of the ground below the tower and its severe tilt. The entrance to the tomb was finally discovered in the 1960s in pool lower on the hillside during a sever drought. However, it has remained unexcavated, lest the tower tilt even further.

The top of the hill supposedly provides a spectacular view of Suzhou, but with the dense winter fog I was not able to see very much.