Tuesday, April 8, 2008

6 Days in San Francisco

The main purpose of the trip was to visit CCA, meet professors and other students, and check out the Social Practice program more in depth. The secondary purpose was to soak up some sunshine, visit friends, and relax a little bit.

Thursday 4/3: The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University: Rodin, etc.

Arriving at SFO at 11:30 am, we head straight out of town. We grab a quick lunch at a local mall (the prettiest mall I've ever seen, flowers everywhere! Ah, California...), and find our way to the Stanford campus. My friend is a sculptor, he's into the Rodins:

"The Cantor Art Center's collection of Rodin bronzes is the largest in the world outside Paris, second only to the Musee Rodin. More than 50 works by Rodin are on view inside the Center, mostly cast bronze, but also works in wax, plaster, and terra cotta. Twenty bronzes, including The Gates of Hell, on which Rodin worked for two decades to complete, are outside in the Sculpture Garden. The Burghers of Calais are nearby on campus."

Do you want to know what I really think?
It was interesting... but only relatively interesting. Yes, I know he's a "great sculptor" but...  The mangled, mushy, giant bronzes I saw in Stanford?... they were okay, but they seemed more like self-important experimentation than anything else. Of course, I was just off a plane, and tired. Maybe bronze just isn't my thing. It's so heavy. It seems macho and often wasteful. It's certainly an indulgent material; Not just anyone can use bronze... -- I have seen a lot of art and been to a lot of museums. There are some artworks and artists who transcend time and speak to us in the present... and there are some who we respect out of tradition and an intellectual appreciation of context and history. Well, I can appreciate the Rodin sculptures intellectually but it doesn't go much further than that. Decide for yourself:

RODIN-Web.org: This website is the creative offspring of Rodin-enthusiast, and artist, Hans de Ross, in Munich, Germany. It provides plenty of biographical info, has lots of pictures (including the "first 3-D picture of a Rodin sculpture on the web"!), and interactive stuff too. 

Friday 4/4: The Asian Art Museum

Drama and Desire: Japanese Paintings from the Floating World 1690-1850

"Living only for the moment, turning our full attention to the pleasures of the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves; singing songs, drinking wine, diverting ourselves in just floating, floating: caring not a whit for the pauperism staring us in the face, refusing to be disheartened, like a gourd floating along with the river current: this is what we call the floating world..."  

—Tales of the Floating World (Ukiyo Monogatari)
approx. 1661 by Asai Ryoi
I love this museum! I have to admit that I was a little reluctant to go in. I'm so used to seeing Western art traditions that sometimes it seems like visiting art institutions that focus on other geographical areas will be too much work somehow. Too educational or something. Stupid, right? It was so refreshing! The screen and scroll paintings in the special exhibit were beautifully drawn. Very delicate with fine brush lines and patterns. And they were a history lesson, but a really interesting one. They focused on the pleasure district in Japan, the home of Geisha and Courtesans. - I had a great tour guide who explained how in Japanese culture, sexuality was seen as something natural, and not to be suppressed. They did not look down on the pleasure district as something immoral or degenerate, in fact, prostitution was legal and taxed by the state. Imagine if that were true today in the U.S., maybe prostitutes would even get health insurance! - The general collection was also interesting; a lot of statues of Hindu deities and Buddhist Gods and Goddesses. - The building itself was a very nice space, formerly the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library. -- In addition to "Drama and Desire" they are sponsoring another special exhibit by the artist Zhan Wang (pronounced John Wayne, just kidding). Wang is best known for his stainless steel sculptures of "scholars' rocks", "... graceful, craggy boulders found in several provinces around China that seem to have been sculpted by natural forces into complex forms worthy of thoughtful contemplation - almost like mental or spiritual landscapes." For the Asian Art Museum, Wang created a topographical map of San Francisco using pots, pans, flatware, cooking utensils, and a few steal rocks. The use of kitchen-ware references Chinese restaurants, and the Chinese immigrant experience. The rocks used in the exhibit were taken from the foothills of the Sierras where many Chinese immigrants were employed to mine for gold in the 19th century. 

Saturday 4/5: Visual Studies Theses Presentations

I went to this mostly because my friend, Analisa Goodin, was presenting her thesis: "An Imagined Absence: Images of Loss and the Performance of Representation." She did a great job. - The other presenters were interesting, there are definitely a lot of smart cookies coming out of CCA. 

Sunday 4/6: Graduate Open Studios at CCA

I was impressed, there was a lot of interesting work to see in the graduate studios. 
My Faves (in no particular order):

Christina Empedocles - Girl can paint(!), and she shares my penchant for animals, unconventional juxtapositions, and color. Yay!
Anneliese Vobis - Interesting biological looking, tactile sculptures. She had crystals growing in her studio. Very cool. (p.s. I don't know why her name is spelled differently on her website)
Marci Washington - Edward Gorey meets Vogue Magazine. She's got talent and a taste for the macabre. Check out the details in the wallpaper, carpets, etc.
Sara Thacher - Interactive works focusing on the theme of Exchange. She takes you outside of the gallery and into the social sphere. 

Monday 4/7: Social Practice Workshop

I sat in on a class today. I was mostly overwhelmed and exhausted by the time the class started, so I was sort of just a fly on the wall. They are putting together a book which will be published. Each person contributes artwork, explanation, or commentary. The understanding of what Social Practice artwork is, is still being clarified, so it's useful to put the actions and discoveries of a practicing community into a collected format. They also have a wiki and blog.
The Space devoted to Social Practice students is unconventional by normal MFA standards. Instead of separate studios they share a large workspace. This seems to encourage more collaboration and activity, as opposed to the incubating quality of a private cube. At first I felt a little nervous about not having my own space (the artist's studio is such a coveted luxury) but I'm coming around to the more functional workspace/meeting place. I think it will create more dialogue and keep us working out in the community. 

Tuesday 4/8: Day of Rest

I slept late, broke the fast with fancy coffee and a croissant, and wandered to Japantown to meander between Japanese gift shops, supermarkets, and hardware stores. When I move to San Francisco I will be furnishing my apartment with wares from Japantown (Sweet deals on tea cups!). I found a few additions to my chopstick collection, and I had a fabulous lunch of maki and miso soup. Dinner was with my Hero, a social practice student from CCA, who was sheltering me for the night. We ate at a wine bar and indulged in roasted brussel sprouts, cheese fondue, oysters, and fancy potato cakes. It was a good finale to the trip, which was exhausting, but a success overall.

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