Wednesday, August 31, 2011

White Mobile

A big white Calder is suspended in the entrance hall of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. There are Calder mobiles hanging in the entrance halls of many other museums around the world as well, of course. Alexander Calder is something akin to a reliable middle-of-the-road brand-name, the equivalent in the mainstream art world of Calvin Klein in retail.

The scene here is occurring a few minutes before 10:00 on a Sunday morning. These genteel-looking people are waiting for the attendant to withdraw the barrier tape and permit them to enter the galleries.

I myself am descending the main staircase in the process of leaving the building, having spent the past hour looking at Gertrude Stein's art collection (as the Museum has reconstituted it). The early weekend hour for members-only viewing has in practice proved to be a thorough blessing, especially since so few people take advantage of it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

John McCracken

Berkeley-born Minimalist sculptor and painter John McCracken died earlier this year at 78. He was honored in Turin with the beautifully installed retrospective shown here at Castello di Rivoli.

According to McCracken's obituary in the New York Times, ... he differed from the Minimalists — and from the Los Angeles “light and space” and “finish fetish” artists with whom his work was also affiliated — in his belief in U.F.O.s, extra-terrestrials and time-travel. In interviews that gave his work a distinct frame of reference, he frequently likened his art to something that an alien visitor might leave behind on earth. “Even before I did concerted studies of U.F.O.s,” he once told an interviewer, “it helped me maintain my focus to think I was trying to do the kind of work that could have been brought here by a U.F.O.”

McCracken's famous mandala paintings seem at first sight to rub the wrong way against his more pervasive monochromatic slabs -- but both are clearly rooted in the California of the Sixties and Seventies that saw their creation.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Polaroid Project

On the 14th of August these Polaroids marked one completed year of the daily Polaroid project. For Mabel's second year, the project will slow down to weekly Polaroids. Above is the first weekly Polaroid after the birthday.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

More Birthday

At the birthday party two weeks ago Mabel Watson Payne with a little assistance from her mother opened gifts from the many wellwishers who brought them to the party -- and that was already a lot of gifts. To avoid overload, gifts from local family were postponed. Yesterday was the next occasion after the party when everybody had a chance to get together again, so that is when the remaining presents got opened.

Out of the pink bag from grandmother came a baby doll. Which received an extravagant welcome but so far has no name. Names cannot be rushed into, especially not the name for a person's very first doll. It will be revealed in its own time.


I visited Mabel Watson Payne yesterday, not having seen her for two whole weeks due to various circumstances including her happy vacation exploring beaches and Missions and little towns along the California coast. Two weeks in baby time is like two years in adult time -- or so it seems -- and there were many noticeable changes such as a greater confidence in walking and also such as longer & thicker & curlier hair. Presumably its growth was stimulated by the brisk sea air and sunshine.

Photo below, though not overwhelmingly clear, does document another major development -- the baby teeth on the top are starting to visibly sprout.

Striped hippie trousers were a birthday present from Auntie Pam. Mabel Watson Payne decided to use them as the lynchpin for a head-to-toe Flower Child look yesterday including a long string of lovely shiny green beads.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Art vs. Nature

From Sempre Susan, a memoir of Susan Sontag by Sigrid Nunez 

I never knew anyone who was more appreciative than Susan was of the beautiful in art and in human physical appearance – "I'm a beauty freak" was something she said all the time – and yet I never knew anyone less moved by the beauties of nature. To her, it could not have been more obvious: art was superior to nature as the city was superior to the country. Why would anyone want to leave Manhattan – "the capital of the twentieth century" as she loved to say – for a month in the woods?

When I said I could easily imagine moving to the country, maybe not right then but when I was older, she was appalled. "That sounds like retiring." The very word made her ill.

Because it was where her parents lived, she sometimes had to fly to Hawaii. When I said I was dying to visit America's most beautiful state, she was baffled. "But it's totally boring." Curiosity was a supreme virtue in her book, and she herself was endlessly curious – but not about the natural world. Though she often spoke admiringly of the view from her apartment, I never knew her to cross the street to go into Riverside Park.

Once, when we were walking together on a campus outside the city, a chipmunk zipped across our path and dove into a hole at the base of an oak tree. "Oh, look at that," she said. "Just like Walt Disney."

Photograph of Susan Sontag by Peter Hujar, 1975

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tiny Lightnings

J.M. Ratliff can still be found more often than not outside Adobe Books on 16h Street in the Mission. Every week or so he has a new stack of photocopied broadsheets covered densely with his latest message to the world. I will generally stop and buy one (as I did tonight -- a habit first reported here back in 2009). Lately it seems like the reduced-scale typing is getting more compressed and smaller with each successive issue. So instead of scanning the sheet and attempting to reproduce it here and then having it look like a big blur, I will transcribe a sample below.

Two Lord Maji ants in gold & silver robes stand in the air. YOU saved an ant in St. Louis--YOU shall be with us forever! He lives inside a while. He sits up out of his body & looks at it on the bed. Now he is on this dirt road. Down at the end he can see his old cafe, the Trieste. But there is no dirt road there. Cld he be dreaming? If my hand goes thru my body, I am a ghost he thinks. Bip, bip, but no it doesn't. A lady is there in dark shawl. He grabs her shoulders, she too is solid. He walks on up the road, turns into some sparks, goes down thru the road, & wakes up here in bed--that real. He is hanging in the air up over this forest submerged in clearest water--no it is moisture. Tiny lightnings zip between the trees.

The reference to "his old cafe, the Trieste" merely confirms what was already plain -- that the writer used to live a North Beach hippie life, back when that life was available to be lived.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alessandro Turchi

The Lamentation above, painted in 1617, now hangs in the Borghese Gallery. I saw it there earlier this year. The artist was Alessandro Turchi (1578-1649), also known as l'Orbetto. His name was unknown to me, but later I located more of his work.

Eve Tempting Adam

Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery

Saint Jerome

Saint Agnes Protected by an Angel

Saint Agatha in Prison Attended by Saint Peter and an Angel

Raising of Lazarus

Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine

Baroque painting has gone in out of fashion several times over the past four centuries, but Turchi's reputation has never deviated from its original obscurity.