•May 27, 2009 • Leave a Comment
I finally checked my email today after finally fixing in the internet in my apartment (which has been out for way too long) only to find that I had over 30 comments needing approval on my blog! At first I was sure it was all spam but although there were a few inane blurbs I was surprised how many responses I had especially to my entry on the Women Impressionists exhibit.
Since this blog was originally for a course which, thank God, is finally over – I feel a little uncertain where this blog is headed or if there is even still an audience. So I guess if you would like me to continue this blog – please leave me a comment with some ideas on a future blog entry topic. Do you prefer that I keep reviewing exhibitions/collections in San Francisco? Or should I perhaps start posting on more general topics – interesting issues and problems arising in the field of art history? Let me know what you think! Image: Marcel Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q” 1919. Source: http://www.shafe.co.uk/crystal/images/lshafe/Duchamp_LHOOQ_1919.jpg
•November 14, 2008 • 1 Comment
Adam and Eve, creation, fratricide, Noah’s Ark…these are the sort of things that pop into my head when I think of the book of Genesis in the Bible. So when I went to the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s (CJM) exhibit “In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis” I had very different expectations of it than I was about to experience. And yes, perhaps I should have realized that an exhibition at the CJM, whose building looks like something straight out of Star Trek bursting from the pavement, might be a little more abstract…but how abstract can an exhibit on Genesis be?
As it turns out…it can be very abstract.
In the course of about an hour, I read a story about two violent siblings (who form the “Vegan” race) that massacred their hairy half-siblings, understood that a thin pencil mark can represent the growth of a tree, and listened to the sounds of the Big Bang. The most incredible part of my experience was an interactive art piece where I got to play God and randomly generate my own Bible quotes. Seven TV screens were set up on a black wall with all the words from Genesis quickly rolling past on the screens like a slot machine. There was a podium in front of these screens with a green button and a red button. When you pressed the green button it started the random sorting of words and when the red was pressed, it stopped the words and your quote would appear across the screen. The first quote I generated read, “Behold a great female spirit upon Earth.” It seemed almost too deliciously significant and perfect to not be a coincidence. However this thought soon passed after my subsequent quote which read “A heavenly monster lives in the sky.”
Although I enjoyed the exhibit, it wasn’t quite the “soul-searching” experience I thought it would be. I was hoping to gain some insight on my Jewish identity but it was sort of difficult to do so when the exhibit itself didn’t really have that Jewish identity I was so interested in probing. I do realize that the Book of Genesis isn’t specific to Judaism, however I felt that an exhibit about Genesis in a Jewish museum would be. With the current US Jewish population fluctuating around 2% (which makes up about 40% of the total global population) it can be very lonely sometimes to be a Jew, especially at a private Jesuit university. So sometimes I need that space where I can reflect on my “Jewishness.” And although I think that CJM overall does provide that space for Judaic introspection…I still felt that their Genesis exhibition was unable to do so.
Image 1: Matthew Ritchie,Day One, 2008. Source: http://www.thecjm.org/index.php?option=com_ccevents&scope=exbt&task=detail&oid=25
Image 2: Ben Rubin, God’s Breath Hovering Over the Waters (His Master’s Voice), 2008. Source: http://www.thecjm.org/index.php?option=com_ccevents&scope=exbt&task=detail&oid=25
•October 31, 2008 • Leave a Comment
The De Young’s collection of African Art is located in the top gallery of the museum where the atmosphere is dark, cool, and encased by wooden floors and wall panels. The wall text at the entrance of the collection makes its audience aware that the museum realizes the flaws in this exhibit and even apologizes as it recognizes that the collection only contains “mostly tradition-based arts, though we hope it will continue to grow in a multitude of dimensions in the future.” Isn’t it normal that I might find this disarming? An apology in the wall text? I am not so sure I feel comfortable with “tradition-based arts.” To me, tradition is my grandmother’s incredible matzo ball soup for Passover or college girls dressing up as provocative Disney characters on Halloween. What’s the difference between tradition-based arts and non-traditional based arts? Just because something is created out of wood and beads in the shape of an ancient ancestor antelope spirit doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s “traditional.” What makes it more so than Picasso’s naked erotic pictures of prostitutes
I am a white art history student. I am constantly inundated with art of the western world and sometimes I just want to throw all my European painting textbooks out the window and spontaneously join in on some primal rhythmic soul shaking tribal dance wearing nothing but my birthday suit. The de Young Museum’s African Exhibit should be the remedy for this feeling. The point of exhibiting non-Western art in a “Western society” is to provide that necessary exposure to non-Western arts and help us sheltered white folk understand and digest art that we’re unfamiliar with. However, I felt nothing but lost within the exhibit. The artwork does not come off as art but rather objects hung on a wall or placed in a plexi glass box. There was something totally foreign and unavailable about the works in the collection, almost as if these were objects with obscure meanings from a distant and dead culture. Many of the works were meant to evoke a sensation of spirituality and indeed a lot of them had deep rooted religious significance to the region they originated from. A specific example of this was the Dagon masks from Sirige and Kanaga. The wall label described them as spiritual masks worn by young men during their rite of passage to adulthood. They ineffectively described how the masks were worn and, as the two masks were both at least over 6 feet tall, it was hard to visualize how the mask was worn. In fact, they didn’t seem like masks at all, they were merely pieces of wood on a gray wall with some pleasing aesthetic qualities. The function of the masks was completely lost. The emotional experience; nonexistent.
When I visit an African art exhibit I don’t want to feel like a white person in an African art gallery. I want some comprehension, some emotional understanding, and some sense of satisfaction. And I’m not sure whether I need to find another museum, take an African Art class or even take a year off and live in the grasslands of Cameroon in order to find this experience.
Perhaps the latter.
Image 1 – “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” Pablo Picasso. 1907. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Chicks-from-avignon.jpg
Image 2 – “Ci Wara Headdress,” Mali People Source: http://www.vub.ac.be/BIBLIO/nieuwenhuysen/african-art/bambara-chiwara-male-1a.jpg
•October 31, 2008 • 39 Comments
At the end of September I attended the Legion of Honor’s (LOH) Women Impressionist exhibit. The exhibit featured the work of four female Impressionist painters known as the “grandes dames” of the Impressionist movement: Berthe Morisot, Marie Bracquemond, Eva Gonzalez and Mary Cassatt. I have always felt a special kinship to these artists whose paintings I find expressively female. Almost all of their work touches on scenes within the home, mothers and children, or serene colorful landscapes. The exhibit touched on the difference between the male and female Impressionists – how males didn’t have the same social constraints that females faced. The domestic themes of many female Impressionist paintings had nothing to do with what they wanted to paint but what they were able to paint.
Personally, I was very moved by the exhibit. On one level, the art history student inside of me, there is no explanation for being able to see some of your favorite paintings a mere few inches from your face. And on another level, the feminist part of me, I was moved by such a colossal exhibition of female artists. There was a quote of Mary Cassatt’s on the wall that read, “Women should be someone and not something” which I found particularly striking. I felt that if I were to sum up the exhibition in one sentence it would be with that quote. These are women who not only were members of one of the most cataclysmic art movements but were radical within their identity as female artists as well. These women provided biting social commentary on the role of women through their artwork.
I think Berthe Morisot’s “Portrait of Artist’s Mother and Sister” was one of the most telling paintings in the exhibition. The painting presents the mother and sister of the artist sitting peacefully in the home. However there are these undertones of confinement that I strongly felt. The two figures seem cramped within the composition, as if there isn’t enough space, the mother’s black dress overflowing and dominating the bottom corner of the frame. The framing of a painting cuts through the sister’s head in an almost sinister and violent way. The bodies overlap each other and one can barely make out the end of a coffee table as it creeps its way into the painting. Perhaps Morisot isn’t just expressing the contemporary female’s confinement within the home but also the universal limitations for women that have carried over to this day. How many times have I felt limited? Not knowledgeable enough or not strong enough? How many times have I felt judged or taken lightly because I’m a 5’2 19 year old female? But then again perhaps I’m just over dramatic. I can vote, I can be a CEO of a company, choose my own husband, walk out in public with my thighs showing, and if not at least I can make a lot of money by suing the people who deny me those rights. When Berthe Morisot died the occupation on her death certificate read: None.
If I were to make an impact on the world my only wish would be that my death certificate reflect that.
Image 1 – “The Child’s Bath,” Mary Cassatt. 1893. Source: http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/paintings-by-mary-cassatt-6.jpg
Image 2 – “Portrait of Mother and Sister of Artist ,” Berthe Morisot. 1869/1870. Source: http://www.dl.ket.org/webmuseum/wm/paint/auth/morisot/reading.jpg
•October 28, 2008 • 1 Comment
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