What's Universal? Part 2

Minimalism is universal. Abstract is universal. Geometric is universal. That's what an exhibit at The M. H. de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park makes clear, just as the play I saw in Berkeley conveyed the universality of certain emotional issues and ethical choices [see 11/13/16 post].

"Laura's Quilt" (2007), by Gyöngy Laky. The M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, California.

"Laura's Quilt" (2007), by Gyöngy Laky. The M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, California.

When I walked over to the entrance wall of "On the Grid," I was surprised to find not cording, but twigs held in place by nails. "Laura's Quilt" (2007) was created by Gyöngy Laky, an American artist born in Hungary.

Once I entered the gallery, I found an interesting and beautiful variety of textile works from around the world that share the same characteristics attributed to the 20th-century school of abstract art known as Minimalism. While the movement included such artists as Donald Judd, Sol Le Witt, Dan Flavin, and Agnes Martin, the pieces on exhibit were created by weavers and other artists/ARTisans, mostly from different cultures. However, they all use a gridded arrangement as a patterning device and/or repetition of simple geometric shapes. As the description of the exhibit states: These objects reflect the movement's core principle that there is a beauty in simplicity that is both universal and timeless.

Tibetan apron panel, 1900s. Wool; twill weave.

Tibetan apron panel, 1900s. Wool; twill weave.

Woman's tunic (phyang) of cotton and silk, ca. 1900. Burma, Asho Chin people.

Woman's tunic (phyang) of cotton and silk, ca. 1900. Burma, Asho Chin people.

Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi), piecework made of bast fiber.

Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi), piecework made of bast fiber.

Detail of Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi).

Detail of Korean wrapping cloth (bojagi).

Woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Detail of woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Detail of woman's skirt panel (pagne) from Gorea Island, Senegal.

Japanese Buddhist altar cloth (uchishiki), early 1800s. Silk, gold leaf on paper strips, twill lampas, supplementary-weft patterning.

Japanese Buddhist altar cloth (uchishiki), early 1800s. Silk, gold leaf on paper strips, twill lampas, supplementary-weft patterning.

Detail of Japanese Buddhist altar cloth, late Edo period.

Detail of Japanese Buddhist altar cloth, late Edo period.

Soto Zen Buddhist's priest robe (kesa), Japan, ca. 1603-1868, piecework of bast fiber (ramie or hemp) and appliqué.

Soto Zen Buddhist's priest robe (kesa), Japan, ca. 1603-1868, piecework of bast fiber (ramie or hemp) and appliqué.

Detail of Soto Zen Buddhist priest's robe.

Detail of Soto Zen Buddhist priest's robe.

Man's headdress (abe), late 1800s, Melanesia, Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz Islands. Paper mulberry barkcloth (lepau), painted by hand.

Man's headdress (abe), late 1800s, Melanesia, Solomon Islands, Santa Cruz Islands. Paper mulberry barkcloth (lepau), painted by hand.

Detail of man's headdress.

Detail of man's headdress.

Detail of man's headdress.

Detail of man's headdress.

Breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi), 1900s, Indonesia, Bali. Cotton; plain weave, spaced warp, discontinuous weft.

Breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi), 1900s, Indonesia, Bali. Cotton; plain weave, spaced warp, discontinuous weft.

Detail of Balinese breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi).

Detail of Balinese breast cloth (kamben cerek or wastra tirtanadi).

Detail of Nigerian/Igbo door.

Detail of Nigerian/Igbo door.

Nigerian door, Igbo people, 1800s; iroko wood.

Nigerian door, Igbo people, 1800s; iroko wood.

Bark cloth (siapo), 1900s, Polynesia, Samoa. Paper mulberry barkcloth, block printed, painted.

Bark cloth (siapo), 1900s, Polynesia, Samoa. Paper mulberry barkcloth, block printed, painted.

Detail of Samoan bark cloth (siapo).

Detail of Samoan bark cloth (siapo).

One of the most compelling works, because of its transparent layers, is also the largest in the exhibit. American artist Rebecca R. Medel meditatively created "Wall of Windows" (1990) with cotton and linen, knotted netting, warp- and weft- resist dyeing (ikat). It has an ethereal quality as it moves between form and formlessness. She states in the title card, "My work is about the spiritual, about infinity, about other than this physical plane of existence." Although the process was complex, the resulting installation is the epitome of simplicity, of minimalism.

"Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca R. Medel.

"Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca R. Medel.

Side view of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

Side view of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

Side detail of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

Side detail of "Wall of Windows" (1990), by Rebecca Medel.

What does minimalism mean to you--in art you view or art you create?
What examples come to mind when you think of minimalism and simplicity?
If minimalism and the simplicity of geometric shapes appeal to you, can you describe why? If they don't, what isn't appealing about them?

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What's It Made Of?

In my last post, I said I'd continue with "What's universal?" next time, but I'm going to interject something different between the two parts because of a small exhibit I just saw at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. In some ways, it recalls contemporary Japanese basketry shows that I have viewed in the last few years. [See images in 11/8/2014 post.] The baskets were, in no way, functional but purely sculptural.

"The Sculptural Turn: Contemporary Japanese Ceramics" focuses on a generation of Japanese potters following World War II. They moved from functional forms such as vases and tea-ware to sculptural ceramics as well as from apprenticeships to university studies. They are clearly engaged in a conversation with art movements since the second half of the 20th century. This group also includes the first Japanese women to distinguish themselves in what has been a historically male field. These clay artists have gone beyond tradition and convention by innovating works in exciting, often organic, shapes and textures while still employing time-hallowed materials and techniques with great finesse.

One of the things that I found fascinating about the works in "The Sculptural Turn" is that they don't appear to be made of clay. Each one I gazed at reminded me of some other material. For example, up close, the piece above, "Untitled" (2009) by Ogawa Machiko, looks like meringue. It is actually stoneware and porcelain with pooling glass. In the exhibit catalogue, she explains, "It is my passion for the earth that drives my continual search for the essential in art. The vessel form, with both interior and exterior space, enables me to best pursue this quest--it is not about making vases. Rather, I am inspired by the concept of emptiness within the whole."

When I looked at "Moment in White C" (2012) by Fujino Sachiko, I immediately thought of strips of felt. Yet it, too, is stoneware, with a matte glaze. Not surprising is the fact that this artist worked as a fashion designer and fabric dyer in Kyoto before she studied with pioneering female ceramicist Tsuboi Asuka in the 1980s. 

The third one could be petrified wood covered in fungus. "Untitled" (2012) by Futamura Yoshimi is a combination of stoneware and porcelain. She blends the two to achieve the collapsed rugged form.

In the fourth image, the upper piece struck me as rusted metal and the lower piece as coral, but again they're not. "Mindscape" or "Kei" (2014) by Mihara Ken is multi-fired stoneware. The artist considers it his job "to help the clay express its beauty. Clay leads, and my hands follow. I do not know what shape my work work is going to end up even while I am making it...Once in the fire, the piece is no longer mine--it has its own life and resolution."
"Tentacles Sea Flower" (2013) by Katsumata Chieko is chamotte-encrusted stoneware with glaze.

Another organic shape is "Quiet Submersion" or "Shizukani Shizumu" (2014) by Hattori Makiko. It is made of porcelain but, rather than being smooth, it has a delicate almost barnacle-like texture. She has said of her work that she would be happy if viewers were drawn into it because of the visual and tactile impact of the surface before seeking an explanation of what she has created. She also explains that her process is incessantlyrepetitive, but she doesn't tire of "this Zen-like operation." Instead, she confronts it "with a very relaxed transcendent state of mind." The smaller work above "Quiet Submersion" is "Plant Growth" (2015) by Fujikasa Satoko, stoneware with matte glaze.

The exhibit contains more pieces from the Kempner and Stein Collection, but the images here should give you an idea of some of the thrilling leaps Japanese ceramicists have made. If you're in the Bay Area, go have a look for yourself. I'm not a potter but, as a textile artist, I can't help but appreciate the textural qualities I saw and be inspired.

Questions and Comments:
As an artist in one medium, what other mediums do you find inspiring?
In your own artwork, how do the materials you work with give the impression of being something else?

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The Museum as Art Itself #2

Last year, I was so enamored with the Miho Museum in Japan that I posted about my general experience rather than about the particular art pieces inside it. This year, I found myself responding to Museum SAN (Space Art Nature) in South Korea in a similar way. In both cases, as well as when I visited the island of Naoshima in Japan's Seto Inland Sea (2012), it is all about the environment and how the architect worked with the site to create art that, in turn, houses art.

Museum SAN is located in a beautiful natural setting that is regularly transformed by the four seasons. The closest city is Wonju, Gangwon Province, approximately 87 miles east of Seoul. Oak Valley, a golf resort, is the backdrop in this view from the rear of the building dedicated to space-light installations by American artist James Turrell. Opened to the public only three years ago, the museum complex was designed by Tadao Ando, a Japanese master of minimalist architecture and "critical regionalism." He says of this project:

I always wished to create a place that could provide the 'energy for life'— nourishment for the mind that will last even when one becomes a hundred years old, restoring the energy to children to run and shout for joy in nature, who had lost their vitality overstressed by the cramming educational regime. Therefore I did not want to build an ordinary museum that is like a silent box, and this site was a perfect spot for realizing my plan.

Although not far from Seoul, getting to Oak Valley was not a simple hop, skip, and a jump except by car. In fact, I wanted to go there during my trip to Korea last year, but couldn't work out the logistics. Thanks to a friend living there, it was an easy and lovely outing this year.

Getting to the ultimate view in the photo above entailed a process of moving along walkways and through gardens from the minute we arrived.

After paying the entry fees, we followed the signs to visit each part of the museum complex, such as the sculpture garden, where we walked around to view the different sculptures, surprisingly all by Western artists.

"Temple" (1990), by Anthony Caro.

"Temple" (1990), by Anthony Caro.

"Realization of a Dream" (1994), by Mark di Suvero.

"Realization of a Dream" (1994), by Mark di Suvero.

"Untitled" (1995), by Joel Shapiro.

"Untitled" (1995), by Joel Shapiro.

We emerged from the garden and onto the path leading to the museum building.

Sculpture by Mark Di Suvero.

Sculpture by Mark Di Suvero.

As we walked along, we passed a woodland and got a glimpse of what was ahead of us.

Around the walls and on the way to the museum's entrance, we came across the introduction of water as an essential element in the overall design.

"Archway" (1998), by Alexander Liberman.

"Archway" (1998), by Alexander Liberman.

I was especially attracted to the entryway because of the constantly changing secondary abstract art created in the "infinity" pools filled with pebbles. Depending on where the light is casting shadows, the images provide inspiration for one's own artwork. The formation of interesting shapes and angles is a factor throughout the complex.

Once inside, there are more visual treats in the rectangular, triangular, and round spaces.

Through horizontal slits in the walls, you can barely glimpse the Triangular Court, with a water sculpture by Eric Orr set amidst rocks that moved with each step we took. Inside, the lines of the concrete planes shifted according to position.

A romantic spot viewed from an opening.

Inside the building, there is an exhibit of modern Korean paintings as well as the Hansol Paper Gallery, which recounts the history of paper and displays traditional Korean paper products (case for thread, brush stand, chamber pot, clothes wardrobe, and more) and book covers. Each section is worth its own post. Here are only two examples of what's in the paper exhibition, which was almost without any light, I suppose in order to preserve the objects.

Paper sewing box.

Paper sewing box.

Chamber pot made of paper.

Chamber pot made of paper.

Kyŏngju: royal tombs of the Silla. Photo by Janet Wishnetsky/Comstock, Inc. Source: www.britannica.com

Kyŏngju: royal tombs of the Silla. Photo by Janet Wishnetsky/Comstock, Inc. Source: www.britannica.com

Next, we leave the museum building and enter the Stone Garden, en route to James Turrell's installations. This area was inspired by the royal tombs of the Silla and Unified Silla Kingdom (1st c. BCE - 10th c. CE).

"Couple on Two Benches" (1985), by George Segal.

"Couple on Two Benches" (1985), by George Segal.

More sculptures set in the stone garden amidst trees turning color.

"Willy" (1962), by Tony Smith.

"Willy" (1962), by Tony Smith.

"Undetermined Line" (1992), by Bernar Venet.

"Undetermined Line" (1992), by Bernar Venet.

You might wonder why I'm including the following signs rather than images of Turrell's work. No photography is allowed inside, only outside. I'm not sure why except that being in these installations is a multi-sensory experience that can't be captured by a picture alone. Sometimes the effect was so disorienting that I felt dizzy. There were even minders to make sure we didn't drop off an edge that appeared to be the floor meeting a wall, but wasn't. In fact, despite all the photos in this post, it is undeniable that being somewhere--walking, hearing, seeing, smelling, feeling--can't be replaced by photos. But if you can't get there, I hope that these give a sense of what a wonderful place Museum SAN is to visit.

Questions & Comments:
What places of art have you found noteworthy?
What about them made you consider them exceptional--the architecture, natural environment, sensibility in weaving together different elements?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Exploring the New SF MOMA

Last Sunday, I finally had an opportunity to visit the newly expanded and greatly transformed Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (SF MOMA). Given what I discussed in my July 6th post about how much we can/cannot take in during a museum visit, I kept in mind what several readers and I agreed on: If you eat from the whole smörgåsbord, count on getting indigestion! With seven floors devoted to art, the museum has enough to keep you there for days. I limited myself and felt joyful when I walked out, eager to explore other galleries next time. I'm keen on discovering places and art I haven't seen yet.

Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Henrik Kam. Source: https://www.sfmoma.org/

Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA. Photo by Henrik Kam. Source: https://www.sfmoma.org/

I love the "new" museum. It is not only more spacious (the galleries alone have gone from 70,000 to 170,00 sq. ft), but also filled with more natural light along with views of the neighborhood. Terraces now invite you to walk outside among sculptures with a garden wall as backdrop. I appreciated being able to get fresh air in the presence of real plants and Alexander Calder's work. Whereas the "old" museum felt closed in, the latest incarnation feels open.

Maquette for "Trois Disques" (Three Disks), formerly "Man" (1967), by Alexander Calder. Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Maquette for "Trois Disques" (Three Disks), formerly "Man" (1967), by Alexander Calder.
Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

The Living Wall is a wonderful addition for its greenery, its environmental consciousness, and its connection to art. The largest of its kind in the United States (almost 30 feet high and 150 feet wide), it was designed by Habitat Horticulture. The approximately 20,000 plants of 37 different species (40 percent of which are native to the state and the San Francisco Bay Area) are irrigated by a recycled water system. And the wall is stabilized by felt made from recycled water bottles and polyester. Visitors were lining up in front of it to take photos of each other.

"Big Crinkly" (1969), by Alexander Calder. Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Big Crinkly" (1969), by Alexander Calder. Pat and Bill Wilson Sculpture Terrace, floor 3,
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

The galleries have everything, even items that some might not consider art at first glance (even at second and third glances!). No matter, for wherever I walk, whether inside or outside, what I see first are shapes, forms, and flow lines. I saw lots of them and, of course, color, as I went from room to room or out to a terrace. I was surprised by artwork I don't remember viewing at SF MOMA prior to the expansion, perhaps because they couldn't be accommodated in the old setting or because they're recent additions.

"In Winter Burrows" (1985), by Martin Puryear. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"In Winter Burrows" (1985), by Martin Puryear.
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Two Plus Seven" (2004) by Martin Puryear. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Two Plus Seven" (2004) by Martin Puryear.
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Richard Serra's "Sequence" is particularly striking in size, shape, and texture (waterproof steel). Raised in San Francisco, as a teenager, Serra worked in steel mills in the East Bay. I stepped around and through "Sequence" as though I were traversing a canyon. Serra has said, "I found very important the idea of the body passing through space, and the body's movement not being predicated totally on image or sight or optical awareness, but on physical awareness in relation to space, place, time, movement."

The sheer vastness of the two torqued ellipses connected by an S-shape is awesome. I learned that Serra and a German steel fabrication plant have collaborated for nearly twenty years to develop both the machinery and manufacturing areas that are capable of creating such large-scale complex forms. "Sequence" was the first artwork to be set in SF MOMA's new building; then exterior walls were erected around it.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Sequence" (2006), by Richard Serra. Floor 1, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

My immediate impression of Ellsworth Kelly's "Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" was to wonder whether he'd been inspired by scrap quilts. The title card explains that, when he found a bunch of colorful gummed paper squares, he turned them into a series of gridded collages by randomly selecting the colors. One of them became the basis for the oil painting below. According to the museum's description, chance techniques kept Kelly "from following any conscious or subconscious guidelines for balance in these compositions. The unexpected color juxtapositions break down any clear distinction between figure and ground, a disruption that Kelly found fruitful and would soon make a central concern of his work." His intention was for viewers not to analyze or interpret his work but to experience its structure, color, and surrounding space instinctively, physically.

"Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Spectrum Colors Arranged by Chance" (1951-1953), by Ellsworth Kelly,
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Accustomed to Kelly's rectangular or square colorful paintings, I wasn't aware that he was one of the first artists to create irregularly shaped canvases, some of which I saw at SF MOMA.

Ellsworth Kelly Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Ellsworth Kelly Gallery, Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Quite a few of Gerhard Richter's paintings remind me of lovely fiber art that has been dyed, painted, and otherwise manipulated in interesting ways. When I came upon "Geäst" (Branches), I overheard two women on a bench discussing what they imagined could be reflections in a forest stream or pond.

"Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Geäst" (Branches), by Gerhard Richter, 1988. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Although I'm not much inclined toward figurative art, "Walking Man #2" by Nathan Oliveira made me pause because of its intense texturing and mood. Questions arose in my mind about what's possibly going on with this man: Where was he walking? What was he feeling? The landscape seems so stark, the emotions dark. Along with Richard Diebenkorn and others, Oliveira was part of the development of the Bay Area Figurative style.

"Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Walking Man #2" (1959), by Nathan Oliveira. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

One of the things that amazes me about abstract art is how much non-literal work can convey something we know and feel in our environment. To create the rhythm and surf-like pattern of "Three Pointed Waterfall," Pat Steir smeared and hurled white paint onto a black-washed canvas. Because I wasn't familiar with her work, I did a bit of reasearch and learned that John Cage and Agnes Martin were long-time mentors in her ongoing search for the essence of painting. Cage taught her the importance of egoless “non-doing” and the role of chance. Martin conveyed how an artist invests his/her spirit into a work. So Steir poured the paint, let it flow downward along its own unpredictable path, keeping herself out of it by allowing gravity, time, and the environment to decide the result. A blending of Buddhism and Taoism?

"Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Three Pointed Waterfall" (1990), by Pat Steir. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

I remember an exhibit of Ruth Asawa's work at SF MOMA years ago. of which I have the catalogue. I was glad to see some of her delicate yet strong fiber art is still there.The shadows they cast are like a secondary intangible work.

"Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Untitled" (S.114, ca. 1958), by Ruth Asawa. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

I enjoyed coming across more fiber art after a sea of paintings, drawings, and metal or wood sculptures. The textile collage below, with brass, thread, and wood, is by Romanian artist Greta Bræsecu. On the title card, I read that it is "the capstone" to a series of abstract compositions which she produced over a period of six years, in which the Greek myth of priestess-sorceress Medea "becomes a metaphor of creation through defiance and subversive transformation." An fascinating point about Bræsecu's life is that she did not leave communist Romania while other intellectuals were fleeing. She managed to express radical ideas by using handcraft-like techniques and simple gestures that avoided scrutiny for ideological content. Who knows, maybe the apparatchiks figured that a woman working with cloth was more domestic than political!

"Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Metabola" (1981), by Greta Bræsecu. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Because male artists and white artists still predominate, I noted when a work belonged to a woman or a person of color. Sadly, I didn't find equality, though Diane Arbus has a room devoted to her photography and Agnes Martin has a small alcove of paintings. There are large canvases by Joan Mitchell and Lee Krasner and a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by Kahlo. Perhaps the floors I've not yet visited will reveal more art by Asian, Hispanic, African, and African-American artists.

Detail of "Harm's Way" (1987) by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Detail of "Harm's Way" (1987) by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Harm's Way" (1987), by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

"Harm's Way" (1987), by Joan Mitchell. Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

On the other hand, I was glad to notice that at SF MOMA fiber art is integrated into various areas according to artistic movements or periods rather than segregated from the so-called fine arts. This makes me hopeful for textile art in general, especially because the fifth floor, which I didn't reach, has a major fiber piece. Claudy Jongstra of the Netherlands was commissioned to create a site-specific mural installation in a transitional space between the white-walled galleries and the outdoor rooftop garden. On a lower floor, I watched a video interview with her about the entire process involved--from tending a flock of Europe's oldest breed of sheep (Drenthe Heath) for their high-quality wool through natural plant dyeing and felting. I look forward to seeing the finished product on my next visit.

SF MOMA's holdings are greater than 33,000 works of art and design. All I could and wanted to do was focus on a few galleries on a few floors. Although I have lots more photos to share, I'll end here with arguably the most unexpected experience. Opening the door into the Ladies' Room reminded me of stepping into a color-filled James Turrell elevator at another museum. Every inch of SF MOMA is dedicated to art in one way or another!

Ladies' Room at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Ladies' Room at the Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco.

Questions & Comments:
Even if you're not a fan of modern art, what can you cite as interesting, intriguing, or challenging about it?
If you are a lover of modern art, what about it floats your boat?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Filling Up on Art

In The Swan Thieves, a novel by Elizabeth Kostova, psychiatrist Andrew Marlow has particular thoughts about visiting places that house art. As he leaves the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., he says, "I believe in walking out of a museum before the paintings you've seen begin to run together. How else can you carry anything away with you in your mind's eye?" Then he notes to himself:

Pushing out through the doors, I experienced that mingled relief and disappointment one feels on departure from a great museum; relief at being returned to a familiar, less intense, more manageable world, and disappointment at that world's lack of mystery: There was the ordinary street without brushwork or the depth of oil on canvas.

Close-up of "Sleeping Girl" (1880), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Close-up of "Sleeping Girl" (1880), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

I can't say that I wholly agree with Dr. Marlow, for it's definitely possible to perceive beauty and mystery in the everyday scenes around us. It's a matter of opening the mind and paying attention to what's otherwise too familiar. Also, we can feel relief going in either direction. If the day we visit a museum, there are no major crowds, isn't it a relief to get away from the hustle and bustle on the street and the cacophony of blaring horns? At certain moments, when we're standing in front of a work of art that moves us, doesn't it feel as though we've entered a sacred space?

Close-up of "Sunset" (1879 or 1881), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

Close-up of "Sunset" (1879 or 1881), by Pierre-August Renoir. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

But I have to admit that, during my recent 5-week trip and others before it, at times my head was spinning. There was so much to take in, as though the only way to eat was to gorge at an overly abundant smorgasbord. I didn't relish indigestion.

It's a hard call how much art to view, especially when I don't know that I'll ever return to that museum or gallery, let alone that city or country. I used to think I had to do it all, for I might never again have the possibility. Over the years, I've changed my mind. In this one life, there's no chance that I'm going to get to every country, see every work of art, and so on. I don't want to. Fewer but more memorable experiences are far more valuable to me than quantity.

When confronted with a great deal of art, I have several options. Generally, I take a lot of photographs so that I can revisit the art in a more leisurely manner at home. However, they don't necessarily capture the textured details one sees in person. Mostly, I am highly selective about which exhibits I'll view, even how much of the exhibit. I limit myself so that I can enjoy what's there and what I feel drawn to for more than a fleeting glance. In this case, less is definitely more. Another approach is to intersperse museum visits with other activities. There's no formula. I go with what feels right on the particular day.

"Fumee d'ambre gris"(Smoke of Ambergris, 1880), by John Singer Sargent. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Fumee d'ambre gris"(Smoke of Ambergris, 1880), by John Singer Sargent. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

If I were to write about all the art I am fortunate to witness and include photos of everything I've seen, you'd soon stop reading this blog. There's only so much any of us can digest. That's why this post offers some tapas instead of a 12-course meal! Enjoy them as you like. These American and European artworks are part of the permanent collection at The Clark Art Institute near Williamstown, which a friend was kind enough to drive me to while I was in Massachusetts.

"Saco Bay" (1896), by Winslow Homer. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Saco Bay" (1896), by Winslow Homer. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

While I am usually more attracted to abstract rather than representational art, I was surprised by the light and depth in "Saco Bay," by American artist Winslow Homer (1836-1910). He painted this sunset at Saco Bay, Maine, near his studio. The two women, carrying lobster traps and fishing nets were among the last figures he included in his paintings, which progressively focused only on the sea. A reviewer at the time criticized Homer for the "unnatural strawberry sky," but the painter felt it was one of his best works. If I had not seen it in person, but only in a photograph, I don't know that it would have captured my attention. But as I entered the first gallery at The Clark, I was struck by that strawberry coloring.

In other rooms, I saw works by Inness, Degas, Renoir, Manet, Bonnard, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassatt, Sargent, Millet, Monet, Morisot, Pissarro, Corot, and more.

These four dancers were modeled by Edgar Degas in the 1880s, then cast 1919-1921. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

These four dancers were modeled by Edgar Degas in the 1880s, then cast 1919-1921. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

One that seemed out of place, considering all the Impressionist paintings in the collection, was "Various Objects," by Louis Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). It's one of his earliest efforts at trompe l'oeil ("fool the eye") painting. He might have even invented the term. The painting seems to be dedicated to a couple, Monsieur and Madame Dandré, to whom some of the letters are addressed. The sprig of pansies (pensées, in French, which also means "thoughts") next to them seems appropriate. Who knows what the objects are conveying, perhaps something related to the couple's activities? It feels like a contemporary assemblage.

"Various Objects (1785), by Louis Léopold Boilly. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"Various Objects (1785), by Louis Léopold Boilly. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

The last image below is of "The Sower," by Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), one of the founders of the Barbizon school in rural France. He is known for his sympathetic depictions of agricultural laborers and his profound influence on later artists, such as Pissarro and Van Gogh.

Questions and Comments:
If you consider viewing art a high priority at home or while traveling, how do you deal with the fact that so much is available? What are your strategies to counter feeling overwhelmed?

"The Sower" (c.1865), by Jean-François Millet. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

"The Sower" (c.1865), by Jean-François Millet. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA.

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Taking in Art in Poland

The opening of the 15th International Trienniale of Tapestryon May 9th was one reason I recently visited Poland, for the event takes place in my father's city, Łódź. I first heard about it in 2013, but couldn't attend then. Though I had been in Łódź in the late 1990s, at that time I knew nothing about such happenings, for I had not yet gotten immersed in textile art. In fact, I didn't even know the history of the city. Imagine my surprise when I learned that it was the center of a thriving textile industry in the 19th century. Called the Polish "Manchester," Łódź supplied goods for the Russian Empire, which spanned from East-Central Europe all the way to Alaska.

"Beautiful Waiting" (2015), by Sylwia Jakubowska. International Triennale of Tapestry 2016, Biała Fabryka ("White Factory"), Lodz, Poland.

"Beautiful Waiting" (2015), by Sylwia Jakubowska. International Triennale of Tapestry 2016, Biała Fabryka ("White Factory"), Lodz, Poland.

Detail of "Beautiful Waiting" by Sylwia Jakubowska.

Detail of "Beautiful Waiting" by Sylwia Jakubowska.

Photo taken from one of 4 wings of the Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa (Central Museum of Textiles), Lodz, formerly "The White Factory," erected by the family of Ludwik Geyer in 1835–1886. Site of the International Triennale of Tapestry.

Photo taken from one of 4 wings of the Centralne Muzeum Włókiennictwa (Central Museum of Textiles), Lodz, formerly "The White Factory," erected by the family of Ludwik Geyer in 1835–1886. Site of the International Triennale of Tapestry.

This wouldn't mean anything to me except that my father once told me something about his father, who I now realize played a small role in that huge enterprise. My grandfather could look at a piece of cloth through a loupe and discern how to create that pattern, that is, how to set up the looms to weave it. That bit of family history remained in my memory bank for ages until one day it struck me that, though I had never learned how to weave, there I was, working with textiles. I felt a need to return to Łódź and see for myself where all this had started and how it eventually became a showcase for contemporary fiber art.

Briefly, Łódź began as a small settlement on a trade route and, by the early 20th century, grew into one of the most densely populated and polluted industrial cities in the world. Weaving originally took place in dark, dismal hovels, but some mill owners built huge steam-powered factories that turned their families into dynasties on a par with, if not wealthier than, the Rockefellers.

Izrael Poznański's Palace, originally a family residence, now the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Izrael Poznański's Palace, originally a family residence, now the Museum of the City of Łódź.

Eventually, the boom went bust due to a series of catastrophes: The Bolshevik Revolution (1917) and the Civil War in Russia (1918-1922) ended the lucrative trade with the East; The Great Depression (1930s) and the Customs war with Germany closed western markets to Polish textiles. After decades of labor exploitation, workers' protests and riots erupted.

Today, the factories and mansions are museums and galleries, with parks and gardens. For example, Izrael Poznański's Palace (see photo above), originally a family residence in the Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque style, houses the Museum of the City of Łódź. Several rooms on an upper level are dedicated to a hometown boy, the renowned classical pianist Artur Rubinstein (1877-1982). The lower level is a gallery, where I viewed an exhibit of paintings and lithographs by local abstract artist and professor Andrzej Gieraga.

"Intruz" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Intruz" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Bez Tytulu III, ok" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

"Bez Tytulu III, ok" (1973), by Andrzej Gieraga.

Walking along city streets, I also came across art on old building walls and in alley ways: The face/tree directly below and the mirrored glass in a pattern of roses underneath that are two instances.

Street art on a building in Lodz, Poland.

Street art on a building in Lodz, Poland.

In this alley off Piotrokowska St. in Lodz, someone created a pattern of roses, using bits of mirrored glass to cover building walls.

In this alley off Piotrokowska St. in Lodz, someone created a pattern of roses, using bits of mirrored glass to cover building walls.

I visited the Museum of Art, located in another Poznański palace, and a cultural center where shows ancillary to the Triennale were hung. There are more than 90 such related exhibitions and events that take place across Poland as well as its borders during this year. But the most extensive exhibit is the one for which I had traveled so far, the Triennale itself. With the work of 136 artists from 46 countries displayed on 3 floors, there's no way I can include everything here. Instead, what follows is a mere sampling of the wide variety of fiber art I witnessed. It's come a long way from the cotton and wool textiles once woven for an entire empire. The definition of fiber art is stretched to include pieces that do not even consist of fiber, but may entail a relevant interlacing technique, such as the rusted metal in "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić of Croatia.

While I took photos of the entire show, it is hard to capture the feeling of being in the presence of particular pieces. Photographic images just don't have the same impact as standing in front of or walking around them. I've selected those that come across more sharply in terms of shape, color, and texture, or that are unexpected in some way.

"Modulator" (2014), by Leonora Vekić, Croatia.

"Modulator" (2014), by Leonora Vekić, Croatia.

Detail of "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić.

Detail of "Modulator" by Leonora Vekić.

"A Dream in the Rain (En la lluvia el sueño) (2010-2013), by Sara María Terrazas., Mexico.

"A Dream in the Rain (En la lluvia el sueño) (2010-2013), by Sara María Terrazas., Mexico.

Detail of "A Dream in the Rain," by Sara María Terrazas

Detail of "A Dream in the Rain," by Sara María Terrazas

"The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

"The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

Detail of "The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

Detail of "The Round of the Wind" (2014), by Nadya Bertaux, France.

The title cards at the Triennale do not contain information about materials and methods, but in many cases, I could guess. In the two images (one full and one detail) that follow of Judith Content's work, I know that her wall pieces are hand-dyed, pieced, and quilted silk.

"Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

"Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

Detail of "Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

Detail of "Labyrinth" (2015), by Judith Content, USA.

The slightest breath of air set Alina Bloch's multi-layered "Genesis" in motion, so it never looked the same from moment to moment. 

Front view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Front view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Side view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

Side view of "Genesis" (2015), by Alina Bloch, Poland.

"Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

"Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

Detail of "Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

Detail of "Rhythms" (2013), by Alexandar Kulekov, Bulgaria.

"Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

"Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

Detail of "Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

Detail of "Porcelain Coasts" (2015), by Rolands Krutovs, Latvia.

In her piece, "Mass Suicide," Androna Linartas of Mexico replicates the ancient system of quipu to convey a powerful message about the dangers of smoking. Quipus, also known as "talking knots," were devices used in the Andean cultures (South America) to collect data and keep records. A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. Linartas created hers with cigarette butts.

"Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

"Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

Detail of "Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

Detail of "Mass Suicide" (2011-2015), by Androna Linartas, Mexico.

"Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

"Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Detail of "Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Detail of "Mutatis Mutandis" (2014), by Emöke, France.

Questions and Comments:
Does your family have a particular textile history? Where did it come from?
What surprises/fascinates/interests you about fiber art today?
What traditional techniques with non-traditional materials (or vice versa) have you used in your art? 

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.