Art Top 5: Exhibitions & Events December 2011

Beat by the Bay, San Francisco Visual Artists of the Fifties and Their Galleries, Ever Gold, December 8, 2011 – January 6, 2012

Everybody’s heard of the literary works produced by the great writers of the Beat generation, like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. But that legendary countercultural movement also included visual artists, who without a doubt deserve the same recognition. Recall, for example, the staggering paintings of Jay DeFeo, such as “The Rose” (now in the collection of the Whitney Museum).  By organizing “Beat by the Bay” the Ever Gold gallery aims to reconnect the Bay Area with its own cultural heritage. It will show experimental pieces by artists who lived and worked here in the 1950s, as well as tell the stories of the alternative gallery spaces where those artists presented their output.

Jay Defeo, Courtesy Jerry Burchard Estate, c. 1957

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Camille Pissarro – The Lonely Anarchist [Review]

Pissarro’s People | October 22, 2011 to January 22, 2012 | Legion of Honor | San Francisco

Strangely enough, at the press preview of the “Pissarro’s People” exhibition at the Legion of Honor, every time the museum director said the painter’s last name, I kept hearing “Bizarro.” That would be an ill-fitting name for the Impressionist master, since there is nothing bizarre in his oeuvre. In fact, he made a point of being very down-to-earth. Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) is known primarily for his rural landscapes. This exhibition, which focuses on images of people, is replete with similarly prosaic subject matter: day-to-day activities of the painter’s family members, laborers in the fields, traders at village markets. Nowadays, when so much work shown in museums and galleries aims to excite your mind and senses, such un-spectacular themes only hold allure for most museum-goers when coupled with the style of a true master. Pissarro’s paintings offer a lot in terms of sensual delight–I particularly prefer his pointillism-influenced works, which seem to extend far beyond the boundaries of the canvas and envelop the viewer. But what is more remarkable is the thinking behind the art. New research by scholar and the exhibition catalog author Richard R. Brettell shows that in all of his art endeavors, Pissarro was guided by anarchist ideas.

Camille Pissarro Apple Harvest, 1888 Oil on canvas 24 x 29 1/8 in. (61 x 74 cm) Dallas Museum of Art, Munger Fund, 1955.17.M. Photo provided by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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Masters of Venice & Ralph Eugene Meatyard [Review]

Masters of Venice | Saturday, October 29, 2011 to Sunday, February 12, 2012 | Ralph Eugene Meatyard | Saturday, October 8, 2011 – Sunday, February 26, 2012 | de Young Museum | San Francisco 

Unlike the Picasso, Warhol, or Impressionism exhibitions that the de Young has presented in recent years, “Masters of Venice” is not very big–only about 50 pieces. But those pieces are extremely famous. One even wonders how the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna let them travel over the ocean, since most of them will soon be 500 years old. Saint Sebastian by Mantegna, Danae by Titian, Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto, The Three Philosophers by Giorgione–are you kidding me? All of those works stand at the origins of painting as we know it. The Renaissance, after all, was the period when oil painting technique was first mastered, and art became aligned more with the aristocracy than the church.

Jacopo Robusti, called Tintoretto. Susanna and the Elders. ca. 1555-1556. Oil on canvas. Gemäldegalerie of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Image provided by the de Young Museum.

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Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze – Is a Naked Man Enough? [Review]

Man as Object: Reversing the Gaze | Friday, November 4 to Wednesday, November 30 | SOMArts Cultural Center |San Francisco

I’ve diligently walked through the “Man as Object” show, but I still don’t think I fully understood what the curators meant by “objectifying men.” Male artists have created sexualized depictions of women’s bodies for centuries, and now, as the statement goes, it’s time for ladies to do the same with men. And indeed, images of naked dudes (and just male sex organs) abound in the exhibition, so as to overwhelm everything else.

Janice Nesser. Climbing Out of the White. 2008. Inkjet print, plexiglass. 4.5 x 6 feet. Provided by SOMArts.

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Art Top 5: Exhibitions Opening November 2011

Francesca Woodman, SFMOMA, November 5, 2011 – February 20, 2012

One of the strengths of the SFMOMA is its photography program. This season the museum will host an exhibition of photographs by Francesca Woodman, which will be the first major show of her work in the United States (it will later travel to the Guggenheim). Woodman died in 1981, at the age of just 22, but she left behind a huge body of work, amounting to more than 800 pieces. She created highly enigmatic and haunting images, in which the body (often her own) is placed in evocative settings.

Francesca Woodman, Self-portrait talking to Vince, Providence, Rhode Island, 1975–78; gelatin silver print; 5 1/8 x 5 1/16 in. (13 x 12.9 cm); courtesy George and Betty Woodman; © George and Betty Woodman. Photo provided by SFMOMA.

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