I finally saw the new SFMOMA. The galleries are strangely cut-off from city, but a huge improvement over Botta’s dumpy box. It seemed straightforward to navigate, though afterwards I realized I had actually missed the pre-WWII galleries on the second floor.
The big surprise was what was on view: the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection. Blue-chip hedonism: room after room of Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, The Bechers, .... No complaints from me.
It was a good that the two special exhibitions provided a bit of grit.
It is certainly not true that Bruce Connor was “one of the foremost American artists of the postwar era.” His music videos (of the 70s and 80s) are his central work, after which come a handful of fine films. Beyond that he made a few nice collages in the style of Max Ernst, and did two series of intricate, druggy and mesmerizing ink drawings—the thick, Kusama-eque squiggles and the ink blots (early 1990s). The rest of his work is bohemian thrift store junk.
It was also a good to catch the Anthony Hernandez retrospective. It’s easy to see why this L.A. photographer’s retrospective is not appearing anywhere in L.A.: his work is the most negative portrait of Los Angeles on record. His unknockable best are the various series from the late 1970s and early 1980s: Public Transit Areas, Automotive Landscapes, Public Use Areas, Public Fishing Areas. What in the world is that image with the woman sunbathing, the man fishing and the two trees poking out of the water? The woman struggling to relax and read in the uncomfortable angle of the office building landscaping! Landscapes for the homeless, #18 (1988) is the indelible drywall chair. I acknowledge the irony of the pains taken to produce fantastically detailed images, and then to print lushly colored, heroic scale prints … of nastiness that most people would rather ignore. Discarded things, garbage, salvaged by the desperate. The irony is the central thing. The possibility of apprehending beauty in conditions that are unpromising to say the least. It is also about keeping your mind open, along with your eyes. Looking even when you don't want to.
I’m glad I saw the Danny Lyon show—at the De Young—but it was one of those retrospectives that make you doubt your enthusiasm. His engagement with the civil rights movement, bikers, the destruction of Lower Manhattan, prison inmates, etc. … produced some indelible images. But I didn’t get the sense that it went any deeper than that. Photo essays? Not really. His goal was never getting at the truth of what was happening; his goal was adventure. I could be completely mistaken. I think I need to study his books.
It was interesting to see the Frank Stella retrospective again. The De Young’s was much smaller than the Whitney’s version—most of the big, craggy silver pieces were omitted. And it was displayed in the underground galleries. It’s not that Stella’s work is frail, but the absence of natural light made everything a bit flatter than it really was. At any rate, it was instructive to see the show again, after 10 months of thinking and reading about it. This version really made the case for the continuity between all the work:
- Everything, from the stripe paintings to the latest sculptures are assemblages.
- All his works employ negative shapes, cut-out shapes, left-over shapes.
- Colors, for him, are always things, embodied in things. Colors aren’t ideas, they are properties of specific, concrete things.
And then lunch, at the De Young’s terrific café.