San Francisco, CA: Museum of Modern Art, Cartoon Art

Two freebies today: a trip to the SF Museum of Modern Art and one to the Museum of Cartoon Art.

SFMoMA: Art You Can Pee On

Unfortunately, photography is prohibited in all the galleries, but I’ll try to find pictures online of what I saw. The museum itself is fantastic, and I spent about 2 1/2 wonderful hours there.

I started at “Matisse and Beyond: The Painting and Sculpture Collection”, showcasing works from artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Salvador Dali, Picasso, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. The first, and in my opinion, most striking exhibit was Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”:

Yep, that’s a urinal. It seems Duchamp was trying to shake up the art world with a “readymade” piece, where the art is found not in the object itself, but in the background of why the artist chose it. Also interesting, earlier this year, at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, a performance artist named Pinoncelli attacked the piece with a hammer and caused a slight chip. Even worse, 13 years earlier he actually urinated into it while it was on display in Nimes.

I think I’m starting to get modern art now. Tired of paintings that look like the things they’re supposed to look like, artists seek to awaken a subconcious or primitive response in their audience. The art is in how you feel or what you imagine when you see the piece, regardless of how ridiculous or simple it may be. Or sometimes it can just capture a moment, like Jasper Johns’ “Flag”:

Created in 1954, the flag has only 48 flags; Alaska and Hawaii were incorporated in 1959.

I think the best illustrations of my point (if I have one), are 1) Albers’ “Homage to the Square” series:

Not too long ago I was reading an article about the links between color patterns and intended subconscious reactions (hence, the white-on-red of a stop sign or the spectrum of security threat levels). SFMOMA had a set of 4 from Albers’ series with fantastic, sharply-contrasted color patterns. Though I’ve only seen a limited set of the series, the museum’s collection was well-chosen. Albers probably doesn’t intend to illicit a certain reaction, but what you feel is the beauty you see in the colors.

And 2) Rauschenberg’s “White Painting (Three Panel)”:

The artist wanted to allow the audience to interact with the piece, seeing what shapes might fall on the canvas by the museum lighting and other patrons.

Or maybe, the painting incorporates the effort that went into it’s production. One artist, whose name I can’t remember, would coat her canvas in a layer of wax and then cut images and colors right into it. As the wax was being applied and as it melted, sometimes dust, footprints and pet hair would get onto the canvas. These artifacts of labor would be left in the final product, giving the viewer a full scope of not only the idea, but it’s origins.

OK, enough theorizing, let’s cover the rest of the exhibits.

On the third floor, “Imposing Order: Contemporary Photography and the Archive”, I ran into a familiar site:

It’s a Hiroshi Sugimoto photograph of an exhibit I saw last week at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Sugimoto enjoys taking pictures of other exhibits and pieces to “skew perceptions of reality and time.” Interesting, because I thought of the same relationship to illusion after I snapped a picture at that very museum of some ram-type animals.

Doesnt it look like a painting? And doesn’t Sugimoto’s look like real-life?

The next level exhibited works by Anselm Kiefer, who strives to show how the heavens and earth are connected: what we create depicts what exists in heaven, and what is created by the Earth influences all humans. On the same floor was a piece by Richard Serra, called “Gutter Corner Splash – Night Shift”:

Serra ladled hot lead along the corner of one room in the museum and let it solidify. His team then pried it off the wall and repeated the process, working at night after museum hours. The result was a group of these castings on the floor of the very room that produced them. Again, an artist’s association of a work’s surroundings and it’s construction.

The last floor featured a Phil Collins exhibit called “New Work” (no, not that Phil Collins). It’s one part of a trilogy piece called Dunya Dinlemiyor (“The World Won’t Listen”), where he invited people from Istanbul to sing Karaoke versions of songs from 1980s rock band The Smiths’ album of the same name. According to the brochure, “the video serves as a potent counterrepresentation of Western stereotypes and media myths that imagine Turkey as a fundamentally antimodern nation hindered by tradition and ghosts of the past.”

Cartoon Art Museum: The Funnies On Steroids.

If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend a visit to this museum (on the first Tuesday of the month, of course). The galleries range from historical presentations of cartoons in children’s story books, to deconstructions of what it takes to make animated features and shorts. Included in the latter were cels and backgrounds from cartoons such as Rocky and Bulwinkle, The Simpsons, Huckleberry Hound, and Bugs Bunny.

The museum opens with The New Yorker Rejection Collection, a group of cartoons that didn’t make the publication’s cut. One of my faves was a comic of a woman walking by a man who’s looking at her with an open book on his lap. The caption read “I was just flippin’ through your yearbook and couldn’t help noticing that you used to be a dude.”

Another great exhibit was the Charles M. Schulz collection, including a sample of his works from as early as 1960.

All-in-all, a great day for cultural expansion. Stay tuned for scenes fron the Frisco Zoo and my attempt at rigotoni and red sauce.

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