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Carol Benet

SF Bay Area Arts: Asian Art Museum Open and Exciting

By Carol Benet

Asian Art Museum Open and Exciting

Carol Benet

The Asian Art Museum is now open and offers three extraordinary exhibits, all on the first level.  They attest to the  change in policies in the Asian that now wants to emphasize contemporary art as well as offer its traditional Asian art galleries on the upper levels which are also open.  

The three contemporary exhibitions welcome the viewer.  First, in the Lee Gallery is a display of over 50 short videos in “After Hope” where international political issues are addressed as well as Asian art motifs from the past.  On the wall facing the video screen are posters reflecting the pain of the anti-Asian violence that has just erupted in our country, thanks to the thoughtless remarks from the former president about the unproven claims that Covid 19 was caused by the Chinese.

The posters also advertise sentiments saying “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” and “Asian for Black Lives” in addition to displays of cartoons, reproductions of short essays and other relevant out-cryings from artists in countries as diverse as Iran, China, Syria that have been targeted by prejudice.

Three socially distanced benches facing the screen invite visitors where they can take a rest or park the kids for awhile while they see the other parts of the display.

The second exhibit in the Hambrecht gallery shows “Mementos” by two artists with two impressive large works.  Jayashree Chakravarty’s large hanging derives from her memories of her hometown Kolkata in West Bengal, India.  She has constructed a kind of map of the city using cotton as the backing on top of which she layers rice paper and tissue .  On this background are small squares symbolizing houses, mountains, trees and roads outlined with stains of natural pigments including coffee and tea.  In some places she creates a golden and silver luminescence from special paints giving the undulating hanging a shimmering quality.  The work can be seen by walking around it.  It is very elegant.   

The other installation in this gallery is  a two sided video by Hong Kong artist Lam Tun Pang.  ‘A Day of Two Suns” has moving images of birds on branches, trees,  and rocks surrounded by rising water.  As you walk around the video screens your own shadow becomes incorporated in the work allowing an interesting interactive touch.

The Osher Gallery features the Bay Area Artist Zheng Chongbing whose works were commissioned by the Asian Museum and signal its emphasis on contemporary art.  A large painting in blacks and grey ink and acrylic take up an entire wall.  Facing this is a video with two separate screens around which you may walk to enjoy them from two sides.  And on another wall is a display of many of this artist’s sketches and works in process that resemble architectural designs.

Zheng Chongbin’s spectacular “I Look for the Sky” hangs above the Bogart Courtyard outside the Osher Gallery .  This is an impressive series of constructions that resemble architectural forms that could be taken as buildings. He  is one of the Bay Area’s most creative contemporary artists.

All three galleries on the first floor were donated by people who lived on the Tiburon Peninsula,  The Lee’s,  Osher’s and Hambrecht’s.  The Asian Art Museum requires reservations, but the day I went it was quite empty and they welcomed me.  It is  also open Thursday nights from 5 to 8 pm.                                                                                                     

Two New Exhibits at SF Legion of Honor

By Carol Benet, Go See

Pompeii and Wangechi Mutu at reopened Legion of Honor 

Carol Benet

With two huge volcanoes currently raging the world (Congo and Iceland), an exhibit on Pompeii could not be more timely.  Why is it that people like to revel in disaster and seek it out as part of their entertainment in movies and museum exhibits?

The recently reopened Legion of Honor presents two exhibits, “Last Supper in Pompeii” and “Wangechi Mutu:  I Am Speaking to You, Are you Listening”.  As different as they are, they both depict remnants of disasters and dwell on them.

“Pompeii” is a collection of items used in the preparation and the partaking of meals, with emphasis on wine produced in the volcanic soil surrounding Mt. Vesuvius.  Volcanic soil around both Etna and Vesuvius are rich for wine grape growing. The disastrous volcano that destroyed the entire city and its inhabitants took place in A.D. 79.   People have been fascinated by it since then.  This exhibit is part of this curiosity that has continued for centuries. 

Much of the exhibit is about the wine industry at the time.  Renée Dreyfus, Curator of Ancient Art at the SF Museums of Fine Arts, has contributed to this exhibit. and points out that people in the first century gravitated to Pompeii as a luxurious destination from Rome, much like the way pleasure seeking people head for Napa Valley to eat and drink.  

In the past Dreyfus has brought other interesting exhibits to the museums that shine a light on traditional viewing of Greek and Roman sculptures now seen in stark white where she points out and demonstrates the original colors they bore.  She also organized an exhibit on Thrace, an unusual and unknown subject for an art exhibition.

Most people know about the destruction of Pompeii by the volcano Vesuvius in A.D. 79.  In this exhibit their knowledge is expanding by knowing how they lived, ate, drank and spent their leisure hours. 

On display are many wine vessels, pitchers,  cups, bowls, often in silver with a myriad of designs.  The history of the wine industry in Pompeii is well labeled and introduced by a statue of Bacchus, the god of wine, is apparent.  

Cuisine is the other important subject of the exhibit with preparation vessels, plates, utensils on display. This part is not so interesting as it is predictable.  But a narrow room with a fresco, paintings and statue of a giant phallus attest to the love these people had for erotica as they used it as decoration of their homes.  This gallery is off-bounds to youth attending the museum.

The finale of the exhibit is a short video with computer graphics that recreates the volcano and show how it destroyed the buildings and the city,  bit by bit.  ‘Last 

supper in Pompeii:  From Table to the Grave” runs at the Legion through August 29.  Reservations are a must.

The second exhibit, upstairs, mainly in the Rodin galleries are the works of the Kenyan American artist Wangechi Mutu.  Her exhibit “I Am Speaking to You, Are You Listening” is a series of mostly sculptures and some paintings.  The works are spread among the standard Rodin sculptures as if they are in dialogue with this European male artist’s presentations of his reality.  It was the former director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Max Hollein who first starting putting the contemporary and sometimes shocking works next to the standard fare of the Legion.  He was much criticized for this.  This criticism didn’t matter to him because after San Francisco he took up the helm as director of the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Mutu’s sculptures are many layered. Two greet the visitor in the courtyard before the entrance of the museum and at the the base of the famous “Thinker” of Rodin as if the figure is pondering the disaster below.  Here Mutu has placed  two bronzes, bodies covered by  blankets covering two figures, These are identifiable as female because of the pointy toed very high sexy heeled red shoes poking out.  An overt reference to violence against women. Also in the courtyard are two huge bronze sculptures that represent mythological female goddesses.

In the entrance hall of the museum is another reclining sculpture and beyond that in the main Rodin gallery is “Sentinel IV” made of several materials including wood, soil, branches, paper and black hair.  The standing sculpture is set apart by strands of large black beads.   This statue stands on a platform of earth red soil, a motif that is present in other of her sculptures.  

Three photographic prints of ink and emulsion are placed in the next Rodin gallery with three busts emphasized with mirrors.  A standing sculpture has  an exaggerated hairstyle and fringe replicating a skirt. 

Mutu uses a rich assortment of materials as she works in many genres.  She refers to questions surrounding feminism.  She has exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the 2019 Whitney Biennial in New York. Her works are a welcome addition to the once staid collection of European art at the Legion.  This exhibit runs through November 7, 2021.  41 5 750 3600 or 

Test Review May 24, 2021

By Carol Benet, Go See

Manual Cinema performs Frankenstein as part of Cal Performances at Home, streaming premiere Thursday, October 29 at 7pm PDT; Performance will be available on demand until January 27th, 2021. Pictured: Sarah Fornace
(credit: Drew Dir)

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