Sunday, April 26, 2015

Secondhand Pier 24 Photography

Photography was long a wealthy person's art simply because camera equipment costs so much, not to mention the expenses of photo paper, darkrooms, and all the associated paraphernalia of the trade. Digital cameras and Adobe Photoshop have changed the equation somewhat, but it is still expensive and tricky making your living as a photographer.

One constant over the centuries is wealthy collectors parking their cash and investing in Art. San Francisco, with its newish billionaires from The Gap and investment banking, has three of the top private art photography collections in the world according to ARTnews, including that of RS Investments guru Andrew Pilara.

In 2010, Pilara opened a private museum to house his photography collection at Pier 24, which the public can visit by appointment, Monday through Friday, three separate viewings per day, with a maximum of 20 people allowed at a time.

The museum is in an old, rehabilitated warehouse under the Bay Bridge that juts into the bay, with 20 galleries spanning 28,000 square feet, with no windows featuring beautiful waterfront vistas to steal your eye away from the Art Photography. This place is serious.

Each exhibit is displayed for about a year, and this year's version is called Secondhand, examining repurposed photographs, and a lot of it is very High Concept Art.

In one of the eccentric choices at this institution, there is no wall signage explaining the art for you, which is simultaneously confusing and refreshing. At the front desk, you are offered a free catalogue to take around the galleries which acts as a map and a rudimentary guide of the artists and their work.

Secondhand begins with a quote from John Baldessari about how imagery shouldn't be owned, somewhat ironic in the context of a photo collector's museum.

Each gallery seems to have its own set of photographer(s) and theme, with installation styles ranging from carefully ordered to randomly stacked against the walls.

Aline Smithson described her pleasure at the museum and the exhibition on the lenscratch website: "I wandered the almost twenty-gallery space, each room uniquely envisioned and curated, bringing remarkable levels of creativity, intelligence, and seeing, where works are not only exhibited in the most inventive way, but the considerations of pairings, framing, and simply the scope of the vision is unsurpassed. I felt completely energized by the experience and have thought about it at least once a day since walking in the front door."

Jörg M. Colberg, on his interesting Conscientious Photography Magazine website, begs to differ about the museum. "Even though the Rothko Chapel has been mentioned as an inspiration for Pier 24, the space reminds me more of a tomb or crypt in which artifacts of the present are to be deciphered by that very small group of adventurers who have gained access. This makes for a somewhat strange experience, given many of the exhibited artists certainly aren’t Rothkos. Make no mistake, if you enjoy looking at photographs on your own in a somewhat dimly lit oppressive-feeling space, this is great. If you are more like me, however, being able to take in work even in the presence of large groups, acknowledging that while being art, photography is a form of art closest to the what is in part represented by those very people around you, then there is no need for this supposedly contemplative environment. Contemplations happens in one’s head, not outside of one’s body."

The experience fell somewhere in between for myself and the two professional photographer buddies I visited with, Donald Kinney and Cassi Switzer. The exhibit can be seen with an online reservation through May 26th (click here). After that date, the museum will be closed for a number of months to get ready for what one of the volunteers at the front desk hinted would be the first show involving a single artist, information she disclosed as if it were an important state secret.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Petrenko Conducts the Shostakovich 12th Symphony

The 39-year-old Russian conductor Vasily Petrenko is conducting the San Francisco Symphony in two performances this week of the Shostakovich 12th Symphony, The Year 1917. I heard it this afternoon at a matinee, and if you can possibly get to Friday evening's concert, do so. It is amazing musicmaking, and the San Francisco Symphony does not sound like this under any other conductor, swinging from the loudest fortissimos to the softest pianissimos during hairpin transitions that seem almost impossible for such a large orchestra. All the sections played magnificently, but the percussion led by new principal Jacob Nissly deserve special mention for their wildly shifting rhythms in this loud, militaristic celebration of the Russian Revolution.

Five years ago I heard Petrenko conduct the San Francisco Symphony in Shostakovich's similarly bombastic Eighth Symphony, and the performance was a revelation (click here). Petrenko has just completed recording a Shostakovich symphony cycle with the Royal Liverpool Symphonic Orchestra where he is Chief Conductor. Though tempted to buy it, in truth there is no way recorded sound can compete with the soft and loud dynamics Petrenko manages to conjure from a live orchestra.

I missed the first half of the program, which had Barber's School for Scandal Overture and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2 played by Sa Chen (above right, signing CDs with Petrenko). According to Vivian in front of me, who said the performance "had changed her life," and the ladies seated on either side, it was a magnificent rendition of the concerto, but I am glad to have saved my energy for the Shostakovich.

The Symphony #12 was received rapturously in the Soviet Union on its 1961 premiere, but in the West it was considered bald, trashy musical propaganda for the Soviet Revolution. Now that the Cold War is an historic relic, the music can start to stand on its own without a program, and Shostakovich was above all a great, supremely gifted composer. The first movement, Revolutionary Petrograd, was insanely exciting in this afternoon's performance, giving way without pause to the longest movement, The Rising, with the composer at his softest and most meditative. The final two movements, Aurora and Dawn of Humanity, could sound like schlock in the wrong hands but Petrenko and the SF Symphony played it so superbly that you didn't doubt the stirring music for a second.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Fancy Animal Carnival in Civic Center

Manga costumed girls waiting for the Cherry Blossom Parade to begin posed Sunday morning in front of a public art project that has been installed in Civic Center Plaza for the month of April.

The 19 sculptures scattered across the plaza are colorful painted enamel over steel by Taiwanese artist Hung Yi, and pieces like Jubilant Double Sheep just about define kitsch.

Tourists seem to love them, including Sharing Elephant above.

The exhibit is being cosponsored by a consortium that includes the InSian Gallery in Taipei, the Taiwan-based Swinging Skirts Golf Foundation which is hosting a professional women's golf tournament at Lake Merced this week, and San Francisco City Hall.

On Tuesday at noon there was a public ceremony celebrating the consortium with a speech from SF Mayor Ed Lee who was flanked by a Chinese translator... he praised various public servants such as (from left to right above) SF Arts Commission Director of Policy and Planning Jill Manton, Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu, the new Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny, and SF Rec & Park Director Phil Ginsburg...

...along with the artist Hung Yi himself.

The signage created by the InSian Gallery is often unintentionally hilarious, such as that for Eagle Dove of Peace Buffalo: "Eagle is the national bird of the United States. The dove is a symbol of peace, friendship, united and holiness. As for the buffalo, it represents Taiwanese spirit."

In many respects, a sculpture like Money Frog above is perfect for the Ed Lee administration, enabler for so many greedy, corrupt characters in San Francisco.

Fortune Cat above has the description: "The God of Wealth brought a fish to the earth. And it became a "Fortune Cat." Fish represents wealth in Mandarin, and "Fortune Cat" collects all the wealthy fishes together, which means it gives good luck."

Horse Wealthy above is described, "Horse with gold sycee represents wealthy in the meantime. Hung Yi turns Mandarin words into painting as well as a symbol of fortune. It also brings up the meaning of fresh, successful, rich and bright future and ambition."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

4 AM Paving on Franklin Street

Around 9 PM on Wednesday evening, a bright light appeared at the back of the San Francisco Opera House, and we assumed it was in preparation for a film shoot.

We were wrong. Instead, it was the commencement of a street repaving project on Franklin Street between Grove and McAllister that stretched from 10 PM to 4:30 AM, complete with men on piledrivers, trucks dumping tar, and steamrollers going back and forth.

Living on the streetside corner of Franklin and McAllister in San Francisco for over 20 years, I have become accustomed to noise. There is auto traffic, constant sirens, daily construction projects, and society tent parties with bad cover rock bands playing until 2 AM. None of that quite prepared me, however, for the aural assault from a street paving project outside the living room window all night long.

Thursday evening I returned home from work and saw the machine below parked across the street from our apartment, and the waking nightmare began all over again, except this time it was closer as they paved Franklin Street from McAllister to Turk. The noise of piledrivers and piercing beeps from reversing trucks was joined by machinery that actually shook our old 75-unit apartment building like a series of small earthquakes. It was probably similar at the senior housing project across the street and Opera Plaza further up the block.

The mayoral administration of Ed Lee has made it clear that they don't care about the welfare of most of San Francisco's citizens, but this disregard for people's sleeping habits was still a bit shocking. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for pushback as the steamroller goes north on Franklin Street to fancier real estate.