Thursday, November 26, 2015

Single on Thanksgiving --- Day 4/300

Walk: Sundance Kabuki (Spectre)
Distance: 2 miles and small home yoga

Ciwt loved that every other tree was green except this single orange beauty enjoying the crisp cold and sun at Alta Plaza Park on this Thanksgiving.  A very nice day to be single and grateful for such a beautiful, rich, interesting, and colorful life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Poetic Dog and Other Matters --- Day 4/299

Walk: Opera Plaza Cinema (Heart of a Dog)
Distance: 1 mile and home yoga

Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog has gotten such uniformly excellent reviews that Ciwt doesn't feel guilty being the lone voice that says "almost annoying."  Highly personal, arty and precious mediation on life, loss and death - with promised and real dog sort of wafting in and out like a spirit guide.  Certainly excellent in its creativity, but if you are looking for a dog movie, this is not it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Manana --- Day 4/298

Walk: SPCA, Fillmore
Distance: 2 miles and small home practice

Is Manana catching? It means roughly later or tomorrow, and Ciwt feels like she caught a little manana attitude during in her recent trip to the desert.  Maybe because desert air is so clear; Ciwt's brain felt completely open and like she could sense the space from coast to coast.  Different from ofttimes being nearly on red alert living - especially driving - in the Bay Area.  How to explain?  Oh, well, maybe she'll figure that out manana...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Memento CIWT --- Day 4/297

Walk: JCCSF, T. Joe's
Distance: 3 miles and yoga class

Still Life
Abraham van Beyeren (Dutch, 1620-90), Still Life, 1666, 55 x 45 7/8", oil on canvas (Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco)

It's the time of year when Ciwt comes home from the market with bags bursting with comfort food. Which today puts her in mind of those burgeoning banquet feast tables painted often by Dutch baroque artists.  Seemingly straight forward and exquisitely executed, the Banquet Pieces were also complex morality tales.  This duality - celebration of enormous prosperity combined with reminders that riches are vain and fleeting - suited the pious Calvinistic Dutch need to reconcile their new, celebratory acquisitiveness with their religious disdain for ostentation.

Another name given to these still lifes is 'vanitas' paintings.  In the painting above the table is covered with delicacies from all of the world and is evidence of the truly incredible wealth the Dutch were experiencing after their freedom from Spain.  (In their Golden Era, the Dutch were the richest economy in the history of the world, before of after). Yet the painting contains multiple 'vanitas' s- or memento mori,(translation: Remember that you can die) symbols including: the pocket watch representing the passing of time, the empty glass, the plate sitting precariously at the table's which could fall at any time.

 For a larger clearer look at van Beyeren's painting, this link will take you to the Legion's collection.  For those with a bit more interest in the art of the Dutch Golden Era and the painting above, Ciwt once wrote a paper as follows. N.B. before leaving:  Like all things, Ciwt's comfort food bonanza usually vanishes with the end of the darker, colder, holiday season.  

During the later 17th Century when this painting was executed the Dutch had freed themselves from Spanish rule and also become a preeminent banking and naval power with trade routes and colonies extending into Asia and the New World.  Art flourished in this wealthy, self-confident environment free from the constraints of Catholic Church patronage and was highly prized by a rising and justifiably acquisitive middle class.  But this new mercantile, banking and seafaring bourgeoisie was also largely Calvinist Protestant and rigidly tempered by religious and moralistic disdain for ostentation.  Perhaps to reconcile the two conflicting mindsets – materialistic exuberance and religious piety - Dutch collectors came to favor low-key works – portraits, landscapes, seascapes and still lifes such as this work. Artists began increasingly to specialize in certain types of work, as van Beyeren did, first in fish portraits and later in sumptuous banquet paintings or pronks.

Among Dutch still lifes a subgenre flourished in the early to late 17th century (the time of this painting) again tempered by Calvinisn.  Known as vanitas paintings, these still lives included collections of objects symbolizing the inevitability of death and the transience of earthly achievements and pleasures.  Known as momento mori (reminders of death) the objects are often placed amidst the sumptuousness and splendor of exquisite material and natural objects as they are in this masterful van Beyeren Still Life.  

Van Beyeren was extensively trained in guilds of The Hague, his native city, and Amsterdam among other Dutch venues. His painterly skills are fully honed by the time of this later vanitas.  Witness the beautifully rendered Delft bowl, the glass decanter and pedestal plate, the exquisite silver fish platters, the succulent peaches, the rich, flounced satin tablecloth, gold trimmed and shimmering in the artful light.

But the materialistic swoon is jarred by a disproportionately large, vividly orange lobster which makes multiple references.  The lobster is a complex sea creature, hard, crusty, dangerously clawed on the outside with insides that are sweet, succulent and easily perishable.  As such the lobster begins to shift the viewer’s mind toward the more complicated momento mori objects and to toward essences rather than surfaces.  There is a half-eaten peach, a peeled lemon, a used napkin, a rather dilapidated ribbon, and, most especially and directly in front of the lobster’s fixated eye and pincer, an open and presumably ticking timepiece.  Somebody has been here and is now gone, the fruit will rot, the bread will go stale, that which is momentarily brilliant in the intensely highlighted foreground is weighted toward the edge of the table with the suggestion that it is destined to fall again into the dark from which it emerged.

Indeed the overall composition of the still life speaks of time passing.  Beginning from the dark left corner of the table to the highlighted cantaloupe just above the right midline  there is a upward and right moving diagonal which captures the momentary exuberance of the rapid Dutch economic ascent .  But virtually the entire rest of the painting opposes this upward thrust from the massive, murky upper section and to the smaller but similarly dark passage that comprises the lower part of the painting.  The objects on the table are unstable: they are tipped sideways like the Delft bowl or spilling forward like the grapes, the dilapidated ribbon, the used napkin, and most poignantly the lobster’s largest claw.  These over hang to the extent we are no longer sure just where the front edge of the table is. The soft, billowy grey tablecloth will not support weight and begins to transmute into a sort of shroud toward which all the objects are moving. In fact, the entire weight of the painting is moving forward toward the viewer and he or she is included in this inexorable passage from the dark into the light and then back into the dark.  Momento mori: Ashes to ashes; dust to dust.

Many of van Beyeren’s techniques foreshadow modernism: the washy, impressionist brushstrokes of the background, the bravura, mildly tenebrist lighting and especially the cubist-like perspective.  Although not always to the liking of the conservative, realistically minded bourgeoisie of his era and therefore less famous than some of his artistic contemporaries, we begin to see why van Beyeren is now considered one of the most talented Dutch still life painters of the second half of the 17th Century.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Have Flag, Will Travel --- Day 4/296

Walk: Cinema Club (Where to Invade Next), Dosa, Trader Joe's
Distance: 3 miles 

Where to Invade Next

Michael Moore is back. He has grabbed his camera and an American flag and taken his choir of screen followers all over the map preaching about things other countries have right from food in French children's schools to women's rights in Iceland.  One reviewer calls this new documentary, Where to Invade Next, "an extended infomercial for socialism," another says "impishly funny" and yet another says "consciousness raising."

Ciwt guesses they are all correct.  But Ciwt is not in Moore's choir (in truth she has avoided all Moore movies until today) so it's easy for her to say the movie was also waaay too long and over simplified and Moore really, really needs to attend to his weight and health. If you are in his choir, you will probably like Where to Invade Next quite a lot.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Very Good, But Not Buying --- Day 4/295

Walk: Clay Theater
Distance: 10 blocks

Ciwt didn't buy it: Peggy Guggenheim as "a kind of art collector who never existed before."  This was the central idea that launched and united the documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.

Maybe Ciwt has seen too many collectors; virtually all of them become addicts.  Art collecting is addictive.  Also Ciwt can't help but think - just off the top - of the Medicis, the Popes/Catholic Church, Katherine the Great, probably the Pharaohs, the various Emperors of China, and a host of other patron-collectors that existed before and Far surpassed Ms. Guggenheim.

Also the movie supports a certain absence of morality.  For openers, Peggy Guggenheim's atrocious mothering, the constant affairs (This to Ciwt was Guggenheim's true addiction; she labeled herself a nymphomaniac).  The depersonalization, predatory (in her sister's case, murderous) behaviors by virtually everyone we meet in the movie go from there.  Ciwt isn't being a scold, but it seems as if the audience is expected to join the film maker in allowing awe of Guggenheim's alluring riches and high artiness to override common humanity.

You don't learn much in depth about Guggenheim or the myriad of early and mid-20th century artists and advisors who circled around her and she around them (including with most in a carnal sense).  But the movie is a  marvelous 'scrapbook' of these artists and a treasure trove of famous artistic talking heads along with a newly discovered audio of her last interviews.  On that level it is a must see for art lovers of the pre-war avante garde (Duchamp, Tanguy, Magritte, Man Ray, Mondrian, Picasso, the list goes on and on) and the New York School (Pollack, de Kooning, Motherwell, and many more), critics, gallery owners.  They are all there to be seen and heard but not especially understood.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Airport to the Celebrities and Regular Retreaters --- Day 4/294

Architect Don Wexler (left) explains the plans for the new Palm Springs airport terminal to Dave Hamlin in this 1960s photograph.
Architect Richard Wexler* and the airport he designed in 1966.**

Palm Springs International Airport.  Still very sophisticated and modern today.

* See you back in San Francisco tomorrow.  Meanwhile see CIWT 4/291 for more on Richard Wexler
**(Fyi, Palm Springs turned 75 in 2013).

Image result for palm springs airport

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Planet Wind --- Day 4/293

San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm Near Palm Springs


For San Franciscans who miss the wind, there's this down here in Palm Springs.  Gets sort of other-world artsy the more Ciwt looks at it....