Thursday, April 2, 2009

MFA's Show Off at SFSU

2009 Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition at the Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco State University (April 18 - May 15)

The 2009 MFA show features 8 artists completing a three-year master of fine arts degree program. They are: Wendy Crittenden (to the left is Wendy's big boy, 2009, film-based image printed as wallpaper), Eilish Cullen, Tom Griscom, Michael Namkung, Rosie Sesler, Clare Szydlowski, Allison Tungeth and Tyson Washburn. Opening reception: Saturday April 18th from 1-3pm.

Arthur Danto Leaves "The Nation"

I was concerned when I saw this blurb that one of my literary heroes, Arthur Danto, has left The Nation magazine, where he has been the art critic since 1984. Everytime I read one of his articles, I vow yet again that I'm going to make my way through his entire body of work, but he's so prolific that I don't know if I'm up to the challenge! I don't know Mr. Danto, but I wish him the best.

Hobos to Street People at CHS

Earlier this week, I had a nice visit with my friend Lisa Eriksen at the California Historical Society, who gave me a tour of their current exhibition Hobos to Street People: Artists' Responses to Homelessness from the New Deal to the Present (February 19- August 15, 2009) which features works by New Deal-era artists such as Dorothea Lange, Rockwell Kent, and Giacomo Patri along with contemporary artists such as Sandow Birk, David Bacon, and Christine Hanlon. I was amazed and impressed by the range of work in this show and astonished to learn that admission is FREE (donations appreciated :-).

CHS has many events of interest planned concurrent with the show (calendar here), including artist talks with printmakers and photographers. One that is of particular interest to me is on July 2nd, called The History of Public Funding and the Arts – the Legacy of the New Deal. The speakers are murals/public art scholar Tim Drescher, labor graphics specialist/author Lincoln Cushing and Mark Johnson, director of the Fine Arts Gallery at SFSU. The panel will be moderated by Dr. Gray Brechin, project scholar for the California’s Living New Deal Project. “Funding public artwork benefits more than the artists – viewers witness their space transformed as the art enhances the urban landscape,” states the CHS site, “The arts were greatly supported during the New Deal era and many WPA projects are located in the San Francisco Bay Area. With the recent election of a new president, will money be used to fund art and culture? Panelists speak to the similarities between the present era and the New Deal as they relate to public arts and government funding.” With the economy very much on everyone’s mind, I find the topic very timely.

Comic Art Show - Impera et Divide

I recently learned of a comic art show I wish I could see called Impera et Divide. It’s at the Second Street Gallery in Charlottesville, VA focusing “on contemporary international comics and sequential art with a highlight on a group of artists who come at comics from a different angle - combining sequences of images and words to create graphic poems rather than graphic novels. Relying on destabilizing and decentering strategies, this work offers rich, multivalent, and at times baffling reading experiences.” On this blog, you can see pages for the individual artists, and reviews that include a slideshow/walkthrough and a video.The artists included in the show are: Frédéric Coché, Ae-rim Lee, André Lemos, Ilan Manouach, Andrei Molotiu, Fabio Zimbres (this is one of his pieces on the left). This show is curated by U.S. artist Warren Craghead III and Portuguese critic Pedro Moura.

Children, Comics and Newspapers

As is the case with many metropolitan newspapers, the San Francisco Chronicle is in trouble, and many readers have sent letters to the editor offering suggestions or reminiscing. In today’s paper, under the headline If only children read the funnies..., Richard J. Roberts of Placer County writes “I recall starting to read the funnies section in The Chronicle about 1923, when I was 5 years old. From there, it was on to the old Sporting Green when I was in high school. I still wonder what happed to Jiggs and Maggie and I still read Peanuts each day. From there, it was on to the local and world news... None of my six grandchildren, ages 11 through 26, have ever read the funnies, as they have grown up watching SpongeBob etc. on TV and now on the internet. No one ever introduced them to the funnies. So it’s logical then, to blame your dwindling circulation on the funnies.”

I know this is true of me; I started my daily newspaper habit when my father gave me the comics section of the Detroit Free Press. We would sit together every morning over coffee and donuts reading. It’s easy to blame TV and the net for this, but it seems like such a long decline that I think it must be more complicated than that. Maybe this has more to do with families not having breakfast together anymore, or changes in family communication. I don’t know, but I think this relationship between children, comics & the decline of newspapers is an interesting topic of discussion.

Last year, I was in a labor studies class at CCSF taught by Fred Glass. He asked the class, which consisted of about 35 historians, union members and labor activists, “how many subscribe to a newspaper?” I was the only one! Maybe I’m a real dinosaur in this context, but I still love my morning comics (and news) with my coffee. I would hate to see us grow fully dependent on CNN, Fox News and the Wall Street Journal as the only survivors.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Every Day in Black and White

Migdalia Valdes - Every Day in Black and White - (April 4 - May 23, 2009), is a solo exhibition featuring sculpture, photography, and mixed media journals, curated by the lovely and talented Kevin Chen.

Ten years ago, Migdalia pledged to create at least one photograph a day for the rest of her life. The goals of this ambitious undertaking were simple enough, to keep in constant practice, develop artistic stamina, and eventually erode altogether the stubborn division between life and art. Through steady habit, the photographer not only advanced her craft, but also developed a new way of seeing, learning to shape her memory visually. This exhibition highlights the best of her black and white memory book, pulling together fleeting images of local streets, bathers, frozen trees, and other scraps of a life shifting and progressing with eyes wide open.There is more information about the show and Migdalia on our website, as well as a short video compilation of some of the images here:

The opening party is this coming Saturday night, April 4, from 6 to 9pm.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Archie Green (1917-2009)

I was sad to see in today’s news that Archie Green, labor folklorist and force of nature, passed away this week at 91. There’s a fabulous and detailed article about him in today’s NYT, so I won’t go in depth about his biography here. To summarize for my friends that didn’t know him, as a young man Archie worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps through the New Deal era, then was an organizer for the SF shipyard unions. Later he moved into academia, and was responsible not only for the way we think of “laborlore” (in fact, he coined the term) but he was also the motivating force behind the American Folklife Preservation Act, signed into law by President Gerald Ford in 1976. He left behind a treasure trove of publishing and scholarship, including his last work, The Big Red Songbook (a compilation of songbooks published by the Wobblies), finished a couple years ago, and The San Francisco Labor Landmarks Guidebook with the Labor Archives and Research Center, SFSU. In 2007, Archie was awarded the “Living Legends Award” by the Library of Congress.

Archie, pictured here at a New Deal Conference at CCSF last year, was a down to earth and inspiring speaker, and an advocate for the intelligent analysis of everyday life. I will always be grateful for his encouragement when I started researching the labor labels project a few years ago, and the topic I’m currently working on, the evolution of the arm & hammer logo, was inspired by a question posed by him. Mostly though, I feel indebted to Archie for persuading “the academy” to accept the idea that things that happen to everyday people are worth studying, and this idea has informed and made possible every project I’ve worked on, from labor to comics.

Archie’s family has requested memorial donations to educational institutions or to the Fund for Labor Culture and History, San Francisco.