Monday, September 19, 2011

Sept Gallery View

I hope this post will mark my return to more frequent blogging. I’ve been distracted with other things, and got behind both on writing, and all the art that is on view in San Francisco’s galleries and museums.  In an effort to get back on track, I recently visited three downtown galleries:  Modernism, the Cartoon Art Museum, and Crown Point Press.

The front gallery at Modernism featured large black & white photos from Michael Dweck’s Habana Libre series, a look at the exclusive world of the privileged class in Cuba. While these were really spectacular, I must admit that the number one thing that always attracts my attention is the gallery director’s office, which is a maze of stacked art books that happens to have a desk in the middle. I’m a book loving art historian, and I just know that there are treasures to be found in there. But alas, rooting around in stranger’s offices while they aren’t around could get you arrested, so I view it much like another work on display.

Le Corbusier, Coeur Sur La Main (1948)
Pulling myself away from this visual eavesdropping, I found myself promptly sucked into an extensive selection of works by Le Corbusier (part of the Modern Masters: Works from the 1910s to 1960s), particularly, his  Coeur Sur La Main (1948), a smallish piece with a split personality. Is it about opposites, male & female? A man exploring his feminine side? Even the head/face seem androgynous. I was fascinated with the cool/warm contrast and the paint splotches in the white area on the left. When you see the piece in real life, the orange spatters look very much like blood.  I also spent a lot of time looking at Fernand Leger’s Troncs D’Arbre (1928). The organic forms and strong verticals  gave it a dominating presence, even though it is not a large piece.

A couple of blocks away, the Cartoon Art Museum had several exhibits of interest. 70 Years of Archie, Green Lantern, Last Stop Troubletown, and Cartoonists Remember: September 11, 2001 – 2011.  I’m sorry to tell the Archie fans among my readers that I wasn’t blown away by this exhibit. I have great nostalgia for the Archie comics of my childhood, and recognize the importance of Archie as a social and cultural mirror. As an art exhibition, the drawings, all done in the standard Archie style, didn’t show a lot of variation. They were all well-drawn, with a good choice of stories, but the differences between the artist’s interpretations of the characters was very nuanced.

Lloyd Dangle's last Troubletown Cartoon, 2011
This contrast (or lack of) was made clear to me when I walked into the Green Lantern exhibit in the next gallery. This long running character has been endlessly reinterpreted, yet is somehow always Green Lantern. Beginning with a 1944 Martin Nodell page from All-American Comics, the exhibit took me on a journey through the evolution of the character though the work of such artists as Gil Kane, Mike Mignola, Bill Sienkiewicz and Brian Bolland, with recent works by Alex Ross, Mike Grell and animation model sheets by Darwyn Cooke and Glenn Wong.  I was surprised not to see work by Neil Adams, who had one of the most memorable runs on the title. He was mentioned in the press release, so some complication must have happened.  On the whole, it was still a good exploration of the character.

Mutts 9/11 tribute panel by Patrick McDonnell
It was very interesting to see Cartoonists Remember, the collection of 9/11 tribute strips while seeing many of them in print in the Sunday newspaper was still fresh in my mind. I found that I was drawn to strips that commented on the complex emotions we all felt about that day without directly referencing the image of the Towers themselves. Mutts seemed like a visual haiku in its pure simplicity. The blue sky and open space allows its message, “heal” room to breathe, and soothe our anxiety. Several of the works were from strips I’ve always liked that aren’t published in the SF Chronicle, or strips I’d never seen before. I appreciated the chance to see them, and to see 20 or so of these strips all together on one wall.

I also enjoyed (and have always enjoyed) seeing Lloyd Dangle’s work on Troubletown. Dangle retired his quirky, opinionated strip after a 22 year run, and I will miss seeing it. I also remember his passion for artist’s rights and the Graphic Artist’s Guild. This retrospective did him proud, showing his evolution artistically and politically.

Wayne Thiebaud, Mountain Smoke, 2011
Over the years, I have seen many exhibitions of the work of Wayne Thiebaud. Large museum or small gallery, his work never disappoints. Wayne Thiebaud: Mountains, a series of 5 drypoint etchings, is the latest output from his decades long working relationship with Crown Point Press.  Even at this small scale, his humor and skewed perspective are clear. There is a companion group exhibition of landscapes ranging from Robert Bechtle’s photorealistic works to a color field print by Anne Appleby. I especially liked Ed Ruscha’s Van Ness, Santa Monica, Vine, Melrose (1999), a map-like view of these famous LA intersections that really captures LA in its grand grittiness.