Friday, April 26, 2013

Talking Heads -- "Artists Only" (1978)

I'm painting, I'm painting again
I'm painting, I'm painting again . . .
All my pictures are confused

I'm of the belief that you should visit at least one museum whenever you travel to a large city.  After all, culture is good for you!  (Sort of like cod liver oil.)

So on my family's recent trip to San Francisco, we spent one morning at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (or "SFMOMA") -- which is probably second only to the New York Museum of Modern Art when it comes to American museums of modern art.

I'm betting the NYMOMA coffee shop doesn't offer a cake that looks like a Mondrian painting:

SFMOMA ain't cheap -- we're talking $18 per ticket.  (I'm spoiled by living in Washington, DC, where the National Gallery of Art and all seven of the Smithsonian art museums are free.)  I thought we should stay until the place closed to get our money's worth, but the rest of the family demurred when lunchtime rolled around.

SFMOMA was located upstairs in the War Memorial Veterans Building from its founding in 1935 until 1995, when it moved to a dramatic new building located in the SOMA (South of Market [Street]") neighborhood near the city's convention center.   SFMOMA's collection has doubled in size since it was built, so the museum will close in June and stay closed until 2016, when a major expansion of the building will be complete.  

Here's the exterior of SFMOMA as it looks today:

Here's a depiction of what the new addition will look like:

The day we visited, SFMOMA was featuring 40 pieces from a collection given to the museum 15 years ago by collectors Vicki and Kent Logan.  (The Logans still own some 900 works of contemporary art, many of which are housed in a private museum that stands next to their house in Vail.)

The Logan Collection at SFMOMA contains works by well-known contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst, as well as a number of paintings by Chinese artists.  

Here's Warhol's Double Jackie (1964):

Here's Amylamine (1993), one of Damien Hirst's thousand or so "spot" paintings (which were actually painted by his assistants):

(Hirst is notorious for any number of provocative creations.  Beyond Belief was a platinum human skull adorned with diamonds that weighed over 1100 carats -- which were valued at over $22 million.  A Thousand Years consisted of a large glass box enclosing a severed cow's head and maggots who fed on the cow's head before turning into flies, who reproduced and started the cycle anew -- unless they were killed by an "Insect-O-Cutor" bug zapper placed inside the box.  )

Here's an untitled 1989 painting by Christopher Wool:

Chinese artist Liu Wei's 1990 work, Two Drunk Painters, seems to be saying something about Chairman Mao:

Here's a 1960 Mark Rothko painting titled No. 14, 1960:

Remember the Mondrian cake?  The SFMOMA cafĂ© also offers a piece of toast modeled on No. 14, 1960:

No. 14, 1960 is positively cheery compared to the paintings in the fourteen paintings in the Rothko Chapel in Houston, which feature dark colors plus plain old black.  I once spent a three-hour college class sitting in the Rothko Chapel staring at these paintings, which have been called "impenetrable fortresses" of color and "massive, imposing visions of darkness."  Rothko never saw his paintings as they were finally installed in the chapel.  After working on these paintings for six years, Rothko committed suicide just before the chapel opened.  I'm only surprised he didn't do it sooner.

Here are some of the Rothko Chapel paintings.  It was bad enough that I had to sit in the chapel for the entire three-hour duration of the class.  Talk about sensory deprivation . . . and check out those comfy benches you have to sit on.  

My personal favorite was probably Japanese artist's Takashi Murakami's 1999 painting, Super Nova, which features cartoonish-looking mushroom creatures -- presumably a reference to the mushroom clouds that once rose over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

Here's that painting, which is almost 10 feet tall and almost 34 feet wide:

Here's a detail from Super Nova:

We were at the museum about a week too early to view Christian Marclay's The Clock (2010), a video installation that is composed of thousands of clips from old and new movies that have been carefully edited into a 24-hour-long montage that matches the film images to real time, minute for minute. 

You can get in line during regular museum hours and wait your turn for one of the 81 seats in the installation -- it looks like wait times have been ranging from 15 to 45 minutes or so.  Once you get in, you can watch for as long as you like.  

If you think you want to watch the entire 24 hours of The Clock, SFMOMA is offering 24-hour screenings on six different dates.  

Here's a seven-minute excerpt from The Clock -- it includes clips from TV shows (including Mission Impossible, The Prisoner and Twin Peaks) and movies (including The Sting, The Taking of Pelham 123, and Crocodile Dundee). 

Slaking one's thirst for contemporary art can give you quite an appetite, non?  So after leaving SFMOMA, we headed for Yank Sing and chowed down on Chinese dim sum,  including exquisite Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao).  These dumplings consist of a ball of minced pork -- plus a spoonful of hot soup -- inside a pleated flour-dough wrapping, which is steamed.    

The New York Times described the process of making Shanghai dumplings as "a labor-intensive balancing act of timing, texture, and temperature."  A lot go can wrong along the way, but Yank Sing cranks these bad boys out with great aplomb:

Shanghai soup dumplings
"Artists Only" is from the Talking Heads' second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food (1978).  I played that album a lot when I lived in San Francisco in the early eighties, so it's only fitting that I feature it in a post about my return to the most beautiful city on earth over 30 years later.

Click here to listen to "Artists Only":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

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