Monthly Archive for: ‘January, 2014’

Three art exhibits stir passion, discovery, edification

  Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★


Anders Zorn shows his watercolor skill with light, reflections and water via 1886’s “Summer Vacation.” Photo: Stockholms Aukionsverk.

Using a model instead of a grief-stricken person, Anders Zorn captures a photographic quality in his 1880 watercolor, ”In Mourning.” Photo: Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Oil “Portrait de Sarah Stein” is part of “Matisse from SFMOMA” exhibit at the de Young Museum. Photo: Ben Blackwell.

“A Bigger Message” is David Hockney’s tribute to the Sermon on the Mount, on 30 canvases that reach up, up and up. Photo: Richard Schmidt.

“The Jugglers” is a David Hockney “Cubist movie” made from 18 digital videos synchronized and presented on 18 screams to comprise a single artwork.

Museums have been arousing that sensation in me for seven decades — ever since my mom took me to Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art when I was a gangling suburban kid who knew nearly nothing about anything except how to climb a tree barefoot.

Since then, I’ve eagerly visited museums in dozens of countries, almost always having a top-notch experience.

With my shoes on.

So read what follows knowing that “normal” for me is to wear rose-colored glasses.

But understand, too, that the three exhibits I saw recently at the two Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco would deserve high praise even if I weren’t such an enthusiast. Each provides an opportunity to cavort momentarily inside a painter’s mind, to glimpse his vision from the inside.

Most riveting for me, and edifying, is the “Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter” display at the Legion of Honor. Most likely because what I’d known about him before could have fit into Thumbelina’s pocket.

Zorn’s watercolor portraits are exquisite, even if they don’t match the genre’s highest echelon.

At first glance they may appear to be detailed yet delicate airbrushed photographs instead of multiple layered paintings. One good example is “In Mourning,” a graceful, pensive 1880 oval creation.

Superb, too, are his land- and waterscapes — showing off his fixation on reflected light. Witness, specifically, 1887’s “Lapping Waves” and 1886’s “Summer Vacation.”

Zorn’s etchings (he produced close to 300 of them) also captivate.

But they’re more vigorous, more dramatic.

His gouache work, meanwhile, is unbelievably powerful — even “Une Premiere (A First),” an 1888-94 work he modified and modified yet still hated enough to cut into pieces (it was restored by an artist friend, who donated it to a museum).

And although Zorn’s oils don’t reach the artistic heights of either his watercolors or etchings, they’re still compelling.

I found particularly intriguing “Omnibus,” an 1891-92 work that delves into the working class by focusing on a milliner, as well as the 1896 entranceway painting, “Self-Portrait with Model,” which experiments with light and shadow.

“Self-Portrait in Red” (1915), in contrast, is a blindingly bright work in which the color of the artist’s coat and vest are so strong they distract from Zorn’s stern, mustachioed face.

The artist lived and worked in Mora, Sweden; London; Paris. He visited San Francisco in the winter of 1903-04 on one of seven trips to the United States. And luxuriated in commissions of society’s elite (and painted portraits of three American presidents).

His oil of President Grover Cleveland, in fact, is one of the 100 pieces (that include a handful of sculptures) in the Legion’s exhibit.

He alone is a discovery emphatically worth a trip into the city.

But, as a bonus, right next to that exhibit in a single room is “Matisse from SFMOMA,” a display of 23 paintings, sculptures and works on paper by the Impressionist color virtuoso — plus six pieces not owned by the modern art institution.

Among the highlights are “The Girl with Green Eyes” (a 1908 oil) and 1916 commissioned portraits of Sarah and Michael Stein, brother and sister-in-law of Oakland’s legendary writer-poet-art collector Gertrude Stein.

The Stein portraits certainly prove there was a there there for Bay Area art patrons.

Why the Legion?

MOMA’s undergoing an extensive expansion and will be closed during construction until 2016. So the facility’s doing joint exhibits with virtually every area museum.

Across town at the de Young, “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition,” continues to draw both aficionados and new fans.

Why? Because the 300-piece exhibit is astounding — clearly showing the 76-year-old Brit’s development from 2002 through last year, including his integrating iPhone, iPad and digital movie techniques to create new art forms.

Despite his having a major stroke.

The audio guide, in fact, tells of his turning the resultant speech problems into a boon: By not talking much, he concentrates better.

But there’s too much to even sum up in a review. Oils. Watercolors. Charcoals.

Portraits. Still lifes.  Landscapes.

Homages to and parodies of van Gogh and Picasso.

And it doesn’t take long to discover the “bigger” in the title is fitting (at 18,000 square feet of gallery space on two floors, it’s the largest in the museum’s history).

Size appreciation can stem from viewing a Hockney “Cubist movie” that took 18 different perspectives from 18 digital cameras and synchronized them to comprise a single artwork on 18 screens.

Or from many of the artworks being colossal — including a fascinating strip of 12 portraits with 12 paintings beneath them of the subjects’ hands, an enormous montage of prints tracing art history from 1200 to 1900, colorful 12-foot-high images of Yosemite, and “The Bigger Message,” a 30-canvas re-working of Claude Lorrain’s “The Sermon on the Mount.”

One six-year-old boy visiting with his San Francisco Day School class exclaimed, “Wow! Those are biiig pictures.”I may be three feet taller than he, and about 150 pounds heavier, but I agreed — big time.

“Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter” will be displayed at the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park (34th Avenue and Clement Street), San Francisco, through Feb. 2. “Matisse from SFMOMA” will run there through Sept. 7. “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition” will be up through Jan. 20 at the de Young, Golden Gate Park (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive), San Francisco. Details: (415) 750-3600 or  or

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