Guo Pei

One of the last things I did in California this summer was take a trip to the Legion of Honor to see their Guo Pei exhibition. The Legion isn’t on my usual rotation of museums* and fashion isn’t my area of expertise but as someone with a background in design I’m always interested in clothing.

*I’ve actually only been once and that was before I started blogging.

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The show is staged really well with spotlights to show off the silhouettes and mannequins which frequently add life and character to the dresses. Many of the placards offer information about how long the dress took to make (in the thousands of hours with one requiring 10,000!) and it’s always good to be reminded of the labor costs behind what we’re looking at.

For me as a craft junkie, I especially like how in the many times Pei incorporates embroidery in her work, the placards would occasionally mention the specific stitches being used. I just wish there were an embroidery sampler available so that I could identify where on the garment each stitch appeared.*

*This would’ve been a fantastic opportunity to use augmented reality.

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As for Pei’s work in general, it’s wonderfully theatrical with a real sense of how all clothing is costume. A lot of the dresses look like they’ll really move in interesting ways when worn while other pieces are so stiff that they probably appear as gliding sculptures on the runway. It’s a shame there were no videos in the exhibition since that would’ve answered a lot of my questions.

She blends influences from all over. Lots of traditional Chinese both in terms of the detailing and qipao-inspired cuts but Pei samples from everywhere with looks that reference places like Spain, Tibet, as well as the natural world. It’s a reminder of how art and fashion are global things where as much as you can be faithful to your roots you also have to be a multicultural sponge.

With some of her lines though I found myself wondering what it means politically for a Chinese designer to produce a Tibetan-inspired collection using Japanese fabrics. Or if in this context, Pei/China don’t even make a distinction between China and Tibet. I did appreciate that the Legion of Honor didn’t lump everything here into a pan-Asian framing and was very clear about what inspiration was coming from where.

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I particularly enjoyed when Pei’s dresses got kind of nerdy about the actual crafts involved. Making garments which show off the underside of embroidery is a lot of fun and acknowledges how much character and interest there is beyond just the pretty surface details.

Her architecture line is probably my favorite of the bunch in terms of the cleverness involved since she embraces the sense of architectural structure as it could be applied to fabric and ends up with dresses that work as both.*

*I had a good chuckle in the gallery when I overheard a tour guide describe some of the dresses as “gothic” since while the guide was referring to the architecture I immediately thought Hot Topic. 

She had one awesome dress which was a combination garment, theater, and play all in one. It reminded me of William Kentridge’s Preparing the Flute* but as a wearable piece of art. No idea how/if it was lit while being worn but it was all kinds of amazing.

*which really needs to be seen in movie form.

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I also just really like looking at construction details. There are a lot of things which aren’t just sewing and as a result I’m often looking closely and trying to figure out how things were put together.

Some stuff like the reeds wrapped in fabric were the kind of mystery which was really interesting the theorize about. Other stuff like the giant dresses made of essentially basketry was super rewarding to notice that it was actually zip-tied together so the model could get in and out.

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DSC_0040The bulk of the exhibition was downstairs and required a special ticket but the Legion had sprinkled various pieces throughout a dozen or so rooms in the permanent collection as well. Instead of a crowded room of mannequins there would be only one or two placed in a way where they interacted with the surrounding artwork.

And I really mean “interacted” here. The Legion of Honor did a fabulous job of putting dresses near paintings and objects which showed the many influences that Pei drew from in western art. It’s one thing to read about those downstairs. It’s another to see them side by side in the same room.

The lower density in these galleries also allowed the dresses to command the space more. As interesting as it is to see multiple selections from one line all together, it’s also pretty overwhelming to take in. Any one of the dresses is a showstopper by itself so having a half dozen next to each other dilutes the effect.

Having one dress which can occupy the center of a large gallery and refocus all the attention in that gallery through itself is a much more powerful way of showing how strong Guo Pei’s work is. Heck, there aren’t a lot of artworks in any medium with that ability.

San José Museum of Art

One of the things I haven’t done much at all of since COVID hit is go to art museums. I went to an exhibit the weekend before lockdown in 2020. I went to my next one in March this year. The fact that I haven’t yet written about the exhibit I went to earlier this year* indicates how out of practice I was.

*Yes I’m still working on it.

I’m not going to treat  museum visits as something that needs to be blogged about in order though.  If anything I’m going to do the reverse and try to say on top of other things while letting the old post languish. I’ll get to it when I get to it.

Anyway, I went to the San José Museum of Art last week. I’ve made no secret about how much I love this museum. Despite living on the East Coast I maintain my membership in San José (that the reciprocal benefits package is outstanding does help here) and enjoy visiting the museum itself whenever I can.

Pebbles and Kelp, Point Lobos, California, 1965

I visited primarily to see the Brett Weston show. Weston is one of those photographers where I generally can’t bring specific artworks to mind but who I must have grown up looking at in various Bay Area museums. I know I’ve seen his work in San José and Oakland but the degree to which so many of the photographs in the show felt familiar to me was uncanny.

It’s not that I’ve necessarily seen these specific images either. His approach to photography and the way he notices textures and contrasts is something that I clearly grew up looking at and absorbing. Do I take photographs that look like Weston’s (or even try to copy him)? Not really. But that when I’m out with a camera this is the kind of stuff I’m seeing and looking for.

Worm Tracks, California, 1937
Rock and Pebbles, Pebble Beach, California, 1976

What I love about his work is how it really is just about the contrasts and recognizing where those contrasts are. Sometimes these things are fairly obvious like where an insect has bored, the difference between wet and dry rock, or reeds and their reflections on a still body of water. Other times you have to see the potential and recognize how paint, puddled water, leaf veins, or pan grease will not only convert to black and white but what color the contrast is going to be in and how to filter for that.

It’s a wonderful way to see the world and the fact that Weston spent decades taking basically the same kind of photo shows how deep it goes.

He’s clearly a very adept printer who is able to print things super contrasty without crushing the hell out of his shadows or blowing out his highlights. Lots of details still in the deep blacks and bright whites as those tones tend to dominate the image but there are still midtones present as well. At the same time he’s fearless of letting things become silhouettes and abstracting them to just shapes. Lots of good lessons to learn and be reminded of as I process my own photos.

Mono Lake, California, 1966

San José has a few landscapes on display as well. I don’t find them as interesting but you can still see how he uses silhouettes and deep shadows in them and how he’s trying to find larger scale textures in the sand or the surf.

Sadly there was no catalog available. Looks like I need to set up a reminder to save up for a Lodima book—likely Abstractions 1 or Abstractions 2—since I do love those prints.

Also at San José

Louise Nevelson, Sky Cathedral, 1957

San José also had a small exhibition of works from its collection that represent the connection the museum has to the community. It’s this connection which is why, despite living in New Jersey, that I choose to maintain my membership. Of all the museums I visit,* San José is the one that consistently displays artwork which feels relevant to both my interests and to local interests.

*Or, given the pandemic, visited.

So yeah, walking in to the room and seeing Jay DeFeo, Robert Arneson, and Hung Liu brought a big smile to my face. Nice to see some local favorites in  my first visit to the museum in three years. Hung Liu in particular feels especially poignant and relevant given the last three years of perpetual foreignness and the demonization of Asian Americans that hase accompanied the pandemic.

I also got to take a really good look at Louise Nevelson’s Sky Cathedral which I’ve seen a lot over the years but haven’t taken a good look at since I moved to New Jersey. It hits differently now as I’ve gotten to know New York City better and have a better recognition of the items in the boxes and what process resulted in them being there.

Stephanie Syjuco, Chromakey Aftermath 2 (Flags, Sticks and Barriers), 2017

I also discovered some new-to-me works. I remember Stephanie Syjuco’s International Orange Exhibition years ago but I had not see her Chromakey Aftermath photos. These are very clever in how they erase the content of various protests—suggesting both ways that we can digitally change the content to suit our politics and how aware we have to be when viewing images of protests so that we’re not snookered by something that’s been faked digitally.

Judy Baca’s Raspados Mojados* was another new to me artwork. It would’ve fit in perfectly in the Mexicanismo show but I’m glad I saw it here. She’s mainly a muralist but using the raspa cart as a mobile mural of sorts is a great way of bringing her work into the museum itself and using a mechanism of Mexican labor to tell the story of Mexican labor.

*Better photos on her website.

All in all a very good visit. Neither exhibit is particularly large but together they hit the spot as I work myself back into museum-going form.

Queens Museum

After checking out Ralph’s exhibition at Queens College I wandered through the rain up to Flushing Meadows/Corona Park. Not the best day for it but I did get pretty much the whole park to myself as a result. Nice to wander around and take photos* even though I did the tourist thing and only took photos of the obvious stuff.

*Film will be processed and scanned eventually.

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Sort of figures that the only photo I really like so far is from my phone. I really should get a proper panoramic camera some day but for now this will have to do. The nice thing with a rainy day is that all the blue-painted, drained reflecting pools photograph like water in black and white.

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Anyway the main reason I was in the park was to visit the Queens Museum. I’ve known about the panorama for a long time—to the point where I don’t know where I even learned about it—and have wanted to see it for years but recently reading Wonderstruck sort of encouraged me to find an excuse to get out there.

It’s as cool as I was expecting and reminded me of the Bay Model except without any actual water. Even with maps it’s hard to truly understand the scale of an area like New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area. Something about a model version really puts things into a different perspective. You walk in nice and close to Manhattan so you can see the building details and then gradually spiral up and around Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens. It’s not quite Peter Pan’s flight but there are elements of the same magic at play.

One of the interesting things for me to discover about he Panorama is that it’s a living model and has been updated every decade or so with new construction. Instead of getting a view of what New York was like in 1964, the buildings are current as of 2009. I really hope that the changes to the panorama have been documented since that’s an exhibit I’d love to see.

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The Panorama is not the only thing from the 1964 World’s Fair on display. There’s also a gallery of ephemera and artifacts from the fair. Smashed pennies and other souvenirs. Models of various pavilions and displays. It’s a fun time capsule of mid-century futurism which is simultaneously nostalgic and still aspirational.

For many of the same reasons why I love Disneyland, I find myself liking a lot of the 1964 World’s Fair. The dated innocence of the utopian future that it imagines is still comforting. Monoculture hasn’t taken over the United States, let alone the world. I know we still have World’s Fairs of sorts but my entire life has been spent in a world that had gotten too small for those fairs.

On the Disney topic, even though I’ve never ridden the Carousel of Progress, I know what it is and was happy to see a large model of it. I also had to pick the angle of my photo of the fair model to show the GE pavilion where the Carousel was located as well as the Pepsi pavilion which housed It’s a Small World. I found it curious that neither of those connections were called out anywhere in the display but you can clearly see in the model how the Pepsi pavilion is shaped exactly like the ride.

The Queens museum also has something that could be considered the 1939 World’s Fair version of the Panorama. In this case it’s a model of the New York City water supply. This model ended up being too large to be displayed in 1939 but is absolutely wonderful.

Like the Panorama, there’s something transformative about seeing a model of where all the water comes from which puts the scale of the operation into perspective. Manhattan is so small and water comes from reservoirs which 100 miles away. The green lights which track the paths of the aqueducts and the way those lights don’t just go downhill is the kind of thing that this Californian appreciates.

I get the sense on the East Coast that water frequently gets taken for granted here. Even though droughts aren’t really a thing, knowing where your water comes from and how far away that is is always an important thing to be aware of.

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The last exhibit on display was a room of Tiffany lamps with a special emphasis on iridescence and how pieces were constructed. The construction details mirror a lot of the displays I’ve seen at The Met but the physics behind about how the effects work were new to me* and the videos showing the glass construction were a lot of fun to watch.

*Thin films reflect light from both the front and back surfaces and results in interference effects that break up the spectrum.

There were a lot of nice lamps as well but it was all the leftover materials that were wonderful to see and made me appreciate the products even more.

All in all a fun visit to the museum. I’m glad I went and kind of want to take the kids there once they’ve gathered a greater understanding of New York.

Home Base

It feels like years ago but it hasn’t even been two weeks since I made the trek out to Queens to check out a small exhibition that Ralph Carhart had put together at Queens College CUNY. I went partially to support another SABR member in my backyard but I would’ve wanted to see this show anyway since the hstory of baseball in New York is something I should know about.* Plus I hadn’t been out to Queens and have wanted to check out Corona Park** and the Queens Museum for a long time.

*Much to my chagrin I totally blew it and missed a show late last year about New Jersey baseball that was almost literally in my back yard.

**Irony not intended.

Initially this was looking like a possible meetup for a bunch of us on Card Twitter but between work, family, and virus concerns, only Mark Hoyle made it down from Boston. This also saved him a stamp since he was able to hand-deliver me a nice Gypsy Oak print of Marvin Miller before we even got to meet Ralph and start our private tour of the exhibit.

Having just sent Mark a set of my printed out Viewmaster scans I was unable to reciprocate. Still, it’s always great to put a face to a contact. I haven’t met many of my twitter contacts but on the rare times I do I’ve really enjoyed it even though there’s always a lot of apprehension due to meeting someone who you already kind of know even though you only know that small portion of their interests which you overlap with.

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Ralph met us at the Library and opened up the exhibit for our tour. I’m not usually a big talker when I’m at a museum but we spent more time talking about the stuff on display than reading the descriptions that Ralph had worked so hard on (sorry!).

The show is laid out roughky chronoligically which meant we started off with vintage base ball. Which was great. Of course we’d all seen games and had paid enough attention to know some of the rule evolutions. Ralph though pointed out the differences between the New York game and the Boston game and suggested how a similar show in Boston would be very interesting.

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My favorite part of the show was Jesse Loving’s Ars Longa cards which he had used to create and illustrate a timeline of New York (and its environs) baseball up to around 1920. The cards are all customs but the choice of design and the treatment of the photos* really works to make the whoel timeline come to life.

*I’m not usually a fan of colorizing black and white photos but it really works here since so many of the old cards that inspired these customs are paintings based on photo originals. 

It’s not just an image of a player that jumps out but the style of the card and way things are depicted that adds so much more richness to just a simple timeline concept. I love a lot of these but my favorite is probably the Arnold Rothstein Pea·Nut custom since Zee·Nuts are one of my favorite things.

As we moved more into the 20th Century, the artifacts became a bit more standard. This isn’t a bad thing as it reflects the game becoming the game we all know and love. One of the best things about baseball is how it’s truly recognizable throughout the decades. Yes there are some equipment changes and things but at a base level the game is unchanged.

There was also a decent amount of art, specifically paintings, on display. They were nice, the Graig Kreindler in particular kind of glows and I certainly understand why people love his work. The paintings leave me a bit unmoved as art* but they certainly work well in this exhibit since they illustrate the history of the game and frequently lavish attention on the New York ballparks in the backgrounds.

*This is probably not-that-latent art snobbery on my part but while I can appreciate the craft of the work there’s something about the palpable nostalgia that the paintings evoke coupled with the fact that large realistic oil paintings haven’t been my art museum jam for decades that leaves me with a “that’s nice” reaction. I do however love the idea of these paintings as postcards or trading cards so it’s possible that there’s something to the scale of the pieces that I’m also responding to.

The show finished up with a nice wall of trading cards depicting every New York player who was born in another country.  Ralph detailed a lot of this collection already but it’s just a fun wall to browse over and see how different countries appear and how much more diverse the game has gotten in the past couple decades.

I was pleased to see that Adonis Rosa made the cut since he had only played one game for the Yankees last season. I also remarked that Ralph was lucky that Johnnie Williams played for the Tigers since he was born in the Kingdom of Hawaii and probably wouldn’t have been an obvious non-USA player. I love the research that went into putting the checklist together for the wall.

A shame that the last week of this show got stomped by a viral outbreak since it was well worth the visit. I’m hoping Ralph gets a chance to mount it again since I think my ids would really dig it too.

Dead Nuts

Like my Pier 24 post, this is another summer visit that got caught in the backlog of move-related business.

I was sort of obligated to check out the Museum of Craft and Design’s show, Dead Nuts. Buiding a show around the concept of “The ultimate machined object”? Super up my alley and a great intellectual exercise. Do you go with something basic or complex? Beautiful or functional? I was looking forward to seeing how the museum presented the possibilities.

It was a good show with a lot of good choices I recognized such as the Curta calculator, original Bridgeport mill, Harrison‘s Marine Chronometer, and even a simple quarter-20 machine screw. And there were a lot of of cool new products I had never heard of such as a planimeter or Newbould indexer.

At it’s best this was a celebration of machining and the ability to produce highly exacting and complicated mechanisms using relatively simple machines.

Just the flourish of being able to mill a hole in a human hair and the minuscule tolerances some of the mechanisms require is a reminder to celebrate the craft of machining parts in the same we we appreciate the craft of painting or sculpting.

At the same time the exhibition also betrayed its origins in an internet forum. So many of the nominated devices were military, weapons, cars, etc. Yes I appreciate how these items are frequently the driving force of technical innovation but it’s a depressing thing to see a significant number of men insist that the pinnacle of machining is enabling us to kill people more efficiently.

Still, that the curation involved putting the forum discussions on the wall was good. For every post that ran down the path of war there were others pulling things back and focusing on small technical innovations rather than the entire mechanism. And there were other posts that intentionally went in other directions to call out more-common items like the sewing machine or typewriter that existed in everyone’s home.

It’s not just that those devices are technically fascinating from a machinist’s point of view, they also impacted everyone in a much more personal way. Are they the “ultimate” object? Who’s to say. But the reminder to appreciate the craft of things you have at your fingertips rather than gushing over technical marvels you’ll never see in person is a good one.

As a parent and a bit of a gearhead I’d much rather get my hands dirty with my kids and look into mechanical things that are more familiar. Take some old toys apart. Look at an old typewriter. Find a geared clock and see how an escapement actually works. That the show never lost this aspect is what saved it from getting fully derailed by the internet.

Pier 24, Looking Back

Oof. I try and get these posts out faster but sometimes life gets in the way. I took my annual visit to Pier 24 last summer but am only just getting to writing about it now. Posts about cards and my photos I can jam out quickly. Posts requiring me to reflect and think about something I’ve seen take a bit more time than I ca muster while trying to get a new house moved into.

I try to get to Pier 24 every summer no matter what the exhibition is. This summer the show was looking back at the previous years of shows and sort of summarizing where the collection has been over the past half-dozen years. In many ways this was the perfect show to let marinate longer. There’s nothing specific to review. Instead I get to reflect on how my thoughts about photography have changed over the past couple decades.

The Pilara Collection is kind of like the Criterion Collection in that it’s most of the standard canon of must-know works. As a result, it’s heavily western white-guy dominated with a few key Japanese artists thrown in the mix. Most of my formative photographic education came through viewing these artists and they’ll always be there as point of reference.

However, the missing pieces are increasingly obvious. Unfortunately, Pier 24’s no-context display does the collection no favors in terms of admitting any awareness of it’s deficiencies. It’s very easy to walk through the galleries and let yourself be led by the images into imagining a medium and history that’s dominated by a narrow point of view.

Or you can walk through like I do and let the no-context stuff be an excuse to project my own context on everything instead. This is especially true with the portraiture section and the way we know how white gaze works coupled with the increased access to photographic self-expression over the past couple decades.

Portraits

That the exhibition started off by grouping Diane Arbus, Paul Strand, and Richard Avedon. I laughed. While this does a disservice to Arbus’s work it says a lot about photography’s tendency toward othering its subjects and putting them on pedestals. The photos are great but we’re immediately put in the position of either gawking at the subjects or worshipping them—neither of which is the frame of mind I want to be in when viewing portraits.

Many of the portraits are beautiful but also emphasize the surface of the of the subject over all else. Halsman’s photo of a refugee woman is a full-on glamour shot even though she’s identified as a refugee. August Sander’s Pastry Chef* is surrounded by other portraits featuring similarly larger-faced subjects. In many ways the key image for me is Valerie Belin’s mannequin since it at least admits that the whole gallery is about the superficial.

*Always a joy to see in the flesh. As much as I sometimes side-eye Pier 24’s displays it’s great to just see some of these images live. Also Sanders’s matting is interesting in that it’s just a hole cut in a piece of paper.

Still even in the one or two images per photographer on display I found my self making connections and learning some things. For example I’d never seen an Edward Weston nude of a black model before. And there were a couple common subjects—a Marilyn Monroe photo booth image vs one by Avedon and an Irving Penn Truman Capote portait vs Avedon’s—that are always something fun to compare.

It was interesting to compare the room of portraits to the room of mugshots. There was a wall of women from Philadelphia, most of them black, which ended up being most of the non-white photo subjects in the entire exhibition.* Even though the rest of the mugshots were mostly white subjects I found myself thinking about the ways the photography canon traditionally represents people.

*Curiously the excerpt in the gallery guide was closer to only 50% black.

I enjoyed going from the mugshots to the deadpan portraits room. That half of that room was Dijkstra was a bit unfortunate though. The idea of featuring deadpan portraits as a way of looking at other expressions in the sitter is great. But a lot of the works on display here pointed the discussion toward the photographer instead of the subject.

Which brings us to Alec Soth who probably more than any other photographer represents where Pier 24 has been. Yes it’s an archive of the photography canon but it’s also been a platform for a certain kind of photo project looking at Rust Belt and other communities which are increasingly overlooked by mass media.

I…These have not aged well for me in the age of Trump. I had the same thought last year but every time I see A-list photo projects investigating poor white communities now I get the same hives I get from the endless media profiles normalizing Trump voters.

Industry and Labor

The rest of the show was mostly typical photo subjects. A big room of industry and labor which showed how factories and labor conditions worldwide have changed, or not, over the century from Lewis Hine to today. These were generally good and provided an interesting counterpoint to the studies of modern American Rust Belt decline in that we got to see where the work is going and can think about whose choices are responsible for that movement.

I was struck by Madon Mahatta’s Escorts Factory photo which showed workers in 1964 wearing sandals and no eye protection. Also, amusingly, my brain misidentified a Burtynsky as a Gursky and in a very un-Peer 24 choice there was a solitary Becher image. This wasn’t as weird as the Met’s solitary Becher since at least there were other industrial photos for context but after SFMOMA has had an entire Becher room up you’d think people in San Francisco would know better.

The highlight of the room though was the wall of Renold and Coventry component cards. Both the cards and the components the depict reflect such a different age of infrastructure and industry. We can see the commonality in photos of factories and assembly lines over the years. However the components of the factories themselves and the way they’re inventoried and cataloged are going to be completely different. Looking at the individual pieces takes us into the technology of the time and orces us to think about what specifically those factories were making.

Locations

There was also a lot of photography of locations in the United States—specifically New York City and the American West. As someone who grew up in California, New York City was always a bit of a cliche. It’s nice to see older photos from Winogrand or Friedlander but the way their influence so dominates what a certain genre of photos is supposed to look like is troublesome.

This is especially with a lot of Winogrand’s photographs. I still have favorites but more and more of them look dated and uncomfortable as society’s norms around photography and publishing has become a lot more aware of how intrusive photographers can be. When he’s good he’s great but man are a lot of his images tough to look at now. Friedlander-wise I like a lot of his humor and can look at his cat or car photos all day.

Moving to The West and, while as an East Coaster now I see a decent amount of cliched views, photographers like Robert Adams and Henry Wessel are still doing things that new photographers aren’t trying to emulate. Maybe this is because both Adams and Wessel are just too fucking good or maybe it’s because the western cliches I see from the East are all landscapes instead of cityscapes.

Anyway it’s always a joy to see a room of Robert Adams or Henry Wessel. It’s especially nice to see some of the Adams photos be taken in the same photo session since getting a bit of a primer about how Adams worked a scene and moved around to find the angles is a free photography tutorial in finding the light and exploring the relationships between elements in the frame. Wessel meanwhile is all about that glowing light and the way it produces textures and shadows.

The last bit of photos in this section were of San Francisco. I’m unable to react to them the same way as anything else since these are home to me. While I’m no longer a tourist in New York City, I’m in no way a New Yorker either. But with the SF photos I just end up liking what I’m seeing. Highlights here were Ed van der Elsken, Lee Merrit Blodgett, and Fred Lyon.

Looking Forward

Last room of the show was a room of Adou’s ghostly and ethereal photographs. I enjoy these very much but they seem completely out of place with the rest of the show being so Western.* Adou is someone I saw at San José and just doesn’t feel like someone Pier 24 was showing.

*Yes there’s a couple Sugimoto rooms but since they’re his wax museum portraits of Henry XIII and his wives along with the Last Supper they were very western subject matter.

That said the Adou room is something that points the way forward about where Pier 24 can go as it expands the canon. New artists doing work that doesn’t operate in the same Western traditions or with the same gaze that the rest of Pier 24’s show does. Photos that are more inside jobs than one which centers the Western gaze.

I can appreciate Adou’s work as being beautiful and evoking a sense of cultural pride while also mourning the loss of a way of life. But I know there’s more there than I can ever hope to get. And that’s OK, I can still feel the power of the images without having it spoon-fed to me.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

After going twice in 2016 it’s taken me three years to return to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The kids have gone the past couple years (including an overnight with their grandparents in 2017) but I haven’t. It’s nice to be back and just sit in the Outer Bay gallery or watch the Kelp Forest tank. The main exhibits are the same as always but they’re also my home waters and speak to me.

As comforting as it is to see the same exhibits and animal life I’ve grown up with, I can’t help but wonder how the aquarium’s focus is going to change as sea water temperatures rise and the mix of the bay changes. I love that my kids love this aquarium and I hate that they’re most-likely only going to know about all this stuff as things they saw when they were little before they vanished from the Earth.

Anyway, I got to try out a new phone camera and further figure out how I can try and keep my DSLR from blowing out the blue channel.

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Back to my roots

Despite living in New Jersey I maintain a membership with the San José Museum of Art both because it’s a good deal and because I really value my yearly visit. More than any other museum in the Bay Area I find myself appreciating what San José is doing and how it so frequently manages to display artwork that feels both relevant to the area and which appeals to my specific sensibilities.

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The big exhibit this time is a large exhibition of Rina Banerjee’s artwork. Her work investigating is especially relevant to the Bay Area in how it investigates globalism and the way it intersects with identity, assimilation, gender, and colonialism. There’s very much a “the world is at your fingertips” sense in this artwork and she’s asking us—and especially the Silicon Valley culture—to think about the power dynamics at play when we combine things from all over.

Her work straddles that line where it’s simultaneously beautiful and grotesque—very often just the viewing angle is enough flip it from one to another.* Ornamentation becomes something monstrous. Small details show up and totally change the context. Superficial beauty falls apart the more you look.

*It reminded me of Kara Walker’s work and how it often does similar things where you can look lazily or you can really look and see all the layers of colonialism and gender and how things can be simultaneously exotic/alluring and vulgar/threatening.

There was a large tour group from Apple at the museum when I went and I just hoped that they were sensitive to the way that these large, apparently-beautiful objects completely turn the longer you look at them and see all the embedded issues in what they’re made of. While Banerjee is doing this on purpose, she’s also doing it to ask us to look closely at everything.

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There was a smaller gallery of Catherine Wagner’s photographs. I was unaware of her work but I love it. Her science photos are great and deftly illustrates the artisty in how science is as involved in the process of looking (and seeing) in the same way that photography is.

Her Pomegranate Wall takes this a step further and essentially uses an MRI machine as a camera. The way it’s presented in a back-lit wall of multiple small images abstracts the subject matter and makes my brain think of all kinds of other connections from MRIs of brains to microscopic views of single-celled organisms.

San Jose has had a tendency to put up large pieces that feature small multiples of information (eg Listening Post and Epilogue). Wagner’s work fits right in with this and feels especially appropriate for an area that specializes in managing an overwhelming amount of little pieces of data.

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The last exhibition in San José is an installation of Pae White’s foreverago along with a couple other pieces of hers. Foreverago is a lot of fun. It’s huge and a ton of stuff to explore (the back view is as nice as the front) and I appreciate the circular relevance of digital design and jaquard looms. Recasting tapestry as “modern” is the perfect way of reminding people that it was also the original punch-card programming.

I also love the canvases of paper. They’re fabulously tactile and the colors are wonderfully subtle. I just wish there was a video or photos of how they were made since I couldn’t quite picture it based on the wall text.There are also a couple other neat installations in this gallery. The chess pieces in particular are a lot of fun and look like the kind of thing that will show up in museum gift shops eventually.