Monday I decided to extend my July Fourth weekend a bit and catch the new show down at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It’s called Natural Affinities and it explores the relationship — personal, artistic and visionary — between Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams. It seems almost too much to hope for that the great painter of the Southwest, New Mexico in particular, and the master photographer of the West, Yosemite especially, would be friends. Surprise! They were and both mentored by the photographer and curator Alfred Stieglitz, who eventually became O’Keeffe’s husband. Even better, the two artists traveled around the West together and often depicted the same places and spots of natural beauty. Yet what a difference when a scene is treated with O’Keeffe’s mastery of color and Adams’s eye for form.
Although the pictures to the left and below aren’t the same landscape, they are similar. Yet, at the exhibit, you’ll see examples where O’Keeffe and Adams tackled exactly the same church, adobe structures and even the same dead tree with amazingly different results.
If you go to the exhibit, be sure to rent the excellent audio tour. I know, I used to be a snob about these things, too. But then I found out how much of an enhancement they can be to an exhibit. How can you beat, not only informed art critics, but Ansel and Georgia themselves telling you about a particular work? One interesting tidbit that I learned: Ansel Adams actually took over 3000 color photographs during his career. But he always remained deeply suspicious of color. He said because he had no faith in how they would be reproduced in
books of the day. But the art critics speculate, based on study and on reading his letters, that he really didn’t understand how to use color. Doesn’t matter, we’ve got his friend Georgia to do that. Another interesting thing I picked up from the audio tour: Ansel’s photography was very outwardly focussed. He was always trying to show the West, explain the West or, in the case of his pictures of the devastated Owens Valley (which became a wasteland after LA bought all their water rights and left the once fertile area dry), warn of the consequences of not protecting it. O’Keeffe, on the other hand, was intensely personal. Her art was about her visceral reaction to the landscape and the natural forms, about how they made her feel. Seen together, both artists’ visions will make you look at the West in a new way.
The exhibit was so wonderful, I decided to linger and catch another show I’d been wanting to see, the exhibition recreation of Robert Frank’s seminal photographic work, The Americans. In addition to being a groundbreaking photographer, Robert Frank was the F-stop equivalent of Jack Kerouac (who he wisely tapped to write the introduction to his book.) Frank travelled the cities, backroads and small towns of 50s America, chronicling, not the Howdy Doody suburban idyll, but the post-nuclear paranoia and alienation and the many people (Blacks, poor, millworkers, etc.) who were left out of that Happy Days scenario that was supposed to be the American norm. I’ve got Frank’s book, but nothing prepares you to walk through the exhibit and see the full sized pictures, all in the thematic order he outlined. I found myself brought a little too close to what Frank saw. Which would have been a good thing, if I’d started with Frank and used Ansel and O’Keeffe for the chaser. I recommend that order if you go. Still, neither exhibit is to be missed. As far as I know, the Adams/O’Keeffe exhibit is not travelling. The Robert Frank exhibit started in Washington and will travel to New York’s Metropolitan in September.
Since the Frank exhibit was such strong medicine, I thought I should tour through some other exhibits to prepare me to face the rest of the day without slitting my wrists. I should have quit while I was behind.
I saw this piece that I’m calling “Stuff on a Hanger”. Actually the plaque says it’s by John Bock, Marlit, 2003; mixed media; 86 5/8 in. x 141 3/4 in. x 49 3/16 in.; Collection SFMOMA, Purchased through a gift of Chara Schreyer.
Then there was the time Andy and I were invited to a gala presentation dinner opening the new retrospective of avant guarde artist Matthew Barney. We were looking at one of his large scale works when Andy, who is never shy about voicing his opinions on art, said in a loud voice: “This is crap, it looks like whale vomit.” We turned around to see Barney’s wife, muse and frequent subject Bjork behind us. Ulp.
Well, I couldn’t find that piece, which Barney was supposed to have donated to SFMOMA, but I found this large pink thing:
Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’m shallow. My intellectual curiosity stops somewhere just short of this collection. It’s my fault, I just can’t be bothered to do the research and study probably needed to really understand and appreciate such works. Call me a Yahoo.
Now this is conceptual art I can get behind. A self-contained “living pod” by Andrea Zittel:
So, still filled with a Frank Melancholia, I thought I should search for a particularly grim diner in which to eat lunch and contemplate our alienated, post-nuclear existance. Unfortunately, the best I could find was the faux stylings of Mel’s Diner. In keeping with that artifice, I ordered the veggie burger instead of the real beef hamburger I wanted.
A final note: we’re all huge Georgia O’Keeffe fans here at Two Terrier Vineyards. In fact, Oscar heartily approves of O’Keeffe’s habit of collecting bones because she admired the shapes. While I was picking grapes last season, Oscar presented me with a huge collection of various deer, fox and varmint bones that I hung from the vine supports. Call it our Homage to O’Keeffe.