Wednesday, May 20, 2009

pictures at an exhibition

Yesterday I spent nearly four hours at the SFMOMA, devouring the art with the lovely Damien who is visiting from England.

The big exhibit, the one with all the lavish posters hanging from lampposts across the city, is the William Kentridge: Five Themes. I've never seen Kentridge's work before, and there was such an enormous amount of it, that I almost couldn't decide what I thought about it. The drawings (many strange self-portraits, parades of walking gramaphones, nudes with heft and ballast) are both crude and clever. They balance heavy black lines with delicate, fantastical shapes that remind me of old-fashioned etchings. Along with the drawings, there were films (enormous rooms with screens on every side, fracturing the space into different stop motion narratives running simultaneously). There was also a room with two miniature theaters, like the kind that make you expect puppets or a Punch and Judy show, on either end. One played music from The Magic Flute and showed animation from his production of the opera (yes, he directs operas). I always forget how much I love the Queen of the Night aria. The other was called The Black Box and it was an entire miniature production with grotesque automatons and industrial sounding music and disturbingly precise animation projected over everything.

Mostly, his stuff made me think about what a strange experience art that isn't performance based really is. All of those automated things--the puppets that run on tracks, the recorded music, the procession of flashing lights--run through the same sequence with no deviation, no guidance from a human being, and yet they're designed to make us feel and think.

The Paul Klee etchings made me want to write disturbing stories for every one of them. I've never appreciated Klee before, but these small pieces were so fine and so strange in intricately shaded black and white, that I sort of fell in love with them.

(this one is called The Hero With The Wing)

Ranjani Shettar's new work made me think about Icarus and space. It was incredibly still, especially compared to the Kentridge, which seems almost frenetic.
My favorite though (and I think it will always be my favorite piece there, no matter what travels through) is the the Rothko they have. No. 14, 1960 makes me feel like the front of the world has been peeled away and I am looking, for the first time, at whatever it is that exists underneath.

We finished up our visit with a trip to the rooftop garden, which is newish. Damien got tea, brewed to a timer in a tiny glass teapot, and I stretched out on a bench and admired how blue the sky gets when there aren't any clouds to get in the way of the sun.

It was a good afternoon.

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