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SFMOMA Announces Five Summer 2019 Exhibitions

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Rick Guidice, Toroidal Colonies, cutaway view exposing the interior; courtesy NASA Ames Research Center

In addition to its major presentations of Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again, JR: The Chronicles of San Francisco and Suzanne Lacy: We Are Here, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) announces an exciting schedule of architecture and design, contemporary and photography exhibitions opening at the museum this summer. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space will include a wide range of visionary designs in pursuit of outer space ventures. SFMOMA’s New Work series will highlight recent sculptures and photographic works by multimedia artist Erin Shirreff.

SFMOMA’s Pritzker Center for Photography, the largest space dedicated to the medium in any art museum in the United States, will present three new shows this summer. In the New to the Collection gallery, a recently acquired archive of previously unseen Polaroids will feature the many faces of April Dawn Alison, photographed over the course of several decades. Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes will explore dos and don’ts of “good” photography and the rule breakers who challenged those norms. Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene will highlight the 19th-century photographer’s stunning images of ancient Egyptian ruins and archeological sites in his first museum survey show.

Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space

July 20, 2019–January 20, 2020
Floor 6

Fifty years after the first footsteps on the moon, our ongoing journey into space continues to capture worldwide attention and global resources. Organized by SFMOMA’s Architecture and Design department, Far Out: Suits, Habs, and Labs for Outer Space will underscore the importance of both applied and theoretical design in forwarding new models for life beyond earth. California is uniquely poised to host an exhibition on this topic, with an established history of astronautic innovation and invested research on space exploration at two NASA centers — Ames and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) — as well as Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Real and conceptual designs for space suits, habitats and laboratories will be on view, alongside a selection of films and visual art, including designs from Raymond Loewy, Rick Guidice, Neri Oxman and Tom Sachs, among others. Culled from many different collections, Far Out celebrates design in taking us far out to the final frontier.

Erin Shirreff, Bronze (Slivka, Burckhardt, Busch, Laocoön), 2018; photo: courtesy the artist and Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York; © Erin Shirreff

New Work: Erin Shirreff

July 20, 2019–October 27, 2019
Floor 4

Working in various mediums, scales and modes, Erin Shirreff explores our relationship to objects and images, and between two- and three-dimensional space. In this exhibition, her first solo museum presentation on the West Coast, Shirreff will show a selection of recent sculptures and photographic works. Forms based on JPEGs are rendered in foamboard and bronze, and offset reproductions are enlarged and given a sculptural dimension of their own. Together, the works examine the slippage between the experience of an object in real space and its photographic representation, where scale, weight and physical presence are distorted.

Generous support for New Work: Erin Shirreff is provided by Alka and Ravin Agrawal, SFMOMA’s Contemporaries, Adriane Iann and Christian Stolz, and Robin Wright and Ian Reeves.

April Dawn Alison, Untitled, n.d.; collection SFMOMA, gift of Andrew Masullo

New Work: Erin Shirreff

July 6, 2019–December 1, 2019
Floor 3

Made over the course of some 30 years, the photographs in this exhibition depict the many faces of April Dawn Alison (1941–2008), the female persona of an Oakland, California–based photographer who lived in the world as a man. Upon her death, Alison left an archive of over 8,000 Polaroid photographs, the vast majority of which are self-portraits. This previously unseen body of work begins in the late 1960s or early 70s with tentative explorations in black-and-white photographs, and evolves in the 1980s into an exuberant, wildly colorful and obsessive practice inspired by representations of women in classical Hollywood cinema, pornography and advertising. An extraordinary long-term exploration of a private self, the Alison archive contains photographs that are beautiful, funny, enigmatic and heartbreakingly sad, sometimes all at the same time.

Left: Charles M. Taylor, Jr., Why My Photographs Are Bad. Philadelphia, PA: G.W. Jacobs & Co., 1902. Right: Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Untitled, ca. 1963; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, gift of Dan Holland; © The Estate of Ralph Eugene Meatyard

Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes

July 6, 2019–December 1, 2019
Floor 3

There’s no success like failure; artists know that better than anyone. Don’t! Photography and the Art of Mistakes explores how photographic techniques such as double exposure, lens flare and motion blur, deemed errors by one generation of photographers, became interesting aesthetic intentions by the next. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, proscriptive texts by self-proclaimed photography experts proliferated in amateur manuals and periodicals. The next generation saw the rise of photographers who challenged these rules and strictures. Pairing modernist images by artists including Florence Henri, Lisette Model and Man Ray with historical documents, this exhibition examines the shifting definitions of “good” and “bad” photography, while considering how tastes evolved during this transformative period for the medium. The show concludes with a section of contemporary work by artists including Sara Cwynar, John Gossage and Andy Mattern that underscores concerns about failure and photographic rules that persist to this day.

John Beasley Greene, Giza. Pyramid of Cheops, or Khufu, 1853–54; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene

August 31, 2019–January 5, 2020
Floor 3

In 1853, at the age of 21, John Beasley Greene (1832–56) set out for Egypt armed with a camera and a passion for archaeology. Over the course of an exceptionally brief career, he created a body of photographs in North Africa that was admired by his peers and which continues to capture the attention of contemporary audiences. Not only did he provide detailed records of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Algerian antiquities that helped advance the field, but his pictures also offer the sensitive impressions of a thoughtful visitor in an unfamiliar land. Greene was acutely attuned to the aesthetic possibilities of photography, and his compositions display a masterful grasp of the relationship between negative and positive space. He died at 24, leaving behind few records but hundreds of pictures. This exhibition, his first museum survey show, will present Greene’s visual record of the archaeological and colonial concerns of mid-19th-century France and a singular vision for the photographic description of landscape.

In conjunction with Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene, SFMOMA will present Hannah Collins: I Will Make Up a Song, a video and photography installation that explores the work of Egyptian Modernist architect Hassan Fathy. Fascinated by issues of housing, poverty and environmental sustainability, Collins (b. 1956) considers Fathy’s mid-20th-century utopian experiments in sustainable architecture and rural community building at New Gourna and New Baris in Egypt, which raised important questions that seem ever more pertinent today.

Generous support for Signs and Wonders: The Photographs of John Beasley Greene is provided by Wes and Kate Mitchell. Additional support is provided by Sakurako and William Fisher and Gary Sokol.

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Tandin Bidha: The Grace of Bhutan

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Tandin Bidha, leading actress from Bhutan sheds more light about the film industry in Bhutan and her life and experiences in the Himalayan Kingdom. Tandin Bidha is one of the most popular actresses in Bhutan and has worked in various national award winning films.

In this interview with Modern Diplomacy, Tandin sheds more light on the film industry in Bhutan and its growth over the years.

31 movie titles in your name spreading across different genres. Also, a two time National Award winner for Boom Batha Chenmi Renzi and for Chi Sem Chi Lu. People and critics alike seem to love your versatility. How did it all start? Did you imagine being the most recognised face in the industry and achieving an illustrated career in a short span?

It all started when I was helping my mother out in her restaurant. A well known director of Bhutan walked in, he saw me and something clicked. He immediately told me that he wanted to cast me in a film because I looked like an actress. I did not know anything about acting then because Bhutan does not have an acting school. I waited to get a call from him for 3 months. There was no call. One day he called me and gave me a role as a supporting actress. Even if I wasn’t the lead in the first film, it meant a lot to me and I decided to take it up. I then got many leading roles. I am truly grateful to my stars for aligning at the right time. I have given acting my best shot and I work really hard to be where I am.

Do you plan to carry forward that persona and art international anytime?

I am open to everything. I have never once thought that I can or cannot do this. I don’t plan my life like that. I generally see where life is going, let opportunities come my way, and when something clicks, I do it. Being open to things is the key to being successful, don’t shut any doors in life till you are sure that it isn’t for you, till then navigate and explore life through.

How important do you believe it is, to have a good work dynamic and a mutual understanding between an actor and a director? Do you personally think a good director helps an actor grow?

I believe that a movie is never about one person, it is about the entire crew. We all mutually depend on each other to get things done. I don’t believe that a single person can create or take credit for a movie alone, it takes an army of people to do it. I am grateful to my crew and everyone working on the same team as me for working really hard behind everything that goes in. I believe that good actors and good directors help each other in numerous ways. All relationships should be mutual and everything is centric on growth.

You seem to have a very positive and optimistic approach towards life and towards work. Despite all the fame and fortune, you lead a very ‘normal’ simplistic lifestyle. What fuels that inside you?

Most of the people of Bhutan are very simple. We all believe in living a life filled with the sentiment of community. I am an actress on screen and a human above anything. I believe in leading a simple life because that is all that counts. I enjoy spending time with my son. I also like reading in my free time. In Bhutan, for showing my films in theatres, I have also been to counters to sell my own film tickets. I deeply love Bhutan because I can be myself here.

You have been an avid reader of some really interesting books ranging from soul searching, inspirational women, The Buddha, the Mitch Albomesque emotional sort. Tell us more about some other books that you would recommend everyone should read in their lifetime. What is the book you are currently reading?

I really love reading books. I went through a divorce a few years ago and I was in a really dark phase of my life that time. I felt disconnected with the world. However, one day I picked up a book and I started reading it. After that, I have read so many books because I feel like books hold the key to life. I have also started a book cafe in Bhutan because I want the youth to read more books and get all the knowledge out there. I really love books and I recommend the youth to read books everywhere.

You have also travelled a lot. Your favourite destination so far and why is it special?

The more I travel, the more I realise how great Bhutan is. I love Bhutan the most. I have been to several countries worldwide, but I really love Bhutan the most. People here may not have dominos or burger outlets, but we are really in touch with ourselves and we love this country a lot. The more I travel, the deeper my appreciation grows for Bhutan.

Aamir Khan from India has always been a champion of rights in the national and international arena. You met him in one such similar event. What did you discuss? What other actors, male and female, do you look upto in India? If given a chance and if an amazing script comes your way, would you be interested to be a part of an Indian project?

I would love to work with actors in India. I met Aamir Khan at an event in Bhutan. I went to him and I told him that I’m his biggest fan. He was very humble and he told me more about his work. It was a great conversation. I respect him a lot.

OTT platforms are taking over the world. Do you think cinema in Bhutan can reach more people through this medium?

I believe that Bhutan has some wonderful stories which need to be shared with more people across the world. We do not have a film school so most of the people here are very raw in the film domain. However, we are all willing to learn and explore new avenues. I think Netflix is a great platform to share stories of Bhutan with other people. However, there are certain restrictions on the platform regarding quality of filmmaking, which Bhutan will have to match if we want our films there. Overall, I really would love for our country to have some representation on Netflix. I would love to take a lead in that domain. I really want our stories to be shared with the world.

What message would you like to give your fans who look up to you and your work?

I want to tell everyone that do not let go of your dreams even if it looks like it may never happen. It will happen when your stars align. I want to tell the youth to hold on to their dreams strongly and to keep working hard for it. If you work hard, one day, your efforts will be recognised. Never let go of your dreams.

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Architecture Reflecting Culture: The Alhambra

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Throughout history civilizations have been overtaken by successors.  These in turn decline and fall as time marches on.  Often all that remain are monuments, an occasional palace or temple often a tomb, usually in ruins unless of relatively current vintage.

The ancient Egyptians built massive pyramids to bury their pharaohs, projects lasting a lifetime and ensuring a reliable source of income for the workers and others involved. 

The Greeks favored exquisitely proportioned temples and statuary rendered with a skill that was not matched again until the Renaissance.  One would be remiss not to mention their vast output of the mind from philosophy and logic to the poetry and drama played out in the amphitheaters.

If Roman entertainment relied on blood and gore, it was part of a culture of brutal wars, subjugation and suppression of foreign peoples welded into an empire.  Then there was Roman law, even if it applied only to citizens.

Of more recent vintage are the great cathedrals of Europe like Chartres, tall, massive, constructed in a span of time unimaginable in our era of haste.  Preceding them were the great mosques of the Muslim era decorated in geometric shapes and colors to dazzle the eye.  Damascus and Isfahan come to mind.

Then there are the Nasrid kings of Grenada in southern Spain, al Andalus to these descendants of North African Berbers and Arabs who ruled there for several centuries.  A time when the three Abrahamic religions coexisted in relative harmony it saw the flowering of a civilization noted for its mixture of opposites.

The city of Cordoba with its great mosque was an early fruit of this admixture becoming the largest city in Europe during the 10th century, although civil wars had diminished it considerably by the 13th century.  Yet the 13th century began the growth of a city on a hill now called Alhambra probably due to the reddish color (alhamra in Arabic) of the rock face.  Housing some 40,000 citizens then, not many of the buildings survive.  Notable are the defensive citadel Alcazaba, three palaces — the Mexuar, the Comares and the Court of the Lions — and an encircling wall with battlements and towers.  The great mosque was replaced by a Franciscan monastery in the 15th century and is now a parador — a government-run hotel that was formerly a castle or palace or the like.

The Courtyard of the Lions is justly famous as the symbol of Alhambra.  The twelve lions at the center appear to be holding up a water basin right in the center of a network of channels …  on the periphery, colonnades supporting delicately carved arches form an abbey-like cloister.  But the walls in the adjoining rooms hold their own surprise in intricately carved geometries of colored tiles and plasterwork.  Glancing up, the ceilings are designed to take your breath away.  Even more intricately constructed, they comprise thousands of meticulously carved sections of wood rising layer upon layer to feast the eye as small apertures allow in shafts of sunlight or moonlight.  Watercourses run through many rooms spilling across portals into pools among enclosed gardens melding interior with exterior and joining it with nature. 

The architect LeCorbusier called it ‘the intelligent, just and magnificent interplay of volumes made harmonious by daylight.’  Henri Matisse exclaimed, ‘The Alhambra is a marvel’ and Washington Irving captured imaginations throughout the western world with his 1832 book, The Alhambra.  At the time going to rack and ruin, his romantic vision helped to trigger an effort to preserve the precious gem.

Now a magnet for tourists, it remains a precious reminder of what an intermingling of cultures can produce — just as the Taj Mahal does in India where Mughal emperors often married Hindu Rajput princesses and Shah Jahan (whose mother Manmati was one) built his own marvel.

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Don’t avoid what is easy – diplomacy meets art

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Harbour for Cultures - Yerevan cards

Individuals should and need to feel like they have the right to want. That is the message that artist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova is continuously expressing through her artwork. Exemplifying socially-engaged art, Lemberg-Lvova aims to be a part of a much broader political movement which discusses important historical and modern-day social processes through creative means.

The second-wave feminist movements from the 1960s is one example of such a powerful movement. With their infamous quote, ‘The personal is political’, authored by millions of voices of women collectively rather than one feminist author, the message that every individual has the right to a voice was heavily stressed. As personal experiences took center stage and the individual became a political platform during the feminist movements, crowds of individuals also gained new meanings of courageous collectivity. Ultimately, the movement gave opportunity for previously ignored and taken-for-granted personal circumstances to be framed in a bigger picture – a picture that women as minorities were often left out of.

Continuing to portray the central message that movements such as the feminist strikes and many other historical crusades have fought for, Lemberg-Lvova uses her own art to focus on the younger European generation, highlighting the vast diverseness of the voices that live in Europe and sending a bold message that evidences a heterogeneity which needs to be more thoroughly discussed amongst the European community. With her projects, she is able to recognise the ways in which the systemic infrastructures that exist around the individual leave them feeling insecure or insignificant in relation to their voice and its right to exist in public. By initiating healthy conversation and focusing on this very elemental act of daring to express one’s desires towards public space, she has created a platform that encourages individuals to learn to voice their opinions more often, ultimately leading the person to be engaged as the multiplicities of voices are amplified to lead to more diverse discussion and perhaps outcomes. 

Anastasia avatud stuudios Kogo galeriis (foto Mariia Nedosekova)

Her exhibition, ‘Don’t Avoid What is Easy’, on show from August 14th – September 9th at the Freedom Gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, is thus the result of 2 years of research conducted mainly through interviews of younger generation individuals during her own expenditures through Europe. Although seemingly humble in its outcome as portraits, there is a strong message behind Lemberg-Lvova’s work, depicting the notion that we should feel more confident to voice our opinions about our public surroundings, Lemberg-Lvova uses art and representations to give a voice to over 100 participants from 24 European countries.

By painting vibrant oil portraits of a selected 7 individuals whom she interviewed, she touches on the concept of art and its political capacity by explaining “There will be portraits of participants with a visual interpretation of their wish as the background. The experience of, as we often say, “putting a face to a name” has a profound effect and is more intuitively understood than just going through text or trying to grasp abstract ideas. Painting as a form of expression is immensely malleable and useful when getting ideas across.”The desire to initiate discussion and give it a platform within the context of a gallery means Lemberg-Lvova’s art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing space where the audience can identify small changes that resemble the tip of a much bigger iceberg– or at least the ignition of confidence and curiosity. 

This focus on the first and easiest step sometimes being the hardest is something of great importance for Lemberg-Lvova as she explains “An inhabitant of a city logically has the right to express ideas or wishes when it comes to their surroundings – it is, after all, their home. But they are often stuck in the belief of not being able to change anything. In this instance, I am not talking about taking action or creating a plan. This is about the simplest first step that does not require anything – feeling like one is entitled to express a wish. It doesn’t have to lead anywhere; just remember that you have the right to want something. What follows is a different matter, but it is clear that nothing will happen without this first step.”

An interactive wall installation where participant answers are projected for all to see will pay homage to the importance that Lemberg-Lvova holds for communities to listen to the expressions of their surrounding civilians. She explains “From an early age, our heads are flooded with subliminal messaging and that often diminishes internal self-worth. Let me explain this from the point of view of a woman – a frame of reference I am most familiar with. As a woman one feels that unless they have perfect dazzlingly white teeth, flawless hair, a tiny waist and the right kind of shoes they are not worthy of expressing an opinion. Because if you do not fulfill all of the criteria above, no one will listen to you or even consider you worthy of attention. This is a cliché, yet it exists because it is true. It describes the reality of many women, because we are surrounded by sources reaffirming it – adverts, friends, sometimes parents or spouses, fitness centers and the list goes on. At the exhibition, I am striving to fill the space with messaging that reiterates one’s right to express their wishes whoever they are.

What to maintain_ – Lemberg-Lvova 2020

Her message is clear – we should not avoid formulating our wishes in matters that concern us. Her persistence to initiate discussion and to give it a platform within the context of a gallery means her art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing meeting space for the artist as well as her audience amongst each other.

Open Studio at Kogo Gallery, Widget Factory (Aparaaditehas), Tartu, Estonia: 08.07-01.08

Exhibition “Don’t Avoid What is Easy – Diplomacy meets art”at Vabaduse Gallery: 14.08-09.09

*Valeriya Billich also contributed to this article. Photos:Mariia Nedosekova

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