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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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Turning air pollution into art

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Photo by Studio Roosegaarde

Artists are known to take inspiration from the world around them. So it’s no surprise that some have begun shining light on one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time—air pollution.

According to the World Health Organization, every year around 7 million premature deaths are caused by air pollution, with 9 out of 10 people breathing toxic air. Air pollution is also known to contribute to climate change and so efforts to tackle it can also help address the climate crisis.

The time to act is now, and artists, like so many others are looking at ways to raise awareness about air pollution, find solutions to reduce it and even use it as a resource.

Pollution Pods

Michael Pinsky got inspired by the differences between the various types of air pollution, when he set out to make Pollution Pods. The project consists of five domes, each imitating air in five different areas of the world: Northern Norway, London, New Delhi, Beijing and São Paulo. As you move through the domes you experience varied levels and sources of air pollution.

“I wanted to have very different sensations from one dome to another,” Pinsky told UN Environment. “It’s not just a question of how strong the pollution is but that they have very different characteristics as well.”

For London, Pinsky recreates the smell of diesel. For Beijing, he mixes the smells of industrial fumes, coal or wood-based heating, and transportation emissions. While New Delhi whiffs of burnt plastic and grass, as citizens still burn a lot of their rubbish.

Luckily, the pollution is only in smell and visibility, without the actual harmful gases. But Pinsky says the experience still isn’t very pleasant. That’s the whole point: air pollution isn’t pleasant.

Pinsky hopes Pollution Pods will lead to a more “radical approach” when dealing with air pollution, particularly with transportation. “It’s not so easy to apply the same advocacy or philosophy towards different cities in the world,” he said. “But in some cases, you could turn the problem around in two years with the right policies.”

Smog-free towers

Daan Roosegaarde was motivated by living in Beijing and witnessing the city’s strive for economic development and citizen wellbeing, when he created the Smog-free Tower. The “largest smog vacuum cleaner in the world”, as Roosegaarde calls it, sucks up polluted air, cleans it and releases it back into the atmosphere.

“I thought to myself, ‘I’m not a minister, I cannot give 20 billion euros to green energy today. But I’m an engineer and an artist, I can create a clean-air park, like an oasis.’”

The premise is that the smog-free tower sits in a city park, making the air 20–70 per cent cleaner than the rest of the city. It uses positive ionisation technology, which Roosegaarde says is the only way to clean large volumes of ultra-fine particles while using little energy.

Towers are now found around the world in China, Poland, the Netherlands, and soon, South Korea and Mexico. It’s also led to a global campaign, with local partners in each country replicating the towers. Roosegaarde has now introduced the smog-free ring—made of compressed smog particles—and the smog-free bicycle as well.

“This is not utopia. It’s a pro-topia where we, step-by-step, try to improve our cities,” he said. “The grand goal is to have them not needed anymore, but until then, you do what you can to remain healthy.”

Air pollution-based ink

Anirudh Sharma was visiting his family in Mumbai, India, when he began to notice that in the evening his white shirts would gradually turn speckled with something that resembled dirt.

“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma told his alma matter Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab. “This is a major health issue.”

When he returned to Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sharma decided to do something about the air pollution back home. So he set up Graviky Labs—a start-up that has developed a technology to attach to diesel exhaust systems to capture particulate matter. The team at Graviky treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for use by artists around the world.

So far, the start-up has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, or the equivalent of collecting 1.6 trillion litres of outdoor air.

“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma said.

UN Environment

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The feminist inspiration of Mona Lisa

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This year marks the 500th anniversary of the death of the Italian genius, Leonardo da Vinci, who died on 02 May 1519. On this occasion, UNESCO highlights some of the comments concerning the origins of one of the most famous paintings in history: Was Mona Lisa painted in a feminist spirit?

The thesis of the American art lover William Varvel highlights the links between feminism and the painting. According to his findings, Mona Lisa would represent a figure in the fight for gender equality. Why? William Varvel insists on “the theological rights of women” claimed through the vision of the famous painting from the Renaissance Period. These rights are linked to the status of priests, which women do not have access to. Therefore, the painting representing Mona Lisa would have for true desiderata the possibility for the women to have access to the priesthood. William Varvel assures that “Mona Lisa is a kind of declaration for the rights of women”.

To support his argument, the author of The Lady Speaks: Uncovering the Secrets of the Mona Lisa explains how Leonardo hid clues in the painting: in total, not less than “40 symbols, taken from the 21 verses of the chapter 14 of the Book of the Prophet Zechariah” in the painting.

Therefore, there is a link between religion, the painting of the Italian master and his feminist commitment. It is precisely this link that William Varvel wishes to highlight in order to allow a reflection on the subject. A new definition of the place of Mona Lisa in the artworks from the Renaissance is necessary to apprehend the political and feminist scope of this masterpiece.

UNESCO

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How UN cultural treasures helped set the stage for Game of Thrones

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From King’s Landing to the Iron Bank, so many of the breath-taking backdrops seen on the smash hit Game of Thrones television series are available for future generations to enjoy,  thanks to a key, but little-known role played by the United Nations cultural agency.

Established in 1945, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has worked to improve dialogue and understanding between civilizations, cultures and peoples. One of UNESCO’s methods of doing this is by designating and preserving World Heritage Sites, defined as having outstanding universal value to humanity, which it inscribes on the World Heritage List to be protected for posterity.

To date, there are 1,092 natural and cultural places inscribed. The diverse and unique treasures range from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to the Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India.

Since 2011 UNESCO’s work has become inseparable with the magnificent film locations of the wildly popular Game of Thrones series.

For those tuning in to the show’s final episodes, here’s a look back at the Seven Kingdoms with a nod to the UN cultural agency.

Capital of the Seven Kingdoms

Long before it became known as King’s Landing – one of the Seven Kingdoms and seat of the mighty Iron Throne – the old city of Dubrovnik in Croatia was an important Mediterranean seat of power from the 13th century onwards. Severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667 and by armed conflict in the 1990s, UNESCO is co-coordinating a major restoration programme.

Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 1979.

Old City of Dubrovnik (Croatia).UNESCO/Francesco Bandarin

Battle of the Blackwater 

You may recall the fiery Battle of the Blackwater, or scenes where King Robert Baratheon rules from the Iron Throne in the Red Keep, overlooking Blackwater Bay: Fort Lovrijenac, outside the western wall of the Croatian city, actually played an important role in resisting Venetian rule in the 11th century.

Cannon in Old City of Dubrovnik (Croatia).UNESCO/Silvan Rehfeld

Private retreat for House Martell

It is easy to see why Doran Martell called the Water Gardens of Dorne “my favourite place in this world”.  Actually located in the heart of Seville, the Royal Palace of Alcázar is imbued with Moorish influences that date back from the Reconquest of 1248 to the 16th century. UNESCO points to it as “an exceptional testimony to the civilization of the Almohads as well as that of Christian Andalusia”. 

UNESCO inscribed the Royal Palace of Alcázarin in 1987.

Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (Spain).UNESCO/José Puy

Daenerys’ journey through Essos

When you look at the Medina of Essaouira in Morocco, perhaps you can image The Khaleesi lining up The Unsullied eunuch slave-soldiers in the city of Astapor before renaming Slaver’s Bay,  the Bay of Dragons. But for UNESCO, Essaouira is an exceptional example of a late-18th-century fortified town in North Africa. Since its creation, it has been a major international trading seaport, linking Morocco and its Saharan hinterland with Europe and the rest of the world.

The Medina of Essaouira joined the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 2001.

Medina of Essaouira, formerly Mogador (Morocco).UNESCO/Leila Maizaz

Yunkai: ‘A most disreputable place’

In the Yellow City, Daenerys’ language skills are useful with the Yunkai’i, who speak a dialect of High Valyrian. But in Berber, the village of Ait-Ben-Haddou was a popular caravan route long before current-day Morocco was established. The crowded together earthen buildings surrounded by high walls offer a view of a traditional pre-Saharan habitat. 

Ait-Ben-Haddou was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Ait-Ben-Haddou (Morocco).UN News/Jing Zhang

Theon returns to Lordsport Harbour

County Antrim envelops UNESCO-designated Giant’s Causeway and Causeway coast. It is also home to the small fishing harbour of Ballintoy, known to fans as the port of Pyke, home to the Iron Islands of the Greyjoys. Located in real-life Northern Ireland, the Causeway consists of some 40,000 massive black volcanic rock columns sticking out of the sea. Over the last 300 years, geographical studies have greatly contributed to the development of the earth sciences.

The Causeway coast was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.

Giant’s Causeway (Northern Ireland).UNESCO/Stefano Berti

Cersei’s ‘Walk of Shame’

The iconic scene in in which Cersei Lannister is forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing began atop of the baroque Jesuit Staircase, which leads to the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola and Jesuit College in the UNESCO-desnigated Old City of Dubrovnik .

The Jesuit Staircase is located on the south side of Gundulic Square in UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Old City of Dubrovnik.UN News/Mita Hosali

Kingslayer for gender equality

The connection between the United Nations and Game of Thrones does not end with UNESCO’s inspiring  sites.

While Jaime Lannister is the twin brother of Cersei and slayer of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, real-life actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Development Fund. Passionate about ending discrimination and violence against women, the father of two girls is focusing his considerable talents on drawing attention to critical issues, such as gender equality – encouraging everyone to be agents of change.

Mr. Coster-Waldau was appointed a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in 2016.

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