Art in the Afternoon

…the public
Is pushing through the museum now so as to
Be out by closing time. You can’t live there.

— John Ashbery, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror

I was in that other city across the bay this afternoon, so I stopped in to SF MoMA to see the Robert Frank show before it closes later this month. While I was there, I saw the new roof garden, and checked in on some old favorites in their permanent collection. (I was happy to find that they had a lot more of their Joseph Cornell collection on display than usual, including several works that I don’t remember ever seeing before, even in the big retrospective a year or two ago.)

I didn’t take many photos of the art itself (why bother when there are much better images of most of them all over the web?), but I did have some fun fooling around with the camera in the galleries, and the resulting shots ended up with a theme of their own.

People, watching:






Self-Portrait in a Convex Brancusi (with apologies to Parmigianino and Ashbery):

Self-Portrait in a Convex Brancusi

10 Responses to “Art in the Afternoon”

  1. ng says:

    Very Nice!!!

  2. Danielle says:

    I so love that museum, and those shiny Brancusis. The creepy baby/poodle dealio…well, I’ll have to judge for myself. How was the Frank show?

  3. dc says:

    Danielle: I liked the Frank show. It is mostly just a complete set of prints from The Americans, with a few dozen earlier works at the beginning, a bit of his later work at the end, and some selected works from photographers who had influenced Frank (Walker Evans, Bill Brandt et al.) and who Frank had influenced (Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, et al.) Since I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and perused The Americans page by page, it was pretty new to me, but I can imagine that the show might seem like old hat to anyone who is more up on their history of photography than I am. I think I prefer some of the other photographers to Frank, but the show does make a convincing case (through the works, not through the text accompanying it, which I didn’t like much) that Frank caused (or at least marked) a turning point—his style looked like a major break from the more carefully framed and focused photographs of his predecessors, and you can really see Frank’s impact on the people who came after.

    As for the poodles and baby…blah. I didn’t care for it at all, and the only reason I took a picture of it is that I thought the circular arrangement might make for a more interesting photo than some of the works I like more. I think my favorite stuff at SF MoMA are probably the Rothko shown above, and Warhol’s “National Velvet,” which is funny because I normally don’t like Warhol all that much. For whatever reason, “National Velvet” kind of gives me the chills. I think I even considered writing a post about it a few months ago. Maybe I will sometime…

  4. ruth gutmann says:

    I wonder whether you can appreciate Frank’s choice of what to photograph without factoring in his foreignness. That makes it all the more interesting that he influenced Americans who lacked that background. What Frank saw here must have been a strong contrast — on every level — from what he grew up with in Switzerland.

    Your Ashbury quote reminded me of the recent NYT letter: In front of the Louvre: “Quick, where is the Mona Lisa, I am double-parked!”

    Your choice of pictures and exhibts (?) those poodles!! (you really love even ugly dogs!) was funny. Have you ever seen Rothko paintings before those color fields?

  5. dc says:

    Ruth: Interesting question about how Frank’s foreignness affected his work. I’ve always thought that one feature of good art is that the artist is able to see the world afresh in one way or another—and also causes the viewer see the world afresh in one way or another (sometimes in minor ways, and sometimes in major ways that feel like revelations). It makes sense that Frank would pick up on some of the features of American life that most Americans might not notice since they are so familiar to people who grew up here. I also wonder how the subjects of some of the photographs felt about having some Swiss guy taking their picture.

    I don’t remember ever seeing any Rothkos except variations on those color fields. I see from a quick glance at Wikipedia that he was supposedly deeply influenced by Nietzsche—poor guy!

  6. eric says:

    I’ve always wanted to look at Frank. I like that Sternfeld (?) book, “American Prospects”, and I remember Frank was supposed to be a precursor but then I never really looked him up. I like your shots–especially the self portrait. I miss museums.

    Nice posts about Oakland recently, btw. I haven’t read them all yet, but I’m looking forward to–now that I’m back in museum-and-internet-world.

  7. Carol Polk says:

    Should you ever have to go to Houston, your discomfort can be mitigated by a visit to the Rothko chapel on the grounds of the DeMenil museum. The chapel is entirely serene, a most interesting feeling given what one knows about Rothko the man.

    Drop in on the Cy Twombly gallery while there and get a whole different feeling for his work(well, I did). Great fun, actually.

  8. dc says:

    The closest I’ve come to visiting Houston was driving past it on I-10 during a freak snowstorm in 1996, on the way from Berkeley to NYC via Austin and New Orleans (could I be any more predictable?). I’m surprised I haven’t heard more (anything, in fact, as far as I remember) about the Menil, given the description of their holdings on the website (speaking of Cornell, it says they have a dozen of his boxes).

  9. m says:

    Did you get to see the Avedon exhibit? I really liked that.

  10. dc says:

    No, I can only take so much museuming at once (about an hour and a half, to be precise), so the Robert Frank show and a quick stroll through the roof garden and the permanent collection was all I had the patience for.

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