Tag Archives: Museum artwork

Austin, State Capitol of Texas

Originally part of Mexico and known as “Tejas”, Texas had a colorful and complicated history. A fourth-grader on my hour-long tour of the state capitol could answer nearly every question posed by the guide about Texas perfectly.

Texas was part of Spain, France and Mexico. The territories were disputed for some time, then Texas broke free and was its own republic for a short time. In 1845, it became a state. (That’s only six years before California, so the US was busy building statehoods!) There was a temporary lapse of judgment when Texas joined the Confederate States.

The State Capitol was not too different from ours in Sacramento, but it did feel like Austin was a much more accessible city in which to conduct state business. The color of the building comes from the red granite quarried nearby. The Senate and Assembly chambers and architectural elements were more impressive compared with California’s, perhaps due to the state’s size and slightly longer history.

Obviously there are many more details on the colorful history of Texas beyond the student’s recollection and the perspective offered by the official guide. You can read more about the history of the state of Texas here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas

The LBJ Library was just a short ride on the bus from the center of town, where the University of Texas is located.

I discovered that LBJ’s goals, while lofty and lengthy, were noble and reassuring (see video below). His achievements for education, civil rights, health care, the environment, and space exploration were also promoted.

I was impressed with how important civil rights meant to the library. It not only devoted a large amount of space to immigrants and their contribution to the country, but also showed a “Know Your Rights” T-shirt from Colin Kaepernick as an expression of civil rights championed by LBJ.

Despite his big disaster in Vietnam, LBJ was just one man, who had alot of dreams to be fulfilled or crushed. In the end, he knew he couldn’t win anymore and decided not to seek reelection. He felt that he had cajoled and asked favors from every Senator and Representative in Congress, and he could no longer squeeze another favor from anyone.

All of LBJ’s papers, photographs of all the presidents and their wives who preceded him and Lady Bird, copies of his oval office and the First Lady’s, and displays documenting his life were housed in a monumental Seventies-style modernist, travertine-clad building.

I didn’t expect to like this president’s history, but the presentation was very informative regardless of one’s opinions about his policies. In addition to the more well-known JFK Library in Boston, MA, there are many other presidential libraries throughout the country including one underway for Obama. Interestingly, Texas has the most: one in Dallas, one in College Station, and the LBJ Library here. You can find the others here:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_library

To wrap up our 48 hours in Austin, we couldn’t resist one more permanent “pop-up” that specializes in Tex-Mex BBQ, along with dessert at a “real” restaurant:

And a loving look at the trendy So-Co neighborhood where we stayed. New houses amidst existing and converted cottages are still (compared to San Francisco) affordable, friendly, and intimate, with easy walking access to shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars:

Reminder: Watch for my posts from Munich Germany during the month of July–coming up!

24 Hours in Chicago

With occasion to be with a friend in the Chicago area, I dedicated one day to an urban walk on my own. I set a five-mile goal from my hotel through Lincoln Park, that could easily be accomplished over flat terrain.

I started off by studying the hotel map, then stripping off all the adds around the border to a basic 6×8″ image of the streets. My origami skills taught me how to develop this minimalist map. And yes, I find this low-tech method sometimes useful in lieu of fumbling for my Iphone, getting wifi access, and googling the destination. It depends on the circumstances and where the answer to the question is the most reliable.

Beginning from the south end of Lincoln Park, I first headed north through the park past the zoo and Botanical Garden. I smiled as I recognized Schiller and Shakespeare in the Park. I searched for Schiller’s pal Goethe, but he was no where in my line of vision to be found. I noted that the streets named after these venerable German writers show that they are appreciated in this part of the country. (Maybe the admired Midwest American work ethic and unpretentiousness come from the German heritage too?)

It didn’t take long to reach the conservatory near the north end, but only after I stopped to stare at the trees above me for quite some time. I heard some unfamiliar squawking above me, and then a flustered crow flew away. It was being chased by other similar sized, but different birds. I noticed a flock of nests above, housing a colony of fluffy white and grey-topped birds. They were protecting their young from the crow’s home invasion.

I discovered soon after my arrival at the Nature Museum that these birds are black Night Herons, and they are on the endangered species list. My discovery of the birds in the trees peaked my interest and curiosity. Timing for the teachable moment was perfect, so I immediately soaked up the wealth of information about birds in the museum. Like me, these birds like living in the city.

Jared Diamond, one of my favorite authors, studied the Birds of Paradise in New Guinea. These birds were featured in another display at the museum. They developed fancy plumes over millions of years to attract females. Here’s a cute, short, minute-long  cartoon clip explaining how the females were the determinants in the evolutionary process (You can turn the volume off and just read the subtitles to avoid background noise from the gallery):

The display of birds of paradise kept me spellbound. Here are a few explanations and examples:

And there was a mechanical version that demonstrated how the plumes are spread:

The flowers in the Botanical Garden were not quite as impressive as the ones I had just seen in San Diego a week ago, but they were in full bloom and nevertheless a feast for the eyes.
A quick bus ride took me back to the south end where the Chicago History Museum is located. I could barely get out of there alive, after getting mesmerized by the numerous exhibits that not only told the story about Chicago, but about America. I started to appreciate the uniquely good Midwestern values, creativity and ideals that advanced and developed our country. And a pinch of German forthrightness and earnestness didn’t hurt.

The many phases of Chicago history were represented, but for me I had to stop and study the Pritzker family tree. (Pritzker developed the Hyatt Hotels).  I traced the lineage of the Chicago merchant, real estate mogul, and philanthropist and identified a few Bay Area illuminaries. Can you find them?

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Next I learned about the Great Chicago fire of 1871, that killed 300 people and left 100,000 homeless at the edge of Lake Michigan in this stirring panorama:

The Native American Checagoans, the Stockyard and the Stock Exchange, the Railroad, the Automobile, and American Innovation and Creativity were informative and fascinating sections of the museum. Here are a couple of the text panels that include the Chicago Fire of 1871:

An elegant function space showcased stain glassed masterpieces that included those by Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. And a room for Lincoln was beautifully decorated in period style. (see below).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of the immensely beautiful, elegant modernist buildings that speak for Chicago:

Even the low rise ones are good. What distinguishes these from those in American cities like New York and San Francisco? As an architect, I find the classic proportions, clean lines and simplicity of intent so soothing to the eye. The high quality of craftsmanship, appreciation of detail in material, and RESTRAINT all add up. Coming to Chicago is like Mecca to an architect. Buildings are meant to be seen from all sides (thanks to alot of land and $$$) and we have the luxury of time and space to ponder each building’s magnificent presence.

And for those dying to know, I managed to eat some delicious, unadulterated, well-prepared food at Quartino, an Italian classic with an extensive, full page 1/4, half, and full bottle wine selection; and Tanta, a Peruvian ceviche bar (attached photo of tombo/quinoa/avocado salad, Pisco bloody Mary, and essential plantain chips, shown below.) Perfect for a Saturday brunch before heading to the airport!
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Isfahani Style?

Isfahan represents one of the great architectural cities of the world, and now I know why. The magnificent scale of site planning, building design and decoration are fully integrated. Many of the civic buildings surround what used to be a polo field and display the pride and beauty of Persia. (Yes, Persia and Iran is used interchangeably).

In the 16th Century, the Safavids defeated the Ottomans. During this triumphant period, Shah Abbas developed this square, which is the largest in the world. Islamic art and architecture flourished with distinctive elements. The public Mosque with twin towers dominates one end of the square. The architect’s signature is written on a tile discreetly placed to the side of the building. It avoids the front face and competing with the orientation towards Mecca. If only all architects were as humble!

After designing and building the Mosque, which is now a UNESCO World heritage site, the architect went away and returned after six months. He managed to convince the king that he was waiting to see whether the massive structure, with all its solid stone, brick and tilework, would cause settlement. (Yeah, right!!)

Everyone was relieved that it hadn’t, and the architect could still get his tea in Isfahan. Maybe the architect and structural engineer for the Millennium Tower in San Francisco were taking their sabbaticals before they got the bad news.

To the side is the private mosque, known as the Shah’s mosque. Daylighting illuminates verses on walls. As the sun rotates and casts light on various exposures, appropriate poetry is spotlighted naturally. The inside of the dome is also decorated with flecks of gold to cleverly simulate a spotlit tromp l’oeil effect.

This is only a glimpse of the many beautiful buildings with intricate floral tilework and awe-inspiring domes that are signatory to Isfahani architecture. The Shah’s Palace contained a music room with deep cutouts that made you feel as if you were inside a gigantic violin. And the Entertainment Center for the Shah displayed beautiful period paintings. While depiction of human figures was not allowed, these paintings represented non-Muslims such as Georgians or Indians. Some faces on the paintings were later marred or removed.

Persians enjoy strolling in the world-famous gardens built on the desert oasis and along the Zayandeh River. Sadly, the river is dammed to provide water to Yasd and farmers in the desert and as a result it runs dry. The Khaju Bridge that originally spanned the river is used as a leisurely stroll for Isfahanians. Local singers gather under the bridge to spar with other talented folk opera afficinados.  Here’s a short video of one of the talented regulars:

While I normally focus on historic architecture and museum artwork, this trip has engaged me in taking more photos of people in the streets. I have not been shy about asking for posed photos of strangers, because they are universally handsome and graceful in their poses and demeanor. You can’t help but want to capture some of this spirit that delights visitors to Iran and endears you to the people.

Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, and the Grassi Museum, Leipzig

Having visited many fine museums throughout the world and being an avid student of art history, I enjoy venturing beyond the usual Eurocentric and Asian collections to investigate Islamic Art. I also like to pair my interest in art with world history and Silk Road civilizations. I am currently reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It was recommended to us by Oxford scholar Craig Clunis. It turns traditional thinking about world history on its head and is a fascinating read.

My quest for understanding the Silk Road was initiated a few years ago during my first world journey in 2014 through Northwest China and the relatively untouristic path from Dunhuang through Turfan and Urumqi to Uzbekistan (See World Travels 2014 Page). My current personal research on Iran at the opposite end of my initial travels on the Silk Road  (originally named Seidene Strasse by a German academic) will hopefully culminate in a trip to Persia in the near future.

I couldn’t resist a stop at the Metropolitan Museum’s expanded and comprehensive collection of Near Eastern Artwork.  I two-timed the Michelangelo exhibit, the primary purpose of my visit,  that I saw with my sister in New York last month. The section includes an entire room with a soothing trickling water fountain and narrowly proportioned, elegant tracery windows made to simulate a traditional courtyard. Selected items in the collection are below, some with captions (but not all) .

As a design major in my undergraduate days at UC Berkeley, I learned Western calligraphy styles, such as Carolingian, Uncial, and Gothic. I couldn’t help but want to master the Islamic calligraphic style that now suddenly appeared so beautiful and balanced to me. Of course, learning how to read it would be part of the goal, a simple feat…

My earliest curiosity over the wide stretches between Asia and Europe came from specific designs of “Oriental” carpets, such as Bokhara, Tabriz, Caucasian, and Isfahan. I had no idea what they meant. Lo and behold, the places where they were made exist, or once did.  It was exciting for me to discover that Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan were also UNESCO world heritage sites.

Below are a representative collection of carpets in the Near East Gallery at the MET. The weavers of the Anhalt Medallion carpet (2nd from the left below) followed a paper cartoon in creating the design.  The carpet is derived from the Anhalt prince of Dessau, whose ancestors may have acquired it through military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks in the late 17th C.

Porcelain was a coveted item from China. In addition to silk, these goods pwere transported along what became the Silk Road. The Sogdian traders based in Samarkand were the kings of the highway, and were adept at managing, bargaining and anticipating desirable goods along the route. In turn, cobalt and copper were brought from the Near to the Far. The beautiful calligraphy and inscription to the bowl below reads “Planning before work protects you from regret; good luck and well being”.

There were only a few sculptural ceramics but I particularly liked the whimsical and creative “bird woman” shown below.

I’m including a few of the beautiful floral-themed beauties that I discovered at the Grassi Museum in Leipzig (descriptions are in German) below, to compare with those from the MET.

The featured map above also comes from the Grassi. I could stare at maps like these forever, to contemplate and realize how little we know about the vast array of significant dots between Europe and Asia. You can’t really study the Silk Road without knowing the key place names that put them in time and order!

Michelangelo Drawings at the Met

As an earnest and diligent student of figure drawing, I followed my art instructor’s recommendation to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The drawings are culled from multiple collections, both public and private, throughout Europe and the U.S. I was enraptured by each contour, hatchline, and the shade and shadows that created three-dimensional images on a flat piece of paper. These magical acts come from a discipline unmatched by any other since Renaissance times, and I was able to view these hundred or more performances all at once.

I first joined an exclusive after-hours evening at the Met to digest and sip the information slowly. The next morning, with a courtesy admission, I was able to quickly document the exhibition so I could later savor this encounter with Michelangelo.

Here are a few visual highlights with associated text from the exhibition. They are annotated in the order that resonates the most for my interest in figure drawing:

Portraiture

 

The Human Figure

 

 

Early Precedents: These show how and from whom he learned. The white highlights on tone paper provide contrast and depth to the drawings.

 

Painting Preparation and Students

 

Architecture

 

Sculpture

 

City Planning

 

There’s still time to see this magnificent exhibition until February 12! If you are unable to attend, I invite you to please study and relish these reproduced copies carefully. In order to share these in a timely fashion, I have not captioned or annotated every image. I hope you will nevertheless catch the whiff of Michelangelo’s development, intentions, and success.  We should appreciate the wealth of information we now have at our disposal. The contributors to the exhibition are listed below. Congratulations and thanks to the Metropolitan Museum for this incredible effort.

P.S. I wanna be this guy!!

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…seems it sometimes rains in Southern California…

Coming from Northern California to Southern California and finding drippy rain is a real downer. We Northerners never dispute the better weather LA gets…but what happens when it rains an entire day, causing plans to change and the wet weather gear to be pulled out…when it’s supposed to be an endless summer kind of town!?!

San Francisco rises to the ratings meteorically as a result. Better public transit, food, art, museums. Hands down. We don’t even have to make apologies for the fog this way.

Nevertheless, I continued my independent sketching exercises at the LA County Museum today. A painting of sketchers in an art studio gave me inspiration:

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Despite a host of Chagalls, Monets and other famous artists, we focused this time instead on a fine collection of German Expressionists.

Each time I explore this period of modern German art, I learn new means and methods for this group. I am drawn to them, not only because I am learning the German language, but because the techniques and emotional content speak to me.

They may even  seem a bit primitive (as in the large wooden sculpture in the featured image above), but apparently this particular artist studied the people and art in Palau, an island in the S. Pacific. Many of the artists have been displayed in museums I have visited in Germany, Chicago, and New York. Particularly those derived from the Bauhaus movement in Weimar and Dessau are represented(Feinnger), but also artists from Die Brücke movement or the Dresden artists were included.

Our antidote to wet days in LA was dining in two restaurants: a new one in the Arts District called Manuela, and an old favorite, Carlitos Gardel.

Manuela displays original artwork, including this mural by Raymond Pettibon.

 

 

Gettin’ it at the Getty

During this January’s post-holiday doldrums, we switched plans from an icy drive to Utah in favor of an old-fashioned schlep from San Francisco to Los Angeles. To clue in my international friends, SF-LA is about 400 miles away and it takes about six hours direct by Interstate 5 through the Central Valley.

I had forgotten how easy it is to travel by car. Instead of minimizing and condensing all my baggage and items to be packed like I normally do for international travel  (I usually pack months in advance of a world trip to test out everything), I could really slob out, be disorganized, and rely on last-minute tosses of extra shoes, jackets, snacks, etc. into the car. I’m not sure I like traveling this way, but why not?

We chose to take the more leisurely Hwy. 101 route. After two-hour drives between restful overnight stops in Aptos and San Luis Obispo (SLO stands for Slow Traveling), we beelined for the Getty Museum in LA. My primary goal for coming to Southern California this time was a drawing session at the Getty Museum on a late and lazy Sunday afternoon.

Once introductions were made, the art guide supplied us with pads, paper and written drawing tips for mark-making. The mixed crowd of all ages, both men and women, quickly learned how to hold a pencil six different ways, the benefit of hatching, and how to express emotions.

I was very impressed with the results of other participants. (See group review, above). A first timer but professional photographer clearly had his lighting nailed. If you are looking for a way to spend a satisfying, fun and active afternoon at a world-class museum, this is highly recommended.

Drawing in a gallery with all the masters is a bit daunting, but it’s much easier in the company of others. After observing sketchers in a few other museums that I visited (the latest at the Art Institute of Chicago), I was ready to try some drawing myself. Below is the result of a bust I attempted.

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Pick Your Poison

The Mushroom Madness event last week at the San Francisco Arboretum showcased not only the infinite variety of fungi, lichen, and spores that surround us, but it also surfaced many mycological fanatics. Not mythological, but close. In case you ever wondered whether the ones growing in your backyard were edible, this was the place to rub noses with those in the know.

The society reminded me of a similar group of astronomical buffs. When we stayed overnight at Fremont Peak years ago to stargaze, the featured delicacy of the evening, aside from Saturn and Jupiter,  was blue jello hidden below a frothy cloud of white meringue.

We couldn’t resist the Mushroom Soup this time either. Nothing too exotic, but we slurped and savored the mushy mess despite a few lingering trails of what looked like earthy seaweed in the broth.

December is wrap-up time for the academic fall semester. The student art show at City College of San Francisco’s Fort Mason campus brought together many new and old faces. Paper versions were displayed, while friends and family proudly gathered to admire the visual works. Below is a quick scan of a part of the Figure Drawing class exhibition’s earnest efforts.

And last night’s presentation of the SF Opera’s new and upcoming young singers from the Adler Program:

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Birthday wishes this month go to Eric, Melissa, Ruth, Jeff and Sherry!
Continue reading Pick Your Poison

…On State Street, that Great Street, I Just Want to Say…

A return visit to the Chicago Cultural Center, just down the street from State, gave us additional time to devote and absorb the energetic and inspirational Chicago Architectural Biennial submittals from architects around the world.

Here are a few of the three-dimensional models and miniaturization of the world on display:

Here’s a link to the Bamboo House (my favorite model above) if you are interested:
http://archi.ocean-site.com/bamboo.html

And the “Supermodels”, 16′ high models of the 1922 Chicago Tribune competition reinterpreted:

An endless array of aesthetic and architectural textures, patterns and rhythms to explore and adore:

Real World great rooms with views inside and from the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library):

Earlier in the morning, a six hour tour of the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Building and Laboratories in Racine, Wisconsin gave us a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major clients. Johnson produced some of the most prolific household products, including Raid, Deet, Kiwi Shoe Polish, and Pride Furniture Polish. Wingspread, the 14,000 sf private home of S.C. Johnson and the last major residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a featured stop on the tour.

Here are a few of the highlights of the company facilities. We were only allowed to take photos of exteriors of buildings and grounds:

The alien landing of the Company Reception Center was designed by Lord Norman Foster:

Needless to say, everything in the original buildings was meticulously designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including all details and finishes for flooring, ceiling, walls, and furniture.

At Wingspread, the interior of the private home was also highly controlled by Wright.

He had many disagreements with his client H.C. Johnson and his third wife Irene Purcell, a former Hollywood actress. Although he often tripled the cost of construction, Wright designed and built many quality homes applying his innovative concepts of horizontal lines that blended in with the landscape, use of natural materials, and attention to detail.

The dining table was designed to move on wheels into the servant’s area so staff did not have to be seen by guests. Whenever the roof leaked, the clients and staff often had to bring buckets out to catch the rain.

At an important state dinner held at the Johnson residence on a rainy evening  the roof leaked again, but this time directly on the owner’s bald head at the table. He immediately summoned Wright in Arizona and asked what should be done. Wright simply retorted: “You should move your chair!” Wright’s ego was seldom matched by his clients’.

In the final analysis, Chicago is a must see if: (1) you are contemplating a career in architecture; (2) need to be reminded of why you became one in the first place; and (3) need another fix for the architectural addiction you always had.

Fong & Daughter’s 72-hours in Chicago  achieved our desire for at least two of the three. We also succeeded in pursuing and understanding architecture as craft. I hope you enjoyed traveling here with us on this whirlwindy weekend. Chicago has great streets with great people in a great city.