Thursday, December 25, 2008


Built around a squarish stairwell, the interior of the museum presented to the eye a series of cuboid faces, which resolved, as one climbed up the stairs, round and round, into circular shapes at the very top, a metal bridge spanning the stairwell, leading to the final galleries. Martin Puryear's craft-like sculptures were on display at the top, and having seen them in New York MoMA I enjoyed making my acquaintance with them again, especially the "Circle" series. 

Just below the top floor, a whole level was dedicated to participation art, which I am not interested in, and so did not visit. Another level for photography showcased images of microscopic specimens and telescopic sights. Walking through that space I felt I was looking at natural history, instead of art. The SFMoMA seemed to suffer from a multiple personality disorder.

On the second level were the paintings and sculptures from the permanent collection. The exhibition space was not large, and so most painters were represented by one work, with the exception of crowd-pleasers like Matisse. One Dali. One pre-Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, based on Indian mythology about spirit guardians. One Gorky, an energetic "Enigmatic Combat." One Dubuffet, "Scarred Face." One Franz Kline, "LeHigh, V," a moving calligraphic reference to the railway trestle in his hometown Lehighton Pennsylvania. One Diebenkorn, a wonderful orange and green painting from the "Berkeley" series. One Frida Kahlo, depicting her marriage to Diego Rivera, painted in SF for the art dealer Bender, who became one of the founders of SFMoMA. 

A few lucky artists were represented by two works. Miro. Diego Rivera had a surreal landscape, with chopped off hands and fingers, and a Marxist depiction of statuesque workers struggling with the weight of a heavy flower basket. Max Beckmann's landscape was forgettable but his "Woman at toilette with white and red lilies" was captivating. Framed in a narrow portrait format, the fleshy woman, washing her hands, dressed in black, appeared trapped in her domestic setting. From a blue vase at the bottom left of the painting, the lilies sprayed upwards to gush into two red and one white flowers, two of which crossed the woman's breasts. The note said that Beckmann painted this in Amsterdam, after fleeing the Nazis in Germany. 

I saw Matisse's "Woman with Hat" and "Girl with Green Eyes" for the first time. Both works displayed his non-representational use of color, his radical break with convention. The first,a portrait of his wife, with its patches of colors, was vibrant but seemed unresolved. The green eyes of the "Girl," however, fought off competition from her multi-hued background for the viewer's attention. 

With treasures like these, yet the small Museum decided to give space to photos of Earth in space. 


Eshuneutics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eshuneutics said...

Interesting, what a mix of perspectives. SF=Science Fiction.
Kind thoughts to you for this season of goodwill. Have a good break.

Calder said...

Merry Christmas my friend. I hope you have a wonderful holiday and best wishes for great success in the coming New Year!

Peace and love!

Lai Meng said...


And Merry Christmas, my friend!

Jee Leong Koh said...

Happy holidays, Andrew, Calder and Lai Meng! Joy, peace, and love, all the season promises, be yours to have and to hold.

AJ said...

There is a great article on Martin Puryear with audio and lots of photos at

Jee Leong Koh said...

Thanks, AJ, for the link.