by Roberto Friedman
An unusual new exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Six Lines of Flight: Shifting Geographies in Contemporary Art examines art communities and practices in six burgeoning locales: Beirut, Lebanon; Cali, Colombia; Cluj-Napoca, Romania; Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; Tangier, Morocco; and dear old San Francisco.
Globalization and new technologies have brought about the decentralization of the art-world from traditional power centers like New York, Paris and London. "The six cities represented here are not considered primary international art centers, and none of them hosts a major biennial," writes former SFMOMA curator (now at Berkeley Art Museum) Aspara DiQuinzio in the exhibition catalogue (University of California Press). "Yet they all have active, localized art communities that extend beyond their own regions and become international places of exchange." The emphasis here is on artist-initiated organizations and collectives. Here's a brief sampling of some highlights, based on a recent visit to the galleries and a wrestle with the catalog.
Beirut: The Arab Image Foundation (AIF), founded in 1997, is devoted to a project collecting an archive of photos from the Mideast, North Africa and the Arab Diaspora, from mid-19th century to today. Examples abound in the gallery. The catalog notes a striking Modernist grid of 36,000 wallet-size ID photos (1935-70), presented without any intervention.
Wonder Beirut, the Story of a Pyromaniac Photographer (1997-2006) is an installation-based project by artists Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige . Part of the project, Postcards of War reproduces work by Lebanese photographer Abdallah Farah commissioned in 1968 by the Lebanese Tourism Agency. The images of hotels, beaches and tourist sites offer poignant counterpoint to their current distressed condition.
Cali: Against a backdrop of violence in modern-day Colombia, the artist collective Helena Producciones offers cultural production. Among the most powerful images here are photos of a demonstration by La Escuela de Esgrima con Machete de Puerto Tejada, a school of fencing with machetes, that powerful symbol of Latino machismo.
Cluj-Napoca: The Paintbrush Factory arts center "occupies a disused industrial plant that once manufactured paintbrushes. These were used to paint unnecessary pieces of machinery that had been built not for functionality but to reinforce the illusion of a mechanized, effortless future."
Ho Chi Minh City: The Propeller Group art collective is represented by their media campaign Viet Nam The World Tour (2010-ongoing), the group's initiative to rebrand the country's identity, working in public space beyond galleries and museums.
Artist Dinh Q. Le explores Vietnamese iconography and mythology in his 20-minute, three-channel video installation Sound and Fury (2012), footage of a national celebration.
San Francisco is represented by the art and design collective Futurefarmers , and its art-group predecessors such as Ant Farm.
Tangier: From an essay by Abdellah Karroum in the show's catalog, "It is easy to overlook the fact that Henri Matisse's Window at Tangier (1912) was painted in Tangier in the same year that the French and Spanish established 'protectorates' in Morocco, an elision that underscores the gaps between history and art history."
Our schematic outline makes Six Lines out to be an art exhibition that's as much sociological as art-historical. To be sure, not all of the art translates. But a visit to the museum's spacious fifth-floor galleries confirms that most of the art on display here transcends any categorizing impulse in the show's conception. Dinh Q. Le's Sound and Fury video benefits greatly from its bravado installation. Adrian Ghenie's dark canvases hung together, such as The Trial (2010), are well-served by wall texts describing their relation to Romanian history. And pictures from Oscar Muniz's series El testigo take on added meaning when the Colombian history they illustrate is spelled out. With contemporary art as with so much else, knowledge is power.
The openly gay mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe was in town last week to celebrate his city's 16th anniversary of its Sister City status with the grande old dame San Francisco, which is also its "Sissy City." Since chairman of the San Francisco-Paris Sister City Committee Thomas Horn is also the publisher of the B.A.R., he persuaded Mayor Delanoe to come down to our SoMa offices for a half-hour sit-down interview with our editors. Estimable news editor Cynthia Laird has all the deets in the news section. But because Out There knew that Delanoe had been to a big Cal Performances event at Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley, the previous evening, we were able to get an oar in. During the interview, Horn exercised his fluency in French by simultaneously translating all the Q's and all the A's. Get that man a position at the UN, tout de suite!
In Berkeley, esteemed director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota reunited his Theatre de la Ville-Paris cast from a critically lauded 2004 production of French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco's "theatre of the absurd" masterpiece, Rhinoceros. It's the play where one man struggles to maintain his integrity as all around him, friends and associates turn into the title beasties. Since Ionesco wrote the play in the 1930s as Romania fell into the clutches of fascism, it's not hard to see the subtext.
Delanoe admitted that he is not such a big fan of Ionesco, and the more "absurd" the playwright gets, the more he loses him. But he is a big fan of director Demarcy-Mota, who is legendary in the French theatre world, and who was able to conceive of a production of Rhinoceros for our times and present it "with subtlety and finesse." He's proud that the Parisian theatre company could tour the U.S., and the mayor called Demarcy-Mota the "Sarah Bernhardt of today." Bon mots indeed.
After the chat, Delanoe graciously agreed to photos with all those present. OT demurred, "We're camera-shy!" To which the mayor replied (imagine exclaimed in a charming French accent), "Is not compulsory! " So we posed amid the tchotchkes in our conference room, and the resulting photo captures some of the kitsch.
This coming Fri.-Sat., Oct. 5 & 6, the Rrazz Room will present the world premiere of a new tribute to the late gay disco star Sylvester (whose career was launched in San Francisco), the man behind the smash hits "(You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real" and "Dance (Disco Heat)." Recording artist and actor Phillip Ramirez will emulate but not imitate Sylvester, singing some of his greatest hits such as "Mighty Real" and "Do You Wanna Funk?" Ramirez will be backed by three talented divas known as the Mega Girls, who say they are hopelessly devoted to bringing to life the unique vocal sound of the disco era. Guests are encouraged to come dressed for Dance Disco Heat: A Tribute to the Fabulous Sylvester in their favorite disco attire. Shows both nights are at 10:30 p.m.
Then soon afterward, celebrated performer Justin Vivian Bond is performing the new show Mx. America at the Rrazz from Oct. 12-14. Bond's sophomore album Silver Wells was just released, and Bond's recent memoir Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels won the Lambda Literary Award and sparked a vital discussion about gender fluidity and growing up trans in America. Having added the name Vivian and self-applied the trans prefix Mx. (instead of Mr. or Ms.) and trans pronoun V (instead of he or she), Bond has persuaded such mainstream media as The New York Times and The Economist to follow suit. Whoa, nelly! More info on all of the above can be found at www.therrazzroom.com.
What we're listening to: On Friday evening, Oct. 12, at 10 p.m., on National Public Radio affiliate KALW-FM (91.7 FM) in the San Francisco Bay Area, whistler and music critic Jason Victor Serinus will be the guest on Chloe Veltman's VoiceBox. The entire radio show will be devoted to the art of whistling. The show will be streamed live on KALW's website throughout the week, then available as a podcast through iTunes.
What we're eating: TJ's Cioppino has shrimp, mussel, clam, some sort of white fish, so it's lots of protein and zero carbs in a tangy tomato broth.
What we're reading: From Luke O'Neal's interview with Morrissey , in the Boston Phoenix: O'Neal: "What are you reading now, and how do you read it? Meaning, have you been converted to e-readers yet, or do you think they're sacrilege?"
Moz: "I'm incapable of reading anything without a pen in my hand. I underline words I don't understand, or passages I don't want to forget. Half the joy of reading is massaging the book in your hands. It will take me years to lose that. I'm presently reading Bristol Palin's autobiography because – no, sorry, that was a joke – as is she."