Posts Tagged ‘art’

The Art Institute of Chicago

April 20th, 2019

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago
 

One block south of Millennium Park is a stately looking building housing the Art Institute of Chicago, an art museum with a vast collection of pieces from all over the world. From the street you might think it’s a small museum, but you’d be wrong. The building visible from the street is largely a facade; the majority of the galleries are in a sprawling complex of wings on the other side of the train tracks behind the entry building.

Broadly the museum is broken down into Asian, classic (Greek and Roman), European, American, and contemporary. That’s not a comprehensive list but it gives you an idea of the scope. I have to admit that due to the convoluted layout of the place I’m not sure exactly how much I was able to see.

The sheer size of the museum is both a blessing and a curse, like an enormous yard sale where there’s some rare book on a table surrounded by broken Cuisinarts.

For example one room had a bunch of paintings by Monet that for some reason devoted an entire wall to paintings of haystacks. Then I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a small yet beautiful self portrait of Van Gogh.

The biggest strength of the museum is how it can expose you to styles of art you’re unlikely to have ever seen before. On the flip side its biggest weakness is displays of art from the Art Institute’s associated school. Don’t get me wrong, they have some fantastic staff and alumni — just their collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings alone would be considered a special exhibit at any other museum — but overall the selection of works from their own school seemed sloppy and haphazard. This part of the museum would benefit from a neutral third party curator much in the same way doctors aren’t supposed to treat themselves.

The audio guide tour can be rented or like many museums these days you can also get it for free simply by downloading the Art Institute’s app on your phone and bringing your own headphones. Only one or two works in each gallery have an audio guide component and those that do are always the highlights.
 

My recommendation: If you’re in Chicago and you’re at all into art, there’s almost certainly something you’ll enjoy at this museum. Perfect indoor activity for a day with uncooperative weather.

W.F.T (San Francisco)

March 14th, 2019

W.F.T (San Francisco)
W.F.T (San Francisco) W.F.T (San Francisco)
 

This evening I decided to take a walk by the Civic Center area to check out a brand new art installation: W.F.T (San Francisco) from artist Joseph Kosuth. W.F.T. — or “Word Family Tree” — is a neon light piece that wraps around the Polk St. side of the Bill Graham Civic, lighting up an otherwise boring brick wall with bricked-up windows.

I was held up too late at work to make it to the lighting ceremony though by the time I arrived there were still a few people lingering around taking photos. From the street level it’s easy to miss; the neon lights seemed dimmer than I’d expected, and are high enough from the ground level that the best view is from across the street.

The neon lights form trees breaking down the etymologies of the words “Civic” and “Auditorium.” It almost looks like notes taken by a college student in a linguistics course, except if those notes were inexplicably turned into light and attached to the wall of a four story building.

While I admire the unusual decision to put a brainstorm cloud of words in neon on the side of the building, the unfortunately ugly fire escapes get in the way, literally blocking your view depending on where you stand. It’s hardly the fault of the piece though.

My only critique is the use of the word “auditorium.” To most of us locals the building is called “Bill Graham Civic.” Honestly I’d forgotten the full is name of the place is “Bill Graham Civic Auditorium” until today. It’s not ear splitting like when an out-of-towner says “The BART,” but if someone told me to meet them at “the auditorium,” I wouldn’t know what they were talking about.

The building itself dates back to 1915 when it opened as part of the Panama Pacific Exhibition. Since then it’s served various purposes, including a basketball arena for the Warriors, an opera house for San Francisco Opera, and an exhibit hall where a very early prototype of what we now think of as a computer was first demonstrated.

Also, I saw The Smashing Pumpkins play there once back in ’98. Cool show, man.

These days it’s primary a concert venue. The name was changed by the city in the early 90′s to honor legendary local concert promoter Bill Graham after he died in a helicopter crash.

If you’re in the area when it’s dark enough — whether for a concert or just getting off work — you’d might as well wander by the Polk St. side of the building and take a look at W.F.T. for yourself. Until now you probably haven’t seen neon signs written in Greek and Latin, let alone many of them stuck all over the side of a building. There’s plenty of time to check it out in person as it’s considered a permanent installation. Of course even in the best conditions neon lights don’t last forever; better to check it out sooner than later if you’re interested.

San Diego’s waterfront sculptures

December 27th, 2018

Joy
 

San Diego’s waterfront has a lot of touristy crap — pedicabs, people hawking “homemade” wares, living statues, dubious ferry rides, etc.

Taking a walk down the waterfront the first thing that caught my eye was the above “Joy” pier with the flags at half mast. Why were they at half mast? Not really sure.

There’s a lot at the touristy waterfront in San Diego, from the Maritime Museum (an old sailing ship) to the USS Midway Museum (a retired aircraft carrier.)

If you’re interested in naval history there’s a lot to see here. The USS Midway Museum particularly dominates the waterfront as it’s the size of a skyscraper tilted on its side, with a bunch of airplanes on top.

Personally I wasn’t interested in any of this, and just wanted a nice place to take a stroll while I waited for the check in time at my Airbnb.

 
Unconditional Surrender statue
 

There’s a bunch of sculptures to see near the Midway Museum on the waterfront. Right around the corner is the “Unconditional Surrender statue” of a Navy man holding and kissing his wife or girlfriend (I hope) in his arms. It’s based on a well known photo.

Every visiting couple seems to feel the need to recreate the sculpture/photo beneath it while asking someone else to take a photo of the two of them.

Alternately people with selfie-sticks were taking photos in front of the sculpture. Not sure what the idea was behind the sculpture, but it found a use a photo hot spot.

 
Bob Hope salute
 

Nearby is a multimedia installation described as a salute to Bob Hope, just across from The Fish Market restaurant. A statue of comedian Bob Hope stands in front of a crowd of a statue of veterans.

An old soundtrack plays of Bob Hope entertaining his audience of soldiers during World War II. Unfortunately the audio is not well preserved and is difficult to understand. During my visit nobody was laughing. Even if we could hear the jokes clearly, would we understand them? Was Bob Hope’s material even funny to begin with? Unfortunately what might have been an interesting installation left me with more questions than answers.

Unreal Garden review

November 4th, 2018

Unreal Garden
Entrance to the museum… or an acid trip?
 

On a stretch of Market Street between Civic Center and Powell is a fairly plain looking two story white building. Up until recently the sign on the front said “International Art Museum of America.” That alleged museum recently vacated the ground floor lobby to make way for Onedome Global, a mixed-reality exhibit space.

In this context, mixed reality means there’s a physical space to walk around in and look at seemingly fixed 3D art projected in front of your face with a Microsoft HoloLens augmented reality headset.

I decided to check out their current exhibit, Unreal Garden. For my part I purchased tickets and signed a waiver online, but in practice it seemed like none of that was strictly necessary as the place wasn’t terribly busy and tickets can be purchased on site.

I’d never used a HoloLens before — let alone seen one in real life. To put it on you rotate a dial to adjust to your head size, tightening as needed. Onedome has super friendly employees to help you through the process. Once you’re in they’ll show you the basics. The primary interaction is to use your finger to “touch” the 3D objects. This aspect worked surprisingly well considering I wasn’t holding a controller or anything.

Without spoiling too much, the Unreal Garden artwork is largely organic-looking animated 3D objects, some of which are activated by touch.

While the art was fun to look and poke at, the rest of the experience is sorely lacking for two reasons. First, HoloLens has a shockingly small field of view. It’s about the size of a business card held a few inches in front of your face. In a way this works out for the best, since you can easily see the other visitors walking around without bumping into them. Perhaps in the future HoloLens will come with a better screen. The only aspect of the headset that really impressed me was the tracking ability — it always seemed to know which way I was looking and what I was touching, but this can’t eliminate the shortcomings of the screen.

The second limitation is the Onedome space itself. They left the weird jungle-like interior of the “museum” lobby largely intact. This makes the entire thing look cheesy; they should have ripped it all out and let the 3D art speak for itself without the physical distractions. This change also would have allowed for a larger exhibit area with fewer tripping hazards. As it stands now, the exhibit only takes around a quarter of the total floor plan, if not less.

It’s not well advertised but there’s also a fairly large cafe in the back that I believe is open to the public. It was deserted when I was there.
 

My recommendation: Skip it. The technology’s barely ready, and Onedome deserves a better interior for their exhibits.

Stockholm’s subway art

July 5th, 2018

Stockholm’s subways are considered a type of art gallery by many. It’s hard to explain without photos, so here’s some I captured during my time riding around in Stockholm.

 
Stockholm
 

When I came and left Stockholm from the airport I took the commuter rail to and from Central Station on SL’s commuter rail. This station is enormous — it’s technically two separate stations connected together — and is at least eight levels deep. The commuter rail platform I took features tiles painted to look like trees with birds here and there.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The Metro (or T-bana) part of the station I found myself in features blue-on-white floral patterns and silhouettes of workers. This was a challenging part of the station to take photos as passengers were rushing through and I tried my best to remain out of their way.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

If you’re familiar with Stockholm’s subway art, the station that probably jumps to mind is Solna Centrum with its red and green color scheme. This station’s unlikely to be visited by most tourists due to its location. Still it’s worth a detour for those interested.

Now that said most photos make this station look dark and dramatic, but it’s actually well lit and contains funny murals and dioramas. So it may not be exactly what you expect.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The design of the Stadion station invokes a sky motif with a sky blue color and a big rainbow in the middle. It’s a a strange choice for an underground room.

You’ll also find a poster for the 1912 Olympic games here as the station is near the Olympic stadium (hence the name of the station.)

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

The art at Tekniska Högskolan station reflects it’s proximity to Stockholm’s technical university. There’s a map of the solar system (not to scale) built into the wall. A giant apple precariously dangling from the ceiling represents Newton’s theories, which are also written on the wall in Swedish.

The strangest art is a sculpture in the middle of the station: a dodecahedron with clear sides, with a black rod in the middle and some curly pasta looking things surrounding the rod. What’s going on here? According to the subway art tour I attended, this is a representation of a Stephen Hawking quote about what you’d see if you were sucked into a black hole just before you died. You can view this as it’s intended by standing directly under it and looking straight up. Apparently Hawking himself visited this station and approved of the sculpture. I’d imagine not many subway stations can make such a claim.

 
Stockholm
 

Kungsträdgården station is just below the King’s Garden, as the name suggests. If you listen carefully you can hear water trickling in the station, which isn’t really ideal — a mildly toxic fungus has to be cleaned out of the station regularly. The art includes strangely shaped light displays, ivy growing over broken white sculptures, a petrified tree stump, etc. It has a sort of otherworldly sensibility down there.

 
Stockholm Stockholm Stockholm
 

Bonus: This one’s not a subway station though it is on the Stockholm Metro. Thorildsplan station is in fact above ground, but the art is fun and I couldn’t leave it out. Tiles are used as form of pixel art to make the station an homage to early video games, in particular Pac Man and Super Mario Bros.

You may have no practical reason to visit Thorildsplan — I certainly didn’t — but it’s worth checking out if you want to see the only metro station in the world designed to look like old video games.

New water feature installed on Second Street

January 5th, 2018

Fire hydrant vs. truck
 

With the fountains at the 303 Second Street plaza and the muddy rocks thing at the c|net CBS Interactive building, one would think Second Street has enough decorative outdoor fountains already.

But a certain truck driver decided to create his own temporary water feature installation this evening at Second and Stevenson, located between the KPMG building and Uno Dos Tacos.

It was dazzling many passers by on their evening commutes, many of which stopped to take photos and videos. Even a crew of fire fighters showed up to enjoy the spectacle!

One has to wonder if this artist could secretly be Banksy in his most audacious display of guerrilla art yet? We may never know.

Visiting the new Venus sculpture at Trinity Place

June 1st, 2017

Trinity Place sculpture garden
 

Trinity Place, the aggressively rectangular apartment buildings in mid market are still under construction. But the main plaza and much reported on Venus sculpture by artist Lawrence Argent have already been installed and are ready for their close ups.

So, how can you go see it?

From Mission Street between 7th and 8th Streets, the Venus sculpture is clearly visible from a fence. One might think the sculpture is accessible from there — not so. The gates in the fence are locked (presumably residents have a key.)

But if you walk around to the 8th Street side of Trinity Place between Mission and Market, there’s an alley without a gate. And that’s where things get interesting.

Walking down the alley, I noticed something unexpected: a sculpture seemingly trapped in a blue/green ringed glass container. This was at one end of a small hallway leading to the plaza where the Venus sculpture rests. At the other end of the hallway, what do you know — a second trapped sculpture. Both seemed reminiscent of the main attraction in that they all exhibit eerily modern looking distortion applied to what otherwise seem to be classic Greek or Roman-like works.

 
Trinity Place sculpture garden Trinity Place sculpture garden
 

It turns out that the Venus sculpture is the largest part of a a series of art installations called C’era Una Volta, which includes the aforementioned sculptures, the plaza itself, and a number of intricate rock carvings.

Without C’era Una Volta, Trinity Place would look like a bland, generic apartment complex; with it, I could almost forget the buildings even existed. The modern, whimsical sculpture garden was easily captivating enough to distract me from the otherwise uninspired surrounding architecture.

 
Trinity Place sculpture garden Trinity Place sculpture garden

Temporary public art: Night & day edition

February 14th, 2017

HYBYCOZO
 

If you’ve ever read this blog before, you’ve probably figured out that I spend a lot of spare time wandering the streets of San Francisco and taking photos of stuff. (Hey, it keeps my fitness tracker happy, okay?) On Sunday I happened to come across two strangely similar temporary public art installations, one in Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley, and the other in Civic Center just outside City Hall.

But before we get into that, let me get philosophical for a moment. When it comes to public art, I appreciate the recent trend in temporary installations. The idea of permanent public art seems both ridiculous and impossible. Ridiculous because what people appreciate about an art piece today may be loathed in a decade or three, especially in the harsh light of public space. Impossible because nothing is truly permanent; if vandalism doesn’t destroy the piece then natural disasters certainly will. Or the piece proves so far ahead of its time that it simply doesn’t work. Even if the civilization that created and loves the art still exists, good luck in a few billion years when the sun burns out… yup, I went there. Permanent my ass. Nothing truly lives forever, the “permanence” of a work of art really boils down to whether it has an end date marked on the exhibition calendar or not.

For these reasons, I’m a fan of temporary public art. If the work resonates with people they’ll find a way to keep it around longer — remember what happened to The Bay Lights? People responded so well that its temporary status got a reprieve almost immediately.
 

So back to Sunday. First, I found myself wandering through Hayes Valley and wound up at Patricia’s Green. This space has been the site of many temporary public art exhibitions, which are generally tied to Black Rock Arts Foundation and therefore have a special relationship with Burning Man. The current exhibit is from HYBCOZO with two three dimensional geometric shapes made of metal, carved with fractal-like shapes.

HYBYCOZO HYBYCOZO

Next, I found myself a few blocks away at City Hall where Hong Kong-based artist Freeman Lau had installed a series of oversized lanterns to mark Chinese New Year.

Sui Sui Ping An - Peace All Year Round Sui Sui Ping An - Peace All Year Round

At first glance, these two pieces seem to have little in common, aside from the medium of temporary public sculpture. But looks can be deceiving. I poked my head up to the installation at Patricia’s Green. What’s this strange mechanism?

HYBYCOZO

Likewise, what’s up with those plastic anti-trip strips between the lanterns at City Hall?

Oh… there’s a connection here — light. Lanterns aren’t for the daylight, and neither are those geometric sculptures at Patricia’s Green. If ever there was a time of year for temporary public art that took advantage of light, it’s in the winter when light is scarce in the evenings. So I took another stroll at night to find out what these installations look like without the sun.

First, here’s HYBYCOZO‘s pieces at night:

HYBYCOZO HYBYCOZO

The colors of both shapes faded in and out and changed between colors in a dynamic fashion that’s difficult to capture. There were so many people wandering around taking photos that I couldn’t get a good video, but even that would hardly do it justice. Do yourself a favor and get over there when it’s dark out and see for yourself. That said, I bet this would be even more impressive if Patricia’s Green weren’t so well lit at night — I’m sure HYBYCOZO’s works are more delightful at places like Burning Man where city lights don’t impede the shadow patterns they cast on the ground.
 

Second, here’s the lanterns outside City Hall at night:

Sui Sui Ping An - Peace All Year Round Sui Sui Ping An - Peace All Year Round

While the lanterns don’t have the dynamic nature of the metal shapes, they’re strikingly bright and colorful against the black and white facades of the main buildings surrounding Civic Center Plaza. Just like during the day, at night both professional photographers and couples taking selfies with the giant lanterns impeded my view, making it a challenge to get a clear shot. But from the perspective of the artist, this looks like a resounding success.

So here’s to temporary public art, and especially this strange new frontier of electrically illuminated public art designed for viewing at night. We’re clearly on to something here, and I’m happy to see that San Francisco is on the forefront.

It’s everywhere you want to be

March 6th, 2016

Spotted in a storefront on 20th Street.

What was “The Latitude”? Part Two

January 13th, 2016

In the previous entry I discussed The Latitude’s Book One experience. We’ve already met Professor Kinley, been scolded by Quas, and joined The Latitude Society. This post concerns the second and final experience in The Latitude before it closed.

Unlike the first part where your ascendant paid your way in, you had to buy Book Two on your own. When I went the cost was $35.

 

Book Two

When scheduling Book 2 you were told to ask a question, though it was noted that no answer would be provided. Mine was “How do I know this isn’t all a dream?” Once again you made an appointment at an address in the Mission District with a five minute window. You head to the address and once there, you text a certain phone number with the ID code on the back of your white invite card. Suddenly the door buzzes open and you enter.

From the entrance hall you head upstairs to find the suite number you’ve been provided via text message. Again, you find a door with a card key entry system. You swipe your card and push the door open.

Inside is a small room. On the floor there’s a big pedestal in the middle with a bust of Quas on top. A hidden projector above you is projecting a video of a mouth on the bust.

On the ground there’s two black orbs suspended on stilts in front of you, and on both sides there’s v-shaped boards on the floor holding back a thick layer of sand on either side.

Quas immediately starts talking to you. He mumbles a lot and you’re not quite sure what he’s saying except that he seems grumpy. He tells you to put your hands on the orbs so he can learn more about you.

As soon as you do that, the lighting gets brighter. Quas becomes very animated and tells you that he has some kind of adventure for you to complete. He stops talking and the lights fade out in the room. A sound effect plays as a small opening in the pedestal lights up. You walk up to it and see a small magic wand lying in black sand.

Instinctively you pick up the magic wand. It’s a plastic cylinder with an area carved out on one end with some symbols carved into it. The symbols seem to correspond with the logos for The Latitude’s “books.” One end is rounded and the other end is flat.

You leave the building and get another text message.

 

BART Ride

The text message indicates that in about 45 minutes you have an appointment downtown at something called the “Alluvium Chamber.” The instructions say to take BART and link you to a podcast called a “Mantis Track” which you should listen to on the way there.

The podcast is similar in format to an All Things Considered interview, and the subject of the episode is a woman who claims to perform some type of magic. She says she uses a device that sounds strangely familiar to your new magic wand. She refers to it as an “Abraxis Stone.”

She goes on to describe BART as a “third space” where it’s neither work nor home but something in between, a place anything can happen. Like a public park.

As the interview continues she describes what she calls the “shoe game.” The game works like this: as you’re in the train station and on the train, look at the shoes that other people are wearing. Those wearing formal, uncomfortable shoes are likely on the way to work and thus in a state she calls “Prime.”

After getting off BART and mulling around for a bit, you enter the building. It’s a historic downtown high rise with a small but beautiful lobby and rickety old elevators. As the text message suggests, you simply tell the doorman you have an appointment at a certain suite number.

 

Alluvium Chamber

The floor you end up on has a very film noir feel to it. You find the door, which is clearly labeled “The Latitude Society.” There’s a hexagon on the frosted glass door. You hold the curved end of your Abraxis Stone up to it, and the door clicks open.

Inside you step on to a small series of planks just inside the door, which are rested on a thick layer of sand which covers the floor of the entire room.

 

I want to step back for a minute here: this is the fourth commercial space that Nonchalance has rented for this incredible project. This one’s got to be expensive because it’s in such a nice location downtown, and they’ve covered the entire floor of an office in sand.

Bold? Crazy? Insane? It’s a difficult call.

 

Standing on the planks, on your left is a framed photo of a naked footprint in sand. On your right there’s a canvas sail functioning as a curtain, and a wood box with shoe prints painted inside.

So you abide the suggestion and take your shoes off and put them in the box.

You walk into the sand and take a look around. In the middle of the room is a hexagonal table with a sandbox built in to the top. Near the entrance is another set of doors that’s locked. On all other sides of the room there’s various toys and knick-knacks on various shelves. The lighting is very playful with different colors fading in and out.

But in the corner facing the entry is another book. You head to the book and open it.

First, the book tells you to take the hourglass in front of you and flip it over. You do that.

Then, the book tells you that you have the next 30 minutes or so to find items in the room and arrange them in the sandbox however you see fit. The book instructs you to come back and turn the page once you hear a foghorn.

You walk around the room, find some objects that you like, and arrange them in the sandbox. You may move the sand around here and there, and add and remove objects. Perhaps the plastic dinosaurs would look better than the LEGO bricks? Try whatever you like.

Finally the foghorn blows, and you head back to the book and turn the page.

Now it’s time to make some decisions, the book says, and you have a couple more minutes to arrange things how you like.

So you go back and move some things around. Maybe the crystal ball would make a good centerpiece? Or should you try to squeeze the plastic flowers in somehow? It’s up to you.

After another 10 minutes the foghorn goes off again and you check back in with the book, turning the page again.

Now the book tells you it’s time to put everything back where you found it like a responsible adult, and take the brush and make the sandbox nice and level again. So you heed the book, destroying your creation and setting everything up for the next person. On the way out you turn the book back to the first page, put your shoes back on, and leave the building.

 

When you get back to your “glowing boxes” you open The Latitude website. Now Professor Kinley had some updates for you on his sea voyage. He explains to you in an exposition-heavy monologue about the concepts of Flux, Flow, and Prime. According to him, Prime is the every day state we’re in for our job, taking care of our families, etc. Flow is the psychological concept of the same name, also known as being “in the zone.” Finally, Flux is the state that bridges the two. Presumably the “Flux chamber” back in Book One was intended to jar you into the state of Flux, although this is never explicitly stated.

 

Additionally, there’s a new symbol under your profile indicating that you’ve completed Book Two. Clicking it leads to a second recap page (link goes to the new public version) (Update: here’s the Archive.org backup version) which mentions your question but doesn’t answer it.

Unbeknownst to you there were several hidden cameras in the Alluvium Chamber’s sandbox snapping random photos along the way. These images appeared on your private Book 2 recap page, which is no longer online. If you hadn’t saved these photos you’re out of luck.

I accidentally blocked the view of most of the cameras, but it managed to pick up two images of me playing in the sand. Click for larger versions of the images:

Next time: some thoughts on The Latitude, Nonchalance, and some inevitable comparisons to The Jejune Institute. I’ll also detail the “society” aspect of The Latitude Society and various other trivia that didn’t fit into the first two posts.