Arts

SOMArts’ ‘Forever, A Moment’ curators build Blackness allowed to define itself

Lukaza Branfman Verissimo's "As Bright As Yellow" installation. All photos courtesy of SOMArts Cultural Center.

Those with the chance to visit “Forever, A Moment,” the SOMArts exhibition curated by Yetunde J. Olagbaju and Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye that opens Thu/14 will not be experiencing the sterile white walls we’ve come to expect of the art world. Instead, the pair present a series of works and ritual spaces created by Black artists with strong ties to the Bay Area, a meditation on the ways that Blackness translates from the past to the future, with an essential stopover in the present.

Enriched by Moultrie Daye’s background as an architectural designer, Umar Rashid a.k.a. Frohawk Two Feathers constructs a tent inviting entry, bedecked with signifiers of indigenous culture that speak to the artist’s work reimagining and reassessing colonial history. Oakland creative and art educator Lukaza Brandman Verissimo’s “As Bright As Yellow” explores the bounds of color therapy, objects arranged on a sunny background that opens up to the possibilities of rite.

Though such real-life spacial reimagining may be the immediate energy grab, “Forever, A Moment” is not without its more traditional, wall-hung works. Exhibition previews highlight the mixed-media collage of Kasmir Jones a.k.a. POETIC, expands the Black body, quite literally altering perspective with unexpected physical ratios.

Such an undertaking required deep investigation from its participating creatives. But it also asks for an amount of reflection on the part of attendees to absorb the implications of a Black futurity presented free of whiteness’ accompanying yard stick.

We connected with Olagbaju and Moultrie Daye to find out the past, present, and coming implications of the show.

Kasmir Jones’s “A Perfect Land”

48 HILLS What did you know in advance of this project about the other curator’s work that made you eager to collaborate with them?

YETUNDE J. OLAGBAJU The thing that excited me the most about Kevin’s previous experience was more so surrounding his ability as an architect and creator of spaces. I was interested in collaborating for this very reason. What Kevin brings to the table is his expertise on how to truly make a space nonlinear and a dedication to investigating how deeply physical space can affect our sense of possibility and memory.

The sensibility is crucial when thinking about how art inhabits a space and how it also might alter it.

KEVIN BERNARD MOULTRIE DAYE When I met Yetunde, I didn’t know about her art practice! The more I learned however, the clearer it became that although our approaches and attitudes are different, we are interested in the same things: How we, as human beings, orient ourselves in space and through time. How memory and possibility is embedded in our landscapes and specifically, how black people can leverage the spaces we occupy and the time we are given to heal and thrive.

48 HILLS The artists in the exhibition all have ties to the Bay Area. What are some of the overlying truths/impressions about Blackness in the Bay being expressed by “Forever, a Moment”?

YETUNDE J. OLAGBAJU One obvious truth is that we are a dwindling and dissolving group of people. Those of us who are able to stay are often doing so by the skin of our teeth and are having to balance our need to survive with our desire to to create/heal. I believe we would be hard pressed to find a Black artist in the Bay who is not consistently worried about their bills or stable housing opportunities.

The other truth that I feel “Forever, A Moment” truly addresses is the pressure that is placed on Black artists in the Bay to talk about specific topics through their work. I believe that many Black artists experience this phenomenon of walking into the gallery and have their work be digested in ways that puts Black relationship to White Supremacy at the forefront of the viewers experience. Blackness, Black art, and Black memory should not be defined only in its approximation to Whiteness. This, in itself, is racism and forces artists to place limitations on their artistic expression.

For me, those were some of my main intentions when considering artists and work to included in “Forever, A Moment”. I wanted artists whose work expands upon Blackness in a way that challenges our established art historical narratives, allows us to reimagine our place within that timeline, and that ultimately distorts this timeline in new and exciting ways.

Umar Rashid a.k.a. Frohawk Two Feathers’ “Royal Blue Magic”

KEVIN BERNARD MOULTRIE DAYE Standing in the gallery it think there is an overwhelming sensation of ownership of this place, the Bay Area. A feeling that this is somewhere where the history and legacy of Blackness is so established, it does not need to prove itself or position itself in relation to Whiteness or anything else. And so, the work is given the freedom to dive even deeper and covers quite a broad spectrum of questions: from the relationship between Greek myth, Renaissance ideals and the modern-day athlete, to the connection between cannabis culture and what it takes to survive in the world today.

48 HILLS What kind of/are there questions attendees to the exhibition should ponder BEFORE they arrive at SOMArts?

YETUNDE J. OLAGBAJU If you’re a Black artist, I would love for you to come questioning what your Blackness means to you within your art practice. Do you see work that resonates with how you orient yourself within memory, legacy, and time? Is there such a thing as “Black collective memory”? If so, what lives in those archives? And finally, what can those endless possibilities provide for you in terms of your own healing?

If you’re not a Black artist, I then ask how you are creating opportunities and resources to Black artists and elders in the Bay? Do you feel a responsibility to do so? Could “Forever, A Moment” be a revelatory moment for you? I surely hope so.

KEVIN BERNARD MOULTRIE DAYE Have I ever been in a space that was completely designed for Black people? How many ways have I allowed Blackness to express itself? Have I treated Blackness as a monolith? If nobody told me that this show was 100 percent Black artists and curators, what would I have expected to see? What do I expect to see now?

FOREVER, A MOMENT: BLACK MEDITATIONS ON TIME AND SPACE
Opening reception: Thu/14 6-9pm, free
Exhibit runs through April 6
SOMArts Cultural Center, SF  
More info here.

In Vija Celmins’ new solo show, an SFMoMa curator reflects on her slow look

Artist Vija Celmins in her studio. Photo by Eric McNatt, courtesy of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory, currently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, encompasses five decades of the artist’s work with nearly 150 of her drawings, sculptures, and paintings of oceans, spider webs, night skies, and deserts. This is a show Gary Garrels, the senior curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA, has wanted to do for more than 20 years.

“For me, her work sort of stops me in my tracks,” Garrels said. “You see a piece of hers, and it’s not something you can say, ‘I’ve seen it, I get it, I’ll move on.’ With Vija’s work, you want to spend some time. It makes me very aware of my own process of looking and understanding.”

Garrels first saw Celmins’ work in 1982 at a New York gallery. He remembers particularly the arrangement of stones called “To Fix the Object in Memory”. Her 1992 mid-career retrospective at the Institue of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia “kind of totally sealed it for me,” he said.

Vija Celmins, “To Fix the Image in Memory I–XI” (1977–82). Photo courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery.

When he was at the Hammer Museum, Neal Benezra, the director of SFMOMA, asked him to come back to San Francisco, Garrels told him he would want to work on a show of Celmins and Benezra supported the idea.

The artist had not had a major U.S. retrospective in 25 years. When Garrels approached her with the idea, she was open to it, but was busy putting together a show with New York’s Matthew Marks Gallery. Garrels says SFMoMA’s “To Fix the Image in Memory” has been simmering for about 10 years and he’s been actively working on it for four, meeting and talking with Celmins as well as working with Ian Alteveer, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, which is co-organizing the show.

Celmins is an exceptional artist, Garrels says, and in a world inundated with images, her work encourages people to take some time.

“Most of us are kind of grazing – we don’t live in a culture that encourages slow looking,” he said. “There’s this, there’s that, and you move on. We’re kind of on cruise control. She’s one of the artists that just slows it down and rewards spending time with any work. It’s just fascinating and you get interested in the way they’re made. I find it extraordinary that an artist like Vija can sustain that decade after decade.”

Garrels says he enjoys the way Celmins thinks about art, her humor, her rare ability to consider a question carefully, without canned, pat response.

Garrels describes Celmins’ work as intimate rather than big and showy. A lot of her work is in private collections and she’s somewhat under the radar — a compelling reason to do the show, he thinks, and give people a chance to see more than just one or two pieces.

“She’s not lost interest in what it means to make a work of art,” Garrels said. “When she declared herself an artist, she felt compelled to grapple with fundamental issues of what a work of art is, and that’s just as intense now as at the beginning of her career, and she’s kept that intensity and invention, decade after decade.”

VIJA CELMINS: TO FIX THE IMAGE IN MEMORY
Through March 31 
SFMoMa 
More info here.

Photographer Wesaam Al-Badry: from ‘Contemporary Muslim Fashions’ to Camp Fire

Wesaam Al-Badry, 'Al-Kouture Chanel VII' (detail). Image courtesy of Wesaam Al-Badry and Jenkins Johnson Gallery

At the refugee camp where he lived with his family after the Gulf War broke out in their native Iraq, Wesaam Al-Badry thought the photojournalists who came to the camp were heroes.

“They were these saviors coming in to tell our stories because our story gets out, we get help, the UN comes in, we get identification cards so we can go to the doctor,” he said. “Then you grow up and realize not all journalism is what you think—there is exploitation and voyeurism behind the lens. And at an early age I understood I didn’t want to be the kid with the runny nose in the photograph.”

And yet he retained a fascination with photography, trading his shirt and a bag of marbles with another kid to get a camera. Now Al-Badry, who has a BFA in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute, studies journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. His work includes photos of women whose sons have been shot and killed by police and Iraqi refugee women. Al-Badry says he never thinks of the people he photographs as subjects, but as people. 

“I always think, ‘How would I want to show my mother in an image and how would I want to be seen?’ Nobody wants to look weak and pathetic,” he said. “I’m not interested in fetishizing somebody’s misery.”

After spending several years at the refugee camp, Al-Badry’s family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. During high school, he worked at fast food places, and after graduation, he held a variety of jobs, including meat-packing, asbestos removal, and laying concrete. Still dreaming of being a photographer, he took a class at the local community college. That led to stints at Al Jazeera and CNN before he eventually landed at SFAI and Berkeley. 

Wesaam Al-Badry at the de Young.

Now, some of Al-Badry’s photos from his Al Kouture series are in the Contemporary Muslim Fashions show at the de Young Museum (through January 6). They show women wearing scarves from major global fashion brands like Gucci and Chanel as niqabs. Al–Badry says the idea came to him when he joked with a friend who loves branded items that Louis Vuitton was selling a prayer rug for $3,600. 

His photos ended up in the de Young exhibit because he had donated some work to be auctioned by SF Camerawork, an organization that gave him a show early in his career. Those photos caught the eye of Julian Cox, the de Young’s former curator, who wanted them to be part of the Muslim fashion show.

Jill D’Alessandro, who curated the de Young exhibit along with Laura Camerlengo, says Al-Badry’s helps round out the show by addressing political and social issues. “He’s very insightful,” she said. “He’s very giving and intellectually curious, and he’s a journalist, so he does all this research for his work.”

D’Allesandro says she and Camerlengo have been tracking the exhibition on social media, and Al-Badry’s work is heavily commented on. “It’s one of the most reposted,” she said. “I think it’s the visitors responding to the visual strength of it and these subtle statements it makes.”

Al-Badry wanted the curators to understand that this work is meant to critique Arab consumerism and Western fashion houses. Originally he was cautious about the idea of a Muslim fashion show, but he changed his mind after meeting the curators, who he thinks took a risk by doing the show. 

“The Muslim is seen as the other in American society,” he said. “In the Trump era, you have a Muslim contemporary fashion exhibit while the Muslim ban is in effect. Think about that. In a way, it’s a soft protest. You’re pushing, but in a creative way. Nobody thinks Muslims have fashion—everybody thinks Muslims just wear burkas.”

“Al-Kouture, Gucci VII” by Wesaam Al-Badry. Image courtesy of Wesaam Al-Badry and Jenkins Johnson Gallery

Al-Badry, who was recently awarded the Dorothea Lange Fellowship, doesn’t really differentiate between his work as a journalist and a photographer. Before the midterms, he was commissioned to design a billboard for For Freedoms50 State Initiative—the largest public art campaign in American history.

Currently, his projects include working with a family in Standing Rock, another project in Mississippi, and taking photographs of the devastation of the Camp Fire in Paradise (rare for him in that they don’t feature people). He’s always thinking about what’s next, Al-Badry says, and he’s doing what he always has wanted to do. 

“There’s that love and enjoyment in it,” he said. “I don’t see it as a job. I’m going to go to a place that’s 20 degrees below for a week, then I’m going to go to another place that’s 15 to 20, then I’m going to go to a place that’s 70 to 80. But this is an important thing—it’s important to tell stories.”

CONTEMPORARY MUSLIM FASHION
Through January 6

de Young Museum, San Francisco
More info here 

Review: Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta’ zaps, then entrances

Mr. Wow in Cirque du Soleil's 'Volta.' Photo by Matt Beard

The amped-up promo video for Cirque du Soleil’s latest big top show Volta (at AT&T Park, through February 3) had me thinking we were in for a full-throttle EDM extravaganza, a Mad Max ultra-rave, perhaps, with glowstick-flashing hands in the air and spandexed limbs flying all akimbo. It seemed a bit overwhelming!

So it was a surprise when this extravaganza turned out to be a sweetly beguiling evening—still brimming with jaw-dropping feats of human prowess, of course, but tipping away from strained, arena-zazzing grasps at relevance into that special, if often lampooned, French-Canadian magic of the pre-Vegas Cirque shows of yore. (The premiere earlier this month was already a surreal scene, with audience members donning masks against the toxic cloud, and Mayor London Breed awkwardly pushing her way through the casts’ curtain call to get to her next event.)  

Don’t worry, there aren’t any jars full of rainbows or mimes with their crotches in your face. And Volta kicks off full-speed, with a Hunger Games-like game show featuring a blindingly toothy figure named Mr. Wow, deciding the fate of various performers, while both an army of cell-phone obsessed drones and a camouflage-clad population of outsiders represent a dystopian society on the fringes of the action. (The costumes, by Lady Gaga costumer Zaldy, add to the trademark Cirque combo of Thunderdome-meets-Jazzercise a bit of super-hip designer Raf Simmons and classic Burning Man—plus tons of feathers.) 

It’s in this competition, which cleverly introduces us to Volta’s performers and features a astounding Tron-inspired double dutch routine, that we meet gentle protagonist Waz, who wows the Mr. Wow crowd. But Waz soon reveals a trait that gets him marked an outcast who must find his own form of comfort in a cold and uncaring world. Most of this is achieved by a retreat into childhood memories and welcoming encounters with fellow freaks, until he realizes the power of difference. 

That’s about it for the cliche storyline, but who’s bothering to follow along too closely when there’s so much happening onstage? Once the pyrotechnics of the opener are over, the hypnotic score by Anthony Gonzalez aka electronic pop giant M83 (I gasped) takes over—to my ear, an ’80s-tinged mashup of Pat Benatar and Enya, with some early Seal thrown in—and the segments breathe with the dreamlike pace of nostalgia. Numbers cleverly open up and spread out: I wasn’t aware we were watching a fabulous unicycle number or a dirt bike ballet until we were in the midst of things. A trampoline-based parkour romp through a revolving cityscape gently teases attention in different directions, a short story with supple plot twists.  

Waz in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Volta.’ Photo by Matt Beard

Entrancing, yes, even ruminative at points (an inexplicable but perfect Buddha-themed acrobatic dance by Daniel Blim was definitely a highlight, as was a laidback tumbling routine featuring stackable hexagons.) But you’ll hardly be lulled asleep—plenty of sparks flew from another dirt bike-based number, this one featuring plexiglass ramps and gonzo flips, and several acrobatic acts, one featuring a pair of bright white sculpted twins. As always, Cirque drops a good old-fashioned clown into the mix, and Wayne Wilson was a brilliant physical comedian, especially in a hilarious laundromat kerfuffle bit.

It’s all held together by the wonder and perseverance of Waz, played by Torontonian Joey Arrigo, who has cited his gay identity as helping him connect with the role of an outsider. He brings his own set of skills, including making passages that should seem schmaltzy appealing. In the end, it’s the overwhelming charm of Arrigo, the free-spirited roller skater Ela, and rest of the cast that plugs Volta in—although I missed the slightly more complex gender dynamics and design of Cirque’s previous show here, Luzia, which featured a female soccer wiz, pantomime animals, and a splash of androgyny. It’s still a pretty full night of wow. 

CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S VOLTA
Through February 3, 2019
Big Top at AT&T Park, SF.
More info here. 

Fall Arts aflame! The 50+ best things to do this season

Mark Morris Dance Group perform 'Pepperland: Sgt. Pepper at 50," September 28-30 at Zellerbach Hall.

FALL ARTS PREVIEW The light is deepening, the food is getting heartier, harvest is bringing much good grape and green, and fall arts season is lighting up the longer nights (and brighter days). Before we jump into everything, I want to plug two awesome 48 Hills events that you should hit up. First is the naughty one, on October 17: A party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the US publication of the great homoerotic illustrator Tom of Finland. It’s part of the sprawling Litquake festival (see below) and is called, what else, Beefcake: 50 Years of Tom of Finland, featuring dancing, live music, a lookalike contest, and some outrageous surprises at the Eagle bar.

The second great upcoming 48 Hills event is a live music fundraiser—we need your support to keep going! Come to the Bindery October 18 to see literary-musical supergroup The Deadliners: A rockin’ 48 Hills benefit!” Hobnob with some cool peeps and soak in the Haight Street vibe. On with the show!   

Below are upcoming and ongoing events that caught my eye. It’s by no means a comprehensive list (we’re too rich in happenings for that! ). Follow our regular Arts Forecast column for more—and make sure you’re signed up for our newsletter to get the latest! 

FESTIVALS

Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Fest

There’s so much going on! It’s great. This weekend sees the huge Oktoberfest by the Bay, Fri/21-Sun/23, so soup-up your steins. Folsom Street Fair usually kicks off the fall season with a bang and a jangle September 30, followed a week later by the more wholesome Castro Street Fair, October 7. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free civic treasure, will swamp Golden Gate Park with music fans of all types October 5-7.  Litquake, the citywide parade of literary lights, takes over tons of SF venues October 11-20.

Grab a (compostable) fork for the SF Street Food Festival, October 13 at the Potrero Power Plant. The Moby Dick Marathon features 100 authors reading the white-whale tome, October 13-14 at the Maritime Museum. Schlep out to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival October 13 and 14 to see some o’ them giant gourds. Super-cute, and featuring all sorts of homegrown entertainment, is the Potrero Hill Festival, October 20. Then it’s time for warmer indoor holiday thoughts at the massive Dickens Fair, starting November 17 at the Cow Palace. Already???   

ARTS 

Cate White’s painting ‘The Keys to the City w/ Addendum’ is part of YBCA’s Bay Area Now 8

Ongoing museum shows you should run to right now (or in the near future): “Bay Area Now 8” (through March 24) is the latest installment of the triennial survey of young Bay Area artists, and it is fantastic, from the homo-imp photographs of Jamil Hellu and the knockout paintings of Cate White, to some incredible installation work that blew my mind. “Peter Hujar: Speed of Life” (through November 18) at BAMPFA shows oodles of incredible photos from one of the quintessential artists of the AIDS era, and balances super-hip portraiture with stunningly austere yet intimate landscapes and street scenes. “Ficre Ghebreyesus: City with A River Running Through” at MoAD (through December 16) is the first museum showing of the paintings of Eritrean American artist Ficre Ghebreyesus (1962-2012), who fled conflict in his country and made his way to the United States as a political refugee. And “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress, from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (through January 6) is one of the rare SF shows of fashion that goes beyond fancy sponsors to actually document a vast cultural movement.  

Upcoming visual arts? Pair the CJM’s show with the tremendous-looking “Contemporary Muslim Fashion” at the de Young (September 22-January 6). “Wesley Tongson: The Journey” (October 12-December 15) at the Chinese Culture Center looks at the fascinating work of the schizophrenic Hong Kong ink artist, who died in 2012 and toward the end of his life abandoned brushes for his fingers and nails. And check out the talents of one of our polymath politicos as he debuts several works of collage-painting in the “Matt Gonzalez: Derivations in Color” (October 4-27) show at Dolby Chadwick Gallery. 

International Hip-Hop Dancefest

The 20th SF International Hip-Hop Dancefest, as always presided over by dance guru Micaya, brings the noise to the Palace of Fine Arts, November 16-18. Before that, though, you’ll want to clang clang clang your way through San Francisco Trolley Dances, October 20-2, and gasp in delight at the absolutely gorgeous dances of Na Lei Hulu I Ka Wekiu’s can’t-miss “Hula Show” (October 20-21 and 27-28) at the Palace of Fine Arts. Mark Morris Dance Group’s “Pepperland” (September 28-30), with Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, celebrates 50 years of the Beatles Sgt Pepper album, and Zaccho Dance Theatre give a free performance at the Bayview Opera House to celebrate the neighborhood, called “Picture Bayview Hunters Point,” October 11-14 and 18-21. Want to get in on the physical exertion (albeit in a relaxed, literary way)? Bikes to Books (October 13) celebrates five years with “our signature bike tour of Literary San Francisco, from South Park to North Beach, Jack London to Jack Kerouac.” 

‘Barber Shop Chronicles’

The play’s the thingie: “Barber Shop Chronicles” at Cal performances “eavesdrops on conversations in six different barbershops in London, Lagos, Johannesburg, Accra, Kampala, and Harare over the course of a single day.” I’m stoked about ACT’s production of Men on Boats, Jaclyn Backhaus’ gender-flipping play that notoriously features no men and no boats. “The Homophobes: A Clown Show” at Counterpulse (October 18-20), directed by photographer Dino Dinco, is “a transcendent trans-comedy of errors featuring mad ministers, divine interventions, confused angels and maybe even the antichrist.”

“An American Ma(u)l,” at Brava Theater October 18-November 11, is playwright Robert O’Hara’s “scathing and hilarious political satire about the creeping return of enslavement in the 21st Century.”  Definitely go see surrealist improv geniuses the SF Neofuturists’ “Infinite Wrench” show every weekend at Piano Fight. And finally, the impeccably titled Problematic Play Festival at Z-Space, October 12-14, seems just right for our times. 

FILM

‘The Brink’ plays as part of the Hong Kong Cinema series. Photo courtesy of SFFILM

SFFILM, the organization that brings us the packed San Francisco Film Festival in April, doesn’t hibernate in the other months. It’s got heartthrob actor-director Rupert Everett popping in for a tribute and a preview of his new Oscar Wilde bio-pic The Happy Prince September 26 at the Castro Theatre. Then there’s the cinematic fireworks and flying fists of  the Hong Kong Cinema series (September 28-30) at the Vogue Theatre, which ” the gamut in tone and style from hard-hitting drama to social realism to pulse-pounding action.” And October 4-21 pays tribute to a great Indian director with Satyajit Ray: Intimate Universes at the SFMOMA. Ray’s Apu Trilogy is such a landmark of modern cinema, it will be a treat to see his other work as well on the big screen. 

‘Wings of Desire’

The Mill Valley Film Festival, October 4-14 goes gaga for serious star power and ace flicks, while the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, also October 4-14, may have you tapping in your seat. Roxie Cinema hosts the SF Shorts Festival, with shorts from 25 countries (deceptive name!) but some from here as well, October 18-October 20. The 21st Arab Film Festival comes to screens October 13-22, bursting with news from all over the Arab world. Plus the Roxie is also putting upon of my favorite films of all times in a new restoration: Wim Wenders’ 1987 masterpiece Wings of Desire, October 26-30. That library scene! That streetcar scene! That falling scene! 

The folks who bring you the SF Indie fest aren’t sleeping amongst the golden leaves either: Not only are they presenting brand new festival of provocative short films SF Indie Shorts, November 9-11 at Alamo Drafthouse, they’re also returning for the 15th year to scare the bejeezus out of you at the Another Hole in the Head Festival of horror and terror, November 28-December 12, at New People Cinema. 

Don’t forget to catch our weekly Screen Grabs column for more great cinema

MUSIC

Santigold plays Treasure Island Music Fest.

The Treasure Island Music Festival (October 13-14) is always a hoot, and a good gauge of who’s who on the current festival circuit. But first you might want to dive into September 30’s SF Music Day at the War Memorial, which “showcases the dynamism and diversity of Bay Area music, from string quartets to jazz combos, new music pioneers to chamber groups steeped in musical sounds from across the globe.”  The San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s New Music Ensemble plays much from one of my favorite composers, Steve Reich, also on Sept 30. And the SF Symphony launches into a “Rebellious Beauty” celebration of one of departing conductor Michael Tilson Thomas’s favorite obsessions, composer Igor Stravinsky’s whirling complexity, September 21-30.

I pretty much would live inside SFJAZZ if they let me (and didn’t mind the pot smoke), but highlights of the fall season include the Chick Corea Trio (October 4-7), The San Francisco International Boogie Woogie Festival (October 28), and gypsy jazz genius Dorado Schmitt and the Django All-Stars (November 23-25). Meanwhile, Cal Performances is getting rad with Yo-Yo Ma playing the complete Bach cello suites September 30 at the Greek Theater, “Queen of Ranchera Music” Aida Cuevas paying tribute to the late, great Juan Gabriel (October 6 at the Paramount Theatre), and the vibrant Soweto Gospel Choir, October 13 at the Paramount.

Young Fathers play the Independent. Photo by Andy Hughes

Some major reunions and rejuvenations of note: Australian psyche-jangle dreamers The Church plays the Chapel October 1 for the 30th anniversary of their Starfish album. Also at the Chapel: 30-year-old drone metal pioneers Earth come though October 12, and  psychedelic-pop-shoegazers Mercury Rev slide in October 16 for the 20th anniversary of their Deserter’s Songs album. Hey, stop feeling old! Maggie Rogers with Mallrat, certainly one face of the future of music, comes to the Fillmore October 15, as does Lykke Li on October 17 and Tune-Yards October 20. Catch reverb-pop rebooter Wild Nothing October 27-28, British trip-rappers Young Fathers November 10 and 11, and, OK we’re getting retro again and delightfully so, The Orb November 15, all at the Independent.  

NIGHTLIFE

Nina Kraviz plays the As You Like It Anniversary party, September 28 at the Midway.

Close to my heart and close to a hangover! (Don’t forget to read my regular Party Radar column for blurry shenanigans.) Things kick off huge this weekend with a massive 30-hour eighth anniversary party at Public Works (Fri/21-Sun-23), with Detroit gospel-rave legend Robert Hood aka Floorplan, then continue next weekend with the As You Like It party crew’s huge eighth anniversary blowout (September 28) at The Midway, starring Russian techno ace Nina Kraviz. Feeling old school funky? Beloved crew Sweater Funk, the soul party that started in a Chinatown basement 10 years ago, celebrates a decade at Elbo Room September 29. 

September 30 is the Folsom Street Fair, so you will probably want to plant yourself at the Stud all weekend for the dancing fallout, including Pittsburgh’s notorious Honcho Crew September 28, electro warlock The Hacker September 29, and all-day dance floor craziness full of proud pangender perversity on September 30. Nightlife legend Justin Vivian Bond returns for their one-person show “The Boys in Trees!” at Oasis October 3 and 4, singing “songs of people I want to f*ck!” (Followed by my favorite drag act ever, Varla Jean Merman at Oasis, performing October 4-7.)  

Lee “Scratch” Perry

San Francisco’s native funky techno sound gets a rave-up October 6 when the classic Qoöl crew celebrates 111 Minna’s 25th anniversary, burning for 13 hours.  From there you might want to dial up the 1-800-DINOSAUR party, October 6 at Public Works, with a DJ set from wheedly heartthrob James Blake. Bop time in the park time October 14, with the annual As You Like It Picnic in Golden Gate Park, with Chicago DJ Chrissy. Dub godfather Lee “Scratch” Perry launches you into space at the Chapel October 18. The glorious pairing of enormously popular house DJs The Black Madonna and Honey Dijon aka Black Honey with blow down August Hall October 19. And one of the best house DJs ever, South Africa’s Black Coffee, touches down at Halcyon October 28.   

Before you know it, Halloween will be upon us, and what could be better than a haunted house hosted by a drag queen? With Into the Dark: TERROR VAULT, which kicks off Peaches Christ takes over the Mint for all kinds of scary shenanigans, and probably some dancing mummies, too. Meanwhile, you’ll want to dance yourself on actual Halloween night: Go big at the ginormous Barco Fantasma, October 26 and 27 at the new SVN West, or more intimate but equally insane on Halloween night, as underground sensation Violet plays the Honey Soundsystem party. 

November 9 sees our soulful house lodestar, DJ David Harness, celebrating his 50th birthday with an all-night affair at Great Northern. Ross from Friends, an actual (and actually great) techno musicmaker, comes to 1015 Folsom November 15. And, for the dedicated heads, Crystal Method toots into Public Works November 17. 

Touching down on ‘Planet Celadon’

Genevieve Quick in 'Planet Celadon: Our Receiver Is Operating.' Photo courtesy Asian Art Museum

ART LOOKS The video and dance performance coming to the Asian Art Museum, Planet Celadon: Our Receiver Is Operating, features scuba gestures, air traffic signals, Busby Berkeley-style dancers with vases on their heads, and a tap dancer wearing flippers.

Artist Genevieve Quick, who created Planet Celadon, says she was looking at a Korean moon jar in the museum’s collection—fashioned in the jade green, transparent celadon pottery style—when she started wondering where its planet was.

“I was looking around and everything was made of celadon, and I thought maybe it’s Planet Celadon,” she said. “Celadon migrated all over Asia, so there’s Japanese celadon and Korean celadon and Chinese celadon, so it can sort of stand in for being Asian American.”

Quick, who got her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute and has done residencies at the de Young Museum, MacDowell, Djerassi, and Yaddo, also found inspiration for this piece in Carl Sagan’s The Golden Record, which he made for the 1977 Voyager mission as a way to communicate about life on earth. It included images as well as the sounds of wind, surf, thunder and bird and whale songs, as well as greetings in more than 50 ancient and modern languages.  

Genevieve Quick in ‘Planet Celadon: Our Receiver Is Operating.’ Photo courtesy Asian Art Museum

Busby Berkeley, another inspiration for this performance, was known for his over-the-top dance numbers (Quick calls them “amped-up gender play,” in pieces such as Carmen Miranda‘s “Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat“) 

Planet Celadon has a science fiction narrative about communicating with a distant place and culture. Quick has always loved the genre. 

“I love the way it fuses historical records with futuristic speculations,” she said. “Like how in Star Wars when Hans Solo and R2D2 are at this sort of outcast bar with Chewbacca, and their costumes look like they might be Mongolian or Egyptian, and there are these historical references built in.”

For this performance, Quick created a character, the Asianaut, to communicate between earth and Planet Celadon. 

Genevieve Quick in ‘Planet Celadon: Our Receiver Is Operating.’ Photo courtesy Asian Art Museum.

“Part of the project is about dislocation,” she said. ”Being an Asian American growing up in the United States, there’s this push and pull, and you feel displaced in a way. I wanted to take the  challenges of communicating across cultures and extend that to the challenges of communicating intergalactically.”

Quick spoke about the upcoming performance in her Bayview studio, with the costume for the Asianaut (a futuristic version of the traditional Korean hanbok) hanging nearby, along with a couple of the white scuba diver costumes. At one point, she got up from her stool to demonstrate the air controller motions and the scuba gestures that will be incorporated into the dance. 

Quick, an interdisciplinary artist who does sculpture, video, photography, and drawing, has used dance before in her work. But this is the first time she has hired a choreographer: Liz Tenuto. And Quick is learning to tap dance for the 30-minute performance. There will also be six dancers with vases tied onto their heads. 

“The dancers have sort of drag mannerisms with full green faces and bright red lips and vases on their heads,” she said. “They’re sort of Asian women and sort of aliens and vases—they’re all three things at the same time.”

PLANET CELADON: OUR RECEIVER IS OPERATING
Sept. 6, 8, and 9
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Tickets and more info here 

Tattoo legend “Lew the Jew” Alberts rediscovered at CJM

Tattoo work by "Lew the Jew" Alberts

Don Ed Hardy, who became obsessed by tattoos when he was only 10 years old, hates how the artform was perceived for a long time in the United States. 

“I resented the fact they were so looked down on, and it was an aberrant, antisocial thing like, ‘Oh, were you drunk?'” Hardy said. “It was so demonized. I just thought, ‘Well, that’s wrong.’ If people want a tattoo, they should be able to get one.”

A legendary tattoo artist who splits his time between San Francisco and Honolulu, Hardy started Hardy Marks Publications in 1982 with his wife Francesca Passalacqua. They have published more than 35 books about the  history and art of tattoos. His 2015 book, Lew the Jew” Alberts: Early 20th Century Tattoo Drawings, inspired the exhibit, Lew the Jew and His Circle: Origins of American Tattoo, now at the Contemporary Jewish Museum (Through June 9, 2019). About 90 percent of the material in the show—about pioneering tattoo artist and illustrator, born Albert Morton Kurzman (1880–1954)—is from Hardy’s collection, said Renny Pritikin, the curator.

That includes correspondence between Alberts and other tattoo artists, flash sheets that show tattoo designs, and samples of work by Albert’s contemporaries, such as his partner, Charlie Wagner. There’s also newsreel footage of Millie Hull, one of the only women tattoo artists at that time, working on a tattoo. 

Back in the ’70s, friends of Hardy’s in San Jose called to tell him they had a couple trunks of antique tattoo material. A tattoo artist had died with no will, so his material went to the state, and they made a blind bid. 

“They said you have to come down and see this, it’s incredible,” Hardy said. “It was this whole tattooer’s life—design sheets and machines and all this historic tattoo stuff. “We didn’t know it was Lew. The drawings were all on the backs of received letters and fliers and found papers. I assumed they had been drawn by some tattooer who had been in prison and didn’t have access.”

Hardy and his friends pieced things together by seeing who the letters were from, like, “Brooklyn Joe” Lieber, who worked in Alameda, and C.J. “Pop” Eddy. Alberts’ legacy should be better known, Hardy said. 

“Lew the Jew” Alberts, photographer unknown

“He was really a terrific draftsman, and he invented some of these designs,” Hardy said. “He was enterprising in that he was one of the first people to produce commercially printed flash sheets to sell to other tattoers, so he established kind of an image bank that became central to what American tattooing looked like.”

Hardy thinks tattooing was his destiny. He studied printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute, and he had a scholarship to go to Yale University for graduate school. Then he met Sam Stewart, whose “needle name” was Phil Sparrow, and had moved out from Chicago to Oakland. Hardy calls Stewart, a part of Alice Toklas’ circle, a renegade who changed his mind about going to grad school.

“He was educated and articulate, and he showed me a book of Japanese tattooing,” Hardy said. “When I saw that, I thought, ‘Oh, my God, if tattoos can look like that, I think I want to do this.'” 

Hardy who describes himself as a “book nut,” started publishing books about tattooing because he wanted documentation. After his book about Alberts, he ended up meeting his great niece, an attorney in New York, who came to San Francisco for the opening of the CJM show. 

“It was a neat connection,” he said. “She remembered meeting him when she was like five or six—he was way retired then. It’s great she came out from New York with a bunch of her family. That really feels good to give some honor to this guy.”

LEW THE JEW AND HIS CIRCLE
Through June 9, 2019

Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco
Tickets and more info here

Santana mural in the Mission vandalized: “a blatant act of hate”

This Carlos Santana mural in the Mission was defaced on Friday: SFPD is seeking information. Picture via KRON.

“Growing up in the Mission, murals are something sacred. No one touches them because they tell our story, the story of a multicultural community that has held on and even thrived despite difficulties we face,” said community organizer Roberto Y. Hernandez of Our Mission No Eviction. “For someone to come in and deface a mural, that’s a blatant act of hate.”

Hernandez was referencing the vandalism of the beloved mural of musician Carlos Santana at 19th Street and Mission that occurred sometime on July 13. The mural, called “Para La MiSion” was painted by Mel Waters in 2014. “Mel was raised in the Mission, and has black, Latino, and Filipino roots,” Hernandez said. “The mural was meant to give hope to people in the Mission due to the massive gentrification of Latinos and to honor Santana, who was raised int eh Mission District.”

“There’s an unspoken street rule that no one messes with murals,” Hernandez said, “even graffiti taggers know there are places they can and can’t tag. So this is obviously from someone outside the community, and I consider it a hate crime. Splashing white paint right on the face of Santana, on a huge mural that takes up one-third of a block—come on, that’s not a random act.” 

Hernandez said that just Thursday evening, Mission residents were holding a rumba, an improvisational musical celebration in from top the mural. “There were a bunch of musicians jamming to Santana songs, “La Bamba,” fun stuff,” Hernandez said. “It was a community gathering place, and it really feels like an invasion of space to have this happen.”

Waters has been restoring the mural: He came out on Sunday and Monday to repaint the damaged part. “I’m glad he’s doing it,” Hernandez said. “When people come out with hate, we’re coming out with love. That’s part of where Santana himself was coming from, with his part in the hippie movement. We’re angry, but we’re nothing to let that anger turn into hate. We’re not going to let the Mission District be attacked like this, but we need to pray for people who are doing this kind of stuff. These are some sick people who need to heal.”

After the mural is restored, “We’re going to have a big rumba, to celebrate the resilience of the community.”

Hernandez reached out to police to investigate as soon as the vandalism was discovered. In a statement today via email to 48 Hills from SFPD Public Information Officer Robert Rueca said: 

On July 13, 2018 we received a report of a vandalism to a building. The vandalism was done to a ‘Carlos Santana’ mural located on a building located at 19th St. and Mission St. It was reported that the vandalism occurred between July 12, 2018 around 7:00 PM to July 13, 2018 around 9:00 AM. The investigation includes speaking with possible witnesses and gathering evidence such as surveillance video capturing the incident and/or the suspect. This is an open and active investigation. Anyone with information regarding this incident is ask to speak with the police at 415-575-4444 or Text a Tip at TIP411 and start the tip with SFPD. You may remain anonymous.

Fake news and viral lies: de Young show and panel examine propaganda

Detail of a poster by James Montgomery Flagg, "Wake Up, America! Civilization Calls Every Man, Woman, and Child," 1917, part of the de Young's "Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda" exhibit.

“Propaganda can be as important as petroleum. The heart, too, must have its combustibles; the engine that is man must be stocked with hatreds.” 
–Columbia University’s Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1939

Spurred by a headline about Hillary Clinton, murder, and the FBI—none of which was true—NPR reporter Laura Sydell went to the Southern California suburbs to track down the man who wrote it. He told her he was a liberal. He started off writing fake news as a joke—and he found it lucrative, making $10,000 to $30,000 a month.

Craig Silverman, Buzzfeed’s media editor, who launched a web-based startup devoted to crowdsourcing the fact-checking of fake news, Emergent.info, found that tweets that are a mixture of true and false get retweeted the most.  

Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist who recently donated $20 million to the City University of New York’s journalism school, said he wants to support organizations that try to find fake news so they can stop it. 

All three participated in a panel at the de Young on June 23 entitled Rumors, Retweets and Reason, talking about how “fake news” affects us today. The panel was in response to an exhibition at the museum through October 7, Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda, and the panelists walked through the show with associate curator Colleen Terry looking at posters, ads, film clips, and textiles from the World Wars.

Craig Newmark, Laura Sydell, and Craig Silverman at the de Young’s “Rumors, Retweets, and Reason panel, June 23. Photo courtesy of Shaquille Heath 

The exhibition covers the exploitation of fear, showing how the Germans’ crimes when invading Belgium were exaggerated; how the Axis powers portraying Franklin D. Roosevelt as King Kong, or a demon with fangs and huge hands; the importance of signs and symbols, such as “V for Victory”; and how Disney became a symbol of American imperialism worldwide with propaganda showing Mickey figures invading Japan or Disney characters piloting planes dropping bombs on France. There are 10 propaganda kimonos inside a glass case, many for children and babies, with nationalist and military symbols, meant to be worn at home. 

Afterwards, Silverman, Sydell and Newmark addressed a full auditorium to talk about the phenomenon of deliberately deceptive news presented as credible and how to combat it. 

LIVE: Rumors, Retweets, and Reason

Who wants to talk about #FakeNews?LIVE: In Rumors, Retweets, and Reason, guest speakers Craig Silverman (Buzzfeed), Laura Sydell (NPR); and Craig Newmark (Craigslist and Craig Newmark Philanthropies) will take us through their work on the widespread phenomenon of fakes news, why we believe it, and how we can combat it.

Posted by de Young Museum on Saturday, June 23, 2018

Silverman, a Canadian, began his presentation by quipping that he wouldn’t be able to get any attendees citizenship. After this bit of Trump-related humor, he told people rumors are sort of a necessary part of human behavior, filling in the gaps of what we don’t know.

While looking at the posters in the exhibition and the leaflets dropped from planes, Silverman said he thought about how much faster and farther information, false or not, can travel now on social networks. He said it also made him think about what civilians can do. The exhibition shows how people were encouraged to help the troops by canning food or buying war bonds during the war. Now we can try to stop the spread of misinformation, Silverman said. 

“The new civic duty is to take a pause before liking or sharing anything,” he said. “Think about if you are spreading rumors.” 

Sydell told the audience that she, like many of them, has relatives who share dubious information on Facebook ( “Aunt Tilda, no, Muslim nurses do wash their hands”), and she talked about deciding to chase down a fake news story. She put up a slide of a headline “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide.”

Everything about the story is fake, Sydell said—including its source, The Denver Guardian. But it got shared 500,000 times. Sydell said it fits into a certain worldview. 

“If you believe Hillary Clinton and John Podesta run a child porn ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor, then this feeds right into people with that narrative,” she said. “They’re ripe for it.”

Sydell, with the help of colleagues was able to get an address for the website. They went to Southern California to find the company, Disinformation Media, and the address was a P.O. box. But they had the name of the man running it, Jestin Coler, and he lived around the corner. Sydell played the audio of her knocking on the man’s door. He didn’t talk to her, but later Coler, a big NPR fan, emailed her. He agreed to talk to her and  explained how he started doing in fake news—first as a joke, making fun of rightwing media, and then in earnest, when he realized how lucrative it was, making him $10-$30,000 a month from ads. Later, Sydell ran into him at South by Southwest, where he was on a panel about fake news. 

A WWII-era Japanese kimono, printed with a propagandistic design, at the de Young

The definition of what fake news is has become a little wobbly, Sydell said—there are human reporters like her who make mistakes, and then there are stories deliberately intended to mislead. 

And that’s what they need to go after, said Craig Newmark, who gives money to organizations that try to stop the spread of misinformation.  

We are in an information war, Newmark said, and we have another battle coming on November 6. He says he sees hope in how news professionals, such as at Columbia’s Tow Center and the Columbia Journalism Review, are getting involved trying to disrupt networks of misinformation and harassment.

“They’re looking at where does bad stuff start and how does it propagate,” he said. “Once you learn that, you can work with people to start cutting it off.”

He also talked about the work New York University’s danah boyd, who founded Data & Society, is doing on “strategic silence.”

An installation view of war recruiting posters at the de Young’s “Weapons of Mass Seduction” show.

 “Let’s say you got a politician of some sort who’d lying all the time—I’m sure that must happen somewhere,” Newmark said. “The deal is if you repeat a lie, you can make that lie stronger.”

Newmark also talked about Brian Stelter of CNN’s concept of a “truth sandwich,” and how reporters can cover major figures without spreading misinformation. 

“Before you repeat the lie, you tell people something like, ‘Hey, you’re about to hear a lie, here’s the lie, and here’s why it’s a lie,’” Newmark said.  

Newmark says he also plans to talk with the linguist George Lakoff, a big proponent of not repeating the lies of public figures, whether in reporting or in mocking them. 

“I’m not a news professional, I’m seriously a nerd in the plastic pocket protector sense,” Newmark said. “But it’s time to stand up, to put one’s reputation on the line, to put one’s  money where one’s mouth is, and I am pretty optimistic given that a lot of people acting in good faith are now working together to provide an ecosystem of trustworthy news.”

WEAPONS OF MASS SEDUCTION: THE ART OF PROPAGANDA
Through October 7
de Young Museum, SF.
Tickets and more info here

Pioneering machine artist Kal Spelletich is being evicted: Help save his robots!

“On a troubling note, after 25 years, I am getting evicted from my home base and studio space,” artist Kal Spelletich tweeted this morning. “I provided housing and/or studios for countless artists, freaks, traveling activists, and radical journalists. Save Kal’s Robots here:  Thank you thank you Thank You”

So much of Bay Area arts culture is indebted to Kal, from Survival Research Laboratory shenanigans like giant fire-spewing robots (he was the first to bring both robots and flamethrowers to Burning Man) and interactive machine art that helped pave the way for today’s creative developments, to constantly helping and hosting artists (he teaches at the SF Arts Institute) and causes like Green Party fundraisers, Streetopia, and so many more … well, this just sucks. 

Kal’s studio has been a ground zero for local innovation—the kind we used to value, the non-commercially-driven kind— for a quarter century, as well as his home. Now, Kal says, “Like many Bay Area artists Im being forced from my home. I’m asking for $10K to move and store my robots by the end of the month.”

The 57-year-old artist is filing a renter’s lawsuit. “There’s always a risk with a renter’s lawsuit. It could lose and if it does it’s possible I could be sued for a lot more than I have ever made or will ever make in the rest of my life. Much more than I’m asking for right now.

“My entire art career has been a risk and a challenge. I’m on year 38 as an artist,” he writes on his fundraising page. “I’m working to make everything fall into place to keep momentum for the next couple of years—some of the most important in my life. A main concern is my old, tired body. Formerly broken fingers and limbs – my art wounds- flare up now and then. One is nothing without their health. Sorting through and moving 25 years of equipment and materials on my own is a major challenge.” 

However, he remains determined: “Over the past 38 years I’ve built momentum. Losing this is NOT an option.”