Keith Haring (1958-1990): The Political Line (November 8-February 16, 2015)

IMG_1552Many of the works in this comprehensive exhibit at the De Young Museum (San Francisco) are being publicly presented for the first time, several on loan from the Keith Haring Foundation, Brooklyn, New York, [In March 2012, a retrospective exhibit of Haring’s work, Keith Haring: 1978-1982, opened at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.  See my May 2012 review ]  The imagery of Haring remains vital to the universally recognized visual language of the late 20th century. His enduring vision and critique of global problems is as relevant today as it was almost a quarter of a century ago.

More than 130 works, including large-scale paintings on tarpaulins and canvases, sculptures, and a number of the artist’s subway drawings, totems, and masks yield an extraordinary display of Haring’s responses to nuclear proliferation, racism, violence, the excesses of capitalism, environmental degradation, computer ascendancy, and perhaps especially gay culture. The political is deeply personal.

Haring’s work has long been a part of San Francisco’s culture., including Untitled (Three Dancing Figures) (1989) displayed in front of the Moscone Convention Center, and The Life of Christ (1990) in the AIDS Chapel at Grace Cathedral. New York also provided Haring’s most vibrant venue for subway and mural art.

His career was brief, intense, and prolific. By the time of his death, at age 31, from AIDS he had achieved international fame and celebrity status. His last two years’ work seems to me to reflect a change: dripping paint and dots embedded like blemishes in the solid lines—ominous and heartbreaking.IMG_1583

In an informative video, more of a home movie, we see the artist as a young man literally painting himself into a corner as he spontaneously paints a dramatic and complex labyrinth of lines, angles, and human figures on a room-size canvas while moving on all fours. Using Japanese black sumi ink and without any drawn image as a guide, Haring paints furiously, rapidly, and confidently, never hesitating or going over previous lines no matter how complex or long. The humor is obvious, the anger also evident. His dictionary of symbols and icons is never overdone: lines and dots connecting at angles (influenced by Indonesian and Oceanic tribal art), barking dogs, cartoonish humans and babies, and penises. He also cared greatly about children’s well being, the fight against drug addiction, and bringing an end to the AIDS epidemic.

IMG_1555The collection includes the fiberglass Statue of Liberty, his car covered with his iconic figures and black lines, body parts both male and female, woodcuts, three-dimensional masks, and pages from sketch books and tarps. It’s almost impossible not to be swayed by the heartfelt ethos, political visualizations of injustice, and sexual identity.

See “The Political LIne” before it ends on February 16.

 

 

Picasso–Multiple Images of the Master

Opening on June 11 and closing on October 9, the deYoung Museum in San Francisco continues to host an exhibition of more than 100 masterpieces of  Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) from Paris’s world-renowned Musée National Picasso. The Bay Area exhibition is made possible only because of the Musée’s temporary closing for extensive remodeling.  I have seen the collection in Paris, of which there are more than 5000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, and collages, an almost overwhelming experience.   About two percent of that collection is now on view at the deYoung, demonstrating some but not all of the wide range of artistic styles and forms that Picasso mastered.  Missing are some of my personal favorites:  linocuts, woodcuts, and ceramics.  But the exhibit has much to offer.

The pieces, arranged chronologically, are presented in nine galleries covering every period of his career. Celestina (1904), from the artist’s Blue Period, is perhaps his most somber (certainly his most depressing) work:  a portrait of a one-eyed prostitute modeled after an actual madam in Barcelona.  The missing eye looks more like a dense cataract and the gender of the figure is ambiguous.  Other more familiar paintings and sculptures are displayed:  Portrait of Dora Maar (1937), six Surrealist bronze heads of the artist’s mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter; the bronze Goat (1950); the six life-size bronze Bathers (1956); and the late self-portrait The Matador (1970).   One painting that fascinated me the most, however, is less known:  Massacre in Korea (1951), inspired by Goya, is a painting protesting the US involvement in the Korean War.  It reminded me of Jose Orozco’s furious murals depicting the Spanish invasion of Mexico.  US military personnel are shown in Darth Vader-like helmets with the Korean people reminiscent in style and emotion of Orozco’s Mexican villagers.  His bronze sculptures of individual men and women standing in rows are haunting.  The famous “Head of a Bull”, a minimalist sculpture of a bicycle seat with handlebars, has been made a focal point in Gallery 7.

Not to be missed is the complimentary guide for the show.   Co-written by the Seattle Art Museum and the deYoung,  this brilliant analysis of the painted feelings of Picasso is a study of his  infatuation with each of his lovers.  We learn how each of Picasso’s lovers transformed his artful composition of the woman’s figure. His early Cubist years were with mistress Fernande Olivier, his surrealist period with lover Marie-Therese Walter, his political transformation during the Spanish Civil War inspired by Dora Maar and his last two decades of playful experimentation and ceramics were with Jacqueline Roque.

Each of his artistic periods shifted dramatically in accordance with the lover muse with whom he was enthralled.  I can now imagine the rejuvenation of his art–from periods of seriousness (Blue), voluptuousness (Rose, Expressionist, Cubist), political courage (Surrealism), and playfulness through the eyes of Picasso as lover.  Picasso always claimed his erotic life was the stimulus for his creativity and expressiveness.  “Painting is just another way of keeping a diary”, is famously quoted but looking at Picasso’s portraits of his lovers tells all.

Go to http://deyoung.famsf.org/deyoung/exhibitions/picasso-masterpieces-mus-e-national-picasso-paris for more information.  Three other San Francisco exhibits are also Picasso-related–“Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stores” at the Contemoporary Jewish Museum (closing September 6) www.thecjm.org,  “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant Garde” at the San Francisco MOMA (closing September 6) www.sfmoma.org, “Picasso’s Ceramics” at the Legion of Honor in the Bowles Porcelain Gallery (closing December 1), www.legionofhonor.org.