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SFMOMA visit

Shannon and I went to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) between Christmas and New Years, and I've been meaning to write about my favorite exhibits.

Emily Jacir

My favorite exhibit was Emily Jacir's "Where We Come From (2001-2003). "Jacir, holder of an American passport, asked more than 30 Palestinians living both abroad and within the occupied territories: 'If I could do anything for you, anywhere in Palestine, what would it be?' She collected responses and carried out tasks in an extended performance of wish-fulfilment by proxy."

Jacir's exhibit consisted of a series of photographs, each accompanied by a plaque with a lot of text on it. I didn't approach the exhibit in the "correct" order, and began looking at the photographs without reading what the exhibit was about, assuming that the visual element of the exhibit was the obvious "art" and the text was merely supplementary, and so it only gradually began to dawn on me what I was looking at. Each plaque had one line of text at the top in bold, larger print; then a long description of a person; then at the bottom in very small type what looked like a footnote. I was just skimming the text initially, assuming it was the usual description of the "actual" art (the photographs). The photos weren't very exciting: a bowl of soup, the trunk of a tree, a pile of fabrics.

But as I looked at one photo after another, I started noticing that the text was integral to the exhibit. The "title" in bold print was a person's answer to the artist's question about what she could do for them in Palestine. The longer text in the middle was info about the person, why they couldn't go to Palestine, why they wanted/needed to go there, why they had answered her question the way they had. The tiny text at the bottom was a description of how the artist had attempted to act on the person's request. The photo was simply a glimpse of a moment from that action.

I became extremely moved by the exhibit and actually started crying. I felt like this was a revolutionary approach to art, combining interview with writing with action with photography. I felt like the artist's actions in Palestine were an integral part of the artwork, which was something I'd never seen before. I felt like kindness and compassion were actually part of the artwork, which was what made me cry.

People had asked the artist to do a wide variety of things: visit their childhood home, spend an afternoon with beloved relatives, water a specific tree, bring clothing and food to people they hadn't seen in years, etc. One that stuck with me was a man who simply asked the photographer to pay his phone bill. Through some bureaucratic weirdness, the place where he was supposed to pay his phone bill was in Palestine, but he was not permitted to go there, so he always had to ask someone else to pay his phone bill. It just made people's dilemmas so real and concrete to me.

Shannon found the exhibit boring, because he felt like every item in the exhibit was pretty much the same, asking for basically the same things, but I saw each one as a unique individual with a full, complex life and a specific relationship to the artist. I was extremely moved.

Transparencies on Oil

Another piece I liked was Paulina Olowska's "A Portrait of the Artist - Indoors" (2012), which was a multi-media work combining oil paint, ink, and transparencies. At first glance, it just looked like a sort of weird painting, but on closer inspection, especially from different angles, the multi-media aspect became more clear. It was really creative and interesting.

Tomás Saraceno's Dodecahedrons

One of my other favorites was Tomás Saraceno's "Stillness in Motion: Cloud Cities," a collection of metal dodecahedrons suspended in the air by cables, created specifically for the SFMOMA site. Some of the dodecahedrons were mere frames of the shape; others had some panels in solid metal or mirrors. The shapes were in various sizes and configurations, and you could walk among them. It was like a magical garden of floating metal shapes. They were fascinating and beautiful! I really encourage you to click on the link above and look at some of the pictures.

Sohei Nishino's Collages

The last exhibit that really fascinated me was the collection of collaged maps by an artist called Sohei Nishino. Each map (Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam, San Francisco, etc.) was constructed out of thousands of tiny aerial photographs, but not all the photos were on the same scale. So, for example, on the SF map, you couldn't really make out any detail in Golden Gate Park, but elsewhere there was a very obviously legible Amoeba Records sign, and elsewhere some people walking, and elsewhere a row of "painted lady" Victorian houses. So he collaged the photos together in such a way that he emphasized certain aspects of each city, which was done in this amazingly beautiful way.

Okay. I've finally written my post about the MOMA visit, which I've been planning for weeks but was too sick to deal with. My flu is gone now, but I still tire easily, and I've slept very badly the last two nights because of a medication change. I'm going to back off the med change and hope that tonight will be better. Today will be busy, though, with acupuncture in the morning, then someone coming out to deal with our mysterious bathtub leak, then getting together with Katherine before dinner. I hope I don't wear myself out!

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