Picasso Reference

Mission Street Art: Clarion Alley

Having just returned from months of traveling on the West Coast, I am finally ready to get back to bloggage. I'm back in New England and will be modeling again, so I should have some good material for new posts. In the meantime, I want to talk about some art I saw while I was wandering around California. I wont be going to LACMA anymore, so I'll have to find other art to write about. IMG_3318

I chose to spend Thanksgiving with my sister in Oakland, and before my return to New Hampshire I created my own walking tour of the Mission and the Castro districts of San Francisco. I set out on my expedition and, by the time I finished stalking up and down one mural-coated alleyway, I realized there was a bit too much to confine to one post. I decided to focus on a single famous section of street art in the Mission, and save other spots for future visits.

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The alleyway I couldn't get away from is supported by an artists' collective called the Clarion Alley Mural Project created in the early 90's. The collective works to aid muralists in the creation of art in the Mission district of San Francisco, most notably Clarion Alley, right near the BART stop I take to get to work. The alley created is both beautiful and overtly political, and I was amazed I'd never known it was there before. Statements made by the art generally focused on the AIDS epidemic and protests from the prominent homosexual population of the city. I was in the company of all sorts: tourists doing exactly what I was, skateboarding youths and even a "rasta" couple making a reggae video in front of one of the murals.  It was wonderful to see the atmosphere of the alleyway inspiring the population. 

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The merging of meaningful political statement and artistic endeavor is an example of what I learned to love about San Francisco. There is something decidedly genuine about the culture of the city, something perfectly expressed in street art. On my way to the alley I passed a mural covering an entire block that commemorated Latino history in the Mission. Not only was it a celebration of the culture, the mural served as an  form of recording. It was far from a note in a history book, or even a museum exhibit, yet I had to wonder if it wasn't a more effective was of spreading awareness of Latino history: accessible to anyone and certainly eye-catching. I had always though of street art as a middle finger to the gallery culture of the art world, and not much else. These murals had a focused purpose not in the least caught up in the novelty of the medium. My personal favorite was a colorful painting on a garage door that held some fairly heavy handed references toward Guernica. My suspicions were confirmed by the mural across the way, which was a black and white tribute to Picasso's famous political piece.

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The shoutout to one of the origins of contemporary popular mural work spoke to a knowledge and respect  the muralists held for the history of art. As someone who looks for connections toward works that came before, (and loves Picasso more than I need to) I appreciated the reference. To me, murals as a visual connection to the essence of a city is a new perspective on the ways in which street art can be utilized. I know I have preconceptions about the meaning of different kinds of art, and it's exciting to have that challenged. It's gratifying to see how the new places I'm exploring shed light on what I think of my own tastes.

If New York is going to make me like Clement Greenberg I wont go.

LACMA Wanderings: Part 2

As many probably already know, I have temporarily abandoned the Los Angeles area to work for a youth sports photography company for their shoot season. I have modeling commitments in the area, so I will be in southern CA periodically, but it still seemed fitting to visit LACMA one last time before moving up the coast. This time I forced myself to stay away from the European art, and instead went through the ancient Pacific and the Art of the Americas sections.

I was seriously just uncomfortable the whole time. Picture courtesy of LACMA website.

This self induced Picasso-fast drove home the huge influence of Central and South America on the Southern California cultural scene. Of the two, two and a half floors devoted to the art of the Americas, an entire floor is devoted to art from those regions, some contemporary and some less so. Seeing news wings of the museum called my attention to the variety in presentation present in each building. The ancient Pacific section was completely barren, with cards explaining the different objects tucked in the corner and no writing at all on the bright white display stands. In contrast, the ancient art from Central America was contained to two rooms in the middle of the section for the Americas, with brightly colored curtains around the ceiling, wall displays surrounded by an interesting shade of puce and lumpy wooden display structures scattered in the middle of the room. Hopefully it isn't too hard to determine which decorating pattern I preferred. The womb-like indigenous art galleries were unsettling and distracting, especially in contrast to the simple white walls of the surrounding galleries.

Maya Vase with Snake-Lady, artist and year unknown. Photo courtesy of Justin Kerr's Maya Vase Database.
People will probably be pretty confused about this in a few thousand years. Google Images

Luckily I found the Mayan art in a clean, white-walled space, information on each piece concisely printed next to the artifacts themselves. Near the end of the gallery I found a piece depicting a female figure, reclining with a huge snake, surrounded by other figures clearly less powerful than her. I will put a disclaimer that I can't prove that this picture is actually the piece I saw. I could not find it on the LACMA website, and the database where I found this image attributes the piece so the Kimbell Art Museum. However, considering this is exactly what I was looking at, the photo was uploaded in 1998, and the vase was not found on the Kimbell's website, I don't find it inconceivable that the piece may have changed hands. Regardless, the descriptive text talked about a possible deity referred to as "snake lady," never found in Mayan texts, but heavily represented in the civilization's art. I love the idea of this mystery goddess, strong and relaxed as a snake twines around her. However, what really drew me to the piece was the idea that we have no idea what the story of this potential goddess is. If I had posed for the vase painting, I would know the myth she represented, her significance, where she derived her power. Fast forward a few thousand years and this woman I posed for a is a complete unknown, the only proof of her importance her prominence in the art of the time. Our imperfect knowledge of her shows the communicative power of art and the immense power of time, erasing the entire mythology of a clearly prominent figure.