Legion of Honor Legion of Honor
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
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Museum image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Legion of Honor
100 34th Avenue (at Clement Street)
San Francisco, CA 94121
Phone: 415.750.3600

Julian Schnabel: Symbols of Actual Life
Through August 5, 2018

Since 1977, Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) has captured people’s imagination with paintings that speak to his incessant appetite for sculptural physicality, material diversity, and pictorial symbolism, resulting in ever more audaciously scaled paintings that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. This exhibition features a new body of work created for the Legion’s Court of Honor. At twenty-four by twenty-four feet, the paintings are both monumental in scale and ephemeral in nature. Exposed to the elements over the four-month run of the exhibition, they aren’t meant to last. The artist has said they “epitomize much of what are the essential characteristics of the smallest and most nascent proposals of how imagery drawing and material could be called a painting.” In addition, Schnabel is also showing eleven paintings from three distinct bodies of work, including a new series of abstractions on Mexican sack linen as well as examples from the Goat Paintings (begun in 2012) and the Jane Birkin series (1990).

Julian Schnabel (b. 1951) studied art at the University of Houston, achieving a BFA, and participated in the independent study program at the Whitney Museum of Art. He has exhibited widely since the late 1970s. His work has been shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville; White Cube, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Tate Gallery, London; Städtische Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

Recent solo exhibitions include Julian Schnabel, Schloss Derneberg Museum, Germany (2017); Julian Schnabel: Plate Paintings 1978–86, Aspen Museum of Art (2016–2017); Julian Schnabel: Every Angel Has a Dark Side, Dairy Art Centre, London (2014); and Julian Schnabel: Deus ex machina, Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin (2012).

Paris 1913: "La Prose du Transsibérien" and the Flowering of the Avant Garde
Through August 12, 2018

By 1913, Paris had been for more than a decade the epicenter of artistic revolution in Europe. That year, artist Sonia Delaunay and poet Blaise Cendrars collaborated on La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France. Hailed as the first “simultaneous book,” the artwork was conceived as a unified experience of text and image, indivisible and apprehended concurrently. The emergence of an avant-garde art across all media was nowhere more in evidence than in such collaborations between poets and visual artists. This exhibition examines the artistic milieu that surrounded La Prose in the years before and after its creation, a period that set the stage for the flowering of the arts in Paris in the 1920s.

Casanova: The Seduction of Europe
February 10 – May 28, 2018

“Those who have not lived in the eighteenth century, in the years before the revolution, do not know the sweetness of living and cannot imagine what it was like to have happiness in life.”
- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord

SAN FRANCISCO – The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) invite audiences to journey into the world of eighteenth-century Europe with one of its most colorful characters, Giacomo Casanova (Italian, 1725─1798), as guide. Casanova was considered by his own contemporaries to be a witty conversationalist, autobiographer, gambler, spy, and one of the greatest travelers of all time. More than 80 works of art, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, period furnishings, delicate porcelains, and lavish period costumes, re-create this luxurious and sparkling world of masked balls, palaces, theaters, and operas.

“The cosmopolitan Casanova is a fitting guide to lead our tour of the glittering art capitals of eighteenth-century Europe, from Venice to Constantinople, from Versailles to St. Petersburg,” says Max Hollein, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “He knew the greatest figures of the age, from monarchs like Louis XV of France and Catherine the Great of Russia, to popes, to intellectuals like Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin.”

Visitors are immersed in a visual world of Rococo finery, examining artworks not only as individual pieces but also as combined and cumulative expressions of wealth and prestige. Although often exhibited in isolation, these works are best understood as parts of luxurious environments that also included architecture and interior design. To achieve the effect of eighteenth-century opulence, the exhibition stages several tableaux enlivened by mannequins dressed in period costume and surrounded by paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.

“This theatrical display of artworks is fitting for Casanova, who was not only the son of an actress but also an occasional theater musician and playwright,” explains Melissa Buron, Director, Art Division for the Fine Arts Museums. “These tableaux show how Casanova lived a life immersed in the many pleasures of art and they feature amorous, mythological, and pastoral scenes by some of the most important painters of the time, including François Boucher, Canaletto, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, and William Hogarth.”

Paintings of Venetian masquerades and idealized gods and goddesses cavorting amid swirling clouds are paired with an opulence of decorative arts. These include delicate and playful porcelains from the royal Polish Meissen factory and from as far as China; gilt candelabra and silvered mirrors; and lavish furniture made from silk-embroidered velvet, worked leather, marble, alabaster, and gold.

“Objects like these would have been part of the cumulative display of luxury found in the show palaces of Europe,” says Martin Chapman, Curator-in-Charge of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture for the Fine Arts Museums. “The Legion of Honor houses the magnificent French period room the Salon Doré, which was recently conserved and reinstalled to the delight of our visitors. Casanova brings the eighteenth century to life in just as opulent a fashion.”

These stunning artworks are on loan from institutions including the Musée du Louvre; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the National Gallery of Canada; the National Galleries of Scotland; the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes; and several prominent private collections.

Coinciding with the Carnival of Venice, the exhibition opens in San Francisco on February 10 and is on view through May 28, 2018.

Casanova was organized by a team of curators from the three presenting institutions. In San Francisco, its installation was overseen by Melissa Buron and Kirk Nickel, Assistant Curator of European Paintings. Martin Chapman and Esther Bell (former FAMSF Curator-In-Charge of European Paintings, now at the Clark Art Institute) also gave their expertise. In Fort Worth, Texas, where the exhibition premiered, C. D. Dickerson, now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, first proposed the exhibition, and George Shackelford, Deputy Director of the Kimbell Art Museum. Frederick Ilchman, Thomas Michie, and their colleagues at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, were responsible for the stewardship of loans and assembly of the exhibition catalogue.

A stunning gathering of shimmering cityscapes by Canaletto introduces viewers to the sights and spectacles of cosmopolitan Venice. Canaletto’s views of the Grand Canal, Piazza San Marco, and the Palazzo Ducale are joined by paintings by Tiepolo and Longhi and shown alongside period sculpture and furniture to suggest the extravagant interiors that Casanova encountered in the palaces of La Serenissima.

A child of Venice born into a world of actors and musicians, Casanova held a sophisticated understanding of identity and theatricality. Wherever he traveled, he sought out the company of actors. The following section explores the importance of masquerade in Venetian culture and its wider popularity throughout eighteenth-century Europe. A highlight is the Fine Arts Museums’ own Thalia, Muse of Comedy (1739) by Jean-Marc Nattier. In the painting, Thalia holds a mask in one hand and uses the other to lift a plush velvet curtain and playfully invite us into the world of comedic theater.

Imagined and conceived as a special feature of this exhibition are three tableaux— illustrating a masked interaction in Venice, a lady’s boudoir in Paris, and a dissipated night of cards in London. Each tableau is composed of mannequins in lush velvet and embroidered silk costumes amid period furniture, bringing the visual wealth of Casanova’s world to life.

One of Casanova’s first of many travels abroad was to Paris, where he met with fortuitous circumstances. For the first time in his life, he was truly wealthy and able to afford fashionable quarters and sumptuous artworks to fill them. Paintings, furniture, precious objects, and musical instruments in the following section evoke splendid Parisian interiors. Reunited for the first time in several hundred years is François Boucher’s cycle of six Mythological Scenes featuring the loves of the gods (now in the collections of the Kimbell and Getty). A tableau with mannequins in fashionable robes à la Françoise re-creates a lady’s morning toilette, or the social ritual of getting dressed, accompanied by friends and gossip.

A connoisseur of food, Casanova wrote in great detail about his meals in his memoirs. To highlight the importance of fine dining of the eighteenth century, porcelain and silver have been brought to life in an interactive exhibit called “The Art of Dining.” Through an elaborate overhead video projection, visitors can sit at a “dining table” onto which is projected or “served” a historically accurate, aristocratic three-course feast, using period porcelain and silver pieces.

Casanova also traveled to London, where he had mixed success. Paintings by his Venetian countryman Canaletto set the stage for this act in England. His Westminster Bridge, with the Lord Mayor’s Procession on the Thames (1747) depicts the newly completed Westminster Bridge, an engineering marvel, and at the far right, the recently completed towers of Westminster Abbey. In this section, a tableau—the aftermath of a drunken card game—shows that social interactions were not always genteel.

The exhibition culminates with a gallery devoted to the most intriguing and powerful members of Casanova’s social circles. Throughout his travels, Casanova met or befriended some of the most famous individuals of the eighteenth century. Jean-Antoine Houdon’s bust of Voltaire is joined with Pierre-Étienne Falconet’s Catherine the Great and by portraits of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin. This reunion of philosophers, statesmen, popes, monarchs, and artists in this final gallery reflect Casanova’s great intellect, broad travels, and insatiable ambition.

The Future of the Past: Mummies and Medicine
Through Aug 26, 2018
Gallery 1

Ancient Egypt meets modern medicine in this exhibition that makes use of state-of-the-art scientific techniques to explore two of the Fine Arts Museums’ mummies. An interdisciplinary team of scientists, Egyptologists, physicians, and museum curators and conservators has learned more about how these embalmed individuals lived, died, and were prepared for eternity.

Rebecca Fahrig and Kerstin Müller of Stanford University Medical School’s department of radiology have conducted high-resolution, three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) scans of the mummies, revealing long-held secrets. The resulting data have been studied by Jonathan Elias of the Akhmim Mummy Studies Consortium, who offered much of the interpretation seen in the exhibition.

One of the mummies investigated is that of Irethorrou, a priest from an important family living in Akhmim in middle Egypt about 2,600 years ago. The Future of the Past includes information that has been gleaned about Irethorrou’s lifestyle, the society in which he lived, his religion, and the funerary beliefs of his time. The second mummy, perhaps 500 years older, is that of a woman traditionally known as “Hatason.” Neither her mummy nor her coffin has fared as well as those of Irethorrou, and they present a stark contrast to Irethorrou’s perfectly preserved body.

Visitors can examine both mummies by means of an interactive virtual dissection table supplied by Anatomage, a San Jose medical solutions company. Hauntingly beautiful amulets and tomb furnishings are also displayed.

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