de Young Museum
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
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Museum image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

de Young Museum
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Ranu Mukherjee: A Bright Stage
Through January 20, 2019

Ranu Mukherjee employs drawing, painting, animation, and choreography to create hybrid installations that blur the line between the moving and the still image by imbuing each with qualities of the other. Her work investigates the construction of culture through the forces of creolization, migration, ecology, speculative fiction, and desire as a collision of events that mark what she calls “shadowtime,” a sensation of different timescales coalescing into one. For Wilsey Court, Mukherjee is creating an installation expanding over the four walls that frame the atrium. Entitled A Bright Stage, it combines wall painting with printed fabric and video animation into a dynamic environment reflecting on the cultural and spatial perspectives of the museum in general and the atrium as a freely accessible public space in particular. With the adjective “bright” describing qualities both visual and auditory, it amplifies the atrium’s qualities and potentialities as a freely accessible place for public voice and action.

A Bright Stage will be installed in one of the de Young's public spaces; no admission required.

The Companions: Sounds for a Lost Screenplay
June 17, 2018 – September 4, 2018
Hamon Observation Tower

The Companions: Sounds for a Lost Screenplay is a cinematic audio environment composed by Skywalker Ranch sound designers Gary Rydstrom and Josh Gold, working in collaboration with visual artist Anthony Discenza. As the first commissioned artist project for this iconic observation floor, the piece makes full use of the sweeping views as a series of filmic “frames” with accompanying immersive soundtracks. The Companions functions as a type of “auditory cinema” that explores the vital role sound plays in shaping narrative and affective space in film.

For this project, Discenza—whose work frequently makes use of withheld or incomplete information, and who also incorporates aspects of fictional narrative into his practice—approached Rydstrom and Gold to resurrect the lost screenplay by moving the audience through different thematic, narrative, and atmospheric components of the story. Discenza shared materials on The Companions with Rydstrom and Gold the way an actual film director might provide the sound design team with a storyboard or footage. In this case, however, Discenza notes that “there’s no film or visuals; the audio drives the entire experience. So the fragmentary information we have on The Companions’ storyline becomes a stepping-off point for them to play with the vernacular of cinema sound itself, and the extent to which it’s possible to use the tools of the sound designer to produce a film without moving images, using the views from the tower as establishing shots to contain the action instead.”

Customized sound solution developed through a partnership with Meyer Sound.

Produced in collaboration with Skywalker Sound, with additional support from DTS.

Admission to The Companions installation is free and open to public.

First Impressions: Prints from the Anderson Collection
June 2, 2018 – December 8, 2018

Our culture is full of discussions around managing the ever-important “first impression”—that first encounter with a new person, place, thing, or idea, when opinions are often hastily formed. It can be difficult to escape the grip of a “first.” However, artworks can provide artists, viewers, and collectors with multiple opportunities for first impressions—an expression particularly apt in printmaking, since every sheet bearing a printed image is called an impression. This exhibition casts a wide net across the concept of the “first impression” to present a selection of highlights from the museum’s Anderson Graphic Arts Collection.

Among the first impressions on view are examples of artists’ first projects at a print workshop, their debut of a motif or technique, and their initial works within a series. Viewing artwork likewise provides occasions for firsts. There is the first time a viewer encounters a work of art, which is also perhaps their earliest exposure to the artist or to a specific context that reveals content, form, and technique in a new way. First Impressions includes recent additions to the Anderson Collection by Louise Nevelson and Christopher Wool and marks the debut of these prints at the de Young.

And there are firsts for the collector. An inaugural purchase within a previously unexplored area of art may send him or her off in new directions, as did Mary Margaret “Moo” Anderson’s first encounter in 1968 with Richard Diebenkorn’s 41 Etchings Drypoints, itself the artist’s first publication with the then-fledgling Crown Point Press. The suite of prints—which Moo and her husband, “Hunk” (Harry, who died in February), count as their earliest acquisition within the realm of contemporary art—inspired in them a lifelong commitment to collecting contemporary American prints.

Image: Richard Diebenkorn, "#1 (the artist's wife, Phyllis)" (detail), 1964 from the portfolio "41 Etchings Drypoints," 1965. Drypoint, sheet: 451 x 375 mm (17 3/4 x 14 3/4 in.). Printed by Kathan Brown; published by Crown Point Press, Berkeley. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, Gift of the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Charitable Foundation, 1996.74.76.1

Fans of the Eighteenth Century
Through April 28, 2019

Fans have served as accessories of fashion and utility since antiquity but reached their peak production and use in eighteenth-century Europe. Made from and embellished by precious materials such as ivory, mother-of-pearl, and silver and gold leaf, eighteenth-century fans also featured designs that reflected the spirit of their times. Fans addressed current events as well as themes of broad interest, including biblical and mythological tales and romanticized domestic and pastoral vignettes. Fans of the Eighteenth Century explores this quintessential period of fan production through a selection of examples from the permanent collection.
Image: "The Noble Wedding" (detail), 1715–1725. Italy. Vellum, paper, mother-of-pearl, metal, and jewel; opaque watercolor and carved, incised, and gilded sticks and guards; rivet; 11 in. (27.9 cm) length, 18 5/8 in. (47.3 cm) width (open). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mrs. Reginald Rives, 1978.10.5a

Weapons of Mass Seduction: The Art of Propaganda
May 5, 2018 – October 7, 2018

Today a single tweet can reach millions of people instantaneously, but prior to the internet age, the mechanics of shaping public opinion by spreading information and ideas was more regulated, hierarchical, and specialized. For instance, during the First World War, complex military operations were needed to drop propaganda leaflet bombs from airplanes, saturating the landscape with paper messages targeting enemy soldiers and civilians. Ephemeral printed materials, in addition to radio broadcasts and motion pictures, were the primary vehicles of propaganda during the first half of the twentieth century. Among the most powerful tools of psychological warfare, propaganda posters weaponized the art of graphic design.

As international hostilities erupted during the 1910s and again in the 1930s, the American government and its foreign counterparts sought effective channels of communication with the public. Centralized bureaus—like the Committee on Public Information in the United States, the Ministry of Information in Great Britain, and the Reich Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda in Germany—looked to the worlds of art and advertising, recruiting painters, professional illustrators, and filmmakers to tell their stories.

This exhibition features a selection of World War I and II–era posters from the collection of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, shown alongside films, ephemera, and textiles from the 1910s to the 1940s. The design and content of these works demonstrate consistent strategies for selling ideas and manipulating public opinion that persist to the present day.

Judy Dater: Only Human
April 7, 2018 – September 16, 2018

Spanning five decades of the artist’s work, Judy Dater: Only Human is the first exhibition in over twenty years to explore the career of Bay Area photographer Judy Dater. This exhibition will provide a survey of Dater’s work, celebrating her achievement as a pioneering figure in 1970s feminist art and her subsequent creative evolution.

Living most of her life in California, Judy Dater (b. 1941) grew up in Hollywood with the influence of cinema amplified by the hours she spent in her father’s movie theater. This early exposure to the realm of the visual led her to study art at the University of California, Los Angeles and later San Francisco State University (SFSU), where she earned her degrees (BA 1963, MA 1966). At SFSU, Dater committed more seriously to photography and her early talent was encouraged by several prominent members from the West Coast’s Group f.64 and its followers, including Imogen Cunningham and Edward Weston.

Though the theme of feminism remains present in Dater’s work through the decades, her compositions increase in narrative depth and implication over time. Her self-portraits incorporating the landscape of the Southwest use geographic features as subtle allusions that reveal the weight of social constructs.

Cult of the Machine
March 24, 2018 – August 12, 2018

Characterized by highly structured, geometric compositions with smooth surfaces, linear qualities, and lucid forms, Precisionism—a style that emerged in America in the teens and flourished during the 1920s and 1930s—reconciled realism with abstraction, and wed European art movements, such as Purism, Cubism, and Futurism, to American subject matter to create a streamlined, “machined” aesthetic with themes ranging from the urban and industrial to the pastoral. The tensions and ambivalences about industrialization expressed in works by the Precisionists are particularly fascinating and relevant to a contemporary audience in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, in which robots are replacing human labor for various functions, underscoring many of the same excitements and concerns about modernization that existed nearly one hundred years ago.

Connections between the past and the present will be explored throughout this large-scale survey, which will feature more than 100 masterworks of American Precisionism by such modernists as Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Demuth. This exhibition will shed scholarly light on the aesthetic and intellectual concerns undergirding the development of this important strand of early American modernism to explore the origins of its style, its relationship to photography, and its aesthetic and conceptual reflection of the economic and social changes wrought by industrialization and technology.

revolutionized American life. This period gave birth to the efficiencies of the factory assembly line; gravity-defying skyscrapers; and the streamlined aesthetic of an industrial design defined by functionalism. Inspired by the modern world around them, Precisionist artists such as Charles Demuth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler produced structured, geometric compositions with smooth surfaces and lucid forms—reconciling the influence of avant-garde European art styles such as Purism, Cubism, and Futurism with American subjects ranging from the urban and the industrial to the rural.

As the mechanization of society accelerated in the early twentieth century, artists from the United States and abroad increasingly found inspiration in the industrial machines surrounding them. The pioneers of what came to be known as a Precisionist style were affiliated with the group of American and expatriate European artists, writers, and intellectuals who frequently met for lively exchanges at the Manhattan apartment of the art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg. Duchamp, who had emigrated from France, was a constant presence at these gatherings—along with other members of the conceptually minded, avant-garde New York Dada group such as fellow Frenchman Francis Picabia—and extolled the virtues of America’s technological achievements and “cold and scientific nature.” These Dadaists’ embrace of mechanistic subjects influenced the Precisionists to depict the industrial “gear and girder” world of early twentieth-century America.

Machined: An Aesthetic of Efficiency
The smooth, streamlined aesthetic of Precisionist painting—in which brushstrokes are often barely perceptible and the works seem almost machine made—can be seen as a response not only to the sleek forms and polished surfaces of the machine, but also to the era’s new methods of industrial production. Capturing what Sheeler termed “the spirit of the age,” the Precisionists replaced the expressive visual language and gestural brushwork of turn-of the-century American art movements such as the Ashcan School with crisply painted forms that belied the intensive labor their artistic production entailed. The “machined” quality of these works thus reflects not just the outward visual effects of industrialization, but also conveys the impersonality of both mass production and human experience in an automated age.

Power or Powerlessness?
The lack of a human presence in most Precisionist scenes—notable in depictions of factories and cities, which are in reality teeming with humanity—was acknowledged by Sheeler when he wryly described his work as “my illustration of what a beautiful world it would be if there were no people in it.” Historically, these scenes have been interpreted as “proud symbols of technological splendor” that celebrate the nation’s industries, focusing on their formal beauty and awesome power rather than social content. Yet more recently, scholars have argued that many of these works reflect—and perhaps even subtly critique—the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and urbanization.

Precisionism and the City
By the 1920s, skyscrapers had become symbols of American modernity. These towering “cathedrals of commerce” expressed the dynamism and promise of a new era, and their sleek and vertical forms were a ubiquitous influence on the fine and decorative arts of the period. Yet in New York City, concerns that these vertical machines would cast the streets below them into perpetual darkness resulted in a 1916 zoning law requiring setbacks in skyscraper designs—and anxieties abounded about the effects of urban overcrowding on the physical and psychological health of citizens.

In the American Grain: Finding a Past for the Present
Just as the Precisionists reflected and celebrated America’s cultural identity by embracing as subjects the nation’s urban and industrial landscapes, so too did they draw inspiration from its agrarian roots and design traditions. Artists such as Sheeler, O’Keeffe, and George Ault found aesthetic inspiration in the simple geometries of a barn or Shaker interior. The prevalence in Precisionist art of such rural subjects, which harkened back to the nation’s pre-industrial roots, reflected a larger national narrative that claimed the functionalism and efficiency of the modern era could be traced to the colonial period.

The Soul of Human Life
In the relatively few Precisionist works that are populated, the figures often convey tensions between humans and their modern, industrial environment. In some, human and mechanical attributes are merged or conflated, recalling the Dadaist mechanomorphs pioneered by Duchamp and Picabia. Precisionist artists’ representations of their own and others’ identities with such imagery may signal an attempt to reassert their humanity within an automated age.

A century after the emergence of a Machine Age aesthetic, we face surprisingly similar questions to the ones that the Precisionists addressed with such nuance and intelligence. Although their carefully constructed works evoke the sense of impersonal order and control associated with mechanical processes, they also ask us to consider the fundamental relationship between humans and machines—the ways in which we benefit from, resist, and co-exist with technology.

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