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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
415.750.3600
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deyoung.famsf.org
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.

Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network
December 2, 2017 – June 10, 2018

Presented by the New York-based collective DIS, Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network, will reveal a “DIS-topian” take on the future of education—decentralized and open-access, yet communal and physically connected. The DIS Edutainment Network will be played on a continuous loop on 36 large LED screens in the de Young’s atrium, Wilsey Court, inviting visitors to experience a twisted hybrid of entertainment and education. The result of collaboration with a group of international writers, and artists, the expansive multi-media platform will include The Restaurant, a cooking show with political themes by Will Benedict and Steffen Jørgensen, a nature show on human-animal relations in Africa and Thailand by Korakrit Arunanondchai, a video focusing on “general intellects” with McKenzie Wark, a visual essay by Aria Dean, a talk show on “Mother” by Casey Jane Ellison, a docu-short on “seasteading” in Tahiti by Daniel Keller and Jacob Hurwitz Goodman, a report on “reparation hardware” by Ilana Harris Babou, a cartoon by Amalia Ulman, a docu-short on “economic utopias” by Christopher Kulendran Thomas, a Nollywood fictional drama exploring the influence of technology and digital culture in South Africa by the artist collective CUSS Group, and a contribution by the Women's History Museum. The viewer will be guided through the “program” by “The Host” - an avatar created with Chus Martinez, (the director of the Institute of Art at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel), Culturesport, and Ian Isiah and interstitial ads and interviews conceived by Darren Bader and DIS will connect and disrupt the different “programs”.

Join us in celebrating the DIS collective’s Genre-Nonconforming: The DIS Edutainment Network with an opening day “Thinkspo” full of stimulating activities of all kinds.

Coming Together: Artistic Traditions of the Quilt and the Print
Through May 27, 2018

Drawn entirely from the recently acquired Paulson Fontaine Press Archive, Coming Together features prints by the quilters centered in Gee’s Bend, Alabama including Louisiana Bendolph, Mary Lee Bendolph, Loretta Bennett, and Loretta Pettway. Due to light-exposure issues, the prints have appeared in two rotations, the first from June to November 2017 and the second from November to May 2018. The gallery also includes prints by Lonnie Holley, a friend and fellow Alabama artist, who created prints at the Berkeley press in 2013 and 2017.

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