Book: The Neri Oxman Material Ecology Catalogue, edited by Emily Hall and Jennifer Liese

The Neri Oxman Material Ecology Catalogue
edited by Emily Hall and Jennifer Liese
published by The Museum of Modern Art, NY (MoMA)

Art exhibitions are a special sort of book, and I was excited to obtain this one after having missed the exhibit at MoMA (because: COVID).

The curator’s essay notes that architecture has its movements and manifestos, and that Speculative Critical Design, which could include Oxman and her lab’s practice, “has featured earnest but inconsequential exercises and clichéd storytelling,” which could honestly be a summary of nearly every architectural movement/manifesto (I could stop the sentence here) that hasn’t delivered a robust body of work. Oxman’s written philosophical content can provide insights, but appears intended to produce a shell of theory for the practical purposes of funding an experimental practice. You can gloss over it, admire the design of the catalog itself (modeled in tribute to Stuart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog), and then look at the interesting experiments and models that Oxman and her teams have produced.

Oxman produces attractive art objects that show off the potential of experimental, available natural materials. To utilize these materials, different fabrication methods involving both showy robots and insects are attractively documented, so that the processes behind the forming of materials is clear.

There is a tiny caption in an image “the shellfish industry produces more than 1 million tons of chitin-based waste per year,” and suddenly the context of the many forms and pieces involving chitin is clear. We have abundant supplies of materials that are the byproduct of other industries, which could offer opportunities to escape our petroleum and plastic-based problems.

The emphases on responsible material use, experimental manufacturing, and artistically documented processes interest and please me. Displays of models and experiments charm me (in a way similar to Studio Olafur Eliasson’s geometric model shop), though these models often have forms suggesting industrious insects made them, or perhaps volcanic springs formed them over time – and I mean that as a compliment. There are a few pieces that aren’t as tightly conceptualized to appeal to me (the death masks, for example), but the results are attractive, and they aren’t here to please me alone, so I won’t complain.

This is an attractive, well-designed catalog that shows off intelligent and attractive materials engineering experiments. I appreciate Oxman’s innovative work and overall practice, which is very STEAMY (in the putting the Art back into STEM way).

Art: Judy Chicago’s ‘Forever de Young’

Yes, I did choose a viewing spot downwind of the performance. I REGRET NOTHING!

I always marvel at how lucky I am to live in San Francisco. While taking long walks with friends, I often say aloud that we are extraordinarily lucky to live here, in such a beautiful city, with such a vibrant and creative and international population, mild weather year round, and the remarkable influence of the bay and our famous fog.

October 16th was one of those days that inspires outbursts of gratitude, not only because the weather was warm and mild, but also because I also got to participate with friends in an ART EXPERIENCE! The brilliant Judy Chicago performed one of her Atmospheres installations: a gorgeous, colored smoke performance of vast size, here for the public in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.


It’s not every day I come home starry-eyed and reeking of gunpowder, but this was one of those days!

The de Young live-streamed the event, and packaged it with a great overview of the exhibit. It’s a GREAT use of video, and I want to compel everyone I know to see it (giving me a moment’s overlap with the sort of zeal religious missionaries possess, which is a funny feeling).

It was gorgeous; it allowed me to follow my habit of photographing other people while they photograph; it was great to see so many people so excited about an art event; it was pleasant to participate in a masked group activity outdoors; my phone is filled with abstract colors and texts from the friend who participated with me; I left completely delighted.

Book: Judy Chicago: New Views by the National Museum of Women in the Arts

This is a gorgeous cover, with the intrusive colored smoke encroaching on the title text. Just fantastic!

Judy Chicago: New Views
by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (U.S.)
published by Scala Arts Publishers, Inc., New York

Judy Chicago’s works, especially her drawings and paintings, always appeal to me. She has a sense shading and gradation that is consistent across her materials, and her drawing compositions are just stunning. She is an artist I have always believed should be more famous, and the folks at the National Museum of Women in the Arts agree! They’ve created and published this excellent book.

There is a lot to appreciate about this volume. It includes works that are held privately, and so you are unlikely to have seen them; it includes details of works you may not have appreciated from a polite viewing distance in a museum, especially for her textile works; and the essays and interview are of exceptionally high quality – and are somehow at just the right length to leave you stimulated and wanting more.

I am personally thrilled to see images of her smoke and firework pieces, which had escaped me previously, but which I should see in larger form at the upcoming Judy Chicago retrospective at the San Francisco deYoung Museum, which opens later this month (August 2021).

I appreciate so much about her body of work. I especially appreciate: the consistency of her compositions across materials (from Prismacolor pencil to sprayed paints on different bases); her elegant use of ranges of color; her direct embrace of female imagery and feminist ideas; her compassion for the suffering of others (including animals), which she renders so skillfully across different media; her in depth, multi-year studies of materials (she enrolled in auto body shop classes, boatbuilding classes, and china painting classes) so she could execute her work at a high technical level; and her utilization and embrace of skilled collaborators to help her achieve some of her monumentally sized works.

While her work evolved in clear directions, I was surprised to be so delighted by some of her early paintings on car hoods, which I wouldn’t recognize has hers (based on later work), but which is charming and bold. The shapes she uses are nearly iconic.

This is an excellent book of very high quality by every measure, with a great selection of Chicago’s work, beautifully reproduced, presented in a well-organized fashion alongside thoughtful writing about her direction and commitment to her themes. I’m so glad I bought it, and feel more prepared to enjoy her forthcoming show!

Art: US Postal Service Stamps Honor Ruth Asawa

10 gorgeous images of Ruth Asawa’s sculptures

I am completely delighted that the US Postal Service is issuing stamps featuring sculptures by California artist Ruth Asawa.

We claim Asawa here: she created numerous sculptures we have, including the famous mermaid sculpture at Ghiradelli Square, the charming children’s clay figure sculpture near Union Square (now adjacent to the Apple Store), and a remarkable collection of woven wire structures that are included in the collection of our deYoung Museum; we’ve named a school after her!

It’s wonderful to see her work shared with others nationally in this highly democratic way.

Artist: Mimi O. Chun

I received a delightful art card, with a still life of vegetables. It was nicely composed, but also – the radishes had SEAMS! It was an arrangement of SEWN food sculpture!

The artist who created that is Mimi O. Chun, and she has a great portfolio that goes beyond food and includes social commentary on several topics, which I’m linking to here.

Creatures of Commerce – Mimi O Chun

Creatures of Commerce is a direct response to the discordant nature of 2018. It’s a series of chimeras mashing up creatures, culture, and capitalism. And while I’ve never before been one to indulge my surrealist impulses (it somehow feels like a slippery slope to nihilism), reality is doing a good job of inspiring them these days anyway.