Thursday, February 27, 2014

Christo talks! Superstar wrap artist wows crowd at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt  (first printed in the La Jolla Light)

Christo onstage at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, before the opening of his exhibition, “X-TO+JC”

Christo onstage at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, before the opening of his exhibition, “X-TO+JC” Photo by Maurice Hewitt

There was a full house at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla’s Sherwood Auditorium on the evening of Feb. 1, 2014 when Christo came onstage for a lecture/slide show about his 50-plus years of grand-scale public art. Some of the crowd had been standing in line for hours, hoping for no-shows’ seats.

The hour and a half of fascinating words and pictures by the man who wrapped the Reichstag, hung The Gates in Central Park, and is now creating an oil-drum Mastaba in Abu Dhabi that is taller than Egypt’s Great Pyramid ended in a standing ovation. An audience member called the evening “one of the high points of my life!”

The occasion was the opening of the exhibit “X-TO+JC,” which MCASD Director Hugh Davies referred to in his introduction as “the largest collection of Christo’s work west of the Potomac,” since only the Smithsonian’s in Washington, D.C. is (slightly) larger.

At the start of his presentation, Christo apologized for his accent and said that his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, had always given lectures like these and he wasn’t as good at them. But in a house full of fans, with his witty style and copious supply of inside stories about the process and politics of creating his ephemeral artworks, he was a palpable hit. After the talk, he took questions from the audience, answering with grace and humor. At 78.5 years old, he is still going strong.

“These projects are temporary works of art. They are unique, irreplaceable moments,” he said. “And they do not belong to us. Nobody can own them or charge to see them. That’s freedom.”

His last words of the night: “I don’t think about my art, I think about my life. Art is not my profession, it’s my life! I live art!”

Later, he graciously indulged audience members by posing for photos with them and giving autographs. Oh, yes … and the exhibit was impressive, too.

• COMING UP: A screening of the documentary, “Umbrellas” (1994), will explore Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s expansive installation “The Umbrellas” (1984-1991), 3-5 p.m., Saturday, March 1, 2014 at Sherwood Auditorium, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, 700 Prospect St., La Jolla. Free for museum members and students, $5 for seniors and $8 general admission.

— THE WRAP UP: Facts from Christo’s Talk at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla, Feb. 1, 2014  —
• Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude, immigrated to New York City from Paris, and he has been living and working in the same six-story building since 1968.
• Each project involves decades of meetings, government reports, negotiations, and often, refusals, before the work is approved, and many months of secret site, fabric and weather tests before installation of ‘the real thing.’
• All costs of the projects are financed by the sale of Christo’s preparatory studies, drawings and collage to interested collectors.
• He rents each project site for the duration of the installation (usually two weeks) prohibiting performances in the area around it. The cost can be several million dollars. When the project is over, having been seen by millions of people, it is completely disassembled and recycled.
• Lifetime Stats: 22 projects fully realized; 37-plus failed to get final approval.
Patti and Coop Cooprider with ‘Over the River,’ a proposed project for the Arkansas River in Colorado
Patti and Coop Cooprider at the lecture Photo by Maurice Hewitt

Raymond Elstad at the Encinitas Liabrary

Seduced by Dance: Photography  by Raymond Elstad (Encinitas Library 540 Cornish Drive Encinitas, 92024) This exhibition of color and black and white photos covers a range of local dance companies in San Diego. Show runs until April 13th.  Opening Reception: Sunday, March 9th 2014 1pm-4pm More info: 760-943-7496

The Encinitas Library has never looked better. The black frames with white mounts set the work of Raymond Elstad off perfectly and the quiet presentation does not have to fight with the clutter in the room. This very impressive body of work which covers a range of local dance companies is outstanding because it not only illustrates the work of these talented performers but it is also fine art.. Elstad brings out the best from the dancers and then sets them off in subtle but controlled ways that enhance the postures. His lighting skills are particularly professional as befits an artist who is also a teacher and gives workshops in this area. Watch for his next series of photos taken on walks wit his wife Rosemary KimBal mainly in Encinitas, Leucadia and Cardiff by the Sea. 

There are four dancers in this photo, can you find them all?

With added Zen Brush Painting by Rosemary KimBall

Monday, February 24, 2014

SD Art Prize has it roots in the Turner Prize

The SD Art Prize is entering its 8th year and I thought it might be fun to hear a history of why we have an art prize in San Diego. The story starts in 1973 in London.

I arrived in England at that time, worked as a receptionist and then ran an art gallery in the west end. It was a time of miner’s strikes causing black outs and letter bombs from the IRA. I zigzagged my way to work in the west end to avoid mail boxes with suspicious letters hanging out of mail slots. We lit the gallery by candles every other day during electric shortages. 

Old master still ruled at Sotheby’s and Christies and Bonhams was a tiny auction house but the oldest started in 1793 and is now merged with Phillips and they also bought the west coast Butterfields in 2002. Impressionist painting were on the rise but very few contemporary artist came up in auctions. 

This was all to change when the first Tate Turner Prize was awarded in 1984 to Malcolm Morley, an English artist living in the United States.  Receiving awards in the next four years were Howard Hodgkin 1985, Gilbert & George 1986, Richard Deacon1987 Richard Long, 1989. All four were nominated in the first year. It was a private award, but the shortlist was announced. It was controversial from the start.

The Tate now called Tate Britain, in 1988 was the just the Tate Museum.  It housed all British made art only.  The appointment of Tate Director, Nicholas Serota led to many changes such as the introduction of an annual re-hang and giving priority to modern and contemporary art. During this period the future of the Prize was uncertain. The Turner Prize was modified to have no published shortlist and a solo exhibition was awarded to the winner, Tony Cragg. But in 1990 there was no prize as there was no sponsorship for it and it only sprang back to life in 1991.  All four short-listed artists got a show and the audience became more involved. The award ceremony started to be televised. The Notional Lottery system was set up and the arts benefited. Only smokeless coal could be used and the city started to clean all its buildings. The Tate expanded to become Tate Modern and now has several other campuses in the UK. The Tate Prize now rotates to other venues.

Some other artists who have received the prize included Bill Woodrow., Anish Kapooris,  Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Mach, Paula Rego, Sean Scully, Rachel Whiteread, and Anthony Gormley.

By 1995, the Turner Prize got more and more controversial and more and more attention. Damien Hirst  presented his shark tank, Tracy Emin got drunk during the award ceremony, Chris Ofili's used balls of elephant dung to prop up his works. Modern Art prices at the auction house were on the rise. Charles Saachti had loaned work from his collection for the Sensation show and started his own private museum. 

When I left England in 1996, contemporary artists were getting prices for their work as high as those of modern art. I discovered that San Diego has wonderful artists but not too many people knew about them. When I formed SDVAN in 2003, I decided that an Art Prize might do something similar for the arts in SD as it had done in the UK. Making artists into art stars and reminding people they could obtain art of excellence in SD were some of the goals. 

When Ann Berchtold joined the team in 2005, the idea of an art fair was a tiny seed, but we started working toward the SD Art Prize and in 2006, I got a grant from a foundation on the East Coast to fund the first years of award money.  In the context of the Turner Prize we are babies. But now in our eighth year and with the help of Erika Torri and Debra Poteet together with Ann Berchtold I have hopes that Contemporary art and artists can affect the public in San Diego County, someday, on the same scale as the Turner Prize helped catapult contemporary art into the major leagues in the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Power", Global Social and Environmental Issues Explored at Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego

Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego
“Power”  Exhibition
Review by Cathy Breslaw

“What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do”. This quote by Artistotle is placed in large letters on the wall at the beginning of the exhibition at MOPA.  The title and theme of ‘power’ refers to the use of photography as an instrument to shed light on important global social and environmental issues.  Based on Prix Pictet, an annual juried prize – has established itself as the world’s leading prize in photography and sustainability. It chose “power” as the subject of this year’s exhibition – photography professionals from around the world nominated 650 photographers from 76 countries and the list was whittled down to 12 for this exhibition. Guy Tillim, a South African photojournalist, exhibits black and white  archival pigment prints taken in 2006 during the weeks of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s first general election since the 1990’s. These images mirror the political wasteland and unrest resulting from the rivalry of the two presidential candidates at that time.  Jacqueline Hassink, a photographer from the Netherlands presenta images from her series  “Arab Domains”, chromogenic prints made of the dining rooms and boardrooms of 36 Arab women business leaders from 18 Arab countries.  Hassink uses the ‘table’, in this case, a symbol for economic power, to shed light into the lives of these highly successful women in cultures traditionally lacking in ‘powerful’ women. French photographer Philippe Chanceldocuments the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami and ensuing nuclear reactor incident in northern Japan in “Datazone”, archival inkjet prints revealing the power of natural disasters.  Photographer Edmund Clark explores the spaces and objects of power and control  of incarceration at Guantanamo. Other photographers explore subjects of war, oil spills, impact of deforestation in the northwestern U.S. and the social realities of life in urban areas.
Congo Democratic      Guy Tillim       archival pigment print

Cathy Breslaw is a contemporary visual artist exhibiting across the U.S. at museums, galleries, college and university galleries and art centers. She is a contributing writer for Art Scene, southern California and writes her own blog:   Her art can be views at:

Chicanitas: Small Paintings From the Cheech Marin Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, downtown San Diego

Cheech Marin, who is known as a comedian, has been an avid collector of Chicano art for 25 years. He has built a renowned collection that has travelled across the United States in several venues. This exhibition presents paintings by Chicano artists, including established figures such as John Valadez, Leo Limón, and Patssi Valdez, as well as younger emerging artists such as Jari “Werc” Álvarez, Ana Teresa Fernández, and Sonia Romero. Each of the works in the exhibition are approximately 16 inches or smaller, and depict subjects including familiar landscapes, notions of cultural heritage, familial relationships, and social community. In Chicanitas, Marin has drawn together a rich variety of works that express the complex texture of the Chicano experience.  This combination of figurative and landscape works form a kind of expressive realism – depicting a musical rhythm, vibrancy of spirit and color, depth and often straightforward simplicity of day to day life. There is a ten minute video accompanying this exhibition which is an important contribution to this show because of Cheech Marin’s incredible enthusiasm and passion in talking about his collection – he says “I had an immediate and visceral reaction to these paintings”. He likes them because “they are self contained and draw you in”.  It is interesting to note that some of the works in this exhibition are painted by artists who have never shown their work before this show.
                                                  Sandy Rodriguez, Payasa, 1998, oil on panel, 12 x 12 inches. Collection of Cheech Marin. © Sandy Rodriguez 2013.

Cathy Breslaw is a contemporary visual artist exhibiting across the U.S. at museums, galleries, college and university galleries and art centers. She is a contributing writer for Art Scene, southern California and writes her own blog:   Her art can be views at:

Friday, February 7, 2014

Lure: all is not what it seems at SD Mesa College Art Gallery

by Patricia Frischer

LURE: all is not what it seems at the San Diego Mesa College Art Gallery (D-101, 7250 Mesa College Drive, SD 9211). from Feb 3-27   More info: Alessandra Moctezuma 619.388.2829

Susan Myrland has curated this show  pulling together a selection of 24 interesting artists.. who examine ideas of seduction and temptation, using new forms of Light, Sound and Space art with an emphasis on interactivity and engagement.  "Lure" is a new venture for Mesa College Art Gallery, expanding the gallery’s reputation for presenting challenging experimental work by local and national artists. 

My favorite work in this show was by the artist/artist's model Savannah Jarmen (sister of Alexander) Savannah works at MOPA but there is nothing photographic about this work which she says is an ode to the plants that inspire her to take poses when she is modeling. I found the juxtaposition of the live plants with the drawn image that comes off the wall very fresh. I was just reading about the relationship that plants have to each other which is often unobserved by us so having  a human influenced by a plant in this particular way seemed to give us all a stronger connection to each other. I am also aware of a new breed of artists models which are creating visions for artist and are no longer just shapes to be positioned for compositional purposes. The best models now are presenting rich content and are collaborators in the final creation. And their modeling is more performance art then still life. Check out the models at Dr. Sketchy's Anti Art School and ArtGym (downtown) and Drink and Draw (North County) 

Alexander Jarmen leads us to a focus on shoes with no laces by drawing them at the bottom of what looks like some painting in progress. These are all situated in a pretend room where some sort of business is happening, but that is left to the imagination.

Angella d'Avignon makes miniature stone circles but made with resin and not crystals. Sitting on a light box, they might be amazing in a totally dark room. She plays with tainting mystic ceremonies

No, the image is not out of focus, these works by  Curtis Bracher are overlaid with lenticular plastic sheets that are used for 3-D effects. 

Jon-Loren Bazan charmed us with floating lighted figures, more ghost like in this photo than in real life.  

Julie Weitz's video sequences were able to hold their own amongst all the flash and noise.  Various yoga like positions were assumed and then with mirror and glass, paint was overlaid in various geometric combinations.

Perry Vasquez work is rather the odd work out with no electronics or sculptural aspects. Just good old fashion painting, perhaps a touch influenced by Hieronymus Bosch.

Barbara Sexton's very strange ear duals are compelling viewing..the shadow profile was provided by Larry Poteet who crossed as I snapped the shutter.

Dave Ghilarducci presents a music influenced Morse Code generator. It is, as always with Dave, an elegantly constructed sculpture. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Copley bequest brings "wrap artist" Christo to Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla

by Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
Christo, the world-famous wrap artist, is coming  to the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla on Feb. 1. He won't be doing any wrapping here, but he will give a lecture before the opening of an impressive exhibit of his works, mostly from the collection of the late David Copley.
New York City 2012: Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for ‘The Mastaba,’ a project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  Wolfgang Volz / ©Christo
New York City 2012: Christo in his studio with a preparatory drawing for ‘The Mastaba,’ a project for Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Wolfgang Volz / ©Christo
Copley, who died in 2012, inherited the newspaper chain founded by his adoptive father, James Copley, and was publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1997 to 2009. A longtime La Jollan, he was a generous booster of the arts, one of MCASD’s most valued trustees and patrons, and the most prolific collector of Christo’s work in the country.
To honor his life and legacy, the museum is presenting “X-TO+J-C,” a showing of more than 50 pieces from Christo’s 50-year collaboration with his wife, Jeanne-Claude, who died in 2009.
Christo, born in Bulgaria, and Jeanne-Claude, born in Morocco, met in Paris in their early 20s, and discovered that they shared, besides a taste for public art, the same birthday: June 13, 1935.
Their huge-scale projects, like “Wrapped Reichstag” installed in Berlin (1971-95) and the bright-orange “The Gates,” which transformed New York’s Central Park (1979-2005), involved decades of elaborate planning followed by months of trouble-fraught installation. The works originally appeared under Christo’s name alone, but were subsequently credited to both Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Together, they changed the way people looked at familiar objects and places.
According to Jill Dawsey, MCASD’s associate curator, who helped organize the exhibit, Christo started out as a society portrait painter, in Paris.
‘The Umbrellas,’ Project for Japan and Western U.S.A., 1987,  by Christo  Wolfgang Volz / ©Christo
‘The Umbrellas,’ Project for Japan and Western U.S.A., 1987, by Christo. Wolfgang Volz / ©Christo
“That was his day job, and Jeanne-Claude’s family commissioned him to do her portrait. From the beginning, she helped conceive and execute the works, but the drawings were all his,” Dawsey said. “The draughtsmanship, the technique, of the drawings is incredible, and many of them incorporate maps, data and photos. They were used to sell the work, to convince potential patrons that the idea was worth funding.”
“X-TO+J-C” includes many drawings and collages, and several wrapped pieces, among them an early portrait of Jeanne-Claude. Two of the pieces were donated by Christo, in honor of Copley, his patron and friend of so many years. But most of the works are from Copley’s collection.
“The work he collected represents all of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s major pieces,” Dawsey said. “So it’s a very good overview of their career, and it shows the breadth of what they did over the decades, not just the wrapping, but everything else.”
Few artists today enjoy Christo’s level of popularity, and fewer still are known by their first name alone.
“It does make him seem more of a rock star,” Dawsey said. “Despite the controversial nature of many of the large-scale works (two people were killed during 1991’s installation and removal of “The Umbrellas” in the California desert), they’re seen by millions of people, and the interesting thing is: they’re temporary. They take years and years to realize, and they’re only on view for a matter of weeks.”
The big exception is the Abu Dhabi Mastaba, one of the works-in-progress Christo will describe in his lecture.
Originally conceived in 1977, this will be his first large-scale, permanent project. Made from 410,000 multi-colored oil barrels, it will be the world’s largest sculpture. It will also bring Christo’s career full-circle, since one of the earliest projects he did with Jeanne-Claude was a barricade of oil barrels, blocking a narrow Paris street.
‘Package,’ 1960, by Christo is made of fabric, rope and twine.  Eeva-Inkeri / ©Christo
‘Package,’ 1960, by Christo is made of fabric, rope and twine. Eeva-Inkeri / ©Christo
Christo will also talk about another work-in-progress, a project for the Arkansas River in Colorado. Conceived in 1992, it is finally close to being approved.
“It will be fascinating to hear about all the negotiations behind the works, because that’s part of the works themselves,” Dawsey said. “The pieces reveal the physical world around us in a new way, but the complicated negotiations reveal the hidden mechanisms of how society actually works.”
The Copley-Christo Connection
 Hugh Davies, director/CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, talked to La Jolla Light recently about the Copley-Christo connection. Davies’ MCASD directorship was endowed by David Copley in 1998.
“What was special about David was that he was so much more than just a collector; he was a true patron of artists, and a longtime friend of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. He first met them in the late 1970s, and continued that friendship till the day he died.
His passion for their work gave him the greatest pleasure, and I was fortunate to be able to share that pleasure. We’d fly out to the trial sites of their projects, where they’d be testing their materials and designs, and we’d spend the day, have lunch with them, and give ourselves a chance to see the world through Christo’s eyes. Many collectors are just passive accumulators of transferable goods, but not David; he had a real rapport with artists, and was always there, with admiration and support for their work.”
'Wrapped Portrait of David Copley' 2006, by Christo
'Wrapped Portrait of David Copley' 2006, by Christo
If you go
What: ‘X-TO+J-C: Christo and Jeanne-Claude Featuring Works from the Bequest of David C. Copley’
When: Feb. 2-April 6, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursdays-Tuesdays; to 7 p.m. third Thursdays;
closed Wednesdays
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego,
700 Prospect St., La Jolla
Admission: $5-$10, free 5-7 p.m. third Thursdays, and to members
Contact: (858) 454-3541
Film Screening: 3-5 p.m. March 1. ‘Umbrellas’ (1994), a documentary by noted filmmakers Albert and David Maysles that follows Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s two-color, two-country installation of umbrellas in Japan and California