26 June 2008

a haunted artist

With the monumental spectacles generated by today's film industry, I expect to emerge from a film more emotionally affected than from an art exhibit. Not so for the haunting Frida Kahlo. Her art speaks more loudly for her than anything or anyone else can.

After the delightfully bird-like mischievousness of her self-depiction in "Frieda and Diego Rivera" (1931), her art as exhibited at SFMOMA is a series of intensely painful and individual experiences. She poured her pain directly into her paintings, transmitting it to the viewer in an uncannily visceral way. The honesty of her autobiography in art is stunning enough, but seeing her torn asunder by her philandering husband in "The Two Fridas" (1939) is almost mortifying. Staring into "Moses" (1945), her ongoing search for a belief system, one sees a fanatically cluttered foreground which reveals almost no depth, and yet one gets the distinct experience of looking into infinity.

Kahlo's pain seems to end or at least reach a reconciliation as one enters the last room, filled with eye-popping, joyous still lifes and "The Love Embrace of the Universe" (1949). This redemption is just as a viewer would hope. Yet she was in her worst physical condition by that point, having undergone endless operations and an amputation. Had she truly achieved peace, or was her artistic joy a forced Act III? "I hope to leave joyously -- and never return." What happy, unhaunted soul says such words?

Diego Rivera specified that Kahlo's room remain locked for fifty years after her death. It has finally been opened, her extraordinary Tehuana / Chinese / Indian wardrobe discovered in pristine condition, the colors still intense. One cannot help but wonder at how she stands out in every photograph, whether she is alone or with a crowd. She is inevitably the most dignified, proud, and eye-catching. Is it her majestically un/traditional wardrobe, her tightly-bound hair, her features, her high forehead, her masculine air, or the way she holds her chin that mesmerizes? Or can the fire of one's spirit blaze through one's face to the camera lens?

Speaking of Kahlo's wardrobe, if you are looking for a reproduction of the shirts and skirts she wore in her self-portraits, you can buy them at SFMOMA for $200 to $1800 a pop. Having garnered limited recognition during her lifetime, I am sure Kahlo would have been proud to see the queues winding down the stairs at SFMOMA for her exhibit. But what of the gift shop?

25 June 2008

"In March, Americans drove 11 billion fewer miles on public roads than in the same month the previous year, a 4.3 percent decrease — the sharpest one-month drop since the Federal Highway Administration began keeping records in 1942." -The New York Times

24 June 2008

goodbye cody's

The Berkeley air was choking with the smoke of wildfires blowing in from all around NorCal. Perhaps some particles of San Bruno Mountain gorse even reached the Campanile -- who can know?

What would you bring with you if you had to abandon your house to an approaching wildfire? Photos? Stuffed animals? Jewelry? Other monetarily worthless things that can never be replaced? My things are still all in boxes, awaiting their Berkeley home. I would have run out with little more than my passport, Social Security card, and laptop in hand, frozen by the choices between all the rest of those worthless, precious things. Perhaps my bike would have come with me. And my carillon sheet music, if I had the presence of mind.

Berkeley's iconic Cody's Books closed on June 20. I stood reading and rereading the tabloid-sized notices posted on the wall-to-wall windows, stricken. Passersby, perhaps noticing my expression, stopped to glance at the notice, but nobody lingered. Perhaps it was old news to them. Perhaps it was meaningless news to them.

Moments earlier I'd been in a wonderfully thought-provoking bookstore on Bancroft, picking up "The Book is Dead: Long Live The Book" and then setting it back down again with revulsion, unwilling to believe its warning, determined to believe that it was just the sort of book it warned against, a sensationalist product designed only to sell. But the fact is that I neither read it nor bought it. Perhaps the book is dead unless we change something fast. We buy our books from giants like amazon to save a few bucks. And here is the evidence, in these tabloid-size letters. I never suspected that my last visit to Cody's was unrepeatable. And my last visit four years ago to the 4th Street store. And the visit to the Union Square shop that never happened. How Cody's has been shuffling around. To what end?

The end, I suppose. Just as I was starting to take up the slack on the reading list I've been growing but otherwise ignoring since high school. And just as I've stopped moving house often enough to want to actually own my books.

Incidentally, the newest item on my travel itinerary: Shipton's Arch, known for ages by locals, revealed to the West in the 1950's, lost, and found again by National Geographic in 2000.

23 June 2008

The moon is orange tonight under the heavy smoke as the south face of San Bruno Mountain goes up in flames.