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The Bay Area art world in 2013 - hits and misses

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It's that time of year again when we try to sort out the hits and misses of the art year.

The appointments of Colin Bailey to the FAMSF, Lori Starr to the CJM and Linda Harrison to the MoAD are all to the good. Bailey, in particular, steps up to helm a troubled institution, plagued with low morale and lack of direction. So far, it's difficult to tell if he will make a difference as the FAMSF is still working through the legacy of the late John Buchannan. But we all wish him the best.

The de Young hit three home runs with the "The Girl With the Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis", "Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966" and David Hockney. The Hockney exhibit needed some serious editing; in his case, the palace of excess did not lead to the place of wisdom but that has not prevented it from being another block buster.

But Diebenkorn is proving one of the "old masters" of the 20th century and it was a rare treat to see his abstract works from that period paired with his figurative work.

"Rembrandt's Century's" at the De Young: Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts curator James Ganz put together an amazing show of 17th century graphic works as an addendum to "The Girl with the Pearl." In depth and quality it stood up to the more famous paintings.

But the de Young also hosted a show which should have been titled the "The Art of of Vulgari. While it was nice to see Liz and Gina all decked out in the ostentatious jewelry of the era, the overall effect was stomach turning.

The Asian Art Museum goes from strength to strength. Ellison's "Japanese Art from the Ellison Collection" received some sneers as a vanity show. The sneer was unjustified. Ellison and his private consultant, Emily Sano, former head of the Asian, proved that Ellison's money was allied with taste in a show of exquisite works of art spanning 1500 years of Japanese art.

"The Terricotta Warriors" was more somber show but ground breaking as it was the first time that the Chinese government had permitted so many of the warriors and the objects surrounding that era to travel outside China.

SFMOMA closed for construction but managed to pop up all over the bay with shows at the CJM and the Cantor. The Jay De Feo retrospective opened in 2012 but closed in 2013 so it still deserves mention as a ground breaking, breathtaking look at a long neglected artist.

Viewing "The Rose," installed in an alcove at the end of a long gallery was a religious experience but the rest of the show revealed an artist who was one of the most significant ones of the later part of the 20th century. She is another artist who died too young and while leaving a fantastic legacy, could have given us so much more.

The big photography exhibit of the works of Gary Winogrand left me cold. For Winogrand it was all about the thrill of the moment with a rejection of any deeper thought or plan. It was the much smaller but far more powerful photos of Gordon Parks at Jenkins Johnson and SJMA that revealed what photography could say about the human condition when in the hands of a master.

Let's not forget the Beats; CJM didn't in a fascinating show of personal photographs taken when Ginsberg and his friends were young and full of promise.

For about 15 years, from the early 1950s to about 1965, Ginsberg took black and white snapshots of his friends, then largely unknown. His "pals" included Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso, as well as Neal Cassady, mentor, model and object of male and female desire. Ginsberg later observed that his photographs were like "looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world."

The Crocker Museum in Sacramento is still showing the provocative, gut-wrenching work of Kara Walker. The show closes early in January so there is still time to catch it.

In the galleries, there were a couple of shows worth remembering. The Jack Fischer Gallery's inaugural show at its Potrero Flats location featured "Ward Schumaker: The Years of Pretty: Selections From Ten Years of Work."

"American Beauty: The Opulent Pre-Depression Architecture of Detroit at the Meridian Gallery." The highly detailed, large-format color photographs of Detroit's crumbling public buildings showed the the tragic destruction of a once vibrant city.

Edward Burtynsky's photos of desolate, water parched areas were a frighting glimpse of California's future as the state faces a catastrophic drought.

Creativity Explored continues to delight and astonish as it's "artists with disabilities" prove that in terms of art and graphic design they are anything but disabled. Kudos to them and to the dedicated staff to maintaing quality and managed to survive and indeed, thrive in a era that is busy demolishing any and all programs for the 99%.

There were several shows that deserved more than honorable mention but in a year with works by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Diebenkorn, didn't get the appreciation that they deserved. Tyrus Wong at the Disney Museum brought a face to the man who created Bambi and other beautiful works from Disney's golden age. The "Folding Paper" at the Crocker showed the creative genius that went into a so-called "simple" art form.

Thomas Merton said, "Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time." We are on the cusp of 2014. Go find yourselves and get lost in art!


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