January 24, 2005

Animals in Translation

I had already seen The Incredibles once during its opening week when Carrie kidnapped me on a school night and dragged me over to the Metreon, but it arrived at the Parkway this week so I happily went with a group of my friends Wednesday night for another viewing. I liked it even better the second time. The action sequences never grow tiresome, the characters have real personalities, and there are clever touches in the script and the animation wherever you look. A villainous mime named Bomb Voyage who speaks subtitled French? Brilliant. I was unsurprised to discover the writer and director is Brad Bird, the man responsible for one of my favorite animated films of all time, The Iron Giant. The film was preceded by the Pixar short Boundin', which almost surpasses the main feature for sheer delight.

By late afternoon the next day I was desperately in need of some distraction from malicious thoughts about a certain obscene party taking place thousands of miles away, so I decided to hit a few galleries. First up was New Langton Arts and their Situational Prosthetics show, a conglomeration of vaguely uncomfortable art from 15 different artists from around the world as picked by curator Nate Lowman. I was perhaps feeling a bit too disgruntled to engage with some of the more difficult pieces as I was meant to, but I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Godfrey's sculpture composed of trash found on the streets of San Francisco (including a sign for an inauguration protest) and Kyoko Kawahata's collection of bedazzled toy semi-trucks.

From SOMA I made my way over to Union Square and Fraenkel Gallery to see Irving Penn's Underfoot, a collection of black-and-white photographs of discarded blobs of gum and other street debris. Leave it to Penn to make this banal subject matter transcendent. Each picture is a still-life, full of subtle shades of tone and detail. Together they start to tell the story of a city from the point of view of the streets themselves, and they also serve as a sort of artsy Rorschach test. I began seeing shapes in the gum as if I were lying on my back in a grassy field and they were clouds in the sky.

My last stop was just a couple of streets over from Fraenkel at the AIA SF Gallery, which currently is displaying a collection of photographs from Dwell magazine in a show called Picturing the Modern World. Dwell features fantastic architectural photography that makes it clear people actually live in these buildings — they're not just for show. A shot out of a bedroom window shows the bed below it still mussed from sleep. Here, a father and daughter peer over the edge of their rooftop onto the city below. There, a porchlight glows invitingly. I loved the irreverent tone of the pictures, and I was filled with envy and lust for the homes themselves. I'm so ready to build my pre-fab.

That evening I went to Cody's to hear Malcolm Gladwell read from his new book Blink, though he really didn't read so much as give an entertaining lecture to the jam-packed room illustrating some of the main points from the book. In one story he used the example of classical music auditions to explain why less information can actually be better than more when making snap judgments, and in another he laid out exactly how the Pepsi challenge worked. However, the best moment came at the beginning of his talk as he was introducing himself. He explained he has always loved Berkeley because of two wonderful counselors he had as a child at a camp where he grew up in northern Canada, and just as he said that a woman near the front raised her hand and identified herself as one of said counselors and correctly named the camp and the year. Gladwell was momentarily struck dumb with surprise, and the audience exploded with laughter and applause.

My turn to reminisce. 10 years ago: I was in the midst of my year in England, the United States had a Democrat in the White House, and SFMOMA moved into its glorious new building on Third Street. I visited for the first time about a year later and still remember admiring Mario Botta's design as I approached from Yerba Buena Gardens. The museum quickly became a second home for me when I worked as an intern in the Education Department, and after my time was up I continued on as a member and a mentor. I have found so many of my favorite artists there: Gerhard Richter, Richard Diebenkorn, Eva Hesse, Sol LeWitt, Bill Viola, Janet Cardiff...the list could go on and on. SFMOMA celebrated its anniversary on Saturday with a day of free admission to the exhibitions, hip-hop and breakdancing in the Wattis Theater, Botta signing books in the store, and art projects in the Schwab Room. I performed my usual ritual of touching the alternating smooth and rough marble of the stairwell as I walked down from the galleries, and I smiled.

The next afternoon found me wandering through the winter sun in the Haight on my way to Amoeba Music. Once inside I became one with the adoring hipster masses there to see Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Matt Sweeney, and I found a CD bin to lean on somewhere in the rock section while I waited for the artists to arrive. Billy and Sweeney were making their only Bay Area appearance to promote their brand new collaborative album Superwolf, and once on stage they pumped out song after song of achingly gorgeous Americana from the record. The audience stood rapt while they were playing and then burst into riotous clapping and cheers as each tune drew to a close. The musicians seemed fairly immune to the adulation, Billy forgoing banter and instead taking long swigs off a Tecate. Maybe he was just grumpy because he saw someone in the crowd with more impressive stunt facial hair than his own.


The Incredibles
New Langton Arts
Fraenkel Gallery
Irving Penn
AIA SF Gallery
Cody's Books
Blink excerpt
Amoeba Music
Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Posted by nightfall at January 24, 2005 10:25 PM