Protected: Le Feuilleton (the Serial): (English translation followed by V.O. française) Exclusive! “Trompe-l’Oeil,” Michel Ragon’s saga of artists, dealers, critics, & anti-Semitism in Post-War Paris, Part 13: The Empire Strikes back against Abstract art (Subscriber-only content; to learn how to subscribe, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com.)

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Protected: Le Feuilleton (the Serial): (English translation followed by V.O. française) Exclusive! “Trompe-l’Oeil,” Michel Ragon’s saga of artists, dealers, critics, & anti-Semitism in Post-War Paris, Part 12: Bartering painting for meals on the place de la République (Subscriber-only content; to learn how to subscribe, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com.)

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Up, up, and away in my beautiful balloons over the Streets of San Francisco

balloons san francisco bernal

If it’s true, as Herb Caen famously quipped, that “If all the world’s a stage, San Francisco’s the cast party,” denizens of Baghdad by the Bay did Herb proud earlier this week by not letting a little virus deter them from throwing a balloon popping party. (As seen here, pre-popping, from high atop Bernal Heights.) Special thanks to Lulu.

Ruth Asawa gets her Postage Stamp(s)

Ruth Asawa FacesRuth Asawa (1926-2013), “Faces.” For more on the artist, see below and her web site.

By Paul Ivan Winer Ben-Itzak
Text copyright 2012, 2020 Paul Ben-Itzak

Earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service announced it was issuing a stamp series honoring artist, educator, and Japanese-American concentration camp survivor Ruth Asawa (1926-2013). This piece, “Ruth Asawa: From darkness into light,” was first published on the Arts Voyager on August 14, 2012, and dedicated to Annette, Eva, Sharon, Leah, and all the other parents who with Ruth founded San Francisco’s Alvarado Arts Program in the 1960s. I was one of Ruth’s students, and was later honored, upon graduation from Mission High School, to receive the Ruth Asawa Achievement Award. Special thanks to L.R. for the tip. We’ll make a reporter out of you yet, Lulu. Like what you’re reading? Please help pay for our work — and increased food expenses and risk during this crisis — by subscribing or making a donation today. Just designate your payment in dollars or Euros through PayPal to paulbenitzak@gmail.com , or write us at that address to learn how to donate by check through the mail.

PERRYVILLE, Maryland — Lafayette, when he traversed it on General Washington’s orders, called the mighty Susquehanna River his “rubicom.” This morning as the Sun rises over this vast blue reflecting pool right near where it opens up into the Chesapeake Bay, and I reflect on how a kid from San Francisco’s Noe Valley got here, at the tail end of a three-month arts voyage and personal journey that now finds me in a house where Lafayette ‘lui-meme’ slept, owned by another kid from SF (neighboring Eureka Valley) and her husband, I find myself thinking of Ruth Asawa, who from a childhood interned in a prison camp by her own country (is this what Lafayette and Washington fought for?) went on to turn thousands of kids like me and my pal on to art. I think of art and I think of humility, I think of museums and I think of access.

ruthcobblestonesRuth Asawa (1926-2013), printed by Clifford Smith. “Pigeons on Cobblestones,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.1965.200.

ruth5Left: Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), printed by John Rock. Untitled, 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.207. Right: Ruth Asawa, printed by Ernest de Soto (b. 1923). Untitled (Flowers XI), 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.1965.353.10.

ruth1Left: Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), printed by Jurgen Fischer. “Chrysanthemums,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.198. Right: Ruth Asawa, printed by Walter Gabrielson (b. 1935). “Poppy,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.201.

ruth3Left: Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), printed by Jurgen Fischer. “Umakichi,” 1965. (Umakichi was Asawa’s father, also imprisoned with her by her own country during World War II.) Lithograph. © 1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.196. Right: Ruth Asawa (1926 – 2013, printed by Ernest de Soto (b. 1923). Untitled (Flowers XI), 1965. Lithograph © Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.353.10.

ruth7Left: Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), “Desert Plant,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.181. Right: Ruth Asawa (b. 1926), printed by John Rock. “Desert Flower,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.182.

ruthnastyRuth Asawa (1926-2013), printed by Jurgen Fischer. “Nasturtiums,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas. 1965.214. Right: Ruth Asawa (b. 1926), printed by Ernest de Soto (b. 1923).

ruthnude2Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), printed by Clifford Smith. “Nude,” 1965. Lithograph. ©1965 Ruth Asawa. Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.1965.210.

Protected: (Updated with translation of Jean-Luc Godard tribute to Cinémathèque founder Henri Langlois) Cinémathèque Française offers free online films (Subscriber-only content; to learn how to subscribe, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com)

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Ephemeral & Eternal: Helen Levitt’s “Chalk Drawing” at the Met Museum of Art

LT1996.04As part of the exhibition Photography’s Last Century: The Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection, in principle running through June 28, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York, it’s still a helluva town is presenting: Helen Levitt (American, 1913–2009), “Chalk drawing,” New York, ca. 1940. Gelatin silver print. 7 1/8 × 11 3/8 in. (18.2 × 28.8 cm), Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Collection. © Helen Levitt Film Documents LLC. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Thomas Zander Gallery Image. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by Eugenia Burnett Tinsley and Juan Trujillo.

Huysmans to Puvis to Zola: When the author of ‘J’accuse’ touted a monumental artist who refused to go with the tide

Puvis de Chavanns Young women at the seaside smallerFrom the exhibition Huysmans from Degas to Grünewald: As seen by Francesco Vezzoli, in principle running April 3 through July 19 at the Strasbourg Museum of Contemporary Art (after an earlier run at the Orsay Museum, to whose boffo press service we owe these images): Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898), “Jeunes filles au bord de la mer (Young women at the sea-side), 1879. Oil on canvas, 205.4 x 156 cm.  Paris, Musée d’Orsay. Photo © musée d’Orsay / rmn. (For more art from the exhibition, click here.)

Text by Emile Zola
Translated by Paul Ben-Itzak

One of the benefits of the Orsay Museum’s latest penchant for re-envisioning  the late 19th-century work which is its charge through the eyes of contemporaneous critics  is that the polyglot writers often dictate a polyglot selection of artists which means that major figures overdue for their own solo shows get a cameo. Such is the case with the exceptional  Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824-1898)’s 1879 oil “Jeunes filles au bord de la mer (Young women at the sea-side),” which features in the work exhibited at the Orsay and theoretically to be exhibited through July 19 at the Strasbourg Museum of Contemporary Art for  Huysmans from Degas to Grünewald: As seen by Francesco Vezzoli. Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) may well have referred to himself as a “Dutchman putrefied with Parisianism,” but if we’re to judge by the Puvis painting above, his tastes were anything but. It’s no surprise that in 1880 — a year after this tableau was made — Emile Zola invited Huysmans to collaborate in the collection “Les Soirées de Medan.” Which connection is enough of a pretense for us to turn the Puvis floor over to the great man, as Zola singled out the painter in his review of the 1875 Salon, published in two “Letters from Paris” which appeared in Le Sémaphore de Marseille of May 3 and 4 and in “Le Messager de l’Europe” in Saint-Petersburg. Today’s translation and art goes out to Holly, and to all the Holly Golightlys of the world, in esperance for the period when we’ll all be able to go lightly again. — PB-I

I’ve saved Puvis de Chavannes’s large tableau for the end. Secluded at the Sainte-Croix convent, Radegonde gives refuge to poets and protects the world of Letters against the epoch’s barbary. Here at last is a truly original talent, who trained himself far from any Academic influences. He alone can succeed in the art of decorative painting, in the vast frescos exposed to the raw light of public institutions. In our times, with the crumbling of classic principles, the fate of mural paintings has become critical. The nobility of heroes, the simplicity of the drawing, every rule which makes the tableau a type of bas-relief in which the ‘cooler’ colors have trouble standing out in the midst of the marble of churches and palaces, have collapsed, making way for the explosion of the romantic brush. And suddenly, it seems to me, Puvis de Chavannes arrives and finds a breach in this impasse. He knows how to be interesting and alive, in simplifying the lines and painting with uniform tones. Radegonde, surrounded by nuns in white gowns, is listening to a poet declaiming verse between the walls of a convent. The scene exudes a grandiose and peaceful charm. To tell the truth, for me Puvis de Chavannes is but a precursor. It is indispensible that large-scale painting is able to find subjects in contemporary life. I don’t know who will be the painter with the genius to know how to extract the art of our civilization, and I don’t know how he’ll do it. But it is indisputable that art does not depend on either draperies or the antique nude; it takes root in humanity itself and consequently every society must have its own conception of beauty.

From Emile Zola, “Ecrits sur l’Art,” copyright 1991 Editions Gallimard.