Sunday, June 27, 2010

San Francisco Musings !

Dear Friends,

This is my latest article published in "Graphiti" magazine in The Telegraph newspaper reaching over a million readers. Enjoy !

The escape from scorching temperatures in New Delhi took me to San Francisco this summer for a holiday and my trip was perfectly timed. It was impossible to miss the hoardings everywhere for the 75th Anniversary celebration of the renowned San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA as it’s widely known.

San Francisco can be quite chilly with cold winds in the summer and I set off to the museum in nice cool weather. The great thing about museums in the US is the way they make it interesting with architecture, sense of arrival and also the ambience created. The museum shops are so attractive that you want to browse through them for ages. At SFMOMA the shop was well stocked and really huge and it was, in fact, one of the largest and best collections that I have ever seen in a museum shop.

Finally, on the second floor what awaited me was a visual treat and an art lover’s dream come true. Celebrating SFMOMA’s impact on modern and Contemporary art, the exhibition “The Anniversary Show” traces the individuals and the art that have made SFMOMA the institution it is today. Throughout the year, they will continue this effort of presenting a series of exhibitions illustrating the story of artists, collectors, cultural mavericks and San Francisco leaders who founded, built and have animated the museum.

The show was co-organised by Janet Bishop, SFMOMA curator of painting and sculpture, Corey Keller, SFMOMA associate curator of photography and Sarah Roberts, SFMOMA associate curator of collections and research who put together this collection of 400 works of art.

The show began with an introductory selection titled “San Francisco Views,1935 to Now”. It had images of San Francisco from 1935 to a poster by famous artist Martin Venezky titled San Francisco Prize Poster: Harvey Milk Plaza 2000. These works revealed the many ways the city has inspired artists over the last 75 years.

The other thing I admired was how top collectors and industrialists had donated their priceless personal collections to the SFMOMA. Industrialist and art collector Albert Bender’s gifts to the museums were in the next room and these included works by both Diego Rivera who has painted the magnificent murals at the National Palace in Mexico and also the work of his wife Frida Kahlo.

The next room was even more stunning with works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. I have never seen such works by such exceptional artists under one roof and barely metres away from each other. Also, there were bronze works by Alberto Giacometti whose sculpture held the $105 million record as the most expensive piece of art ever sold till it was beaten by a Pablo Picasso work which sold for $106 million recently.

Going through the exhibition I was once again struck by the fact that art is reflection of the times we live in. The period from 1935 to 1945 also was a commentary on World War II with some haunting works.

Apart from the masters, I was most impressed by artists who deliberately disregarded traditional boundaries between media like Robert Rauschenberg who died in 2008. As early as 1954 he did an untitled stunning work which in which he used oil, newsprint, fabric and 3D wooden and metal objects on canvas!

An untitled mixed media work by Robert Rauschenberg

Such creative use of mixed media took place more than 50 years back — and it’s still not very prevalent in the Indian contemporary space and that for me is the mark of a genius. The section was very aptly called “Pushing Boundaries”. Rauschenberg and the others featured in this section dared to engage in a new medium and move in their own direction when it was not conceivable. I was also attracted to an artist who redefined the contemporary art space with his works. On show by Andy Warhol was a unique work that was very different from his usual celebrity portraits. This was Self Portrait done in 1967 and was an acrylic and silkscreen enamel on canvas.

Andy Warhol’s Self Portrait

The most photographed piece in the entire exhibition because of its stunning visual appeal was a sculpture of Michael Jackson with his monkey Bubbles and it looked amazing in the centre of the hall. It was a ceramic work in life-size dimensions and with glaze and paint which made it shine, giving it a very nice finish. In the background of this work, was an untitled piece by Christopher Wool with just the words ‘adversary’ written in three lines. The combination effect of viewing these two works together really made you think about the life and times of Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson & Bubbles by Jeff Koons

Overall, as I walked out after viewing the best in modern masters and the best of International Contemporary art, I was humbled by how everyone in society had come together to do their bit to share their collections and create such a magnificent institution in a great city.

I wait with a lot of anticipation to welcome something as magnificent in India so that we can pass on great art in our country to the next generation !

Kapil Chopra is Senior Vice President of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts.He writes a blog on collecting and investing in Indian Contemporary Art at also writes for The Telegraph Newspaper in the Sunday magazine " Graphiti" every fortnight. In Delhi, he writes for "The Mail Today " Newspaper and the "First City" Magazine.