What’s happening down the Peninsula?

  • by Michael Wood, BAR Contributor
  • Sunday August 31, 2008
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"Landscape at L’Estaque" (1906) by Georges Braque, part of Spared from the Storm: Masterworks from the New Orleans Museum of Art.
"Landscape at L’Estaque" (1906) by Georges Braque, part of Spared from the Storm: Masterworks from the New Orleans Museum of Art.

A dizzying abundance of major museum exhibitions opened in the city during what may well have been the most crowded summer calendar in recent memory. Although it would be easy for busy art-lovers to have neglected the offerings on the Peninsula, the South Bay's smaller institutions - including the Palo Alto Art Center; the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University campus, a jewel with an endowment that's the envy of some mid-sized cities; and the San Jose Museum of Art - have shows that merit attention in the waning days of summer. Some close soon after Labor Day, while others continue through autumn; either way, if you're looking to catch up before the fall season rolls out in earnest, here's a sampling of what's up down south.

Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University: "Spared from the Storm: Masterworks from the New Orleans Museum of Art", through October 5. Pet, humans and the local economy weren't the only casualties when Hurricane Katrina ripped through the city in 2005. Priceless works of art were at risk, too, and luckily, the vast majority of NOMA's collection survived unscathed. The exhibition focuses on the European and American holdings and, given New Orleans' Franco-European heritage, the collection's strong suit is French works such as Edgar Degas' "Dancer in Green." The 89 paintings, drawings and sculptures by masters from the 17th through mid-20th centuries range from works by Monet, Renoir, Cassatt and Pissarro to Picasso, Giacometti, Matisse and that surrealist with a black derby fetish, Magritte.

In 1940, Richard Diebenkorn, an American modernist who lived most of his life in California, and Carey Stanton met while fellow students at Stanford University and fraternity brothers at Delta Kappa Epsilon. "Richard Diebenkorn, Artist, and Carey Stanton, Collector: Their Stanford Connection", also at the Cantor, is a tribute to their half-century friendship expressed through the nearly 50 drawings, paintings, and prints from Stanton's private collection. Completing the total Diebenkorn experience is Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper, a dozen abstract prints and drawings, in gouache and collage, that represent the artist's adventures in abstraction during the 1970s & 80s. Both shows are on view through November 9. For info: (650) 723-4177, museum.stanford.edu.

San Jose Museum of Art: "Robots: Evolution of a Cultural Icon", through October 19. It would be difficult to conceive of a better fit than a Silicon Valley-based museum and an exhibition of artistic riffs on robots. The robot, a term coined from the Czech word meaning tedious labor, hopefully executed by someone or something else, is an icon that has preoccupied the creative imagination for over 50 years, from 1950s science fiction fueled by fears of automation to Woody Allen's "Sleeper", an inspired, futuristic send-up that introduced the #1 invention on Allen's wish list: the "orgasmatron."

The exhibition, which captures the ambivalence, suspicion and wish fulfillment engendered by these dream machines or walking talking nightmares, features works in a variety of media by 20 artists. Gail Wight's diorama, "Star Struck," for instance, is a picture of robotic domesticity in which a toy robot leans back in his easy chair, his loyal mechanical dog at his side as Fritz Lang's Metropolis plays on a miniature TV. (At least it's a tin can with good taste.) Having witnessed a gorgeous robot meet a terrible end, the armchair robot sobs and litters his living room floor with used Kleenex. By God, we've seen the enemy, and it's us. (408) 271-6840 or www.sjmusart.org.

Palo Alto Art Center: "Nathan Oliveira: The Painter's Bronzes", through September 7, is the first major survey exhibition to focus on this fine Northern California painter's bronzes, created during three different periods of his life. It includes his first sculpture in 1960 as well as works produced as recently as last year. A Bay Area figurative painter rooted in European expressionism whose paintings and monotypes have been shown extensively, this show reveals Oliveira's lesser-known, relatively unexplored side. The 35 enigmatic masks, which the artist cites as a response to the Iraq war, heads and haunting, elongated, striding figures recalling those that have appeared solo and undulating in his lovely if lonely landscape paintings, are, stresses Oliveira, "sculpture made by a painter." Alberto Giacometti also comes to mind.

Art historian Peter Selz observed that Oliveira "used his painter's brush on the surface of the bronze," finishing them in a variety of colorful patinas. Some speculate that he missed his main chance with the New York and European art cognoscenti, but so much the better for us. "I do not look at modern art as a linear experience, continually in competition with itself, devouring itself - a game for popular society to play," Oliveira once wrote. "Rather I believe in an art that layers time upon time, an art that simply reaffirms our presence and the depth of our existence on this earth, our planet in the universe." (650) 329-2366, www.cityofpaloalto.org/artcenter.

Michael Wood is a contributor and Editorial Assistant for EDGE Publications.