1.21 / Review

Best Of: Renny Pritikin

By Renny Pritikin August 18, 2010

Best New Northern California Museum Space.

Nominees are the Oakland Museum of California, the Crocker Museum, and Southern Exposure. The Crocker isn’t opening until October 10, so we can wait on that. However, I strongly recommend a trip up to Sacramento to see the new building this fall. It’s quite wonderful. The Oakland Museum’s remodeled space is much improved and very exciting for the East Bay. However, the award goes to Southern Exposure for raising a huge sum of money and coming up with a functional and attractive space with virtually no big-time financial backers. It was a truly grassroots triumph of planning and organizing.

Best Arts Event.

Four things about The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art 75th Anniversary stood out for me: (1) The huge crowds that showed up for the free weekend celebration. (2) The near-universal feeling of intensively perceived community engendered both in the public and among the artists and arts professionals in attendance. (3) The seven-and-a-half-minute talks by seventy-five invited speakers, which were videotaped, forming a lasting portrait of the arts-community leadership at one point in history.1 (4) The generosity and insightfulness of the exhibition, and especially the historical material culture from within the museum’s internal correspondence. The founding director of the museum, Grace McCann Morley, was revealed to be a courageous and passionate progressive force who fought to exhibit Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937) before WWII, despite right-wing critics, and acquired an early Pollock. The event was moving and unforgettable.

Best Unknown Local Genius Illustrator

Nominees are J. Otto and Owen Smith. Otto is a subversive children’s book illustrator. His best-known works are Olive, the Other Reindeer, which was made into a television Christmas special, and his mind-blowing pop-up book of Alice in Wonderland. He has a forthcoming book reimagining the Mother Goose stories, titled Other Goose, in which he will continue to warp the minds of the younger generation. Smith is a California College of the Arts design professor who has published some two dozen covers for the New Yorker and other mainstream publications, utilizing his trademark neo-noir style from the 1930s. The award goes to Smith for all his amazing work published this year. Next year it will go to Otto for Other Goose.

Biggest Loss to the Arts Community.

Nominees are the closing of New Langton Arts and the death of Larry Sultan. Langton was historically important but had faded in vitality for most of the past decade, and was due to close up. As part of the group that molded the place, I recall our discussing, in the early days, how to both embody flexibility and to establish an expiration process when the magic was gone. However, the loss of Sultan was much more important. He was a human being, of course, but also a beloved and respected teacher, artist, thinker, Bay Area treasure, and role model. He left a big dent that won’t soon be filled.

Zhang Huan. Three Heads, Six Arms, 2008; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the San Francisco Arts Commission. Photo: Geneviève Massé.

Cover of Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962 by Megan Prelinger.

Best Temporary Public Art.

Nominees are the San Francisco Arts Commission and the FOR-SITE Foundation. FOR-SITE is a not-for-profit agency founded by the indefatigable Cheryl Haines. They have commissioned a yearlong set of works at the Presidio, under the umbrella of “Presidio Habitats.” The Arts Commission does not get enough credit for its public-art program.2 This past year they enhanced the environment with a brilliant placement of a Louise Bourgeois spider near the Bay Bridge anchor, brought in Patrick Dougherty to weave his stick art through the trees in City Hall Plaza, and capped it off with a monumental Buddha, Three Heads, Six Arms (2008), in that same site by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, among other projects. These cumulatively edge out, but just narrowly, the work of FOR-SITE.

Most Interesting Entrepreneurial Art Trend: Subscription Art.

In the ’80s, Bay Area artist and current UC Berkeley lecturer Randy Hussong, fresh out of art school and trying to find a way to support himself, started a Print of the Month Club of his own work. It was a great idea that had a brief successful run. A generation later, a few younger local artists are following up on that idea with their own subscription art services. The most successful has been The Thing Quarterly, a collaboration between artists Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan that has now been going for three years. The Thing offers four objects a year (by guest artists), loosely involving some sort of textual component. Also on the list are the Kin Subscription Series’ TBW Books and The Present Group, which commissions wonderful small artist projects. Beginning this year is the most recent, Alula Editions, a collaboration between artists Helena Keeffe and Amber Cady, based on the idea of original repetitive fabric designs and objects by commissioned artists. Having seen the first pilot project—a mesmerizing Photoshopped drawing by Jason Jagel—the project will be a no-brainer investment for a mere $200.

Best New Nonfiction Book.

No one has asked me lately, but if Rick and Megan Prelinger of the Prelinger Archive are not worthy of MacArthur genius grants, I don’t know who is.  Another Science Fiction: Advertising in the Space Race 1957-1962 by Megan Prelinger is the latest example of their far-ranging interests and projects that spring from a study of American history and politics of the past 100 years. Crucially, this study is from the point of view of aesthetics and poetry. This new book looks at the advertising used to recruit engineers into the burgeoning aerospace industry in the late ’50s and early ’60s, which actually created half a million new jobs in the same period. Prelinger offers insight into the mutual influences of science fiction, politics, art, design, social psychology, and advertising in creating a visual culture that romanticized and heroicized the aerospace industry.



1. Disclosure: I was included.
2. Disclosure: I am married to one of their project managers.

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