Current, Permanent Collection

One Hundred Aspects of the Moon


0 Comments 20 August 2014

Yoshitoshi (1987.53.7)_blog

YOSHITOSHI, "Enjoying the Evening Cool at Shijō," 1885, 12th month, from the series "100 Aspects of the Moon." Color woodblock print on paper. SBMA, Gift of Carol L. Valentine

Yoshitoshi (1987.53.13)_blog

YOSHITOSHI, "The Bark of a Fox," 1886, first month, from the series, “One Hundred Aspects of the Moon.” Color woodblock print on paper. SBMA, Gift of Carol L. Valentine.

Yoshitoshi (1987.53.22)_blog

YOSHITOSHI, "Moon through Smoke," 1886, 2nd month, from the series "100 Aspects of the Moon." Color woodblock print on paper. SBMA, SBMA, Gift of Carol L. Valentine


For Tsukioka YOSHITOSHI (1839–1892) and his audience, the moon was a special symbol of human emotions.One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, currently on view in the Asian Art galleries at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, was Yoshitoshi’s largest and most important series. Through the poetic theme of the changing moon, Yoshitoshi explored the vast range of human emotions and intensely felt moods: from awe to tenderness, the sensual to the heroic, the whimsical to the profound, and the humorous to the melancholy. He contributed to it over the course of seven years, completing the last three images only two months before his death.  

Yoshitoshi was considered one of the last giants of the ukio-e (floating world pictures) of the Meiji period (l868–l9l2), during Japan’s era of transition to modernity. Using innovative concepts of space, texture, light, and color, he produced an enormous number of woodblock prints and newspaper illustrations. He revitalized the traditional subjects of legends, heroes, and battles, and later expanded his repertoire to include themes from Chinese and Japanese literature and Noh drama.

Visit the Museum’s Upper Level to view the final rotation of this three-part exhibition, One Hundred Aspects of the Moon, in the Eichheim Gallery of the Asian Art galleries.

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Colin Gardner, Film Screening, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art

Bottoms Up! Mike Kelley’s Degraded Family Romances.


0 Comments 11 August 2014

Mike Kelley, Apple Tree, 1982-83. Acrylic on paper. SBMA, Gift of Gerald Ayres.

Mike Kelley, Apple Tree, 1982-83. Acrylic on paper. SBMA, Gift of Gerald Ayres.

Mike Kelley, whose drawing Apple Tree is currently on view in Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, has always been interested in the conflation of childhood sexuality, popular culture, and the pervasive powers of cultural archetypes as particularly powerful forms of psychosexual catharsis. In Kappa (1986), as well as The Banana Man (1983) and Family Tyranny/Cultural Soup (1987), which all screen this Thursday evening at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, he uses slapstick, whoopee cushion jokes, and vast amounts of sexual innuendo—these films are not for the faint of heart—to infuse even the most innocent form of language (physical as well as spoken) with unbounded (and, more often than not, highly destructive) carnal desire.

Mike Kelley as Banana Man

Mike Kelley as Banana Man. Image via Electronic Art Intermix

Thus in Banana Man—Kelley’s first and only truly solo video performance—he appropriated a marginal character from the TV show Captain Kangaroo who he had never seen perform but was able to reconstruct from friends’ first hand accounts. Anyone who knew Mike—before his untimely passing in 2012—would know exactly what to expect. Instead of a benign visit to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood we get something closer to a cross between Antonin Artaud’s “Theater of Cruelty,” Pee-wee’s Playhouse and the BBC’s Look Around You, a wicked satire on scientific education films and school programming.

Underlying Kelley’s satirical take on an otherwise serious subject is his focus on jokes (which were of considerable interest to Freud as agencies or cathexes of unconconscious desires), particularly the archetypal slapstick action that always gets a laugh. This helps to explain Kelley’s well-documented fondness for Benny Hill, for as he pointed out in a 1984 interview with the author:

“I really like to use low-comedy stuff because I think it is a basic humor that is embedded in the culture, whereas high humor is specific to a time. That’s all I’m doing—it’s the same thing. All the jokes in Aristophanes are the same as the jokes in Benny Hill. It’s just that they relate to different politicians, or whatever. But what’s actually funny is not that—that’s just the framework. What’s actually funny is that someone’s getting hit in the ass with a baseball bat. That’s got something to do with child rearing […] something to do with western culture; or the male-female problem—that’s always been funny. Maybe it’s not funny in other cultures, but it’s funny in our culture [...] Benny Hill is just two jokes. It’s a little schmuck and a beautiful woman and then him sitting on something.”

Kelley associates these jokes (as cultural archetypes) with child abuse in Family Tyranny, (a harrowing, improvised collaborative performance with Paul McCarthy) and the Oedipus Complex in Kappa. In the former, Freud’s primal scene is displaced onto a simulated father-son rape. In contrast, Kappa reframes the Oedipus myth through an ancient Japanese folk story, whereby Freudian desire takes the form of Kappa (played with gleeful malevolence by Kelley) a Shinto god of freshwater who resembles a hairless monkey with a dish-like indentation in his skull.

Mike Kelley as Kappa. Image via Electronic Art Intermix.

Mike Kelley as Kappa. Image via Electronic Art Intermix.

After an expository tour of a temple dedicated to the libidinal sprite (it’s hard to tell whether this is real or completely fabricated), the Yonemotos quickly insert Kelley into an archetypal, over-theatricalized sexploitation scenario: a Hollywood mansion where Sophocles’ Jocasta (played by Warhol icon Mary Woronov) sunbathes languorously poolside under the lecherous eyes of her teenage son, Eddie (Oedipus: geddit?), played by Ed Ruscha Jr. Because the audience knows the Oedipus story so well, we are, of course, incredulous that mother and son cannot see the through the web of myth that has enveloped and trapped them, thereby making Freud’s all too tragic premise seem preposterous in the first place.

Ultimately, Kelley turns Freud’s would-be science of psychoanalysis into a sublime version of the obscenely vulgar Carnivalesque, a willful overturning of established social hierarchy which runs completely counter to fixed signifying structures like the oedipal family unit. As Mikhail Bakhtin noted, “Carnival was the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change and renewal. It was hostile to all that was immortalized and completed.” In other words, it was the very stuff of booze, the bawdy and the bibulous. Bottoms up everybody!


Free Film Screening: Three Films by Mike Kelley
Banana Man, Kappa, and Family Tyranny/Cultural Soup
Thursday, August 14, 5:30 pm
Introduction by UCSB Critical Theory and Integrative Studies Professor Colin Gardner
The films may not suitable for young audiences and include some challenging material.
Mary Craig Auditorium
Reserve tickets at the Visitor Services desks or online at

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Atelier, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood

Atelier: Dada Disco & Left Coast Artists’ Party


0 Comments 06 August 2014

atelier_outside_boxWondering what to do on these Hot Summer Nights? Why not take a field trip to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Friday, August 15 when temporarily empty galleries become an absurdist form of Studio 54 for Atelier: Dada Disco and Left Coast Artists’ Party. High meets low and they get along famously at this homage to all things irreverent and provocative inspired by the current exhibitions Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood and Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art. Cocktails, donuts, popcorn, a retro riff on the Ballet Russes, live music, and great art make up just about all the Hot Stuff we can handle.

Break out your Bianca Jagger white suit and your best dance moves for a Dada-inspired disco of Donna Summer hits. How else to best celebrate the twin iconoclasts: Beatrice Wood and California’s Left Coast artists?

April Street, "Betelgeuse (the shoulder and the Bow)." Black nylon over acrylic and hosiery on canvas. Courtesy of the Artist.

April Street, Betelgeuse (the shoulder and the Bow). Black nylon over acrylic and hosiery on canvas. Courtesy of the Artist.

Take a step onto to the dance floor in McCormick Gallery, where Tina Villadolid offers up the hits of the ‘70s with Donna Summer covers and two sets of dancers move across the gallery against a backdrop Dada films and “Dada Live” footage, courtesy of Echelon A/V. Watch as some dancers, choreographed by Robin Bisio, offer up Beatrice Wood-inspired movements while others perform a reinterpretation of the Ballet Russes’ 1917 production of Parade choreographed by Kaita Lepore Mrazek. Then, get in the Dada spirit with a six-seat bicycle ride to nowhere on Left Coast artist Robert Wechsler’s Circular Bike.

The Kinds Color

The Kinds

Santa Barbara’s own The Kinds offer up a steady flow of original songs and odes to California on the Museum’s front steps for the night. While you’re there, activate rumpled sheets of Betelgeuse and Bedtime, an interactive installation inspired by the work of April Street and created by SBMA Senior Teaching Artist Kendall Pata. The oversized nocturnal canvas bridges the gap between dreaming and waking and the public and the private as guests apply their own sleep signatures to it.



Robert Wechsler, Purring Chair, 2013

Robert Wechsler, Purring Chair, 2013

Take a break from the disco in Robert Wechsler’s relaxing Purring Chair in Preston Morton Gallery. Then, make your way to the Leave it to Chance Cocktail Station, a game of chance of randomly selected garnishes to accompany your Cutler’s Artisan Vodka, manned by Santa Barbara artist and mixologist David J. Diamant. Or try out an April Street-inspired Rumpled Bed: Cutler’s vodka, lemonade, and a splash of Tabasco sauce to spice things up.


Atelier: Dada Disco and Left Coast Artists’ Party
Friday, August 15, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
$25 SBMA Members/$30 Non-Members
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

Atelier sponsor_box

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Current, Lecture, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, This Weekend at SBMA

“X-Men” and “Dot-Men”


0 Comments 22 July 2014

Kim Jones, Untitled (War Drawings)(Detail), 2000, 2001, 2008. Graphite on Paper. SBMA, Museum Purchase, 20th Century Quasi Endowment Fund.

Kim Jones, Untitled (War Drawings)(Detail), 2000, 2001, 2008. Graphite on Paper. SBMA, Museum Purchase, 20th Century Quasi Endowment Fund.

The large, three-panel drawing by Kim Jones, Untitled (War Drawing Triptych) (2000, 2001, 2008), in the current exhibition, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, was produced by the artist over an eight-year period. Like most of his drawings, Jones works on them for intervals of time, storing them until ready to work on them again. He repeats this process numerous times until they are released for exhibition. As Jones has stated in the legend for the War Drawings, the drawing “can continue indefinitely.” Indeed, it can easily be imagined that if the drawings weren’t finally sealed off in their frames, Jones would take them back and continue to work on them more.

Jones’s War Drawings reveal an extensive process—the staging of a battle between “x-men” and “dot-men,” among a “fortress” with thick walls and other structures, including “living quarters, places of worship, offices, factories, supplies, and jails.” These, as well as the surface of the paper itself, serve as sites for a detailed and sometimes frenetic sense of action and obliteration that is revealed not only through the artist’s nearly obsessive positioning of forms, but also through detected areas of erasure.


Wilshire Boulevard Walk, 28 January 2976

The genesis of the War Drawings came from the artist’s childhood. At age seven Jones suffered from Perthes disease, a generative bone disorder, and was confined for several years due to his handicap. “Jones spent much of his youth in solitude, immersed in Marvel comics, Disney cartoons, and playing with army figures. He also created things: cartoon sketches, clay sculptures, and pencil drawings of imaginary wars that played out in Xs and dots on paper, a body of work that formed the basis of his mature war drawings.”


Jones’s War Drawings legend. Click to open full-size in new window.

It is interesting to consider Jones’s alter ego as a performance artist—Mudman—as a sort of physical manifestation of the artist’s “Xs.” Slathered in mud with a bundle of crossing sticks strapped to his back, Mudman was the enactor of performances such as Wilshire Boulevard Walk, “a twelve-hour trek that would last from sunrise to sunset, east to west, along the central corridor of the city of Los Angeles.”

To explain his process for the War Drawings, Jones created a legend for the drawings which can be found in his retrospective catalogue, Mudman: The Odyssey of Kim Jones (2007) (from which the quotes above are extracted). Jones will be signing copies of the book in the Museum Shop after his lecture.

Artist Lecture: Kim Jones
Sunday, July 27, 2–3:30 pm
Mary Craig Auditorium
Free for SBMA Members and Students/$10 Non-Members/$6 Senior Non-Members
Reserve or purchase tickets at the Visitor Services desks or online at

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Make and Destroy (and Make Again): Lost Frontier


0 Comments 14 July 2014

Llyn Foulkes, "Mr. President," 2006. Oil and acrylic on wood, mounted on canvas. SBMA, Museum purchase.

Llyn Foulkes, Mr. President, 2006. Oil and acrylic on wood, mounted on canvas. SBMA, Museum purchase.

It started out as a modest 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood. The subject was to be a landscape rendition of Los Angeles as a kind of “lost frontier,” with a pioneer woman with a Mickey Mouse head in the foreground, standing atop a mountainous outcrop, rifle in hand. Much like Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, the figure is dwarfed by the awesome sublimity of the infinite expanse beyond, in this case a smoggy, pinkish orange sky which melds into the urban sprawl of the City of Angels as it nestles at the foot of the mountains in the distance. A satirical blending of 19th-century German Romanticism with a snarky West Coast Pop sensibility you might think? Or, on a more philosophical note, Immanuel Kant meets Walt Disney?

Fortunately, it’s not that simple. According to the work’s author, the painting kept expanding, both in depth of field (through endless sanding, chiseling and building up of impasto) and in dimensions, until it eventually reached eight feet tall. But then it was too top heavy, so the artist cut off the top before adding figures to the immediate foreground—an emaciated Native American sitting with an empty food bowl, an observer (the artist himself?) with his back to the viewer, a dead animal, and a television set, in short, the stratigraphic detritus of L.A.’s urban archaeology spanning historical time from the area’s earliest settlers—the Yang-na Indians—to modern corporate exploitation and its inevitable corollary, ecological disaster.

In case you were wondering, the painting is called The Lost Frontier, and the artist is famed West Coast iconoclast Llyn Foulkes, whose Mr. President is currently on view in Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art. However, it is the work’s date of completion that gives us the first indication that something is not quite right here, that we are in the presence of an extremely unusual painterly process. The work is dated “1995-2005.” Ten years to complete a painting?! His gallery must be having fits!! However, it is precisely this long processual odyssey that defines the subject of Tamar Halpern and Chris Quilty’s absorbing 2009 short, Llyn Foulkes Lost Frontier: A Very Long Improvisation, screening this coming Thursday at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. In many ways the film constitutes a trial run for the pair’s recent 2013 documentary on Foulkes entitled One Man Band, which covers similar territory.

Central to both projects is Foulkes’s improvisatory technique, which is clearly derived from his parallel career as a musician (he played drums with a band called City Lights from 1965 to 1971, and formed The Rubber Band from 1973 to 1977 before becoming a one-man band called The Machine in 1979). “My process is kind of like, ‘make and destroy and make again,”’ observes Foulkes. “It’s whatever happens. It’s like: ‘This needs to be done.”’ Of course, one problem with this approach is that you always have the fear of ruining the piece by overworking it, by spending too much time on it. Also, as the film clearly points out, it’s very difficult to decide when to stop. “I’m never really done with a painting,” admits Foulkes. “They have to take it away from me,” and indeed the documentary ends as the movers wrap up the painting and load it onto the moving truck. Otherwise the film might have rivaled Andy Warhol’s 485-minute Empire in length.

One of the key insights of the film is that art historical pigeonholing of Foulkes’s practice is well-nigh impossible. While on the one hand his work is undeniably cutting edge, he also has a conservative tendency to lionize the past, both in terms of his hands-on practice (no studio assistants for Foulkes) and his predilection for paying homage to old styles (his music, for example, is much closer to vaudeville and Tin Pan Alley than the avant-garde). Often mis-labeled as a Pop artist due to his use of comic book and postcard-like cut-out imagery in the 1960s, he is actually much closer to the Beat-cum-funk junk sensibility of his fellow Ferus Gallery contemporaries such as Wallace Berman and his Semina mail art circle (which included Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell), the collagist Jess, assemblage artist George Herms and most notably, Ed Ruscha.

Indeed, Foulkes’s “painterly” process throughout the development and expansion of The Lost Frontier is much closer to sculpture—particularly through the artist’s ongoing alternation of sanding down, cutting out and building back up again—and assemblage (Foulkes rearranges his painted images like so many found objects), “because the edges are what make things work.” “Everything is pushing in and pulling out until it keeps going back further and further and further,” adds Foulkes. In fact, the work’s surface is so three-dimensional that Foulkes generates real shadows (as opposed to trompe l’oeil painterly effects), so that if you change the position of the lighting, the whole nature of the work’s spatial parameters changes accordingly. “I consider it to be a light and space piece,” avers Foulkes at one point, stating that the most important thing is that the pictorial space is believable. How far can you push the picture back and still have it appear on the surface, while at the same time make it look physically deeper than it is?

While the film catalogs a number of changes in the work’s pictorial space—for example the pioneer woman was moved slightly to the left by chiseling her figure out of the wood surface—Foulkes also lists some of the things still to be done. “I have to get the mountain in there right. I’m trying to get it all in, in white,” while he has yet to sketch in the image on the television set— “I sure hope I got time to do that.” Part of Foulkes’s problem is that he has no real norm to measure his own practice against: “I feel so alone. I feel like what I’m doing is different from what everyone else is doing. I can’t even judge it myself in the sense of how it relates to society, except by reflection. Maybe it’s kind of like somebody looking at the sky. Something moves and something changes and something happens to it. Maybe it’s no different than that. It’s just another experience that somebody might have in the hope that it can reflect in some way that might help to change their thinking about things. I don’t know.”

And yet, despite these misgivings, he remains basically optimistic: “You know, it’s 99% done.” (LOL).


Free Film Screening: Lost Frontier
Thursday, July 17, 5:30 pm
Mary Craig Auditorium
Reserve tickets at the Visitor Services Desks or online at

Delacroix and the Matter of Finish

The Return of Delacroix


0 Comments 07 July 2014


Delacroix gallery view

Eugène Delacroix at the Birmingham Museum of Art

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is delighted to exhibit once again two wonderful oil paintings Winter: Juno and Aeolus and The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius by Eugène Delacroix (1798 – 1863). The works return just in time to celebrate Bastille Day July 14 following the closing of the successful traveling exhibition Delacroix and the Matter of Finish, the first U.S. presentation in more than a decade to focus on the celebrated French Romantic artist. Organized by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Delacroix and the Matter of Finish made its debut at SBMA, running from October 27, 2013 to January 26, 2014. The exhibition, which featured loans from around the world, then traveled to the Birmingham Museum of Art, where it was on view from February 22 to May 18, 2014.


SBMA Staff unpacks and prepares the paintings for installation

The Birmingham Museum of Art was proud to be the second venue to host Delacroix and the Matter of Finish…The Museum welcomed a record-setting 1,300 guests for the exhibition’s highly anticipated opening night. The exhibition went on to successfully engage thousands of regional visitors and students alike, introducing diverse audiences to one of the most important artists of the Romantic Movement. 

-Cate McCusker Boehm, Director of Marketing and Communications, Birmingham Museum of Art

Eugène Delacroix at SBMA

Eugène Delacroix at the Birmingham Museum of Art


Winter: Juno and Aeolus and The Last Words of Marcus Aurelius are currently on display at SBMA in the Ridley-Tree Gallery. If you missed Delacroix and the Matter of Finish in-person, visit our Museum Shop for a catalogue of the exhibition.

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Events, Performance

“Thom Pain (based on nothing)”


0 Comments 11 June 2014


The Santa Barbara Museum of Art (SBMA) hosts two performances this month of the Pulitzer Prize finalist for Drama Thom Pain (based on nothing). The performances in the Mary Craig Auditorium are under the direction of Santa Barbara’s own Maurice Lord and actor and Chair of the Westmont College Theatre Arts department Mitchell Thomas.

Lord is the artistic director and cofounder of Genesis West, a Santa Barbara theater company dedicated to the work of contemporary playwrights. He has directed productions at Center Stage Theater and the Lobero Theatre, as well as in New York and Los Angeles. Below he offers an introduction to the play and the route that brings it to SBMA:

Many factors must align to create a performance piece that’s truly special. When Mitchell and I collaborated on The Fever, by Wallace Shawn, we wanted to create a totally unique and highly interactive theatrical experience that maximized the audience’s emotional connection to the storytelling. It was a wonderful experience. Mitchell and I worked well together, the show was incredibly well-received, and we performed in countless “pop-up” locations ranging from living rooms to bars, churches and even the outdoors lit by a fire pit. We also got to travel with it, performing in Santa Barbara, Hollywood, Spokane, and London. The experience could not have been better. We found the right piece to do at that moment and figured out how to share it in an intimate and unique fashion.

Playwright Will Eno

Playwright Will Eno

Mitchell and I have wanted to collaborate on Will Eno’s play Thom Pain (based on nothing) for more than five years. It was a play we talked about doing before we did The Fever. Every few months one of us would mention it in conversation and we’d kick around ideas—lots and lots of ideas. The New York Times described the play as perhaps the “invention of standup existentialism.” I love that! The play is a fresh take on alienation, love, life, and society. It is about nothing yet it is about everything. A few things happen to one character, yet it is about the entirety of all of our lives. It’s a brilliant script and my favorite play by one of the most important playwrights we have right now. With each rehearsal I find it more and more fascinating and rich, thanks to Eno’s impeccable writing. It’s also very funny!

In the years since we began thinking about Thom Pain (based on nothing), Eno has risen from the cool up-and-coming playwright to one of the most vital and unique voices in contemporary theatre. He has had a steady output of very interesting and good plays. His newest play The Realistic Joneses is currently on Broadway with a large production cast of famous actors. Not bad for an avant-garde playwright!

We are very excited to be offering this totally unique theatrical experience from this very important playwright at SBMA. Mitchell and I wanted to do something very special with this play to give Santa Barbara audiences an experience that could only happen here. We hope you will join us.


Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno
Thursday, June 26, 6:30–7:30 pm
Saturday, June 28, 3–4 pm
Mary Craig Auditorium
$15 SBMA Members, $19 Non-Members
Purchase tickets at the Visitor Services desks or online at



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Colin Gardner, Events, Film Screening, Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood

“Living in the Timeless” with the “Mama of Dada”


0 Comments 10 June 2014

Beatrice Wood, "Two-Faced Nellie," 1987. Colored pencil on paper. SBMA, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Beatrice Wood, Two-Faced Nellie, 1987. Colored pencil on paper. SBMA, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Midway through Tom Neff’s charming and informative documentary film biography, Beatrice Wood: Mama of Dada (screening June 19 at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art) he asks, in rapid succession, a number of art experts the exact same question: “What is Dada?” Each starts to proffer the same reply: “Dada? Ha!…” but is cut off before continuing his or her train of thought. Truth be told, it’s obvious that none of them really knows the answer, including Wood herself, although she does make an attempt at historical contextualization: Dada was “an expression of revolt against the first time that masses of people were killed by airplanes in war.”

Whether this comment is original to Wood or something she picked up from her Dada cohorts is never made clear. However, far from being a weakness, this seeming lack of contextualized clarity is one of the film’s great strengths. Any attempt to “define” Wood historically—either in terms of her idiosyncratic art practice or her unique place in the Modernist pantheon—is doomed to failure simply because she was such a “seat of the pants” practitioner. Even her famed ability to produce brilliant, lustrous glazes was a hit-and-miss affair, a case of “mixing up the chemicals” and seeing what happens rather than a scientific application of tried and trusted techniques and methods. Let’s face it: her autobiography isn’t called I Shock Myself for nothing.

Sumptuously shot on 16mm, Neff’s film originally premiered in March 1993 at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles to mark Wood’s 100th birthday (she eventually died five years later). As one might expect, the documentary is dominated by the centenarian’s pixie-ish good humor and school-girlish delight in flirting with all and sundry. It’s no accident that when asked the secret to her incredible longevity she responds, “I owe it all to chocolate and young men.” Well yes, but keeping company with some of the greatest artistic minds of the 20th century certainly didn’t hurt.

Beatrice Wood, A Nun’s Dream, 1996. Pencil and colored pencil on paper. SBMA, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Beatrice Wood, A Nun’s Dream, 1996. Pencil and colored pencil on paper. SBMA, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Interspersed with contemporary footage of Wood explaining her artistic process, the film follows a rough chronology, tracing her early years as the daughter of wealthy San Francisco socialites and her initial attraction to both painting and acting. Because of her fluency in French, she was allowed to move to Paris where she studied at both the Comédie-Française and the Académie Julian. This sojourn was unfortunately cut short by the onset of World War I and Wood was forced to return to the US to continue her stage career by joining a French Repertory Company in New York City. It was here that she met Marcel Duchamp, who had moved the Dada seat of operations to Manhattan following the cause celèbre of his own Nude Descending a Staircase at the infamous 1913 Armory Show. In addition she made the acquaintance of author Henri-Pierre Roché, who along with Duchamp became Wood’s lover (the ménage is believed to have been the initial inspiration for Roché’s subsequent 1953 novel Jules et Jim, successfully filmed by François Truffaut in 1962). It was at this time that Wood, Duchamp, and Roché produced The Blind Man, a magazine that helped to formulate and spread Dada ideas within the New York art scene.

Beatrice Wood, Female Figure, ca. 1945, Glazed earthenware tile. SBMA, Gift of Brigadier General Henry C. Huglin, USAF (retired).

Beatrice Wood, Female Figure, ca. 1945, Glazed earthenware tile. SBMA, Gift of Brigadier General Henry C. Huglin, USAF (retired).

Perhaps even more important in Wood’s aesthetic and intellectual development was her introduction to the famed art patrons, Walter and Louise Arensberg, whose regular salons became a meeting ground for a wide range of artists, writers and poets, including Man Ray and Francis Picabia. It was during this period that Wood became known as the “Mama of Dada,” although her ideological affiliation was never that strong or committed. Neff’s film brings this period magically to life with a combination of period films and photographs (set to John Rosasco’s jaunty ragtime-styled score) and, more importantly Wood’s own paintings and drawings, which represent a kind of imagistic diary of her life, both intellectual and erotic, which continued well into her old age.

In this respect, Living in the Timeless is an apt title for the Museum’s current exhibition of Wood’s drawings, which benefits immeasurably from the generous loan of works from the collection of Francis Naumann, a longtime Wood supporter and renowned scholar and curator of the Dada movement. Wood herself notes in the film that “I don’t think anyone ever gets completely free of his early years,” and this is borne out by the fact that Wood never seems to age in her drawings. Even works rendered in the 1980s usually feature her as a young woman, as if she (and the early Modernists who shaped her life) were somehow frozen in time. Writing to a friend at the age of 103, she admitted that, “I hang on to the statement of scientists that there is no time. Therefore, join me in telling everyone you are thirty-two. This allows me to go after young men and plan grabbing husbands from my girlfriends. Choosing to live in the timeless, I am now at the easiest and happiest time of my life.”

At first, Wood wanted to draw a form of beautiful, Maxfield Parrish-like reality, full of dreamy, doe-eyed girls peeking out under diaphanous veils or staring innocently at the spectator. However, under the critical guidance of Duchamp, who preferred a style of drawing inspired by the unconscious, she learned to develop a more sinuous and occasionally angular style, clearly influenced by Nude Descending a Staircase, which was owned by the Arensbergs at that time. Wood began to combine the faux-naïf innocence of stick figures (most notably her poster for Roché and Duchamp’s “Blindman’s Ball”), with the machinic rhythms and force fields of Argentinian tango and Russian ballet, all filtered through the main currents of early modernism—Cubism, Futurism, automatism—and distilled by her immediate contact with Klee, Picabia, and Brancusi.

Beatrice Wood, The Leeches, 1987. Colored pencil on paper. SBMA, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Beatrice Wood, The Leeches, 1987. Colored pencil on paper. SBMA, Gift of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller.

Documenting both her immediate surroundings—the Arensberg’s soirées, Duchamp’s apartment—but also her own intimate sexual relations with her lovers, the works are particularly remarkable for their suggestive use of contour and line and their deliberate eschewal of internal figurative detail, much like the distinctive house style of a New Yorker cartoon. Thus the arcing line of arms, legs, and torsos continue into the curve of an armchair or sofa, each delicately floating against a neutral ground. In other words, the bulk of the forms are delineated by negative space, which is allowed to “bleed” into the white surround, as if Wood were presenting a purely felt and haptic experience, literally representing ephemeral affect itself. As the painter Lee Waisler comments in the film, Wood “draws the emotional contour of the form,” its “feeling” as opposed to the mimentic representation of a specific person or object.

This is of course analogous to her later ceramic techniques, where the shimmering luster of her glazes (which start out looking like a thickly-applied vanilla milkshake but emerge from the kiln like irridescent mother-of-pearl) both enhances the decorative surface of the bowls and figurines but at the same time dematerializes them into the incommensurability of pure light. Unfortunately, this has led to a certain fetishization of her work (not to mention commodification) which has transformed what are supposed to be utilitarian objects into precious collectibles. Instead of being arrayed on the dinner table as drinking and eating vessels, they sit in vitrines and display cases, reified examples of the very thing Dada as a movement detested. How wonderful then to see Wood hosting a dinner party at film’s end where her guests drink wine from her goblets and pass around food in her bowls. Yes, it’s a definite cut above Melmac in terms of craft and labor intensity, but it’s still supposed to be used. Just don’t break it!


Free Film Screening: Mama of Dada 
Thursday, June 19 5:30 pm
Mary Craig Auditorium
Reserve at the Visitor Services desks or online at

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Current, Education, Exhibitions, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art

Teen Master Class Preview: Patterns in Nature


0 Comments 29 May 2014

root close up

Sommer Roman, Aristolochia (detail), 2011.Micron archival ink on Arches Aquarelle (Cold Press) paper.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is offering two new Teen Master Classes this summer taught by artists featured in the current Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art exhibition. In Patterns in Nature: Exploratory Drawing with Sommer Roman and Sculpting in Concrete with Robert Wechsler, students learn tricks of the trade from master artists over the course of two week-long classes at SBMA’s Ridley-Tree Education Center at McCormick House.

The following is an introduction to Patterns in Nature: Exploratory Drawing with Sommer Roman, taking place July 14 – 18 and July 21 – 25:

This class combines both drawing and design techniques to create original, nature-inspired drawings and repeatable designs. As a class, students practice looking closely at the natural world around us. Led by Santa Barbara artist Sommer Roman, students investigate hand-picked items found in nature as well as microscopic images of plant and animal life to derive unique imagery that form the foundation for original art works. The invisible is made visible and the micro becomes macro. Nature’s design combines with the artists’ interpretation and mark-making style to culminate in original works.

class suppliesStudents engage in:

-observational drawing

-varying line quality

-different mark making techniques



-repeating patterns

Students spend the week learning how to adapt Roman’s process of exploration and creative interpretation (seen below) to create their own works inspired by the natural world. Each student is encouraged to engage fully in order to complete 3–4 portfolio-worthy art works over the course of the week.

first 3 steps





From left to right:

Step One: Outdoor exploration and discovery of nature’s design

Step Two: Interpretation through observational drawing and improvisation

Step Three: Zoom in, select and trace

next 3 steps

Step Four: Transfer and repeat

Step Five: Connect and fill the design

Step Six: Culminate with a unique design

The class, along with Sculpting in Concrete with Robert Wechsler, offers students a rare opportunity to develop portfolio-worthy works with help from professional artists in a highly personalized setting. Find out more information about the upcoming Teen Master Classes and how to enroll by visiting Enrollment is limited to 15 students per class.

$300 SBMA Members/$350 Non-Members
All classes are Monday – Friday, 9 am – 3 pm, ages 13 – 16.

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Current, Exhibition Preview, Exhibitions, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art

Studio visit: Robert Wechsler


2 Comments 27 May 2014


Wechsler’s studio

The conventional studio visit is one of the last bastions of what may be considered the analog art world. Time spent with the artist in his or her studio—the hub of operations—yields essential meaning that can in no way be acquired elsewhere (especially not in the currently fashionable mode of contemporary display, the art fair booth).

In anticipation of including Robert Wechsler’s work in SBMA’s summer 2014 exhibition, Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, I took the opportunity to visit the artist’s studio. Wechsler’s work has suggested an underlying unconventionality—that of an ardent scientist. And an hour with him there confirmed the veracity of his devotion to not only his ongoing series of works in a vast range of media, but also his propensity for experimentation.

photo 2

Punched out fragments of pennies in Wechsler’s studio to be used for other works.

While there were plenty of distractions, including his Circular Bike (2003) that seats 9, and an Eames Lounge Chair that vibrates and purrs (much more fun and less expensive than a visit to the therapist), I was greatly rewarded to find evidence of the work I sought: his ongoing series, The Mendicant. These sculptures, formed by notching and joining coins into symmetrically ordered cubes, are feats of engineering in themselves. They are also remnants of life and history, as well as nostalgia for something else that is increasingly considered obsolete—the U.S. penny.

To see the vast amounts of time, research, and investigation that Wechsler has dedicated to this project, which has also led him to many other fascinating projects, was exciting. And what impresses me most from our meeting is how something so very small and seemingly minor, something like a penny, can become another thing that is utterly vast and enthralling.

Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art (installation view), Courtesy Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art installation view, courtesy of SBMA

Wechsler’s piece, The Mendicant (6,930) (2014) can be seen in Left Coast: Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art through September 14. The exhibition presents an overview of the Museum’s collecting habits in contemporary art over the past five years. Artists include Amy Adler, Kevin Appel, Brian Bress, Dan Connally, Russell Crotty, Tony De los Reyes, Roy Dowell, Carlee Fernandez, Mark Flores, Llyn Foulkes, Jack Goldstein, Ken Gonzales-Day, Lyle Ashton Harris, Zach Harris, Adam Helms, Richard Jackson, Kim Jones, Mike Kelley, Elad Lassry, Allison Miller, Kori Newkirk, Lari Pittman, Ken Price, Lucas Reiner, Steve Roden, Sommer Roman, April Street, Robert Wechsler, and Mario Ybarra, Jr.

Teens can join Robert Wechsler as he leads SBMA’s Teen Master Class, “Sculpting in Concrete,” July 7-11. For more information or to enroll, visit


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