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|All My Memories Are Hippie Ones
by Stanley Abercrombie
|It's reported that when Aaron Betsky was interviewing in 1995 for the job of curator of architecture, design and digital arts, at the San Francisco Museum of Art, he said he wanted to do a show about San Francisco's psychedelic art of the late 1960s. He got the job, and here's the show, called "Far Out: Bay Area Design, 1967-1973."
The subject is introduced in the museum's lobby, where Janis Joplin's 1965 Porsche, hand-painted by David Richards, draws a smiling crowd. One flight up, accompanied by a suitably thumping soundtrack, are a hundred more objects. Objets d'art? Well, maybe, but the question seems inappropriately pedantic in this free-spirited atmosphere.
In-your-face iconoclasm is the prevalent attitude. Examples are Mickey McGowan's Andy Warhol Platform Shoe, incorporating a Campbell's soup can as a heel, and Gary Bennett's Mellow Yellow pipe made from a gold-leafed toilet float. Bennett is also represented by a 1968 Outdoor Chair that resembles an overblown Adirondack done in redwood. Rick Turner is credited with a 1969 Pretzel Guitar, which hardly needs description. Made of swirls of mahogany, walnut and ebony with inset brass and abalone, it exudes music without even being touched.
There is clothing as well, including Wavy Gravy's patchwork jumpsuit and Karen Calden Fulk's multicolored leather pants. There is jewelry made of spoons, whale teeth and flying eyeballs, and -- wouldn't you know? -- there is a jewel-encrusted roach clip.
But the stars of this show are the graphics. The exhibition's two longest walls are lined with posters, and these alone justify the museum's implicit claim that all this is worth our attention. Perhaps the posters are more impressive because touchy-feely emotions translate more easily into two dimensions than into three, or maybe their very impermanence -- they were given away at rock concerts -- seems appropriate to such a vanished time.
In any case, there is impressive visual impact here, including Victor Moscoso's Clean-In lithograph of 1967, featuring William Morris-like floral arabesques in colors that would have knocked Morris on his ass, and the same artist's optical pinwheel for the Doors.
Stephen Samuels' Mushroom Mandala is a hallucinogenic wonder of 1967, and in Lee Conklin's 1969 poster for the Grateful Dead, faces and near-illegible text materialize from fiery ectoplasm. Striking, too, is Wes Wilson's 1966 New Generation, Jay Walkers, with its typography caught in a paroxysm of Art Nouveau curvature.
As one of Betsky's wall notes reminds us, "If you remember San Francisco in the '60s, you weren't really there." Betsky was a youngster in Europe at the time, and he does remember it. Thanks for sharing, Aaron.
Lest the levity get out of hand, however, "Far Out" is sandwiched between two smaller but infinitely more serious exhibitions. One is "Graphic Design for SCI-Arc," a selection of graphics designed for the Southern California Institute of Architecture. The big star of this little show is April Greiman, who designed the school's logo, but there is also interesting work by Tom Bonauro, ReVerb and Caryn Aono.
The other appended exhibition is "Stephen Holl, Edge of a City." Four projects by Holl, architect for the new Kiasma Museum in Helsinki, are shown in sketches, photo collages and models that the museum acquired in 1999. The four are site specific, dealing with the Erie Canal, the edge of Cleveland, the Dallas/Fort Worth megalopolis, and the border of a Native American reservation near Phoenix. All are concerned with the problems of sprawl and with the desire to build in ways that make us conscious of our existing environment rather than obliterating it with something new.
All three exhibitions are on view at SFMoMA, Nov. 12, 1999-Feb. 20, 2000.
STANLEY ABERCROMBIE is editorial director of Interior Design magazine.