Bad Bear Art

I wonder if there might be an inverse correlation between places of outstanding natural beauty and bad visual art?When there are mountains and trees and lakes that take the breath away, then who needs breathtaking paintings and sculptures?The greatest works of art tend to be produced in gritty urban settings, it seems. There are a few exceptions to the rule of course, such as environmental artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson, whose works make us see nature in a new way. And there's a lot of very beautiful Native American art … [Read more...]

Is Street Art Over?

Ben Davis' incisive slide-illustrated meditation on the state of street art in Slate poses fascinating questions about the tipping point between art and commerce. "Part of the lore of street art is that it is about the individual taking on the system," writes Davis. "Yet today, rather than feeling anti-commercial, the scene represents a kind of parallel-universe art world, with its own thriving cast of stars and set of commercial values. Street art's anti-establishment posture often shades seamlessly over into scrappy entrepreneurship...These … [Read more...]

On Talking to Journalists

It never ceases to amaze me that people who know that I make my living as a journalist share interesting bits of news with me and then are taken aback by the idea that I might like to make the information public. … [Read more...]

The Art of the Airplane Safety Video

It struck me the other day as I was flying back to San Francisco from Los Angeles that there's an art to producing a great airline safety video. I think Virgin America has cracked it with its wonderfully tongue-in-cheek animated film.The four-minute-thirteen-second film, which was created by Wild Brain animation in San Francisco and produced by Anomaly in New York, was made three or four years ago and I've seen it on Virgin flights many times. It's the only safety video that I've ever really paid attention to and the other airlines still have a … [Read more...]

Purifoy’s Playground

The environmental sculptor Noah Purifoy moved from Los Angeles to the desert in 1988 and set about creating one of the most surreal and startling sculpture parks I have ever seen. The park is located on a 2.5 acre site at Joshua Tree. To get to the remote location, you have to drive down some dirt roads and follow several hand-painted signs carefully. But the journey is well worth the trek to the back of beyond.The park contains more than a hundred of Purifoy's works made mostly out of scavenged and donated materials. From a distance, the site … [Read more...]

The Healing Power of Sound?

There's a whole branch of neuroscience dedicated to exploring the healing properties of sound. Music therapy comes in many forms. One of the most fundamental takes the form of simply lying back and letting sound vibrations course through your body for a while.The hour I spent at the Integratron over the weekend, a sonic experience based in a space-age-looking dome structure in the middle of the desert near Joshua Tree National Park in California, had somewhat of a restorative effect on my body and mind. But the experience left me thinking that … [Read more...]

Boo to Bureaucracy

Some irritating news from the San Francisco International Arts Festival in my in-box this morning. Two of the event's companies have had to cancel opening night shows owing, according to the organization's executive director Andrew wood, to local and national bureaucracy of one kind of another.Al-Khareef Theatre Troupe from Damascus, Syria was scheduled to perform the U.S. premiere of their production, The Solitary, tomorrow, Friday night. According to Wood, SFIAF filed the petition for the company's visas ahead of most of the other visa … [Read more...]

Sweet Pete

There's perhaps only one thing about the entertainment world that I dislike more than child actors, and that's adult actors pretending to be children on stage and screen.I was reminded of this antipathy yesterday evening when I finally made it out to catch a performance of Peter Pan -- a 360-degree CGI-infused production from London adapted from the J. M. Barrie play by Tanya Ronder and directed by Ben Harrison. The show is on the first leg of a U.S. tour and is playing in a tent on the Embarcadero in San Francisco.There's very little else … [Read more...]

Salon City

Small cultural gatherings in private homes are all the rage right now in San Francisco. I've been involved in a theatre salon for several years; the Home Theatre Festival is happening right now in people's living rooms across the city; the Mugwumpin performance troupe is producing a show in a motel room on June 7 and the San Francisco Parlor Opera is staging Don Giovanni in a private home through May.I don't think there's anything particularly new about this phenomenon, though it seems more prevalent at the moment. In this age of … [Read more...]

Biodegradable Water Balloons

Of all the cultural activities that make the Bay Area stand out as unique, the Bay to Breakers must be one of the most outstanding.Now in its 99th year, the enormous footrace is a cultural phenomenon not just for the sheer numbers that participate in the 7.5-mile run from one end of the city to the other (there are around 60,000 participants) but also for the inventiveness of the costuming and assorted sideshow activities.Actually, this year's costumes were a bit of a letdown. The only truly inventive effort I saw while running in my cocktail … [Read more...]

Hold the Front Page

Here's an update on what's happening with regards to the New York Times' Bay Area culture coverage going forward:Starting on June 1, The New York Times is handing over the editorial content of its Bay Area section (which was launched last fall and runs on Fridays and Sundays) to a new start-up media organization, The Bay Citizen.The culture column which I have been writing will be tweaked slightly under the new regime. For now, I will be writing every other week for the Bay Citizen. All of the writing I do will appear on the Bay Citizen's … [Read more...]