Sonic Pardee

Double whammy: I showed up for the last tour of the Pardee Home Museum during the run of the Here and Now projects, in which Floor Vahn created three sound installations at that historic home in Oakland.

I’ve heard Floor’s soundtracks twice before, and they’ve struck me as moody and evocative invitations to linger and be quiet. There’s something about them that beg to be experienced physically. The compositions involved strings and other acoustic instruments, and are usually played at a substantial volume—the way real acoustic instruments permeate spaces. Her sound pieces partially recorded at, and played back in, three rooms at Pardee Home Museum, upheld and enhanced my expectations. I don’t know much about sound as an art medium, but Floor’s Sonic Pardee pieces were clear and articulate, well-researched, and a bit humorous and sad.

The Pardee Home Museum tour was also a delight.

(I usually have mixed feelings about old estate houses. California’s history involves significant anti-Chinese legislation and sentiment. It may seem like old news to most people, but for me, standing in homes of the 1880s élite reifies the privileged protected by those policies.)

Pardee is a historic home museum that’s more quirky than your average home museum. The Board decided to keep the home as it was in the 1980s. It’s a curiosity. Alongside Belle Epoch artifacts and collectibles, including hundreds of candlesticks and beautiful old symphonias, you’ll see amazing, mismatched chairs and a 1960s television set. There’s a case overflowing with scrimsaws, a beautiful dining room with loads of cut and blown glass sets. Old writing desks feature accoutrements like boxes of labels with gorgeous typography. My favorites were the light fixtures, especially a glass-photograph-paneled-lightbox-chandelier by Carleton Watkins featuring images of Yosemite. There was also an amazing billiards room.

It all seemed a bit mad, and quite enjoyable. Don’t miss the cupola, where 360 degree views can be seen.

Pardee Home Museum offers tours year-round. You can also book high tea in their lovely dining room. On July 4th, they’re hosting a “Stereopticon Ice Cream Social.” Sounds fun.

Art & Development, Community


Some connections between projects in Oakland, California, USA and Birmingham and Manchester, England, U.K….

Simon and Tom Bloors' exhibition at Eastside Projects, Birmingham UK, 2009

Simon and Tom Bloors' exhibition at Eastside Projects, Birmingham UK, 2009

Eastside Projects is an artist-run space, a public gallery for the City of Birmingham and the World. It is organised by a founding collective comprising Simon & Tom Bloor, Céline Condorelli, Ruth Claxton, James Langdon and Gavin Wade, who first conceived and now runs the space.

Eastside Projects is a new model for a gallery, one where space and programme are intertwined: a complex evolving programme of works and events starting from radical historical positions. We aim to commission and present experimental contemporary art practices and exhibitions. The artist is invited to set the existing conditions for the gallery. Work may remain. Work may be responded to. The gallery is a collection. The gallery is an artwork. The artist-run space is a public good.

We aim to support the cultural growth of the City.

James Sterling Pitt, installation view, Sight School

Sight School is an artist-run exhibition space directed by Michelle Blade. The space began from a desire to create dialogue around new modes of living and being in the world in order to reveal connections between art and life.

As Michelle and I have worked together on Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), I’ve gotten a better sense of her vision for Sight School. She’s committed to her local neighborhood—she makes a point to get to know her neighbors, put up flyers at local businesses, and support the growth of the Golden Gate Arts District (an emergent auxiliary to downtown Oakland’s wildly popular Art Murmur). She is highly invested in community—her decisions that structure the gallery and space are often driven by generosity and openness. She’s got a keen sense of contemporary practice in art. I get the feeling that the gallery is something like a commons for art experimentation; that her aim is to provide a site for artists to do experimental projects that would be considered untenable elsewhere. She seems interested in this as an experiment, thinking of every next move as an opportunity to innovate. This is not merely another gallery; she’s stepping out of the white cube by hosting one-night events, mutual learning projects and discourses. So when I re-visited Eastside Projects’ mission statement, particularly

The artist is invited to set the existing conditions for the gallery.
The gallery is an artwork.
The artist-run space is a public good.

it occurred to me that ESP and Sight School might be kindred spirits, with their energetic, unruly collectivity.

The director of ESP is an interesting curator and artist’s book instigator named Gavin Wade. In an interview on, Wade says that American artists differ from their UK counterparts because we’re less

willing to interact and collaborate and allow their work even to sit on top of someone else’s. There’s a certain individuality here; New York is so much about standing alone.

That interest in interaction, collaboration and experimentation that challenges artworks’ autonomy will be at work in Unlimited Potentials, an exhibition organized by Manchester-based curator and performance artist Mike Chavez-Dawson at Cornerhouse.

The show is comprised of several ambitious components, including loads of collaborators (including Wade), a project instigated by Liam Gillick, dozens of contributors (myself included) and a talk with Kwong Lee, the brilliant director of Castlefield Gallery, an important MCR artist-run space (their recent exhibitions include shows by David Osbaldeston and Leo Fitzmaurice and Kim Rugg).

Last year, when I exhibited my installation, Unlimited Promise, at an open studio at the end of the Breathe Residency at Chinese Art Center in Manchester, Mike Chavez-Dawson told me about Unrealised Potentials. I’m excited to play a small part in his forthcoming exhibition, especially when you consider the themes of resisting finished-ness in artwork in We have as much time as it takes at the Wattis:

We have as much time as it takes questions and highlights expectations of achievement, productivity, and established systems of management that make up the programs and academic mission of the Wattis Institute and CCA. … The works embody circular processes, resist completion, welcome change, and refute demands for definable results and resolution. They challenge the conventional form of the art object and the traditional parameters of exhibitions.

I’m excited that this conceptual investigation and expansion of exhibition-form-making is occurring in so many spaces around the world right now. In conjunction with more traditional viewing experiences, viewers of art are being offered more ways to think about art, participate in exhibitions, and complete the speculative thought processes artists begin.

Community, Research



Museo-rama: Joint Member Day, SF, CA

Tomorrow, Saturday, March 20 is Joint Member Day. If you’re a member the Asian Art Museum, Cartoon Art Museum, Contemporary Jewish Musuem, Museum of the African Diaspora, Museum of Craft and Folk Art, SF Camerawork, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, you and a friend can visit participating museums for FREE admission, special events and exclusive discounts.

I’m curious about Dispatches from the Archives and The View From Here photography exhibition at SFMOMA. I’m all for exhibitions that help Americans understand China’s pluralism, and the Shanghai exhibition at the Asian Art Museum introduces the cosmopolitan city through its Western-influenced hybridized modern art and design (with a few pieces of contemporary art). Still, I thought the didactic texts shied from the mention of colonialism; this westernization seems possible because cities were forced open to British trade by the Treaty of Nanking after China lost the First Opium War. Also, pop culture afficionados: don’t expect to see lots of vintage-kitsch Shanghai lady adverts; those make up only a small fraction of the exhibition.

It’s A Sign: New Bohemia Signs at Adobe Books’ Backroom Gallery, SF, CA

Design nerds ho! The immaculate hand-painted stylizations of New Bohemia Signs, San Francisco’s own anachronistic, fedora-donning, sign painting shop, are on view at Adobe Books’ Backroom Gallery through April 3. It’s like Steven Heller’s New Vintage Type came to life in shiny, seductive enamel paint. You can purchase individual functional signs for your indie mart or design tchotchke shelves, or larger aggregations for the aesthetics, and to make an undeniable statement about your good taste.

The signs are really cute. They are examples of great graphic design, but ultimately, just signs. I had hoped to make some smart-sounding statement about semiotics or wayfinding (especially in relation to “The Secret Language of Signs,” Slate’s recent series on signs), but really, style and legibility seem to be the main point of the work. If there is something more interesting to tease out, it’s probably in regards to context: A shop selling books (so antiquated!) exhibiting hand-painted signs produced by another independently-owned, brick-and-mortar small business, and the printed/painted letters they love.

Rockin’ Paper, Swingin’ Scissors at Rowan Morrison Gallery, Oakland, CA

Sort of in the same vein of totally adorable/collectible is Ryohei Tanaka’s show of papercuts at Rowan Morrison Gallery through April 3. Ryohei’s based in Tokyo now; I went to CCA with him in the late 1990s. Back then, he was a total drawing maniac, whose work was characterized by density and a cuteness that was simultaneously attractive and appalling. Now, his explosive prolificness has resulted in figures, monsters and robots in cheery colors and a traditional Asian folk art/paper craft. Small cuts start under $100; if that sinks your battleship you can walk away, as I did, with a navy screenprint of assorted figures on a white cotton rectangle (I think it’s a Japanese work scarf or tea towel) for $8.


The website for Scott Oliver’s Lake Merritt project is up!

COMING SOON, to New York:

Gormley fatigue.


“Everybody Have Fun,” Elizabeth Kolbert’s round-up of recent books on the problematic intersection of happiness research and policy in the current New Yorker Magazine (March 22, 2010).


Points of Reference: posters, typefaces, Lake Merritt

The artists behind Shotgun Review are doing some really interesting individual and collaborative projects.

I’m SUPER digging the two projects on Joseph del Pesco‘s site right now.

pile of artist's funding posters
State of the Arts, The Present Group & Horwinski Press, December 2008.
Image source:

Beautiful posters influenced by wood type and mixed-fountain printing, demanding better working conditions for artists. What’s not to like?

Black Market Type & Print Shop
Joseph del Pesco, Black Market Type & Print Shop, Articule, Montréal, June 2008
Image source:

Artist’s typefaces—I love it! It’s a great coincidence, because after working on hand-lettering during the Breathe Residency, and reading Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type recently, I decided I’d like to design a typeface. It’ll probably be a display face, exuberant and expressive at the risk of legibility. But I figure it’ll be an art project, not a design project; I know enough to leave the development of extensive type families to the pros.

There are so many crappy fonts in the world already, why bring another one into existence? Well, the fact is, even typographic design can be a little subjective; Blackletter was considered very legible in the early 20th century among Germans and inscrutable in other parts of the world. And history, as well as Lupton’s book, is filled with other examples of typefaces that were reviled in their time. For example, Baskerville, a typeface that many modern eyes would consider just another serif roman font, rather boring and not particularly distinctive, was reviled for

Blinding the Readers in the Nation; for the strokes of your letters being too thin and narrow, hurt the Eye.

–as quoted in Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type

Scott Oliver's Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After, audio tour of Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

Scott Oliver's Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After, audio tour of Lake Merritt, Oakland, CA

I’ve always liked Scott Oliver‘s material investigations/post-conceptual modifications of everyday objects, and his next project—an audio tour of Oakland’s Lake Merritt—totally floats my boat for two reasons.

A. I love Lake Merritt, it’s one of the few things that keep my regard for living in Oakland really high.

It’s a nice open space in the middle of the tree-starved flatlands, and while it’s not the most natural of places, it plays an important role larger ecosystems. Lake Merritt is not a “man-made lake,” but an estuary, which is why it’s a unique habitat for migratory birds.

It’s also a nice public space used by a cool cross-section of residents: runners, walkers, people who put on jogging suits to get coffee at Peet’s, guys hanging out in their cars all day, serious athletes running the stairs, office workers and families from all walks of life.

B. Oliver’s working with some really bright collaborators, and bringing onboard a lot of local arts organizations. Any local histories can be tricky, but Oliver’s got the right approach.

Oliver’s got a matching grant, so he needs to raise matching funds in the form of donations from individuals. Matching grants are challenges in any situation, but I don’t envy his position in this economy.

Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After: An Audio Walking Tour of Lake Merritt will offer an immersive audio experience to listeners—using a mixture of ambient field recordings, interviews, music and narration to weave an idiosyncratic but approachable narrative that will guide listeners through the various natural and artificial elements that surround Lake Merritt. With an emphasis on local history, cultural diversity, urban ecology, and the power of imagination, Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After will explore the invisible that surrounds the visible—the stories and forces that shape the lake and our perceptions of it. Once Upon A Time, Happily Ever After will be free to the public and widely accessible to Lake Merritt visitors through both on-site and remote locations.

To support the audio tour of Lake Merritt, email Scott Oliver at: knot (at) sbcglobal . net.