Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What The Dog Is Doing: Holiday Edition

Travis Schlaht, Pierre de Ronsard, Oil On Canvas 12 X 14 (2007)

As a Dog capable of self-locomotion, I'm on vacation this week; post-Hanukkah, pre-Festivus, pre-Bill O'Reilly's Day. I haven't gone anywhere -- just relaxing and getting some actual work done as opposed to the Witless Labor™ I perform most of the rest of the year.

Today, I finally went downhill from where I live to the John Pence Gallery on Post Street in The City. While walking down the southern face of Nob Hill from the Mark Hopkins hotel, for a short time I kept passing members of the Bohemian Club, walking uphill from their Special Treehouse, most probably after lunch.

The Club's dining room is said to serve a decent repast, as you'd expect for one of the centers of power in the Western world. Can't have Our Lords eating like the Peasantry, can we?

The Bohemian Club was originally founded in 1872 in San Francisco by local journalists who wanted contact with the artists of The City -- writers, painters, actors; musicians and librettists. However, that changed quickly; as Wikipedia noted, Journalists were to be regular members; artists and musicians were to be honorary members. The group quickly relaxed its rules for membership to permit some people to join who had little artistic talent, but enjoyed the arts and had greater financial resources. Eventually, the original "bohemian" members were in the minority and the wealthy and powerful controlled the club.

Bohemian Club Building, San Francisco

And so it is today. The Bohemian is a publicly-known exclusive club for the wealthy, the powerful, the connected. The club's bylaws state that approximately a quarter of the membership are to be actual artists, but are only admitted after an audition or show of their work for the real members -- whose understanding of art is only that they can afford to purchase as much of it as they want. The artists are only for show; the real business of the club goes on with its 'real' membership.

A Who's Who of members attending the Club's annual 'Bohemian Grove' celebrations in Marin County would include most of the country's corporate elite, banking and financial organizations; old-money families; and politicians of both parties. Needless to say, over the two weekends each year when the Club hosts its revels, a lot of informal business is done and connections for future business created.

I passed the front of the Club, covered in dead ivy leaves, with its main members' entrance (which you might have seen in the film The Game, where Michael Douglas' investment banker character is [aber natürlich] a member, and meets his brother [Sean Penn] for lunch). A plaque around the corner on Taylor Street honors poet and writer Brett Harte -- who would probably vomit to see just where the accolade was placed, and the sort of characters hosting it. Not so strangely, the Bohemian's building is architecturally cheek-by-jowl with another, lesser San Francisco club, the Metropolitan.

Universally, the men I passed were white-haired Caucasians in their late fifties to mid-sixties, and very well-dressed: Camels'-hair overcoats over their houndstooth sports coats; shined, toe-cap Oxfords; and a bow-tie or two. That, and the demeanor of persons who take no one seriously outside their own class. They don't have to; they'll only engage you if they want their Jag tuned or their bathrooms cleaned, or you have something they want: Then you feel the not-necessarily discreet charm of the haute bourgeois, and you'd best know your place and snap to.

Finally, I made it to the gallery (with a side trip to a second, small display of student work at a branch of the Art Institute of San Francisco). John Pence, the gallery's owner, has been a major figure in the contemporary realist movement in American painting; a supporter of figurative, realist artists, like the two that have had shows this past month:

Steven J. Levin
All Images © The Artist; Information On The Painter

Self Portrait, 2005

The Cloud, 2010

Tangerines and Water Goblet, 2010

The Rembrandt Room, 2008

Dirt Road, 2010

Randall Sexton
All Images © The Artist; Information On The Painter

Dishrack #1, 2010

Cliff Shadow, 2010

The Cove, 2010

Nob Hill Stories, 2007

On my way back home, I stopped for a moment of quiet in Grace Cathedral, the reinforced-concrete faux Gothic church on Nob Hill, and a stone's throw from another Club for The Elite, the Pacific-Union. Inside, silence almost visibly hangs in the air, the sense of a living presence (which was the point of much sacred architecture from the Gothic era; the soaring, vaulted spaces lifting the eye heavenward). The place was, thankfully, almost empty.

In one of the front pews, I sat for a while, and finally recited to myself a variation on a few lines from one of my favorite John Cheever short stories, "The Apples Of Heaven", where an old poet afflicted with an emblematic sickness of spirit says a prayer made of the names of writers he admired.

God bless Edward Hopper, I thought; God bless Georgia O'Keeffe, and Arthur Dove, too (though I don't like most of his stuff); God bless Jean "Moebius" Giraud; God Bless Alex Ross; God bless Michael Whelan and Donato Giancola; God bless Maxfield Parrish; God bless Fortuno Matania; God bless Henri Matisse, and Vincent Van Gogh, and Claude Monet; God Bless George Grosz, and Käthe Kollwitz; God Bless Albert York; and God bless Mark Rothko; and particularly God bless John Singer Sargent.

What gets me out of bed in the mornings is not the Witless Labor I have to perform for money; it's for whatever small mercies my days may contain, and to see things of beauty -- and if I have the chance to make a few of my own, es ist Besser so.

Now I am home, on my rug by the heater, having turned around twice before lying down: Happy Secular and Non-Secular Holidays To All, and To All A Good Night.

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