Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay: For Art’s Sake

by Catherine Bigelow

Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay
Miss Bigelow’s Babble On by the Bay

Welcome to the Fall Arts edition of Babble-On-by-the-Bay! Stellar openers are lined up on the tarmac, awaiting your fully masked visits. Nota bene: Check online for updated health mandates and ticket registration. Then let the games begin! And hopefully, continue.

Got type? Few details escape the eagle eye of Rich Silverstein, co-founder and co-creative director of the vaunted Goodby Silverstein & Partners ad agency. Intense yet utterly charming, his eloquent speech spills out rapid fire, like the clack of an old-school newsroom typewriter.

And his reverence for that print product inspired Silverstein’s recent solo one-month-only installation that was exhibited this summer at Minnesota Street Project: I Read the News Today Oh Boy.

Well, the actual spark was former President Trump — and each new headline of his increasingly maddening antics only intensified Silverstein’s frustration. On September 25, 2019, the day a formal impeachment inquiry was announced, the artist channeled his angst into a text-inspired 85-day art project.

“Every morning at 5 a.m., I read the print New York Times from cover to cover. Each turn of the page is a surprise: It can be painful, hopeful, beautiful, disgusting,” Silverstein explains. “Type speaks to me. It has a sound. So while reading the latest Trump craziness, I’d deliberately handrip the newsprint, isolating every word that spoke to me — then blow it up for maximum impact.”

This collision of his personal beliefs and professional skills — he’s a former Rolling Stone art director and, most notably, was behind the unforgettable Goodby Silverstein slogan “Got Milk?” — culminated in a series of works that display Silverstein’s astute editorial observations coupled with his obsessive love of graphic design, newspapers, the opacity of ink on paper and type fonts. The result reads like a reverse hostage note, a cry for release from the Trump era. Headline banners and torn word fragments were mounted in frames and laid atop the gallery floor like precisefitting puzzle pieces. Then, Silverstein rearranged those fragments to create a new narrative, more accurately reflecting his daily reading of the reality Trump wrought: Impeachment, twice. COVID-19 denials. Black Lives Matter riots. The storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Rich Silverstein, an award-winning creative director and co-founder of Goodby Silverstein & Partners ad agency, at his solo show at Minnesota Street Project.

Silverstein was particularly confounded when he came across a story wherein Trump confused the name of a hydrosonic war missile with an electric toothbrush brand. “That was all I needed for the title of this show,” he says, with a laugh. “I read the news today, oh boy. Which is kind of the way I feel every morning: I can’t believe what I’m reading. In, I might add, the not-so-failing New York Times.”

“I read the news today, oh boy. Which is kind of the way I feel every morning. I can’t believe what I’m reading.” — Rich Silverstein

Judy, Judy, Judy: A bountiful bright spot amid pandemic cultural closures is that Judy Chicago, 82, the pioneering big kahuna of feminist art, is busting out all over the Bay this month with two dedicated art exhibitions and inclusion in two group shows.

But no stranger is she to San Francisco: Chicago’s landmark work, The Dinner Party (an epochal feminist opus that was initially defamed by male art critics), was first exhibited at SFMOMA in 1979.

Represented locally by Jessica Silverman, Chicago has a solo show, Human Geometries (through September 25), at the gallerist’s new Chinatown space and also has a solo exhibition within the larger series Experience Leonard Cohen (through February 13) at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Titled Judy Chicago: Cohanim, it features her paintings and porcelains inspired by the haunting, anthemic lyrics of the late vocal bard Leonard Cohen.

Across the Bay at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, works by Chicago are included in a new exhibition: New Time: Art and Feminisms in the 21st Century (through January 30). It’s one of BAMPFA’s largest shows, a sweeping survey of contemporary feminist art practices depicted in a mix of mediums and political sensibilities.

And the prolific Chicago receives her first (and it’s about time!) major retrospective at the de Young Museum: Judy Chicago: A Retrospective (through January 2). The show incorporates 130 pieces, rendered in her multitudinous mediums — painting, drawings, sculpture and even dry ice.

The late poet and social justice advocate Jack Hirschman, a former San Francisco poet laureate, pictured at his beloved Caffe Trieste.

Wayne’s world: Though UC Davis’ Manetti Shrem Museum centennial Wayne Thiebaud exhibition and gala was delayed last year, the towering artist finally receives his due (well, one of thousands) at a new gala on November 13, two days before Thiebaud’s 101st birthday. Wayne Thiebaud Influencer: A New Generation was finally accessible in-person back in June. But the clock is ticking: The show ends November 12.

At this fifth anniversary gala, museum founders Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem will honor the UC art professor emeritus and his Wayne Thiebaud Foundation with the Margrit Mondavi Arts Medallion.

Fare thee well: North Beach wept on August 22 with the passing of poet Jack Hirschman, a lifelong Marxist and social activist and a beloved raconteur in that literary hood. Though he was 87, it was unexpected — Jack, as everyone called him, seemed to embody “forever.” He was great friends with the late City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Yet neither claimed membership in the “beatnik” canon. Appointed in 2006 as the City’s fourth poet laureate by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, Hirschman established the San Francisco International Poetry Festival. Multilingually blessed in his speech and translations, Hirschman invited global colleagues to participate in this free, four-day celebration of verse. Ferlinghetti may’ve been “the pope of poetry,” but Hirschman was “the poet of the people.” Prior to his festival in 2007, he told me: “There’s no bread involved. Americans are so used to being scared of money. They think if you don’t have to pay for it, something is wrong.”

His second-to-last poetry conclave on August 14, an SF Library video tribute honoring the late Janice Mirikitani (see tribute on page 18), Hirschman toasted his fallen comrade: “How even death’s diminishing you, because you can’t, under any weather, ever, have died.”

Join Catherine Bigelow each month for a roundup of newsy nuggets, boldface names and juicy tidbits. Gotta item to share? Email [email protected].

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