Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A visual tour de force that says you're definitely in Berkeley

The Rotante Dal Foro Centrale / A visual tour de force

Look, how the floor of heaven
is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold;
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion like an angel sings ...
Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But, whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

~ William Shakespeare, from The Merchant of Venice

The Rotante Dal Foro Centrale is a shining orb measuring six and one-half feet in diameter. It sits on a swatch of circular bricks surrounded by a bed of bright green grass amid a tall grove of California redwood trees. It's a head turner and an eye opener that's located just off bustling Oxford Street, along a busy pathway near the western entrance of the 178-acre University of California campus in Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco.

Walking by the Rotante Dal Foro Centrale, as I did on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, it garnered my attention. And, it grabbed the attention of many others, too: UC students, tourists, football fans heading across campus to Memorial Stadium and locals just up from downtown Berkeley, who snapped photographs standing next to the bronze sphere, peered through it, touched it and stared curiously at it. I suppose small children could crawl through it, though I wouldn't recommend it. Yet, it's opening is big enough to leave gifts or secret notes inside.

The Rotante Dal Foro Centrale is the creation of the Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro (b. 1926), who has sculpted variations of the "Sphere Within Sphere" that are located around the world, including at the United Nations Headquarters in New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C.; Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, Iran; and Tel Aviv University, Israel.

While some have suggested that the Rotante Dal Foro Centrale resembles a huge eyeball gazing at us, one can't help wonder if the sculpture's design is meant to symbolize the September 11 attacks on America because of its explosive appearance.

On a campus filled with political and counterculture history, classic architecture and freestanding art that includes both modern abstracts and artistic gods and goddesses -- plus an assortment of bears reflecting the school mascot Oski -- leave it to a burnished metal ball with a large jagged hole to be a visual and conversational tour de force.

It's a campus landmark that definitely says you're in Berkeley.

Photograph of Rotante Dal Foro Centrale by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rafael Nadal: Returning to form and structure

Rafael Nadal / Thirteen is an amazing number.

When Rafael Nadal won the 2013 U.S. Open singles championship last week with a convincing 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over his new arch rival, No. 1 Novak Djokovic, it marked the completion of a remarkable comeback that even the 27-year-old Spaniard would deem astonishing.

Nadal won in 3 hours and 20 minutes on a hard court surface that, while it remains his least favorite, he has been a perfect 22-0 on this summer.

What an enjoyable run it has been for Nadal. He has won two Grand Slams, eight other ATP titles and amassed a 61-3 record in 2013. Then, last weekend, he kept his commitment to represent Spain in the Davis Cup playoffs and contributed wins in both singles and doubles that clinched a berth for his country in the 2014 World Group.

Consider this: A year ago, Nadal watched the U.S. Open from his home on the Spanish island of Majorca, his knees battered and his ego bruised. His 2012 ended unceremoniously with an early, second-round exit from Wimbledon, and he didn't play again until February of this year. Following Nadal via social media, his fans worldwide feared the worst for their beloved hero and many turned away from tennis altogether.

After skipping the Australian Open, Nadal resurfaced after a seven-month sabbatical to play in a clay-court event in Chile. Although he didn't win in his first tournament back on tour, he began to reinvent himself.

The hands of a champion. 
Soon, Nadal began to win nearly every tournament in sight: Sao Paulo, Acapulco, Indian Wells, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros, Montreal and Cincinnati leading up to the U.S. Open. His only setback on clay was losing to Djokovic in the final at Monte Carlo. It remains a mystery as to why he lost in the first round on grass at Wimbledon after a successful clay-court season. However, throughout much of the year, Nadal has looked more fit -- both mentally and physically -- and the mood, both in his camp and among his fans, improved tremendously with each title he won.

At the U.S. Open, the relentless Nadal, who by then had discarded his familiar knee wrap, was a favorite among fans and became a huge drawing card at Arthur Ashe Stadium. When he beat Djokovic in the final, he joyfully sobbed while rolling around on the surface of the world's largest tennis arena. Then, he basked in the glow of the lights shining down upon him as he hoisted the winner's trophy for a world-wide audience to enjoy. Before he flew home to Spain, Nadal made the rounds of the New York media, including an appearance on PBS's Charlie Rose, clutching the trophy.

"For a few things, this is probably the most emotional one in my career," said Nadal, after winning his second U.S. Open crown. He has faced Djokovic in three of the last four Open finals. "I felt that I did everything right to have my chance here. You play one match against one of the best players in the history in Novak and No. 1 in the world on probably his favorite surface. I knew I had to be almost perfect to win. It means a lot for me to have this trophy with me today."

Although Djokovic enjoys an 11-7 edge on hard courts, he's managed to win only three of his 11 encounters in Grand Slams against Nadal, who now leads what many consider the most prolific series in Open era history 22-15.

After losing to No. 2 Nadal on a cool evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium, Djokovic praised his opponent, saying: "He was too good. He definitely deserved to win this match and this trophy."

At work chasing after No. 1.
Nadal now owns 13 major titles, which places him third all-time behind Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14). Nadal has won eight French Opens, two Wimbledons, two U.S. Opens and one Australian Open. He has won at least one Grand Slam title in each of the past nine years, and he holds a winning record against his biggest rivals -- Djokovic, Federer and Andy Murray. So, his chances of catching -- and, maybe, surpassing -- Sampras next year are very good. And, if his knees remain healthy, why shouldn't he be in the conversation about catching and surpassing Federer?

"Thirteen is an amazing number," said Nadal, whose self-belief and competitive nature on the court are among his biggest attributes and contributes to his immense popularity among tennis fans. Adds Djokovic: "He's definitely one of the best tennis players to ever play the game."

Although Djokovic retained his No. 1 ranking despite losing the U.S. Open final, Nadal has a good chance of regaining the No. 1 ranking before the end of the year on the basis of accrued points over the past calendar year. Indeed, there's still a lofty goal for Nadal to achieve before the end of the year -- returning to a form and structure that lifted him to become the No. 1-ranked player twice, in 2009 and again in 2011, totaling 102 weeks at the top of the tennis world.

"Let me enjoy today," Rafa told reporters after winning the U.S. Open when asked about "greatest-ever" comparisons. "For me, is much more than what I ever thought. Means a lot this one for me. I will say the same like I do every time. I'm going to keep working hard, doing my things to have more chances in the future."

Photographs of Rafael Nadal courtesy of AFP/Getty Images.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On art: Richard Diebenkorn, The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966

Richard Diebenkorn was profoundly influenced by the nature and culture of the San Francisco Bay Area. Color, light and atmosphere played a significant role in many of the 20th century American artist's works that are on view in Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966, at the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park through September 29.

The exhibition, which had its debut in June, is the first of its kind to focus on this pivotal period in the career of this postwar American artist.

During his lifetime, Diebenkorn (1922-1993) achieved acclaim as one of the most significant and influential artists of California and of postwar America. His early work is associated with Abstract expressionism and the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

At the beginning of this exhibition of more than 130 paintings and drawings that were assembled from museums and private collections across the country, we get to go outside the lines to get a feel for what's going on in Diebenkorn's mind as he shares his thoughts in Notes to myself on beginning a painting:

  • Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.
  • The pretty, initial position, which falls short of completeness, is not to be valued -- except as a stimulus for further moves.
  • Do search. But in order to find other than what is searched for.
  • Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities, but consider them absolutely expendable.
  • Don't "discover" a subject -- of any kind.
  • Somehow don't be bored -- but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.
  • Mistakes can't be erased, but they move you from your present position.
  • Keep thinking about Pollyanna.
  • Tolerate chaos.
  • Be careful only in a perverse way.

Richard Diebenkorn /
Seated Figure with Hat, 1967,
oil on canvas.
Much of the art in Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966 is devoted to a three-year period in which Diebenkorn "painted prolifically, his paintings, watercolors, and drawings synthesizing elements of nature with an abstract approach in what came to be known as his Berkeley series," according to the de Young's Fine Arts magazine, in previewing the show. Later in the exhibition, we see Diebenkorn's subsequent figurative phase, and it is easy to see and understand why he had a profound influence on American modernism.

As I walked through the exhibit rooms on a recent Friday evening, studying and absorbing Diebenkorn's artwork, my attention was drawn to several of the artist's quotes that were prominently displayed on the gallery walls. I took the time to read each of them carefully:

  • "Abstract means literally to draw from or separate. In this sense, every artist is abstract ... a realistic or non-objective approach makes no difference. The result is what counts."
  • "All paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression."
  • "I began to feel that what I was really up to in painting, what I enjoyed almost exclusively, was altering -- changing what was before me -- by way of subtracting or juxtaposition or superimposition of different ideas."
  • "It was impossible to imagine doing a picture without it being a landscape; to try to make a painting space, a pure painting space, but always ending up with a figure against a ground."

After its San Francisco premiere, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966, will move to southern California and be on view at the Palm Springs Art Museum from October 26, 2013, to February 16, 2014.

To learn more about the Richard Diebenkorn exhibition at the de Young: http://diebenkorn.famsf.org/

Photograph of de Young Fine Arts Museum by Michael Dickens, 2013.
Photograph of Richard Diebenkorn's Seated Figure with Hat, 1967, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Dateline Seattle: All the world's a fair in the Great Northleft

Left ...

Right ...

... and Center

Art in the Great Northleft. That's the description for this year's Bumbershoot, Seattle's annual showcase music and art festival, that wrapped up on Labor Day, just as it has every year since 1971. Bumbershoot is held on the grounds of the 74-acre Seattle Center, home of the iconic Seattle Space Needle.

Sunday at the Starbucks Stage /
Enjoying the Duke Robillard Band.
At this year's Bumbershoot, over the course of two days, my wife and I and friends enjoyed music by Death Cab For Cutie, Ra Ra Riot, Mates of State and the Duke Robillard Band and stand-up comedy by 30 Rock co-star Judah Friedlander, with whom we later enjoyed a serendipitous, five-minute conversation while walking about the Seattle Center grounds on Monday afternoon.

Also, we gathered for "Nerdprov", which crossed the streams of geek culture with comedic improvisation, as performed by the Seattle Experimental Theater; and we viewed a trio of Seattle International Film Festival Jury Award-winning one-reelers from Australia, Canada and Spain.

Bumbershoot at twilight.
I've visited Seattle nearly every year at this time for the last 20 years, and I never tire of going to Bumbershoot, drinking Seattle's best coffee, or taking photographs of the Space Needle, which was built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. As it happened, this year I could have left my umbrella at home for it stayed dry throughout the four days we visited the Emerald City.

Seattle's given us Starbucks in the seventies, grunge rock in the eighties and Amazon.com in the nineties. It's home to the Elliott Bay Book Company, one of the country's outstanding independent booksellers. There's a certain geeky, caffeinated quality to this northwest city that I enjoy, and it's only a two-hour flight up the Pacific coast from San Francisco.

"To some extent, Seattle remains a frontier metropolis, a place where people can experiment with their lives, and change and grow and make things happen," wrote Tom Robbins, the American author whose best-selling novels are "seriocomedies" that are often wildly poetic and told with strong social and philosophical undercurrents.

Indeed, all the world's a fair in the Great Northleft.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013.