Just as the Palo Alto Art Center did two years ago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has closed for renovations and is taking its art on the road. While hammers bang away on the museum's expansion project through early 2016, SFMOMA is sending traveling exhibitions, outdoor art and new commissioned works around the Bay Area.
This month, two of those endeavors come to the Midpeninsula. Starting Thursday, Nov. 13, Stanford's Cantor Arts Center is hosting "Flesh and Metal: Body and Machine in Early 20th-Century Art," an exhibition of about 70 works from SFMOMA's collection. The paintings, photos, sculptures, drawings, prints and illustrated books are examples of how artists in Europe and the Americas looked at issues of mechanization and humanity between the 1910s and the early '50s.
Art also hits the streets in downtown Los Altos, where "Project Los Altos: SFMOMA in Silicon Valley" brings works by nine contemporary artists to 10 indoor and outdoor spots beginning this Saturday. Much of the art was created as site-specific responses to the character of the downtown; other pieces were already in existence. The unusual endeavor explores Los Altos' evolution over the decades from an orchard-filled village to a boutique-filled downtown that is very much immersed in tech culture.
Video is a major element of the project, including the "Winchester" video trilogy by the late artist Jeremy Blake, which examines the odd history of the Winchester Mystery House with the aid of vintage ads and photos. The piece is on view at 242 State St.
Los Angeles artist Mike Mills also uses video in his three-part work "A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought Alone: Silicon Valley Project" (the title quotes the Isaac Newton quotation used in Apple Computer's first logo). The work combines the past, present and future, reaching back to incorporate the documents from Apple's formation and looking ahead with video interviews with kids whose parents work in high-tech. The work can be seen at 169 State St.
Chicago artist Jessica Stockholder took the call to bring art to the streets of Los Altos seriously. In "Cross Hatch," she gave her artist's interpretation of a specific intersection: the place where Fourth and State streets meet. She overlaid a Google Earth image with a geometric drawing that looks like a crazy quilt of farm fields, if farmers typically grew crops of orange, purple and black. Then she painted her drawing directly onto the pavement at said intersection. Passers-by can stand and look, or perch on bleachers set up for the installation.
"She's transformed the intersection with color and form," said Jenny Gheith, assistant curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA. "People walk through it. They become part of that composition."
Stockholder has transformed intersections before. In 2011, her "Color Jam" did the same for a crossroads in downtown Chicago. She said in an artist's statement, "The corner is canvas, stage, pedestal and frame against which the public can view a parade of shifting color relationships."
Other media in "Project Los Altos" include photography, painting and inflatable sculpture. All of the curatorial departments at SFMOMA took part in choosing the artists, Gheith said. The artists spent as much time in Los Altos as was practical, getting to know the area.
The person who came from the farthest away is spending the most time here. Katerina Seda, a Czech artist, is creating a collaborative work called "Everything Is Perfect": a sort of local "Guiness Book of World Records" to spotlight local accomplishments — but the everyday ones. As the artist puts it on her website, everythingisperfect.org: "Do you think you have the longest beard in Los Altos or Los Altos Hills? Send in an application!"
Seda has spent time walking downtown and will be around again for three weeks getting to know people in the community, Gheith said.
Another artist hopes to meet up with Los Altans he knew decades ago. Charles Garoian's project looks back at the performance art he did with students while teaching art at Los Altos High School from 1969 to 1986. Photos on display at 359 State St. show some of the projects, including "Watermelon Sculpture" (1972), in which students arranged melons and then carefully cut them smaller and smaller to see the shapes that emerged. "Some of his students went on to be artists or art historians," Gheith said.
As viewers wander through and observe, seeing their familiar downtown in a new way, the more traditional "Flesh and Metal" exhibition will be at the Cantor through March 16. Artists represented include Salvador Dali, Margaret Bourke-White, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian and Man Ray.
The man-and-machine theme flourished in art in the early years of the 20th century as artists looked at the ways that industrialization helped and harmed society. Was the machine world sleekly efficient, to be praised for helping poor laborers advance, or did it sap the warmth of human society? How did mechanization affect creativity? These questions and others are explored.
As part of the collaboration between the Cantor and SFMOMA, Stanford students helped design the exhibition in a class taught by Stanford's Hilarie Faberman and Nancy J. Troy, two of the show's curators. They will talk about the experience in a panel discussion on Nov. 13 at 4:30 p.m. in the museum auditorium.
Several other free events are also planned. At 5:30 p.m. Nov. 14, University of Chicago art history professor Wu Hung will speak at Stanford's Annenberg Auditorium on ritual, social member and political discourses and how they relate to visual forms. Stanford arts and humanities professor Alexander Nemerov will speak at 5:30 Nov. 21 in the Cantor auditorium on the links between John F. Kennedy and the Thomas Eakin painting "Swimming." Later talks and a poetry reading are also planned.
Info: "Project Los Altos" is in indoor and outdoor locations around downtown Los Altos from Nov. 9 through March 2. For more, go to sfmoma.org and click on "Exhibitions + Events." "Flesh and Metal" is at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University from Nov. 13 through March 16. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Thursdays until 8. Go to museum.stanford.edu or call 650-723-4177.