Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Collection Close-Up: Diego Rivera’s The Hands of Dr. Moore, 1940

One of the many significant works featured in the Art of the Twentieth Century galleries at The San Diego Museum of Art is The Hands of Dr. Moore, 1940 by Diego Rivera. At first glance, the work might seem to be by the artist’s wife, Frida Kahlo, for it includes roots, an inscription on the painting, blood, and references the female form, all familiar in her work. Rivera, however, created this work at a time when he incorporated trees and/or roots in his work and delved into the realm of surrealism. André and Jacqueline Breton came to Mexico City in 1938 and having the surrealist writer in such proximity influenced Rivera. This painting also demonstrates Rivera’s interest in the depiction of human hands, which he exhibited in several portraits, perhaps most notably in a portrait of his ex-wife Lupe Marín from 1938. The unconventional portrait of Dr. Clarence Moore in The San Diego Museum of Art reveals a fascinating story with local connections.

On May 20, 1940, Rivera delivered the completed portrait of Dr. Moore to the Hotel Reforma in Mexico City and received a payment of $650; the cancelled check, seen above, later came to the Museum with the painting. (The Mexican painter had a history with this hotel, having been commissioned in 1936 Rivera to create a mural there. He also often created portraits as a source of income. )

Who, though, was Ellis Moore, who signed the check? Ellis Moon, originally from San Jose, California, married Claus Spreckels and the newlyweds were subsequently given a home in Coronado, California as a wedding gift from the groom’s father, John D. Spreckels. The Spreckels Family owned local newspapers, a ferry company, and the Hotel del Coronado, among many other businesses. Ellis and Claus had four children and were highly regarded in San Diego social circles. In addition to businesses and their social standing, the family’s philanthropy is recognizable today in San Diego in the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park and the Reading Room at the Coronado Public Library, both generous gifts of the Spreckels Family.

After Claus Spreckels died, Ellis remarried Dr. Clarence Moore of Los Angeles in 1936. The announcement of their engagement made front page news in the San Diego Union on October 14 of that year. Moore was a well-known surgeon and the couple maintained residences in Coronado and in Los Angeles.

Several years later, the couple travelled to Mexico and commissioned the portrait. The accompanying photographs show Dr. Moore posing in Rivera’s studio. By coincidence, The San Diego Museum of Art’s other Rivera painting, La Mandrágora, 1939, can also be seen in the background, behind Dr. Moore.


Amy Galpin
Project Curator for American Art

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

International Ask A Curator Day, Continued

More of today's questions answered by John Marciari, Curator of European Art and Head of Provenance Research at the San Diego Museum of Art
How often does –should?- a curator walk through the galleries and interact with the public once an exhibition has opened?
John: I try to walk through all of my galleries, both the permanent collection galleries and those of temporary exhibitions for which I am responsible, every day. If something has happened to a work of art, the curator is most likely to spot it, so this is a good practice. It is also instructive (and occasionally amusing, and sometimes humbling) to hear what people say as they move through the galleries, so I sometimes will just sit on a bench and try to blend in. I don't necessarily interact with the visitors every day, but if someone seems to be confused or to have a particular question, I'll try to help out.

Will it be a good idea to create an exhibition of art especially for children?
John: This is a tricky one. On the one hand, the San Diego Museum of Art has since its beginning in 1926 had a biennial Young Art exhibition, in which works by students from grades K-12 are selected for display at the museum: this is an important contribution to local arts education and it introduces many local children to the Museum. So we're committed to programming and education for children. On the other hand, to plan a traditional travelling exhibition solely for children seems to me a bit narrowly focused. I'd say that a show like Heroes (which has been on view through the summer but closes after Labor Day) could be of equal interest to children or adults. That's a better use of resources.

Any curator: If you weren't a curator, what would be your other career choice? 
John: The obvious alternate career for most curators would be university professor. I, for one, have no desire to change.


What made you decide to become a curator?
John: I grew up around paint and paintings, not so much because I went to museums, but in a more unusual way. As a young man, my father had worked for Bocour Artist Colors, one of the main producers in the US of artist paints, and he became great friends with Sam Golden, who was the great creative genius at Bocour: Sam was, for example, essentially the man who invented acrylic paint for artists. When Sam retired (for the first time - this is before he founded Golden Artist Colors a decade later), he moved to a farm in upstate New York where I spent many many weekends as a child. Sam and his wife Adele were like an extra set of grandparents to me. He was always telling stories about paint and painters (Morris Louis, Helen Frankenthaler, et al.) and as a result, I became interested in art. I took painting lessons for years when I was young (although no, I don't paint any longer). Later on, I went to college and became interested in European history (my undergraduate degree is in Classics), and then realized that I could combine that interest with the paintings by getting my doctorate in the history of art. Because I was always interested in paintings as physical objects-and for this I credit Sam and all those years of hearing about paint- I gravitated not to the university professorship that was the most obvious career path, but instead to curatorship, where I would always have the objects themselves as my primary focus. As I said in response to a question earlier today, there is nothing I'd rather be doing.
What piece of art defines your museum?
John: Our “defining piece of art” (if a museum can have one, or only one) is the great Still Life by Sanchez-Cotan. It's a masterpiece of still life painting and the best known work in the collection. It can stand as a symbol of our rich collection of old masters, particularly by Spanish and Italian artists.


Do you show work of up-and-coming artists, ones on the east coast?
The Museum of Art serves as the encyclopedic museum for the San Diego region, and this includes shows by contemporary artists, including younger artists - although in the latter case, we're more inclined to focus on those with San Diego connections. The most recent example was our exhibition of Hugo Crosthwaite - his first museum show. Hugo now lives in New York, but he spent much time in San Diego.


International Ask A Curator Day

Today (Wednesday, September 1) is “Ask a Curator” day, a worldwide “question and answer” session which will enable interested museum visitors to put questions to curators at over 300 museums around the world.
The organizers of this day are using Twitter to host “Ask a Curator”. You can find a list of participating cultural venues in the “who to ask?” section of the website, or simply follow the hashtag #askacurator to follow the questions other people are asking.

At the San Diego Museum of Art, John Marciari, Curator of European Art and Head of Provenance Research, will be fielding questions throughout the day: direct questions to him @SDMA on Twitter. Short answers will be posted on Twitter, with links to the fuller answers here.


From our Facebook page:
@Junvi Ola:
How and where private collectors acquire art pieces. Do they go to estate sales? Private art auctions? What if its a piece from another country? I'm eternally curious about this process!

John: "Private Collectors" is a pretty open-ended term, but I'm going to take it that you mean people who collect museum-quality art (i.e. art of the quality, condition, and importance that would hang on the walls of a museum). While there are a few cases of amazing finds at estate sales, those are the exception rather than the rule. Most collectors work with dealers and advisors, go to auctions (Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonham's, etc.), visit galleries, or occasionally buy directly from other collectors. If collectors buying at this level have a relationship with a museum, the curators will sometimes help advise them as well.

Export rules from other countries vary from country to country. The more important something is, the harder it will be to export it to the US. Major works, that is, would be run past a review board (which could include, for example, curators at a national museum), and they could be blocked from export.


What is the most difficult challenge for a curator? How do new technologies influence the curatorship task?

John:  This isn't a terribly romantic view of curatorship, but to be honest, one of the greatest challenges comes in reconciling ambitions and budgets. It is still relatively easy to find great works of art that we'd like to add to the collection, but harder to put together the funds necessary to acquire them. Likewise, when planning an exhibition, one needs to keep in mind the huge costs involved in bringing works from other cities or other countries together.

As for technology: new technologies (websites, Facebook, iPhone applications, etc.) allow museums to share ever more information about the collection. Wall labels offer a few bits of information, but we know much more about any object than can fit on those labels, and the new technologies can make it available to those who are interested. New technologies in the conservation lab, conversely, are giving us ever more information. See, for example,


What is your favorite piece in your museum's collection? And if I visit, where can I find it?

John: I thought that this would be a question asked today, and it's come in at least twice already. A common game curators play when visiting another museum is to ask two questions: 1. What would you take for your museum? 2. What would you take home?  The first question really boils down to this: What is the most historically significant and/or rare object, one that would be a prized addition to a museum's collection? The second question is about personal taste: what would you like to live with? Usually, these turn out to be two different objects, but in the case of the collection here in San Diego, I'd probably choose the same for both: Giorgione's Portrait of a Man. (The Venetian Renaissance is one of my particularly beloved moments in the history of art.) The panel is in our Italian Renaissance Gallery on the second floor. For an older blog post about the painting, see


Thursday, August 19, 2010

An event NOT to be missed!!!

Unforgettable Rock n' Roll Photographs

I haven't been this excited for an event in awhile - what an amazing opportunity!!! Behind the scenes tour, fabulous cocktails & food and great company with San Diego Museum of Art's The Gallery. Surely, an event NOT to be missed!!! Don't forget to RSVP for this one,

See you there,
Gallery Kim

See Elton John levitate, John Lennon in love, and Tina Turner shake it at MoPA’s stunning exhibition of rock n’ roll photographs curated by rock legend and accomplished photographer Graham Nash.

The photographs express Nash’s view on the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll music, and depicts stunning images ranging from live stage performances by Jimi Hendrix, Iggy Pop, Elvis, The Beatles, and Kurt Cobain, to intimate, behind-the-scenes moments of Johnny Cash and June Carter, Yoko Ono and John Lennon, Janis Joplin and others.

Hosted by Gallery Member Scott Dunklee.

6:00 p.m. Cocktails and appetizers catered by Alchemy
Enjoy craft cocktails and farm-to-table hors d’oeuvres from the magicians at Alchemy Restaurant (Named Best New Restaurant 2009, San Diego Magazine, and “Best Of” Issue, Rivera Magazine 2009).

Note: The first 20 Gallery members to arrive will also experience a special VIP behind-the-scenes tour of MoPA’s vault (separate from the 7:00 p.m. exhibition tour), where you’ll witness the inner workings of a fine art photography exhibition.

7:00 p.m. The private after-hours tour starts for event guests to view these astonishing, sexy, dangerous, and sometimes intimate works of art.

Post Tour: Head to the Prado for socializing and their fabulous late night happy hour.

The Details -
Wednesday, August 25
6:00 p.m. Cocktails and appetizers
7:00 p.m. The private after-hours tour

RSVP requested to

Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA)
1649 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101-1664

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Meet a Gallery Member - Devon Foster

Hi Everyone!
Devon Foster is one of our newest members, she's also the Marketing Manager for the San Diego Museum of Art so she's THE person to know at the museum! Ok, one of the great people that make our adventures in art possible!

Don't forget to welcome Devon to our group at our next meet-up, July 16th!

Me: What is San Diego's best kept secret?
Devon: There are so many secrets in San Diego, I don’t know which is best kept… maybe some of our hidden beaches? Or neighborhood restaurants? I also love our street fairs and farmers markets. It seems like every neighborhood has them and they always have great food, fun music, interesting tidbits to buy, and lots of friendly people.

Me: What motivates you to get out bed in the morning?
Devon: I love my job, and I swear I’m not saying that just for this blog since I work at the Museum. I work with a really amazing and diverse group of people who make work so much fun.

Me: Guilty Pleasure?
Devon: Sunbathing at the beach, reading detective/lawyer novels (James Patterson is a favorite, and right now I’m in the middle of the Millennium Trilogy), Diet Coke fountain sodas, red wine and Mexican food. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. :)

Me: Any fun factoids about yourself?
Devon: I am a San Diego native- I grew up in Point Loma and even went to summer camp at the Museum when I was little. I’ve been told that it’s unusual to meet locals, but I still have a close group of friends from high school and even a couple from pre-school who all live in San Diego. Other fun factoids??? I studied Dante’s Divine Comedy in Florence, Italy one summer during college and lived in Sonoma County for about a year and a half (then I had to move back to San Diego- I missed it too much!).

Me: Why did you join The Gallery?
Devon: I love the opportunities that The Gallery offers to meet local artists and curators. Hearing a curator tell the story behind the work, the installation process for an exhibition, or insight into the artist’s life really helps me appreciate the art and see it in a whole new way. I also love meeting artists and hearing about the inspiration and creative process behind their art.

Me: Favorite restaurant in San Diego?
Devon: There are so many great restaurants to choose from! My favorites are probably: Vagabond Kitchen in South Park for amazing dishes from all over the world, Cucina Urbana, Third Corner, and Sogno di Vino are perfect for a glass of wine and shareable food, Lei Lounge for interesting cocktails, George’s in La Jolla, 333 Pacific, and C Level for the views, Indigo Grill for unique dishes, and Point Loma Seafood or Northgate Market for ceviche.

Me: What is the thing you are most excited to do/learn while part of The Gallery?
Devon: Meet local artists and get to know some of the “hidden secrets” of the local arts community and meet other interesting people in the process.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Meet Gallery Member - Kim Primerano

Ok, I thought since I have been asking & will continue to ask people for their time & personal stories I thought it only fair to pony up myself. However, for the record, it seems odd to ask myself questions & even more strange to answer...

Me: What is San Diego's best kept secret?
ME: This is tough - I love the summer concerts in Balboa Park,
running on sunset cliffs, happy hours on the water. Our sunsets are amazing - I know this isn't asecret but sometimes I think as San Diegans we take them for granted.

Me: What motivates you to get out bed in the morning?
Me: My white boxer, Lily, is a pretty decent alarm clock, coffee & my running shoes.

Me: Guilty Pleasure?
ME: California Burritos from Bahia don Bravo AND Chocolate covered, almond laced, Rice Krispie treats from Zanzibar Cafe Downtown.

Me: Any fun factoids about yourself?
ME: Well...I'm a long way from home. I grew up on a farm, literally a dirt road with no neighbors & lots of animals. My "part" of the farm was to raise horses - I've delivered a foal, rescued an abused
quarter horse (Lucy) & nursed her back to good health & I barrel raced my pony, Glitter.

Me: Why did you join The Gallery?
ME: I need to get involved with something outside of my comfort zone. This probably sounds silly but the last time I remember thinking about art was college & that, I'm afraid, was too long ago.

Me: Favorite restaurant in San Diego?
ME: Oh, I love food so this is tough too! The Mission in East Village has THE BEST French Toast you will ever have!
I also love sitting outside at El Vitral, under the white lights & stars during a ballgame. The food is awesome & it's just so romantic!

Me: What is the thing you are most excited to do/learn while part of The Gallery?
ME: I'm excited about the collaborative stuff we have going on around town - I just think it's a really cool thing when establishments like the San Diego Museum of Art get involved with young & upcoming artists & art collectives.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Summer Nights at the Museum

For me, there is something extraordinary about being at a Museum at night. Perhaps it is because my earliest memories of being at any museum occurred during the day: school trips or when my parents would take me across the bridge to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from our native New Jersey.

Something special is happening at the San Diego Museum of Art on Thursday nights. It has enlivened our staff and I have no doubt that it will quickly engage our entire San Diego community. The Museum is now open from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays during the summer. These enhanced hours do not only feature exhibitions, but also offer an opportunity to celebrate the dynamic abilities of local contemporary artists such as Zac Monday, Alida Cervantes, Brian Dick, Judith Pedroza, and May-Ling Martínez. These talented artists are bringing fresh and important work center stage.

I love being at museums after hours. I relish day trips to Los Angeles and beat the traffic on the way back by spending a few hours at LACMA before zipping home on the freeway. After many trips to London, there is nothing more special than the first Friday night I closed down the Tate Modern along with many fellow visitors to the city. Moreover, after spending eight years in Chicago, some of my favorite memories of the city are due to late nights at the Museum of Contemporary Art or at the Art Institute.

Recently, after a Saturday in L.A. I roamed the galleries at LACMA and found myself staring at a Stuart Davis painting. A young guy with larger-than-life headphones came up to me and said, “Do you like this painting?” After an emphatic response of “Yes,” this twenty-something gentleman said to me “Me too, but my friends don’t get it.” My only answer was “It only matters that you like it.” That is so true of art— if it means something to you, than that is what matters most.

Come and check out what is happening at the San Diego Museum of Art on Thursday nights, I think you will like it.

Above image: Zac Monday, Dead and Gone, 2010, in situ for one evening within the exhibition Mannered Bodies: European Prints of the Later Renaissance as part of the Summer Salon Series