Portrait(s) of the Artist

No one goes to the Moscone Center just to see its bronze bust of the late Mayor George Moscone. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a perfectly nice statue, cast by artist Spero Anargyros. However, it’s no match for the one created by Robert Arneson at the request of the S.F. Arts Commission in 1981. The founder of the Funk Art movement was well known for his irreverent self-portraits in ceramic, a material he liberated from its more traditional, stuffier connotations. Therefore no one should have been surprised by the boldness of his ceramic sculpture, mostly thanks to its graffiti-scrawled pedestal that included references to gunfire, Harvey Milk, and the “Twinkie defense” Moscone’s killer Dan White used in court. The commission returned Arneson’s sculpture after he refused to change it. With his typical sense of humor, Arneson turned the experience into another piece of art, this time in bronze, in which he attached his own head to the body of a dog and scattered bronze poop on the floor. That sculpture, Bowee Wowee, is part of “Robert Arneson: Self-Portraits in Bronze,” a great starting point on your route through the galleries at 49 Geary on First Thursday. Arneson’s pieces address mortality as well, especially as he grappled with terminal cancer. The pedestal of his Portrait at 62 carries a notch for every year of his life, and sadly he never got to make another one. The exhibit demonstrates the artist could sculpt with metal just as masterfully as he did with ceramic, and that even in the face of rejection and fatal illness, he never lost his wit.
Tuesdays-Saturdays. Starts: March 1. Continues through April 28, 2012

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