Living metal palm trees rise into San Diego sky.

Seven curving metal palm trees rise into the beautiful San Diego sky in Bayfront Plaza.
Seven curving metal palm trees rise into the beautiful San Diego sky at Bayfront Plaza.

These are photographs of “living metal” under changing skies. Since 2008, seven stainless steel abstract palm trees have stood in front of San Diego’s Bayfront Hilton, moving gently on windy days. I’ve taken many photos of these unique sculptures over the years. They were created by artist Ned Kahn.

Wind Palms, Ned Kahn, 2008. Stainless steel kinetic sculptures in front of Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
Wind Palms, Ned Kahn, 2008. Stainless steel kinetic sculptures in front of Hilton San Diego Bayfront.
People walk beneath unique tree-like art between the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton hotel.
People walk beneath unique tree-like art between the San Diego Convention Center and the Hilton hotel.
Silvery, sun-reflecting stainless steel ribbon leaves of the Wind Palms move very slightly in the sea breeze.
The silvery, sun-reflecting stainless steel ribbon “leaves” of the Wind Palms move very slightly in the sea breeze.
Looking upward at different geometric patterns. The trees are supposed to rotate in the wind, but I've never seen it.
Looking upward at different geometric patterns. The curving fronds rotate when the wind’s direction changes.
Seagulls circle high above the palm-like kinetic sculptures on a gray, cloudy day.
Seagulls circle high above the palm-like kinetic sculptures on a gray, cloudy day.
Walking along near the Hilton, heading toward the edge of San Diego Bay.
Walking along near the Hilton, heading toward the edge of San Diego Bay.
Shining trees in a cloudless blue sky.
Shining trees in a cloudless blue sky.

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Photos of sculpture: Experiments in distance, angle.

Altered photograph of a Henry Moore sculpture, located in San Diego Museum of Art’s popular sculpture garden.
Altered photograph of a Henry Moore sculpture, located in San Diego Museum of Art’s popular sculpture garden.

Oh, no! Here come some “artsy” photos!

Today I walked through Balboa Park’s beautiful May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden. The grassy space, which is free to the public, contains several pieces of artwork belonging to the San Diego Museum of Art’s collection.

The garden’s most recognized sculpture is probably Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, which was created in 1969 by renowned British Modernist artist Henry Moore.

As I walked around the curvaceous sculpture, it occurred to me that different interesting photos could be taken depending on the angle and perceived distance. So I engaged in a bit of experimentation!

(Fear not! I didn’t touch the sculpture or step on the flowers! But I did lean over like crazy–and minutely cropped some images– to get the “close-up” images.)

Henry Moore's 1969 bronze sculpture Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, on the grass in the San Diego Museum of Art's May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden.
Henry Moore’s 1969 bronze sculpture Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, on the grass in the San Diego Museum of Art’s May S. Marcy Sculpture Garden.
Sunlit bronze sculpture photographed from a different angle. I adjusted contrast, brightness and sharpness, and cropped according to my eye.
Sunlit bronze sculpture photographed from a different angle. I adjusted contrast, brightness and sharpness, and cropped according to my eye.
Same sculpture, different frame, different paths of reflected light. The physical object is itself unchanged, but has become something new in the mind of the viewer.
Same sculpture, different frame, different paths of reflected light. The physical object is itself unchanged, but has become something new in the mind of the viewer.
The Modernist sculpture’s fluid curves and organic quality is suggestive of human form.
The Modernist sculpture’s fluid curves and organic quality is suggestive of human form.
Raw nature interacts with human art. A camera focuses on nearby details the casual eye might miss.
Raw nature interacts with human art. A camera focuses on nearby details the casual eye might miss.
The form of an abstract sculpture becomes more mysterious when the defining outer edges are eliminated with photo editing.
The form of an abstract sculpture becomes more mysterious when the defining outer edges are eliminated with photo editing.
A warmly glowing bronze surface, and a pair of eyes.
A warmly glowing bronze surface, and a pair of eyes.
The sculpture's red-tinged bronze skin reflects Southern California sunlight.
The sculpture’s red-tinged bronze skin reflects Southern California sunlight.
A closer view reveals craters and furrows. Small glimpses of beauty within a larger whole.
A closer view reveals craters and furrows. Small glimpses of beauty within a larger whole.
A strangely perfect, silvery surface.
A strangely perfect, silvery surface.
Looking up into the light. Both self-contained art and the outer world are composed of the same elements, and can evoke identical wonder.
Looking up into the light. Both self-contained art and the outer world are composed of the same elements, and can evoke identical wonder.

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Amazing modern masterpieces visit San Diego.

Visitors near beautiful entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Visitors near entrance to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.

Yesterday morning was super special. I was able to experience dozens of amazing fine art masterpieces firsthand!

My friend Catherine Jones, a docent at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, very graciously provided me and a friend with a special tour. We were given an in-depth look at the landmark Gauguin to Warhol exhibit, being shown for a limited time in San Diego.

Follow me into the world-class San Diego Museum of Art, and we’ll check out a few of these stunning paintings together!

Masterpieces that define modern art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Kahlo, Pollock, and more...
Masterpieces that define modern art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Kahlo, Pollock, and more…
Step through this door to see an amazing exhibit of mind-blowing art!
Step through this door to see an amazing exhibit of mind-blowing art!

Gauguin to Warhol: 20th Century Icons from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery is an exhibit containing dozens of true masterpieces from many of the world’s most famous modern painters. Artists with important pieces on display include Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall, Georgia O’Keeffe, Salvador Dalí, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Roy Lichtenstein .

The exhibit is a whirlwind journey through time, progressing from Impressionism in the late 18th Century to Post-impressionism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and finally Pop Art in the 1960s. One can follow the emergence and evolution of major art movements over eight decades–and observe how visual abstraction, experimentation and provocative simplicity took a greater and greater hold on the imaginations of many great artists.

These fantastic paintings all come from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. San Diego is the exclusive West Coast stop for this traveling exhibition.

(The following descriptions and reactions were formed in my own muddled human brain, and notes were taken only sporadically. I’m not even close to being an art expert, so take everything I say with a very large grain of salt!)

Paul Gauguin. Spirit of the Dead Watching,1892, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Paul Gauguin. Spirit of the Dead Watching,1892, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A few steps after we admire a fine example of classic Impressionism, the 1890 Peasants in the Fields by Camille Pissarro, we are stopped in our tracks by a stunning masterpiece by Paul Gauguin. It’s the instantly recognizable Spirit of the Dead Watching, painted in 1892.

Spirit of the Dead Watching was created during Gauguin’s residence in Tahiti. It depicts his young wife Tehura, awakened by a frightening dream. A nightmarish figure with a mask-like face sits at the foot of her bed, seemingly a dark omen.

The bright, gauzy, fine daubs of paint of the earlier Impressionist movement seem to have given way to broad, unabashed swaths of rich color. The elements in this Post-Impressionist image appear two-dimensional; objects depicted seem to have become bold, emotionally colored symbols, rather than more-realistic objects given depth using traditional perspective.

The Spirit of the Dead Watching is both uniquely beautiful and disturbing, not unlike a few of the canvases to come on our tour.

Pablo Picasso, La Toileete, 1906, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Pablo Picasso, La Toileete, 1906, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Another few steps and we are looking at Pablo Picasso’s La Toilette, painted in 1906 just before his well-known innovations with Cubism.

The two women depicted are different views by Picasso of the same model. The painting seems to be mostly about lustrous, subtle color and soft, slightly angular shapes. It struck me that fusing the two figures, with their simple faces and forms, would result in a sort of Cubist composite creation. Perhaps we see the gears slowly turning in Picasso’s creative mind.

Vincent Van Gogh, The Old Mill, 1888, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Vincent Van Gogh, The Old Mill, 1888, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

The masterpiece that I enjoyed most–because it’s just so indescribably magical–is Van Gogh’s The Old Mill, from 1888, another fine example of Post-Impressionism. Thick smears of paint and bold brush strokes of light give the painting strange depth and glowing solidity, in spite of its greatly simplified, almost crude representation of a country scene. I felt like I had entered a magical landscape, located somewhere between a gleaming dream and a warm, everyday experience. To me, it’s a piece of art that would never grow old.

Salvador Dalí, The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Salvador Dalí, The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Here we see the emergence of Surrealism. And this masterpiece is by the ever popular Salvador Dalí!

The Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image, 1938, is one of Dalí’s most iconic works. It’s mysterious, strange and stimulates thought. What do the various elements in the design represent? Is that a bowl of mashed potatoes with gravy on a table with a napkin, or is that a lake nestled between mountains? The onlooker isn’t quite sure if the painting is primarily fun or symbolic, or a depiction of the unconscious, or sublime reality. Abstraction has surely taken hold of the artist’s vision, as the scene is a complete departure from ordinary experience.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait With Monkey, 1938, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s impressive Self-Portrait With Monkey, painted in 1938, is said to be Surrealist. To me it appears more like a beautifully colorful Post-Impressionist Gauguin. According to Wikipedia: “Frida rejected the “surrealist” label; she believed that her work reflected more of her reality than her dream.”

Gazing at this one portrait, I understand her assertion. Apart from one canvas in the exhibit, a depiction of fleshy, bloody butchered meat, this painting seems more solidly lifelike and ripe with organic truth than any other work that I recall seeing.

Henri Matisse, La Musique, 1939, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Henri Matisse, La Musique, 1939, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

I also love this one! La Musique, by Henri Matisse in 1939, is the sort of joyful, broadening, invigorating style of art that I personally like. Catherine pointed out that the lady on the left is very prim and composed, but the wild lady on the right is the type you’d want to date! Exactly right! The hands and feet are wonderfully twisted and elongated as if they’re swimming within splashes of swirling color and music!

Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Jackson Pollock, Convergence, 1952, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Jackson Pollock today is recognized as a master of Abstract Expressionism. His unique drip paintings are unmistakeable. And his Convergence from 1952 nearly covers an entire museum wall!

Okay, perhaps I’m an ignoramus and a dullard. To me this style of painting seems a bit random, cynical, and a thumb in the eye of earlier, more skillful artistic styles. Several of the canvases in this portion of gallery struck me in a similar way.  The absurdly huge creations of these famous Abstract Expressionists seem more than experimental–they seem despondent, angry, nihilistic and disillusioned–perhaps a reaction to the massive chaos and inhumanity of two world wars in the early 20th Century. But I do appreciate Pollock’s artful balance, his dynamic strands of color, and the peculiar, imposing beauty that has resulted!

Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, 1954, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Francis Bacon, Man With Dog, 1954, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Here’s one painting that is absolutely disturbing. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a short horror story by Poe, or above the mantle in a cobwebby haunted house! As if penetrating the dark recesses of the human subconscious, Francis Bacon’s unsettling Man With Dog, 1954, seems to portray the bottom of a shadowy figure being resisted by a featureless, spectral hound attracted to a sewer grate. This painting definitely succeeds in bringing out a strong feeling of unfocused loathing. If the aim of art is to stir the emotions, this piece is triumphant!

Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Willem de Kooning, Gotham News, 1955, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A manic jumble of impulsive, uncertain emotions in two dimensions seems to compose Willem de Kooning’s Abstract Expressionist Gotham News, completed in 1955. Flesh tones and slightly organic shapes are intermixed with the angled, heavy lines of a large city’s architecture, looking to my eye like stained glass put into a blender. Energy and spasmodic randomness seem to convey no clear artistic notion, nor rouse any one particular emotion. It’s just a big mixture of complex energy!  Perhaps that was the artist’s intent!

Andy Warhol, 100 Cans, 1962, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Andy Warhol, 100 Cans, 1962, courtesy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

An Andy Warhol response to modernism, his iconic 100 Cans was painted in 1962. Since then, the Pop Art image of multiple Campbell’s Soup cans has spread and mutated throughout the popular culture.

Is this painting a celebration of unrepentant commercialism, or a resigned condemnation? Is he asking the fundamental question: What is art? Or is it just his affirmation that an increasingly technological and global culture has changed life forever, and that art has become something of a commodity? I’ve heard arguments on every side.

The original painting is hanging on a wall at the San Diego Museum of Art! See it for yourself and decide!

The amazing Gauguin to Warhol exhibit runs in San Diego through January 27, 2015.
The amazing Gauguin to Warhol exhibit runs in San Diego through January 27, 2015.

This truly special, eye-opening exhibit, Gauguin to Warhol, can be enjoyed at the San Diego Museum of Art through January 27, 2015.

It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really appreciate these many great masterpieces. If you can, go see it!

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A shining Flame of Friendship from Mexico.

Flame of Friendship sculpture at Convention Center.
Flame of Friendship sculpture at Convention Center.

The Flame of Friendship burns near the heart of the city. You’ll find it on a prominent stair landing of the San Diego Convention Center, overlooking the Marriott Marina and San Diego Bay. The flame is a silvery stainless steel sculpture presented to San Diego by Mexico. In Spanish it is Flama De La Amistad.

Many eyes have been dazzled by this sunlit symbol of friendship. The artist who created the interesting abstract form is Leonardo Nierman, of Mexico City.

I walked around it and took several pics from different angles!

Light reflects from shining sculpture.
Light reflects from shining sculpture.
Flame of Friendship from another angle.
Flame of Friendship from another angle.
Cool sight at the San Diego Convention Center.
Cool sight at the San Diego Convention Center.
Friendship between San Diego and Mexico.
Friendship between San Diego and Mexico.
Sunlight glow behind silvery work of art.
Sunlight glow behind silvery work of art.
Tangled arcs of light in the San Diego sky.
Tangled arcs of light in the San Diego sky.
Flame of Friendship with hotels in background.
Flame of Friendship with hotels in background.

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San Diego Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden.

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An opening in a fence near Balboa Park’s theatre complex leads back south into the San Diego Museum of Art’s grassy Sculpture Garden. Step through with me!

After slowly crossing the outdoor space, gazing at interesting, often organic abstract artwork, we pause in the shade of the Sculpture Court and turn back for a photo. Here it is!

In the background, you can see the Museum of Man’s colorful dome and the California Tower. Behind us is an open air cafe.

UPDATE! Here are more photos that I took during various future visits!

California Tower high in the blue sky behind colorful, unique artwork.
California Tower high in the blue sky behind unusual, thought-provoking art.
Aim I, Alexander Liberman, 1980. Biased sliced aluminum tubes.
Aim I, Alexander Liberman, 1980. Biased sliced aluminum tubes.
Cubi XV, David Smith, 1964-64. Stainless steel.
Cubi XV, David Smith, 1964-64. Stainless steel.
Two Lines Oblique: San Diego, George Rickey, 1993. Stainless steel.
Two Lines Oblique: San Diego, George Rickey, 1993. Stainless steel.
Modern abstract sculptures are free to view in Balboa Park.
These interesting abstract sculptures are free to view in Balboa Park.
Figure for Landscape, Barbara Hepworth, 1960. Bronze.
Figure for Landscape, Barbara Hepworth, 1960. Bronze.
Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, Henry Moore, 1969. Bronze.
Reclining Figure: Arch Leg, Henry Moore, 1969. Bronze.
Peeking through one sculpture back across the lawn.
Peeking through one sculpture back across the lawn.
Another view of sculpture garden with lots of people about.
Another view of the Sculpture Garden on a day with lots of people about.
Turning to the north, we see more art to explore.
Turning to the north, we see more artwork in the Sculpture Court.
Sonata Primitive, Saul L. Baizerman, 1940-48. Copper.
Sonata Primitive, Saul L. Baizerman, 1940-48. Copper.
May S. Marcy Sculpture Court was dedicated in 1968.
The May S. Marcy Sculpture Court was dedicated in 1968.
Man cleans pool of water in San Diego Museum of Art's Sculpture Court.
Man cleans small pool containing fascinating art.
This sculpture is titled Night Presence II, 1976, by artist Louise Nevelson.
This sculpture is titled Night Presence II, 1976, by artist Louise Nevelson.
Cafe in building by San Diego Museum of Art's sculpture garden.
The cafe in San Diego Museum of Art’s unique Sculpture Court.

Here come two bonus pics taken in early 2015! A cool new eatery, Panama 66, has been operating now for many months in the Sculpture Court…

Sign directs people to Panama 66 in Balboa Park.
Sign directs people to Panama 66 in Balboa Park.
Diners enjoy Panama 66 food and refreshment in the cool Sculpture Court of the San Diego Museum of Art.
Diners enjoy Panama 66 food and refreshment in the Sculpture Court of the San Diego Museum of Art.

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