Historic reopening of California Tower in Balboa Park.

Dignitaries cut symbolic ribbon officially opening California Tower on New Year's Day.
Dignitaries cut symbolic ribbon officially opening California Tower on New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day in San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park was marked by a historic event. Today, after 80 years, the California Tower reopened to the general public!

The California Tower is one of the most iconic sights in San Diego. Like many of the ornate Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings in today’s Balboa Park, it was built for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition, which celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal. The tower was originally accessible to visitors, but in 1935 that changed. One of the most important developments during the Balboa Park Centennial Celebration this year is the long-awaited reopening of the amazing tower!

With the purchase of a special ticket, anyone can now join a small tour that climbs up 125 steps to an observation deck high above the park. Views are said to be breathtaking in all four directions. One day (when it’s not sold out) I’ll check the tour out and post some pics!

Dignitaries at the noon ribbon-cutting ceremony included U.S. Congressman Scott Peters, San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts, and San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria.

You might recognize the California Tower and other portions of the California Building, which now houses the San Diego Museum of Man, from the movie Citizen Kane. Shots of Balboa Park’s architectural wonder were said to be Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu Mansion in Orson Welles’ classic film.

The tower, reopened today to the general public, rises above tiled dome of California Building.
The tower, reopened today to the general public, rises above tiled dome of California Building.
Museum visitors can now climb the California Tower for amazing panoramic views.
Museum visitors can now climb the California Tower for amazing panoramic views.
Audience gathers for ceremony on the tower's 100 year anniversary.
Audience gathers for ceremony on the tower’s 100 year anniversary.
Several cool bicyclists happened to ride down El Prado in front of the Museum of Man.
Several cool bicyclists happened to ride down El Prado in front of the Museum of Man.
News cameras wait for speeches, and so do the assembled dignitaries nearby.
News cameras wait for speeches, and so do the assembled dignitaries nearby.
Micah D. Parzen of the San Diego Museum of Man begins by thanking many people.
Micah D. Parzen of the San Diego Museum of Man begins by thanking many people.
California Tower first opened in 1915 for Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
California Tower first opened in 1915 for Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
Photographers up on the observation deck, where the public can now go!
Photographers up on the observation deck, where the public can now go!
Local politicians, museum head and donor, poised ready to cut the big red ribbon!
Local politicians, museum head and donor, poised ready to cut the big red ribbon!
Everyone feels great about historic event, taking place during Balboa Park's Centennial Celebration.
Feeling great about historic event, taking place during Balboa Park’s Centennial Celebration.
Crowd disperses from ribbon cutting ceremony on another beautiful San Diego day!
Crowd disperses from ribbon cutting ceremony on another beautiful San Diego day!

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A San Diego New Year’s wish: Peace on Earth.

Morning light shines on plaques originally called the San Diego Peace Memorial.
Morning light shines on monument originally called the San Diego Peace Memorial.

A fervent wish for this New Year: May There Be Peace on Earth.

Perhaps it’s futile to expect peaceful human coexistence on this crazy, mixed up planet. It often seems that way. That’s unfortunate. But it would be even more tragic to completely lose hope.

The creators of one poignant local memorial certainly yearned for the end of war. Because they understood war is brutal.

A row of plaques stand on the east side of the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park. Originally called the San Diego Peace Memorial and installed in Old Town in 1969, the silent monument was renamed the Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial in 1996 and moved to this location. It lists all San Diegans who were killed or designated missing in action during the Vietnam War.

Today’s Veterans Museum and Memorial Center is housed in the former chapel of the old San Diego Naval Hospital, which was built during World War II. Throughout the history of mankind, wars have invariably reminded us of the sanctity of peace.

In 2015, May There Be Peace on Earth.

People head into the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park.
People head into the Veterans Museum and Memorial Center in Balboa Park.
Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial was originally located in Old Town.
Vietnam Veterans Peace Memorial was originally located in Old Town.
Small American flags remember those who sacrificed in a difficult war.
Small American flags remember those who sacrificed in a difficult, controversial war.
Names of San Diegans who lost their lives fighting the Vietnam War, 1965-1975.
Names of San Diegans who lost their lives fighting in the Vietnam War, 1965-1975.
Flag flies above Veterans Museum, formerly the San Diego Naval Hospital Chapel.
Flag flies above Veterans Museum, formerly the San Diego Naval Hospital Chapel.

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A garden and poem at New Children’s Museum.

New Children's Museum Garden Project beside Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade.
The New Children’s Museum Garden Project beside Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade.

I can’t stand being cooped up inside, especially on Christmas, so around noon I went out for a short walk around a sunny but very quiet downtown San Diego. I didn’t intend to blog about anything, but here I am posting a few pics anyway. That’s because I was impressed by the beauty of a very small spot along a popular walkway.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade runs along a portion of Harbor Drive, and it passes San Diego’s fun New Children’s Museum. In addition to a playground right next to the pathway, there’s a very small urban garden. The museum’s Garden Project is a demonstration area that allows children to explore a few plants and the basics of gardening. Some art is incorporated into the space, and a surprising poem!

Small garden plot beside children's play area contains flowers and a few edible plants.
Small garden plot beside children’s play area contains flowers and a few edible plants.
Kids can explore gardening and learn with their own hands about our environment.
Kids can explore gardening and learn with their own hands about our environment.
Bicycle wheels and a couple scarecrows add to the fun in the Garden Project.
Bicycle wheels and a couple of scarecrows add to the fun in the Garden Project.
A few vegetables in plots enjoy the downtown San Diego sunshine!
A few vegetables in plots enjoy the downtown San Diego sunshine!
A whimsical poem is inscribed on a long wall enclosing the small garden.
A whimsical poem is inscribed on a long wall enclosing the small garden.

I should’ve photographed this entire poem, but I assumed at the time that it could be found on the internet. I was wrong! The poem seems like a fun, playful bit of writing, and I can’t make heads or tails of it looking at my few photos. Oh, well. I’ll leave it to you to reconstruct the verses I’ve selected!

I did figure out that the poem was written by Quincy Thomas Troupe, Jr., who used to be a professor at the University of California, San Diego, just up the coast in La Jolla. He is known for his biography of Miles Davis, the legendary jazz musician. Quincy also helped to write The Pursuit of Happyness, a true story which was adapted into the popular film starring Will Smith. (I love that movie!)

The poem bounds along with crazy, almost nonsensical words.
The poem bounds along with crazy, almost nonsensical words.
Hopping frogs seem to be important characters in this silly poem.
Hopping frogs seem to be important characters in this silly poem.
The poetry was written by local San Diego author Quincy Troupe.
The poetry was written by local San Diego author Quincy Troupe.
A beautiful sight greets pedestrians strolling down Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade.
A beautiful sight greets pedestrians strolling down Martin Luther King Jr. Promenade.

Here are two photos I took the following spring of flowers in the garden:

Perfect beauty.
Perfect beauty.
Bursts of color.
Bursts of color.

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Historical photos of Balboa Park a century ago.

Photograph of the Panama-California Exposition's La Puerta del Oeste (west entrance) taken from Cabrillo Bridge. Dome and bell tower of the California State Building rise into the San Diego sky.
Photograph of the Panama-California Exposition’s La Puerta del Oeste (west entrance) taken from Cabrillo Bridge. The dome and bell tower of the California State Building rise into the San Diego sky.

Balboa Park’s big Centennial celebration is approaching fast! The year-long event kicks off with the opening of December Nights on Friday, December 5th. Later this month, the celebration will continue with a grand New Year’s Eve procession and concert at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion!

The Balboa Park Centennial marks the hundred years that have passed since the opening of the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. While a large open space park near downtown San Diego (originally named City Park) was established in 1872, Balboa Park didn’t really take shape until many years later. Many of the buildings along El Prado which visitors enjoy today owe their existence to the development of the Panama-California Exposition, which covered 640 acres and promoted San Diego as the first United States port of call after a passage through the newly opened Panama Canal. Other parts of Balboa Park were created twenty years later for the California Pacific International Exposition–but that’s a different story.

In honor of the Centennial–now just two days away–I figured I’d post a bunch of historical photographs of Balboa Park as it appeared a century ago. The following black-and-white photos are from Wikimedia Commons, and provide different views of the amazing Panama-California Exposition. I had to do a little detective work with some of the images. Since I’m by no means an expert, please leave a comment if I’ve written captions that require correction.

Cover of the 1915 Official Guide Book to San Diego's Panama-California Exposition. The event celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, and lasted through 1916.
Cover of the 1915 Official Guide Book to San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition. The event celebrated the opening of the Panama Canal, and lasted through 1916.
Aerial view from downtown San Diego of Balboa Park's 1915 Panama-California Exposition. In 1910 San Diego had a small population of only 39,578.
Aerial view from downtown San Diego of Balboa Park’s 1915 Panama-California Exposition. In 1910 San Diego had a small population of only 39,578.
La Laguna Cabrillo lake and Camino Cabrillo road beneath Cabrillo Bridge. California State Route 163, a designated scenic highway, runs beneath the historic bridge today.
La Laguna Cabrillo lake and Camino Cabrillo road beneath Cabrillo Bridge. California State Route 163, a designated scenic highway, runs beneath the historic bridge today.
Detailed 1915 map shows Panama-California Exposition ground plan in Balboa Park (originally named City Park).
Detailed 1915 map shows Panama-California Exposition ground plan in Balboa Park (originally named City Park).
Photo taken of Balboa Park in 1915 from the California Tower provides panoramic view of many exposition buildings designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style.
Photo taken of Balboa Park in 1915 from the California Tower provides panoramic view of many exposition buildings designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style.
Looking west along El Prado through the heart of Balboa Park in 1915. At the exposition's opening ceremony, President Woodrow Wilson activated the electric street lamps with a telegraphic signal.
Looking west along El Prado through the heart of Balboa Park in 1915. At the exposition’s opening ceremony, President Woodrow Wilson activated the electric street lamps with a telegraphic signal.
Commerce and Industries Building and Foreign Arts Building stand side-by-side on the south side of tree-lined El Prado. Today, the rebuilt structures are called the Casa de Balboa and House of Hospitality.
Commerce and Industries Building and Foreign Arts Building stand side-by-side on the south side of tree-lined El Prado. Today, the rebuilt structures are called the Casa de Balboa and House of Hospitality.
Commerce and Industries Building. Rebuilt as Casa de Balboa, it's now home of Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, and San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
Commerce and Industries Building. Rebuilt as Casa de Balboa, it’s now home of Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego History Center, and San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
View of shady pergola and the iconic 208 feet tall California Tower from Los Jardines de Montezuma (Montezuma Gardens) in 1915.
View of shady pergola and the iconic 208 feet tall California Tower from Los Jardines de Montezuma (Montezuma Gardens) in 1915.
Los Jardines de Montezuma (today named Alcazar Garden) at Balboa Park's Panama-California Exposition.
Los Jardines de Montezuma (today named Alcazar Garden) at Balboa Park’s Panama-California Exposition.
Spacious gardens near California State Building's landmark dome and bell tower during the Panama-California Exposition.
Spacious gardens near California State Building’s landmark dome and bell tower during the Panama-California Exposition.
U.S. Navy ambulance parked near entrance of the California State Building, today the Museum of Man.
U.S. Navy ambulance parked near entrance of the California State Building, today the Museum of Man.
Kids feed pigeons on the central Plaza de Panama. The Indian Arts Building with mission bells on left was renamed House of Charm and reconstructed in 1996. It now contains the Mingei Museum.
Kids feed pigeons on the central Plaza de Panama. The Indian Arts Building with mission bells on left was renamed House of Charm and reconstructed in 1996. It now contains the Mingei Museum.
Expansive gardens near the Food Products Building. Today's enormous Moreton Fig Tree was planted in 1914 near this location.
Expansive gardens near the Food Products Building. Today’s enormous Moreton Fig Tree was planted in 1914 near this location.
Elegant facade of Food Products Building, which was eventually reconstructed in 1971 as part of the Casa del Prado. It's now the entrance to the San Diego Junior Theatre.
Elegant facade of Food Products Building, which was eventually reconstructed in 1971 as part of the Casa del Prado. It’s now the entrance to the San Diego Junior Theatre.
View of La Laguna de las Flores, the reflecting pool (or lagoon) at the Panama-California Exposition. This area was called the Botanical Court.
View of La Laguna de las Flores, the reflecting pool (or lagoon) at the Panama-California Exposition. This area was called the Botanical Court.
The Botanical Building, then and now one of the largest lath structures in the world. In 1915 its popular name was Lath Palace.
The Botanical Building, then and now one of the largest lath structures in the world. In 1915 its popular name was Lath Palace.
Fountain by Botanical Building at the Panama-California Expositon in Balboa Park. The Botanical Court a hundred years later remains largely unchanged.
Fountain by Botanical Building at the Panama-California Expositon in Balboa Park. The Botanical Court a hundred years later remains largely unchanged.
Gazing over reflecting pool at Commerce and Industries Building and Foreign Arts Building. A favorite photographic spot for a century in San Diego.
Gazing over reflecting pool at Commerce and Industries Building and Foreign Arts Building. A favorite photographic spot for a century in San Diego.
Food Products Building is reflected in tranquil lily pond directly in front of the large lath Botanical Building.
Food Products Building is reflected in tranquil lily pond directly in front of the large lath Botanical Building.
View of tree-lined El Prado from second floor of Varied Industries Building, which is now part of the Casa del Prado.
View of tree-lined El Prado from second floor of Varied Industries Building, which is now part of the Casa del Prado.
Varied Industries Building seen from the west a short distance. Rebuilt as a part of Casa del Prado, today it houses various art and botanical organizations.
Varied Industries Building seen from the west a short distance. Rebuilt as a part of Casa del Prado, today it houses various art and botanical organizations.
Home Economy Building (left of Foreign Arts Building), site of today's Timken Museum of Art. A wicker Electriquette motor cart is visible among people in the Plaza de Panama.
Home Economy Building (left of Foreign Arts Building), site of today’s Timken Museum of Art. A wicker Electriquette motor cart is visible among people in the Plaza de Panama.
Fine photo across Esplanade of the Indian Arts Building, rebuilt in later years and renamed the House of Charm.
Fine photo across Esplanade of the Indian Arts Building, rebuilt in later years and renamed the House of Charm.
One of many popular recitals in the Organ Pavilion at the Panama-California Exposition. (This venue is now called the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.)
One of many popular recitals in the Organ Pavilion at the Panama-California Exposition. (This venue is now called the Spreckels Organ Pavilion.)
Organ Pavilion colonnade with California Bell Tower in distance. Trees and a large parking exist today on the left, behind the classic structure.
Organ Pavilion colonnade with California Bell Tower in distance. Trees and a large parking lot exist today on the left, behind the classic structure.
View of Spreckels Organ in 1915, from a shady spot in the colonnade. Those wooden benches were replaced many years ago with benches made of steel.
View of Spreckels Organ in 1915, from a shady spot in the colonnade. Those wooden benches were replaced many years ago with benches made of steel.
The distant Organ Pavilion appears in this photo between the San Joaquin Valley Building and the Kern and Tulare Counties Building.
The distant Organ Pavilion appears in this photo between the San Joaquin Valley Building and the Kern and Tulare Counties Building.
Kansas State Building at Panama-California Exposition. Most of these old state buildings no longer exist today, a hundred years later.
Kansas State Building at Panama-California Exposition. Most of these old state buildings no longer exist today, a hundred years later.
Montana State Building, near the site of today's International Cottages.
Montana State Building, near the site of today’s International Cottages.
People take a stroll past a handful of state buildings at the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
People take a stroll past a handful of state buildings at the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park.
Utah State Building at the Panama-California Exposition.
Utah State Building at the Panama-California Exposition.
Washington State Building at the Panama-California Exposition.
Washington State Building at the Panama-California Exposition.
Artillery practice at the exposition's U.S. Marine Camp, which was located near the site of today's Air and Space Museum.
Artillery practice at the exposition’s U.S. Marine Camp, which was located near the site of today’s Air and Space Museum.
Southern California Counties Building, which stood a century ago in Balboa Park at the site of today's Natural History Museum.
Southern California Counties Building, which stood a century ago in Balboa Park at the site of today’s Natural History Museum.
Visitors back in 1915 enjoy the Southern California Counties Building's elegant patio.
Visitors back in 1915 enjoy the Southern California Counties Building’s elegant patio.
Large area called the Painted Desert at the Panama-California Exposition. This unique attraction was near the site of today's Veteran's Memorial.
Large area called the Painted Desert at the Panama-California Exposition. This unique attraction was near the site of today’s Veteran’s Memorial.
The elaborate Taos pueblo in the Painted Desert was a fantastic sight at San Diego's Panama-California Exposition.
The elaborate Taos pueblo in the Painted Desert was a fantastic sight at San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition.
Realistic exhibit shows Zuni native life at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego's Balboa Park.
Realistic exhibit shows Zuni native life at the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
The Pala gem mine was one of the amusements along the Isthmus north of El Prado, near today's San Diego Zoo parking lot. It featured a 300 foot long tunnel filled with simulated gems.
The Pala gem mine was one of the amusements along the Isthmus north of El Prado, near today’s San Diego Zoo parking lot. It featured a 300 foot long tunnel filled with simulated gems.
The Cawston Ostrich Farm was an Egyptian pyramid-shaped amusement on the Isthmus, a section of the expo popularly called the fun street.
The Cawston Ostrich Farm was an Egyptian pyramid-shaped amusement on the Isthmus, a section of the expo popularly called the fun street.
The Japanese Tea Pavilion, northeast of the Botanical Building in 1915. Today, the Japanese Tea Pavilion is located elsewhere and appears entirely different.
The Japanese Tea Pavilion, northeast of the Botanical Building in 1915. Today, the Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden is located elsewhere and appears entirely different.
Citrus and other gardens in a wide north section of the Panama-California Exposition. This is near the entrance of today's San Diego Zoo.
Citrus and other gardens in a wide north section of the Panama-California Exposition. This is near the entrance of today’s San Diego Zoo.
The long Tractor Buillding was located near a tractor demonstration field, just west of the Painted Desert.
The long Tractor Building was located near a tractor demonstration field, just west of the Painted Desert.
California bungalow, surrounded by model farm at the 1915 exposition. Agricultural exhibits and demonstrations were an important part of the event.
California bungalow, surrounded by model farm at the 1915 exposition. Agricultural exhibits and demonstrations were an important part of the event.
The Lipton Tea Gardens at the Panama-California Exposition, one more interesting image from San Diego's rich history.
The Lipton Tea Gardens at the Panama-California Exposition, one more interesting image from San Diego’s rich history.

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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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Colorful mosaic sculptures near Mingei Museum.

Nikigator is a fun mosaic sculpture in front of the Mingei Museum.
Nikigator is a fun mosaic sculpture in front of the Mingei Museum.

It seems everybody loves these two colorful sculptures located near the entrance of Balboa Park’s Mingei Museum. They were created by world-famous Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle, whose fanciful works can be seen in a few different San Diego locations. Earlier this year I posted some pics of her Coming Together sculpture near the San Diego Convention Center.

These imaginative mosaic sculptures are made primarily of tile, glass and stones. The alligator-like Nikigator is an absolute favorite of kids, who ride the whimsical creature as if it were alive. The second artwork contains ancient symbolism and is titled Poet and Muse. A female muse emerges from the shoulders of a male poet as his poetry takes flight.

The nearby Mingei Museum contains a fascinating collection of international folk art, crafts and design. The museum was founded by American artist Martha Longenecker, who was a close friend of Niki.

Kids play on crazy creature created by Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
Kids play on creature sculpture  by Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle.
Someone photographs Le Poète et sa Muse--Poet and Muse.
Someone photographs Le Poète et sa Muse–Poet and Muse.
Famed sculptor was friend of Balboa Park's Mingei Museum.
Famed sculptor was benefactor of Balboa Park’s Mingei Museum.

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San Salvador galleon replica nears completion!

Seaworthy replica of galleon San Salvador built by San Diego Maritime Museum.
Seaworthy replica of galleon San Salvador built by San Diego Maritime Museum.

On my way to the Cabrillo Festival yesterday, I swung by Spanish Landing across from the airport to check out the San Salvador. As you might recall from my blog post from early last December, the San Salvador is a replica of the galleon sailed by explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. The San Diego Maritime Museum is building it.

I was surprised to see the cool ship is nearly completed! Check out some pics I took over the surrounding fence! I spoke to a young volunteer who was working near the ship, and she told me the San Salvador is expected to launch in early 2015. The galleon will be sailing up the coast of California, recreating the historic trip by the famous explorer. And a documentary will be filmed during the voyage!

The peculiar-looking vessel will be able to navigate the open ocean, she assured me, and is ready to go today, but the folks building her are doing as much additional detail work as they can while the ship remains on dry land.

Bow modeled after historic ship sailed by explorer Cabrillo in 1542.
Bow modeled after historic galleon sailed by explorer Cabrillo in 1542.
Stern of the wooden galleon that will sail on the Pacific in early 2015.
Stern of the wooden galleon that will sail on the Pacific Ocean in early 2015.
View of the San Salvador and a huge mast from Harbor Drive sidewalk.
View of the San Salvador and a huge mast from Harbor Drive sidewalk.
People on the upper deck of the almost finished galleon.
People on the upper deck of the almost finished galleon.

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