SF’s wild history groove

Posted on January 4, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

(Art review by Simon Blattner) Less than 15 minutes from the square in Sonoma, we are graced with the presence of a very unique art museum. The di Rosa on Highway 12, halfway between Sonoma and Napa, houses the collection of Rene Di Rosa, a highly respected patron and collector of Bay Area art luminaries. The current exhibition located in the Gatehouse of the di Rosa’s extensive buildings and grounds would certainly delight Mr. Di Rosa, who passed away two years ago.

“Renaissance on Fillmore, 1955-65,” conceived and curated by Michael Schwager, presents not only the art of the fifties and sixties in San Francisco during the “beat” era but also a history of the personalities, art galleries, and the habits of its leading bright lights. The art of Jay Defeo, Bruce and Jean Conner, Roy Deforest, David Simpson, Wally Hedrick, Joan Brown, Deborah Remington and others along with photographic portraits of them fill the walls of this expansive exhibition hall. Jay Defeo’s seminal work “The Rose” which was so large that it had to be cut out of her Fillmore Street apartment is not in the show, but other works capture the spirit of her intellect and experimentation.

Highlighting the displayed works is an excellent DVD that explains the history of the era. Mary Kerr’s “Swinging in the Shadow: San Francisco’s Wild History Groove” is an illuminating film that traces in detail the “beatniks” and the artists that hung out with them. The old footage of SF allows us to imagine the artists and poets in their young prime walking through their neighborhood. In one particularly riveting portion we see and hear Allen Ginsberg, in 1955, debuting his most famous poem “Howl” at 6 Gallery in the 3100 block of Fillmore. His pals Jack Keroac, Phillip Lamantia, Gary Snyder, Phil Whalen, and the local Michael McClure were on hand to listen and read their latest works. The show is worth seeing if only to view this intimate piece of film.

Schwager has done an admirable job highlighting for us this particular time and place in San Francisco. The Bay Area has often been in the forefront of movements that changed the way the rest of the nation lives. The artists and poets of the Fillmore Renaissance were ahead of their time in objecting to the American military power culture, the bomb, and the wealth that accompanied America’s new stature in the world. Their art and poems reflect this collective interest.

This exhibition should get your out of your chairs and into your cars for the short trip to the di Rosa. In addition to the Gatehouse exhibition, you can take a guided tour of the stunning grounds that lead you up the hill into the main portion of the museum. It is a trip well worth taking. The Fillmore exhibition is open until January 27.

The di Rosa museum, 5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa, California 94559. Open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

PHOTO: Included in the exhibition “Renaissance on Fillmore, 1955-65” is a work both from and about the era, Jerry Burchard’s photograph “Jay DeFeo.” Courtesy of the Estate of Jerry Burchard.

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