The cen­ten­nial of the Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion

Pasatiempo - - PASA REVIEWS - James M. Keller

When was the last time you set foot in a world’s fair? Maybe it was at the fu­tur­is­ti­cally named Cen­tury 21 Ex­po­si­tion, for which Seat­tle con­structed its Space Nee­dle. That was in 1962. Per­haps the New York World’s Fair in 1963-1964? Just pos­si­bly Expo 67 — in 1967, log­i­cally — in Mon­treal? Chances are good that you missed Expo 2015, which closed at a re­pur­posed in­dus­trial site 10 miles out­side Milan on Oct. 31 to wide­spread dis­re­gard, and that you have not yet booked your reser­va­tion for Expo 2017 two sum­mers hence in As­tana, Kaza­khstan. World’s fairs are not what they once were.

It is hard for us to fathom the ex­cite­ment the Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion (PPIE) gen­er­ated ex­actly a cen­tury ago, when crowds flocked to San Francisco to take the pulse of what was new and hap­pen­ing in the world and to glimpse where the fu­ture might lead. The city had fought hard for the right to present the fair, which ran from Feb. 20 through Dec. 4, 1915. It os­ten­si­bly cel­e­brated the open­ing of the Panama Canal, which had occurred the pre­ced­ing Au­gust, but for San Fran­cis­cans it an­nounced to their 100 mil­lion fel­low Amer­i­cans — and to the world — that their city had risen tri­umphantly from the ashes of the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake and fires of 1906. In her re­cently pub­lished book San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion of 1915 (Hey­day), Laura A. Ack­ley cites the sta­tis­tics: “To­tal at­ten­dance was cal­cu­lated to be 18,876,438, far ex­ceed­ing the most op­ti­mistic pre­dic­tions of twelve mil­lion. More than 500,000 visi­tors had trav­eled from east of the Rock­ies. It was es­ti­mated that more than $45 mil­lion had been in­jected into Cal­i­for­nia’s econ­omy from out­side the state (about $2.1 bil­lion in 2012).” Prac­ti­cally the mo­ment the fair ended, de­vel­op­ers set to work on much of the fair­ground’s 635-acre plot, which they turned into what is to­day the city’s Ma­rina dis­trict.

Visi­tors mar­veled at the fair’s ar­chi­tec­ture, dec­o­rated in an ap­proved, jewel-toned color scheme rich in ox­i­dized-cop­per green, Pom­pei­ian red, sky blue, and Cal­i­for­nia-poppy yel­low. They gaped at its il­lu­mi­na­tions, which in­cluded nighttime ex­hi­bi­tions of “paint­ing in color” with elec­tric flood­lights — a novel idea just then. They were amazed by won­ders of tech­nol­ogy and commerce, in­clud­ing an im­mense con­i­cal tower from the Heinz 57 Pure Food Prod­ucts com­pany that ded­i­cated a tier to each of its 57 va­ri­eties, and an Un­der­wood type­writer, 15 feet tall and 21 feet wide, that bat­ted out news bulletins in char­ac­ters that were 3 inches tall. They could pick up a tele­phone re­ceiver and hear the real-time voice of an ac­tual per­son in New York City, since transcon­ti­nen­tal telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions had been in­au­gu­rated just a month be­fore the open­ing of the fair. They en­gaged in their era’s version of “vir­tual travel” by vis­it­ing the pav­il­ions of the Amer­i­can states and for­eign na­tions, they lis­tened to con­certs by world-fa­mous soloists and mu­si­cal en­sem­bles, and they let their hair down on the Joy Zone, which was the ex­po­si­tion’s amuse­ment park.

And they looked at art, art, and more art. The Palace of Fine Arts, which is one of the few PPIE struc­tures to sur­vive to this day on its orig­i­nal site, was the prin­ci­pal fo­cus for art lovers, along with its neigh­bor­ing an­nex; to­gether those struc­tures housed 11,403 works of fine art. But thou­sands of pieces that did not fall un­der the direct purview of the fine arts depart­ment were on dis­play within other palaces and pav­il­ions, as well as out­doors, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of art­works to some 20,000 paint­ings, sculp­tures, prints, and pho­to­graphs, with a scat­ter­ing of ta­pes­tries, art pot­tery, glass­work, and what have you thrown in for good mea­sure.

Among the San Francisco mu­seum shows com­mem­o­rat­ing the PPIE this year, the most am­bi­tious is Jewel City: Art From San Francisco’s Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion, which opened in mid-Oc­to­ber at the de Young Mu­seum (a di­vi­sion of the Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Francisco) in Golden Gate Park and re­mains on view through Jan. 10, 2016. Art lovers pass­ing any­where near San Francisco would be ill-ad­vised to miss it. In fact, the show would fully jus­tify a trip in its own right.

Some of the mu­seum’s public­ity tries to sim­plify the ex­hibit by say­ing that it “re-creates” the art ex­hi­bi­tion of the PPIE, but that is far from the mark. To re-cre­ate it would prac­ti­cally re­quire re­build­ing the fair it­self. What the show ac­tu­ally does is re­assem­ble, for the first time since a cen­tury ago, more than 200 es­sen­tial works that were shown at the PPIE — works now owned by more than 70 in­ter­na­tional mu­se­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tions — and or­ga­nize them into a self-stand­ing ex­hi­bi­tion that is en­rich­ing and sat­is­fy­ing as an ex­pe­ri­ence in and of it­self. The show be­gins in

to­tal at­ten­dance was cal­cu­lated to be 18,876,438, far ex­ceed­ing the most op­ti­mistic pre­dic­tions of twelve mil­lion.

— Laura A. Ack­ley, au­thor of “San Francisco’s Jewel City: The Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion of 1915”

the mu­seum’s lobby, where visi­tors en­counter Wil­liam de Leftwich Dodge’s 46-foot-long mu­ral At­lantic and

Pa­cific, one of 35 large-scale mu­rals com­mis­sioned by the PPIE. It had been in­stalled in an arch­way be­neath the Tower of Jewels, the fair’s ar­chi­tec­tural cen­ter­piece, and for the de Young’s show it has been un­furled for the first time since it was re­moved at the ex­po­si­tion’s con­clu­sion, again pro­claim­ing the cen­tral theme of how the Panama Canal linked East and West.

Grac­ing the cover of the ac­com­pa­ny­ing cat­a­log, a weighty and el­e­gantly pro­duced tome pub­lished jointly by Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of Cal­i­for­nia and the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, is a de­tail from an­other mu­ral, The Vic­tory of Cul­ture Over Force (Vic­to­ri­ous

Spirit) by Cal­i­for­nia artist Arthur Frank Mathews, well known to afi­ciona­dos of the Arts and Crafts style. A cat­a­log es­say by An­thony W. Lee de­scribes Mathews as “al­ter­nately revered as one of the few mu­ral­ists in the city worth his salt and dis­missed as a fusty tra­di­tion­al­ist whose opin­ions on paint­ing (and most ev­ery­thing else) bor­dered on the cranky.” For all that, his was an es­sen­tial piece in the lineup of mu­rals, set­ting its Clas­si­cized fig­ures against a dis­tinctly Cal­i­for­nia-look­ing back­ground that in­cludes struc­tures from the PPIE it­self. This an­nounces an es­sen­tial PPIE sub­text: that the Amer­i­can West was a force to be reck­oned with. One en­coun­ters it re­peat­edly, un­mis­tak­able in the iconog­ra­phy of two oils pre­pared by Frank Vin­cent Du­Mond as stud­ies for his mu­ral The West­ward March of Civ­i­liza­tion. In the first, The De­par­ture From the East, rather drably garbed char­ac­ters set forth in grim de­ter­mi­na­tion; in the sec­ond, Ar­rival in the West, they clap and cheer as they are wel­comed into a Pa­cific land­scape abun­dant with fruit and flow­ers.

The rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Amer­i­can artists at the fair was im­pres­sive, and at the de Young, one strolls through a who’s who of their paint­ings: Du­ve­neck, Whistler, Eakins, Henri, Chase, Homer, Twacht­man, Met­calfe, Frieseke, and so many oth­ers. Not ev­ery piece is mag­nif­i­cent, though many are; as a whole, the selections con­vey the tech­ni­cal mer­its and artis­tic ideals of the Amer­i­can art world of 1915. The taste is largely East Coast, al­though one en­coun­ters a pair of strik­ing South­west­ern scenes: Arthur Wes­ley Dow’s The En­chanted Mesa and Fran­cis McComas’ Navajo Gate­way, Ari­zona. Chief cu­ra­tor James A. Ganz achieves a pow­er­ful mo­ment by de­vot­ing an en­tire wall of a gallery to an en­larged black-and-white pho­to­graph of one of the orig­i­nal rooms, densely hung in salon style. Among the can­vases in the photo one spots Quarry, Evening by Daniel Gar­ber of the New Hope colony; turn around, and you see pre­cisely that paint­ing in glo­ri­ous au­tum­nal hues hang­ing on the op­po­site wall. As the the critic Michael Wil­liams wrote in a “Spe­cial Ex­po­si­tion Num­ber” of the mag­a­zine Art

and Progress, “The great­ness of the San Francisco show is sim­ply that it does show, more com­pre­hen­sively and ad­e­quately than ever be­fore, the whole of Amer­i­can art.” That catholic­ity ex­tended to what be­came one of the PPIE’s most fa­mous, and then no­to­ri­ous, pieces: The End of the Trail, the sculp­ture by James Earle Fraser that de­picts an ex­hausted In­dian war­rior slumped atop his equally de­pleted horse. It is rep­re­sented at the de Young by a small bronze replica, but in 1915 the full­size sculp­ture stood right at the cen­ter of things, in front of the Tower of Jewels. There its sense of de­feat was em­pha­sized by its heav­ily ed­i­to­ri­al­iz­ing place­ment di­rectly across from Solon Bor­glum’s The Amer­i­can

Pioneer, which por­trays an en­er­getic, ex­ul­tant fron­tiers­man, ri­fle at the ready, astride his ar­mored steed. The two added up to a study in Man­i­fest Des­tiny that surely would out­rage view­ers a cen­tury later. Amer­i­can Modernism, though just emerg­ing, was rep­re­sented through such pain­ters as Sloan, Glack­ens, and Wil­liam Zo­rach, gath­ered in a gallery that con­ser­va­tive crit­ics la­beled the “cham­ber of hor­rors.”

French art had a huge pres­ence at the PPIE, both in the Palace of Fine Arts and the French Pav­il­ion. (A few years af­ter­ward, the lat­ter would serve as the ar­chi­tec­tural tem­plate for an­other ma­jor San Francisco mu­seum, the Le­gion of Honor, which to this day houses its found­ing pa­tron’s col­lec­tion of Rodin sculp­ture.) The ex­am­ples from Courbet, Monet, Cézanne, and Pis­sarro as­sem­bled by the de Young may not be from the very top drawer, but they are at least good pieces and, in this con­text, they help clar­ify where the Amer­i­can Im­pres­sion­ists were

find­ing their in­spi­ra­tion. It was rather a mir­a­cle that France was rep­re­sented at all. World War I had bro­ken out in Au­gust 1914, and for a while the fea­si­bil­ity of the world’s fair seemed im­per­iled. Quite a few Euro­pean coun­tries had to with­draw, but France was among those that forged ahead. With Bel­gium un­der Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion, France al­lot­ted some of its space to art­works from that na­tion, mostly spir­ited out from Paris deal­ers who hap­pened to have works by Bel­gians in their in­ven­to­ries. Thus does the de Young dis­play Gar­den of the Gen­er­al­ife in Granada by the Bel­gian Théo van Rys­sel­berghe, a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally florif­er­ous neo-Im­pres­sion­ist can­vas that dou­bles as a case study in transna­tional gen­eros­ity.

It is as­ton­ish­ing that artists from cen­tral and north­ern Europe were rep­re­sented at all, given the cir­cum­stances, but many for­ward-look­ing art­works from Aus­tria and Hun­gary made it to San Francisco. Fif­teen por­traits by Oskar Kokoschka ar­rived (a proto-Ex­pres­sion­ist one of the com­poser Egon Wellesz is in­cluded in the de Young show), as did about 300 works by Nor­we­gians and nearly 500 from Hun­gary. Af­ter the PPIE closed, many of th­ese works re­mained stranded in bu­reau­cratic limbo as enemy property, with the Hun­gar­ian and Fin­nish pieces stay­ing in San Francisco un­til repa­tri­a­tion was fi­nally ar­ranged in 1923. “Pointil­list paint­ings, works by the Nabis, por­traits by Oskar Kokoschka, and fifty-seven prints by Ed­vard Munch mys­ti­fied many,” writes Scott A. Shields in a cat­a­log es­say, “but noth­ing primed the masses for the gallery of Ital­ian Fu­tur­ists.” They are well rep­re­sented as the fi­nal word at the de Young; in fact, Gino Sev­erini’s Spher­i­cal Ex­pan­sion of

Light, Cen­tripetal — color­ful, frac­tured, seem­ingly ex­plod­ing — oc­cu­pies the back cover of its cat­a­log. Such ri­otous Ital­ian works fleet­ingly sug­gest the sense of vigor and ur­gency ex­pe­ri­enced by many at­ten­dees in 1915, and they usher view­ers out to the gift shop in a state of aes­thetic ebul­lience.

But there’s more, and one of the few com­plaints one might have with Jewel City is that it would be easy for visi­tors to over­look three an­cil­lary ex­hibits else­where in the build­ing. Just around the cor­ner from the main show, along the route to the lava­to­ries, is the Me­dia Room, in which are pro­jected still and mov­ing im­ages of go­ings-on at the PPIE, sure to charm and de­light. Dare­devil pi­lot Art Smith does loop-the-loops in his bi­plane, and Teddy Roo­sevelt and Thomas Edi­son ham it up in a mo­tor car. An­other two rooms up­stairs ex­pand on the PPIE ex­pe­ri­ence. One houses Por­tals of the Past: The Pho­tog­ra­phy of Wil­lard Wor­den; Wor­den was an of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher at the fair, had his own ex­hibit booth there, and was es­pe­cially drawn to noc­tur­nal shots in which con­cealed arc lamps made the pav­il­ions seem to glow.

The other would be es­pe­cially easy to miss: Prints at the Fair, oddly achieved through the far end of a Mother­well gallery. Some 2,000 Amer­i­can prints were avail­able for view­ing at the fair, some on per­ma­nent dis­play, oth­ers ro­tated in cases. In Art and Progress, critic Charles Olm­stead char­ac­ter­ized the com­pi­la­tion as “the most com­plete and rep­re­sen­ta­tive col­lec­tion of prints that has yet been made in the coun­try.” At the fair, they were con­tained in six gal­leries: two for black-and-white prints, one for color, one for wood en­grav­ings, and sin­gle-artist gal­leries for Whistler and Pennell (the lat­ter serv­ing also as chair­man of the prints jury). The de Young lim­its its print sec­tion to just one room di­vided into three sec­tions: Whistler etch­ings, prints de­pict­ing ur­ban sub­jects, and color prints (mostly wood­blocks). Pride of place among the color wood­block prints goes to two by Gus­tave Bau­mann,

Har­den Hol­low and Plum and Peach Blos­som, both of un­usu­ally large size at about 20 by 26 inches, and both from 1912 (when he was work­ing in Brown County, In­di­ana). Th­ese are two of the eight Bau­mann wood­block prints that earned gold medals at the PPIE, just three years be­fore he moved to New Mex­ico and be­came the pater­fa­mil­ias of Santa Fe’s com­mu­nity of artists. Al­though our state, only re­cently ad­mit­ted into the Union at that time, did not main­tain a pav­il­ion in San Francisco, it does a New Mex­i­can’s heart good to see the works of one of our sem­i­nal artis­tic cit­i­zens so grandly on dis­play.

“Jewel City: Art From San Francisco’s Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion,” at the de Young Mu­seum in San Francisco, runs through Jan. 10, 2016, with the “Por­tals of the Past” sec­tion con­tin­u­ing through Feb. 14. See

Ed­vard Munch: Moon­light I, 1896, color wood­cut, Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Francisco; top,

Panorama of the Panama-Pa­cific In­ter­na­tional Ex­po­si­tion, 1915, gelatin sil­ver print with ap­plied color, Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Francisco; op­po­site page, left, Daniel Gar­ber: Quarry, Evening, 1913, oil on can­vas, Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art; right, James Earle Fraser: The End of the Trail, mod­eled circa 1894, cast circa 1925, bronze, The Rock­well Mu­seum, Corn­ing, New York

Prince Paolo Trou­bet­zkoy: Lady Constance Ste­wart Richard­son, 1914, bronze, Fine Arts Mu­se­ums of San Francisco; above, Winslow Homer: Saco Bay, 1896, oil on can­vas, Ster­ling and Francine Clark Art In­sti­tute, Wil­liamstown, Mas­sachusetts; op­po­site page, bot­tom, Wil­liam de Leftwich Dodge, At­lantic

and Pa­cific, 1914, oil on can­vas, San Francisco War Me­mo­rial; above, Thomas Eakins:

The Con­cert Singer, 1890-1892, oil on can­vas, Philadel­phia Mu­seum of Art

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