Apr 082013

Old San Juan -2

Red Gate to Old San Juan

Huge stone walls of the Fort surround sun-soaked Old San Juan, a cobble stoned enclave of 16th & 17th century restored buildings.  A UNESCO World Heritage City, Old San Juan is home to several thousand Puerto Ricans and ex-pats.  It’s packed with gracious palaces and mansions, many now functioning as museums. I counted 13.

Old San Juan -36

El Convento, the aptly named former convent converted to a small very fine hotel, was home for a week. It sits kitty corner to Old San Juan Cathedral, where the body of Ponce de Leon lies entombed in the 16th church.  I lit a candle for my youth.

Old San Juan -4

Happy Hour is about to begin at El Convento, with a sunset view toward the Cathedral and beyond.

Old San Juan -27

View from the Fort to San Juan Bay.  A strategic port to the Americas, the Fort was built by the Spanish where they fiercely defended their interest in the New World for many centuries.

Old San Juan -28

Small cafes, shops, fine restaurants and a rainbow of charming houses make Old San Juan a walkers paradise. Through narrow blue cobble stoned streets, we enjoyed life at a leisurely pace. Sunny days of around 30C kept things fluid, as did the numerous small tucked away spots serving expertly mixed ice cold beverages,  many containing rum. Puerto Ricans also produce awesome coffee to keep you fueled and upright.

Old San Juan -14

The local theatre company takes set design to a new street side high.

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Old walls and new graphics make great partners.

Old San Juan -19

Locals take pride in their doorway presentations.  You can find posters and books of the celebrated doorways of Old San Juan.  It’s a photographers dream.  Yes, I am a doorway fan and we will be publishing another doorways book of Old San Juan.

Look for our doorways books at www.blurb.com. Titles are Doorways of Turkey and Norway’s Doorways.

Old San Juan Cruise Ship-61

Toward the Cruise Ship dock from the Fort.  When cruise ship passengers hit the streets en mass, there’s great people watching. Passengers get off the boat for a short time and make haste to the souvenir shops and local attractions. Most cruisers reminded me of enormous kids on a field trip from a day care:   huge shorts, super white running shoes, baseball caps, all wearing the big cruise ship ID card on a string around their neck.   If this is future of tourism, it ain’t pretty.

Old San Juan Cobblestones-61

Late afternoon portrait with cobblestones.  My husband and intrepid travel companion Andrew Loen is most often the discerning eye behind the lens.




Apr 032013

Puerto Rico Museum of Art

Museum of Art Puerto Rico

For a city of about 400 thousand, San Juan has an impressive line up of museums and art galleries. First stop was the Puerto Rico Museum of Art. It proved to be a perfect introduction to fine arts of the region.

Roman Frade-Our Daily Bread, 1905

Pan Nuestro (Our Daily Bread) 1905 – Ramon Frade

There were numerous interpretations and appropriations of this powerful painting by Ramon Frade, Puerto Rico’s renowned painter and architect. Frade, and the painting, are icons of Puerto Rico. The piece informs the work of many artists, and their search and affirmation for a national identity.

The original piece is in the National Gallery in Old San Juan which I visited the following day. It keeps company there with hundreds of other masterworks of Puerto Rican art.

Victor Vazquez-Our Daily Bread, 1998

Our Daily Bread, 1998.  Victor Vazquez’ interpretation.  The hand painted silver gelatin print with wax (48 x 48″) again presents the human form with plantains, an important crop and staple food of the region.

Luis Hernandez-A Story of Passion. mixed media drawing

Four in a series of twelve mixed media drawings by Luis Hernandez titled A Story of Passion. Stretched along a hallway between galleries, they told an alluring story.  Each measured about 22 x 28″. I liked seeing this big abstract series with a strong visual narrative.

Puerto Rico has a long history of printmaking through government sponsorship. The results of this legacy were in abundant evidence in the Museum, with one room devoted to Lootings: An Anthology of Cultural Production.  This unique and quirky edition of 1000 handmade books by 52 artists and 24 authors was curated by Professor Dorian Lugo Bertran.  All profits from the sale of the books went to charity.

Pepin Osorio-No Crying in the Barbershop

No Crying in the Barbershop, 1994, Pepin Osorio.

This fantastic and celebratory installation speaks volumes about Puerto Rican culture and the values that inform many of its artists’ work.



Feb 082013

Henry Moore Seattle-1

Henry Moores’  Three Part Vertebrae sits directly across from the amazing Seattle  Public Library.  I almost fell over when I saw these neighbours on Fourth Avenue.

Seattle Public Library 1_

Visionary and inspirational – more public buildings should be like this. It’s a big bold and beautiful beehive of public space. Everyone I talked to, from staff to readers, were enormously proud, grateful and delighted with their library.

Seattle Public Library Entrance

Sited massively on Fourth, a deep overhang provides a dry, warm,  and welcoming human scaled entrance.  Designed by Rem Koolhaas, it was completed in 2004.

The Fountain of Wisdom by Seattle area Sculptor George Tsutakawa is a gracious official greeter.

Seattle Public Library Big Space-2

I continued to be gobsmacked inside standing on a polished wood plank floor of words. Created by Ann Hamilton, they’re filled with backward phrases from eleven language scripts.

Seattle Public Library Floor

With Koolhaas, you get great precision combined with a powerful use of space.  He has a unique and sensitive approach to both colour and materials.  And, I think his buildings have a sense of humour.

Seattle Public Library Art Green EscalatorSeattle Public Library Art - by escalator

Tony Oursler’s talking heads installation, video projections on ovals, run along one of the lime green escalator walls. Transitions between floors is indeed stimulating.

Seattle Public Library Art 10th Floor

Did I mention colour???  This reading room and viewing gallery is on the 10th floor.

Seattle Public Library Art Translucent Stacks

Did I mention materials?  One example that I particularly enjoyed is the use of translucent shelving allowing you an all sides view of the books.

Seattle Public Library Art View to Main

Looking onto the main floor with the flow of opalescent shelving, carpet and green space.  The building provides many exciting opportunities to view different levels of the library. It gives the place a feeling of openness, community, and solidarity.

Seattle Public Library Gift Store

I did exit through their very fine gift shop.  For heaven’s sake, please visit the Central Library when you’re in Seattle!

For a detailed description of this amazing building, visit the Arcspace link:


For more information on the some of the Artists represented in the Library, go to:


Jan 192013

Seattle Waterfront

I always discover new reasons to enjoy Seattle and my recent visit was no exception. The Ferris wheel is a whimsical addition to Seattle’s vibrant and seedy waterfront scene.

Seattle Art Museum 1

The draw to Seattle wasn’t the big wheel on the water, but the recent show at the SAM, Elles. The only stop in North America, it was a major undertaking for the Seattle Art Museum.  It’s described as a landmark exhibition of international contemporary art by women. It is a fascinating show on many levels.

I like this shot at the side entrance, which I see as a kind of metaphor for Elles.  Work in progress and skeletal (certainly in terms of representing contemporary international women artists).   There isn’t much broad tangible support for contemporary women artists, as Germaine Greer pointed out in her Guardian review of Elles Pompidou in Paris.  Most major museums hold a very small percentage of contemporary art by women.   Her review is one of the best I found and well worth reading.


The original show at the Pompidou Centre was much larger than the one at the SAM. In this pared down show there were many very fine pieces by artists I have seen before at other major museums. However, seeing this work curated in context of women artists was thrilling, and kind of odd.

Sophie Calle

Gender politics featured prominently. Consequently, there was a lot of text.

This is a vital part of the show and sometimes tough going. There were examples of work produced in the 60’s and 70’s by women that seemed fueled by rage.  And rightly so.   I was in art school then and vividly remember the intense debate about so called ‘womens’ art.  Fabric art was sneered at, and the term ‘decorative’ was an insult. The idea of cooperative pieces seemed antipathetic to the individually focused and often intensely competitive nature of the usual male mode studio instruction and critiques.  I don’t think this attitude has changed all that much.  And that’s another reason Elles is so important.

Niki de Saint Phalle Crucifixion

Large fabric wall piece by Niki de Saint Phalle – Crucifixtion – 1965

Big news for women in art then was Judy Chicago and The Dinner Party. This huge room sized piece is not in Elles.  I have seen The Dinner Party many times and still don’t like it, but I do understand it’s importance. She was criticized for being crass, solemn, and single minded.  For sure there were many rough, raw, and important pieces that came out of that cauldron.  And some are in Elles.

Yayoi Kusama Total Vision Elles

For me, the work with the greatest resonance were the pieces that contained their own quiet power.  It stands outside gender politics and requires little explanation.   They are artists not aligned to a broader movement or school of art.

They are unto themselves. The work of Agnes Martin, Eva Hesse, and Tamara de Lempicka, and the room devoted to the vibrant and hypnotizing work of Yayoi Kusama, were standouts.

Seattle Art Museum Hammering Man 1

Main entrance of SAM with the Hammering Man.  The hammer certainly has come down on  funding for artists, both male and female.  The  Seattle Art Museum deserves praise for mounting this important show of women artists at this time of austerity in fine art institutions and organizations.