Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Kalmanize My World
There's a show at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum of the work of Maira Kalman. As a huge fan of Kalman's, particularly after her amazing blog in the New York Times in 2009 called "And The Pursuit of Happiness", I knew that seeing this show was one of the first things on my list of things to do once I arrived in SF this past weekend. Kalman has never had a museum show before, and I was eager to see her paintings, mostly created for the purposes of book or magazine illustrations (notably for The New Yorker), en masse and in person.
The appeal of Kalman's work has a lot to do with her joie de vivre, her free associations, and her childlike observations and wonder. She is an observer of life's details and ironies, taking what she sees and putting a unique spin on her documentation of it. You get the sense that you can watch her mind at work, as she spins an idea, weaves together linked thoughts and images, and comes out on the other side with a unique world perspective. Seeing a large body of her work all together gave me a sense of a "Kalmanized" world, a world I would most definitely like to live in, and in fact do live in, if only I observe more carefully.
When asked about her work, Maira Kalman says it is what it is, that the viewer should not look for hidden meaning. An eggbeater is an eggbeater; a rubber band is a rubber band. She saw it, it caught her eye, she painted it. That's all. It's a refreshing approach, especially for people like me who tend to want to find subtexts and hidden messages where perhaps there are none. With her book, "What Pete Ate A-Z", Kalman takes a most ordinary subject, the alphabet, and turns it into a charming tale full of giggles and smiles, a story that any adult will delight in reading over and over again to an equally delighted child. I had to buy copies of this book, one for me and one for a friend who is delighting in being a grandfather, so that we could enjoy a taste of a Kalmanized world whenever necessary.