Arthur Tress, Bucky Fuller, and Harry Hay exhibits offer engagement and transcendence
But while it's particularly poignant to see this polished dream deferred nestled among the many wheeled ones populating Henry Ford's shrine to the former glories of the Motor City — and even though geodesic monument Spaceship Earth at Disney's Epcot, another eerie graveyard of sleek Utopian ideals, remains Bucky Fuller's only famous American architectural manifestation — the Dymaxion concept, and several other Bucky wonders, have had a profoundly positive and energizing effect on the Bay Area, as this visionary show at the SFMOMA reveals.
Curator Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher forewarned, "To be clear, it's not so much a show about Fuller." Indeed, but in the first rooms prepare to be blown away by gorgeous blow-ups of Massachusetts-born Bucky's hyper-geometric blueprints, which will surely provide several indie electro bands with album cover inspiration for years to come, and a wall of insanely detailed notecards from "Everything I Know," his late-life video-recorded brain dump.
Then the real magic of the show kicks in, as it opens up into displays of Bay Area movements and products directly traceable to Fuller, from glorious hippie artifacts like the Ant Farm architecture collective, the Whole Earth Catalog scene, and the iconic North Face "Oval Intention" dome-shaped tent (really!) to contemporary tech initiatives, like bright neon specimens from the "One Laptop One Child" campaign and the utterly transfixing "Local Code" by UC Berkeley Assistant Professor Nicholas de Monchaux, which digitally renders the transformation of all the unused public space in SF into "a common ecological infrastucture."
Beyond reviving interest in Fuller, the ambitious project of SFMOMA here is to showcase the deep connection between the Bay Area's brilliant tech legacy and its transcendental communal one, an audacious, successful synthesis that would bring Bucky joy — and one that only a full-size recreation of Steve Wozniak's garage could probably best.
Through July 29. SFMOMA, 151 Third St., SF. www.sfmoma.org
"RADICALLY GAY: THE LIFE OF HARRY HAY"
Harry Hay seemed to drop almost effortlessly into so many essential 20th century ideal-driven environments — Hollywood, unions, the Communist Party, gay rights, naturism, really the list goes on. That this modest show at the SF Main Library, curated by Joey Cain, not only clearly distills Hay's timeline and influence, but also manages to illuminate new corners of his life and sometimes bring on a few tears, is rather a sensation.
Seriously, the man was multitude. Hay is best known as the founder of one of the first gay rights organizations, the Mattachine Society — here revealed through documents, org charts, and touching photos to have been a sort of Moose Lodge for "homophiles." In one of the show's most astounding touches, the exquisite Edwardian tea set used by his mother Margaret to caffeinate the early Mattachine meetings is displayed in full.
But of course there was more for this Mad Hatter, including pleading the Fifth before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s for his Communist party membership and Marxist musicology studies, his 1930s radicalizing tryst with actor and union supporter Will Geer, a.k.a. Grandpa from The Waltons, the "Circle of Loving Friends" desert commune, the national campaign to stop the damming of the Rio Grande — all laced through with references to underground SF gay clubs and arts happenings. (Some things, like his controversial early support for NAMBLA, which could benefit from some honest contextualization, seem glossed over, perhaps due to space concerns.)