A real winter season finally bore down on us earlier this month -- another incentive for an escape route into the warm, dry and colorful atmosphere of Bay Area museums. But just a few weeks remain to catch some of the choice exhibits that opened this past fall.
There's a rare opportunity to view iridescent feathered capes from Hawaii and fresh color and design from East Bay quilt-makers. It's the last chance to see Japanese and Japanese-inspired artwork (Van Gogh, Manet, Degas) from the legendary collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
One show ends Monday, but others continue for several weeks. Here are our suggestions, in the order they close:
Cantor Arts Center
"Artists at Work": This is the kind of exhibit a university museum can do so well: thoughtfully exploring art of the past and its connection -- or disconnection -- to the present. More than 70 paintings, drawings, sculptures and other media are displayed. There are some striking contrasts, such as William Keith's 1877 California landscape painting and Edward Ruscha's photographs of Los Angeles in the 1960s and '70s.
And don't miss the continuing, companion exhibit of Richard Diebenkorn's career-spanning sketchbooks and studies for larger-scale paintings. Also on view is Edward Hopper's evocative 1913 painting, "New York Corner," recently acquired by the Cantor.
Details: "Artists at Work" through Monday; Diebenkorn and Hopper exhibits through Aug. 22 (closed Feb. 22-25); 328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford University; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday-Monday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; free; 650-723-4177; http://museum.stanford.edu.
Asian Art Museum
"Looking East": The Bay Area gets two splendid exhibits in one with this collection from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. There is notable Japanese art, mostly color woodblock prints from the 19th century, and an array of Western works showing how rapidly Japan's influence took hold in art, design and technique.
You can't miss the paintings, drawings and prints by Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Mary Cassatt. But also check out the exquisite pink silk taffeta dressing gown, circa 1900, made for the Western market, the flamboyant porcelain inkwell and the Japanese-inspired works by Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Details: Through Feb. 7; 200 Larkin St., San Francisco; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; $15-$20 weekdays, $20-$25 weekends; 415-581-3500, www.asianart.org.
San Jose Museum of Art
"Character Studies: Clay from the Collection": This is one of two choice exhibits from the museum's own collection. The title is modest, but the 16 ceramic sculptures certainly match the curator's description: "wildly inventive expressions of the human figure." They couldn't be more intriguing, and they're often a hoot.
The artists include Northern California masters of recent decades such as Viola Frey, Robert Arneson and Stephen DeStaebler. Look for Stan Welsh's series of expressive terra-cotta faces, Richard Shaw's tall, gawky assembled figures and Arneson's "Colonel Hyena," with a guided missile for a nose.
Details: Through Feb. 7; 110 S. Market St., San Jose; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; $5-$10; 408-271-6840, www.sjmusart.org.
"Diebenkorn in the Bedroom, DeFeo in the Den": Dixon and Barbara Farley weren't just collectors -- they "shared their home," as the San Jose museum points out, with modern and contemporary art. They gave 73 of those works to the museum. Now visitors can be surrounded, as the Farleys were by this art -- mostly works on paper, by such notables as Richard Serra, Claes Oldenburg and Jay DeFeo.
It's like a compact history of the art of the past half-century. There are especially bold, densely colored and often abstract images showing the power of prints. Don't miss a porcelain sculpture tucked far back in the gallery, Fairfax artist Richard Shaw's "Cake with Origami Ship."
Details: Through Feb. 28; 110 S. Market St., San Jose; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; $5-$10; 408-271-6840, www.sjmusart.org.
Oakland Museum of California
"Yo-Yos & Half Squares: Contemporary California Quilts": As colorful an exhibit as you will find in a museum or gallery this winter, "Yo-Yos" highlights works by five quilters who were encouraged by Oakland-based collector Eli Leon. Sometimes one person did the design and fabric piecing, and another the quilting. The results are almost dizzying. Don't expect regimented geometrics.
The materials range from Rosie Lee Tomkins' shimmering red and black velvet to Arbie Williams' denim jeans. Another Tompkins work, called "Unfinished," is a collage including beaded trim, sequined sweater parts and crocheted doilies. See it to believe it.
Details: Through Feb. 21; 1000 Oak St. (at 10th Street), Oakland; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; $6.95-$15.95; 510-318-8400, www.museumca.org.
De Young Museum
"Royal Hawaiian Featherworks": Unless you travel to Honolulu and make your way to the Bishop Museum collection of Hawaiian cultural artifacts, you will never see an exhibit like this. The Bishop and other collectors have provided a dazzling assortment of more than 70 cloaks, capes, leis and tall staffs with billowing feather ornamentation.
They were created primarily for Hawaiian royalty and warriors as garments with spiritual powers, made from feathers of birds that were deemed to fly closest to the gods. They make an iridescent display, in striking abstract patterns that seem to blend ancient culture and modern art.
Details: Through Feb. 28; 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco; $10-$18; 415-750-3600, http://deyoung.famsf.org.
"Italian American Cinema: From Capra to the Coppolas": The American film industry grew up with talented immigrants behind and in front of the camera. Italians and Italian-Americans were among them, even if early depictions were stereotypes. Now an expansive exhibit at San Francisco's Fort Mason Center follows that story from 1915 to the present with photos, videos, insightful text and movie artifacts.
Valentino, Stallone and DiCaprio are here, and a Coppola family tree with photos covers one wall. Among the big box-office names you'll also find Adriana Caselotti (the singing voice of Disney's Snow White), Anna Maria Italiano (Anne Bancroft), Alfonso D'Abruzzo (Alan Alda) and Aldo DaRe (Crockett's Aldo Ray).
Details: Through March 6; noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Building C, Fort Mason Center, Marina Boulevard at Buchanan Street, San Francisco; free; 415-673-2200, www.museoitaloamericano.org.