Tuesday, February 07, 2006

de Young Museum 2: Architecture and Nature



The publicity about the new de Young museum building was that it was going to interact with the natural world around it...



...through vistas and design elements...



...and they weren't kidding.



The stairway to the basement level...



...where there is a huge space for traveling exhibits...



...descends along a rock and fern garden...



...that is filled with light.



The two-story Museum gift shop also starts off in the basement level...



...and has stairs that take you to the ground level where there is more stuff to purchase.



The building doesn't seem to have any round surfaces but is instead designed out of odd angles that are never quite ninety degrees.



The rooms holding the permanent collection are for the most part large and airy and there is no feeling of claustrophobia or vertigo which is what I usually feel at the Museum of Modern Art downtown.



The main challenge posed by the building...



...is that there is no way the art collection can compete with the glimpses of Golden Gate Park...



...that are cunningly framed by windows here and there.



In one section of the top floor, there is actually a place to sit...



...and look at the sculpture garden and the Golden Gate Park bandshell.



However, it just makes one want to go outside.



Paul Reidinger, the restaurant reviewer for the "San Francisco Bay Guardian" wrote a funny, grumpy piece about the museum some months ago with the following opening paragraph:
"Was it wise to visit the new de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park while experiencing slight hunger pangs? Could such circumstances have led to a de-mellowing of one's judgment, the core of which is that the building is not just inconceivably ugly on the outside but is, within, a soul-chillling cross between an airport lounge and a jail, a hell of angularities and hard surfaces devoid of human reference, except for the names of rich donors etched high on practically every wall?"



That judgment seems a bit harsh to me, but it's not a bad description for the central lobby...



...which is dominated by a steep stairway...



...and a huge Gerhard Richter painting consisting of what looks like blurry film sprockets but which may be a reflection of the copper sheathing on the exterior of the museum.



This awful space is dedicated to the major fundraiser for the building, Diane B. Wilsey (Dede) and her late husband, Alfred Wilsey. They were both subjects of the recent memoir by Al's son and Dede's stepson, Sean Wilsey, called "Oh The Glory of It All" which I cannot recommend highly enough (click here for a review I did on this blog). The irony is that Dede is not only immortalized by this big, sterile room but by her stepson's depiction of her as one of the great, maliciously evil characters of all time. Karma works in interesting ways.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I visited the old DeYoung in 2000. That was a real grand museum. What a dirty shame that these modernist and questionable "architectures" are destroying the beauty of buildings. They resemble bland concrete slabs of nothingness, only to pump their egos and lack of true artistry. but why should the rich who donate care, as long as there are openings and parties and their names forever imprinted in its sterile walls. I'm glad for your tour because this is one place I'll never visit It's just plain UGLY. And more so, an ugly place to exhibit wonderful old art....

Anonymous said...

I say what a dirty shame to so many people in San Francisco continue to have such an extremely narrow view on its built environment.
Talk about provincial... It seems the only architecture around here that gets praised by most is architecture that approximates the victorian.. poorly.
People are so focused on the micro, ready to hate any new thing that isnt "San Francisco"
Its almost as if people take great pains to find fault.
I think the building is marvelous, unconventional, new -NOT "san francisco"
I love that press from around the world almost entirely spoke highly of it.

sfwillie said...

Thanks for the thorough tour. It's solid photojournalism.

The museum seems to serve an important, if unspoken, purpose: to be able to relax in the park and enjoy it's visual appeal, without freezing your ass off. In this, the only competition is the parked car. The collection could be children's art, from the local schools.

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