Wednesday, February 08, 2006
de Young Museum 3: The Collection
If you have ever visited the big art museums in New York City or Chicago, then you are probably aware that the collections at San Francisco art museums are, for lack of a better word, provincial.
Probably the only exception is the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Center with its world-class base collection assembled over the decades by minions of the late Chicago real estate gangster, Avery Brundage.
The de Young Museum and its sister institution, the Legion of Honor, are set up on the New York Metropolitan Museum model, with a little bit of everything from all over the world thrown into the mix.
"There sure is a lot of junk in this collection," I said to my friend David Barnard.
"There's a lot of junk in most museum collections," was his sensible reply.
Having just returned from a long trip to Spain and England, David knew what he was talking about.
"Those huge rooms in the Prado in Madrid with one large Rubens painting after another of fat, pink women are pretty awful."
Having seen those rooms for myself years ago on the way to the great Hieronymous Bosch paintings in the Prado, I could see his point.
Most of our favorite pieces in the new de Young were proudly provincial...
...featuring local artists such as Diebenkorn, Thiebaud, and Jess...
...who had three paintings on display, including the 1954 "Boy Party."
At first the painting looked quite innocuous, but on closer inspection it was a quite graphic depiction...
...of a man-on-man orgy.
In the American ceramics section, there is a characteristically rude, funny Robert Arneson.
A recent donation to the museum was a huge collection of Oceanic art (New Guinea, etc.) and the lighting and display was extraordinary.
It was also quite frightening. "Do you ever get creeped out in here?" I asked a security guard, and he replied, "Only at night."
The Oceanic area shades into the Africa section, rather like going from Fantasyland to Frontierland at Disneyland.
A wonderful piece was this new wall sculpture...
...made out of the aluminum from beer bottle caps.
It was a nice counterpoint to another huge Aboriginal painting down the stairs...
...that was also just a few years old.
My favorite piece in the museum was thousands of years old, an Olmec head from Veracruz, Mexico.
Not only was it well lit, but its placement in front of the park and museum vista was just about perfect.