Saturday, October 23, 2010
Post-Impressionist Russians at Stow Lake
Part two of the Musee d'Orsay collection of Impressionist paintings has been installed in the touring exhibits basement of the de Young museum.
I visited the exhibit a couple of weeks ago with the painter David Barnard. He has a membership so we didn't have to pay the $20-$25 surcharge the museum is extracting from the public.
When we visited part one of the exhibit in the summer, the crowds and claustrophobia were intense but bearable. However, this time the smallness and darkness of the rooms, coupled with the hordes of patrons bumping into each other while staring at the multimillion dollar paintings, almost sent me into a panic attack.
I lasted about fifteen minutes before fleeing into the surrounding Golden Gate Park on a beautiful afternoon, ending up at Stow Lake nearby.
There are still a few joggers who use the paths around Stow Lake as a track for their exercise routines, but the vast majority of people on a weekday afternoon were Russian senior citizens.
Though a few of them had grandchildren in tow, most of the grizzled old characters were sitting on benches and gossiping with each other in Russian while casting suspicious glances at people like me. With the crumbling Stow Lake wooden boathouse selling ancient snacks in the background, the scene looks like a decaying Black Sea resort straight out of a Cold War era John Le Carre novel.
In the ten years I have been taking candid photos of virtual strangers in San Francisco, the people who most consistently object and shoot dirty looks at me have been Russian emigres. There's probably a good reason for that, having to do with coming from a surveillance culture, so I didn't take their pictures this afternoon.
If you do go to the clunkily titled "Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay," the best stuff is in the middle of the exhibit, with three separate rooms devoted to very famous paintings by each of the title artists. The quality level then falls precipitously, with the exception of my favorite painting in the exhibit, Henri Rosseau's "The Snake Charmer" (below).
In person, it is much larger and more explicitly erotic than you'd imagine. It's almost worth enduring the physical hell of the exhibit.