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.


janinsanfran said...

In the spring, that tree in the center of your last Stowe Lake photo has been known to be topped by a great blue heron nest.

I often brave the Russians walking there, picking up a lap or two before running the perimeter of the park.

momo said...

A few years ago we visited Stow Lake while I was in town. Some elderly Asian gentlemen were eying a turtle. I was wondering if they were considering the best way to serve it!

Nancy Ewart said...

I'm glad that I saw the show at the press preview. I can imagine how claustrophobic it is with a full crowd. Whenever I go there, I always wonder what the architects were thinking when they made the space for visiting shows so small. It's not like the De Young didn't have the space - unlike the Asian in the Civic Center, there appears to be a lot of usable space. I agree with you on the Rousseau pieces; I was smitten by them. They are so stunning that they "read" from across the room.
Snaky eyed Russians or not, these are beautiful images of Stow lake.

Unknown said...

Very nice view and scenery. This is something that Russians in San Francisco shouldn't miss...