Saturday, 24 January 2009

DeYoung Museum, San Francisco

The DeYoung Museum is a strange place.  Aside from our inability to find the building (another story for another day), the collection is truly eclectic.  As best I can tell, it's held together by the common theme that most of the collections are from the New World.  But the collections span pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, colonial paintings, Hudson River School landscapes, and a pretty hefty mass of modern art too (this may not all be American actually, come to think of it, which leads me to wonder if there actually is a theme to the collection).  There's also a collection of Pacific Island arts and crafts, and artefacts from New Guinea.  So who knows.

Things are also jumbled up in places too, so in neighbouring rooms, you can find sculptures made 3 years ago and sculptures made 4000 years ago.  It's strange.

All that said, we really enjoyed it.  We didn't see everything, and we didn't try. We whizzed through the Mesoamerican wing, which included a nice collection of Moche pottery and interesting Olmec stone statuettes.  We moved through the modern sculpture rooms too, on our way to see the American paintings (c. 1700-1900).  For anyone who has taken an American art class, these galleries are like the lectures from that class come to life.  Church, Peale, Sargent, Copley, Eakins...They are all here, largely due to a very large assemblage of paintings from the Rockefeller Collection.
I think my favorite room was devoted to tromp l'oeil art.  Tromp l'oeil literally means "to trick the eye." You may be familiar with this technique from the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo painted columns and architectural features against which his figures could lean, but it had a 
resurgence in America in the mid-1800s.  The central artists in the movement, Harnett and Peto, were masterly at making a flat canvas look like a pinboard with bits of envelop, rubberband, ticket stubs, push pins, etc, sticking out every which way.  

We also enjoyed the building itself, which is hyper-modern, and the large 'Safety Pin' sculpture in the garden by Claus Oldenburg (who, incidentally, has his pieces all over San Francisco...).  All in all, an enjoyable afternoon, but I'd still like to know how all this art is supposed to come together.  Any museum that has Olmec and Oldenburg sculptures in the same space is either seriously misguided....or seriously genius.  :-)

No comments: