Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Dick and Jane Do a Museum - See Dick Run

Claude Monet: "The Seine at Vetheuil"

Yesterday, we went to the de Young Art Museum in Golden Gate Park to see an exhibit called "The Birth of Impressionism," which is on loan from the Musee d' Orsay in Paris. Some of the paintings and I were old friends who hadn't seen each other in half a lifetime. I was thrumming with excitement at the thought of seeing them again.

The lines were obscenely long and slow moving and snaked around extensive real estate like endless airport security queues. We weren't even allowed to get in line for an hour after our arrival - I'm sure security requires that they let in only as many people as they can monitor - so we killed time in the gift shop. Flip got an overpriced tee shirt and I looked in vain for postcards of the exhibit. As soon as we got on the line, Flip decided he'd had enough and wanted to go home. He held up his bag with the tee shirt and said, "Let's just take this and go."

I explained that we had already paid to see the exhibit and I really, really wanted to see it. He persisted. I explained again. He got more and more upset with the lines and chattering people but each time the line moved a little, I told him with false cheer that we were nearly there now.

"Where are we going?" he asked. "We're in a museum," I said. I told him that the canvasses had arrived clandestinely in huge moisture-controlled crates unlabeled or marked "croissants," accompanied by security details in unmarked cars between airport and museum. They were unopened for 48 hours so they could acclimate to their new home. "Let's just go," he said. My happy mood floated away like a liberated balloon.

Edgar Degas: "The Dancing Lesson"

I often took my children to the Metropolitan in NYC when they were toddlers, and they adored such outings. "This is bullshit," Flip said. "I want to go home." The "real" Flip was an art lover. Apparently, Alzheimer's Flip is not.

"I'm sorry, but I'd really like to see it." I thought of ways to kill myself. Every time the line moved a foot, I cited this as evidence that we were nearly there. The Art Dodger wasn't having any of it. I wondered if hemlock was painful. After more than an hour, we entered the exalted space with paintings by Renoir, Degas, Monet, Manet, Sisley, Cezanne, Pissarro, Morisot and other artists, and it did not disappoint.

Flip went into near-cardiac arrest when he saw "Whistler's Mother," which is huge. It is always a shock to stand in front of the actual canvas an artist worked on, close enough to touch it if security weren't watching ones every move, especially when the work is one that has been reproduced millions of times. To me, this is as thrilling as if the artists themselves were standing before me, reaching out in greeting across the years.

James McNeill Whistler: "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother"

In late September, the de Young will host a second show, "Post-Impressionist Masterpieces From the Musée d'Orsay" featuring works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat, Rousseau and Toulouse-Lautrec. The Musee d' Orsay is undergoing extensive renovations which would have required storing about 250 paintings. Instead, they decided to mount two touring exhibits, but the de Young in San Francisco is the only museum in the world which will host both collections. This particular combination of paintings will never travel again.

Transportation costs are over $1 million for each exhibit, while insurance exceeds $1 billion each. "Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother," by James McNeill Whistler, was required by the d'Orsay to travel in an unmarked plywood crate with a pine base and protective coat of varnish, face up, cushioned by shims for spacing and foam of varying density to soften vibrations. Gloved technicians removed her from her crate and hung her on a wall with hooks strong enough to hold a car. The contract between the d'Orsay and the de Young specifies that all crates remain inside the museum, a stipulation intended to guard against vermin.

Today, I am going to visit my favorite art supply store and see which medium speaks loudest to me. I haven't painted, sculpted or worked in pastels since I was in my early 20's but the exhibit made me realize how much I've missed it. No masterpieces will be created, but I'll be smiling broadly at the self-medication of it all.


Jo said...

I was inspired by my recent visit to our Vancouver Art Gallery as well -- a very similar exhibit -- on loan from the Musee d'Orsay, and I went out and bought myself some more art supplies. The results of my *cough* inspiration should be arriving at your place any day now. :-)

I once saw Whistler's Mother at that museum, and I was as gobsmacked as Flip was. I'm sure that, once he got into the Museum, he was pleased that he waited. I think folks with Alzheimers probably have the advantage over us, in that they can say what we are really thinking. I get very patient standing in lineups as well. God bless Flip. :-)

Jo said...

I mean "impatient"... But you knew that. :-)

English Rider said...

I heard the curator interviewed and apparently it was touch and go getting everything in place due to the volcano flight delays. Talk about crates you don't want left sitting on the airport tarmac somewhere?
I'm glad you got to see the show.

Anonymous said...

It's the best self-medication one can have, in my esteem and experience, and you have inspired me to get off my lazy ass and finish what is still on my easel.

In the earlier part of your tale I wanted to give you a big friend hug because you deserve it. Consider it metaphorically delivered.

But, otherwise I so relate to what you wrote. I was in the Grenoble musee des artes in 2006 and was entranced by a portrait of Louis XIV. It was a head and shoulders, and I do not recall the artist, but what struck me, as I studied the brush strokes is that the real Louis was sitting right there as the artist worked. I felt literally transported in time.

mischief said...

I am so glad you got in to see the exhibit. And I am so glad that Flip has you. xx

Amy said...

Oh, am I jealous? Yes and yes!!! I'm going to put the Act II on the calendar and see if I can manage to navigate the 200 miles south to view it! Thanks for the inspiration - even though it was difficult, I'm happy Flip was able to enjoy the fruits of the wait!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I cannot believe my good fortune to be receiving a Jo original! And yes, if waiting in long lines made you patient, you would be even more of a saint than I suspected.

The workings of an AD-riddled brain are fascinating, albeit heartbreaking. Flip obviously thought we were in an airport because the serpentine lines were exactly the same, except for the lack of carry-on bags.


One planeload of paintings was sidelined at the Madrid Airport because of the volcano in Iceland. The thought of ash damage to these priceless artworks is horrifying.


Well now, see, I would have been excited at the "presence" of the artist, not Louis. But hey, vive la difference!

It's a challenge - for both of us. Your hug is gratefully accepted.


I felt conflicted about insisting we stay -- selfish, but also that his disease is stealing my life, too. I don't think anyone ever plans for this.


The Post-Impressionist show runs from late September through January.

I was gratified that Flip got some pleasure from the exhibit. He was astounded to be in proximity to an original he's seen reproduced all his life.

Bob said...

Laura and I spent all afternoon in the Musee d'Orsay when we visited Paris in 2008. It was spectacular. The building itself is incredible - a train station rescued from being demolished. I'm glad they are touring the paintings and that you both were able to experience them.

nick said...

How very fortunate to be able to see all those wonderful paintings. Considering the incredible precautions needed over the transportation, we're lucky we get to see so many rarities from other countries.

Flip's unexpected and awkward reactions to situations must be utterly exasperating, to say the least. As you say, it steals your life as well. I don't have any smart words of comfort, it's a tough deal and you can only struggle to make the best of things.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Heart's going to paint! We look forward to seeing your work exhibited here so that we will not have to queue up at some art gallery in the future!

Katy said...

Wow what a treasure. I remember the first time I saw an original masterpiece for the first time. Its amazing how something you have seen reprinted all your life is suddenly astoundingly different.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, the Musee d'Orsay is a perfect venue for major works of art. It's always wonderful when glorious old buildings are put to new use. (I can't bring myself to say "repurposed.")

I'm really looking forward to the next exhibit - I especially love Gauguin.


Dealing with Alzheimer's is kind of like finding that the furniture has been rearranged every day. I can only imagine what it's like for him. But happily, there is art, and music.


I will try to live up to your confidence in my abilities because squirrels should never have to stand in line for anything.


Not only is the original different, it looks different from every angle, every distance. I'm sure these paintings are alive and inhabited!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...


I'm so glad you got to see these (again).
They are so very incredible.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

mischief said...

I think you slow down the progression of his life being taken from him by standing your ground sometimes and insisting he experience things. It must be awfully hard, and tiring. But I think you do good things for him by being who you are and by taking care of yourself at the same time. xx

TechnoBabe said...

One of the favorite adventures in my life was being in Paris. I spent much time at Musee d' Orsay and the Louvre.I carry these memories and cherish them. I am so glad you were able to work with Flip and keep him interested enough so you could get in. Tell me which medium you settle on at the art store. I myself am being pulled to go the the art store for watercolors. Like you, I worked in oils and also watercolors many years ago when my kids were young. Doesn't it feel great to be feeling the pull to create again? Not for what others think, just for what it does inside of us.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


So am I! Surrounded by the spirits of Monet, Manet, Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas -- I was in painter heaven.


I hope you're right about slowing the progression. Hopefully, stimulation does help, although it's a losing battle, ultimately.


I love Paris! I wanted to stay there when I was in my 20's, but my parents cut off my funds, even though they were MINE, and I came home.

I am also pulled toward watercolor right now. I haven't actually made it to the art supply store yet, but hopefully will soon.

Warty Mammal said...

I'm glad you got to see the exhibit, which looks like a stunner.

Bless you, and bless Flip. Jollying along someone whose reasoning isn't quite there and wants to get the hell out of there is a special kind of hell.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It kind of is, but at least after all the angst, he enjoyed the exhibit. I may go to the other one alone, though. We'll see.

xl pharmacy said...

I cannot believe my good fortune to be receiving a Jo original! And yes, if waiting in long lines made you patient, you would be even more of a saint than I suspected.