Wednesday, July 07, 2010
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.