Thursday, January 6, 2011

northern museums

SF has a lot of great museums. Walking through the Legion of Honor, the De Young, and the Academy of Sciences, I couldn't help thinking that I'd be happy to work at any one of these museums. Of course it's easy to fantasize about things like this from the outside, when you're on holiday. I'm sure each institution has its share of crazy people and ridiculous policies that have to be navigated. And any job is a drag when you have to get up early, and slog through the rain, and your car is in the shop, and your cats are sick, etc. Basically you have the same problems wherever you go, but it's still fun to daydream.

The Legion of Honor is a gem of a museum, out past the Golden Gate. They have a wonderful collection, beautifully displayed, plus excellent changing exhibitions downstairs, and a great gift shop and cafe. It's the kind of place you plan to visit in the afternoon, but soon realize you should've planned for more time to really savor each gallery. You swear you'll come back one day, and you do, but there's never enough time! On this visit we had to see the fabulous exhibition of Japanese prints from the age of Impressionism (which truly was fabulous), but that meant I had to all but run through the permanent collection. When is there ever time to sit on a bench and spend quality time with your favorite artworks? When, I ask you?!

The Academy of Sciences is also awesome, especially its living roof. It has an amazing aquarium, with views up through the fishes and the tropical rain forest sphere, all the way to these portals on the ceiling. And it has the famous albino alligator, and classy displays about evolution and global warming, and of course the requisite hall of taxidermied beasts. It's super cool, but I have to say I miss the old building and the old displays. Maybe they were out of date, and maybe it's just childhood nostalgia, but I loved the central courtyard with its big dolphin fountain, and the sculptures of bears and cats all around the perimeter. And the tiled floors, bronze railings, and noisy acoustics of the old aquarium entryway with its alligator pit and two-headed snakes. And the dolphins, the manatee, and the fishes that swam round and round in the roundabout. And what ever happened to the anthropological dioramas showing Native American women weaving baskets, and Indonesian families in their houses on stilts? Were they deemed politically incorrect? And didn't it used to be a lot bigger, or was I just smaller? They've kept a few little homages to the former building, like the alligator pit, and the bronze seahorses, and this old walrus, but it ain't the same. If I didn't know about its former incarnation though, I'd be perfectly happy with the new museum.

And then there's the De Young, also in Golden Gate Park. What a great park! An art museum, a science museum, a Japanese tea garden, an arboretum, bison, a conservatory, turtles and ducks in the lakes. It's paradise, really. I'm not sure what I think of the new De Young exterior, but the galleries are great. I love how they've mixed media throughout, and juxtaposed works from across time and cultures where relevant and provocative. And they have stunning collections of African and Oceanic art. Plus, again, a great changing exhibitions program including the marvelous post-Impressionist show from the D'Orsay. I approve!

Maybe some day we will move to San Francisco. Although it has plenty of negative stuff, and it's awfully expensive, it's so much more civilized that Los Angeles. There are many things I like about LA, but SF is a place you could actually be proud to call your home. But then wouldn't Dad just be pissed? All those years he lived there, and I choose to move there after he's gone? That's so insulting. But of course one big reason I'd be there is because it's a way of being close to him. (If you're reading this blog, and you're getting tired of hearing about my Dad, tough nuts. He's gonna be on my mind for a while.)