Posted by: meaplet on: September 7, 2008
There’s something unsettling about the fact that the De Young museum allows photography of its exhibits. It turns the accustomed relationship between the art and the viewers on its head and fills its galleries with visitors who are seeing the exhibit not with an eye for the compositions that the artist created but with an eye for the compositions they can make out of it. (And most of them are doing so badly, snapping photos with their camera phones and with point-and-shoot cameras on which they need instructions to turn off the flash.)
That said, I’ve seen some pretty incredible photography of the Chihuly exhibit at the De Young over the last few months, and today I made my pilgrimage there to take my own photos. I went during a long-awaited museum trip with Mormor, Aunt V. and my cousin B. (who is off to college in another week).
We started at the Palace of the Legion of Honor to see the Woman Impressionists, which Mormor was excited about. I am, I’m embarrassed to admit, not especially interested in the Impressionists (I blame early and often exposure), but the woman impressionists were pretty interesting. Given my interest in the meta, I was fascinated by relationship the women in the exhibit (Berthe Morisot, Mary Cassatt, Eva Gonzalès and Marie Bracquemond) had with their subjects, with their gender, and with the male impressionists they worked with. With the possible exception of Mary Cassatt, all of them were mentored by more famous Impressionists and served as models for their mentors. In a particularly interesting painting, Gonzales recreates a painting of Manet’s in which she herself was the original subject; she replaces herself with another and takes on the role of the artist.
Still, the paintings for the most part stuck to what I expected–women with children, women alone, children alone, neat little harbor paintings divided evenly into thirds for sky, sea, and land. After a painting featuring a grayhound named Laertes, I started entertaining myself by coming up with an appropriate Shakespearean character for each painted dog. (Later, in the Dutch section of the permenant collection, B. took the cake while we were looking at a painting of a dog and a table of game: “That one’s Horatio, because he’s the only one left alive.”)
B’s favorite pieces at the Legion of Honor were the Chihulys, so he was as excited as I was when we arrived at the De Young to see the Chihuly exhibit. Once we were in, I whipped out my camera and became one of the dorky people too busy looking at the trees to see the forest of the exhibit. I have some fun glasswork photos, but mostly I (as usual) got suckered in by all the parts of the exhibit that weren’t the glasswork–the reflections, the shadows, the light filtered through the lens of the glass. In short, I had a lot of fun, but I need to learn to balance the way I look at art when I don’t have a camera on hand and the way I interact with it when I do.
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