The Littlest Meap

Every day is a wonderland tour

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).

I start making composition jokes at the expense of impressionist seascapes

I started making composition jokes at the expense of impressionist seascapes. I really am that silly.

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.

Light through a ceiling of Chihuly

Light through a ceiling of Chihuly

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.

More photos at Picasaweb

4 Responses to "Every day is a wonderland tour"

I almost never take photos of anything, which is something I keep intending to change, but Chihuly exists to be photographed. Not to the exclusion of experiencing it firsthand, but really–the light! the weird use of space! the colors! Everybody has a slightly different experience of the work and photos are little bitty pieces of that. Whereas photographs of paintings, taken in galleries, are just boring.

The Olafur Eliasson exhibit I saw at SF Moma last fall was equally awesome for photography–the most astounding parts of it were lighting effects that completely changed the audience’s interaction with the space and each other. Unfortunately, Moma has a different opinion of photography than the De Young does, and so the exhibition exists only in my memory, ephemeral and magical.

If I were given the opportunity, I would go back and experience it again in a second.

Eliasson had an exhibit at our MoMA too! Maybe it was even the same one. I went with Dani and Laura and it was completely awesome. Like being in a carnival funhouse and an art museum at the same time.

He also created the waterfalls that are currently installed around the New York harbor, though they are not as exciting.

I see photography in museums from a slightly different perspective; though you’re right about people not looking, but not seeing. Hanging exhibitions is a fine art into itself, and for patrons to not look at the relationship of individual works in a larger body as a whole is a shame of the greatest proportion. On the other side, allowing photography allows a different interaction with art, and people in the museum world are happy, almost desperately so, if people interact with what’s on the wall in any way. Typically the discussion of allowing photography boils down to two things: will people be so busy looking at the camera that they damage other works, or use flash, and the pesky intellectual property issues that plague recording images in museums.

Something like Chihuly must be photographed. Sculpture is completely dependent on patrons interacting with art, not just viewing it as a static display. The reflections, the light shining through the glass are just as important. Museums are houses of affect peddling, every thing is designed to almost say if you want to buy my wares, follow me, come up the stairs. (this was actually my design suggestion to a curator once—he didn’t get the reference). If not, why not just look at in in a book, is the reasoning.

I’ve had some fun moments photographing for museums, at openings, galas, and for printing and media (usually on Mondays). I’ve been chased by guards, even though I had on my museum ID, almost (mind you I said almost) knocked a Rothko off a wall, and have gotten some outtakes from the unintentional relationship of things displayed in the same gallery. There was a hilarious one of a Jeff Koons sculpture with a Mapplethorpe image that after I showed them the transparency, they moved. The picture I couldn’t take was the van Gogh, in a conservation lab, tossed aside like it was a finger painting.

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