Friday, January 7, 2011


Why do we go to see art anyway? Inspiration? A buzz? Bragging rights? Comfort? A distant hope we'll see some jaw-opening, beautiful/ugly jolt? Because we're supposed to? Whatever the reason, it has become a corrupted, twisted mess, at least if my experience today at the de Young Museum in San Francisco is any indication. Dragged there almost against my will in the first place, I was unprepared for the theme park atmosphere, angst and anxiety. We went to see "Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond: Masterpieces from the Musee D'Orsay". Holy sweet Jesus, can they make it any more uncomfortable?

We had to buy tickets in advance, evidently because there are so many North Californians that are so starved for hundred year old French paintings we can't just show up on a whim and see them. So we get our Will Call tickets and are told to go see this guy across the hall who tells us to walk down some endless stairway. We get to the bottom and are told by some art-school hipster to walk across another hall and get in line. We pass several recorded exhibit "guide" huckster booths - we are among the minority who do NOT buy into this. I'd say 75% of the rest of the people in these two lines, one for de Young members and the one we're in for non-members, have bought in to the headset/recording gizmo suggestion. We settle into our line. Despite the fact that we bought tickets for 12:30, we still have to wait. The guy behind us starts hacking and spitting up, and I nervously move so as to dodge the flying phlegm. People in line start complimenting other people on their coats and other apparel; good lord, when will someone tell me how great my bright green pendleton work shirt looks?

The member line always goes first and then a few non-members are admitted. After about twenty minutes of this, we finally are allowed into the seven small rooms of art. The place is so packed that every time I turn around, I'm bumping into some retiree's fanny pack, or stepping on a college student's new shoes. I try to get an up-close look at Starry Night, but some tired middle-aged woman with a headphone squishing her brains has decided to sit down and evidently I'm in her way, and I get the glare of death. So of course I stay there a little longer. And finally walk away, bumping into a mustachioed, sweatered dolt who snorts loudly before moving on.

I vaguely remember first becoming enamored with museums and galleries and "art". It was back in 1979, when I first traveled to Europe. At the time, I could care less about that sort of thing; I was pretty obsessed with music and books and a healthy disdain for what got hung on official walls. However, I had been primed for about a year prior with a job I totally lucked into at a local art gallery. I was actually paid to be an "Art Technician" - hang shows, help the artists, etc. And then in Europe, the other two people I traveled with made it perfectly clear that a major priority of their visit was to see museums - so I was dragged to the Tate and the Louvre and other places I can't remember now, but I CAN remember the thrill of seeing some of the work on display: they're right, you can't "get" it from reproductions. Ya gotta see the real thing for yourself. Mind altering. Life changing.

But there's something uncomfortable about fighting a crowd of people to see a painting on the wall. And I'm sure they were uncomfortable with me. I suppose if I were in charge, I wouldn't have let as many folks in - and I guess that's part of the problem. Would I rather have not seen the show at all?

Actually, yes. I ended up really enjoying it, and discovered artists I didn't know, and works that, er, well, DID in fact do something to me. But will I go thru this again for another show? What do you think?

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