I’m unable to get to museums with enough frequency that I can go just to see the museum. I always have to be pulled by a special exhibition.* When I go though, I almost never see just the special exhibition. I always try and walk through the rest of the museum.
*One of these days that will change.
My normal M.O. at SFMoMA is to hit the special exhibitions first and then finish with the second floor. As much as I love photography, in my heart of hearts I’m a design junkie. The design room—and ante-chamber and backdoor corridor— is one of the few places in any museum which actively focuses on use and interaction. Not everything on display there is practical. But it’s all meant to be approached from the point of view of hypothetical use.
This time, the exhibition was Field Conditions and explored the treatment of space and people within that space. And by “treatment” I mean exactly that. Many of the pieces o display are conceptual in that they adapt to fill whatever space whey are given. And with the rules and a little imagination, you’re invited to image what they would look like in a different space.
Though I should point out that the concept of space here is still very much a rectilinear one. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if these treatments were to be applied to non-euclidian space. It’s one thing to see an exhibition of multiple similar pieces. But the concept is also begging for an exhibition of the same piece in different rooms.
After I finish the design rooms, I enter the permanent collection via the back side. I’m usually familiar with most of what’s on display so this section is typically either noticing what’s new or seeing if anything has been changed. The collection and how it is being displayed has been evolving recently in a way I’m very excited to see.
In this case, there’s an entire room now dedicated to Robert Arneson. Thanks to the Renegade Humor exhibition in San José, I’ve only begun to appreciate his work this year. Art ceramics have always felt like community-college, crafty, “I made this,” art projects. It’s not. Yet despite being around for a few decades, it still feels like something “non-serious” which doesn’t fit in the museum.
It’s been a good year to jump on the Arneson/ceramics bandwagon. Besides being very much an important local artist, SFMoMA just acquired his Portait of George. The piece now anchors the Arneson room. And it’s fantastic—not just because it’s huge but because of how raw it still feels. Raw in a good way. Arneson wasn’t joking with this piece. It’s huge and still feels like a gaping wound despite being as old as I am. It’s exactly NOT what people want with a memorial. But it’s anything but disrespectful.
All the Arneson pieces also use ceramics in a way which no other medium is capable of. There is something organic about clay which feels a bit more visceral. I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that it’s taken me so long to see it.
The rest of the permanent collection was mostly the same. But I did see one thing which made me smile. At the entrance, SFMoMA has its greatest hits lined up, ready and waiting for the crowds.
nick (@vossbrink) September 10, 2012
As things are currently displayed, new visitors to SFMoMA will come up the stairs, turn left toward the permanent collection, and find Femme au chapeau, Frieda and Diego, and The Flower Carrier right there welcoming them. This is exactly how it should be. All three of those pieces are the kind which the museum could market as things to see in San Francisco.
Other notes from my trip
Takashi Murakami’s Super Nova on the second floor landing.* I’m not the biggest Murakami fan but I can’t help but wonder about possible connections between Cindy Sherman and Superflat. There are lot of the same critiques of consumerism and fetishism and the role of women between the two. Sherman isn’t Superflat but they’re both mining similar material and kind of straddling the critique versus sellout line.
*For some reason the website currently says this is not on view.
The Stage Presence exhibition. This requires a second viewing. I doubt I’ll be able to make it back in time though. A lot of what I did see was interesting but an exhibition of audiovideo works is really tough to commit to. Even in a museum where I’ve made a commitment to looking, I’m not always in the right mindset for the time commitment required to properly engage with these artworks.* If you have the mental space to sit and watch and listen and think, there’s a lot here for you.
*I feel bad that I’m not able to jump in on these but it’s tough since everything is looping and the viewing conditions are rarely conducive to just sitting and watching. That I went on free Tuesday probably did not help me either.
The rooftop garden. I need to come back with a wider angle camera kit. I like the photo (top of this post) which I took from inside Zim Zum I. But it doesn’t evoke a sense of being inside the piece. And free Tuesdays are not the day to feel like trying something from Blue Bottle. I’ll try the Mondian cake one day.