Hearst Castle

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Since Highway 1 was closed at Big Sur we couldn’t make the drive up the Central Coast. Instead we used Morro Bay as a base/hub for driving up 1 and then coming back.

Our main stop was Hearst Castle—another place I hadn’t been to since I was in 4th grade. We just did the standard tour since it was kind of our first time and we felt that seeing the main rooms and getting the official introduction made the most sense. The quality of the tour seems to depend a lot on the guide, thankfully Carson, our guide, was great. Just the right level of detail into how things were collected and manufactured while maintaining the humor and interest that’s naturally part of the celebrity nature of the place.

Against my expectations I really liked it. Heart Castle hits a lot of art stuff I’m typically allergic to. Rich collectors with a collection which is branded by the collectors’ names. Collections displayed as per the collector’s wishes yet masquerading as a museum. Mixing and matching things from all to create a generic sense of culture. But it works here.

This is partly because Hearst’s collecting is very much specific to his taste and doesn’t look like anything else I’ve seen. Especially his fascination with ceilings and choir lofts and the way that he reuses and repurposes them. That the lofts become wainscotting or panelling and the ceilings are reengineered so they both fit rooms and have the structural strength to support chandeliers turns everything into something new.

Hearst uses his collection so rather than being museum pieces for display only, they have an additional life with how they functioned in the castle. Wonderful furniture pieces are repurposed as storage for cigarettes or condiments and while the new function is different, the object has a different life to it. Even the “fakery” works. It’s not exactly making replicas or faking the original objects but rather creating brand new things out of the replicas.

Nothing’s trying to be “authentic.” It’s all just raw material to be remixed into something new and inspired by the originals. This is fun to see and it’s enjoyable to see it as a result of raiding Europe for a change.

A lot of times—specifically with orientalism and primitivism—we see artwork or ideas get raided from non-white countries and turned into Western, “high” art which conjures up an all-look-same myth about the non-Western source cultures. In situations where the audience doesn’t know better that appropriation is indeed something I’m allergic to. Here though, where we know the cultures that are being sampled, the appropriation and remixing is actually fun to see and, rather than being annoyed at the lack of context, I can enjoy seeing the shoe be on the other foot.

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But we also drove a bit further and checked out some of the coast. And took a walk to see the Elephant Seals.

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Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

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