Wednesday, December 3, 2008

White Sculpture

Took the Geary bus in the afternoon after work out to San Francisco's Legion of Honor Museum. The light this winter is astonishing.

I went ostensibly to see the small show of Leonardo drawings on loan from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin. They are beautiful. Of course they are beautiful, especially the one with white highlights on blue paper. But still, they defeat me. I think this is because Leonardo's line was of such fineness and unhesitating precision that (paradoxically) the drawings reproduce too well. And then the real thing ends up looking much the same as all the reproductions one has digested over the years. My sense was that the other people at the show were having a sort of religious experience being in the same room with the very artifacts Leonardo had physically touched and brought into existence, but personally I ended up getting more out of various bits and bobs from the Museum's permanent collection.

This is Lady Elizabeth Bingham as carved in marble by the English sculptor Joseph Nollekens in 1810. To me, this is a far better visual evocation of a Jane Austen heroine than I ever saw in any cinematic fantasy. D'Arcy would have commissioned this for Pemberley after the marriage, and it would have lived in his most private room where none of the touring parties shown round by the housekeeper could see it.

I am equally a sucker for sculpted books and for sculpted fabric, so an Academy-style statue like this one pleases me, even though I can see well enough why scholars sneer.

What I sneer at is the lighting in the main galleries. It is too harsh. The shadows are too strong. Contrast the vastly more effective job that diffused daylight is doing, below.

George Segal's Holocaust Memorial came to the museum in 1984. It is tucked away out of sight near the parking lot, so you have to go looking, and I had not looked at it for many years. It has weathered.