Friday, December 12, 2008

Winter in the Park

Even on a gray winter afternoon there are subdued flowering bushes here and there in Golden Gate Park where I found empty paths to wander after finishing up at the library.

I headed for the De Young Museum to see an opulent exhibition of St Laurent dresses loaned by the Parisian foundation set up in the name of dear dead Yves by his slick surviving business partner. Friends had told me the St Laurent show was "badly lighted."

Personally, I thought it looked great. Dimly lighted, yes (mainly for preservation purposes I assume) but dim lighting is always my preference anyway, so I was a pig in clover. Just seeing the couture workmanship up close, my God, he did these narrow, narrow sleeves in satin, for example, with tiny concealed zippers at the wrists, otherwise they could never have gone over anybody's hands.

After worshiping the mannequins for a sufficient time, I strolled around other sections of the new vast museum, which is basically like something out of the 19th century, a compendium of miscellaneous wonders: an Alaskan mammoth's tusk at least ten feet long covered in scrimshaw, an African wall-hanging made out of recycled beer cans, primordial Mexican murals.

This is an early American chair seat, and I don't remember ever seeing embroidery done over the top of brocade before. There is a whole wall of curious and valuable chairs lined up on a long low platform, each one odder and more entrancing than the next.

Plus an infinity of wonderful stuff (like this semi-discreet bust) accumulated by the aggressive 19th-century burghers of San Francisco whose mansions all burned down in 1906. Did this marble object pass through the fires of the period? No, she was carried by a servant (probably Irish) on one of many trips to the safety of the nearest park where people were beginning to camp out, and those refugees certainly did manage to hang onto a good many heavy possessions through it all, proving that bourgeois priorities are sturdy.

The contemporary galleries hold my most interest, however, maybe because the curators there have the fullest scope for boldness. Partly also because the ceilings are extremely high, allowing the art to breathe better.

Detail from Couple painted in 1959 by David Park. He was affiliated with the Bay Area Figurative Movement back in the Fifties, and the portrait shown here is of his dear wife who became a widow in the year after this astonishing picture was painted.