Here blog posts from each prompt/museum post are saved for your easy reference. Late posts (from no longer active museum prompts) should be added here.
EXPLORATORIUM & CJM
Pete – Exploratorium website/CJM: I have never been to the SF exploratorium so it was interesting looking at the website to see what exhibits they have. I definitely plan on visiting so it was nice to get a sneak peek at what is there. The second visit to the CJM was quick, but it did help me better understand the exhibit in that strange room with the pillars. I am still not exactly certain what the message was, but this visit helped clarify things and made some sense of the exhibit itself.
Thomas – Starting off with the website exploration of the Exploratorium, they have a tremendous amount of content and I especially loved the number of teaching materials. The science snacks are a great idea for both schools and parents alike. That being said their site navigation kinda sucks, in the classic idea of the modern web design if it takes more than three clicks to get what you want the design needs to be reworked.
Moving on to our second trip to the Contemporary Jewish Museum, I ended up with many questions about the curation of Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped. Why if these pieces have interesting names are there no label signs? Why is there no indication flow that we learned about on the tour? I understand the exploration vs descriptive learning, but the visitor experience seems to be not well thought through.
Enrique – On my second visit to the JCM I thought we were going to go over an entirely new exhibit. I found that we were just having a docent conversation about the other exhibit with the art collection. I was disappointed because I feel like there should be more additions to the JCM since it is supposed to be a contemporary museum that is supposed to have relatable, interesting things. Personally, I was also annoyed about the SalesForce meeting in the event room. I know that they are in alliance with ICE and I do not agree with what they do. I find it interesting that there is a battle for immigration involving mostly trying to stop the “Mexicans” from coming in but people do not realize there are thousands of immigrants who migrate here “illegally”. This problem is bigger than all of us and to be in the downtown area of San Francisco and do something like that is upsetting. Overall, I don’t think I would visit the museum again knowing that it doesn’t have as much to offer as the other museums we’ve visited.
Mila – While I have been to the Exploratorium in the past and thoroughly enjoyed it, I had never had been on their website. What a surprise that was! While we discussed some of the issues that the site had (ie, information overload, boring UI, etc…), I was thrilled to find a museum site that went above and beyond the call of duty. The Exploratorium website was filled with information, visuals, media, and activities. I love the idea of bringing the museum to the user. However, I felt that it was very easy to get lost in the vortex of content that the website had.
Though I had to leave a bit early from the Contemporary Jewish Museum, I had the pleasure to once more go through the museum, but with a whole other perspective. Beatriz had such a different approach and focus on the museum’s works – namely with Izidora Leber’s work titled LETHE: Peristyle, since she had a personal connection to the artist. While not on the subject of the exhibits’, I also appreciated Nat’s commentary on the hypocrisy of CJM hosting Salesforce and what that meant on a social context.
Barbara C – Exploring the Exploratorium website further during class was delightful. I focused on checking out the videos and the light experiments. I want to go visit the Academy of Science, Exploratorium, and the Mission Science Center.
Regarding Izidora LETHER’s exhibition called Peristyle (gathering spaces), I was put off by Beatriz initial question about Izidora’s work, which is about emigration in contrast to immigration and the experience of diaspora. So I left the group to watch the video dance. Goodness, I was perplexed by the video dance created by Lzidora, Zurich woman artist, who focused on theme of departure rather than immigration. My personal worldview is that change is constant. Individuals who adapt to world complexity are in the process of who I am becoming. Life is not static and outside change impacts inside change.
Thus, if you are departing from one place, be it country, neighborhood, or state, you will absolutely triggering change. Resisting it is unrealistic. Thus, attempting to hold the contorted positions of her participants as if to seek a static present is futile when the present is a fleeting moment. Her seven dancers were wearing unique attire: Transparent hoods with eye space cut out. Their grey, cropped pants/shirt costume had one transparent shoulder and a transparent stripe down one leg. WHY? The women were braless. When I am braless, I feel more vulnerable. What message are these costumes expressing???
From there, I continued on my solo tour of the CJM to view the Anna Beth Rosen exhibit. She is a ceramics artist, whose objects were too similar and unappealing for my tastes. Guess I am unappreciative of her leadership role in ceramic art. Maybe I would have benefitted from rejoining the group. Oh, dear.
Melanie – I will comment on the portal only as I wasn’t able to attend the museum afterwards. I thought the website was interesting as it was loaded with helpful information and videos. I enjoyed for example to learn about one of their installation that is a metal clock. The artist is interviewed and even the visitors are expressing their impression of the art work, however I wasn’t able to find out if that installation was permanent or not. Also the museum was designed to be interactive at its roots and the website lack interactivity. They seem to have interesting apps you can download to enhance your experience of an exhibition or games you can play but this is not well presented and a bit lost in the website. As many mentioned the translation was not easy to access. I however loved everything about children accessibility, the loan of push chairs etc is brilliant.
Lindsey – I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed by the throngs of people in the area, for the Salesforce convention, and was grateful that Nat pointed out the hypocrisy of the CJM for highlighting the immigration and emigration experience, through their exhibits, while financially benefiting from a corporation that contracts with ICE, to create their “cloud [technology which] turbocharges efforts to track and detain immigrants by enabling city, state, and regional law enforcement agencies to rapidly share vast amounts of personal and private information, including biometrics. The cloud is quickly becoming the backbone of CBP and ICE’s operations” a technology not unlike the kind that IBM developed, for the Nazi party, to more efficiently categorize Jewish people, in the 1930s and 1940s, no small fact that the CJM should have been conscientious of.
(I’m also grateful for Nat’s post about QUIT-as my best friend, Anna Baltzer, has been a leading advocate for Palestinian rights, and she will be interested in joining their actions)
I had mixed feelings about the way that the Annabeth Rosen exhibit was presented. While I’ve always been drawn to the immersive experience, off the bat, when visiting museums, I did find that because Rosen’s work was so very abstract, and perhaps not a style that would necessarily appeal to a wide range of visitors, that the CJM might have included descriptions next to each exhibit in order to connect visitors, who wished, to better understand to the motivations and processes behind the pieces.
Lester – The Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) exhibits have always been a cerebral challenge for me to interpret. They usually have symbolic meanings and comprehension beyond my understanding of Western style contemporary artworks. Of all the museums we have visited this semester, CJM exhibits have been the most difficult for me to understand. However, there has always been an intertwined connection between the Jewish faith and the Chinese values, at least in America…a separate cultural issue.
There may be much that I am missing from the CJM exhibits, especially “Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped”. I wanted to like her exhibit, but the repetitive nature of Rosen’s works challenged me to think what her message is all about. Taking the discursive approach, the minute variations of one “internal organ” sculpture to the next, seemed immaterial to the exhibit as a whole. I was bored. To me, only one version of each of the abstract forms was really necessary, even with the detailed color trim that added life to the earthen tone color palette. Was it a theme of progression? Unless I missed it, the descriptions were minimal, and left me with questions. I wanted to see diversity…completely different objects in other forms and other materials in Rosen’s oeuvre. But of course, her repertoire is centered on ceramics…baked in a certain sized kiln! I must investigate the artist’s background to find some answers to her “baked-in” messages.
The class exercise in evaluating Exploratorium’s website was really rewarding. I am in agreement with other classmates’ accolades about the wealth of information, the endless links to more serious informational research, community outreach, etc. Unfortunately, I have not visited Exploratorium since the move from Palace of Fine Arts. In this original iteration, I was intrigued at how objective, practical, simple, and instructional the exhibits were for the non-science layperson. I’m sure the exhibits are now updated and much improved.
Since then, I had the privilege of visiting the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) in Chicago’s Hyde Park this year, and the New York Hall of Science (NYHS) in Corona Park, Flushing Meadows, Queens, three years ago. The scale of the exhibits is comparatively enormous at MSI (one of the world’s largest museums, and corporate backed), while the NYHS is more pedestrian to basic. Our San Francisco Exploratorium, in its own right, falls somewhere in-between these venerable East Coast science museum venues. It is interesting to note that these museum locations are former world exposition sites (MSI – 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition; NYHS – 1964/65 New York World’s Fair; Exploratorium – 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition).
Jeanine – I thought that the Exploratorium’s website was terrific. I had looked at it during the week and was so impressed. It made we want to visit the museum as soon as possible. So much so, I called a friend and to tell her about it and suggest we go as soon as we can. There is an upcoming movie being shown there about the Antartica, one of the places she would most like to visit. So, THANK YOU for including the portal as an assignment. As for the second trip to the CJM, I did not feel we needed to go again and I thought it was not a good use of our time. There are other nearby museums we have not been to that would have been a better choice, e.g. the Tenderloin Neighborhood Museum.
Constance – Visting a website before and after a museum visit enhances the experience but is not a good substitute for an actual visit. It is very unfortunate that the cost is so prohibitive. I have yet to visit this museum. I will use my library card for a visit in the future.
It was a great pleasure to see and hear from Beatriz again! It’s an invaluable experience to have a docent to add meaning and get background information on the artists. I had spent a great deal of time on these exhibits during our first visit to this museum. Had I known we would be spending more time here as a class, I would have rather spent time at another institution. I don’t think this museum merits two class field trips.
Laura – Exploratorium website and Contemporary Jewish Museum
I really enjoyed ‘exploring’ the Exploratorium’s web site. There are so many menus and then sub menus to follow, I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole. It just gets curiouser and curiouser. My body (of knowledge) changed its shape, and my head grew to three times its size, thanks in part to the wealth of information to be found in the myriad of online tutorial videos. Each video explored a different topic of art and science, one being the “Magnetic Fruit, science snack activity”, or the the video discussing the exhibit “Are Your cells You”, about HeLa cells which are cells that were taken without permission from an African American woman in 1951 (she passed away a few months later) and asks us to question medical ethics in the name of science. As the website announcement proclaims, “The Exploratorium isn’t just a museum; it’s an ongoing exploration of science, art and human perception—a vast collection of online experiences that feed your curiosity.” I would have never found my way out of the maze of wonder had it not been for hearing Leslie beckon us all toward the classroom door. The website escape portal opened and I was back once more in the four walls of our Downtown Campus classroom. Our class then walked over to the Jewish Contemporary Museum, where we met with Beatrice, who was our tour guide for the afternoon. I really appreciated the way Beatrice framed her questions for both exhibits, asking us to look more in depth and objectively at each artists’ work. How did the pieces affect us emotionally? It helped me to see the artwork from the eyes of the artists’ themselves. After our official tour, I sat to watch the accompanying video for the exhibit, “Peristyle”, by Izidora Leber LETHE, which enabled me to better understand the concept of her creation. Later that same evening there was a performance by the jazz clarinetist, Ben Goldberg, performing improvisational music in conversation with Annabeth Rosen’s ceramic sculptures. It afforded me the opportunity to witness another artist’s experience of being with the weird and wonderful clay sculptures on display.
Beverly – Having missed Thursday’s class, I truly appreciate the effort that goes into the class summaries and the student blogs. Luckily, I have visited the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, Chabot Space and Science Center, and Lawrence Hall of Science, but I had never heard of the Mission Science Workshop, which looks like it’s doing very meaningful work. When the Exploratorium was housed at the Palace of Fine Arts, I visited more often and always learned something new. It was my go-to place for the dreaded science fair project for my son. I visited the new location maybe three times (twice for evening events). It’s a remarkable place – groundbreaking and cutting edge. As is apparent in the website, it is fully committed to being all that it can be to as many people as possible. Its biggest challenge is the ticket cost which probably keeps a lot of people from visiting (but thankfully it participates in the Museums for All program and have reduced rates and community days), and I appreciate that it tries to reach people through its website’s content and public sites. I imagine this is a very exciting and engaging place to work.
When we visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum on September 5th, I stayed late and saw the Annabeth Rosen and Izidora Leber LETHE: Peristyle exhibits. Currently taking ceramics and painting classes, I appreciated Rosen’s artistic approach and found her work to be intense and personal. I kept wondering about her creative process and methods. The LETHE performance didn’t stir much emotion in me; perhaps experiencing it with Beatriz Escobar and the class would have helped me understand and appreciate it more.
Nat – I was impressed with the vast array of content on the Exploratorium website. I agreed with some of my classmates that the organization of that content needed something. I’m not sure exactly what solution should be put into place but I felt that the psychedelic 60s inspired aesthetic that founder Frank Oppenheimer wrote so much about was not really highlighted by the web design. Overall I did feel like it was effective for the average visitor, but the language preferences were confusing and inadequate for many people. I also felt that the accessibility of the website could be improved. I ended up giving it like a 4/5 overall.
As for the CJM, I found it very difficult to connect to the art because I was very upset that they were hosting Salesforce which is an ICE collaborator. I have been involved with protests of Salesforce for the last couple months and I was heartbroken to see the hypocrisy of this institution. I wont be returning for this reason. We have covered the Decolonize This Place protests of the Whitney and beyond and I feel there needs to be a movement to hold other institutions (not limited to the CJM) on the west coast accountable for their actions. The first exhibit we visited specifically sought to reflect the feelings of isolation, heartbreak, and second class citizenship in the Jewish diaspora which, of course, is devastating but I could help but feel like the institution was completely morally bankrupt to host a handmaiden to genocide.
I did some additional research about this institution and found that there has been protests in the recent past organized by QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) for CJM’s “pinkwashing” of the Israeli apartheid government and a lack of willingness to address the genocide against Palestinians in the Holy Land. I wholly support this action and will look for ways to be involved in future protests.
After all that negativity I want to end on a positive note and mention that I was so grateful to have Beatriz with us again. She is such a treasure!!! I so appreciate her perspective, wealth of knowledge, and good company. I really enjoyed the Annabeth Rosen exhibit “Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped” and appreciated all the insight Beatriz provided. Thank you so much!!!! ❤
Barbara H. – The Exploratorium Webpage is the most expansive and inclusive website I have encountered. I doubt that most people looking for information on the Exploratorium would look for more than the basics, but it is there if one needs it.
I was especially interested in comparing the entrance fees which are high and the opportunities for lower income persons to visit the Exploratorium. I was impressed that under the heading – Reduced Rates and Community Days – there were seven different opportunities, ie, Museums for All, free admission for EBT cardholders; Visitors with Disabilities at a reduced rate; free admission for CA Public School Teachers; Free Field Trips for Title 1 Schools; Discover & Go Library Program; After Dark; and Membership. Too, I was impressed that the general information was available in eight languages.
I wish we could have had more time to explore ‘The Exploratorium organization’ in detail. In further searching online at home, I learned that it is a non-profit organization, and there are ample ways individuals to big corporations to donate for their support. Too, the Exploratorium is involved in out-reach to the community. Under Studio for Public Spaces the Exploratorium has built, ‘Ciencia Publica Agua’, a parklet exploring the science of water outside a school in the Mission neighborhood. Again under the Studio they helped develop conceptual designs and programming for 10 acres of parkland in the SF Presidio. And there are others. In the ‘Pause: a Living Innovation Zone on Market Street’ , a plan to improve the Market Street thoroughfare, the Exploratorium built the first site. The Exploratorium is a giving asset to the City and surrounds.
It was nice to see and have a guided tour by Beatriz Escobar for the Izidora Leber Lethe exhibit, Peristyle, and the Annabeth Rosen exhibit, Fired, Broken, Gathered Heaped exhibit.. To me, the Lethe exhibit was meaningless without viewing the film which we didn’t have time to see. Rosen’s ceramics consisting of stacks, mounds and bundles of shapes were some-what thought provoking. I was attracted to her ‘ black on white’ wall drawings.
CCSF OCEAN CAMPUS: FOSSIL GALLERY AND DIEGO RIVERA’S PAN AMERICAN UNITY MURAL
Mila – Unfortunately, I was not able to join the class for the CCSF Fossil Gallery and Diego Rivera Pan American Unity Mural. However, after doing some research online, I am inspired to go see them for myself! The images online doesn’t seem to do the fossils any justice. However, it was interesting to see the transformation of the space before and after putting together the installation. The concept for The Story of Life and Time exhibit is quite interesting and such an excellent way to tie into the education departments at City College – Earth Sciences, Physics, Engineering, Chemistry, Astronomy, and Biology – and show how these disciplines are all connected and are fundamental to the progress of Earth and Humanity.
It’s ironic to see a strong partnership (SFMOMA and CCSF) to depict another kind of partnership (between the North and South of the Americas). The website for the mural is very user friendly and has such great content. I was impressed to learn about the history and timeline of the mural, the themes explained, and each panel honed in and detailed. I particularly liked the second panel – Elements from Past and Present – and seeing the transition between Mexico and San Francisco. The imagery has movement, yet is quite detailed in detailing Mexican and American culture and history, its tensions, and its convergence. I am looking forward to seeing the progress and future of this impressive and important work!
Beverly – I was happily surprised to learn about City College’s collection of items from the Academy of Sciences. When my son was little, we had a membership and would frequently go there after school. His favorite section was the dinosaurs and we were both sad when then new Academy of Sciences no longer had that section. Now I’m excited to take him to City College to visit our old friend and further explore what’s on display. It would be great if there was a way to continue to display the materials but also have a digital reference that could be updated to keep it current and accurate.
I go to CC’s Ocean campus regularly and frequently stop in to view the Diego Rivera mural. Once when I visited, workers had just completed drilling a hole in the building’s exterior so they could view/evaluate the mural’s backing. They were very generous in taking time to talk with me about what they were doing and let me peer into the opening. With the docent’s detailed review of the mural, I now appreciate the mural even more. I’ve always thought the scale was off for the mural display at the theater and I’m glad more people will get to experience it at the SFMOMA. I hope that after that, City College can find a better home for the treasure on campus.
Jeanine – Without Thomas’s help in understanding the fossils and in light of the lack of a docent, again, I thought our time there was not well used. The mural “tour” was amazing. The docent was infectiously enthusiastic. Although I had had a tour of the mural before, I very much appreciated the opportunity to continue my appreciation for it. I can’t wait to see it in a setting more accessible to all.
Lester – Back at our main campus, we met at the basement of the Science building to tour the beginning of the dinosaur exhibit. The pieces were donated by the California Academy of Sciences to CCSF in 2002. The general appearance of the fossil (plaster cast) exhibit #1 reminded me of the old California Academy of Sciences from the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was fairly basic in the enclosure, and the placards gave brief information. References to websites could have been helpful for in-depth additional investigation. Strangely, the background and foreground was a rock formation, and the fossil skeleton was upright, as if alive and ready to explore the surroundings. Ideally, the reptile should be represented in full-flesh, with a similar active pose, while in a natural surrounding of greenery, rocks, and dirt. Like most museums with fossil installations, the display was designed to activate the viewer’s imagination. Only having enough class time to just begin the first floor of the four-floor exhibit, I was ecstatic to find that a dedicated website is available to accompany the viewer to every one of the exhibits on each of the four floors, in the comfort of your own home.
I was really amazed at the Pan American Unity mural on the walls of the Diego Rivera Theater. My first visit was over 10 years ago, to see a semester ending dance performance. However, I did not have the least bit of interest in art at that time. But now, with a guided overview by the docent, the sheer size, 74’ wide by 22’ tall, of the monumental mural display, appeared so awe-inspiring, with the bright contrast of colors, which gives life to the multiple fresco panel scenes. Our observation distance from the balcony allowed us to study most of the scenes in a head-on angle, rather than from the awkward upward angle at the base of the tall 10-piece canvas. However, on my next visit, I will be sure to bring low-power binoculars (or utilize the Diego Rivera beta website) to take a closer detailed look, to augment my aging eyes! I’m not sure how the multiple panels are secured onto the wall. But in total sum, the steel-framed frescos weigh some 23 tons, according to the docent.
On a personal side note, the Golden Gate International Exhibition (GGIE) which ran in 1939 and 1940, was attended more than once by my grandmother, mother, and uncle (he recited family oral history), who were 50, 15, and 13 years old, respectively, at the time. They took the ferry out of San Francisco’s Ferry Building to Treasure Island. It was possible that they had visited the Fine Arts Palace where the Art In Action exhibition was displaying the various in-progress artworks by 68 artists, including Diego Rivera’s “Pan American Unity” mural, and Dudley C. Carter’s wood sculpture, “Big Horn Mountain Ram”.
While the Rivera/Kahlo relationship has always been a complicated one that intrigues the public, the Pan American Unity mural reveals the background, values, and viewpoints of Diego Rivera, the artist. CCSF is very fortunate to partner with SFMOMA in their Diego Rivera exhibition, because of the professional restoration, transportation, and installation costs that will be absorbed by SFMOMA for the Pan American Unity mural. Understandably, it will require the utmost care in the physical transport of the ten panels. By the end of SFMOMA’s Diego Rivera run in 2023, CCSF should have the new home, Performing Arts & Education Center (PAEC), completed in preparation for the final installation upon the murals return, barring any construction delays.
Barbara H – The highlight of this class was seeing Diego Rivera’ Pan American Unity Mural for the first time. It has been on my ‘Art Bucket List’ for a long time. The docent tour was very complete and with a few spicy tidbits about Rivera added to the dialogue.
Prior to our class meeting, I had searched the Rivera Mural website at http://www.riveramural.org which included a Diego Rivera bio, the mural theme explained, and an overview of the history of the mural. In an interview by Dorothy Puccinelli in San Francisco in 1940, Rivera said this about the mural theme, … ‘it is about the marriage of the artistic expression of the North and of the South on this continent’. I felt I was prepared to view the mural.
Too, the website has a section about the Diego Rivera Mural Project. Two of their goals are to care for the physical safety and to maintain a safe environment for it. A third goal ‘to integrate the mural into the educational cultural communities of the college, city, state and hemisphere’. Reading the goals made me contemplate about the upcoming move to SFMOMA. In class, I was pleased to learn that the move to SFMOMA was temporary, to coincide with their upcoming exhibit of Rivera’s works, and in return for the loan, SFMOMA is cleaning and restoring the mural. A significant gesture of a community working together to benefit all.
Thomas – I love our little fossil gallery, though it could use some improvements. I would like to see a bit more information on the signage, as well as updating the information. Most of the scientific information seemed to be about 15 years out of date.
As far as our tour of the Pan American Unity Mural, our docent was pretty good and quite knowledgeable about the mural, but there seemed to be a few gaps in her knowledge of the era of the piece. It was probably my 6th time touring the mural, so there wasn’t any new information given to me about the mural. I am a bit concerned about having our mural at the SFMOMA for so long and the seeming little that the collage is getting our of the deal. And I very much do not like the idea of the mural having a new home when it comes back, but that is a longer conversation for another time.
Lindsey – What a treat to be able to have a docent go through the various details of Diego Rivera’s mural! I absolutely loved it!
I did, however, find one part confusing when the docent was explaining the panel with the “Captains of Industry” (more specifically the scene behind Edison and Ford) where rows of monochromatic workers are hunched over a conveyor belt of, presumably, car parts. It is my understanding that Rivera was a communist who was very critical of capitalism, and would have been commenting on the reduction of human life to cogs in a machine by showing these workers in such a way. Arguably, Edison and Ford, do appear to be congenial figures, so it is confusing. I do think that there are distinct references to Chaplin’s Modern Times in the panel on Nazi Germany and The Great Dictator. Chaplin was also highly critical of the industrial revolution, and in his film Modern Times the main character, portrayed by Chaplin-as always, literally becomes a cog in the machine, while working in a huge factory. I believe Rivera must have been a fan of Chaplin, as an artist, but also as a political commentator.
Regardless it was a fascinating journey through the mural
Carol – This was my second visit to the CCSF Diego Rivera mural. My previous visit included a 1 1/2 hour presentation by one of the art history department’s TAs, Vickie Simms. Her presentation was filled with even more insightful (and gossipy/tabloid) comments about this complex mural. Oh to be a fly on the wall while it was being created!!!!!
What struck me this time is how audacious Rivera’s vision was, and the breadth of the vivid storytelling involved. It made me realize that murals can be like juicy novels…populated by a constellation of colorful characters and events, both good and bad. Murals can time travel, and jump from topic to topic. From an artistic mastery point of view, I was dazzled by how Rivera was able to squeeze so many characters and objects into the mural, and yet maintain a credible sense of proportion. While Rivera brings in so much historic anthropological and ethnographic information, his artistic style is bold, innovative and at the cutting edge of the 20th century art of its time. What a brilliant piece of artistic genius that San Francisco is lucky enough to possess!
I recently was lucky enough to attend a 1 1/2 day seminar presented by Humanities West called Mexico’s 20th Century Artistic Revolution — covering Mexican art, music, literature and movies. One of the speakers was Tufts University Professor of Art History and Latino Studies, Adriana Zavala. She presented a different view of Frida Kahlo than that presented in Hayden Herrera’s seminal Frida biography. Zavala’s Frida has much more agency and resilience than the long-suffering Frida Herrera offers.
Professor Zavala is featured in a good YouTube panel discussion about Diego and Frida, which can be found at:
Frida and Diego are endlessly fascinating, complicated and larger than life characters. Even more ginormous than the mural!
Finally, BRAVO to THOMAS for his brilliant master class in dinosaurs and other ancient Creepy Crawlies. I loved how knowledgeable and passionate he is about these creatures.
Barbara – The Fossil Gallery from the CA Academy of Science about 15 years ago was intriguing. I had a real sense past and present, then and now. I thought some great, economical ideas were suggested for updating the exhibits. Afterwards, I wondered if that was a project the SCIENCE CLUB might assume to both make the exhibits more current and better inform the campus community of the presence.
Viewing the Diego Rivera Pan American Unity Mural is always a visual and historical treat. Too bad I was delayed waiting for a classmate in the grey, drizzling day on campus. All is well that ends well,
The discussion of balancing time class between discussion with staff, exhibits, and among ourselves is a complicated challenge. The focus of decolonizing museums was not foremost in my mind when I signed up for this class; my self-interest, egocentric desire to see more museums was. The concept of decolonizing museums has certainly evolved for me. I have just begun talking with Jeanine about joining the DeYoung’s Anciillary; however, I doubt that is part of their mission.
Constance – I’ve enjoyed getting to know the campus a little at a time. This is just my second visit. I would have never known about the Fossil Gallery and the whole exhibition without taking this class. I hope to one day view more of it.
I was less than overwhelmed while looking at the elephant relative footprint, but I found out by reading the signage that they walked on their toes. As I spoke with my fellow classmates about this specimen, I found out I wasn’t the only one having a hard time seeing the print. I’m still wondering where and how this print was found.
I was very pleased with the amount of time we spent viewing and discussing the mural. It was great to get so many details in the story that Diego is telling us in the mural. Our docent referred to Diego’s sense of humor a number of times in our discussion. Could that be why he included a “cigar style” Indian on the right side of the mural after painting more accurate indigenous images on the left side.
Laura – It was a treat to become a little more acquainted with the City College Main Campus thanks to our class field trip this past Thursday. In fact the experience bolstered my respect and support for our city’s community college. It was my first time visiting the Fossil exhibit in the Science Building, and while not my personal interest, I was delighted to learn more about the dinosaur fossils from our more knowledgeable classmates. I thought that the group exercise was both fun, and a way for us to get to learn from one another. I appreciated our docent tour of the Pan-American Unity mural by Diego Rivera. I find Diego’s work to be both a social commentary about the contemporary society of his day as well as an homage to the ancient civilisations and culture of his native land. The mural is well-executed, nuanced, and each figure represented in the mural weaves a story, which is part of the larger thread of context to allow us, the viewer, to delve deeper into the meaning and find understanding within the dialogue and relationship between the ancestral/ancient world, and the contemporary/modern world. How has the old world impacted our modern society? How have we changed our future? Is there a common thread that unites past, present, and future?
Later that afternoon, I travelled to the San Francisco Art Institute to attend the opening reception of the Art Institute’s current alumni show. There I continued Diego Rivera’s creative journey by being witness to another of the murals he painted while he was in San Francisco, this one created onsite at the SF Art Institute in 1931. The piece is entitled ‘The making of a fresco showing the building of a city’ and fills the entire end wall of the student gallery.
Pete – This visit was a little iffy for me. I really wanted to see more of the museum during class time since I don’t have the time to stick around after class and I don’t live anywhere nearby. It is such a huge museum and I don’t feel like I got to see as much of it as I wanted to. Part of that is probably because I was pretty late due to traffic, but it would have been great to see more of the museum
Jeanine – I found the discussion with the employees to be quite good in that they were knowledgeable and prepared for our visit. Unfortunately, there was far too little time for questions and answers and I felt we were rushed too much. It was a frustrating experience. The exercise with did with the employee was very good but afterwards, the time on our own was not very productive, in my opinion. Having time to explore the museum was great but with such limited time and such a ;big, big museum, I felt that we did not do it justice. In fact, I thought some students came away with a negative impression in part because there was not a good introduction to the exhibit options.
Constance – I have visited the museum many times over the years but not as often since the remodel. I miss the cafe they had at street level. It had a tasty menu of light fare to be enjoyed before or after a visit to the museum. Unfortunately it has been replaced by a high end restaurant that is a not as accessible to many visitors.
Our visit started with information about the lack of diversity at the museum. One staff member spoke about the monoculture she worked in. The other staff member shared statistics about the largely white male collection, and the need to diversify the collection. He mentioned the recent sale of a object to help in this effort. We were then given a brief history of the museum. I wonder about the recent remodel and the Fischer Collection.
Next, I chose the prompt to do an intimate observation of an object in the “Soft Power” exhibit. My first impression was not a favorable one. Over the time I spent with the object, I could see a number of other possibilities but most were not very positive. Overall, I felt I needed more time to enjoy the other parts of the museum, especially since the cost of entry has increased substantially over the years.
Barbara C – I loved the views from the windows of the newly remodeled museum. The living wall of ferns, air plants, etc. is so lush and vivid. There was a street scene I photographed and would live to draw while observing. After the reopening, I have been in the museum once before and notice much more varied art on this visit.
Hearing the staff address the issue of committees to address change was fascinating and seemed like a slow process of introducing more women artists and artists of color. I was pleased to read recently, The Baltimore Museum has make a commitment to only buy art object created by women in the next…That is the way to go.
I was most surprised during the discussion of the artist collaboration, “On a Clear Day” created by Agnes Martin and Mark Bradford; Agnes was described the woman as schizophrenic. I was puzzled why that aspect of her character was mentioned or highlighted. Do museums ever describe Van Gogh or other men with that adjective???
Several of the exhibits challenge my sense of“Art.”The mischief part of me wonders how I would experience this museum high on marijuana?
Melanie – Really enjoyed learning about the museum Cultural Inclusion Comity that aims at bringing more diversity to the museum. I’m surprise however that despite the help of outside consultants they don’t include representing of communities within that comity. I would have loved to learn more about the issues they are facing and solutions they are finding but I guess time was a constraint. Very interesting also to see how data is being applied in an effort to get a big picture on museums visitors and artists. I’m so happy to hear that the moma has sold the Rothko in order to welcome local and contemporary artists within the museum (again would love to hear more about it).
Overall it feels like the Moma is taking the right steps forward but I feel like I did not get enough information to get a grasp on the quality of those efforts or if they are progressing fast enough.
Lester – Certainly the most high-profile museum in San Francisco, SFMOMA is a top draw for tourists, and one that is well-funded by corporations and by a large wealthy donor base, including Charles Schwab, my former employer. The multi-level facilities are quite impressive in its ultra-modern design and upscale appeal. The works in the Modern Art era, is roughly from the 1860’s to the 1970’s, per Wikipedia.
Our class was fortunate to have the pre-arranged presentation by the three staffers. While not quite the ancient or antique artifacts that we have been exposed to from previous museum visits to Oakland Museum, De Young Museum, and Asian Art Museum, acquisition methods or provenance did not appear to be much of an issue with objects in SFMOMA’s collection. However, it was evident that there is a strong directive to be more inclusive of artists from minorities, and women. We were allowed to see a glimpse of non-public (did we sign non-disclosure agreements?!) statistical information regarding their efforts, stated on an annual basis. They did their best to quantify the data. Often times, there were no clear distinctions in certain categories such as race, type of art, for example, which may not be mutually exclusive.
It is a work-in-progress, as SFMOMA’s budget allowed the proceeds from the sale of certain artworks, to be used to acquire, or “accession” new works from lesser known or overlooked artists. The “deaccessioned” Rothko work, “Untitled, 1960”, one of six Rothko’s in SFMOMA’s collection, was auctioned by Sotheby’s in May of 2019, and grossed just over $50 million, leaving $42.8 million for new acquisitions. The move to diversify the museums heavily-weighted white male-centric collection, and to be more in tune with current times, eleven works by ten artists were purchased no sooner than late June. It was not disclosed how much of these funds remained, but the balance was understood to be earmarked to establish an endowment for future acquisitions (See Taylor Dafoe’s article in ArtNetNews, 6/26/19, “SFMOMA Sold a Rothko for $50 Million to Diversify Its Collection. Here’s What They Bought With the Proceeds”). These new acquisitions are just barely the beginning…a long way until any change of the balance will be felt.
Our class exercise performed in the gallery of floor 4, “On A Clear Day: Agnes Martin & Mark Bradford”, was observational learning of perception, looking at how two styles can approach the same theme. For me, it was Mark Bradford’s cool blue color palette with impasto layers on a single canvas, that caught my eyes. It was more difficult to understand the monotonous variations of Agnes Martin’s sequence of multiple framed paper of what appeared to be horizontal lines, like college binder paper, but drawn by hand using pencil. Each of their approaches was better understood after learning about each artist’s background and their psychological profile.
The “Soft Power” exhibit, also on floor 4 (and 7), was a unique presentation of unusual works. Using the intimate observation prompt, the work entitled, “Three Graces”, 2019, (from the series Rome Is Not In Rome) by Lebanese artist, Haig Aivazian, was particularly unappealing to me. Somehow, this title did not fit my expectation of the famous Rubens nor the Botticelli paintings by the same name…both white European artists, by the way. The sign placard indicated that SFMOMA commissioned the artwork. Because the three fiberglass and resin pieces were sitting on tripods, they reminded me of old fashion beauty salon hair dryers, with hair pieces sitting on top. After contemplating for a few minutes, I concluded that yes, this representation can be an interpretation of the “Three Graces”. These are mythical icons, historically represented with long flowing hair. However, it is from the point-of-view of the artist’s background, mocking the public’s perception (as well as mine), stripping the icon down to the basics. This exercise challenged me to stop, absorb, and contemplate the unconventional message the artist is presenting.
Nat – I am not the biggest fan of the SFMOMA, in fact it may be my least favorite museum I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been way too many times so it’s not like I haven’t given it a fair chance). It’s not that I dislike modern art but I feel they don’t do a good job of fostering a connection to the objects and sometimes I find myself walking through the galleries asking myself why I should care. I have to say I wasn’t too impressed by the presentation, no offense to them I am just not particularly interested in the legal and paperwork part of museum work. The two works we looked at for our group activity were totally devoid of inspiration for me. I found myself asking why this was in a museum at all. For our solo activity, I chose to experience an exhibit I did not like and try to be open to it. I chose Soft Power (supposedly inspired by the Reaganite term) and I have to say the description the curators gave was not reflected by the pieces or their signage. I found it so underwhelming and could not decipher the message or even over all theme. The educational aspect which discussed immigration had a timeline of important events in the history of immigration but really painted Obama as a hero rather than the president that has deported more people than any president in history, so I took issue with that. Ultimately, even with an open mind I really did not like the exhibit and I really tried to.
Beverly – For the Intimate Observation portion of our class, I selected a painting in the Fisher Collection because I found the colors and composition unappealing. I spent time with the painting trying to appreciate the color palette application and the painting organization. The composition had overlaying layers of thick paint applied with wide brushstrokes and slightly off horizontal bars of dark blue, beige, red, pink and yellow. I appreciated the energy and gusto of the piece, but thought it looked a bit like the artist had become frustrated with a painting and decided to paint over it with large rectangular shapes of color. I was surprised to learn the painting, Berkeley #47, was an oil painting by Richard Diebenkorn. To me, it didn’t fit into Diebenkorn’s early figurative work or his refined abstract expressionism. Seeing it was painted in 1955, I realized that this painting perhaps represented a transitional period for Diebenkorn where he started experimenting with abstraction. Remembering there was another Diebenkorn painting on the second floor, I went to that painting to compare the colors and composition. Cityscape #1, painted 8 years later, is a representational canvas of a landscape (perhaps Berkeley?). It too had broad areas of color and textured overlays of paint, but the composition is more refined, detailed and recognizable as a landscape. Having studied Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park period pieces in my painting class, it dawned on me the clarity of the artist’s arc of exploration; his development of a personal style could be seen by tracing the three above paintings. So, as a result of the observation and contemplation, I now appreciate Berkeley #47 as a piece that’s a representation of part of a bigger picture of Diebenkorn’s development as an artist.
Barbara H – Walking through the front doors of SFMOMA, one is in an open space two stories high and wide and welcoming. . A place to sit and relax; facilities available; the museum store to browse. There are always staff members in the area to answer questions and give directions. And it’s not just for museum attendees, it is open to the community. A positive way to begin a museum experience.
Meeting with three the staff members in the Koret Education Center, I thought they were well-prepared with their oral and slide presentations. I only wish I had some time to explore the library.
I, personally, am not a negative person and try to always understand and learn when viewing a painting. But as I examined Eamen Ore-Giren’s painting, ‘Infinite Regrese LXXXII’, I just didn’t get it. The painting was vinyl paint and gouache on linen. The color tones were brash and intense. It was very structured with round balls at the end of spokes. The spokes moving out from a center point. To me, it was too structured and looked like a machine. It didn’t seem to express ‘soft power’. Later doing some research at home, I discovered that Ore-Giren’s style is classed as ‘‘nonrepresentational, geometric art in which the work does not represent or depict a being, place or thing”. I can accept this. I have learned something new.
Laura – Last Thursday morning I attended the Careers in Museums Workshop held at the MUB annex on the City College Campus. It was at this workshop that I met Jameson Daley, the Coordinator of Programs for SFMOMA. He informed me of the upcoming Conference of the Inclusive Museum, which will be held in Lisbon, Portugal, 3rd – 5th September, 2020. Sounds interesting? I would like to know more. Anyway, I met Jameson again that day when our class visited the SFMOMA to meet with, and hear from, some of the staff at the museum. For our SFMOMA museum prompt I chose “Intimate Observation – Can art shift your thinking or perceptions?” I visited the exhibition, ‘Soft Power’, and spent some time with a piece entitled; ‘Drawing in Black’, 2019, by the artist Dave McKenzie. McKenzie is a Jamaican artist currently living and working in Brooklyn, New York. The sculpture is of mixed media; felt, rubber, wood, metal, and mannequin. At first I found this work puzzling as well as challenging to find a connection to the piece. I tried to find the relevance of the black painted mannequin head which lay on what appeared to be a black rubber mat. The artwork also incorporated a large wooden printer’s stamp with metal letters in reverse reading “Black Friday Sale”. Here I found a link to the printing press and to mass marketing. The mannequin head, resting on a sheet of folded rubber on a wooden block, appears to reference the ink roller in the print-making process. This begs the question, ‘Why do we use the term ‘Black Friday Sale’ in advertising? My initial reaction to the artist’s use of this term is that perhaps he is inferring that black lives are cheap, commodified, up for sale at the highest bidding. The mannequin appears to be weeping black tears. After being with the artwork for the requisite 15 minutes, I felt that I had a better understanding of the intention and message that the artist is trying to convey to his audience, the viewer.
Mila – I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Sriba and Ian’s take on SFMOMA’s work on decolonizing museums. Their perspectives and work really lends itself to (hopefully) SFMOMA’s overhaul on becoming more inclusive and diverse.
After the talk, we headed to the galleries and saw the work entitled, “On a Clear Day” by two different artists Agnes Martin and Mark Bradford. I really enjoyed the exercise that Jaimeson had given us. It gave us the opportunity to observe and reflect on the works and have a discussion around the works’ meanings, background, techniques, etc… I found that the discussion was a great way to also learn HOW to observe and reflect on the art we’ve seen.
In the Soft Power exhibition, I particularly liked the Eamon Ore-Giron works. My initial reaction to the works was how visually striking they are – mostly due to the deep saturated colors, very symmetrical geometric lines and shapes, and brilliant gold sheen. I thought, perhaps this stood for the attractive force and magnetism of westernism (even if it’s a deception).
Lindsey – I was struck by the visceral, negative reaction to Aivazian’s pieces in the soft power exhibit! I was less than impressed with the piece that had one of those lawn chairs, from the 1980s, that you always got your limbs caught in, and the clay pile of poo. However I thought the Three Graces looked like electric goddesses, and their hair was the only visible part of them, as their invisible bodies danced in a ring. Most impressive was the beetle-like sculpture that had many breasts, and a vulva on the side. Reducing the parts of a woman that media is obsessed with. I, of course, had to look up this artist.I learned that he is from Beirut, and that he was educated in the US. At first I did not agree with the curator’s decision to group these pieces together, let alone call them a political art instillation, but viewing the pieces through the lens of an artist who has been born far from the US, in a culture that is relatively different from the US, and yet still affected tremendously by US policies, US media, and even US military presence, it started to reveal itself, to me, as a cohesive narrative. As though this particular artist was saying “See the ways in which the US aesthetic has rubbed off on me” While the US holds a multitude of cultures, nationalities and ethnicities it also bleeds many of them dry of their cultural history, and thereby creating a new, amalgamation of cultures with a capitalistic agenda infused. I interpreted the Breast Beetle (which is how I know it, and tragically forgot to write the actual name of the piece down in my journal) as a Lebanese artist’s impression of an American message about womanhood, womaness, and what it means to be a woman. It is as though the breasts and vulva are this insect creature that crawls around on erect nipples offering up itself to hungry onlookers. “See what I have been reduced to?” it whispers.
If I digressed too much, I apologize, I was bit by a coyote, and the rabies shots are making me a little delirious.
Asian Art Museum
Thomas – I found the nature of the relation of the museum and the city’s ownership of the building quite interesting.
The museum staff was very aware of the many issues with the way their collection and the way that many of the objects were acquired. With that said they are trying to improve, but the cultural insensitivity with the way that many of their objects are labeled they could do a lot more. Many of their Indian objects, especial those related to the Hindu faith were badly mislabeled. Their language choices in material were quite lacking for a museum targeting an Asian audience.
Also, I thought it was quite odd that they had an impressive collection of Damascus steel daggers and swords without any signs telling about them. Some of these blades I recognized as 10th-century pieces making very rare.
Pete – The Asian Art Museum: This was my favorite museum of the semester. Often when I think of art the image that pops into my head is European or American art. It is very easy to forget that every culture has its own art and incredibly talented artists. Many of the statues and sculptures I saw were every bit as well crafted and beautiful as any Greek or Roman masterpiece, and I was truly impressed by the level of detail and care that was put into each piece. The only complaint I have is that I did not have more time to explore. I only go to San Francisco for school these days, so I never have time to go to places like this one. Regardless I hope to be able to come back here one day for a more thorough visit.
Nat – I really enjoyed the panel at the Asian Art Museum and how candid the workers were with us about their struggles in transforming the institution and acknowledging it’s sordid history (and present). It really solidified in my mind that changes in museum structure, policy, and legacy come from the bottom up, meaning from museum workers NOT a board of trustees or wealthy patrons. The panelists gave great insight into the friction within the institution on these issues. I had attended an open forum and panel at the AAM a month prior about accessibility and inclusion and got a very different vibe. I was glad that they were more open with our class about the difficulties they experience in their given roles.
I was very interested in the inner workings of the museum and the role city government plays in all of this. I don’t know that I fully understand what that role is. It seems quite involved and I would really like to learn more about this structure. We were told it has two boards one appointed by the museum and one by the city. Very interesting indeed! I wonder how these two forces work together and what friction might be present. I am especially interested in the financial element of all of this.
I was especially taken with the temporary exhibit of contemporary Japanese artists Noguchi and Hasegawa. The emotion this duo was able to evoke was really impactful. The curators did an excellent job explaining the connection these two had to each other and to Japan during such trying times (World War II and Internment). I definitely recommend the exhibit as an example of fabulous curatorial notes and storytelling.
Lester – The innocence of my museum-going experience has been shattered…yet again! My Museum Studies learning experience has turned into a more critical view of established museum politics and historical misrepresentations, which are undergoing some needed changes for the times that we are in. It would be interesting to find out, if even the average museum attendee has the slightest awareness of this cultural shift towards accountability, and relevancy in the “Me Too” movement. For the uninitiated, the sheer excitement, education, and discovery, may be the overriding enjoyment that one derives from walking the galleries, rather than to critique historic wrongs. I would be truly behind the times, in a big way, if I avoided the current Museum Studies discussions of activism, relevancy, inclusion, and de-colonization. However, I am optimistic that I can still enjoy museums, albeit from a more critical perspective.
Our visit to the Asian Art Museum offered an eye-opening investigation into what the museum staffers are acknowledging within their scope of responsibilities. The staffers were cordial and generous in their confessional comments, at times vulnerable, realizing that they were in a firing line, into what is wrong with the museum’s legacy and policies, and the challenges and expectations they face with the Board members and with wealthy supporters of the museum. They were able to share openly with us, things that were not easily discussed with these others. There seems to be a “Chinese wall” (in an Asian Art Museum, of all places?!) of non-communication that is preventing any coordinated effort to resolve the conflicting goals between staffers and the Board members.
Despite their openness of the museum’s shortcomings, the day-to-day staffers have to be appreciated for their positive contribution in outreach, education, and hard work in promoting the Asian Art Museum. Their ongoing commitment is evident in making the home of Avery Brundage’s prestigious collection, an internationally recognized institution. Avery Brundage had said in June of 1966 at the opening of the new Asian art wing of the De Young in Golden Gate Park, “In presenting this collection to San Francisco my hope is that, together with the facilities of the region’s great universities, it will help San Francisco and the Bay Area become one of the world’s greatest centers of Oriental culture.”
Thomas pointed out that some of the religious items on display had inaccurate identifications. This brings to question…the thoroughness of the cultural specialists’ research. Are there exchanges of information with academia, with “…the facilities of the region’s great universities” in Brundage’s words, which refers to our world renowned universities like UC Berkeley or Stanford? Even with some members of the Asian Art Commission, as collectors of fine Asian art, the origin and descriptions of some of the rare objects need validation by respected authorities. With over 7,700 objects from Avery Brundage’s original personal collection, which has now grown to over 18,000 objects with new acquisitions, there is need for a more comprehensive research team to thoroughly investigate each object put on display.
One piece on the third floor, obviously resulting from colonialism, I found very unusual. Surprisingly, it was the only ivory carving that I noticed in the entire floor (the second floor was closed for a new installation), but it had an intriguing twist for me. Growing up in Chinatown, most of the elephant ivory I had seen (produced before 1975) were carved into Chinese themes, gods or goddesses like the Eight Immortals, daily scenes, fruits, Buddhist or Daoist deities, and other figurines. This particular piece was a carving done on a uniquely Western style Christian motif, “Christ as the Good Shepard”, from Goa, India, dated approximately 1650 – 1700. The Portugese had ruled in Goa, around 1500’s, with local artists producing detailed ivory carvings in Christian themes. The Asian Art Museum Blog has an entry regarding this recent 2011 acquisition:
It must be noted that elephants and their ivory tusks, whether African or Asian, are now protected by the Endangered Species Act, and by other strict international laws.
Barbara C -The discussion of issues of community engagement with the “worker-be”, front line staff was powerful, except for maybe the curator. This cohort seem motivated and prepared to introduce change to the museum, The traditional power and financial dynamics of the upper levels of management and the board were highlighted in the Mother Jones article we read beforehand were reaffirmed by this staff group. I can only hope that that critical article and their grassroots energy will find a way to impact the awareness and action of the powers that be.
The Elephant chair on the upper gallery was my most favorite item to view. What opulence the maharajas sometimes exhibited. My sense was that the object labels could benefit greatly from the concept: LESS is MORE.
The exhibit of the Japanese artists, Noguchi/Hasegawa, did not hold my interest for long. I was fascinated by the description that one of them choose to be imprisoned for a few months with West Coast Japanese civilians who were interned during WWII. I had forgotten that East Coast Japanese were not interned.
The Asian Art Museum store is fantastic. It is always worthy of a visit for wonderful scarfs, vases, brushes and other special art objects.
Beverly – This was my first visit to the Asian Art Museum. It was generous of so many staff members to take the time to meet with us and be so candid. I was glad that we didn’t stick to the original plan of splitting up into groups because I found what each person said interesting and wouldn’t have wanted to miss hearing their insights. From their description of the structure of the museum, it seemed that they are more limited in their ability to make innovative changes and take steps to make the museum more engaging and accessible. The galleries were very traditional and I found myself thinking they could benefit from some of the techniques the Oakland Museum of California uses to engage visitors on multiple levels.
Lindsey – One of the things that struck me the most is when the staff in charge of educational enrichment said that she really wanted to see contemporary Asian artists. I had spent the previous day (to our class there) also at the Asian Art Museum, with my clients (we had read the admission fee was waved, so that people could escape the smoke-only to learn that it meant people who lived in Sonoma-not people with no income in SF that have few options to leave their homes to escape the smoke without spending cash for a restaurant or cafe, but I digress) and I had enjoyed all of the pieces in their semi-permanent collection, but felt a distinct lack of connection to the living cultures from the pieces came. Much like our class discussions on Native American art, and how efforts have been made to tell the story of a culture that exists today, it seemed like most of the artwork was telling a story of cultures that were long since past, no longer in existence. However, the following day, when I got to see the special exhibit, with our class, there was the Hasegawa exhibit, and his artwork bridged the gap between ancient art and a post-industrialist world, a world I could relate to more than one steeped in religious superstitions (not to say the religious artwork isn’t compelling, but that it tends to be difficult to relate to). I believe the educator we spoke with said that she felt the younger students who visited would especially benefit from contemporary artists because they would feel like they too could create, and contribute to their community.
Peggy – I was sorry to have walked in late to the discussion with the Asian Art Museum staffers so it wasn’t until later that I found out the context of their comments. Without knowing that they were referencing the Mother Jones Article, it sounded like they were all complaining about the museum, their jobs, their frustration. What struck me was the candor with which they expressed their feelings about management and the inner workings of the museum to a room full of students. Again, since I wasn’t there at the beginning of the discussion, I am not sure what the purpose of the discussion was. In retrospect, I would like to have heard a group of museum workers share some positive feelings and enthusiasm for this incredibly, comprehensive collection of Asian art.
I spent the second half of the class in the Noguchi and Hasegawa exhibit which was a good choice. Other than finding the text accompanying the art long-winded and tiresome, all of the pieces in this collection, in my opinion, were exquisite. I love the calligraphy, brush painting and block prints along side the sculptures in a wide variety of materials. I probably should have approach the exhibit “immersively” instead of trying to read everything. Just knowing the story of the two artists’ friendship and the effect that the war had on both of them would have been enough context to enjoy the exhibit. I could have read more later. I hope to go back and see this exhibit again along with more of the museum.
Claire – I was surprised to learn the AAM is the third-largest asset owned by the city of San Francisco and that the origins of the permanent collection pose an ethical conundrum due to the history of the donor.
I was also surprised and disappointed to learn about current diversity challenges at the museum, both in staffing, programming, and exhibition content.
Meeting members of the staff was a plus. I enjoyed hearing about their paths to doing this work and about their successes and challenges on the job. Getting a behind-the-scenes peek made me feel more invested in what’s going on at the AAM.
While I enjoyed the Noguchi/Hasegawa show, I spent most of my time upstairs viewing the Southeast Asia galleries. The Hindu statues in particular drew my attention. During our brief visit, I felt I learned a lot from the interpretive videos and signage.
I have always been a fan of the physical space of the AAM in its current incarnation. The remodel of the old main library building was a big success in my book. I’m curious to see what the current project will add.
The café is better than average for a museum café, but the website needs work. It feels outdated.
Laura – The Asian Art Museum is a place I rarely visit, so having our class meet there was a wonderful opportunity to explore and dive deeper into a culture of which, I have minimal experience and knowledge. I was particularly impressed with our ‘meet and greet’ the museum staff who are responsible for education, outreach, and museum accessibility. Each staff member was open to hearing and answering our questions in an open, collegial manner, encouraging lively dialogue and thoughtful responses. They did not shy away from answering challenging questions regarding inclusion, decolonisation, and democratisation, which I found both refreshing and encouraging.
My brief foray into the exploration of the Museum’s collection, found me in the special exhibition entitled; ‘Changing and Unchanging Things’ – Noguchi and Hasegawa in Post-War Japan. I was impressed by the curator(s) choice of artworks displayed in the exhibition to describe the friendship and artistic kinship, albeit brief, of the two artists, Isamu Noguchi and Saburo Hasegawa. I found myself deeply engaged in their (artists’) stories and their shared inspiration in traditional Japanese art, culture, and philosophy. Due to time constraints, I was unable to fully explore the exhibition, so I returned to the Asian Art Museum on the Target free Sunday. On that Sunday I was able to witness the teen art community engagement activity in the same room where we had met with the museum staff. They were creating craft inspired by, and celebrating Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. It was wonderful to observe the Museum’s community engagement program in action, and to know that the teen intern program provides both cultural enrichment for a diverse group of children and adults, and the teenagers participating in the program itself.
Constance – Having just read the article in the Nation magazine, it was so interesting to see the assembled group of employees. I suppose they are making an effort to change their practices, to become more inclusive, and bring in more people of Asian decent into the workings of the museum. Perhaps the article will be a catalyst for change that some of the employees are advocating.
I spent my free time in the museum in the special exhibit hall viewing the works of Noguchi /Hasegawa. I found the work to be very grounded in traditional Japanese culture and aesthetic and yet at the same time reflect a very mid-century modern vision. I found it was very soothing compared to the conversation with the museum’s employees.
Barbara H. – Meeting with the Public and Community Programs Team was enlightening and concerning to me. Hearing about the programs for the community at different age levels was the enlightening part. I was surprised when Alison Wyckoff, Associate Director of Public and Community Programs refer to Avery Brundage as a “Nazi” with no further explanation. No doubt, he was or was an assumed Nazi sympathizer at the time in part because of the stance he took as an official in the 1936 summer Olympics which had been awarded to Germany. He fought against the boycott because the site had been awarded to Germany before the rise of the Nazi regime. I felt Alison should have told us more about Brundage’s complex persona.
Avery Brundage was an art lover, especially Asian art, and giving his collection to the City of San Francisco was the birth of the current Asian Art Museum. Upon questioning, Alison told us that his collection is 1/3 of the current collection. To quote from his speech at the opening of the new wing of the DeYoung Museum for his collection on June 10, 1966, he said, “ The principle reason my collection was given to the City of San Francisco was that San Francisco seems to be the gateway to the Orient, and the Fine Arts Museum, with the cooperation of the great educational institutes of this area, already interested in Oriental history, languages, religion, and philosophy, can be developed into an internationally important center of Oriental Culture.” He wanted to help bridge the gap between the United States and Asia. Today, San Francisco is a multicultural city with an Asian population of 267, 915, just over a third of the total population. Fifty-three years later, it is even a greater gift of art and a gift for cultural understanding .
Also, I was surprised that the community-invited experience to participate in the Japanese Annual New Year’s Bell-Ringing Ceremony was not mentioned. Held on the last day of December, a 2,100 pound 16th century Japanese temple bell is struck 108 times to usher in the new year and to curb the 108 mortal desires (bonno) that according to Buddhist belief, torment humankind. Open to all, it is an outreach to the Japanese community and a bonding experience for all.
As a visit to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum was not new to me, I decided to concentrate my time in the special exhibit, ‘Changing and Unchanging Things: Noguchi and Hasegawa in Postwar Japan’. When I stepped into the first gallery, I was completely drawn into it. I had a feeling of calm. I wanted to see all of it. There was a feeling of space between each sculpture and each painting to fully enjoy and study each one. I saw the entire exhibit without focusing on one specific piece of art.
On the Saturday following our class, I went back and this time to take a more in-depth look. This time I did choose a painting by Saburo Hasegawa, ‘Pure Suffering’. This painting was done around 1956 when he was suffering from cancer. The calligraphy is done in wide black strokes on old stained rough burlap. The uneven burlap represents the aging body. The calligraphy represents the token the cancer has inflicted upon this body. The small black spots represent the ups and downs of living. To me the painting tells a powerful story of life. It is full of emotion and a need for reflection.
Too, I was drawn to Noguchi’s, sculpture, Pregnant Bird. Done in white marble the long, slim lines were smooth and elegant. In the middle was a small pregnant bump. I wanted to touch it and feel its smooth coolness.
Another piece that I thought it was unique and contemporary was that Hasegawa used a tree trunk cross-section for the wood block. The print showed not only his cravings but the age rings of the tree. This was entitled, ‘Nature’, 1952. It was an ink on paper.
Carol – I thought that the class might be interested in seeing an editorial about Philanthropy that appeared in the Wall Street Journal right after Ann directed our attention to the Mother Jones article about the Asian Art Museum. I thought it might be interesting to ponder how one of the lead editorial voices for the American business community is responding to decolonization efforts.
Bonfire of the Philanthropists
BlackRock’s liberal CEO faces political furies he hoped to keep at bay.
By The (Wall Street Journal) Editorial Board
Oct. 24, 2019 7:23
The philanthropy that is supporting America’s great cultural institutions is coming into existential conflict with the political climate in the artistic world. Bare-knuckle left-wing activists from groups like “Decolonize This Place” increasingly call the shots, and rich philanthropists, no matter their liberal bona fides, are being stigmatized and banished.
In July Safariland Group owner Warren Kanders was run off the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art, where he was vice chairman. Safariland makes nonlethal equipment for law-enforcement agencies, and a campaign for Mr. Kanders’ ouster started in late 2018 after the U.S. border patrol reportedly used tear gas bought from his company amid the chaos at the Mexican border.
Mr. Kanders pushed back, pointing to his “personal values around diversity, inclusion, access and equality” and support for progressive art. He held on for almost eight months before artists started boycotting the Whitney and he resigned.
Now activists want to “ride off the tails of the Whitney action,” as one told ARTnews, and purify the Museum of Modern Art. Their target is Laurence Fink, CEO of the money-management giant BlackRock. A petition promoted by the “New Sanctuary Coalition” demanding Mr. Fink “divest from prison companies, the war machine and the destruction of the global environment” has 578 signatures and support of 13 other activist groups. Last Friday anti-Fink protesters swarmed MoMA’s reopening ceremony celebrating a recent expansion.
The demand is apparently not that Mr. Fink resign—yet—but that he change his company’s investment portfolio to align with progressive political preferences. The revolutionaries are not as merciful toward hedge-fund manager Steven Tananbaum, another MoMA trustee. They seek his expulsion from the board, and on Monday protests against him resulted in seven arrests. Mr. Tananbaum’s offense is holding Puerto Rican bonds amid the U.S. territory’s debt crisis.
Mr. Fink’s firm has made it easier for smaller investors to access markets, and he may have hoped his progressive gestures over the years would insulate him from such a campaign. He has hassled fossil-fuel and firearm companies when it was politically popular. BlackRock prodded Exxon to produce a major report on climate change in 2017 and in 2018 announced it would offer “gun-free” ETFs.
Mr. Fink has also taken to writing annual letters to CEOs, unsolicited, lecturing them on their social responsibility and insisting that they address issues from “the environment to retirement to gender and racial inequality.” He then does an annual media turn as the self-styled conscience of capitalism.
Successful executives were once able to buy indulgences for their capitalist sins in the liberal culture. Today the value of such indulgences is inflating away faster than Venezuela’s currency. Mr. Fink is fooling himself if he thinks he can take the political pressure off by pulling capital out of this or that company.
Progressives are entitled to advocate for different policies on climate change or immigration or criminal justice. But targeted harassment campaigns against individual executives who have broken no laws are especially toxic to civic life. Partisan furies are spilling over from politics into business and art, forcing ostensibly apolitical institutions to take a side. This will further balkanize the country, though that may be the point.
Meanwhile, we wonder if Salesforce founder Marc Benioff is watching developments in New York with any trepidation. Mr. Benioff has been on an especially pious publicity tour seeking to ingratiate himself with the Elizabeth Warren left despite his status as a billionaire. He boasts about his philanthropic giving in the San Francisco area as an example of doing good despite being rich. That’s not working for Messrs. Kanders, Fink and Tananbaum.
As so many philanthropists come under fire for such a wide range of capitalist offenses, the possibility has to dawn on Mr. Benioff—and others among the liberal rich—that America’s biggest cultural patrons are not being targeted for how they made their fortunes, but because they have them at all.
Mission Murals & Explorations
Thomas – Having spent all of time in the Mission District I was surprised how little I knew about the murals of the area before our tour. Speaking of our tour, our time with the tour was badly mismanaged we spend way too much time looking at the mosaic on the side of the CCSF campus building. It is a large piece that belongs to the college, so I can understand giving it some time, but the exercise where we did the think, feel, wonder about it was boring drawn out and kind of pointless.
The tour itself felt only halfway planed through from our guide’s standpoint. Which was in strong contrast to the well made had outs we were given. It makes me wonder how much notice she was given to prepare for our tour?
When we got to balmy alley she seemed to be a bit more knowledgeable, but still lacking in presentation skills.
The message throughout the murals was pretty clear this is a community that is largely made of immigrants that made a space for themself and proudly made a new culture here. Which feels under threat as of current from the new money in the city.
Nat – I absolutely adored the tour of Mission murals given by CCSF alum Beatriz Escobar. I am totally grateful to her for sharing so much history and culture with us. I spend a lot of time in the Mission because the office I volunteer at is located there and I’m often putting up posters or flyering in these areas. It was really a treat to come visit these murals with a new lens as if they were objects in a museum and not just passing by them in day to day life in a rush to get to the next thing. I felt like I was truly able to appreciate them and learned so much more about the Mission and it’s position in the struggle. I was really thrilled to see the inclusion of Leonard Peltier among many international working class heroes of mine in one mural. I was really so impressed with the international solidarity displayed in so many these pieces. The best part is the murals are totally free and accessible!
Everyone loved when we met the guy (I forget his name) who claimed to be the inspiration for the man in the Giants hat being arrested in “Mission Makeover”. It was such a great reminder that this art is alive and inspired. It is truly by and for this community. I love that it is forever changing too just like the Mission itself (for better or for worse). Many murals tackled salient themes like gentrification, the housing crisis, homelessness, police brutality, and so much more. It’s such a fantastic reflection of one of San Francisco’s most important historical districts and I will take any visiting friends and family on a tour of my own of these incredible murals!
Barbara C. – Weather whimp, that’s me, It was too hot for me to walk in the Mission. So I did the tour by car. The murals are so diverse in their style, age and subject. What diversity to view. I have particularly viewed B. alley many time when looking for a parking place when I got to Sandy’s nails, In addition, I purchased a great painting of the alley, a long rectangular painting of one section so I feel very familiar with its uniqueness.
Lester – In our pre-tour class discussion: The idea and implementation of eco-museum in Campos de Sao Jose, Brazil, is quite admirable, as seniors and children maintain records and artifacts of local history and culture. With such participation and co-creation, are these more appropriately considered cultural centers, rather than the broader concept characterization as a museum? Is this the “grass-roots” museum microcosm that established museums are currently shifting towards to improve relevancy? The interplay of these two extremes remains to be seen, as the level of financial support may ultimately dictate the practicality and the quality of the museum experience.
Our class visit to CCSF Mission Campus was my first tour ever of the facilities. The influence of the Latino cultures of the Mission are truly reflected in the design of the building. Foremost is the huge mosaic tiled sun emblem on the front side facing Valencia Street. It radiates from the center, in a circular display of symbols and rich colors of the early Hispanic cultures. Then, there are large sections of deep blue tiled squares that accentuate the height and strong rigid base of the building’s facade. The friezes above the 2nd and 3rd floor windows are lined with geometric spiraling squares, in Aztec pattern, dividing the floors. The courtyard between the buildings gave a relaxing area to meditate, with a diagonal pathway to gated stairways leading to 22nd Street.
Our visit to the Mission District was to learn about the various Latino subcultures of murals through our pre-planned walk. The Mission District was indeed in the state of gentrification, with many restaurants, eateries, bars, performance venues, and pride of ownership, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of remodeled homes and newer businesses.
The rich colorful palette of murals generally involved select themes. Some of these included: the proud celebration of the artist’s culture; the protest of past injustices; the growing role of women and their independence (“Women of Resistance”, 2018); the reconciliation and recognition to overlooked groups of people; giving appreciation to civil rights leaders (“La Lucha Continual/The Struggle Continues” Susan Greene et al, 2004); the illustration of life’s dilemmas (“El Inmigrante”, Joel Bergner, 2005), and even humorous caricature protests of gentrification (“Mission Makeover”, Lucia & Tirzo Araiza).
One wonders, though, with so many murals around the neighborhood for the public to enjoy, how are we to acknowledge the truly artistic ones? Are the minor murals any less important for a particular reason? Are some messages more important than others? In reality, all murals can be appreciated in some special way by a particular target audience.
It was interesting to find that murals are either commissioned by property owners, or arranged by neighborhood groups to help revitalize and to instill pride and recognition to their area. The creation of murals originated as a form of graffiti or street art, that were typically produced during quiet times of the day or night, to minimize attention to defacing of public and private property. There is an inherent established social, or pecking order of these street “taggers’ who perform their own form of protest over existing street art, or over blank walls of buildings. An established artist who goes onto a successful career, is held in esteemed honor among neighborhood groups and the community. Newer taggers are admonished to leave existing murals alone, and to respect the artist’s creative message. There is also maintenance of artworks by the SF Art Commission and Department of Public Works, whereby unauthorized extraneous tags are scrubbed away and repainted.
Increasingly, acknowledgements of all creative team members are included within the murals themselves, thereby giving recognition to even the smallest contributor of the production, and not just exclusively to the artist (eg. “Women of Resistance”). We saw the best concentration of street murals along Balmy Alley, between 24th & 25th Streets. Most were commissioned and painted over garage doors, home facades, and fencing.
Near the end of class at 4:50 pm (we completed touring only about ½ of Balmy Alley), we rushed over to Precita Eyes Mural Art Center to admire the beautifully tiled storefront and pavement. We were fortunate to meet the founder, Susan Cervantes. Short on time, I walked solo to inspect my final set of murals for the day, at St. Peter’s Church, “500 Years of Resistance” by Isaias Mata of El Salvadore 1993.
Constance – As I walk through the Mission on a regular basis, I’m surprised by the number of murals that have come, gone and changed over the years. Some have disappeared due to fires, others because of new buildings, others have just been painted over. On our visit as a class, we focused on some very historically relevant murals- i e. the Cesar Chavez Elementary School, Carnival and Balmy Alley murals. Yet we walked past many newer murals that were not mentioned. I would be happy to contribute some information on these newer murals if anyone is interested.
I was happy we had a chance to speak with Susan Cervantes, founder of Precita Eyes Muralists. Susan and her fellow muralists are responsible for so many of the Mission Murals and beyond. We were able to view the new mosaic, Xochiquetzal at the entrance to the Arts Center and hear about the new mural at the recently opened Chase Center. Even though it was so hot, it was worth the effort in order to hear directly from one of the artists herself.
Laura – The Mission District is well-known for its colourful, vibrant murals. In fact there are many groups in the San Francisco that offer mural walking tours of the Mission, so I felt privileged that our Museum Studies class had our very own, specially-designed tour, last Thursday. We started out with a class discussion and introduction at the CCSF campus and then walked out onto Valencia Street to view the exquisitely-executed mandala mounted on the exterior of the Mission Campus building. Our prompts were to be curious, sense, wonder, imagine; to be open to fully experience the creativity, and message conveyed through each mural. It was a hot day, so we tried not to linger and I for one, sheltered in shade as much as possible. The heat added intensity and fire to the mural tour experience. We discussed briefly our initial responses to each mural we visited along the tour, and learning about each artist’s (and artists’) inspiration and motivation for creating the work. It was informative, and will lead to further enquiry for each one of us. At the end of our tour we met Susan Cervantes of Precita Eyes on 24th Street. She has been creating murals in the Mission District since the early 1970’s, joining the Mujeres Muralistas, whose founders were inspired by the Chicano Movement and the culture of their predominately Latino Community. Susan gave us some background history on the Mission murals and described her recent mural projects, notably the mural commission on the new Chase Center on 3rd Street.
It was an inspiring tour that provided us with an opportunity for further exploration and research.
Peggy – I feel like I just grazed the surface of the vast amount of street art that we have the pleasure to enjoy and learn from in the Mission. I appreciate having the class list and map of the art and and some tips regarding what to look for and will definitely make a follow up visit. This trip just whet my interest in this local treasure that I hadn’t visited for years. That being said, a couple of works stood out for me mostly because we spent more time with them. One was El Inmigrante by Joel Berger that illustrated the journey from a young man’s homeland and the grip of his mother to a new world where he hopefully can prosper. Knowing what the current immigration situation is in this country, I was uncomfortably sad with the thought of what a young man like this would find upon trying to enter this country. The nicer homes, the people barbequing, the trees, etc. that were depicted painted a picture of false hope. The young man’s closed eyes made me believe that he wasn’t sure of his decision to leave. This was painted in 2005. The mural on the Caesar Chavez elementary school depicting three predominent languages, English, Spanish and sign, of the school spoke to San Francisco’s diversity. After some research I discovered that the mural also includes letters in a multitude of languages : Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, Chinese, Arabic, Thai, Cambodian, Hopi and others. I have a feeling that kids entering there feel proud of their school. The “Mission Makeover” mural is an increible depiction of the gentrification of the Mission district. The artist clearly has deep sorrow for what has happened to the Mission in her lifetime but was able to capture the juxtaposition of the two scenes, before and after, with a sense of humor, mostly poking fun at what the neighborhood has become. I just hope that with the gentrification, the murals will always be preserved. I look forward to continuing to learn more about the murals and the messages that they impart.
Lindsey – Although I was unable to join the class for this walking tour of the Mission murals, I have walked through them many, many times. I have walked through them at night, after imbibing and feeling sparkly, I have walked through them with my schizophrenic clients to show many of them that it doesn’t cost money to see amazing art, I have walked through them with my niece back when she was little and I could see through her eyes, but most notably was a musical tour of the murals.
In the last year my in-laws and I went on a musical walking tour sponsored by Precita Eyes and the Brava Theatre in which actors and musicians performed at various murals, and we walked, guided by a docent from Precita Eyes, from performance to performance. It was magical. I particularly enjoyed learning some of the history behind the murals. There was one house with various Latinx musicians painted on the facade, and to honor these musicians the performers dressed in Zoot Suits, and danced to 1940s Mexican music, it was as if they had stepped right out of the mural.
One of the murals (that was not part of the musical tour, but I saw from the class photos that you did visit it) that I have always been fond of, is the one with the skeletal human figure working at a computer with its brain attached to a tube, and a zipper where a mouth would be. Although a heavy-handed message, it remains one that this city, in particular, needs to be reminded of regularly-we are selling our soul for tech cash, and it will be the death of us.
Beverly – According to Rethinking Museum, Redefining Value/ Projecto Ecomuseu, the focus of the Ecomuseum is to foster civil engagement. Its primary goal is to promote interaction between people; learning something, documenting, viewing and experiencing objects might be a component of the Ecomuseum, but it is not seen as a priority. According to the article, “an entire neighborhood and everything that is seen as valuable is considered heritage” and forms the museum’s archive. This seems all-encompassing to the point of being overwhelming in scope. How is quality maintained? How do things not get watered down in their impact?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines a museum as “an institution devoted to the procurement, care, study, and display of objects of lasting interest or value; a place where objects are exhibited.” This definition does not include mention of the visitor experience. Our studies of museums this semester has questioned the accuracy of this definition and studied how the idea of what constitutes a museum is being explored, questioned and redefined.
I think the Ecomuseum’s impact on the Sao Jose community is to be applauded, yet I find myself wondering why is it called a “museum” and not a “community center”? Is it because it documents and archives interviews? Is it because people take “museum” more seriously? Is funding more likely to go to a museum? The Ecomuseum organizes a fair in a park, tends a garden, organizes workshops, builds musical instruments. Will the new museum model merge traditional core museum functions, community centers, and libraries? Should the interaction of people be the most critical goal of these institutions? It could be argued that learning something is a biproduct of the interactions, that the lack of a clear structure allows for flexibility and openness that then welcomes the unexpected and unanticipated. But isn’t the quality of the new museum dependent on how seriously the participants take their roles? And who the participants are (kids and seniors vs a broader spectrum of a community)? How does the new museum maintain a balance so that the loudest voices do not dominate the discourse and direction? Can over-inclusion lead to weaker museums?
In class, Ann said, “this class is all about sharing out knowledge.” It’s an optimistic perspective on the possibilities of people coming together to learn. It assumes that participants will be prepared, contribute, be inclusive and considerate. The learning method of our class is one where the teachers facilitate and do not lecture. While I learn a lot from my fellow students and enjoy hearing about their relevant life experiences, I wonder what is lost by not having a lecture format where the teachers directly convey their considerable knowledge and insights. While the teachers may be empowering me to contribute, I wonder about the quality of what I have say and how limited it is by my lack of education on the subject matter. So too, I wonder if the museums increasing dependence of visitors to contribute and participate in a meaningful way means that they could be less impactful.
This pondering is in part because of my recent experience at the Oakland Museum of California where the visitor engagement activities in The Art of Burning Man exhibit seemed run-of-the-mill in concept, execution and visitor response. Like Nina Simon’s TED talk about Opening Up the Museum and her example of the quality of the visitor advice boards (the well-designed comment board vs bathroom wall approach), museums today need to invest in understanding the psychology of engagement to design quality, worthwhile, and meaningful experiences.
Mila – All the years I’ve lived in the Mission, I’ve always seen the murals that surrounds the area. However, this was the first time I really got to see the murals and it made me appreciate this part of town even more. The Mission is constantly going through changes – trendy restaurants and overly priced boutiques popping up every year. However, the bright, vibrant murals stand tall and cannot go unnoticed. The serve as a reminder of the Mission’s cultural heritage and of the socio-political statements we shouldn’t forget, no matter the changes.
The topic of engagement and inclusivity is a constant in class. I think the Mission Murals is a prime example of this. The murals are forever free and open to all and a learning experience sprinkled around the Mission District.
Barbara H – The Mission Murals and other street art throughout the city never ceases to astound me. There is always so much to see and so much I haven’t seen or understand. The Thursday tour was no different. I like the different styles of art, the messages, the open-air, free for all to see, and the color.
It was the first time I had seen the Cesar Chavez School mural, ‘The Silent Languages of the Soul’. The representation of spoken and unspoken languages. And that communication and understanding across cultures is possible, especially through visual art and education. The mural is a gift and lesson to the children entering through the doors of the school.
Overall, I didn’t feel there was enough time to walk the planned path, and still view and write notes about each mural. For me, this is an incentive to return at a future time and continue to explore the Mission Murals.
Thomas – Firstly, the nature of the three museums that combined into the Oakland Museum was interesting, especially the fact that the city owns the main collection. Moving on to the Native American exhibitions I greatly appreciated the way the had a counsel of members of the community that were made co-decision-makers in the way their story was being told. Out of all of the museums that we visited this semester, the Oakland Musem seemed to be doing the best job decolonizing their space. They showed similar levels of respect to all of the communities that they displayed throughout the museum.
I was quite impressed with the natural history dioramas and nature screens that I was when it was our time for free exploring the museum. They had a great cross-section of both our local area and our state’s animal life.
All in all the Oakland Museum showed up every expectation that I had, having not visited there before this class.
Constance – OMCA community-centered museum for the people. This was a quote from Christine, an Experience Developer for the museum. She explained her role as an advocate for the visitors who works along with the curator, designer and project manager when planning the exhibitions. She went on the explain the how the museum reaches out to the various communities in Oakland and has several advisory boards that work with the museum to contribute, collaborate and co-create the exhibitions. I’m impressed with the thoughtfulness of their vision and practice.
Before the Other People Came is one section that was co-created with the Native Advisory Council. The balance between traditional objects from the past and the contemporary art and videos help keep the people and their culture as living in the present rather than a dead culture from the past. There is an interactive segment (audible narratives, touchable objects) of the section that completes the experience.
Cultures Meet 1540-1604, the next section contained an object theater that very effectively paired two beautiful objects side-by-sided. Seeing the feather headdress along side the colonizer helmet created a strong emotional experience. As did the Taking of Native Lands section. The explicit storytelling of the Native genocide based on racist policies and actions told a significant chapter Native experience. But of course it didn’t end there. Revitalization and Activism is the next chapter.
I enjoyed our conversation with Christine in the cozy nook in the back of the room. I appreciated the museum’s thoughtful and reflective narrative, but would like them to develop a curriculum to enhance the experience of the visitors.
Peggy – Looking at The Oakland Museum of California through a social engagement lens I feel that this museum is more welcoming than most. Starting with the beautifully landscaped exterior and the outdoor ticket area, the visitor begins the experience in a unique way. Overall, I find the concept of combining art, history and science into one museum brilliant in that it gives the visitor a comprehensive look at the state of California. The wide rooms and spacing of the exhibits help to prevent the fatigue that you might get in a museum this size. For a closer look at their strategy for participation, I chose to visit the Burning Man exhibit since it seemed to have the most visitors to observe on this quiet Thursday afternoon. I have had a fascination for Burning Man although I am not willing to suffer through what it takes to actually attend so I was excited to peer into the secrets of the event. But I found the exhibit disappointing. The exhibit was static. There was mostly photos and logistical information on how the event came to be and how it is managed which “flattened” the seemingly dynamic event. The most excitement in the exhibit came from the enthusiastic “burners” who were chatting about their own experiences and sharing them with their fellow museum visitors. There were two films that were long and drawn out, again making Burning Man seem like a corporate undertaking. The highlight was some of the large art pieces that were created for previous events, which resided inside and outside the walls of the museum. In the rear of the exhibit was a sad room where visitors had the opportunity to engage by submitting a story in a book laid out on a table or a thought that could be placed in a plastic ball to added to a over-sized “gumball” machine where you could take a thought as a “gift” apparently to replicate the “gift economy” of Burning Man. Materials were on the shelf which allowed visitors to make origami or a macrame bracelet also for the plastic balls. No one was participating. But then again, it was a quiet day. At the beautiful, ornate temple constructed outdoors to commemorate all of the suffering and loss that has gone on and is going on in the world, visitors were asked to share a thought on a piece of wood and add it to the exhibit. There were many but there was not one that I read that actually answered the prompt relating to the theme.
“No spectators only participants” on a sign is the first message you get when you enter the exhibit. I didn’t think about until later but I guess Burning Man may just be one of those entities that doesn’t translate to a museum exhibit. You just have to be there.
Harshkumar – It was my first time to visit the Oakland Museum. Walking in looking towards the right was such a good experience before entering the ticketing area. As the class started got to learn the transformation of the museum. Further about the Californians. They had such nice artifacts. Walking towards the exist was lovely as well there were lockers which made sounds as you open them and had artifacts of each name.
I really enjoyed the visit.
Lindsey – I’ve been coming to this museum for nearly 40 years! (Probably because my mom knew of the free sections when I was a kid) It’s interesting to see what has changed and what has remained.
The Black Panther exhibit is a particularly good addition, that I don’t recall from the 1980s. I almost feel there could’ve been more, in that exhibit, since Oakland was home to the movement. Although I really appreciated being able to sift through the Black Panther newspaper replications.
I feel they’ve done a magnificent job of restructuring their Native American exhibit, and including the native council in their decisions for how to do it. I would like to know how the museum, any museum really, reaches out to a particular ethnic group’s cultural advisors, and whether the council has members that specifically work with museums. I also wanted to know if the council reaches out to museums, if they feel it has represented their tribe/s inaccurately. Regardless of having that information, I was grateful for the members of the council making decisions about how to tell their story. I wonder how I would’ve reacted when I was ten. Especially after my mom took me to her friend’s tribe’s powwow. Perhaps I’ll go back, and watch some kids in that exhibit, and hopefully no one will think I’m a creep!
Laura – Last week’s visit to the Oakland Museum was either my second or third visit this year, as I had visited the museum earlier in the year and viewed the LGBTQ exhibit that was presented during Pride month.
I was impressed with the History section we visited, particularly, the section entitled; “Before the Other People Came”. It was very well thought-out and presented in such a way to both honour the past and the celebrate the present. I was very interested to know that the museum staff had reached out to members of the local indigenous community to create a Native Council of advisors for their input on how to present the time “before the other people came”. The overall effect of the exhibit was one of sensitivity and respect of indigenous culture but also one of acknowledgment that indigenous culture is alive and thriving in modern society. That it is not something of the past, but very much of the present. I thought that the introduction of the small video screens showing indigenous people making baskets in the same display case with beautifully-crafted examples of woven baskets, highlighted the ongoing tradition of basket weaving in indigenous communities. Similarly, the conversations of indigenous peoples from different regions of California that were presented on the various video screens throughout the exhibit, brought to life the diversity of indigenous culture based on where they lived, fished, farmed, etc. I also appreciated the opportunity to both observe as well as touch some of the artifacts thus making the exhibit so much more relevant and memorable. I noticed a few other museum visitors during my visit to the History section, but they did not seem to engage with the exhibit in the same way that I did. Perhaps they were visiting the museum for a different purpose and so were merely passing through.
Lester – Our Museum Studies visit to Oakland Museum of Calfornia, or OMCA, was only my second visit in many years. My first visit in late 2000 was to see an extensive exhibit entitled, ”Secret World of the Forbidden City: Splendors From China’s Imperial Palace,”.
I had arrived early before our class visit, to see “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man”. It was indeed a colorful narrative that documented their beginnings…certainly a primer on everyone and everything relating to Burning Man. Taking about an hour to read and experience all the exhibits, I came away with a much better understanding of this annual desert celebration. Many of the unique artworks were creations by individuals, who appear to be influenced by the genres of Mad Max and Star Wars. The participatory nature of these colorful art works, pulls-in the imagination of viewers into the Burning Man’s “twilight zone”.
The California History section seemed to have unusually low lighting that forces you to closely approach each display in order to read. It was explained by Christine Lashaw, Experience Developer, that many of the items were suffering deterioration from exposure to light, and had to be rotated out in order to be restored. However, it is also likely that there is substantial energy savings as well, when there are hundreds of accent lights to be powered all day.
Perhaps the most stunning and effective display of the face-off between the Spanish explorers and the native American Indians, “When Cultures Meet”, was the stark, spotlighted contrast of the Spanish armored helmet versus the Indian headdress of feathers, with an overhead audio track of Indian elders guessing the explorers’ true intentions. From that point in time, the decline of the friendly natives began, as they were subjugated, proselytized, and their land gradually taken away by the Spanish explorers, and subsequently by American settlers. One would presume a meeting of the minds of the two cultures, but that was furthest from the truth.
The SF Chronicle just published an article, October 19, by Carl Nolte, entitled quite aptly, “The Day the Natives Showed Europeans SF Bay: ‘The End of Their World, and They Didn’t Know It’”
Celebrating the Ohlone natives’ resilience and survival, there will be an event on October 26 to commemorate European arrival in the Bay Area, which begins with the dedication of a new interpretive center at the Sanchez Adobe site, on Linda Mar Blvd, in Pacifica.
Our class was briefed by Christine Lashaw’s American Alliance of Museums article, prior to seeing her actual project at the museum. The exhibit, “Taking Native Lands and Lives”, was exactly the result of collaborating with the Native Advisory Council, and re-working the challenges, as she described. The rifles in the display case certainly gave an eerie experience to anyone standing in the path of the rifle barrels. The violent genocide described in detail by two personal accounts in the wall display, and the mapped sites of the massacres, really made me think of the cruel acts that were committed by these early settlers, in the name of Manifest Destiny. How can they lead normal family lives after committing such crimes to fellow humans? It was an excellent opportunity to meet Christine Lashaw in-person, and to hear how she shaped the exhibit, while being true to the grim historical actions against the Native people, and their on-going recovery.
The remaining time at OMCA allowed just a brief look at the Japanese internment camp exhibit, and a quick snapshot of “U.S. Immigration: Who Is Let In, Who is Kept Out”. Just before closing time, I hurriedly walked through the Gallery of California Arts section, performing reconnaissance for my next visit. The Gallery of California Natural Sciences was totally missed.
It was obvious that OMCA has many things to see, spread out over wide exhibition areas. Unfortunately, the gem that OMCA is, the museum does not seem to have the drawing power that SF museums do. However, the excellent community education, outreach, participation, collaboration, co-creativeness, and inclusiveness, are certainly strong points that the Oakland Museum of California has going for it. The Director and Board of Trustees are applauded for its innovations, striving to meet the community’s needs.
Beverly – For the engagement exploration, I chose to visit The Art of Burning Man exhibition. Covering a subject that is known for being cutting edge, avant garde, and anti-establishment, I found the exhibit itself to be fairly traditional and was disappointed that it was not more exciting, engaging, edgy or challenging. The exhibit consisted of displays of printed materials, journals, costumes, photographs, artwork, video and visitor activity areas. At the entrance, a prominent sign reads, “Join in! At the Burning Man event, there are no spectators. Everyone participates.” This sounded very promising.
The first section of the exhibit covered Burning Man’s history; its birth at Baker Beach in San Francisco, its move to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and the challenges it has faced over the years. I watched the video tracing Burning Man’s history and found it very informative but, again, very run of the mill in its format and presentation. The exhibit section that included photographs, artwork and costumes was the most interesting section. The time-lapse movie gave a bit of the sense of the scale and feel of the desert environment but from a withdrawn perspective rather than the more close-up view I was hoping for. The Shrumen Lumen by FoldHaus Art Collective were my favorite pieces. The corrugated plastic mushroom sculptures expanded and lit up with alternating LED colored lights when a visitor stepped on a circular platform.
In the back corner, there was s a visitor engagement area that has been-there-done-that activities: write a haiku, fold origami, make hemp necklaces. The area was locked up, didn’t have project materials, and wasn’t staffed. The concept was that a visitor would create something, put it in a plastic ball case, and add it to the gift-o-matic (similar to the claw crane like arcade machine). A handwritten note on the machine read, “Oh, no! We are low on gifts!” and the inside contained a several open containers and papers scattered about. If it was working, visitors could then retrieve a plastic ball and get a free gift that had been created by another visitor. The concept seemed good in that it’s based on the Burning Man devotion to acts of generosity but the execution wasn’t working and I wondered about the likelihood of the quality plastic ball contents disappointing the recipients. Another empty area had notebooks that encouraged people to fill them with prompts, “Have you ever done something simply because it was difficult? Write about it.” Or “Write about an unexpected gift you received.” Most of the contents in the notebooks didn’t seem to be responding to the prompts (but there was a nice sketch of three dogs).
In the garden, The Temple of Reunion was intended to be a place for memorial and reflection. A small sign invited people to leave a memorial or testament that is meaningful. Sadly, much of the writing did not follow this. Messages like “Get out of my swamp,” “God Bless America! and “Trust No One.” were common. It might help if the museum made the signage more prominent and larger and removed the messages that were inappropriate. To me, the messages did not respect the intent of the piece that stated, “This Temple is a sacred place for memorial and reflection. It is intended to bring healing to the world, and it was built by man volunteers, all of whom has lost something.” It was intended as a place to honor the universal experience of grieving and loss. I wonder if a different structure could have been provided that kids could’ve interacted with in a positive way. It seems like a missed opportunity that visitors aren’t creating a piece of art that will be brought to the next Burning Man.
The exhibit had only opened 5 days before my visit; I hope the museum is able to make some adjustments.
Barbara C – Several months ago I was here with a friend. We viewed a woodwork exhibit by an artist who carved a large sitting area in the permanent collection.
Thursday was the first time I meet Christine and heard about the reorganization of the museum and community involvement in the development of exhibits. “Before the others came exhibit” was very informative and the dim lighting a challenge to my vision. It was great to hear the active decision making role and participation of the Native Council. The nature of how their story is told, their basketry and other objects are displayed is remarkable. The whole floor of Ca history was fascinating.
The section in the ‘Sent Away’ exhibit on the internment/ of the Japanese immigrants and citizens during World War II was a stark statement of their imprisonment. The vase carved from a piece of wood in the woodpile was most impressive: an object of beauty produced in an ugly setting.
A particularly intriguing experience happened when I went to the restroom. A Black Oakland father and son were outside the “all gender bathroom” when I exited and they seemed perplexed /uncertain by what to expect. So I opened the door and explained that there were several stalls so each individual has complete privacy and there was a row of sinks too.
Barbara H – This was my first time back to the Oakland Museum of California in many years. Immediately realized I had been missing out. I came away with new knowledge of the history and changes made in the museum.
Christine, our docent, explained her title as Experience Developer as being multi-functional. She wears many hats as visitor advocate, an education curator, project manager. She told us how the museum came about with the merging of three Oakland museums. The museum, developed to become a community center, is a foundation, and the city owns the physical building, grounds and the collection. I think this is a good use of resources.
I applaud the museum staff for their efforts to tell the true story of California history in their exhibits in the taking of lives and lands; forced labor and forced removal of native California Indians. The massacres taking place throughout the state with Humboldt County leading the way. Also, the staff has taken a major step forward in appointing representatives from the California tribes as advisors on their committees.
I was surprised that there were few visitors in the History section while we were meeting with Christine and later during the class discussion. Four to be exact, ie, a Mother with her young son, and an older man with a young boy of 8 or 9. But it was late in the afternoon on a school day. Although in arriving before class to visit the ‘No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man’ exhibit there many people, young and old. And they were interacting with the exhibit pieces. The exhibit was fantastical.
Later I spent time in the history section in the ‘Sent Away’ exhibit on the internment of the Japanese immigrants and citizens during World War II. It was a walk through exhibit which made me feel I was with them in conversation. And then, there was only time for a quick walk-through of the art on the 3rd level and no time to visit the science gallery. I will certainly return for a more in-depth look.
Nat – The Oakland Museum was incredible. I was totally impressed with the exhibits and enjoyed our docent Christine’s insight into the co-creative process of “Before the Other People Came” and “Taking Native Lands and Lives”. I am very personally invested in the co-creative method and truly believe it will be the foundation of a movement to reclaim the institution of museums for the people they serve. “Nothing about us, without us” is a common phrase among activists that I believe embodies the neoliberal tendency to co-opt oppressed peoples struggles in an attempt to be “woke” without making personal sacrifice and often causing unintended harm or spreading misinformation. The co-creative method empowers oppressed communities to take charge of their own representation in an academic setting, confront bigotry within the museum field, and paves the way for further realization of self-determination and national liberation. There were several objects/displays that really stood out to me in these two exhibits. The first one was the woven basketry accompanied by video of their creation. It demonstrated the core message of the exhibit that native culture is very much alive and that the genocide that european settlers subjected them, while devastating, ultimately failed. I also appreciated that there was a tactile experience element to almost every exhibit such as an abalone shell to connect the raw material to the traditional garments they were composed of. It provided a connection between nature and human culture.
I also really appreciated the Black Panther exhibit. As a revolutionary socialist, the Black Panthers are an incredible inspiration to me and I loved getting to experience their history in Oakland. I would have loved to hear about how this exhibit came about. I loved the interactive elements, newspaper replicas, Nina Simone playing quietly playing, the video testimonies from former Panthers and community members, and take home reminders in the form of postcards. I will show this museum and this exhibit specifically to anyone I know visiting the Bay Area.
Why the Immigrants Come–Rosenberg Library
Pete – I go to school on Ocean campus more often than not, so I have seen all of the artwork in the library many times before, but I did appreciate the opportunity to take my time in examining the works. I especially enjoyed one of the pieces of artwork showing a Mayan or Incan goddess weaving something. I like this piece in particular because it gave me a sense of hope where many of the other pieces of art had a less positive if no less important message. All of the displays in the Science building fascinate me so I had already read all of the signage and spent a good amount of time looking at everything, but it was cool seeing other people experience it for the first time.
Constance – I was already familiar with this work because there was several more pieces of this exhibit in the lobby of the Mission Campus where I visit a few times a week. I’ve always been very attracted to the very colorful work and admire the textiles produced by this culture. I glad we had time to visit the Ocean Campus to see more of the exhibit.
The Immersive/Discursive discussion was an “ah ha” moment for me. I naturally look at the exhibits first when visiting a museum or gallery and then go back to read to get additional information. Now I know it is part of a strategy to enjoy the exhibition and get more meaning from it.
Lester – It was an educational experience to have explored the new Learning Resource Center, built in 1995, with its open-air atrium style access to the multiple floors. The modern building was a sight to behold, a far cry from the original library/language facilities in the 1954 constructed Cloud Hall days of yore!
The second floor atrium of the Louise & Claude Rosenberg Jr. Library, was the location of the contemporary Maya art exhibit from Guatemala, “Why Immigrants Come”. The display case exhibits consisted of paintings, drawings, clothing, and videos, depicting some of the hardships and injustices in the indigenous people’s homelands, which pushed the oppressed to immigrate and find better lives in America. However, there were also caveats in their pursuit for freedom. The root cause of these issues, were the corporations that capitalized, with impunity, on the undeveloped resources, thereby uprooting indigenous people with harsh treatment.
The lobby display of the colorful Maya culture art works, was a snapshot into their repeated struggles against oppression, discrimination, violence, and identity. The artists promulgated an indelible impression of their plight for all to see, emotional impacts that cannot be forgotten.
Our immersive/discursive class exercise, showed how the perception of art work can be construed, or misconstrued. I was comfortable with the immersive approach, being naturally attracted to one of the more colorful, rather cartoon-like Maya paintings on display, “Train of Death”….the title which I purposely avoided initially. The painting depicted a train filled to capacity with children and young adults in each window, who boarded the train along the top background of the canvas, which then traversed alternately right and left across the canvas in snake-like pattern, down to the foreground at the bottom of the canvas. Several train cars also showed individuals climbing on or climbing off of the train rooftops…probably hitchhiking. Looking halfway down the canvas, some of the figures appear to be choking and vomiting. Eventually, multiple skeletons and graves appear below the train’s engine at the lower portion of the canvas.
Not having prior knowledge of the Maya people’s struggles, I surmised the illustration as a precautionary warning to children and young adults being led to their deaths by some irresistible attraction, such as illicit drugs, cigarettes, or other illegal substances. The train’s purpose and origin was not obvious to me, but the outcome was readily apparent at the bottom. The painting made sense after I read the title, “Train of Death” and the accompanying narrative. The artist explained that the painting was about a relative’s quest for a better life by taking illegal means to immigrate to America. The flight to freedom is fraught with danger, when attempting to navigate their way, often resulting in death. Those that survived the trip to America, only to encounter the same hardships, prejudices, discrimination, and injustices, from which they were fleeing from in their homeland.
“Why Immigrants Come”, really deserves a more dedicated, absorbing examination to appreciate what the artists are saying about the Maya people’s struggles, injustices, and violent outcomes. I would certainly revisit the Louise & Claude Rosenberg Jr. Library again, for a more thorough, contemplative, and critical analysis of the exhibits in the near future.
Thomas – I thought it was quite interesting the way we were split into the two groups, and frankly, I am glad that I was pleased to be put into the reading first (descriptive) group. I find that it is closer to my natural learning style.
Turn to the experience of the exercise, I chose pice that had a woman being carried by two men away while her another woman tried to stop the men, yet a third woman gathered water like nothing was happening at all. Reading the description, I learned that in this particular Mayan culture, sometimes when a young couple can not get approval for their union or they can not afford the lengthy traditional wedding, the couple might fake a kidnapping.
Reading that first made me understand why the woman gathering water acted like the abduction right next to her was nothing to fuss about. It made me believe that she was in on a fake kidnapping, and that is why she didn’t seem to care. I would have had none of this cultural knowledge by looking just by looking at the piece.
Lindsey – I really enjoyed learning about the terms discursive and immersive to describe the experiences we have all had, when visiting art and history exhibits. It made me examine my own relationship to the immersive experience of viewing exhibits. I strongly believed that a piece of artwork should stand alone, and speak to its viewer without need for the discursive to explain it, however I’m reevaluating that belief. I now see that certain pieces are a form of language, that may not speak out to a viewer without knowing the creator, even just a little-with the help of a written explanation.
My personal experience was especially enhanced when learning about the artist who painted a woman’s skin as textile, and why she had done so. I’m beginning to see that the stories behind the art can breathe more life into the piece, when viewed alongside it.
Mila – Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to do the activities with the rest of the class. However, I was able to see the works of art after class. After reading through the activity paperwork, I decided to try the immersive approach in engaging with the works. While I am not Mayan, I am a refugee immigrant and was able to use my family’s stories as an emotional driver for experiencing the contemporary Mayan paintings and textiles from Guatemala.
Seeing the bright, vivid paintings reflect on such dark, horrid imagery was thought provoking. It reminded me how little thought and effort we put into each others’ lives. Underneath it all, many individuals and their family have gone through horrible pain and suffering. It was beautiful seeing a parallel in the textiles and brought the paintings to life.
Nat – I really enjoyed the discursive-immersive activity we practiced at this exhibition. It is one I do often when I visit museums but I didn’t realize it had a name! I was assigned the immersive experiment and I thoroughly enjoyed this way of engaging with the very emotionally evocative and politically relevant art in this exhibition. I am very passionate about social justice, liberation movements, and studying the history of US imperialism. I have been organizing around immigrant rights for around two or three years now so I was very familiar with the subject material. I think that enriched my “immersive” experience where if I had not been intimately familiar with this struggle I would have preferred the discursive method as there was a wealth of information available in the accompanying text. Initially, I was a little concerned that the role of the US coups, CIA plots, and general imperialist meddling was quite subtly portrayed because I did not read all the accompanying text. However, after going back and reading I was satisfied that this was the
Carol – I really enjoyed the immersive/discursive exercise. Being someone who probably leans too much on the discursive method, it was a great exercise to rely on the immersive approach. The exhibit was powerful and reflected the traumatic history of Guatemala and its people. I am constantly amazed by how much City College offers to San Francisco residents.
Our group break-out discussions are informative and spirited. Am glad there is a diversity of opinion on many of the issues we grapple with.
Barbara C. – Visiting the Rosenberg Library and the exhibition was like de ja vue. It was more than a year since my last visit to the main campus. It is the same, yet different.
I enjoyed the exhibit and Leslie’s introduction of the concepts of discursive (mind/knowledge aka storytelling) and immersive (feeling/emotion” aka “story living) museum practices intriguing. I was disappointed and challenged when assigned to the discursive approach. I am such a rebel, I prefer to take an intuitive approach to objects and read the story later. I was a little slow to get started off the bench and Christina immediately approached to object I wanted to study so I picked another. However, I reminded myself that I wanted to have a follow-up chat with her about the piece she selected. I am every fond of textiles as well and was pleased to see the ones on exhibit. Women’s weaving and embroideries is often undervalued, not by me. I am scheduled to join a Oaxaca Coast Textile tour in January, 2020.
I don’t ever remember being in the Media center. It is quite a resource for students as well as a site for class discussion. Thank you Leslie for demonstrated on outstanding midterm museum poster. Schlepping a poster downtown on the trolley, I think I will aim for rolled poster board for easy transport. Jeanine’s presentation on the DeYoung Women’s Auxiliary was inspiriting. Makes me want to encourage my friends of color and I to join.
The Black Panther film clip was an ironic way to initiate the discussion of decolonizing and indigenizing museums. When I reflected on our DeYoung visit, I expressed my questions about our docent’s perspective. Our small group was dynamic; however only 2 of us were there, one was away, and I am not sure what was up with the third. We agreed to disagree.
Beverly – Sometimes art can convey what words cannot. I think the exhibit at City College is fairly successful in sending an important message about the recent history and present circumstances of the Maya; in particular 1) the political activities and violence that are threatening the Maya, 2) the U.S.’s role in the conflicts that have destroyed communities and prompted the wave of immigrants, 3) the displacement and environmental destruction due to multinational corporations encroachment and drug cartel activities, and 4) the especially high toll natural disasters have taken on Maya communities.
The exhibition consists of paintings and textiles created by contemporary Maya. Of the two, the paintings had the most impact in conveying a message. They depict scenes of mass murders, abduction, rape, and people desperately trying to escape their situations by climbing onto trains. They also had messages of hope and resilience. The textiles spoke to the beauty of the Maya textile and the loss of tradition as Maya, attempting to fit into modern society, have had to wear Western style clothes rather than traditional traje that identify them as indigenous. The exhibit noted that international designers and businesses that have copied the Maya patterns are guilty of intellectual property theft, and this cultural exploitation undermines native textile workers and robs them of their livelihood.
I appreciated the exercise of discursive vs immersive museum practice. The see/think/wonder approach is an interesting way to initially approach a museum experience but in the case of this exhibit, I think the discursive practice made for a better understanding of the message of this exhibition.
de Young Museum
Constance – I was captivated by the shadows cast by Ruth Asawa’s sculptures on the gray cement walls of this passageway to the tower. Could it be the time of day that made them so interesting to look at? The intricate geometric patterns of the wire sculptures remind me of all the patterns found in nature. I wonder having made so many of these sculptures did she have any resulting injuries since wire isn’t the easiest medium to work with.
I was pleasantly surprised by the second floor window seating area that overlooks the museum’s patio/garden. I have been to the museum many times but I have never noticed this cozy little space!
I was struck by the difference between the previous docents at the GLBT Archive and the de Young’s docent. I did not get the same emotional connection to the collection that I did previously at the Archive. The de Young’s guide seemed formulaic and even flippant at times when we were in the Americas gallery. There was very little time left to view the Africa or Oceania galleries. I don’t feel I experienced the highlights of these galleries.
Peggy – I found a new appreciation for public space at the DeYoung or any museum where visitors can see art without having to pay an admission fee. It adds to the goodwill of the museum. The Ruth Azawa collection in the tower lobby is a gift to visitors and I enjoyed having the opportunity to stop and examine (I have often passed through there with out-of-town guests) and appreciate her work and listen to the insightful impressions of my fellow classmates. Whether it was intended or not, it was a treat to hold our class discussion while overlooking another one of the wonderful public spaces of the deYoung, the sculpture garden. Although we did not comment on it, I feel certain that everyone was enjoying the view.
The second part of class spent with the docent, Carmen, examining works from Mexico and the Mayan culture. She then moved on to the Native American Nimbres pottery. I was especially intrigued by the history, the stories and symbolism of these pieces and the discussion about repatriation. A quick pass by El Anatsui’s gold weaving of liquor bottle tops (incredible) and two pieces in West African section ended the class. It was a whirlwind through parts of the deYoung which has enticed me to return soon to see more of their regular collection and also make use of the docents who are so knowledgeable and add another level to the museum experience.
Nat – Our visit to the DeYoung started with exploring the free areas of the museum, which were created in an effort to be more accessible. I really appreciated that sentiment, but I think the fact that I didn’t know about it until now despite visiting the deYoung many times says something about how the free areas are regarded by the museum. The Ruth Asawa exhibit is wonderful, of course, but it is static and unchanging which doesn’t encourage free visitors to come back very much. I don’t want to seem overly critical because I do think it is a great step forward and should be an example to other museums.
I absolutely loved the Asawa pieces. They used natural materials as well as glass and metal wiring you might find at a hardware shop. The copper wires had a nice green patina on metals much like what is intended for the outside of the deYoung building. (I work at the Academy across the street and am always keeping a watchful eye for the green lol)
My favorite part of any museum trip is hearing from the docents who always offer a unique perspective. I loved hearing about how the museum acquired many of the pieces in the Mesoamerican, Oceana, and African galleries. It made me wonder about every other piece in the museum because they all have their own story. I hope that the deYoung makes it a priority to repatriate what must be repatriated and to share the success stories of working with other governments and communities so that other institutions will follow suit and the public can be made more aware of the ethical process of acquisition.
Lester – In all my visits to the De Young Museum, I was never consciously aware of the “free areas”, though I had noticed that museum security were stationed at gallery entryways to verify tickets. My purpose had always been to attend lectures in the Koret Auditorium, or actually see the exhibit areas. I think the idea of “free areas” at the De Young actually encourage locals and out-of-town visitors alike, to enjoy the integration of design and architecture with the surroundings, in a public space without obligation to pay a fee. However, if one wants to peruse the galleries, with the slightest interest in artwork, then perhaps the visitor may be encouraged to pay for admission. I will definitely return to the De Young Museum in the near future, for a more casual enjoyment of the “free areas”…what an exciting idea!
The Ruth Asawa wire sculptures located in the base of the Hamon Tower seemed like a dark, ethereal, earthen tone concrete cavern of sorts. The area is a transitory passageway, as you either walk up the wide stairwell, or wait for the elevator around the corner to ascend the Tower. The hanging wire sculptures are above you as you wander in. The geometric shapes look much like aquatic underwater life forms with central axis or spine, resembling jelly fish or squid, some that stretch to the point of almost subdividing. The woven wire art works are colored in neutral earth tones, made from one continuous strand of wire (as I have read from another Ruth Asawa installation in the museum). The smoothly rounded textured geometric forms stand out, when juxtaposed to the vertical and horizontal lines of the passageway. The dramatics intensify with the strategic placement of spotlights, which belies the size of the work, projecting multiple, large, angular shadows onto the walls…almost giving movement to the sculptures. With just a small devotion of time as they wander by, visitors can experience an entrancing examination of Ruth Asawa’s wire sculptures.
The remaining portion of our visit to the De Young was the docent-led tour of the Mexican, African, and Oceanic art galleries. Our docent’s focus on appropriation, repatriation and de-colonization of the artifacts, are a huge central theme in today’s re-examination of public consciousness of past acquisition methods, whether gifted by donor, museum purchase, spoils of war, by colonialism, or by just plain looting.
There is an overriding responsibility to return art work to the true owners, as records are carefully examined to determine, without a doubt, if unjust means were utilized. Some works have been returned to rightful owners (the indigenous people or their governments), while other works have been negotiated for special acknowledgements and agreements of custodial care, between the museum and government authorities…it is a work-in-progress for museums everywhere.
Here is a recent pertinent article from the Wall Street Journal:
Our docent narrated the significance of De Young’s rich, extensive holdings of African, Mexican, and Oceanic native art works, and the ownership background of each piece. Her informative session emphasized the collection from a more balanced, if not opposing, point of view. She was excellent in her instant knowledge of each art work that she presented. She freely talked about the provenance of each piece and explained the circumstances surrounding the museum’s acquisition.
For myself, European and American art has been the primary focus, in most of my art history classes. Because of the docent’s excellent presentation and explanations of the native art works, and the current political climate of museum affairs, I will definitely pay more frequent attention to these previously unstudied areas of non-Western art. It was a great introduction!
Thomas – Early starting with the Ruth Asawa sculptures of the “free space” was interest it almost felt like a forgotten installation, nor did it seem like the museum was trying to make the fact that it was not a paid area obvious.
Moving deeper into the museum I was very impressed with the level of cooperation between the de Young and the Mexican government in regards to respecting and preserving their national heritage. On that note, the de Young seems to be a great example respecting national origin and insuring proper providence.
I also would really appreciate that a very large amount of what they currently and on display is made by non American or European artists and is show in a way that doesn’t like an exploit.
I only wish we could have had more time with our docent she was greatly knowledgable and has so much enthusiasm for the works.
Beverly – I’ve been a big fan of Ruth Asawa and her hanging wire sculptures for decades and always take time when I visit the de Young to visit her pieces. I find that I see different things each time, and I especially enjoyed spending time with our class in the installation space and hearing the variety of interpretations.
I typically visit the temporary exhibitions at the de Young and I gravitate towards the modern and contemporary art, so taking time to appreciate the permanent collection was a good reminder to me of the depth of the de Young collection and how rewarding, inspiring and relevant the African, Oceanic, and Arts of the Americans can be. I wonder what treasures the Costume and Textile Arts and Photography and Graphic Arts collections hold.
The docent seemed very knowledgeable of the pieces and I learned much more because during the tour than if I’d perused the collections myself, but I did feel haunted by a few things she said. For instance, of the Stela with Ix Mutal Ahaw, she said the de Young asked around to see if any countries wanted the piece, and when no one replied positively, it meant the piece now belonged to the museum, didn’t feel like due diligence to me. I was glad that the Museum Studies reading for the week included the article about the Mimbres Pottery because I felt the docent’s approach to “pick a piece you like” and pointing out the “kill holes” really didn’t do the pottery justice.
Barbara C. – The Ruth Asawa Sculpture Installation, one of the de Young’s free spaces at the foot of The Observation Tower, is a concrete space where I can sit on the stairs to contemplate the sometimes simples and sometimes complicated shapes she created with metal and organic materials that remind me of baskets, knit fabric, organic shapes, etc. This art is hung with strong lighting in order to create intricate shadows. If asked how I would persuade a friend to come to the museum; I would call this exhibit SHADOW PLAY and share an analogy of how it demonstrates one’s beautiful facade as well as our unique “shadow selves” which we often attempt to conceal. Other classmates had intriguing critique of her sculpture as well.
In addition to this expression of her art, Ruth Asawa had a long history of interaction, teaching, and collaboration with SF Schools and well as a public legacy of sculptures at Ghirardelli Square (the Mermaids) and Union Square. There are many complex factors that influenced Asawa’s art: her gender, her Japanese calligraphy, culture, and history, including imprisonment (real meaning of “interment” during WWII). She was inspired by Mexican basketry and needlework. We assume a two-way influence between Asawa and her teachers/mentors at Black Mountain College, including John Cage and Merce Cunningham.
Other Free Spaces at the de Young
The former Artist’s Studio was recently repurposed as a new children’s art making center. Hopefully it will ignite imaginations the way the original space did. Today the Wilsey Court with its large wall installation by Matt Mullican is relatively quiet; however on Friday evening events it is full of adults and children talking, or listening to speakers or concerts. No time today for the entrepreneurial Gift Shop. However, I did pop into the Café for a drink.
Upstairs, the class over-looked the outdoor Sculpture Garden, and discussed the People and Money reading with its three big ideas:
1. Who shows in museums? How exhibitions are mounted. Where museums are located influences “who goes” to them.
2. The tension between elite wealthy donors and trustees versus the working and middle classes preferences/values. Key leaders were Laura Bragg, Anna Billings Gallup, Jane Addams, and John Cotton Dana.
3. Three main sources of museum funding are government, charitable foundations, and corporations. Federal Funding is influenced by political leaders. During the depression FDR provided a boon to the arts and artists through his Works Public Administration and other programs. JFK/LBJ gave another boost with the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1965. Reaganomics of the 1980’s destroyed museums funding thus provoking prohibitive entrance fees which impeded attendance by many working class and middle class families. Museums became more dependent on corporate and foundation donations and on gift shops and cafes for income. Membership was promoted to cultivate future donors, reaching out to younger generations.
The discussion of the George Washington High School mural controversy included the major points of view, raised in the larger community. I reacted negatively to the comment that “students of color need to toughen-up “. I am not a student of color; however it reminds me of the “women should be more like a man” perspective. No, there is inherent value to women and their point of view. How can I dialog with someone with that one-dimensional, egocentric view?
Americas, Africa, and Oceania Gallery Highlights
Docent Carmen Mahood’s discussion of cultural appropriation was nuanced; her initial comments about Steal like an Artist introduced the ideal that artists have always drawn from and inspired each other. She was not explicit that cultural appropriation occurs when you “steal” ideas, artifacts, rituals, customs, traditions from another. Carmen was less that 100% clear on that matter She spent a lot of time on the stories of the Teotihuacan frescos, the Mayan stela, Mimbres pottery, and El Anatsui’s “Hovor II” which deprived us from spending any meaningful time in The Africa, and Oceania Galleries where Leslie had intended us to spend more time. My curiosity was there as well; I was frustrated by her insistence that we see her priorities instead. I was surprised when I asked her about the need to get permission to keep the many African antiques; she said there was not problem because they were gifted to the Museum by the estates of collectors. Daa, so if a wealthy benefactor gifts them the country of origin has no claim?
When I saw my first El Anatsui’s Hovor textile-like art at the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, a key social justice commentary about the piece was the artist’s perspective that he was re-purposing a byproduct of Whiskey, which has so devastated many individuals in communities of color to make an object of beauty and value.
Barbara H. – A visit to the de Young Museum wasn’t new for me. I have been there many times and will continue to go many more times. I love the museum. I am very familiar with the building and the free space available to everyone. One of my favorite places to go for a few quiet moments and to relax is the west end of the American Gallery looking down into the sculpture garden.
I do like the Ruth Asawa sculptures woven with wire and never grow tired of viewing them. It is amazing that ‘hardware store’ wire can be bundled, woven, and tied to create beautiful sculptures of roots, branches, trees, grass, and bouquets. The sculptures hanging from the ceilings and mounted on the concrete walls, reflect beautiful shadows.
I have always admired El Anatsui’s wall sculpture of gold foil recovered from liquor bottles and sewn together with copper wire. From his concern about consumerism, waste, and the environment, he has created beautiful art installations using found objects. I wasn’t aware that he is a conceptual artist, and with assistants creates these art installations.
The docent tour was the most important part of this museum visit for me. Not only was the docent very knowledgeable, she was animated in her delivery which I enjoyed. From the Teothuacan temples; the stela to honor the royal queen; hearing about Harold Wagner’s collection of murals; the Mimbres bowls; Al Farrow’s replicated Mimbre-style bowl, ‘Man with Gun and Flag’; to the African hornbill mask, I found it all fascinating. Most important, I came away with a desire to learn more.
Claire – We started our visit to the de Young by analyzing my favorite pieces in the museum: the Ruth Asawa sculptures at the base of the Tower. I felt an instant connection to these pieces the first time I saw them, when the new Herzog & de Meuron building opened. Their organic shapes are like something strange and beautiful you might find washed up at the beach. Even more astonishing are the shadows cast by the sculptures on the plain concrete walls — light, ethereal, almost other-worldly.
From there, we moved to the *American* wing on the second floor and sat in a cleverly-designed space overlooking the sculpture garden. I loved the architecture of this building from the first moment I saw it, and I think I love it more with every visit. Every angle, every material, every viewpoint has something to interest the eye.
Next, we had a docent tour of some of the galleries. We started by viewing objects from Teotihuacan. I had seen the large exhibit from a few years ago but appreciated hearing information about the gorgeous mural fragments on display and the history of their acquisition. We moved on to an astonishing Mayan sculpture, some fascinating Mimbres pottery bowls (plus a re-created one by a modern artist), a fabulous piece of modern African sculpture created from thousands of gold foils from liquor bottles, and ended our tour upstairs by briefly looking at objects in the Africa and Oceania galleries. Overall, it was a satisfying afternoon at the de Young.
Carol – Our visit to the DeYoung was perfectly organized and contained many new discoveries for me. I had never noticed the Ruth Asawa sculptures hanging in our meeting point area. Shame on me for not being more observant. The observations of class members about the sculptures was most insightful. Loved the area we sat in for Leslie’s lecture and our discussion overlooking the sculpture garden. What a beautiful spot to sit and have a few moments of repose. Our class discussion was also robust and encompassed an array of viewpoints. Our docent tour was excellent. I’m so impressed with the personalities and knowledge the docents possess. We’ve met some docents in this class and I’ve been on many other docent tours in my CCSF art history classes over the years. Docents are highly important ambassadors for museums in their mission to educate and inspire the public. Our docent did an impressive job explaining the the provenance issues surrounding the two pieces from Mexico and Central America, respectively. It sounds like the DeYoung has navigated ownership issues with an enlightened attitude. I gained a new appreciation for the Mimbres pottery. So stunning and evocative. Thank you Leslie for organizing such inspiring visits for the class to San Francisco’s rich assortment of museums.
Lindsey – One of the first thoughts that came to mind while surrounded by the Ruth Asawa sculptures was that it looked like the subjects of an aquarium, on an alien spaceship. The pieces also reminded me of decaying leaves, as they turn into lace. One of the comments I wrote down was “moth eaten, trumpet octopus” It was the first time I allowed myself to really soak in these pieces.
I have, however, seen these sculptures many times before. In fact I bring my clients to the de Young fairly frequently. We go into the free spaces, we get coffee at the overpriced cafe, and sit in the sunshine as though we belong. Do we? I mean, I do, primarily because I have a job, a home, and I shower every day, but I am not so sure my homeless, schizophrenic clients always feel as comfortable or welcome. I try to tell them that there are a lot of free spaces within the de Young, and encourage them to return on their own, but I don’t believe they do. On the other hand I know how much they have enjoyed riding the elevator to the top of the lookout point, and sitting among the sculptures while sipping coffee. Perhaps someday if all museums are free again more people will enjoy them, and begin to feel welcome.
I don’t believe the docents are to blame for an unwelcoming feeling, and certainly not the docent that we had the pleasure of meeting. It was fascinating to learn the story behind the Teotihuacan pieces, and even more so, to learn about the suspected meaning of the pieces themselves. Learning that the water, spewing from the serpent’s mouth, was full of eyeballs because water has visions and magical powers, sounds about right to me. Without water, there is no life, after all. It was especially of interest to learn that because the de Young curators had reached out to the museums of anthropology, in Mexico City, that had been the reason Mexico loaned an entire Teotihuacan exhibit to them recently.
The GLBT Historical Society Archives
Pete – The GLBT Historical Society Archives: This was a very interesting one for me. I was completely unaware that this place existed and I didn’t know what to expect going in. When we got there I was more than a little confused because there didn’t seem to be any signs indicating that the archives were there. After going down the elevator I could immediately see that funding is an issue which is a shame since the people there clearly had a passion and enthusiasm for the collection. The collection itself was impressive and interesting with a huge variety of objects ranging from clothes to documents and everything in between. I appreciated the opportunity to see this archive in person since there is no way I would have ever visited outside of this class.
Barbara – The tour of the GLBT Historical Society Archives was a rare treat for me. Historically for the GLBT community in San Francisco and Northern California, this is an essential collection. I was aware of the archives but had no idea the extent of it or where it was located. Kelsi Evans, the Director; Ramon Silvestre, the Collections/Exhibitions Registrar; and Isaac Fellman, the Reference Archivist participation in the tour made it complete. Not only were examples pulled to show us the range of information they collect, they took the time to explain their individual roles in the operation. I was impressed with the scope and size of the collection and the work that the three individuals accomplish with the help of volunteers.
I had originally thought we were going to visit the GLBT Historical Society Museum (a store front) at 4127 18th Street in the heart of the Castro District so on Saturday, the 14th, I visited it, too. The current special exhibit is on, ‘The Mayor of Folsom Street: the life and legacy of Alan Selby, aka, Mr. S’. Through an open arch at the rear of the museum is an extensive permanent exhibit on the history of GLBT in San Francisco and surrounds. I found the ‘Dragon Fruit Project’ especially interesting. In 2013 the Asian Pacific Islands Equality – Northern California partnered with the GLBT Historical Society to record stories and oral histories which will be housed in the archives. These are collected and transcribed by volunteers. The museum is small but well set-up and the location makes it very accessible to all.
Melanie – Highly informative visit! I was impressed by the venue and the dedicated staff. It is obvious to me that this is an organization that runs thanks to a good deal of passion and a strong and clear mission. It has given me hope that there is a place in the city for organizations that can make a change and for engaged artists and curators. The rooms were very run down in the basement of a large downtown building (making it transparents that space, founding and location are a challenge) but the collection of artifacts very impressive and instrumental to not only its own museum but other museums such as the Oakland museum, The Jewish Museum and other around the country. It was fascinating to hear about how the items made their way to the archive and how they were being taking care of and used (or disposed).
it really inspired me and I would love to see if we could work together in the future.
Beverly – I appreciated the opportunity to experience the GLBT Historical Society Archives and hear directly from the director, registrar and archivist about the mission, collection and methods of this important nonprofit. I had no idea this place existed before but am now deeply grateful to those who had the vision to make such a place possible. I look forward to visiting the GLBT Historical Society Museum.
The driving factors that created the archives were the personal collections that were recognized as historically important and the AIDS crisis. I am deeply thankful to those who had the “this needs to happen” attitude that preserved history. I wonder how this collection will change as it expands and responds to our times.
Hearing about and seeing the GLBT archives was fascinating. I appreciate the effort the staff made to share archives they were currently referencing and showcase ones they thought would be of interest specifically to us. I had never heard of the Imperial Court System or the Daughters of Bilitis, and I knew very little about Sylvester or Jose Sarria. I learned quite a bit in one hour!
The Director’s quote about “a thing is just a long event” resonated with me on many levels. It seems that each museum has had a message for me, i.e. the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s emphasis on the idea that the most constant thing in life is change itself. I am enjoying how this class is making me think in different ways and see different perspectives.
Lindsey – Oy! The hair! What interested me was to find out how personal so many of the items were, and while almost every museum object is personal to someone it resonated with me to learn that many of these objects were donated in recent history, and under circumstances that sometimes hilarious-like the hair glued to the crotch of the naked Tom of Finland-style man, that had been stolen from a bar bathroom, in a drunken moment of glee.
The staff were incredibly kind and patient explaining the painstaking efforts in preserving their artifacts and documents-from the climate controlled storage area, to having the knowledge to throw out items that could compromise the integrity of whatever they’d intended to preserve, such as plastic binders, and how they would preserve items with human hair or sweat differently from flyers or books.
It brought up a lot of memories for me, to see the Mr S’s Leather sign, and the painting of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, which reminded me of days past in SF, as well as being reminded of friends that my parents lost to AIDS in the 1980s-which spurred the archives into existence, since the community was losing so many people.
Peggy – It makes sense that the GLBT museum and archive that supports it began at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1985 when the GLBT community was quickly losing so many people to the disease. It was critical to preserve the memory of these people and also document the history and their story.
The GLBT museum archive was the first archive that I visited outside of a library where there were mainly stacks of documents, periodicals and monographs. I expected to see shelves of documents like the library for people to do GLBT research but was happy to discover the archives large assortment of items on file. I especially enjoyed seeing the sequin jacket that Sylvester wore to perform and hearing that it was preserved “as is”, complete with sweat stains and lint. It never occurred to me that the jeans and t-shirt Harvey Milk was wearing when he was killed would still exist, along with his clipped off ponytail. I was amazed that they had the author’s own copy of the first known lesbian poet , a journal from a lesbian in the military, Victoria Schneider’s make up and clothing items from Gilbert Baker who had created the first rainbow flag. I found the collection fascinating.
It was impressive to discover the size and scope of this archive and made me think about the importance of preserving history for the collective memory. The archivists who gave us the tour seemed extremely professional and knowledgeable but also made me realize the power of the archivists in deciding what gets saved and what doesn’t and how they can shape our knowledge of history.
Jeanine – The visit to the LGBT Historical Society Archives was an eye-opener for me. I was so very impressed to learn that people had been collecting artifacts for so many years – that they know the importance of establishing a complete records of events. I was equally impressed with the staff who were not only very knowledgeable but also so apparently dedicated to their work and passionate about it. What an honor it was to meet them. They are the unsung heroes of our times. I was mentioning the visit to a friend of mine who told me he had been a part of the collecting effort many years ago. He was happy to hear our class had made the visit.
I look forward to seeing future exhibits featuring items from the archives. After the visit I wondered who is now collecting artifacts about today’s movements, where they will be stored and who will maintain them.
Thomas – I am very impressed with the incredibly important work they are doing in the GLBT Archives, how few people that they are pulling it off with. Capturing and celebrating the lives and stories of a population that has historically been oppressed and forgotten, so that our history is recorded as diverse as it was in life is immeasurably valuable for future generations. That said, I want to express my gratitude for the work that they do and for taking the time to show our class around their facility.
I would have never thought that going to an archive would have been so moving and enjoyable. It was the artifacts in their collection that brought out such strong reactions in me. It was quite interesting to learn about the variety of objects they hold and preserve in the archives and some of the unique aspects of ensuring their safety in the loaning process. Laying my own two eyes on pieces of history that I hold close to my heart was well worth the extra time spent in the archive, to be honest, I could have happily spent all day perusing their collection.
Personlly, I am going to try to see how I can fit some volunteer hours in the archives as soon as I can.
Reply to Thomas from Jeanine – So glad you will be helping them out. I agree with your comments about the vital importance of their work.
Mila – I’ve passed by the GLBT Historical Society Archives a countless number of times and never knew it was there! It was such a pleasure getting to view such intimate pieces and materials that have made such an impact on San Francisco and the LBGTQ history. What I enjoyed most is the tongue-in-cheek nature of much of the materials. What a joy to see that these materials are seen as significant and valuable! It was also interesting to see how sexuality and flamboyance had been explored over the decades as well as the progression into outspoken pride.
The spectrum of materials was incredibly fascinating. I think it is so important to see the radiant costumes of legendary icon Sylvester as well as the heartbreaking stories of discharged military soldiers. It was clear that the archivists and registrar were passionate about their work and it emanated through the stories they told.
Barbara C. – This Archives visit exceeded my expectations. I thought it might be very dull. I was so please to find it very enlightening. It is as if the The GLBT individuals are having direct input into how their legacy and life will be remembered and recorded for oral, visual, and written history. The three docents/ guides were informative and each had their special focus. Their rapport was indicative a strong collaborative team, who communicate well together. Hearing their individual stories was a treat. Their paths to GLBT Historical Society Archives were intriguing; particularly, I appreciated the education journey of the Curator who did his archeology PHD in Arizona. I was impressed by the simple numbering methods of cataloging.
The factual information was varied. It was disheartening to hear that in the past decades, military discharges for being gay and out in the military resulted in a discharge below “dishonorable”. I learned some new history about early GLBT political activity, entertainers and artists. Textiles and costumes are a special interest. Photographs tell wonderful stories without of words. I was a valuable visit.
Constance – It is always more interesting when accompanied by an docent (in this case three very savy staff members) on a visit to a museum. I was grateful to hear about their training and experiences working at the archives. I appreciated the different personal stories each one shared. It gave a more intimate feeling to the visit. I also learned about some contemporary SF history I hadn’t known about. For example, Jose Sarria who ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1961.
When I think of archives I usually imagine documents-newspapers, magazines photographs… This is where this archive differs from the traditional type. Its collection holds many physical objects as well, everything from costumes to artwork. This visit has expand my notion of what can be collected in an archive.
Claire – Nothing is more exciting than discovering something new, especially if it’s been right under your nose for years. I had no idea the GLBT Historical Society Archives existed, or the Museum (which I’ve probably walked past dozens of times over the last 8 years), so this field trip was really interesting. I enjoyed learning about the history of the Archives, what they contain, how the materials were (and are) acquired, what kinds of items go out on loan, and who requests them. The range of objects was fascinating, and in many cases a lot of fun, such as the performance costumes of Sylvester and the “re-imagined” board games. It felt electric to be inches from a t-shirt and pair of jeans worn by Harvey Milk and very moving to learn about the extensive materials from people who had served in the Armed Forces. I also enjoyed learning about the educational background and training of the archivist and registrar, and the different directions that kind of training might lead. The resident librarian discussed the emotional connection people have to the materials of this particular archive and how that might differ from other kinds of archives. Overall, well worth the visit. My next stop will be the Museum!
The Contemporary Jewish Museum
Enrique – This was my first visit to the Jewish Contemporary Museum and I was very impressed with the architecture. The fact that it looks like there is a giant block crashing into the building is super interesting. From the outside you would think it would be an engineering museum or very specific art museum focusing on sculptures. The building itself had a very unique history and I’m glad the docent was well educated on that. I am a fan of history of buildings and that is the only docent I can think of that thoroughly explained the history of the JWC. As for the inside of the building i did like the exhibits on the bottom but was kind of confused behind the meanings of the exhibits on the upper level. I thought the dance video was nice to look at and was an art in itself but I didn’t see the correlation between the pillars and the dancers outside. The other exhibit offered nice pieces of personal artwork that resembled ropes. The dark energy exhibit actually had a nice video of two break dancers and compared the dark energy to music and how that is an art. I thought that that specific exhibit should have been a little bigger considering the message behind it was pretty interesting.
Lester – Our docent was quite scholarly in the history of the CJM facade, a former power station, and in the symbolic design/architectural elements of the interior spaces. This was my second visit to CJM.
Four years ago, I had taken advantage of the Bank of America promotion, which offered free admission to a handful of local museums. The “Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait” exhibit was the main draw at CJM, at that time. Amy Winehouse was a famous singer and song writer from the UK with Jewish roots, who died at the young age of 27 from excessive alcohol consumption. There were many influences in her career, from early childhood through her early adult life. It was an excellent exhibit that highlighted her family relationships, her unique clothing styles, personal guitars, music collection, personal artifacts, and the inspirations and interpretations of her songs. It was an intimate look into her private life, in contrast to her public personae.
On our class visit, the CJM docent prepared an excellent review of the symbolic references, made by Daniel Liebeskind, who designed the museum. The docent’s thought provoking narrative included simple questions that drew observations from us about what we saw, why the wall bulge and converge, the number of steps up the stairwell, the number of window slits, the angle of the window slits, etc…all were significant references to the Jewish faith and their religious values, which were explained in detail. It was obvious how valuable a docent-led tour can be, to familiarize the visitor of the original intent of the CJM creative team, that otherwise may be glossed over superficially by the casual museum attendee. I was a little disappointed, though, that the exhibits on hand, one by Annabeth Rosen and another by Daria Martin, were not included in our docent-led tour. .
One of the best ways to share cultural values and to promote goodwill and understanding, is to appeal to the natural affinity for food. The integration of the Jewish-themed food purveyor, Wise & Sons, was a smart marketing decision that celebrates the culinary pleasures introduced by Jewish immigrants to America, such as pastrami on rye, matzoball soup, and cheese cake, among other delights. The CJM’s surrounding SOMA neighborhood previously lacked such a culinary destination. This concept of offering ethnic related food to supplement exhibits, improves awareness and appeal of a museum’s exhibits, whether permanent or temporary. Unfortunately, Wise & Sons was closed during our afternoon visit. A future visit is truly worthwhile, to absorb, appreciate, and digest the symbolisms inherent in the CJM…definitely food for thought!
Melanie – I loved everything about this visit. First the collision between old and new within the building itself. Every detail translates a will to embrace multiple points of views and points of time. This museum is acknowledging the past while tackling the future; it is challenging the visitors to feel and question themselves about their place in the museum, in the world but also spiritually. Everything in this place has a meaning, a purpose; it was fascinating to learn about the Letter of Life in Hebrew and its influence on the design of the building and its significance for the Jewish community and beyond. I love that I felt at times challenged by the building especially in the entrance and in other areas at peace and contemplative. The museum engages the visitor’s 5 senses and it’s quite an interesting experience, I’m eager to go back.
Pete – This was my first museum experience with a docent, so it was an interesting change from what I am accustomed to. It forced me to stop and focus on things that I would have normally passed by with barely a thought. The docent spent a large amount of time on the history of the building, which was very interesting. From just looking at the outside I had no idea how much history the building had (I also had no idea that there was a sort of second building built inside the original building). Ordinarily I would have seen much more of the museum than the docent showed us, but I wouldn’t have seen it as clearly or as deeply. I enjoyed my time in this museum and it was fascinating learning how much thought and care was put into the construction; seemingly everything (including the number of stairs) was deliberate.
Constance – This was my first visit to the museum. I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the building’s history and its transformation from PG&E substation to a museum.
I would have never bothered to look at the building so closely if our docent hadn’t insisted on it. The outside right- hand brick wall was an interesting collection of bricks used in its reconstruction after the earthquake of 1906.
The other thing I was intrigued by was when our docent explained how the “starchitect” used Hebrew letters to inspire the shape of the building’s addition. He also gave an in-depth explanation as to various other elements of the building that are important to Jewish cultural beliefs-18 stairs for good luck; 36 windows for double good luck.
Thomas – I am going to preface my post by saying that since I went by myself this afternoon I do not what the prompt was or what was said on the class tour. Based on the post that I have read and that reading for last week was chapter was The Building I am going to write my post centered on the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s building.
At first glance of the outside of the building, it has a strong and classic presence granted to it by the old fashion red brick construction that plays well with the contrast of the white marble accents. The grand marble arch of the main entrance feels a tad bit daunting, turning to the large windows their marble framing really makes them pop and lightening the building’s visual composition and brings in a lot of natural light. The clean and crisp linework of all the marble carving shows the high level of time and care put into the building’s masonry.
Moving inward, it is not what one is likely to expect from such a classic facade with high ceilings, sharp geometrically angled interior walls and a very open floor plan feels incredibly modern.
Walking around the ground floor I was surprised and delighted to see the Zim Zoom Family area, it looked like something I would expect to see in the Exploratorium. That being said there was an impressive level of multimedia throughout the museum.
Claire – This was only my second visit to the CJM since its opening. My first visit several years ago was for a college alumni gathering, which did not include an opportunity to see any exhibits. On this trip, I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the history of the building, the post-1906 earthquake brickwork, and the design ideas behind the renovation. I like how the museum fits into the surrounding urban area, with the plaza fronting Mission Street and the pedestrian area with restaurants to the west.
While I’m intrigued by the interior, I’m still not sure what to make of it. It feels like an alien spaceship crashed into a Neo-Classical building, but how does that facilitate, compliment or improve the programming? I don’t know. The sharp edge of the reception desk (and jerry-rigged metal thing installed on the floor to keep people from whacking into it) did not seem user-friendly. I was interested to learn that Hebrew letters inspired the shape of the new addition but couldn’t really see the connection while moving through the space. I loved the installation in the central lobby with the globes and lights, as well as the diamond-shaped windows on the second level, the symbolism of their number, and the optical illusion of different shapes and sizes created by their position. Very cool effect.
Reading the website, I was surprised to learn the CJM is a non-collecting museum. I think it’s a great idea because it allows them so much flexibility in their programming. I also thought the website was one of the best museum websites I’ve ever encountered. It was clear and easy to navigate, and I especially liked the breakdown of options for different groups: adults, families, teens, and teachers, etc. and the various filter options. Much of what’s on offer sounds extremely appealing, so I’ll definitely be back!
Barbara C. – To preface my reflections, I was aware I was having a tough week and might have been better served with a nap. My inner critical voice was reacting negatively to several matters. One, I had planned to enjoy eats from the Jewish Deli and was disappointed it was closed. Furthermore, these was no shopping to improve my mood. Three, There were few seating arrangements to rest my weary bones.
The outdoor observation and history presentation was a repeat of a May, 2019 visit and the weather was better that day. It is a fascinating conversion and conservation of an old PGE power plant to a post modern museum. Guess I have a preference for the grandeur of The Legion of Honor, the rebirth of the DeYoung, and the creation of the Smithsonian African American Museum of history and culture. This one does not do it for me.
I will return to see its special exhibits and hopefully the deli were be open. In May, during the Lew the Jew exhibit which chronicled his life as a tattoo artist, he was described as “never married” rather than single, or a life long bachelor, etc. I reacted to that negative label; the recent docent feedback form we got in class provided the impetus for me to follow-up by email with the Museum Educator. I wanted to give feedback on this negative social judgment. Part of my reaction was the contrast between this comment and the very sensitive, exhibit about 2 social activist women in Europe who were life long partners and collaboratives in their art and actions.
Bernice – Much in the CJM gave me extended thoughts. The word Havruta describes a method of study where 2 or 3 students debate and expand on a text from the Talmud. It sounds like a good method of learning, which is similar to how we discuss the readings in class.
(((What We Hold))) A Youth Audio Project gave me new ways of thinking about personal history. “Following the path to wholeness means claiming the parts of ourselves that can feel risky or scary.”
Annabeth Rosen’s exhibit, one piece caught me with an unintented interpretation, in haiku.
“Flat White and Broken Bowl”???
NO! Stacks of skulls.
Rwanda, Khmer Rouge, Auschwitz,
Peggy –If Daniel Libeskind’s intention was to make the Contemporary Jewish Museum goers feel uncomfortable or oppressed, I believe that he achieved his goal. When we entered the building and I was faced with the large white wall that slanted toward the entrance and standing in the narrow space, I immediately wanted to walk out. The industrial lighting is an interesting harkening to the past use of the building as a power station but the multiple globes seemed like an afterthought and a stretch toward symbolism.
Standing on the plaza and examining the exterior of the building with its use of historical brick and neo-classical ornamentation, I had a very warm and positive reaction. I do love traditional buildings especially this one with the juxtaposition of the large blue steel geometric addition providing a modern look and a bit of folly to a rectangular space. Seeing it the first time reminded me of the I.M.Pei pyramid at the Louvre.
I appreciated the subtle Jewish symbolism like the 18 steps (chai) and especially the 36 (double chai) randomly positioned windows in the gallery we visited. I felt that the chai shape on the roof was a stretch but an interesting idea. Since the history of Jewish people in San Francisco goes back a long time and the fact that they are more assimilated than in most cities, I felt that the concept of the museum and Libeskind’s design hit just the right tone, more cultural than religious, and more in the present day.
Mila – I found the tour with the docent to be quite interesting. I was particularly interested in relationship between the former identity of the building and what it has developed into. The tension between the old and new gave the building a dynamic sense of progress and development. This was reflected in the museums philosophy – to never have collections, but rather constantly move and change towards the future of society and ourselves.
Though abstract, the fundamental mission and goal of the museum was seen inside and out. The architecture was built to symbolize (and even translate) “Life” (chai) in Hebrew. Even the number of stairs symbolized chai. It’s evident that CJM reminds us to never forget who we are and where we come from, but to always look forward.
Beverly – I very much enjoyed my first visit to the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Ron, our group tour guide/educator was very engaging, informed and an excellent representative for the museum; truly helping convey the museum’s history and core purpose of being “an engaging forum for diverse audiences where new perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art and ideas thrive.” The distinguishing features of the museum are its innovative and unique approach to exhibitions and programing and the Daniel Libeskind-designed facility.
As a non-collecting institution, CJM’s lightened itself of the role of collection, storage and conservation, and this freedom has allowed it to focus its resources on internally curated and traveling shows and on its impressive breadth of scope of program and events aimed at educating, challenging and inspiring. With its focus on cultural experiences and bringing people together, it is more like a high-end cultural community center than a traditional museum.
Clearly, a lot of thought went into making the building a dramatic, dynamic and meaningful space. A merging of a repurposed 1907 power station and a bold, new sculptural space is unusual in the way it intently maximized contrasts of old/new, horizontal/vertical, stable/unstable, outside/inside, welcoming/guarded, comfort/disorientation. I liked the unique spaces and the light quality, but I found the building flow to be awkward and disorienting. The angled walls/ceilings and juxtaposition of materials and spaces reinforce the notion that nothing is constant; things are always changing. I found it interesting that Libeskind’s design is specific to Jewish history in San Francisco dating back to the Gold Rush, in contrast to his Jewish Museum of Berlin that is specific to the repercussions of the Holocaust.
CJM switching the museum store to a community engagement center (reducing the retail to a small popup) sent a message that the museum is more interested in engaging visitors on an intellectual and social level than being an entertainment/shopping destination.
Prior to visiting CJM, I visited its website and found it to be very well designed. The programs and events section, with its full calendar of programs and events for adults, families, teachers, teens, etc, especially highlights the museum’s strengths.
Based on its team page, the percentage of woman was around 75% and I wonder if that’s unusual.
Jeanine – Our tour of the Contemporary Jewish Museum had several “Aha” moments, which made it a delightful visit. One of the mysteries solved was what the space inside the “Youth” cube looked and felt like. From the outside it was very hard to imagine what the interior was like. I wondered how the architect envisioned the look and feel of the interior when designing it. Another mystery solved was the inspiration of the structure, the Hebrew word and letters. It was amazing to think about the architect’s creativity in combing and integrating the new spaces with the original exterior walls and materials. Finally, having such a wonderful explanation of the lobby installation provided much enlightenment (no pun intended). I extend a special thanks to our docent, who was not only very knowledgeable but also very patient.
I have been to several exhibitions at the CJM, all of which have been very, very good. Always educational, always thought-provoking. I look forward to future visits which I believe will be much enriched as a result of our class discussions and tour.
Barbara H. – Our docent, Ron Glait, was very good and very necessary for the tour of the museum. Not only was he well-informed on the history of the building, he, himself, is of the Jewish faith and explained the religious aspects of the structural building. (During the tour I wondered if visitors could know and appreciate all of the aspects of the building without a docent.)
The history of the old PG&E Power Station, and the beautification of the front of the building in the neo-classical style by Willis Polk was fascinating. Approaching the main entrance, the blue cube addition to the building is not entirely visible. (Again, I wondered if visitors would be aware of it.)
I have mixed feelings about the interior of the museum. It was stark and white, and I found it cold and uninviting. The exposed interior walls retain the look of the original power station and enhances the awareness of the history of the original building. Most impressive, in the main lobby is the massive multi-faceted sculpture, Lamp of the Covenant, by the artist, Dave Lane. It is mounted overhead.
Ron walked us up 18 steps to the interior of the blue cube which is the multimedia gallery. We learned that the number, 18, means good luck and the 36 diamond-shaped windows means double good luck. We did talk about the changing light patterns coming through the windows and the changing feel and emotion in the space.
I came away from the field trip with unsettled reactions to the museum. I do intend to return and view the exhibits and other areas in the building to gain a better understanding, and feeling of the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Lindsey – I loved learning the history of the building, and how the new had been incorporated into the old. I overheard Loretta say “It’s an old power plant with a meteor crashed into the side” Which I thought was apt. As much as I dislike the clean, hard lines of postmodern architecture, I was actually quite fond of this building. The combination of the two buildings, or upcycling of the old, seemed much more dynamic than an entirely postmodern building. Also it seems a great way to maintain older structures that have the character and adornment I so appreciate.
Being in the Yud room did indeed inspire a feeling of reverence, and the windows made the room seem as though it were floating in the cosmos. I especially enjoyed the exhibit with the globes, and that the many vintage light fixtures were referencing the power station, that had once lived in the building. It was impressive to learn how each brick had been placed precisely back in it’s original home after the renovation.
Yerba Buena Gardens/Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Bernice – I focused on the l;Ibarra, first. Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution assemblers by Andrew Boyd, gave a number of insights on how to make your message vivid and relevant. “Take risks, but take care” states: Direct action carries some inherent risk. That’s the whole idea. Designing an action is therefore about minimizing that risk in a way that is accountable to participants, the community, yourself and the movement. When activists let the romance of confrontation overshadow meticulous care in action planning, they may put others in harm’s way, or may leave the movement to deal with the consequences of their risky behavior.” I have seen others and myself have fallen into the temptation of this fallacy. Other key books within the lending library include The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin looks at the role of race in American history and in religion; The Lorax, familiar to many as a children’s book and movie about the deterioration of our environment due to industrial economic exploitation. The Lorax “speaks for the trees.” It is an example of addressing words on a child’s level may have persuasive effects on adults as well.
I could not leave Yerba Buena Gardens without a visit to one of my sacred spots, the MLK Memorial Waterfall. The water sprays back upon those who stop to read the texts, representing a baptism in the truths presented which were true at the time of MLK and remain so today. MLK quotation on Memorial waterfall: “No. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Barbara C. – The Gardens are a treasure of visual and sensory delights. The green lawn on a pleasantly warm day is covered with a variety of folks, junior and senior, reading, sleeping, romancing, witnessing, and so on. The tree and plants span many species; the unique colored geraniums as we entered particularly caught my eye. The pastel colored chairs, swings and picnic tables stimulated my wondering about the person whose job it was to requisition such delightful objects. It looked like a crew was preparing for and event. Even the sidewalks have the footprint or hoof print of animals and birds.
I was a bit lazy and viewed the water fall from afar. It is very appealing; I appreciated my groups close up descriptions and reactions. This setting is a great one for a respite from the whirlwind of downtown city life and an opportunity to experience musical entertainment. I was so focused on the NOW, I neglected to reflect on who possessed this land before and who do I need to thank for the opportunity to enjoy this special place,
Enrique – This wasn’t my first visit to Yerba Buena Park, but this was the first time I noticed two other public exhibits. As I walked around and took in the park, I noticed that both other pieces in the park had true meaning too. They resembled life and its full experiences and how we grow as individuals. The waterfall piece is the piece that gets the most attention because of its loud noise of the waterfall crashing against the rocks. The more important part lies behind the waterfall and describes the struggle of African Americans during the ‘60s. MLK Jr is a very honored man and would have been proud to see the unity of all different races, religions, cultures, etc throughout Yerba Buena and San Francisco.
I enjoyed walking around and taking in the scenery and truly understand the importance of the exhibits in Yerba Buena Park. I know it can be easy to miss the little things but I advise everyone to take your time when you’re exploring an area.
Pete – I spent the majority of class time inside the lobby of the arts center, which was surprisingly welcoming considering my automatic response when I first walked in. At first I saw white walls and grey floors, which generally is not what I would consider inviting or welcoming, but after a short time I realized that I felt comfortable. A lot of that had to do with how open and inviting everything looked with all the couches and chairs, but some of it had to do with the splashes of color found throughout the building.
After class I spent a fair amount of time walking in the gardens, and considering that they were in the middle of downtown San Francisco, the gardens were surprisingly quiet and peaceful, beautiful too.
I enjoyed my time at the first museum of the semester, and I am glad that this class gave me the opportunity to see it. I do not live in San Francisco, so these smaller museums easily escape my notice, which is a shame since smaller museums can often be the most fascinating.
Lester – The Yerba Buena Center For The Arts (YBCA) lobby is quite an impressive design of architecture, visually striking, with tall, vertical windows and columns, allowing natural light to brightly bathe the white interior halls.
There is a dynamic flow that engages the visitor. The wide stairway to the second level is split into three, by two landings, that give an ascending rhythm of movement. At the center overlook above, a static disc is revolved a quarter-way out of the wall on its own vertical axis, that breaks the monotony of the flat white wall with perceived movement.
What stands out in the lobby are the areas dedicated to relaxation and introspection, like the couches, tables and chairs, and book reference areas where books are self-borrowed out on an honor system. Simple in function and designed with clean lines, the admissions counter and adjacent book displays are contrasted in black and gray colors, which are in front of the warmer, approachable wood paneling background. The sparse offering of books and gift items accentuate the carefully orchestrated selection of products.
Likewise, the bookstore is simply arranged with a limited but pertinent array of books and gifts. A self-serve refreshment table immediately greets you just inside the doorway. Convenient tables and chairs encourage a more relaxing, informal, and thorough review of the publications offered for sale.
For me, YBCA is a totally new concept of the museum experience. This modern, flowing design catches my attention. I am pulled into the environment with its openness, brightness, calmness, and its willingness to engage me. The amenities encourage participation, evoking thought, meditation, and appreciation.
Mila – Walking around the gardens felt like an introspective retreat. The gardens are paved in a way that creates harmony, yet allows for individual space. Walking through the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial felt like a completely removed experience. The uproarious sounds and splashes of the water feature created a sense of uneasiness and tension – a nod to the societal fighting and resistance of the civil rights movement. As I exited the memorial and walked up the second level of the gardens, my experiential lens had shifted to viewing the juxtaposed cityscape. The surrounding skyscrapers and buildings became a growing backdrop for the carved out oasis I was in. This posed an interesting relationship between YCBA and its gardens and the hustling city of San Francisco.
Peggy – The YBCA and Gardens seemed to have sprung out of nowhere for me in the 90s while I was busy with work, family and life. I was thrilled to discover it in the late 90s when it housed a children’s museum (Zeum) and playground. I had walked through the gardens on my way to a movie and regularly attended dance performances at the Theater. But I had never really stopped to think about the beauty of the green space, the well-place walkways, the provocative and carefully designed MLK waterfall and monument, the two exceptional sculptures, and perfect choice of materials. On a more thoughtful examination of the garden last week and observing the number of people who were enjoying it in the late afternoon, I realize that it was a great vision to provide this oasis in the middle of a congested area of the city and a gift to all of us who work and live here.
Claire – I moved to San Francisco after college, in the fall of 1985, so I was interested to view Janet Delaney’s photos of the neighborhood that is now Yerba Buena Gardens and YBCA. It was shocking to see what “had been,” especially because the city around YBCA is so different from when I arrived 34 years ago. Almost nothing in those photos looked familiar except distant views of the Transamerica Pyramid. The images made me reflect on the transformation of cities, both dramatic and subtle, that takes place on a daily basis. Some changes are so incremental you hardly notice they’re happening, especially if you don’t travel around on a regular basis. But the re-development of Yerba Buena Gardens and YBCA (and Moscone Convention Center) clearly wrought a massive upheaval. In light of the extreme transformation taking place in San Francisco currently, it’s hard not to think about the human cost of these changes.
However, when I’m in the area, I do enjoy Yerba Buena Gardens. I like to stroll through the open spaces, admire the plantings, and check out live performances. I love the sound of the water features, but don’t often linger. For me, the Gardens are mainly a pleasant “passing through” place on the way to SFMOMA.
YBCA, on the other hand, is still a bit of an enigma. I’ve never really understood the full scope of what happens there and after the field trip I’m only slightly more enlightened. The space felt welcoming, but the information about programming was pretty subtle. In general, it never seems as well-publicized as that of other local cultural institutions. But my curiosity has been piqued. I was glad to learn more (from the website) about the mission to focus on cutting-edge, community-oriented art and performance, and I’m planning to make more of an effort to find out what’s going on at YBCA and visit more often.
Beverly – I appreciate that YBCA is looking to redefine the role of arts institutions in a community-specific way. There’s an immediacy to the work supported – making YBCA very much about the NOW and being in tune with the pulse of our times. This is manifested in a variety of art modes beyond what is typically found in a museum (visual, film, theater, dance art forms) and its Culture Bank that seek to bring people together in new ways. YBCA actively supports artists and the community with commissioned works – it is more active in being a part of the creation process than a typical museum that acquires a piece that’s already complete. It’s a place that wants to be current and thought-provoking, has culture at the core of its activities, and that encourages debate and dialogue with a left-wing political viewpoint and mission of embracing radical inclusivity. Its website states, “Today, as public trust in our institutions and our leaders continues to erode, there may be no role that is more important for our cultural organizations to plan than to be places for people from all walks of life to come together in dialogue.”
What I didn’t experience in my recent visit (and perhaps it was because there was no open exhibit) was a welcoming environment. The Forum’s doors were not well marked, the interior space was oppressively bright, and there was no prominent “Welcome! Here’s what we do – enjoy!” signage. The employees seemed more interested in talking with one another than engaging visitors. I wondered if this situation was a crafted, intentional, pretend openness and if YBCA at its core wants to only be inviting to a select group of visitors that come to YBCA for a specific target-marketed event. There was a preciousness to the bookstore and book lending that made these “resources” seem half-hearted, mostly for show and unclear for whom. CCA’s role at YBCA was unclear and tenant-like. The Abeyance public art fell short for me as well. It was almost as if YBCA was mandated to have a public art piece in a prominent place and it satisfied that requirement with the least amount of effort and expense.
Attending many dance events at the forum and theater over the years, I have experienced how uplifting and engaging YBCA can be. With its incredible location, I think YBCA is falling short on its mission to set free structures that privilege certain perspectives and exclude others. Those inside the YBCA buildings get to appreciate the privileged view of the gardens without truly engaging the reality of the San Francisco public that’s well represented in the microcosm of YBC Gardens – a mix of tourists, blue and white collar workers, students, homeless, and drug dealers and addicts; people of all ages, races and social and economic positions. Is YBCA being true to its goal of radically embracing and including these people?
Cookie – As a metaphor for santuary: a known motto of San Francisco, Yerba Buena Gardens park is a representative of the apt subject.
A green void surrounded by buildings, which facades reflect the history of the city, is filled with various trees, shifting winds, and people in the glare of sunlight. While wandering around for a half hour I was observing the people who made the open space a vividly living place; in terms of the perspective that the park is also a kind of a museum. They were taking a nap, sitting in solitude, having a small talk, reading a book on a white swing chair; in fact looked like they were enjoying the moment in their own shelter. In addition there were traces from the inward nature like footprints reliefs of Califonia grizzly bears and wolves as I guessed.
The sounds of waterfall woke up a drowsy afternoon in a rare sunny day. While I was reading the twelve glass panels against a waterfall, literally it was an awakening of civil rights activism. From the start with a citation of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956, quotations are followed on each panel with translations into twelve different languages. The struggling for freedom behind the scenes is all about seeking santuary in our vunerable planet— what we still have to address with a wide awake mind.
Constance – I see a big old red brick church (St. Patrick’s, which is telling me about the ethnic group that established the parish) surrounded by looming glass and concrete towers. On a square behind the church is the CJM building with echoes of the church’s red brick facade. As I look over to the YBCA building of metal and glass I get an industrial feeling very different from the red brick structures. As I continue to walk along the path toward the theater I’m able to get a post card view of SFMOMA’s iconic cylindrical skylight also surrounded by red brick.
I wonder how much of this has been planned out in advance or are some of these structures a product of the times and powers that be?
Why was the YBCA theater created as a separate structure?
Carol – The Yerba Buena complex of museums — and the gardens at its verdant beating heart center — represents the best that urban life has to offer. From the vantage point of the gardens, we were asked to observe the architectural interplay between the gardens and the museum buildings, as well as their larger dialog with the downtown San Francisco skyline. The park, with its well maintained landscaping and ample colorful seating, provides the perfect place to pause and contemplate the ambiance. The soothing sounds of the waterfall slows us down from our normal hectic pace. The garden was packed with people enjoying themselves.
The mix of hard-edged contemporary buildings of the YBCA and the theater, all with their white/grey cool industrial palette, is punctuated by the warmer brick and ecru colors of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the church and the somewhat post-modern SF MOMA. This provides a harmonious contrast, and the variation of styles can be seen as the continuity of the arts and culture through the ages and amongst various peoples. The way the Jewish Museum is set back from the sidewalk, its lovely plaza and small number of steps leading to its entry, give it a sense of importance. As if you are entering a special place, where you are invited in. Not the steep grand steps of more traditional museums set in park environments.
I wondered why I had never been mindful enough to stop and consider this cultural oasis. I am grateful for the skills we are learning in this class, and ponder whether I will be “present enough” to use these skills to consider museums and their environs every time I am in one in the future.
Melanie – The building is very modern and industrial with a succession of geometric lines. However the succession of columns creates a rhythm that Invites the visitor in. The large steel staircase leads the eye towards an interesting round art piece that is designed as part of the staircase. The cold white and steel is beautifully balanced with the warm oak wood wall on the left and the monumental windows (from bottom to ceiling) on the right through which the warm light comes through.
The colorful contemporary chandelier/art sculpture is complementing the colors of the spotlights and the yellow accents from the entrance art piece. There are speakers for music which is unusual.
The bookstore was really amazing, with interesting wall and book display around design, art, and culture and curated by the university. All the wooden furnitures are inviting with water, paper, and a fun guestbook at the entrance where people can sketch whatever they like.
A nice discovery as I always wondered what this museum was all about.
Barbara H – This large contemporary lobby is open and inviting with floor to ceiling windows bringing in lots of natural light. Overhead, suspended is an art piece of multi-colored lights. The area is like a lounge with a comfortable sofa, tables and chairs to sit and relax, read or study. Free to use is WiFi access and a computer. The book shop is stocked with books from small presses, independent publishers and art institutions. A small library of books are off to one side, available to be checked out on the honor system. This entrance to the museum exhibits is a good use of community space reaching out to students and the community. If I was in the area and needed a space to sit and relax and rest for a few minutes, I would go there.
Thomas – I loved how the gathering of the Yerba Buena Center, SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Theater, the park, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum creates a cultural heart for the city right downtown. The high level of intent and planning put into the corner of the city is quite clear.
As for the Yerba Buena Center’s building with the muted grey main color scheme, very hard-lined shaping, and industrial materials (largely made from corrugated steel and stone blocks) made it seem quite unstated in the presence of so many glass highrises.
Jeanine – While at Yerba Bueba Gardens, I saw a visual and auditory sanctuary in the form of a green, grassy park with trees, flowers, sculptures, waterfalls, seating areas, a billboard-style message and curving pathways. I did not see nor did I hear, the usual bustle of the city. The Gardens were surrounded mostly by many buildings with simple, straight lines and light colored surfaces. This perimeter served to embrace and protect the Gardens space. I wondered whether the designers of the space had envisioned its loveliness and its contemplative effect on visitors and how often they themselves visit. I wonder if they are as pleased with the results as we are and if they know how grateful we are to them.
Lester – My Dream Museum would be a center for culture of ethnic minorities, who contributed to growth, progress, and development of particular urban and rural areas. It should be funded by local government to represent contributions by all.
It will have interactive displays to learn about former homelands, their way of life, customs, explanations of historical and political climates, challenges, conflicts, and their needs that prompted settlement in the New World. There will also be present day exhibits of how the minorities have assimilated to modern day society, and their distinguishing accomplishments.
Even though it will be difficult to be all-encompassing, this Dream Museum will be an introduction to those cultures and values that made the city or town what it is today. There will be rotating calendar of performing arts, culinary cuisine, travel and educational presentations to promote awareness and sensitivities to fellow citizens.
Operationally, my Dream Museum will have refreshments and snacks available on every floor. The food will reflect the various cultures on a rotating basis. These may include representative entrees, snacks, drinks, even alcoholic ones. There will be areas for rest that will encourage thought, meditation, and reflection. They can rejuvenate themselves for a more comprehensive, extensive visit. To promote a meaningful visit to this museum, their paid admission will allow an extra day’s revisit to absorb the experience, rather than rushing through on a superficial basis.
In this age of personal electronics and record-keeping, my Dream Museum will offer digitized “selfies” that will super-impose visitors onto the foreground of an exhibit, thereby relieving the awkwardness and waiting, experienced by others. The exhibit can be experienced in-depth as the artist or curator originally intended. There will be no need to utilize cameras and smartphones!
The public will be allowed to participate by leaving records of their own experiences, in written essays and/or oral recitations.
Barbara C. – My desire is to be an ally for an African friend, with who I have developed a friendship in the process of buying African Art. He wants to repatriate special African art for a museum in Ivory Coast to display them so Africans there can appreciate and learn about their varied tribal art.
I started collecting in 1967 when I traveled to West Africa to visit a family and hight school friend who was stationed there in the Peace Corp. Initially, I collected decorative and commercial pieces. Then as I learned more, and educated my eye and mind. I purchased some very special objects from this dealer, who collects antiquities from Western Africa, especially the Ivory Coast where he has contacts. His father was also an African art trader. Through the collection process, and over the years, I came to learn about his dream museum. He has shared with me that some of his most valuable and expensive objects are sold to wealthy individuals in USA and Europe who will not shake the hand of the art trader or offer him a cup of coffee, Such disrespect hurts my heart and boggles my mind.
My intention is to leave my personal collection to him; there are only a few very valuable pieces. The rest can be resold to fund museum expenses.
Harshkumar – I would love to create a Museum of Technology. where there is technology from the beginning of the era. Like the first computers, phones, television, watch, microwaves, auto locks, radio, CD player, cassette tape, games etc…
Pete – My dream museum would be specifically for recently, and nearly extinct animals which would also include animals that are thought extinct but may actually still exist in small numbers in the wild. I have always loved animals, and it saddens me that future generations may never get to see a real living elephant or any number of other animals that are slowly dying off these days. The purpose of the museum would be to help raise awareness of the effects we are having on the planet, specifically on our fellow animals. It sounds like a good cause, and I definitely think it is, but I would also love to explore a museum like this for selfish reasons. It would be incredibly interesting and inspiring for me to see.
Mila – My dream museum is the Forum for Experiential Design. I would love to have a museum that breaks away at most tradition (even breaks the walls) of what we understand as a common museum. By that, I mean, a museum doesn’t have to have a permanent address to function as a museum. Rather, this museum can evolve and move as needed. The main premise for the museum is to create a space and platform for attendees to learn, converse, engage, develop their curiosity, and promote better thinking – for better thinking creates a better future!
Constance – I have a long interest and practice in the area of fiber arts. My dream museum would be dedicated to this type of art. The museum would have a global focus- including any type of fiber used to create and/or decorate pieces from around the world on display in the museum. The world’s diverse cultures all have practices in basketry, weaving, spinning, knitting embroidery, batik… Many cultures create this type of work for everyday use ( ie. clothing, rugs utilitarian objects…) and are often not considered true artists. It would be important to include the names, place of origin and photographs of the artists.
The museum would also have a hands-on approach to the art. It would be a place to learn, practice and teach the various types of art. I envision inviting fiber artists from all the continents do an internship at the museum to teach and showcase their particular technique.
Laura – My dream museum would celebrate the life, work, and creative contributions of working-class people and immigrant communities. It would illustrate and explore how these unique and often, under-valued communities have helped shape culture and social change.
I am inspired by the many heritage sites that have been created in the former industrial cities of the North of England, where there once stood thriving communities, each with their own unique way of life, language, tradition, and celebrations.
Enrique – If I could have my own museum it would be full of work of children who are less fortunate. Children with disabilities, orphans, foster kids, cancer patients, etc would have an opportunity to showcase their talent. Everyone has talent and I feel that hear particular groups of kids are underrepresented and aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. A lot of people don’t pay much attention to kids that aren’t as fortunate because they look down upon them and some even treat them differently. Admission for kids would be free since they are he future of society and the museum is about kids. I also believe that when kids view these exhibits or pieces they will become more motivated to follow their dreams . The purpose of the museum is to show kids that their dreams can be achieved and it is important that their voices are heard. This could benefit their self esteem and how they see life as they will be recognized instead of being forgotten.
Next to each piece or exhibit, there would be a recording of the artist explaining the purpose and description. For those who are shy, there would be a picture next to a hand written explanation so that the viewer can still see what the artist looks like. It is important to give credit where it is due, especially since it is so common to falsify evidence and give credit to those who didn’t create or have a part in creating the piece. My museum would be named “ Museum of Dreams”
Thomas – In my dream museum, the major theme would be anatomy, biology and the development of body structures. The chronological progression of the body of the major animals around from insects to birds, and even us humans.
As one progressed walk through the museum the exhibits would start with the origins of cellular structures and a bit of microbiology, continuing deeper in the museum would move on linear progression the anatomies and taxonomies of the kingdom of Animalia.
Also, there would be a central space for living animals shows, and talks with local experts. To make this possible the museum would partner with zoos and wildlife rescues in the area.
Humans would, of course, get an exhibit, but it wouldn’t be any larger or more important than the other featured animals. In a way that would the message of the museum, that we are not separate or more important than the other beautiful species that we share this world with.
Nat – The People’s Museum: My dream museum would be a community space by and for the people of that community. I would follow a co-creative approach to its design, content, function, and above all its mission. The mission statement would be drafted and peer-reviewed through a process of open public forums and closed meetings targeting marginalized sectors of the community to ensure they are represented prior to the museum’s inception and through constant dialogue and ethnographic research concerning the dynamic, expressed needs of that community. Lifting up radical, local history forgotten by the masses and contextualizing it in the framework of the People’s history of the United States would be a priority. Another priority would be to consult with schools, teachers, and students in the area to enquire about how they would like to see this museum fit into their existing and aspirational curriculum.
Inspiration for this museum include but are not limited to: The Oakland Museum, Odell S. Williams African-American Museum of Baton Rouge, and the Nivín Museum located in Ancash provence of Northern Peru. Ideally it will include a variety of subject matter from art to archaeology to natural history.
Claire – My Dream Museum would include the seamless integration of indoor and outdoor spaces, no matter the content or purpose of the museum. The Frick and The Oakland Museum are good examples of what my ideal might be like. There is something about the juxtaposition of nature with manmade objects that heightens the experience of both. In my Dream Museum, visitors would be able to touch and interact with much of the collection and also create work of their own, should the spirit move them. I would love to see more museums devoted to the art and craft of creating books for children, like The Carle Museum in Amherst, MA, and in general more museums that allow and encourage the natural curiosity of children.
Melanie – It will all start with the building itself, the architecture whether old or modern will allow light and nature to go through, the museum would be surrounded by gardens or have gardens inside. I think too many museums are “bunker-like” to protect the art from sun damage but somehow museums like the Louvre or the Frick are functioning with windows.
The museum architect will create the space in collaboration with artists and future visitors, it will be a museum “designed by artists for other artists” and will appeal to the 5 senses. For example, a contributing musician or a DJ could write a playlist that could be listened to during certain exhibitions, a sculptor will design a piece to stay permanently in the garden, a designer will create a table or a lamp, a perfumer would create a perfume for the exhibition. The architect will also make space for artisans, a woman from Mexico or Africa could design a piece for example to showcase her technique and craftmanship which will soon disappear etc.….
Each piece will be purchased by patrons and corporations who will agree to donate the piece to the museum which in return would advertise their names in an artistic manner.
My dream museum will also leave space for contemporary artists (or curators) to be present, to be active during the exhibition, to meet the public in person or not (video-conference? holograms??) to present their art, provide the context, their mind frame, their creative process, answer questions… or not.
Finally, my dream museum will be a place of dialogue and debates at night where people will discuss major issues our societies are facing. It will be a place of diversity where artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, and citizens will meet and share their expertise from around the world.
Cookie – The Moving Museum: “Are you also an artwork?” I have been asked in a gallery during the time I was perching on a stool in the middle of the room, looking at the printed materials; artist’s archiving related to the exhibition. She might had thought that I was a kind of reading performer at that moment. It led me to consider myself as a living sculpture, and why not?
If I have a bus driver’s licence, I would like to create a moving museum by means of getting together in a bus. For this fall I want to head for Dry Lake in Las Vegas to see a desert artwork, called Seven Magic Mountains created by Ugo Rondinone. While driving we can share everything about the land art and the Swiss artist; from the history of Las Vegas to how to put his idea into public space by using the strong colors. In the site we should act as an artwork, i.e. talking our own history like a video installation and performing whatever we want like an avant-garde artist between the sculpture.
In the event I would like to convey the mission statement of the Moving Museum: as long as we are making an endurance art in our daily life, we are the great artwork in itself.
Beverly – The Museum of Depth of Understanding: While I enjoy experiencing a work of art without background explanations, I find I more deeply appreciate it when I know more about the work. I wonder what influenced the artist and why the artist chose to express her/himself in the way shown. As a person who enjoys painting and printmaking, I would like to know the artist’s creative process and influences. I would enjoy a museum that delves into the background on what led to the creation of the piece (historic context and artist’s life experience and education), the process by which the art was created (artistic method including materials, process, duration) and why/if the piece is relevant today (its impact when first displayed and its influence over time). I am interested in knowing the history of the piece (where has it been, who’s owned it, how it ended up in the museum etc.), and its impact (which artists have said they’ve been influenced by the artwork). I would enjoy a museum visit where I learn about art through the words of the artist, historic records and documentation. I think a museum experience that leads a visitor from one artwork to the next based on their impact on one another would be very engaging and inspirational.
Phil – The Museum of Awe: I would create a museum of awe inspiring images. Since seeing an exhibit of Anders Zorn at the Legion of Honor in, I believe in 2013, I have been in awe of painters that have the skill and technique to apply color and line on a two dimensional plane of canvas and create images that leap off the canvas in three dimensions. Zorn’s treatment of gentle water surfaces in “In the Harbor of Algiers” and “Summer Fun” are two examples that I will never forget. The reflection on the surface of the pearl earring in “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer also comes to mind.
Barbara H. – Museum of Children’s Art (10 years and younger): Children can and do create spontaneously from their imaginations without formal training. It would be wonderful to see these creations exhibited together in a museum. It would include watercolors, pencil and ink drawings, clay figures, string creations, ie any medium. The only criteria is the artist is 10 and younger. I think it would be inspiring to viewers of every age.
Peggy – Film Soundtrack Museum: The success of a film is often tied to the quality and creativity of the soundtrack. The music and the sound effects can create a mood, affect emotions and provide color for a film often on par with the visuals. I propose a Film Soundtrack Museum that would be a depository of all the great soundtracks and theme songs along with bios of composers and sound engineers, interviews with them with insight on how they create music and sound for film.
I would also like it to be interactive. For example, there would be listening and quizzing participants on soundtrack knowledge, matching theme songs to films. There would be the opportunity to place sound effects and music in various parts of films, existing or virtual, or to create unique film scores, all with the assistance of technology.
The museum building itself would have a modern, edgy look to capture the fact that the method of creating soundtracks stays current with the changes in technology but the interior might have rooms that conjure up the feeling of time periods and films of the past and future.
Lindsey – Museum of Fairy Tales and Folklore: A visitor would have the opportunity to interact with the exhibits, see where various fairy tales and folklore have traveled, see how many tales are related to one another, and how time and place have transformed them.
Imagine walking into a room with a candy house that you can explore, as you progress through the house the objects start to change themes, and when you come out the other side you discover you are now in a house on chicken feet, because the witch in Hansel and Gretel is a version of Baba Yaga. You could see how minor details in these stories change based on regional foods, weather, language, or landscape.
A visitor could see how the African animals from various folk tales turn into Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Bear when brought, via enslaved people, to America. A visitor could see maps that explore where various tales may have migrated, and possibly originated. The museum would include artifacts, books, music, smells, and interactive exhibits that allow the visitors to feel immersed in the tales. The museum cafe would serve snacks and drinks that reflect what is in the tales.
Carol – The Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis Museum: When I was growing up, “Jackie O” was the young, sophisticated and very glamorous wife of President John F. Kennedy. She also become my ultimate style icon. For some, Jackie O may be easy to write off as just a clothes horse. Yet she was a highly cultured and talented woman. Her life had many highs and many crushing lows. The museum could contain exhibits concerning fashion, style, politics, the world of books (she was an editor at Doubleday in her later years), history (particularly American, French and Russian), decorative arts, interior design, entertaining, the world of courtesans, celebrity, etc. There are so many themes and avenues to mine from this extraordinary woman’s complex life!
Jeanine – Museum of Color: I would like to create, support and visit a Museum of Color. It could have galleries focused on a particular color or could have exhibits based on a certain color. The exhibitions could show a particular color in numerous ways: in nature, in products, in paintings, in science, the history of the color, etc. Other exhibits could include how people perceive color, how our brains and the brains of animals perceive color, and the importance and use of color in various cultures.
In this dream museum, the building and digital infrastructure would play an important role.
Reply from Cookie to Jeanine: I would like to visit the Museum of Color. I’m also interested in this subject matter for a long time.