Monday, May 12, 2014

Art & About

It sure as hell took me a while, but last Friday, thank goodness, I finally made it over to the M. H. de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park for Georgia O'Keeffe: Modern Nature and Lake George. Finally and just barely, as after a three month run the exhibit was scheduled to close two days later on Sunday evening. It also took a reunion with my longtime friend Pamela Thomas from Ohio; she happened to be visiting the Bay Area for the week and was staying over in Oakland. On the phone and via email, prior to her arrival, we avowed to get together while she was local but never really figured out the when and where that would be. Turned out to be the perfect rendezvous, a visit to the de Young, as Pam had never before been to the museum, even though she lived in Oak-town for a good spell around 10 years ago. That, and the fact that we first met as students at the University of Cincinnati - College of Design, Architecture and Art - way back in (gasp!) 1981. Holy shite that's a long time ago.

Following are some thoughts about the exhibit and the day.

Georgia O'Keeffe lived to a ripe and fabulous 98 years old (1887-1986). And thanks be to Allah for that(!), as her long life meant more paintings for us, for the world, for posterity.

The de Young exhibition displayed only the paintings she completed at Lake George - and of Lake George - in the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, before she moved west to New Mexico and began all those iconic dessert scenes. Been plenty of Georgia O'Keeffe retrospectives throughout her seven decade career, but this show, apparently, was the first time these early works (1918-1930) have been assembled and showcased solely on their own. Which seems odd, and long overdue, because these are the very images and visual themes that initially caught the attention of photographer Alfred Stieglitz (her benefactor, and later husband) and propelled her to stardom in the New York art world.

The show also explained that O'Keeffe was surprised (at times dismayed) by the critics who immediately labeled (and continue to find) her Lake George flower paintings as sexual in nature. The whole phallic stamen thing; the vagina seen in soft, curvaceous botanical innards: she never intended any of that.

Each room of the exhibition included examples of the subject matter that influenced O'Keeffe's painting: photography from the early 1900's, including some images by her husband Alfred Stieglitz (photographers were, at the time, working to be taken seriously as true artists); Japanese painting; fruits and vegetables from her garden; farmland architecture; magazine pictures of and articles on Lake George, which was fast becoming a summertime playground for New Yorkers. The rooms also displayed wall-sized quotes by the artist, like the following from an interview in 1927: "If only people were tress…I might like them better."

In all my visits to the de Young I'd never eaten at the museum café. Pam and I did just that, and I gotta say...the food and drink is pretty impressive! (I think Loretta Keller of CoCo500 oversees the menu and kitchen.) Tables inside to out, in the shade or sun; thirst-quenching iced tea and lemonade; commendable looking wine list, including some decent half bottles; tasty selection of fresh food to "grab and go" (prepared sandwiches, salads and desserts) or a more ambitious menu to order at the counter and have delivered to your table (more salads, flatbread, quiche, soups and stews). It was all delicious, what we sampled, and when I go again I will certainly figure in another visit to the café.

Absolutely lovely, the exhibit and the day! Great to spend time with Pam, to get my ass over to the museum again, to learn a bit more about the famed artist, specifically her younger years and the inspiration she found at Lake George, and to experience all those gorgeous paintings in person (a handful of which I found so compelling I had to double back and inspect a second time).

The collection of 55 paintings and drawings (plus a 10 minute documentary film presented in a side room), along with my subsequent research for this brief post, makes me really really really want to hop a plane to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where one can visit the actual Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, which supposedly houses the most extensive collection of her work on Planet Earth.

I could kick myself for not doing this kind of thing more often - taking advantage of the Bay Area art scene in all its many guises - because every time I do my world, and my soul, feels refreshed. Hmmm…shouldn't kick myself, be so negative. How's this instead: "That was awesome! I can't wait to go to the museum again!"

Much better.
Peter J. Palmer

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