All the art a city could want — at least this week


1. I love John William Waterhouse, for about as long as I can remember being a cognizant human being.  As soon as I saw “The Mermaid” and “Miranda and the Tempest,” I was sold on a beautiful, idealized version of classical myth.

2. I love San Francisco’s museums.  My dad always gives me a little money for my birthday, and this year I spent it on a FAMSF membership (worth every penny).  This means I (and my guest) get into every special exhibit (currently Jean Paul Gaultier’s fashion and a Victorian Avant-Garde exhibit) for “free.”

3. I love haute couture, despite never having even a prayer of the shape for it.  My high fashion taste far exceeds my shape and budget.

A terrible cameraphone photo in low light. Just go see the exhibit. Trust me.

This week, I went to the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the De Young and loved every second of it.  His designs encapsulate every archetype and icon of art I love: medieval religion (virgins and skulls), mermaids, sinners, saints, punks, and priestesses.  There were bleeding, pierced hearts; mermaids on crutches; beautiful maidens in camouflage, and extraordinary craftsmanship.  Like the earlier Balenciaga exhibit I was lucky enough to see, the outfits themselves were so intricately detailed and beautifully crafted that I could hardly believe a single person (let alone a whole fashion house) was talented enough to makethese.

What I particularly liked? Many plaques in this exhibit detail how many hours it took to complete each outfit.  Sure, these  simply look cool: but when you really look up close and see the beading, the metal plate, the embroidery, the pleats, and the pin tucks… well, knowing it took 1000 hours to complete makes it real. Gaultier (and Balenciaga, and many other fashion designers) is a true artist.

Then we went to the Legion of Honor.

The Legion of Honor’s Victorian Cult of Beauty exhibit was almost a “throwaway” to me; I thought I would just go and appreciate the art, but with no particular connection to it.  I am/was a history major; I love all history but specialized in medieval European tomb sculpture.  Since I now have a membership, I make it a point to see every single piece that comes to these two museums, whether or not I am particularly interested.  I had seen the promotional works for the Cult of Beauty and they looked cool, but mentioned no particular artists I recognized or revered.

As I went through the exhibit with my mother, I pointed out a Whistler painting and told her how I learned that he titled and themed his paintings “nocturnes” or “symphonies” in colors.  I asked her about a specific painting, one that had  a blue and gold theme, and whether she had seen it in her studies.

Then I turned the corner and saw this in person:

James Macneill Whistler, Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge

My favorite Whistler painting from American Art and a favorite from my Art History minor: right there in front of me.  The same painting I told my mom about, and had no idea would be waiting for me here in town.

Seeing it in person gave me the biggest sense of glee: there it was.  What I studied was real!  Ha!  Definitely spent my college funds on some cool stuff, Mom.

(You know, totally aside from my History BA or my JD.)

(It was definitely smaller than I had imagined.)

As we walked through the exhibit, I kept thinking that so many of the pieces hearkened back to one of my original favorite artists, John William Waterhouse.  Some painting descriptions even mentioned the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  I love Waterhouse, not just for his subject matter (classical/medieval/Arthurian legends), but how he paints women: they simply glow.  I have long since realized that many Waterhouse pieces are out of the country, and hadn’t expected to see any until I can find the money to travel.

And then, of course, much to my delight, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a painting where the women had a distinctly “Waterhouse” look, with long red-gold hair and sharp features.  No.  Could it?  Was it? HOLY CRAP MOM!!!  MOM!!! COME LOOOOOOOK.

John William Waterhouse: St. Cecilia, 1895

Yeah, I saw my first Waterhouse in person, finally, and I can honestly say that the scans and prints simply do not do his paintings justice.  The colors are so rich and vibrant, and the women are just arresting.  Even in repose, they overtake the eye with a luminosity I admire.

I bought a print.  Hope Adam doesn’t mind yetanotherWaterhouse print in the apartment.

Either way, an excellent week for art.  If you’re in the city, do visit the De Young and Legion of Honor.  I know I certainly will see these again before they are whisked away.


2 responses to “All the art a city could want — at least this week

    • It was fantastic! I think having a membership is money well spent – I would have spent at least that much taking my mom to the exhibits twice a year, and now I can trade museum entry for drinks and friend time. 😉

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