The Bay Area Museums Interim explored various art installations throughout San Francisco. Each day we visited a different location, organized by Ms. Peters and Ms. Delman.
Day 1: Hyde St. Pier
Our procession of roughly forty students exited BART at the Embarcadero, emerging to a view of the Ferry Building’s flags fluttering against a backdrop of bright blue sky, the vast Pacific sprawled out in the distance.
The sea breeze wafted through the pier, carrying with it the peaceful buzz of a Monday morning in the city. Seagulls soared overhead and boats coasted leisurely across the bay as we passed by famous tourist attractions such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Pier 39.
An hour of walking found us at our first destination: Hyde St. Pier, a national park that houses and preserves large, old boats that are relics of history. The students were then split into two groups: the C.A. Thayer and the Eureka, each guided by a park ranger.
The first boat my group visited was the C.A. Thayer, a schooner from 1895, characterized by its three masts. We descended below deck into a dark, heavily-wooded room with a large space where lumber was once loaded into the boat and shipped off. With its fairly small size, the schooner operated with a crew of eight, consisting of a cook, seamen, mates, and the captain.
Next was the Eureka, a more industrial, steam-powered, double-ended ferryboat. Built in 1890, the Eureka is the world’s largest wooden ship. It served to carry passengers and freight cars, and later, automobiles, in order to transport people across the bay. In its modern form, the boat’s interior is home to displays of model ships, as well as several vintage cars.
After exploring both boats, our group was given some free time to wander around the pier and grab lunch. The time flew as we ate clam chowder and took photos by the beach. It wasn’t long before we were making the grueling journey back to BART, afternoon sun glittering off the waves and blazing against the pavement, an expedition well-worth it for the slice of history and the coastal view we got in return.
Day 2: MOMA
We kicked off the morning at the Yerba Buena gardens, the fresh spring air, and bright green grass a welcome sight after the underground BART. Soon after, we entered the Museum of Modern Art, or the MOMA for short, on a guided forty-five-minute tour through some of the exhibits to learn about modern art.
There are many ways one could interpret or describe modern art, but the most standout commonality amongst the pieces we observed was the groundbreaking, out-of-the-box approaches the artists took with their pieces. Take, for example, the piece Sequence by Richard Serra. The sculpture is of a rather impressive size, made of what appears to be a glossy, wooden finish. However, upon closer inspection, one will see that the American artist’s sculpture is actually crafted out of sheet metal. There are several openings in the multi-part sculpture, and several paths one could follow to exit the large metal spirals. It feels like walking through a maze, turning corners both narrow and wide, not knowing what lies around the next corner.
Another exhibit that stood out to me personally was the works of Roy Lichtenstein, known for making pop art. All of his pieces utilize bright colors, bold shapes, and stark lines, creating illusory effects and strong imagery. Many of his works feature parts of human faces, sometimes cleverly disguised amidst abstract shapes. What I found most likable about his works is the simplicity and power of line choice and use of shapes on the canvas.
After the tour, students were free to explore the various floors of the museum. There was a wide array of mediums, ranging from the first Apple Macintosh with its clunky keyboard, to twisted spider sculptures with large, spindly legs.
Truly, the MOMA defines “modern art” and the wide scope it captures, proving that art is much more than just paint on a canvas.
Day 3: Legion of Honor
Unlike the previous two days, on Wednesday, we took the Muni bus to reach our destination. Cramming forty kids onto public transportation was for sure not the most comfortable situation, and it was quite a hectic ride, many of us truly hanging on for our dear lives as the bus turned corners, sped along the road, and came to abrupt stops along the way. Thankfully, we all made it off in one piece.
The Legion of Honor is what one might consider a more “traditional” museum, primarily featuring French artworks in oil on canvas. There are a variety of exhibits, featuring statues and busts made of marble and bronze, ornate vases, chandeliers, and sofas, all dating back from earlier centuries in Europe. Many works were centered around themes of religion or nobles, depicting holy symbols or figures dressed in elaborate costumes and wigs, showing their high status.
The museum is relatively small compared to the MOMA of the previous day, and it was a much more laid-back, mellow experience, though enjoyable nonetheless.
The artwork here was much softer and realistic than modern art, blending colors and focusing on hyper-realistic details in faces and clothing. Notably, the eyes are drawn to the faces of the portraits, particularly the eyes, dark and lifelike in such a way that their gaze is piercing. While focusing on realism, many early Italian works had exaggerated, long faces and some of the Spanish works were ghastly and haggard. It was fascinating to see the different influences on European art, and how the subject matter shifted over time, ranging from popes to peasantry.
Day 4: Asian Art Museum
To start off, we paid a visit to the Civic Center, an iconic and integral building in the history of San Francisco. The architecture was absolutely mesmerizing, all smooth columns and gleaming staircases, a kind of grandeur that’s fitting for the home of the mayor’s office.
The next destination was the Asian Art Museum.
The museum fuses Asian art and history in an array of pieces and mediums from various cultures. All manner of objects can be found on display, ranging from authentic scrolls and sacred texts to gorgeously detailed vases and statues. Many of the pieces were very spiritual and religious– mainly based in Buddhism or Hinduism– and depicted imagery of Buddha and other deities. With each piece, a story is told; whether it’s been crafted of ivory or jade or stone, the history of an entire culture lies behind each work, spanning years filled with revolution, revelation, and ritual.
Day 5: de Young Museum
The day was gloomy and overcast, giving the air a somber, sleepy feeling as we folded our umbrellas away and entered the high-ceilinged halls of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. The place is massive. It felt like navigating a maze, meandering from room to room as raindrops rolled down the windows.
What made this museum stand out from others is that it brings together art from many cultures and eras across the world, and there was such a variety of exhibits to explore. In one room, I would be looking at Alaskan Cup’ik masks made of wood and fur, and in the next, a ceramic cake.
Many of the pieces seemed to have a whimsical, almost magical, feeling to them. One standout was the Seattle Ladder by Thermon Statom, a hollowed out, plate and blown glass sculpture of a ladder, decorated and painted in a plethora of colors and small objects that looked iridescent beneath the spotlight of the bright ceiling lights in the dim room.
While many of the pieces were pleasant to look at, others were striking and garnish, upsetting even. Art is so powerful like that. The choice of mediums, the composition, the execution, use of color, symbolism… they evoke emotions in the viewer, carry messages, tell stories, and still convey the original feelings and meanings even today. In that way, art is immortal, in that it can be viewed again and again, for generations upon generations, and we can still understand what the artist was trying to say, no matter how many centuries have passed.
That’s what I felt as I walked through the Revelations: Art From the African American South exhibit, displaying a history of institutionalized racism from the Jim Crow era and the art that emerged to create a voice for those who were marginalized. One could feel the pain and the injustice, captured at its rawest on canvas, in sculpture, and in the photograph. To really understand just one of the exhibits might take hours, reading and interpreting and learning.
Recap and Conclusion:
Overall, the experience was educational and memorable and refreshed my appreciation of art. At times, there was so much information to take in that it was overwhelming, but it was a pretty chill week and it made me realize there are so many pieces of art history lying not so far from home.
Prior to this Interim, I’d only ever visited MOMA, so it was nice to see so many different types of art across mediums and cultures. If I had to choose a favorite though, it would have to be the boats of Hyde St. Pier because it was so different than the typical museum experience and was very hands-on, so I felt like I learned the most on that day.
I definitely recommend giving this Interim a try if you get a chance.