Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco

Lucas Cranach’s Adam and Eve

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Restitution Issue: Norton Simon Museum

Adam and Eve, painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in c. 1530, are a pair of panel paintings currently on view in Pasadena, at the Norton Simon Museum.  There hasn’t been an update on the painted pair since October, but the ownership of the Adam and Eve remains an unresolved dispute.  Marei Von Saher is the daughter-in-law of Jacques Goudstikker, a previous owner of the Adam and Eve.  During the 1940s, Goudstikker fled Holland and was forced to sell the panels to the Nazis under duress.  The issue of restitution would seem clear if this case was that simple.  A questionable, century-long provenance and a legal tangle both complicate the case.  Let’s explore.

Adam and Eve have hung at the Norton Simon since 1977.

Norton Simon bought the Cranach panels from George Stroganoff-Scherbatoff , a Russian, in 1971.  Stroganoff-Scherbatoff was the heir of an aristocratic family who claimed to have owned the paintings prior to 1917.  Stroganoff-Scherbatoff received/bought the paintings from the Dutch Government in a restitution agreement in 1966.  The Dutch Government was restituted the paintings (remember Goudstikker fled Holland during WWII) after WWII.  The Nazis forced Goudstikker to sell them in the 1940s.  Goudstikker had bought the paintings from the Soviet government at an auction in 1931.  The Russian government had confiscated Adam and Eve from the family of Stroganoff-Scherbatoff prior to 1917.  Seems like a resolved case of restitution: Russian heir gets stolen paintings back and then sells them to a collector (Norton Simon).

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Night Life

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California Academy of Sciences

What are you wearing!?

In case you didn’t know, I love 21+ museum events.  They combine three of my favorite things: museums, drinking, and a child-free environment.  While I was briefly home in San Francisco I checked out an event similar to the MCA’s First Friday program: Night Life at the California Academy of Sciences.   Every Thursday (that’s right it’s weekly!) the Academy opens its doors to the masses of yuppy first daters, and unwashed hipsters (seriously I overheard several conversations about burning man).  Like MCA’s First Fridays, every Night Life is themed; the theme on the night I went was Fire and Ice.  With a theme like that how could I not have a good time?

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Resnick Pavilion Inaugural Exhibitions

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Los Angeles County Museum of Art

They paid for the building, they can show their art for three months in it.

Getting Yogurtland was my priority upon landing in LA.  This was followed by a close second priority of seeing the three exhibitions which inaugurated the brand spanking new Resnick Pavilion at LACMA.  The shows opened while I’ve been in Chicago, but I’ve been following the press about the opening of the Pavilion.  Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico was something of a blockbuster loan show, Fashioning Fashion: European Dress in Detail, 1700–1915 is a presentation of LACMA’s newly acquired costume collection, and Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection was an exhibition of the Resnicks’ collection of European painting and sculpture.  The three shows have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and that’s just the way LACMA director Michael Govan likes it:
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John Bannon “Transit” (2005)

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CTA Headquaters

When I first came to Chicago, I loved CTA, mostly because I have a U-Pass, which allows me to get  myself about without worrying about paying for ride fare.  Life was great and I was loving public transportation, reveling in it even (especially after LA Metro).  And then something horrible happened.  On the morning of Saturday the 16th, after a night of innocent fun (it may have been four in the morning…), I went to the Blue line to head home.  What happened?  The machine ate my U-Pass.  Suddenly CTA was not so amazing. Having to pay $2.25 for each measly hop on a bus or train was miserable.  Not as miserable as calling CTA Customer Service every day for five days straight trying to be polite as possible, culminating in a mad dash to CTA Headquarters in an attempt to pick up a well-deserved 7 day courtesy pass.  But no, CTA added insult to injury.  4:31 is the exact time I reached the CTA Headquarters, one minute after 4:30, and the security guard (who takes his job WAAAY too seriously) wouldn’t let me up to the second floor to pick up my pass.  After sharing some very appropriate words with Mr. Security Guard, I left, angry (in need of some retail therapy) and spent the rest of the weekend paying for each individual train and bus ride.  On Monday I finally picked up my courtesy pass (still waiting on that new U-Pass).  Thank god I have a blog where I can complain about this saga in such a public way.  Okay but for real this does have to do with an art installation.

Hold that thought.

When I returned to the CTA Headquarters on Monday, I noticed an art installation in their lobby (I hadn’t noticed it the first time because I was too enraged).  High above the lobby floor was what looked like an abstract mess of neon squiggels.  This knot of neon lines is ingeniously titled Transit (2005), and was commissioned for the CTA lobby from artist John Bannon.  It isn’t until you proceed to the second floor that the neon squiggles of Transit make sense.  Looking out over the lobby, you come face to face with a quaint scene of a train rumbling down a subway tunnel (in neon lights no less).  Oh yay! Some art to look at while you wait in this ridiculous customer service line!

Transit reminds me of the only thing I remember from my astronomy classes (yes, I’ve taken multiple).  There is this thing called “parallax.”  I don’t really know what it means but I remember the word, and remember how it was illustrated at the Griffith Observatory in a display called “A Familiar Star Pattern.”  In the display is an arrangement of lights which visitors can walk around.  The lights represent stars (duh) in a cluster.  Only when you stand in one particular spot do you realize this arrangement of lights slash stars is the big dipper constellation.  But if you view it from any other position you don’t see the big dipper.

It’s parallax! I think.

Transit works like the big dipper display at Griffith Observatory.  From below, all you see is a tangle of neon lights. When you stand directly in front of the installation, the neon strands magically arrange themselves into a scene with a train! How cool is that?  It’s actually really cool.  Then if you walk around (the parallax thing happens again) and the scene disappears.  But if you go around and view the work from an angle 90 degrees from the frontal view, you see another scene in neon, this time with a bus in it! Well this is fun.

If this effect isn’t called “parallax,” I don’t really care.

Accompanying Transit, in the hell that is CTA Headquarters, is one of those cows that are everywhere  in Chicago. This bovine is painted, very proactively, like a bus.  Chi-town was the first city to do this project, but now every city seems to have similar projects of painted animals (in San Francisco they have don’t have an animal, they have hearts, and in Palm Springs they have Bighorn sheep), my favorite is the town with beavers (this link is SO worth clicking).

I doubt anyone in the long-ass customer service line was looking at the artwork.  But you know what?—In Chicago, that doesn’t matter, art is everywhere in this city.  Public art is literally everywhere, and here is a brochure from the DCA to prove it.  Chicagoans are force-fed public art every single day.  Personally, I don’t mind the art feeding tube; I like seeing the Picasso everyday when I get off the blue line, and I’m not going lie; I love looking out over Millennium Park everyday at school.

This installation is so easy to navigate.

One last and actually really awesome (sarcasm? Me? Never!) thing about the neon CTA art: So that random cluster of neon lights that you see looking up at Transit from the lobby—It’s actually a map of the train system!  It’s parallax times three.  I don’t think many people know how cool this work is (and it took me many minutes of googling to find anything about it).  So now you know.  But it’s not like I’m encouraging you to take the convenient green line down to CTA Headquarters to see it, screw CTA.

– H.I.

Birth of Impressionism – Masterpieces from the Museé de Orsay

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de Young Museum

The de Young has two major gallery spaces for temporary exhibitions.  One is upstairs on the second floor, in a space I would call awkward, even a ruin-er of otherwise good shows.  I saw an exhibition of Yves Saint Laurent in this upstairs space that was actually horrible to walk through, mostly because of the awkward space.  The de Young also has temporary exhibition space on its lower floor, which from the shows I’ve seen there is a much more successful space.  It is in this space that the current show, Birth of Impressionism, is held.

Big title, big show

The show is marketed all over the museum; banners hang from light poles, the entire front façade of the Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum is splashed with a golden title of the show, and details of some of the most famous pieces in the show are hung in the windows of the upper level galleries.  In front of the museum are even cut out figures from some of the works; children can put their head through a hole and get their picture taken as Manet’s Fifer.

My sister, the Fifer

All the marketing fuss is not without reason, the show is amazing, and definitely worth the $25 ($20 if you buy in advance) ticket price.  It’s certainly cheaper than traveling to Paris to see these works, and even if you did go to see them in the Museé de Orsay, they wouldn’t be there because all of the Museé’s masterpieces are traveling.  The Museé de Orsay has devised a brilliant plan to have their works seen (and make some money off of ticket sales) while their galleries are closed for renovation.  It’s a brilliant plan for the Museé de Orsay to make money off ticket sales, save money from storing their collection, and provide with a wide public access to their works. Everyone wins in this situation.

Holding cell--so anxious

This show is such a crowd-drawer that the tickets are timed–swells of people are let in every half hour and inevitably smother the previous group out of the exhibition space.   (The rooms are crowded and probably better to visit on a weekday.)  Before being let in, visitors are confined to a nice holding cell—a hallway with large photo murals of period photographs showing the broad boulevards of post-Haussmannization Paris, and a wall of portraits of the first practitioners of impressionist painting.

Yeah I made this diagram

The exhibition is divided into a series of nine rooms.  The first room is called “Birth of Impressionism,” but the works in this room seem irrelevant to Impressionism other than to be a foil for what follows.  Bouguereau’s Birth of Venus dominates this first room, a textbook opponent of the impressionists.  I can still remember my AP Art History class in high school offering the contenders of Manet’s Olympia to another Bouguereau Venus.  The bourgeoisie luxury of this work is made even more regal with the maroon-painted walls and another photo collaged wall of a glass and iron building of B aron Haussmann’s new Paris.

Bouguereau as foil

The next room is called “the Salon,” and again exemplifies everything the Impressionists were not, with perhaps a few mostly overlooked marks in the evolution to Impressionism.  This evolutionary logic dominates the curatorial organization of the show: action and reaction.  In the salon room, hang many masterpieces of the academy tradition.  Religious works and paintings with mythological themes dominate, with a few genre paintings by Courbet to mix it up.  This room was full of people and was made only more crowded by large round velvet-upholstered benches.  I would normally be against the benches because they contributed to the crowding, but they were so luxurious and sumptuous that I can only approve.

Following, was a room called “the Terrible Year.”  It shows how the tradition of the Salon was beginning to be questioned, but also how political turmoil in Europe, specifically Spain and France was beginning to affect artists and their work.  The works in this room are a shift in tone from the previous room, and the color on the walls changes dramatically from imperial maroon and purple to a sober dreary blue.

The Fifer, so French or so Spanish?

The following room is also painted this dreary blue and focuses on “French Painters and Spanish Style.” Again the curatorial statement of the evolution of impressionism dominates.  The same story: Spanish painters (beginning with Velazquez, leading to Goya, etc.) influenced the early Impressionists.  This is of course as we have been taught, most evidently in Manet’s work.  “Manet” is the subject of the next room, and connections are easily made between the Spanish court painting s of the previous room, to Manet’s loose and visible brushwork in paintings like The FiferThe Fifer received special thanks from the museum to a special donor for making its display possible.  Perhaps this donor paid for the specific cost of shipping it to San Francisco, or maybe paid the insurance for the painting to be in America.

I want to be part of the Bazille family!

“Ecole de Batignolles” was the subject of the next room which outlined how the heroes of Impressionism gathered themselves and shared ideas usually outside of the city in resort towns.  The piece that dominates this room is Bazille’s Family Reunion.  This painting dominates not only because of its size and central positioning, but because of Bazille’s style and particularly because of the brushwork.  This work seems less concerned with the works of the fellow impressionists and more self confident in its exploratory style.  This categorizes most of the works in this room: early experiments.

Least favorite Composition

This leads to the highly developed Impressionism or “Classical Impressionism.”  This long room, divided by several wall partitions held the most recognizable masterpieces from the Museé de Orsay:  train stations and parade-filled streets on Bastille Day, Renior’s tacky images of bourgeois life.  Whistler (an American) was included because of his Frenchness (ala Picasso) and is represented in his textbook masterpiece Whistler’s Mother.  Why anyone likes this painting is beyond me.  A painting I do very much appreciate (although he was little known in his time) is Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers.  I’ve always been a fan of Caillebotte’s and love his play with light on reflective surfaces, be it the wooden beams that haven’t yet been stripped of their varnish in The Floor Scrapers, or with water between cobbles in his Rainy Day in Paris in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Most favorite, and not just because of the muscley Scrappers

Towards the end of the Classic Impressionism room was a portrait by Renoir (a work of his I actually like).  It is a portrait of a lady and it was sent to San Francisco in 1915 for the Pacific Panama International Exposition, and the curators were kind enough to include this fun little fact in the painting’s label.  This lovely portrait has returned again to San Francisco in a diplomatic act of promoting French culture abroad.  I’m sure that the collection of titans of French painting in this exhibition hall managed to turn several visitors into Francophiles.

Renior's diplomatic Lady

There is one last room in the exhibition, and again there is a shift in the wall color, the bright summery blue of the previous rooms transitioned into a sober, critical brown.  This room was organized around the topic of “Impressionist Dialogues.”  Once the impressionist movement was born, what happened next?  More experimentation, serious exchange of ideas, and responses to other artists are evident in the works in this room which include Degas’s Ballet Lesson.

Degas - the only superstar Impressionist I actually like


This room really is meant to link this exhibition, with another exhibition (again of traveling masterpieces from the Musee de Orsay ) happening at the other arm of the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums, the Legion of Honor.  The show there called Impressionist Paris: City of Light, which opened a week after the de Young show.  This chronology is directly mentioned in promotional materials for the exhibitions, with special ticketing options to see both shows.  Even later in the year will be a third show at the de Young called Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay.  The trio of shows is sure to be a cohesive (textbook even) presentation of the development of Impressionist art.  Again I am fascinated by the Musee de Orsay’s strategy for keeping their works on view, even though they can’t show them in their own space due to renovation.  What a clever and well organized solution!

– H.I.

Costco-sized giftshop

P.S. there is a large gift shop at the end of the exhibition that visitors are forced to pass through as they leave the exhibition hall.  If ever I was critical of the indiscreet gift shops at the end of Getty exhibitions, the de Young’s boutique/bookstore/millinery makes the Getty shops look tasteful.  I did by a postcard of the Caillebotte, but I refused to do so from this gift shop, so I bought one from a much smaller and less garish gift corner elsewhere in the museum.

Sojourn to San Francisco (Pt. 2)

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de Young Museum

This isn’t a harbor—the de Young Sub

Across from the recently reopened California Academy of Sciences is another new building.  The de Young Museum (part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) looks like a beached and rusting submarine, parked awkwardly in the middle of Golden Gate Park.  Vestigial elements of the old building remain; a pair of sexy art deco sphinxes mark where the old museum’s entrance used to be (a few hundred feet from where it is now).

Something predictable, and something delightfully surprising

Several of the museum’s collections are displayed on the first floor: Alaskan art, some contemporary decorative arts, Pre-Columbian, and modern and contemporary American painting and sculpture.  Alaska art (mostly small crafts pieces) leads to the contemporary decorative arts gallery.  This room contains a mixture of tacky glass pieces from the 80s (purple and teal color palette dominates), predictable pieces like Chihuly, and a Nick Cave body suite thrown in.  The dec arts room leads off in two directions, one to the randomly linked pre-Columbian galleries, the other way along a window-lined hallway to the modern and contemporary galleries.

Size matters, but so does space

These collections are given the most real estate—allowing the large sculptures and paintings space to breathe without competing with each other.  For example: even though Josaih McElheny’s Model for Total Reflective Abstraction (after Buckminster Fuller & Isamu Noguchi) takes up most of the floor in one room, a hanging fixture of burn wood, Cornelia Parker’s Anti-Mass, and Al Farrow’s cathedral reliquary made from ammunition are all given their due space.

Best way to show this Ruscha?

Several rooms of painting later, was a smaller room with a special curatorial title and wallpanel.  Photo / Synthesis features works by eight contemporary artists “who have explored various methods of assembling and organizing photographic images into multifaceted constructions.”  Predictably Ruscha is included; in a series of parking lots, and of course Every Building on the Sunset Strip. I was surprised with how awkwardly the accordion book was displayed, it was even worse than how it was displayed in LACMA’s New Topographics.  The form of book was completely denied in the de Young’s display, which was laid out in a ring standing up on its side.  The display of Every Building that I think was the most successful was how it was displayed in a show at the USC Fisher Museum of Art.  In a long display case that reached almost from wall to wall, the accordion book was laid out flat and almost to its full length.

They saved this thing!?

I circled back to explore the Pre-Columbian galleries.  Pre-Columbian galleries interest me especially since seeing the Jorge Pardo designed galleries at LACMA.  (Look for a post comparing LACMA’s Pre-Columbian galleries to the Natural History Museum’s galleries soon.)  Had I come out of the dec art gallery into the Pre-Columbian galleries, the first thing I would have seen would have been the dominating wall mural.  This kitchy map of the world displays various flora and fauna, and seems more educational in function than artistic.  The de Young sometimes has an odd way of connecting adjacent galleries with seemingly unrelated works.  This map is one of those odd ways.

The display of the Pre-Columbian collection is fairly standard, other than being in a glass walled, natural light-flooded room.  At the de Young wall cases, and free standing glass vitrines are light naturally, somehow making the objects more relatable and utilitarian, rather than simply being elevated to the level of an art object.

Doggy style—West Mexican ceramics

Little explanation is given for many of the objects, especially in the case of the Western Mexican ceramics.  These objects are notoriously looted, and became popular with collectors especially in the early half of the 20th century.  One of these ceramics even features prominently into an Alfred Hitchcock film.  Similar like ceramic objects are gathered into vitrines, one has a cache burnished dogs in various activities, even including copulation.

I've seen this pair before

Another thing that struck me about some of the Western Mexican ceramics was the similarity of works, with ones I have seen in Los Angeles.  The female and male burial pair with odd geometric appendages is almost identical to ones found in the Natural History Museum.  A figured with a white running geometric design is a twin of one in the Natural History Museum, and a triplet to another at LACMA.  These “types” are so prevalent in collections, and yet so little is known about them as they are scavenged from burial sites with no archeological information known about them.

I know waaay too much about this type of figurine

Other works in the de Young’s collection do have a lot of attribution, explanation, and even respectly present this information.  One dim room contains a collection of murals from Teotihuacan from the Wagner Collection. The wallpanel is almost apologetic and therefore praiseworthy for its honesty and its explanation about museum collecting practices.

“Owing to the size and importance of the donation and ethical issues regarding cultural patrimony, the museum approached officials in Mexico to discuss a cooperative program of conservation and care and the voluntary return of at least half of the murals to Mexico.  After several years of negotiation, an agreement between this museum and Mexico’s National institute of Anthropology was executed, providing for the joint conservation, exhibition and disposition of the collection.”

I am really struck with the honesty of this wall panel, and think that it should be seen as an example of the correct way to handle issues of cultural patrimony, and the transparency of the museum’s wheelings and dealings.  Okay, I’m getting a little choked up about the walltext…didactics aside, the murals were in excellent condition, the color looks like it was applied days ago instead of the centuries ago that it actually was.

Struck by the artwork, and by the honesty in a walltext

The last thing of note on the ground floor of the museum was a tiny little annex of a room which contained two mural cycles.  The two murals, The Land and The Sea, were painted by Gottardo F.P. Piazzoni between 1929 and 1932.  More transparency! The labels for these works say they are a “transfer” from the S.F. Arts Commission and the Asian Art Museum.  The two, five-panel murals were painted originally for the Old Main Library, and suggested views that might have been seen through the walls of the building.  The murals were removed from the Beaux Arts building when it was converted into the Asian Art Museum.  The room in which they are now displayed “was designed to reflect the dimensions and arrangement” of the original location.  I have a soft spot in my heart for projects like these since I worked a mural cycle, which had been removed from its original home.

Murals I'm glad they kept

The second floor has galleries reserved for temporary exhibitions, as well as the display of its early American, African, and Oceanic collections.  A curatorial trend I’ve noticed with the display of African art is to introduce it with contemporary works.  Both in L.A. (at LACMA recently) and at the de Young this took the form of an El Anatsui work.   The massive wall hangings, which look like glittering golden weavings by El Anatsui are actually made from recycled metal liquor bottle caps.  The works are made in El Anatsui’s native Ghana.  The contemporary work which is still craft-based is supposed to related to the more traditional African works in the galleries like masks and ceremonial objects.

El Anatsui, diplomatic work to contemporary visitors

Across from the El Anatsui work is the intro walltext for the African galleries.  More honesty and transparency:

“The museum’s collection of African art originated in the California Midwinter Exposition of 1894, when exhibits from “the colonies of Africa” and countries around the world were displayed in pavilions in Golden Gate Park.  The objects were presented as exotic curiosities in a stereotyped, even racist, manner; few people saw them as works of art.”

It then explains how the collection grew mostly randomly from various sources and that the objects on display are “mostly traditional-based arts,” but that the museum hopes that it will “grow in multitude and dimension in the future.”  This declaration for pursuing an increasingly scholarly and serious collection makes the collection more valuable to the public.  It also seemed to be a genuine statement of redress .

Yikes, that’s a lot of grubby fingerprints

Linked to the African galleries are the Pacific Island galleries (typical museum strategy for putting the “primitive art” next to one another.  The de Young never uses the term “primitive” I should add.)  The large wooden vitrines are massive and beautiful in their own right except they seem in desperate need of cleaning.  Finger and large handprints were strikingly visible on the glass of the cases, and they seemed neglected.  This bothered me mostly because the remedy seems so easy, grad some Windex!

Take a seat

The de Young also has an extensive collection of earlier American art installed on the second floor: painting, sculpture, decorative arts and furniture.  One of my favorite installations of objects from the permanent collection was an installation of a slew of various chairs in a skinny corridor.  This installation seemed Warholian, and reminded me of Warhol’s curated show Raid the Ice Box at the Rhode Island School of Design.  Unlike Warhol’s exhibition, all of the chairs in the de Young display are well conserved, but viewing them like this in one line allows for a visitor to see trends in object-making and compare materials and craftsmanship.

Popular tourist spot

Crowning the museum is an observatory tower whose top floor can be accessed by the public and allows for sweeping views of Golden Gate Park, and on less-foggy days amazing unobstructed views of the city.  The de Young also has special exhibition space.  The largest of these exhibition spaces is on the lower level of the building.  The next post will be a review of Birth of Impressionism, a traveling exhibition of works from the Musee de Orsay.

– H.I.

Sojourn to San Francisco (pt. 1)

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California Academy of Sciences

This cute baby giraffe draws you in…to the gift shop

Recently I took a trip north to San Francisco and of course I visited a few museums.  The next few installments of Exhibition Inquisition are going to be about museums in Norcal, this is a way to gradually wean you off of Los Angeles reviews, as I will be moving to Chicago in fall.  Also notice to Chicago: here I come.

Renzo's red

I didn’t just visit art museums during my trip north, but also visited the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.  I had been to the academy numerous times as a child, but hadn’t been since the Renzo Piano renovation had opened.  Of course Renzo Piano is also the architect of the BCAM at LACMA, and the soon-to-be-opened Resnick Pavilion, also at LACMA.  The architectural comparisons are fairly obvious: dominant cement and glass materials punctuated with accents of firetruck red.  The elevator at the Academy is of a twin of the one at LACMA.  Other than the obvious the Piano’s process of acknowledging the function and purpose of the building, and allowing that to dictate the form and design of the building.  Critics aside, BCAM operates as it was supposed to: a white cube for the display of contemporary art.  The Resnick Pavilion will do the same: a warehouse for creating temporary spaces for temporary exhibitions.  The Academy of Sciences works the same way.

Piano sketch, see the domes and the roof, like a series of hills, like San Francisco

The building is dominated by two large spheres (one is a planetarium, and one holds an indoor rainforest) whose forms are embraced by the roof of the building.  This can be seen in the architectural sketch by Piano.  The entry space is dominated by a large T-Rex skeleton.  I thought it was noteworthy that even in this contemporary space that looks nothing like a traditional museum, some vestiges were left, like the dinosaur skeletons being the first thing one see as they enter.

Some traditions, like T-Rex, are unavoidable

Behind this was an open air piazza that is nestled in-between the two orbs.  Around the two large spheres is water; a visitor has to go below ground level to understand that the water goes many feet below and is actually the top of several large aquarium tanks.  The building is a shrine to the sciences full of specimens and takes every opportunity to educate.  Literally no space is left unoccupied by something thought-provoking or beautiful.

I can’t believe Claude is still alive!

Old favorites are still around.  The biggest celebrity of the academy is the extremely rare albino alligator named Claude.  I remember seeing this baby both at the original academy and at the San Francisco Zoo at one point in time.  The old white guy was return to an enclosure that is fairly similar to the original.  Around the top of the case is a fairly tacky railing made up of bronze sea horses.  The sea horses are one of the details from the original building that were left intact.  A docent of the Academy (who knew my father, because my father knows literally everyone in the Bay Area) told me that his father was the artist who created the sea horses.

They’re not tacky, they’re classic

Below ground level was the aquarium space, which I have to say was not my favorite.  Strikingly similar to the Pardo-designed display cases in LACMA’s Pre-Columbian galleries, were some smaller sized tanks filled with various species.

These cases did nothing for this seadragon’s figure

Curvatious glass forms refracted the light and distorted the forms of the sea creatures within giving them a freakish fun-house mirror effect.  These smaller cases were accompanied by the large tanks full of many schools of fish, which were separated into several climates and locations.

Deep blue sea, but no sharks in this tank

I got thirsty while on the aquarium level and was amazed to find that even the act of drinking from the water fountain had been turned into an educational experience.  The Academy took this moment to inform me about the benefits of tap water versus bottled water.  This was similar to the moment I had when throwing away a piece of gum, where I was greeted with information about recycling which was mounted on the various trash and recycling cans.

Do you know where that gum wrapper is going to end up?—I do.

Back upstairs are the more traditional displays of taxidermied animals, mostly mammals from Africa.  Some oldies are still goodies.  I was absolutely astounded by the amount of detail that had executed in these display cases, in one scene flora surround the fauna but are given as much attention, including a beetle that seemingly meanders across a flower.

I hope someone got paid a lot of money for thinking about that beetle

The tableaus of frozen wildlife were mixed with staggered cases of live specimens and cases displaying only skeletons.  At the end of the hall was the ever popular penguin display, which gets crowded several times a day during feedings.  The coffered ceiling of the mammal hall had been preserved much like the seahorse balcony.  The ceiling had been livened with a coat of fresh white paint, but the arched barrel vault remained.

Coffered ceilings really get me going

Outside of the mammal hall is a crowded space full of smaller displays covering an array of topics including evolution and the Galapagos Islands.  One space that was getting a lot of attention from the kids was a media center that just played newsworthy pieces on several gigantic screens.  The media space was set in front of an audience of mostly empty chairs; this seemed to be the place the grandparents took a quick break from the screaming masses.

Grandparent zone

Next it was time to explore the rainforest dome.  This portion of the visit required waiting in line as only so many visitors are allowed in the climate controlled dome at once.  I was wearing a jacket and scarf the whole day at the museum, but quickly removed them once inside the rainforest dome.  Inside is a whole different world, you enter at the ground level and slowly work your way up so that you can experience the different sub-environments.  Birds and butterflies perch and swoop through the air all around the dome.

Visit just for this, because really, when is the next time you’re going to be in an Ecuadorian rainforest?

Then it was time for the planetarium show, which took place inside the other dome.  The curved space was all encompassing and would have been a very serious experience had the documentary movie not been narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.  I have to say I did prefer Whoopi to Oprah on the Life series, but that is mostly because whenever Oprah talked about mating I got creeped out.

Is the YOU Whoopi!?

The visit wasn’t over until we went to the roof of the building. Yes the roof looks like the set for the teletubbies show, but it’s actually a very practical and environmentally sound usage of a roof.  I can’t even begin to explain how amazing this roof is, but there is a lot to say and the Academy tells you most of the information on placards surrounding the accessible portion of roof.

No, Tinky Winky does not live here

All in all the new Academy of Sciences was everything I hoped it would be, so education, and yet so full of wonderful surprises.  The building and its architecture makes an exclamation point to the statements within about recycling, global warming, and climate change.  Even though I tried to see everything in one day, I’m sure each time I go back I will see and learn something new.  Below is a slide show of additional photos, since I feel like I couldn’t explain everything in this one post.

– H.I.

P.S. How could I almost forget about the actual art installation at the Academy?!  A few years back the De Young Museum, across the way from the Academy, organized a show of Maya Lin’s artworks.  Linn who is most famous for the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. works in a variety of media.  One of the last works in that exhibition, called Systematic Landscapes, were the preparatory sketches and designs for an artwork that was going to be installed at the Academy of Sciences once it reopened.

Understated work of art

This work is called Where the Land Meets the Sea, and it hangs outside the Academy.  The works is made up of a grid of seemingly randomly bent and twisted wires.  The work actually is an exaggerated topographic map of a portion of the San Francisco Bay.  Some of the high and low points have distinguishable references, like Angel Island.  This artwork is simultaneously aesthetically beautiful, and would be appreciated without knowing what it represents or what inspired it, but upon further self-driven exploration is really an education tool.  Job well done Academy of Sciences!