Neil’s First Visit to the De Young Museum

The Vivienne Westwood exhibition was also the first time Neil has seen the de Young Museum. I usually go on a weekday, when it’s not crowded, but the show happened to open on Saturday, so Neil was out of school.

Neil is learning about modern art in school this year, and he announced to me he prefers abstract art. Personally, I’m more into representational art, but the de Young has something for everyone. I led Neil to the galleries on the first level, which house the 20th-century American art. At first, Neil thought he recognized the artist for a number of paintings, until I pointed out to him that just because a painting looks like crap, it doesn’t mean it was made by Jackson Pollock. At last, Neil paused to appreciate this painting by Richard Diebenkorn:


I asked Neil to explain it to me. “It’s whatever you want it to be,” he told me. “It has to do with the colors, how they’re put up against one another, and the moods they express. What does it make you think of?”

I looked at it. It looked like a bunch of rectangles to me, but I had to exercise my imagination. “Maybe it’s a hot day and he’s thinking about a big swimming pool, and some smaller ones in his neighborhood,” I offered. “Or maybe it’s the beach, with the sun on top, and colorful beach blankets laid out by the shore.”

“Or maybe it’s a really big swimming pool, with parts of it covered,” Neil suggested. And maybe it wasn’t. When we go back, the painting might be of a semi-cloudy day, or happiness dissolving into a blue funk. I think I may be getting the hang of this abstract art thing.

We went to the sculpture garden to have lunch, and afterwards, Neil encouraged Kelly and me to follow him down a lane that goes underground at one end of the garden. For more than a year now, I thought it was just a path back out into Golden Gate Park. It turned out to be an art installation I never realized was there. It led into a big circle, which when you followed it around, came to the entrance of a dome structure inside it. The dome has a big hole open to the sky above. All through the installation, there are cameras, but whether they’re filming you, or who’s watching (or will be watching) what’s going on inside the installation is a mystery.

We went back into the museum, because I wanted Neil to see the historical American art on the second floor. Some camera crew had decided that mid-day Saturday, when the de Young has its most visitors, would be the exact same time they would film an interview with whispery people. The entire east wing of the 2nd floor (and also the wing with the American art) was on a draconian hush-down as a result. Several times the crew came up to us and swore it was only going to be another 5 minutes, if only we could manage to remain absolutely and completely silent. It went on like this for a good 20 minutes, until I decided the project was either put together by idiots who think no one ever actually goes into art museums, or that it was some sick psychological experiment. I dislike both, so I took my kids to the observation tower.

To get to the observation tower, you have to get into an elevator to take you the 9 stories up. We happened to get in with a group of Brits. Two of them observed that the sound the elevator made as it passed each floor sounded just like a submarine descending to the depths. Their imagination-impaired companion objected, pointing out that we were going up, not down, and we weren’t underwater anyway. Is there some kind of help group for such people? Of course, we were in a submarine: it was just upside-down and topsy-turvy. Duh!

Inside the observation tower, we had stunning views of Golden Gate Park and San Francisco. It was one of those rare, beautiful, perfect days. The sun was shining, and it was warm, but not hot. I love looking out at the Pacific Ocean from the observation tower, but Neil parked himself on the side that looked towards the Academy of Sciences (which is still under construction). On the plaza below, he watched people as they biked thorough, took photographs of the statues, gathered at the picnic tables, and so on. I think he could have stayed there all day, but I was ready to head over to Wonder Con to see my friends.

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