Posts Tagged ‘museums’

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The Broad

October 30th, 2019
The Broad

 

My final stop on this trip to Los Angeles was The Broad (pronounced more like “The Brode”) a free modern art museum financed by the wealthy Broad family.

The museum’s main gallery is on the top and third floor, which unfortunately was the only part I had time to visit before heading to the airport. So take what I have to say next with a grain of salt.

 

The Broad The Broad The Broad

 

The main gallery is an almost paint-by-numbers collection focusing on most of the modern art superstars you probably have seen before: Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, etc. If you’ve never seen works from these artists by all means go to The Broad immediately and get up to speed on modern art. For the rest of us it’s largely comfort food.

One clever piece you’ll only see at The Broad is Under the Table by Robert Therrien. This is a giant table and chair set that seems to be a selfie-magnet, as though you’ve somehow been shrunken down after taking the pill that makes you smaller from Alice and Wonderland.

Another artist in the main collection I found particularly interesting was Robert Longo, who takes (or stages) photos, projects them, and then paints them with attention to movement and/or makes subtle differences to re-contextualize them in unusual and interesting ways.

One gallery focused on Ellsworth Kelly, who somehow turned canvases into art that I found physically painful to look at due to the bright contrasting colors. When I attempted to take photos I found some vindication as my iPhone camera had serious issues with autofocus when pointed at his pieces.

 

The Broad

 

What I did find particularly impressive about The Broad is the building itself. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro — the same firm that designed the Moscone West screen that never really worked — it looks like a white cheese grater on the outside, but on the inside it’s as though someone built an Apple Store inside of a hollowed-out cave.

I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, I just can’t think of any other way to describe the design without sounding like a crazy person.

 

My recommendation: To be clear I’ve only seen the main gallery on the third floor at The Broad. If you’re unfamiliar with modern art it’s a pretty solid introduction and the price is right — just make a free reservation online and go. Otherwise I’d suggest checking out the special exhibits instead. The friendly staff on the first floor will check in any bags and coats as needed.

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LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits

October 27th, 2019
LACMA

 

I left the Hollywood History tour a little tired, but decided to soldier on via an LA Metro bus to see LACMA and the La Brae Tar Pits next door. I should point out in advance I didn’t pay to enter either museum; LACMA’s main gallery is currently being rebuilt, and the La Brae Tar Pits museum is largely aimed at kids from what I understand.

The first exhibit I encountered at LACMA’s grounds is an outdoor piece called Levitated Mass. It’s an enormous boulder held in place with bolts over a subterranean concrete ramp. Seems simple enough, but due to a mishap with the original boulder the artist had selected, it took several decades to complete.

 

LACMA

 

The other big installation outdoors at LACMA is Urban Light, a series of outdoor light posts you might find lining a street, except all bunched up in close-knit grid.

It is kind of a headtrip to wander through this and see standard urban street furniture intentionally misused, though the main attraction seems to be getting one’s photo taken among the light posts.

 

LACMA

 

A more traditional sculpture garden off to the side features various sculptures, currently focusing on “The Invisible Man and the Masque of Blackness” by Zak OvĂ© .

This series of statues feature a semi-faceless series of nearly identical statues that look abstract yet somehow of African descent. I was surprised to see it again as this particular work was recently exhibited at Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.

Unlike the San Francisco version of the exhibit, LACMA’s is enclosed on three sides by a fence with a security guard out front. This changed the meaning completely for me — as a white man — particularly since the security guard was a black man. I don’t know what more to say here other than art can be powerful when the context is shifted.

 

LACMA

 

While trying to find the restrooms I wandered through a massive, two story tall geometric sculpture called “Smoke.” From ground level it felt intimidating, but when I wandered up the stairs and looked down upon it, it seemed much less interesting.

It’s amazing what perspective can do with large scale art installations.

 

La Brae Tar Pits

 

On the other side of the block there’s the La Brae Tar Pits, an excavation site where various fossil remains were dredged up back in the day.

Today the tar pits are known for their absurd recreations of… woolly mammoths, I guess? They look like some embarrassing 1950’s highway attraction like the “world’s largest ball of twine” or whatever.

The tar pits themselves smell like tar, similar to when a building is getting a new tar roof. It’s not very pleasant.

I’ll admit part of the reason I went over there was to see if I could spot LA puppeteer, actor, artist, and singer David Liebe Hart — an oddball local character who’s known for hanging out there. Unfortunately for me he was nowhere to be found.

 

The LA Metro Purple Line extension is being built a block down the street, and since it’s located so close to the tar pits the excavation is a slow process with paleontologists ensuring our natural heritage is preserved. As such I had to take a very crowded Metro Rapid bus back downtown instead of the yet to open subway.

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Museum of International Propaganda

July 6th, 2019

Museum of International Propaganda
Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda
 

My last stop in downtown San Rafael was a tiny museum with an unusual premise: the Museum of International Propaganda.

Housed in a former shoe store, each section of the museum is devoted to a certain type of propaganda. Examples include leader worship, promoting the military, and demonizing a perceived enemy.

It seemed to me a prevailing theme was the truth didn’t matter, as long as it got the message across. Are the farms failing? Start a rumor of an American covert operation! Is the leader of the country a war criminal? Here’s a photo of him smiling with some children!

One of the most surprising artifacts in the museum is a watch, part of a limited series given out to soldiers who participated in the Tiananmen Square massacre.

At the end of the main gallery, it switches to parodies of propaganda:

 
Museum of International Propaganda
 

It’s interesting how the same imagery used to control the populace can be flipped on its head, now mocking the same authority it was once used to prop up.

The last area of the museum is a temporary gallery; it’s worth pointing out here the museum has only been around a couple years so temporary is relative. Right now it’s mostly about propaganda from the last presidential election to present day.
 

Museum of International Propaganda Museum of International Propaganda
 

My recommendation: This is a very thought provoking museum, far more interesting than I would have expected. Definitely work a visit if you’re in the area and it happens to be open (the hours are very limited.) It’s free, though they do accept donations and ask you to sign the guestbook.

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Natural History Museum of Utah

May 2nd, 2019

Natural History Museum of Utah
Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah Natural History Museum of Utah
 

On the University of Utah’s campus is the Natural History Museum of Utah. The focus of the museum is entirely on Utah’s geography, climate, and living beings from the time of single celled organisms up until the Ute people lived in the area.

The museum’s current location is in a building completed in 2011, relatively new by museum standards. The exhibits are largely well put together and maintained; the dinosaur portion of the museum is particularly impressive.

It seems to have been put together with a deliberately broad appeal with interactive exhibits and puzzles for kids, basic biology you probably learned as a teenager (a refresher never hurts), as well as more in-depth exhibits for adults.

Personally I went to this museum because it was my last day in Salt Lake City, and I wanted something to do where I wouldn’t have to carry my stuff around all day (the museum has lockers.) I figured the dinosaur exhibit would be the most interesting part. And while it was, their comprehensive exhibit on the adaptation and evolution of life quickly became my favorite exhibit.

They also have an interactive earthquake exhibit that I think was aimed at kids, but since nobody else was around I had it all to myself. I have to admit it’s very entertaining. The gist of it is you build a one or two story building on a special table, then hit a button on a computer screen to simulate one of several historical earthquakes and see how your building stands up — or doesn’t.
 

My recommendation: It’s not the largest museum of its kind, but there’s a little something for anyone interested in Utah’s natural history (including dinosaurs.) The location is pretty far from downtown though it’s a short walk from a number of popular hiking trails. Worth considering if you’re in that part of town.

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The Art Institute of Chicago

April 20th, 2019

Art Institute of Chicago
Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago Art Institute of Chicago
 

One block south of Millennium Park is a stately looking building housing the Art Institute of Chicago, an art museum with a vast collection of pieces from all over the world. From the street you might think it’s a small museum, but you’d be wrong. The building visible from the street is largely a facade; the majority of the galleries are in a sprawling complex of wings on the other side of the train tracks behind the entry building.

Broadly the museum is broken down into Asian, classic (Greek and Roman), European, American, and contemporary. That’s not a comprehensive list but it gives you an idea of the scope. I have to admit that due to the convoluted layout of the place I’m not sure exactly how much I was able to see.

The sheer size of the museum is both a blessing and a curse, like an enormous yard sale where there’s some rare book on a table surrounded by broken Cuisinarts.

For example one room had a bunch of paintings by Monet that for some reason devoted an entire wall to paintings of haystacks. Then I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a small yet beautiful self portrait of Van Gogh.

The biggest strength of the museum is how it can expose you to styles of art you’re unlikely to have ever seen before. On the flip side its biggest weakness is displays of art from the Art Institute’s associated school. Don’t get me wrong, they have some fantastic staff and alumni — just their collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings alone would be considered a special exhibit at any other museum — but overall the selection of works from their own school seemed sloppy and haphazard. This part of the museum would benefit from a neutral third party curator much in the same way doctors aren’t supposed to treat themselves.

The audio guide tour can be rented or like many museums these days you can also get it for free simply by downloading the Art Institute’s app on your phone and bringing your own headphones. Only one or two works in each gallery have an audio guide component and those that do are always the highlights.
 

My recommendation: If you’re in Chicago and you’re at all into art, there’s almost certainly something you’ll enjoy at this museum. Perfect indoor activity for a day with uncooperative weather.

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Driehaus Museum

April 19th, 2019

Driehaus Museum
 

Originally built as a second home for the wealthy east coast Nickerson family, today the Driehaus Museum focuses on home life in the Gilded Age of America. I realize that’s a lot of description crammed into one sentence so let’s break it down.

Sam Nickerson and his wife built their Chicago mansion about a decade after the Great Chicago Fire. As such it’s built with solid brick walls. The interior is lined with pretty much every material you can think of; many types of wood, tile, fabric, and even a precursor to linoleum.

When the Nickersons decided to move away, they sold their home at a steep discount to a friend. It eventually was converted into offices, and was most recently purchased by a different wealthy Chicago man, investor Richard Driehaus. Hence the name of the museum.

 
Driehaus Museum Driehaus Museum
Driehaus Museum Driehaus Museum
Driehaus Museum Driehaus Museum
 

In the early 2000’s Driehaus had the property restored as much as possible to its original glory, with a mix of original furniture and period-appropriate furnishings from his own collection. Throughout the home you’ll find everything from Tiffany lamps to (seemingly decorative) office supplies.

Additionally you’ll see special exhibits, which currently include a small exhibit about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a much larger exhibit throughout the museum by British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare which broadly reinterprets elements of the era ranging from colonialism to Oscar Wilde. These will change in the future so check the museum’s website for up to date information on current exhibits.
 

My recommendation: Such an eclectic museum seems like it should be an off the beaten path find, and yet it’s located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. If it sounds interesting I’d start by booking the hour long guided highlights tour and going from there — the tour includes general admission. Coat and bag check is free.

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A visit to the Oakland Museum of California

February 10th, 2019

Oakland Museum of California
 

With so many museums in the Bay Area to choose from, I’d never gotten around to visiting the Oakland Museum of California until yesterday. It’s not that it wasn’t on my radar, I just wasn’t sure what it was aside from a funny looking building I occasionally pass by while walking from the Lake Merritt BART station to Lake Merritt itself.

The reason I finally decided to visit was the Eames special exhibit (more on that below.) A while back they had a special exhibit on Pixar and I’ve been kicking myself for missing it ever since; the Eames exhibit ends on February 18th and I was determined not to make the same mistake twice.

Before going any further, what is the Oakland Museum of California? The name tells you where it is, but not what kind of museum. Is it an art museum? Science? History? Who’s the target audience? There’s no definitive answer but I’ll provide the best one I can at the end.

I bought tickets at the museum rather than online. In the morning this wasn’t an issue, but in the afternoon the lines grew significantly longer. If you buy a “print at home” ticket you only have to wait in a short line to exchange your printouts for a sticker. As far as I know you can’t present tickets on your phone.

For backpacks and jackets they have a number of free lockers available. These work like hotel lockers where you punch in your own PIN. Be sure to test these before you leave your stuff here, I tried two lockers before I found one where the lock worked correctly.
 

Special Exhibit: The World of Charles and Ray Eames
 

Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

If you’re at all familiar with mid-century American furniture you’ve probably heard of Eames. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell you’d probably recognize many of their iconic designs from shows like Mad Men or even cheap knockoffs sold at chain furniture stores.

Eames wasn’t some big faceless furniture company — it was the name of a Los Angeles design firm headed by husband and wife designers Charles and Ray Eames. While they both passed away a few decades ago, many of their iconic furniture designs are still manufactured today. In fact I’m even writing this from the comfort of an Eames Aluminum Group Management Chair.

Despite the Eames name being most closely associated with furniture it’s hardly the only type of design work they produced. The exhibit doesn’t go too deep into how Charles and Ray got their interest in design, instead delving into World War II as the couple experimented with molded plywood to develop leg splints and stretchers for wounded soldiers. When this didn’t pan out they turned their focus to home and office furniture after the war, partnering with Herman Miller for manufacturing and sales.
 

Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

This is where the exhibit took an unexpected (to me, at least) twist into film. After working on a few very short films Eames was hired by IBM to create a film for an exhibition. The film was displayed on several screens and explained in simple terms how to break down a problem into a model so a computer could help solve it. One such example involved predicting the weather, using the weather data to predict attendance at a baseball game, which the stadium would use to know how many hot dogs to order. Like most old educational films it’s a little hard to judge this one by modern standards. For one thing I doubt most people need to be sold on the concept of computers anymore.

Another Eames film in a similar multi-screen format was originally shown in the Soviet Union as part of a cross-cultural program. The description said this was intended to highlight advantages of American capitalism. This film didn’t age well; the dated images of Americans driving to shopping centers came across less like a promotion of capitalism and more like a parody of suburban banality. Between the dimly lit room, slow pacing, and the Eames Lounge Chair I was relaxing in, it felt like time for a nap. Each mini-theater at the exhibit featured Eames chairs to sit in but this one felt like a particularly poor choice.

 

The last film in the exhibit surprised me the most because I’ve seen it several times but had no idea it was created by Eames: Powers of Ten. The exhibit includes three versions of the film, starting with a glorified storyboard and ending up with the final 1977 version above.

Each version begins with a guy sleeping after a picnic in a park, then zooming out exponentially in powers of ten until ending up at the limit of the observable universe. The final version also zips back in the opposite direction into the nucleus of an atom inside the picnicker’s hand. I think the film still holds up even if the graphics look a little dated. Spend the next ten nine minutes watching the video above for yourself if you’ve never seen it.
 

Gallery of California History
 

Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

After grabbing lunch at the museum’s cafe I headed back across from the special exhibit hall to see one of the three permanent exhibits: the Gallery of California History. Those of us who grew up in California probably won’t get much out of this one, but for kids there’s a lot of objects you’re free to touch or little doors and boxes to open.

The exhibit starts with the lives of California’s first human inhabitants, the native Ohlone people. From there time skips ahead with the arrival of the Spanish, followed by the takeover by America and the Gold Rush. Here the exhibit takes a bold yet straightforward stance: it refers to American settlers slaughtering California’s Native Americans as genocide.

This dichotomy of high and low moments continues throughout the decades as the exhibit goes on. Chinese laborers build the transcontinental railroad, only to return home to California facing racism and violence. Hollywood movie studios sprang up, but all the good roles went to white actors. The 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed most of San Francisco leaving hundreds of thousands of people scrambling to find new lives, if not outright inventing new ones due the destruction of their paper documentation. Japanese internment camps stripped over one hundred thousand people of their rights during World War II.

Black Californians began protesting for equal rights in the 1960’s and 70’s, and at this point the exhibit’s timeline starts to seem more familiar. News footage, statistics, and a list of demands from the Black Power movement still seem relevant today.

 
Oakland Museum of California

The final section of the California History gallery wasn’t 100% operational during my visit, but what was open felt both interesting yet incomplete. It focused on the achievements of Silicon Valley with Hewlett Packard and Apple starting out of their founders’ garages. Yesterday’s computers were behind glass, including an early Mac and a Palm Pilot. I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt old seeing these “ancient” relics in a history exhibit.

The absence of any deeper insight of this part of the gallery was surprising. Perhaps it’s too soon to say who benefited or lost due to Silicon Valley’s rapid rise? It hardly fit the rest of the exhibit’s analysis of California’s history.
 

Gallery of California Natural Sciences

 
Oakland Museum of California

Just under the history gallery is the first floor exhibit on nature in California.

I hate to say it but this exhibit doesn’t have much going for it. The environmental info was hardly new or surprising, and the taxidermied animals felt a little creepy. Not sure who it was intended for as this exhibit was nearly deserted during my visit with maybe five or six others.

I quickly bailed on this gallery, but not after snapping the above photo of Oakland’s tree logo built out of pipes.
 

Gallery of California Art

 
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

The art gallery includes many styles and forms of art from or relating to California, arranged chronologically. The first part of the gallery largely focuses on 19th century oil paintings, mostly landscapes. Yosemite Valley is a recurring theme here as well as Gold Rush era San Francisco.

Gold Rush era photographs are displayed in a small side room, which I almost missed. That would have been a mistake — although the photos are very small, they’re also quite detailed and provide a glimpse into the past most of us rarely get a chance to see.

Walking away from the entrance is like a trip forward in time, with figure paintings, photographs, Impressionism, dioramas, modern art, and lastly a few contemporary special exhibits. It’s undoubtedly a solid collection though I wasn’t clear how some of the pieces connected to California, even after reading all the descriptions.

Unlike the rest of the museum there’s not much for younger children to do in the art gallery.

Before moving on here’s a couple paintings early on in this gallery I found interesting.

Oakland Museum of California

This piece by George Henry Burgess captures an unfamiliar landscape… or does it? The painting shows Gold Rush era San Francisco featuring Telegraph Hill in the center, with what I believe is Montgomery Street (or perhaps a parallel street west of Montgomery) leading up to the hill.

If you look closely a the edge of the bay there’s a pier under construction. All the ships are much further out in the bay, since the water was far too shallow near the eastern edge of San Francisco to bring ships closer in. What’s now Embarcadero and the Ferry Building would have been underwater.

Oakland Museum of California

The above painting by Albert Bierstadt sits at the end of a hallway. At first I didn’t think much of it — it’s clearly Yosemite Valley, perhaps on a hazy morning — but the background is so overdone it looks almost cartoonish.

But in front of the painting there’s a few seats with headphones. I sat down, put on a pair of headphones and hit the play button. An unnamed narrator (who sounds suspiciously like Oakland-based podcaster Avery Trufelman) walks the viewer through a short meditation-like exercise of essentially imaging oneself in the painting.

I came away enjoying the piece more after this exercise, and wondered why museums with audio guides don’t have similar features to help guide viewers in appreciating a piece rather than simply discussing facts about it.
 

Garden

 
Oakland Museum of California
Oakland Museum of California Oakland Museum of California

A network of terrace gardens, stairways, and patios extends across and above the museum, with a grassy field at the bottom. There’s a number of outdoor sculptures to see. During my visit some of the walkways were covered in large puddles due to the rain earlier in the day.

On the field down below a Chinese New Year celebration was taking place. Not many people had turned up, probably due to the weather.

I’m not sure if you need museum admission to enter the garden. I put on a sweatshirt that completely covered my museum admission sticker and nobody stopped me or said anything.
 

So, what is the Oakland Museum of California?

With the three galleries covering different topics and exhibits for both children and adults, this museum wants to be all things to all people. Without any clear focus it’s a hit-or-miss affair, never quite going into the depth I’d expect for a museum of this size.

To me it seemed almost like three museums glued together. So it was no surprise to read this about the museum on Wikipedia: “It was created in the mid-1960s out of the merger of three separate museums dating from the early 20th century…”

There’s something else going on here too: according to the education section of the museum’s website students can “[e]xplore art, history, and natural science under one roof…” The website also includes curriculum for teachers. During weekdays the museum must act as a magnet for school field trips.

 
My recommendation: I don’t think I’d visit the Oakland Museum of California just for the permanent collection. That said if there’s a special exhibit that sounds interesting it’s worth checking out the rest of the museum too while visiting, or at least the top two floors (history and art galleries.) The cafe’s fine, though you could probably find better options nearby.

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Maritime Museum of San Diego

December 31st, 2018

Maritime Museum
 

This one’s a little strange: San Diego’s Maritime Museum is just a collection of various old ships and submarines you can wander around. I walked up to the ticket counter on shore just outside the Star of India ship and showed the guy the QR code for my ticket on my phone, and he didn’t really look at it before stamping my hand. So it’s a pretty low-key operation.

Boarding the Star of India is interesting and unexpected. It’s an old sailing ship but strangely not that old. It’s from the 19th century and the hull is made of iron! Yes, it looks like an old wooden sailing ship but it’s not — yet it really did sail the world under wind power.

As it turns out I was doing this museum kind of backward, but that’s okay, it’s a quirky museum of old ships and the order you visit barely matters. That said the Star of India is the only ship in the museum with its own entrance on the waterfront. This particular ship is a state landmark.

 
Maritime Museum Maritime Museum
 

For the most part these old ships are more interesting below deck where you can see how the sailors lived in cramped quarters. One unusual feature of the Star of India is what appears to be some kind of jukebox thing on the deck turns out to be a well decorated skylight from the deck below.

The museum includes so many ships I’m not going to include them all.

 
Maritime Museum
 

I intentionally skipped a Soviet submarine that’s supposedly fascinating but a pain to crawl through. It was pretty odd to see a Soviet flag flying in San Diego, if for no other reason that it makes me feel old.

Unlike kids today I remember the end of the Cold War with the USSR. Back in the day the Republican party was all about tearing down a border wall instead of building a new one. How times have changed.

 
Maritime Museum Maritime Museum
 

The other ship at the museum that interested me was the HMS Surprise, a replica wooden ship built for tourists back in 1970. Since then it’s been used for various purposes, but was most notably featured in the 2003 film Master and Commander.

Is it a historic ship? That’s hard to say. It was initially built as a replica of the 18th century HMS Rose, but was modified to fit Hollywood films in more recent decades.

I couldn’t help laughing at the (oversized) cannons pointed at a cruise ship, wondering what it would take to blow a cruise ship out of the water with an old wood galley ship. “FIRE”, I imagined ordering the gun deck as we swung around the unarmored cruise ship.

The number of tourists at the Maritime Museum was pretty light, especially compared to the USS Midway Museum. Here and there a bunch of children were running around, but for the most part visitors were surprisingly sparse. It’s a large museum, one that can make people seasick and turn off visitors afraid of climbing or heights.

My recommendation: Overall it’s a weird museum, and as such I’m not sure who to recommend it to. Personally I loved it, and if you read this blog you probably will too. A lot of children seem to like it as well. That said if you have trouble with stairs and ladders it’s not for you.

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San Diego’s Balboa Park

December 29th, 2018

Balboa Park
 

I suspected one of the places I had to see in San Diego was Balboa Park, but I also knew very little about it. Where to start? So I signed up for a 90 minute morning walking tour through Airbnb, Tour & Hidden Secrets of Balboa Park. The tour was a great intro to the park, going over its history, plants, architecture, and pointing out a few hidden spots most visitors probably miss.

The main area of the park includes a lot to see: a number of museums, a botanical garden, a Spanish Village-themed art gallery, the Shakespeare-inspired Old Globe Theater, a couple of restaurants, an outdoor auditorium for organist performances, various gardens, and probably many other things I missed.

Point is you could easily spend a day or two here if you wanted to see everything. And that’s only one small section of the park: there are also hiking trails, the San Diego Zoo (but not the Safari Zoo), and even a hospital.

 
Balboa Park Balboa Park Balboa Park Balboa Park
 

Many of the buildings in the main stretch of the park today were built for two expositions, the first of which coincided with the opening of the Panama Canal. Those buildings have either been restored or replaced since exposition buildings are typically meant to be temporary.

The reflecting pool in the last photo in the above gallery sits in front of the botanical garden. For whatever reason so many people have abandoned unwanted exotic pets there the park had to put up a sign telling people not to abandon animals in the pool.

This immediately reminded me of a story I heard on the Gaslamp tour where a bar owner kept exotic animals including a bear. His animal collection was tolerated until the bear bit a police officer’s nose, and so the barkeeper was ordered to remove the animals from his bar. The barkeeper’s solution? He just abandoned them all outside of town. If this is how San Diegans have treated their animals over the years, it certainly puts SeaWorld in context.

 
Balboa Park
 

My favorite part of the botanical garden was this tiny sign in a small garden devoted to carnivorous plants, although the touch-and-sniff herb garden was a close second.

Speaking of funny and unexpected signs…

 
Balboa Park
 

As the tour ended a fleet of food trucks were setting up shop. Due to a scheduling problem — for once not my fault — I thought I only had a few hours to spare after the tour. So I grabbed a quick lunch at a food truck and ate it at a sunken garden that at one point in time was apparently a nudist colony.

On one hand it’s hard to imagine paying to watch naked people go about their day at a park, on the other hand they didn’t exactly have YouTube back then. And hey, you’re reading about my travels so who are you to judge how other spend their free time?

Before jumping on a bus out of Balboa Park for the day, there was one quick stop I knew I had to make.

 
Timken Museum of Art Timken Museum of Art
 

The Timken Museum of Art is a tiny museum with free admission in Balboa Park. It’s a quirky little museum featuring mostly European paintings from the 16th through the 18th centuries, give or take.

Overall it’s a tasteful collection and it’s hard to argue with the price of entry. The museum guards kept having to shoo away toddlers and small children from the priceless paintings — a thankless job to be sure.

 
Timken Museum of Art
 

A few minutes before I left the above painting caught my eye. At first I thought I must have seen the painting before, then I realized no, it only looked familiar because I’ve been there. I forgot to write down the year or artist behind this painting but suffice it to say Saint Mark’s Square in Venice is well preserved.

How strange is it that a trip to San Diego made me reminisce about my trip to Italy?

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Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA

October 12th, 2018

SFMOMA & Magritte
 

The Rene Magritte exhibit at SFMOMA, “The Fifth Season,” wraps up at the end of October. If you haven’t seen it yet now is the time. This isn’t the largest exhibit with only around 70 works, but what’s there is impressive.

I finally went to see it last weekend and strongly recommend it, with some minor caveats.

Not familiar with Magritte? You’ve seen his work before but may not know his name. He’s the artist behind “Son of Man,” aka the guy with the bowler hat and the apple floating in front of his face (see above) as well as other paintings including “The Treachery of Images,” aka “C’est ne pas une pipe.”

Instead of focusing on his life as an artist overall the exhibit focuses on a few key later points in Magritte’s life. This approach has its strengths and weaknesses, in particular it focuses on Magritte’s most well known periods while leaving out how he got his start.

 
SFMOMA & Magritte SFMOMA & Magritte
 

Magritte’s works tend to look simple at first glance, but on closer examination contain surprising visual contradictions. His paintings have themes between them, but the themes aren’t always clear unless they’re pointed out. Thankfully the exhibit’s arrangements and audio guide do an excellent job of explaining this.

The audio guides for the Magritte exhibit are worth checking out, available as a mobile app (bring earbuds and your phone.) There’s about half an hour of audio content including interviews with an artist who lived in Magritte’s attic.

Ultimately I would have stayed much longer listening to more tales of Magritte’s life and works if they’d been available. For an artist who has so many well known paintings, he also went through periods of different styles, particularly during World War II, that are difficult to contextualize against his most familiar style.

The trivia I found most interesting was how Magritte titled his paintings, or more accurately how he didn’t. He tended to bring out his latest works to friends over dinner and wine and let them come up with appropriate titles.

The entrance to the exhibit features floor to ceiling curtains, echoing many of Magritte’s works. Some reviewers felt this to be a little too on the nose but I thought it was amusing. The exit was more startling. By standing in certain places one could insert themselves into digital versions of Magritte’s works. To me these felt like they belonged at the Exploratorium, or worse at some Instagram-friendly “museum.”

And of course you have to exit the exhibit through a gift shop, with special Magritte-focused merchandise.
 

You have until October 28th to check out the Magritte Exhibit at SFMOMA. Tickets cost as much as $35 and include access to the entire museum. I highly recommend the SFMOMA app both for this exhibit and SFMOMA in general.