Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Museums of San Francisco

A bit more time to explore - in between meetings and actors' auditions at the Opera. San Francisco has a wealth of culture - I am going to enjoy being here for a month, if I can find any time around what looks like an insane rehearsal schedule.

There are three exhibitions here at the moment which won't be around come October, and I've managed to take them all in. The Asian Art Museum, which is a complete treasure-house on all sorts of levels, has an exhibition about Bali, much of which is about performance as something integral to the way of life. There are the famous shadow and rod puppets, of course - but there's also material about the dances of the Barong masks, and the performative rituals associated with cremations.

At the Modern Art Museum, there's a fantastic exhibition of the paintings collected by the Stein family (Gertrude, Leo, Michael and Sarah) in Paris in the early years of the 20th century. I'd read a lot about this in the John Richardson biography of Picasso - wonderful to see so many of the original paintings gathered together. In particular, there are Picasso's first forays into mask-like portraiture, including a surprisingly tiny self-portrait, and the incredible portrait of Gertrude Stein herself. The exhibition also has loads of Matisse, purchased mainly by Michael and Sarah, as well as the revolutionary Woman with a Hat, which still feels radical and wildly colourful when you encounter it in the raw. One of the curators has written a piece suggesting that these radical movements in painting took place in "tranquil times" in comparison to the turbulent 21st century..... what about Guernica? Still - it's interesting that he suggests the abandonment of the representational allowed artists to think of the painting as an object in its own right, operating in the world by virtue of its presence.

The third exhibition is the smallest, but for me the most relevant and specific. It's a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of Angels in America, called More Life! It has costumes, props, videos and photos, Tony Kushner's desk.... and, fascinatingly, his original notebooks. The layout is very instructive. He writes down ideas as if they are lines of dialogue, without allocating them to characters or situations. And yet they form a sort of conversation. This is how his work is so brilliantly dramatic, so totally dialectical - he's constantly having a dialogue with himself.

And there was an image of Nancy Crane, playing the Angel. Our old friend, here on the walls of San Francisco.

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