SFMOMA, On a Whimby Meg Elison on Sep, 24 2012
There’s not much that I miss about SoCal. I have always felt like I was more NorCal at heart, and I was so excited to move up north this fall. One of the things I do miss is the Getty Center Museum in Los Angeles. I was a frequent visitor there before coming to Cal, and I’ve been looking for a replacement destination to fill me with awe the way that used to. Last week, my roommate suggested that we visit the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA.)
SFMOMA is currently showing an eclectic variety of modern art. If you’re looking for a little star power, there’s a Paul Klee exhibit featuring the work of the man himself, as well as Josef Albers, who has the dubious honor of being known as a friend and chief imitator of Klee’s work. SFMOMA is also housing a notable and recognizable Andy Warhol and a sweet spastic Jackson Pollock that will draw you from three rooms away with its bizarre and jazzy magnetism. There’s a sizeable Matisse exhibit, made up of unlikely green-skinned beauties and arresting profiles that you’d stare at even if you missed the famous name.
One standout was an installation of Jim Campbell’s “Exploded Views.” Among other things, the exhibit offers an enormous hanging sequence of LEDs that are controlled by computer. The assembly of lights hangs directly over the main entrance and when viewed from below seems to twinkle as randomly as a string of Christmas tree lights. After staring up with my mouth open for a few minutes, I climbed to the second story gallery that looked straight out into the light display. When seen from that angle, the lights flashed patterns that looked like the shadows of people dancing. It was spellbinding and intricate and invited long-term staring.
The big disappointment of the excursion was the Cindy Sherman exhibit. You may not know the name, but if you’ve been near the heart of the city or SOMA recently, you’ve seen her face on hundreds of pink banners hanging from lampposts, advertising this headlining installation. Hype is terribly dangerous; it can heighten anticipation of something glorious or utterly oversell something mediocre and produce prodigious disappointment. Sherman’s work got the unfortunate latter end of that deal. As a photo series, Sherman’s work is meant to explore the role of women in society. She clearly set out to evoke some powerful and fraught images that evoke our expectations and stereotypes, asking us to think about what we make of each created persona while the woman (Sherman) in each costume remains the same. The failure of the work is that it reads as a parody. The costumes and makeup land somewhere between SNL and those hateful caricatures of Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton you’ll find in right-leaning news magazines. Sherman never truly becomes the woman of her fancy; she remains a woman in female drag who is trying really hard to make a point. It’s all artifice and ego and the meaning gets lost somewhere in the desperation. As a feminist and a lover of feminist art, I tried really hard to love this. Love did not come. Instead I felt that most chagrined of all museum emotions: embarrassment for an artist who seems not to have a clue.
The best part of the collection consisted of some of her earlier work in black and white. I got the impression that she had gained her notoriety for this better, more solid artistry. She really has an eye and this is the best of what they’re offering from her photography. It seemed that the decision had been made to stress the newer work and it just failed to measure up to her established talent. If you check this out, be sure not to miss this bit. It’s not the focus of the exhibit, but it should be.
On the foursquare check-in point for SFMOMA, the top tip let us know that there are two Waldos (of “Where’s Waldo?” fame) hidden on two buildings visible from the roof of the museum. After a few minutes of searching, the help of a mysterious guard, and a few terrifying moments in a glass sky bridge, we found them both. A couple of kids caught on to our pursuit and took up the game, and we passed on our clues so they could play, too. Any visit to a museum will expose you to astonishing works of beauty as well as those that make you roll your eyes and wonder why, but the best part of the experience is always going to be one that you shared. Take a friend and a good sense of humor, go to SFMOMA, find Waldo and see some good art.
Visit their website to plan your adventure: Sfmoma.org
Admission is $11 with current student ID.