Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Night at the Art Museum

Art museums fascinate me.  From the brilliance of their architectural design to what their symbiotic relationship with a city reveals, I love visiting art museums.  After I've spent time in one, I always leave feeling enriched from the experience ~ a sense of appreciation both for the artwork and its creative process ~ and I can't wait to return.

The British Museum in London
Since the beginning of this millennium, my vacation travels have provided me with many wonderful opportunities to connect with some of the great art museums of the world:  The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam; the British Museum and Tate Modern in London; the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City; and the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay in Paris.  In the U.S., among the many museums I've visited include:  The Art Institute of Chicago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, the Portland (Ore.) Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  And, I fond of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, dedicated to the work of one of my favorite 20th Century painters, located in my adopted hometown of Ocean Springs, Miss.

The de Young Museum
in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Closer to the Bay Area, San Francisco is home to many first-class art museums, including the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive) in Golden Gate Park, commonly called simply the de Young Museum.  The de Young, which reopened its doors 2005 after an extensive renovation, is currently exhibiting Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay through September 6.  Then, from September 25 to January 18, 2011, it will host Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay.  

The Musee d'Orsay in Paris
The world's best cities deserve the world's best art, and the de Young Museum is the only museum to host and present two consecutive special exhibitions from the Musee d'Orsay.  Situated in Paris on the Left Bank of the Seine, the Musee d'Orsay is home of the world's finest collection of Impressionist art, and it is currently undergoing extensive renovations of its own.

Because I've always admired the colorful beauty of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, especially paintings by Monet and Van Gogh ~ and with time running out to see the current exhibition ~ my wife and I made a date to visit the de Young last week and we became members.

It was time and money well spent.

Degas in The Ballet Studio
The cost of our year-long family membership ($95.00) includes free admission to both of the Impressionists shows and gives us a nice incentive to return more often, especially on Friday evenings when the museum's hours are extended until 8:45 p.m. and live music, cocktails and light snacks create a soiree atmosphere.  On the night we attended, Chanteuse Betty Roi and Her Kingtette entertained the lively gathering with popular Parisian songs.  Also, we were treated to "Degas in The Ballet Studio," which featured artist Jeremy Sutton portraying Edgar Degas as he painted dancers from The Ballet Studio.

If last Friday's crowd at the de Young was any indication, the Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay exhibition not only has attracted great attention from the local artistic community, it's also become a must-see attraction for summer tourists along with the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing a Giants game at China Basin.

Friday night at the de Young
During the time we spent tourist the exhibit salons ~ roughly an hour to view the nearly 100 paintings that comprise the show ~ I couldn't help but notice the positive atmosphere that lit up each room, filled with enthusiastic patrons gazing at this beautiful art from the 1860s and 1870s that was carefully arranged by topic rather than by chronology.  Rooms were painted in strong, dark hues to help set off various artists like Cezanne and Degas, and the paintings were hung a little higher than normal, enabling the large crowds better viewing opportunities.  The artistic brilliance of Manet, Monet and Renoir, among many, shown brightly ~ and the exhibit also provided an opportunity to see "Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1," better known as "Whistler's Mother," the iconic painting by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, which received prominent placement in one of the galleries.

Among my favorite paintings exhibited were two by Claude Monet:  "The Regatta at Argenteuil" (1874) and "The Gare Saint-Lazare" (1877).  Not by coincidence, the exit to the exhibit blended into a Birth of Impressionism gift shop which enabled me to purchase refrigerator magnets of both masterpieces.

Thanks to a rare cultural exchange with the Musee d'Orsay and the French government, San Francisco, like Paris before it, truly is transformed into the City of Light.

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