Catching Up with San Francisco Museums – Summer 2014

One of the few downsides of regular travel is that it often forces you to miss or at least postpone taking advantage of things in your home city. And since so much is always happening in San Francisco, there is a lot to miss. Fortunately, our summer trips were outside of theater season, which meant that we did not miss any plays. Moreover, museum exhibits and restaurants have longer run time than do plays, giving us more time to catch up on openings that we missed while away. This week was official catch-up week, where we finally got to most of the museum exhibits and recently opened restaurants which we missed during our recent travels.

The following one on two of San Francisco’s newer restaurants, Monsieur Benjamin and Aveline. This one focuses on our visits to three museum exhibitions. 


DeYoung’s Modernism from the National Gallery of Art

This exhibit, which was culled from the collection of one family (Robert & Jane Meyerhoff), contains fifty works from primarily post-war American artists. It represents styles including Abstract Impressionism, Abstraction, Minimalism and Pop from artists such as Frank Stella, Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Robert Ruschenberg. While Ray Lichtenstein’s Painting with Statue of Liberty is the highlight of the exhibition, the effort is anchored by an entire room dedicated to Barnett Newman’s 15-piece series denoting the 15 Stations of the Cross.


Conservatory of Flowers’ Chomp: They Came from the Swamp

We have intended to visit the Conservatory of Flowers since we first moved to San Francisco a decade ago. Better late than never. The overly cute name of the exhibition refers to the Conservatory’s interesting exhibit on carnivorous plants. Although it provides dozens of examples of more than a dozen of the 700+ species of carnivorous plants, the primary focus of the show is to educate: explaining how each species attracts, captures and digests the nutrients from the insects it traps and the relationships it forms with complementary species, from bacteria, to insects to birds.

Examples include Venus flytraps (with pressure-sensitive hairs that trigger the cap to close on insects); a wide range of pitcher plants (that trap and drown insects in a tube with walls that are too steep and slippery to climb—some indeed, large enough to trap baby monkeys); to the sundew (with leaves covered in sticky tentacles that wrap over prey) and the bladderwort (whose hairs trigger a flap to suddenly open, creating a vacuum that sucks the prey inside, and then snaps shut within 1/5,000 of a second). It also explains that each plant has its own adaptations for digesting and absorbing the nutrients from its prey. Some, for example, produce their own digestive enzymes, some form synergistic relationships with ants and other insects that eat the trapped insects and “feed” the plant with their dung.

Asian Museum’s Gorgeous

This, in our view, rather contrived exhibit combines works from the Asian’s own collection with those on temporary loan from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (during its expansion and renovation) to explore what Eastern and Western cultures, and especially you as an individual, consider beautiful, and what you consider ugly or even repulsive. The exhibit certainly includes some thought-provoking (such as Jeff Koon’s Michael Jackson and Bubbles, a life-size sculpture in which Jackson and his pet chimp are dressed in similar clothes, and even share the same color nail polish) and beautiful (including a series of wall-size Chinese landscape panels) works and some provocative contrasts (such as an elaborate Chinese throne next to a modern, Plexiglas chair that embeds plastic roses). It is, however, somewhat of a stretch, at least for us, to understand how the exhibit provides much elucidation or insights into one’s own tastes or predispositions.

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