Some Notes from the Museums

I love going to museums, but sometimes the other museum patrons drive me nuts. I thought today would be a great day to go to the local museums because most people would be staying at home due to the iffy weather. Unfortunately, that didn’t help me avoid the lady who glared at me as if I should just crawl back into the nearest ghetto even though I wasn’t bothering anyone while I was looking at a painting. Or overhearing some old guy loudly complaining that one of the latest exhibits was “dated”. Seriously, dude. Everything in that exhibit was made before 1973. What did you expect?! Pictures of Justin Effin Bieber?

Anyways, aside from that, I saw some new art exhibits at Balboa Park. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, the Museum of Photographic Arts (MOPA) is a really interesting gem that not many people pay attention to. Currently, they have some Ansel Adams photographs as well as an exhibit of contemporary Californian photographers. It’s fascinating contrasting the two–Adams is well known for grand nature in black in white which can, in turns, evoke timelessness and nostalgia (although these days with the destruction of the environment, it feels like Adams has documented a past that will never be any more). The contemporary Californian photographers have also documented nature, but in color, abstraction, and scarring by humans on the landscape. It’s as if nature is not simply nature any more but some kind of idea that humanity has marked, transformed, and destroyed. There’s a sort of beauty to that, too, but it’s also stark and terrible.

At the Mingei International Museum, which specializes in folk art, I’d like to point out one of its newest exhibits on tools and utensils. There’s all sorts of interesting tools there, everything from rug beaters to betel nut cutters (as well as the usual saws and hammers and mixing spoons). An entire section is devoted to Japanese lacquer tools. Apparently the hairs on the brushes are made from human hair–specifically of Japanese women. Which is pretty creepy if you think about it for any length of time.

The major new exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art is a retrospective of Louis Kahn, an American architect. I think the only work of his that I’ve seen in person is the Salk Institute in La Jolla. He primarily worked in Philadelphia and transformed urban planning in that city. Kahn’s style is very geometrical. There’s a lot of evidence that he drew his inspiration from nature and science, yet at the same time, his structures don’t feel quite comfortable–they are too perfect to fit into the landscape. Postcard aficionados out there would also find this exhibit particularly interesting because a number of Kahn’s postcards to his family are also on display. It’s less about the message than his choice in postcards, though. He always chose postcards that showed the ancient architecture of the places he was visiting. And the classic lines of these ancient buildings also influenced his style.

Another new exhibit was one entitled “Visible Vaults”, where a section of the museum was transformed into a replica of its archives. Most of the museum patrons, I noticed, passed by this exhibit, too afraid to touch anything even though there were signs encouraging interactivity. Me? I was like a kid in a candy store–I looked in all the cases and pulled open every drawer to check out what was inside. I found some really cool stuff, like a nightmarish etching by Goya of men with bat wings. Or a drawing by Andy Warhol of butterflies.

Finally, at the Fleet Science Center, I went to see the world’s largest display of LEGO art by Nathan Sawaya. The start of the exhibit starts out pretty safely with replicas of famous art in those tiny plastic bricks. But then, as you wind further into the exhibit, things take a dark turn as Sawaya gets into his own art. The penultimate series of LEGO sculptures was probably my favorite because they were a nihilistic interpretation of traditional American postcards. In some ways, it was surprising this got exhibited at all. The science center caters more towards kids and you’d think that anything with LEGOs should equal happy fun times. But I’m glad this was shown because it’s a great illustration of the fact that you can still express some serious, adult ideas with media that society might arbitrarily deem “childish”.