Friday, March 16, 2012

I’m Having an Affair with Sacramento

Tomorrow will be 22 years. I always celebrate the anniversary of the day I moved to San Francisco. And, after 22 years, my relationship with the city I love can be like a marriage. I can’t imagine life without San Francisco. At times it feels like we’ll be together forever — that is usually a good thing. But of course, there are those days when San Francisco drives me crazy.

And now, I have to confess, I’ve been having an affair, with Sacramento. Yes, it’s true — I’ve been sneaking up I-80 for little daytime flings. I lived in San Francisco for 10 years and had never been up there. Sacramento was just a place on a fifth grade state capitals quiz. And then, I became Sacramento-curious.

It started with corn dog cravings and trips to the State Fair. Then I started to discover the art scene in Sacramento. Sacramento is able to support alternative spaces that are a thing of the past in San Francisco. Exorbitant commercial rents have choked much of the life out of San Francisco. Yesterday’s trip included a stop at Tangent Gallery (where I have shown work a few times myself). Next door to the gallery is one of my favorite cafés, The Coffee Garden. It’s a great neighborhood space where it’s all about the groovy garden out back instead of being a room full of drones on laptops. We moved on to Bows and Arrows for lunch. By San Francisco standards, it’s a huge space. They have vintage retail, a gallery space and a nice café in back — and again with a back garden. Sacramento taunts San Francisco with warm weather. The current artist being shown at Bows and Arrows is Ianna Nova Frisby. Her work includes embroidered images inspired but the illustrations on vintage sewing patterns (check out her website).

In 2009 I visited the Crocker Art Museum for the first time. I liked it and immediately added it to my list of “small” museums one should visit on the road. Since then, they renovated, built an addition, etc. Yesterday I got to see the new museum for the first time. The Crocker is no longer a small museum. They are about three times bigger with the room to show off more of their collection and host big traveling shows. The museum’s contemporary ceramics collection is arguably the best in the Western United States. It alone is worth a visit.

The older, original part of the museum was once the Cocker family mansion. Even then, it was designed to house the family collection of work collected on their grand tour of Europe. The work feels best in these old Victorian galleries. It’s a genre of work that is difficult to find in San Francisco. Most of the artwork brought back to San Francisco from those grand tours was lost when our mansions burned after the 1906 Earthquake.

Currently the mansion’s Gold Rush Era ballroom is filled with a Gong Yuebin’s installation titled Site 2801. It’s an installation of terra cotta warriors modeled after the ones made in China over 2300 years ago. But with this installation, a few modern, terra cotta soldiers are included. All 200 march in formation bearing nuclear missiles. The perimeter of the ballroom is dimly lit and, as we overheard one young visitor say, it’s scary.” Scary, powerful and worth a trip up to Sacramento just to see it. The Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei is world famous. Weiwei has done nothing as subversive as Gong Yuebin’s installation. Fortunately the artist lives in Sacramento, if he still lived in China the authorities would have made him disappear long ago.

The ballroom also works well on many levels for this installation. We approached from the modern, new wing. The transition between spaces goes from a bright, white passageway into the past. It’s abrupt and effective and reminded one of the sci-fi experience seen on a Star Trek holodeck. Above the ballroom is another gallery with a balcony that looks down at the installation. In 1870 the intent was to be able to watch dancers below on the ballroom floor. In 2012 it feels like we’re looking into an archaeological dig.

Already impressed with our visit, we finally started exploring the museum’s new wing. This “small” museum has transformed into one too big for a single visit. The next overwhelming moment of the day was the exhibit Edgar Payne: The Scenic Journey. I’ve seen and liked Payne’s work over the years in many California museums. But seeing a massive show is an entirely different experience. It’s up until May 6th and I want to see it again. The show heads down to the Pasadena Museum of California Art next.

Yesterday’s trip to Sacramento makes me want to continue my affair. And like a proper mistress, I really don’t know her all that well, and I am yet to spend the night. I am not worried about being found out. One can’t get most San Franciscans to venture to Oakland let alone Sacramento. San Francisco will never know.

As for the Crocker Art Museum, It has grown from a museum worth checking out if you’re in Sacramento to a museum you should go to Sacramento to see.

1 comment:

  1. Such a great city. As you know I lived there for 10 years before moving to San Francisco. It's just far enough away from the city to have its own thing going on. I've seen downtown and midtown change so much in the past 15 years for the better. Loved your post!