Yes, you can find art at the museum, but it remains a challenge. So many museums, including the de Young, have succumbed to disneyfication. More and more it’s the hyped up mega-shows. The current attraction at the de Young is noisy, dark and claustrophobic. It feels like one of countless cool shops I wandered into in Europe during the 1980’s. As shop, it’s cool, but as art? We’re moving beyond exiting through the gift shop to a world where the entire exhibit looks like a shop. Throw in animatronic mannequins and I wonder if they are remaking the Terry Gilliam classic Brazil.
Not surprising, the real treasures remain in permanent collections and in the understated, under promoted smaller exhibits. Ignore the hype and stay upstairs. There is a stellar show on the main floor. Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 is the “don’t miss” show at the de Young right now. I discovered Tress when I found the book Fish Tank Sonata and have been following him ever since.
The de Young show is a body of work from early in his career when he was fresh out of art school. Tress spent the summer of 1964 in San Francisco photographing everything from the Barry Goldwater Republican Convention to a counter campaign rally for Ringo Starr (!) to civil rights demonstrations on Van Ness. This is like a last glimpse of “olde tyme” San Francisco before the Summer of Love, the Castro in the 1970’s and all that followed. Most of these photos haven’t been exhibited since 1964. If you can’t get to San Francisco to see the exhibit, the accompanying book is well worth picking it up.