A Visit to SFMOMA

So I had a trip into San Francisco today and with a little time in the afternoon was able to run over to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. My timing was pretty good because the traveling exhibit is part of the collection of Leo and Gertrude Stein which meant a lot of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. Naturally, this section of the museum was packed, but manageable and I spent almost two hours wandering through it. I like both Matisse and Picasso so it was pretty interesting. I think my favorite Matisse is “The Woman with a Hat.” The image doesn’t do it justice, but Matisse was more interested in vibrant colors than he was in reproducing reality, and “Woman with a Hat” is nothing if not vibrant.

I also got to see a very famous portraitof Gertrude Stein done by Pablo Picasso. When Mrs. Stein saw the finished product she supposedly remarked, “but it doesn’t even look like me. To which Picasso supposedly responded: “Just wait. It will.” That made me laugh. Poor Mrs. Stein, Matisse did a portrait of her and she doesn’t look any better. I fear she was as unphotogenic as myself.

After finishing with the Stein collection, which was definitely the highlight of the visit, I wandered through the permanent collection. Some of it is great, some of it is just trash. It’s hard to see how some of the stuff that they waste space on is going to stand the test of a century or more. Will we be looking at Jackson Pollock’s nonsensical “art” in a hundred years, like I was looking at Matisse and Picasso? I can’t imagine so, because Pollock’s “art” has nothing to grab us. Indeed, part of the fun of going to the Modern Art museum is to the hear the curators try and explain something unexplainable like a Pollock piece. As my nephew wrote once, “I wish someone could explain a Pollock painting to me with words that meant something.” Just so. The curators had a lot of words to say about Pollock, but altogether they meant nothing. The same could be said for some (but not all) of the whole modern art collection.
Take Clifford Styll. There was a whole room of his paintings that all looked something like this one. Is there meaning here? Can you explain that meaning with words that mean something? I didn’t think so.

There is a whole room of Styll’s stuff and people wandered through it very quickly because there was nothing to hold them, nothing to think about, no transcendent meaning, just modern “art.” This is the stuff that to me is a waste of museum space (and don’t even get me started on the pile of newspapers in one corner that was super cool “art,” that is nothing but a sad joke).
Much of the floor space was allocated to stuff that will be on the junk heap of history in 100 years, like the display that was a video of an “artist” getting plastered by paint spray. Yeah, now THAT is quality art.
I do enjoy the art of Edward Hopper and the Museum had one of his pieces called “Bridal Path.”
Some of modern art is interesting and worthy of study. A lot of it is junk which won’t stand the test of time. All in all it was an interesting visit and a good day.
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