on February 4, 2012
The De Young Museum is a copper brown hulk rising from the mown grass of Golden Gate Park. Originally opened in 1895, the museum had to be rebuilt in 1929 and again in 2005, both times due to damage sustained in earthquakes. Its present incarnation includes a lookout tower and engineering that will help withstand future earthquakes. We bought a general admission ticket, normally $10 but if you show a valid public transport ticket on the day of your visit, it is reduced to $8. Special exhibitions command an additional ticket so we decided to forego the Masters of Venice exhibition from Vienna and headed to the other galleries. The first few rooms we walked through were dedicated to Eskimo and Inuit art, taken from the collection of Thomas G. Fowler, a collector and businessman who made multiple trips to Alaska during his lifetime. Intricate pieces made from whalebone, wood, stone and ivory included renderings of northern animals such as seals and walrus. The smooth models were beautiful in their simplicity and the creators had used real animal whiskers as well as small blue glass beads inlaid for eyes. Other pieces include more practical items such as snow goggles, game boards, dolls and baskets. Leaving the Arctic gallery, we entered a tall, dark room of glass sculptures, including some by the American sculptor Dale Chihuly. Off this room is a small but impressive display of ancient Mexican artifacts. The "Art of the Americas" collection includes the largest group of Teotihuacan murals outside of Mexico. Most of the pieces date between 200BC and 1550 AD and include an impression of a wall section from Chichen Itza’s ball court. Upstairs, we rushed through the furniture collection and spent time instead admiring the collection from New Guinea. The ‘Jolika Collection’ took over four decades to amass. Marcia and John Friede collected or were gifted an impressive number of piece from New Guinea and the gallery displays over four hundred for public view. Wandering around the cavernous room, I did ask myself if in fact there was anything left in New Guinea. The collection is fantastic but is quite overwhelming in size. In the neighbouring room but smaller in size is an equally fascinating display of African art. One of the most memorable pieces for me was Al Farrow’s ‘The Spine and Tooth of Santo Guerro’. His model is a gothic cathedral, built out of guns, bullets, glass, shot, steel, bone and fabric. It’s quite a chilling piece up close, but definitely preferable to seeing guns or bullets used for their more usual purpose. Our final stopping point was the Hamon Observation Tower, a glass paneled lookout with bright views across the treetops to the ocean on one side and to hilltops on the other. It’s a small room but the floor to ceiling windows give a feeling of greater openness and space. There’s also a small kiosk where you can pick up poster and other souvenirs although there is a larger gift shop back on the ground floor.
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