OK, so this should have been a museum entry, but there was so much I wanted to say about this place that I could not get the entry under 500 words. Sorry.
There is a tendency to think that art museums in small cities can't be up to much. So San Jose has a museum focussing on contemporary art. What can it have to offer to compare with the Museum of Modern Art in nearby San Francisco? But it is free, so why not go and have a look?
Much of the ground floor is given over to work by local Bay Area artist, Nathan Olivera. This neatly encapsulates my view of modern art. Some of the paintings clearly show Olivera to be an artist of considerable talent who is able to produce beautiful and disturbing images. Others look like the sort of thing that I used to produce before getting expelled from the art class at school for incompetence.
Modern art delights in strangeness, and it is hard to find something more strange than the Oxygen Flute. This is a greenhouse full of bamboo that is wired up to measure levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and make sounds dependent on the results. Bamboo, being a plant, takes in carbon dioxide and emits oxygen. Humans do the opposite. So when humans go inside and breath the balance, and the sounds, change. It certainly works, though I find it hard to make anything you might class as music, in part because of the time lag between breath and noise. Still, it is a fascinating idea.
Upstairs is an exhibition entitled "Is the Medium the Message?" This is a bold attempt to help the public understand modern art by encouraging them think about what message the artist is trying to convey and comment upon it. In many cases, of course, that message is very clear. It is, "I'm getting paid huge sums of money for this rubbish and I'm laughing all the way to the bank."
Alternatively, as one perceptive visitor pointed out (in not quite these words), "I'm trying to enrage all those boring, conservative people who come to this museum expecting to see pretty pictures." In other cases, however, the artists have real talent at things other than annoying visitors.
I particularly liked the dessert landscape photographs of Richard Misrach. Sure, it shows that nature can do art better than we can, but then Misrach also has to find the images and take the photographs, and he does it brilliantly. Also awesomely beautiful were the blown glass chandeliers by Dale Chihuly. Here's someone whose work I would go out and buy if only I could afford it.
The star of the show is a piece by Michael McMillen. It consists primarily of a small red door, padlocked shut. Above it is a sign with a drawing of the eye of Horus proclaiming that the door is an entrance to a shop called The Third Eye. A small peephole exists in the door (and a footstool is kindly provided to help kids reach it). Looking through you see (what is presumably a video) the inside of a mysterious shop full of alchemical wonders. With your ear that close to the door, hippy music can be heard coming from inside. All that is missing is the smell of jos sticks.
It is a wonderful exhibit. I loved it, and so did the audience. A Japanese girl there the same time as me could not get over her excitement. Previous visitors had often been reminded of The Twilight Zone. One even wrote, "I want to be pulled inside and trapped forever." There were no negative comments.
So there you have it, a small museum in a small city and some wonderful pieces of art. I liked this place better than Tate Modern in Liverpool. And it is free too. If you are in San Jose, give it a visit. For more details see www.sjmusart.org