While in San Francisco for the Alternative Press Expo, my boyfriend and I visited SFMOMA. As someone who spends her nose in Baroque and 19th century studies, I was a little intimidated and didn’t know what quite to expect. What I got was a pleasant surprise.
I realized that I was like a foreigner in a strange culture. In museums with Renaissance to early 20th century paintings, I can walk in and immediately make connections to art history, historical context, and understand the motivations behind the works. With modern art, however, I sadly can’t do that. It’s a completely different experience looking at a painting and forming your own ideas as opposed to already knowing what you’re “supposed” to think.
Other than a Braque, Derain, and a handful of Picassos and Matisses, it was at first glance Greek to me. At closer look I discovered emotions and beauty in art that I had never seen before. A huge Rothko was quietly explosive, a large block of red dissolving into deep violet. Max Ernst’s “La Famille Nombreuse” enchanted me with its twisting figures. It struck me as being very stormy, but at its core was the human condition, a subject in art history that is as old as, well, art. Even Mondrian, who I was foolish enough to hate in my college lecture class, won me over with his rational elegance.
I think this is how museum going must have been when museums first opened in the 19th century as public services. They were created for citizens who were too poor to access art, which had previously been a luxury only for the relatively wealthy. Now that we’ve been saturated with museums in the 21st century, being a “blank canvas” in one is a rare treat. It has a lot to recommend if you want some mental aerobics and a horizons-expanding experience.