A San Francisco (Re)treat

Sadly, my trip to San Francisco has come to a close, and New Orleans has never looked so shitty. I usually can’t wait to get back to the big sleazy, but this trip was different. This was my first time in California, and after barely a week there, I have to say that I totally get it. Being a Southerner by way of the Midwest, I fully expected to loathe the left coast, but my intentions are now to the spend the next year doing everything I can to move there.

A couple of the more relevant highlights:

Leisurely Walking through the serene surroundings of Golden Gate Park, I stumble upon a riduculous dance party that seemed to be in honor of nothing and everything at the same time – an occurrence that seems all to rare these days – and I gladly joined in. There was no shame or modesty, among us – we were dancing our hearts out dammit! As I shuffled and hustled and walked Egyptian-like across the ersatz dance floor, I noticed that I was standing only yards from the new deYoung Museum by Herzog & de Mueron and Landscape Architect Walter Hood. Needless to say, the self-counsciously savvy Swissmen have done it again. It’s gorgeous…in that enormous industrial folly sort of way. The Museum is thoughtfully (and expensively) clad in perforated copper. A material that will not only develop a patina over time, invoking the tints, tones, and textures of the oh-so-lush vegeation in Golden Gate Park, but also create interior shadows echoing the ephemeral effulgence filtering through tree canopies. (excuse the excessive alliteration – i’m still coming down from an exceptional experience) If that’s not enough contextuality for ya’, Walter Hood’s landscape slices into the building, integrating the museum even further with its surroundings. Another important part of both the landscape and museum are several site-specific installations commissioned by the deYoung. From the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco:

    For the de Young German artist Gerhard Richter has produced a large-scale mural from digitally manipulated photographs that together form a geometric black-and-white motif. The monumental piece, titled Strontium, is constructed of 130 digital prints mounted on aluminum with Plexiglas coating. It is installed in Wilsey Court, the central public gathering space of the new de Young.

    Currently under construction is James Turrell’s “Skyspace,” built into a hill within the garden, the installation creates a view of the sky altered by lighting effects that will change with light and weather conditions.

    A third commission by Andy Goldsworthy takes its inspiration from the unique character of California’s tectonic topography. Goldsworthy is creating a continuous crack running north from the edge of the Music Concourse roadway in front of the museum, up the main walkway, into the exterior courtyard, and to the main entrance door. Along its path, this crack bisects–and cleaves in two–large rough-hewn stone slabs that will serve as seating for museum visitors.

The tower component, subtly twisted, houses classrooms, information centers, studios, and a top floor observation area. A friend who’s involved with the local gallery scene, was privy to a sneak peek of the interior, and informed me that the galleries are comfortably intimate and well lit; not the vast sprawling spaces I was expecting.

The deYoung Museum opens to the general public on October 15th, with a three day celebration

The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco

2 replies on “A San Francisco (Re)treat”

Gorgeous Industrial Folly (?)- or monumental con job & practical joke (!)

An email exchange from today:

Hi Mary,

Thanks again for the DeYoung photos. I was telling my good friend and photographer Ken of Saratoga about the excellent views that Rio took a couple of weeks ago, So we just returned from a walk-by visit. Our consensus overall – a heartbreaker. It does not feel appropriate to site as to scale, shape or material. Seeing the band shell in the distance made us wonder what would have been wrong with stone. Instead, as Ken opined, we have “rusty aircraft carrier” chic – and the inverted tower gives it an unsettled severe look to boot. Ken also wondered (as i originally did) if the screening was protective and would be peeled off. (ha!) Someone near the refreshment truck cracked that painting “Walmart” on the side would make for interesting graffiti.

Crying in my beer,


The interior of course, absolutely must make up for Herzog and de Meuron’s big con job on the exterior. What a sales job! . pixels – right! But I like the stone courtyard:

Driving by on Kennedy Drive, the building speaks to us – it says “up yours”.

I drive by the De Young on Kennedy Drive every day and night, and I have tried to be patient and withhold judgement until the museum complex is complete and open, and perhaps has had a couple years to develop its patina.

That being said, what horrifies me is that the copper mesh on the tower seems to be much too transparent, as viewed from the outside.

At night, the underlying tower structure is fully revealed behind the mesh, the raw concrete bringing to mind all the grace of a parking structure like Sutter-Stockton.

Even during the day, under most daylight conditions, the transparency of the mesh makes it look less like a permanent part of the building design, and more like a temporary scaffold or that protective netting which covers a building while it’s being painted.

The choice of this mesh material for the tower seems to have been a huge blunder by the architects.

Had the tower had a mirrored glass skin, it could have reflected park, sky, fog, and clouds. It might not have been so unique, but it could have been quite beautiful.

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