A visit to San Francisco’s De Young Museum on a calm Tuesday revealed, as always, some intriguing discoveries. An unexpectedly poignant piece is an installation of the charred remains of an Alabama church, suspended on wires from the ceiling. On entering, you feel as though you have walked into a super slow-motion explosion scene from an action movie; time slows to a standstill, and as you watch the blackened wood fragments hover in mid-air, the devastation seeps into your consciousness. This was a Black Baptist church, burnt by arsonists.
The very personable museum worker pointed out a piece of the piano wires, here, and a section of a pew, there; he even pointed out a piece of blackened wood that resembles the hand of Christ signaling peace. The work, entitled “Anti-Mass,” was created by Cornelia Parker in 2005.
It’s never a bad day to visit the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco. My teacher membership has been well worth the price this past year. I was able to see Monet’s paintings along with other “Impressionists on the Water” last July, and last week I took in the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Going to the park is an experience in itself, always worthwhile, always rewarding, no matter the season. But spring has a particular allure, with burgeoning blossoms in cherry trees, rhododendrons, and every other imaginable type of plant in flower. I can see why Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of flowers and nature are so universally liked. The exhibition covered the period from 1918 to the early 30s, when she retreated from New York City to Lake Geoge (to photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s house) to connect with nature and paint her favorite things: mostly flowers and trees.
While her style was very subjective, frequently abstract (as in many paintings of flower details), and never quite realistic, she had a very good sense of artistic composition. I particularly appreciated her paintings with a good use of contrast (Red Canna, 1919); texture (leaves, 1923); and the often exaggerated organic line (White Birch, 1925). She shared my fascination with trees. Her Chestnut Grey (1924) is particularly delightful, with its grand denuded, pruned trunk silhouetted against the sunset and distant mountains, punctuated by an evening star.
Like all artists, she experimented with different treatments of her subjects, almost venturing into realism on one end of the spectrum (Dark Red Apples & Tray, 1920-21), and bordering on surrealism on the other, in her subjective treatment of form and fluid line of natural elements (Stamp in Red Hills; Pelvis with the Distance). Many of her abstract floral paintings are strongly suggestive of female genitalia. Her visual experimentation with these forms can perhaps be understood in her words: “I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.”