Friday, August 3, 2012

Excuse Me, Oakland Museum, where am I? --- Day 209

Walk: Bus/Bart/Oakland Museum/Lake Merritt/Bart/Bus
Distance: 2 miles

The Oakland Museum of California has re-organized itself since my last visit many years ago.  It is a museum dedicated to bringing together "collections of art, history and natural science under one roof to tell the extraordinary stories of California and its people."  In its art section it used to 'tell the story' by showing art chronologically from early maps followed by the navigators who found their ways to California shores, to the Gold Rush era, to glorified romantic landscapes of scenic California locales like Yosemite, and on room by room to modernist and then contemporary art.  To me it was an interesting, informative, 'logical' progression.

The new way the museum presents its art is according to "Topics" - such as "Urban Scenes" - in spaces that to me resemble large, open office cubicles.  So, you might be wandering from cubicle to cubicle and find one that has an etching of early Sacramento, a photo-realistic print of Los Angeles, a Wayne Theibaud oil of the precipitous streets of San Francisco next to a small watercolor of an Indian village of tepees.  Whaaa?  Why am I looking at this?  Why are they next to each other?  The visitor is perpetually confused and asked to work continually to figure out what is going on.  On top of which there is virtually no signage.  On and on it goes from 'topical' (if you can even figure that out) cubicle to topical cubical.

It would be like having a Catholic Madonna and Child painting hanging next to a Picasso because the painting was in a Spanish church and Picasso was a Spanish artist - the 'topic' being Spain.  What can you possibly learn from that?  And how jarring to have to spend your time trying to figure out what in the world the museum has in mind. 

The museum is Waaay too much in the way here.  Many people are accustomed to learning chronologically, but really no one is accustomed to/able to learn according to a museum's private conceit/storyline.  It is confounding, annoying and, most sadly, a missed opportunity to learn and to appreciate art works and artists and the cultures from which they sprang.

That said, there are some very nice art works here:

Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, 1868, Oil on canvas. Gift of Miss Marguerite Laird in memory of Mr. and Mrs. P.W. Laird.
Albert Bierstadt, Yosemite Valley, 1869, Oil on Canvas

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California  (Depression Era), Silver Gelatin Photo

Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959, Oil on canvas. Gift of the Anonymous Donor Program of the American Federation of Arts.
Richard Diebenkorn, Figure on a Porch, 1959, Oil on Canvas

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