Let me first say that the two best parts, in fact, the two most amazing parts of the de Young museum are both free to experience. Well, actually, it’s really all just one part: the building for the museum. This building is so un-San Francisco and that’s what makes it great in that it actually tries to be something new, modern, and aware that it is in the 21st century. It’s no wonder that it was designed by Europeans. If it were designed by Americans, there would be some shitty homage to bay windows that would have doinky crap stuck to it in some vain attempt at being “modern”. But no, the de Young building is really quite stunning and despite being so angular, is fitting in with the park very well these days.
The reason I sorta mentioned that the building was best as two parts as opposed to one is that the observation deck (pictured above) is pretty damned cool as well and is something a separate experience to the museum. It’s a great vantage to see most all of San Francisco while looking West to the fog and East to what is generally non-fog. Although it’s true that some of the ugly-festival of downtown (such as One Rincon Hill) pokes up above otherwise enjoyable hills. And again, it is free to go up to the ninth floor to take all this in, so do it!
Now the downside. $25 for admission. Seriously? $25 dollars. Besides all the European museums that cost half of that or less (free in the case of the National Museum in London) there’s the Met in NYC that is pay-what-you-can and no offense de Young, their collection bitchslaps you up and down both coasts. This price is so insanely out of reach for most people, it’s sickening. For two people, it’s $50, which is why I basically never go, except to take in the observation deck.
But, there is the off chance that you run across some Groupon-like coupon that gives you half off on the entrance fee and so you go, paying $25 for two. That’s better, but still pretty rough. Then you go down to the featured exhibit and… ugh, are people really paid to curate and set up these shows? I understand that something like 75% of the featured exhibits is basically crap, typically in the form of “studies”, “early works”, or other filler, but still, how on earth do their gallery managers come up with these layouts? The amount of works they toss on a wall is usually about 25-33% more than what should be there and so people are always crowded together and bumping in to each other. Every show is a pretty dreadful experience.
On that topic of the crowding though is the belief that telling the ushers to have people carry their bags on the front of their body (or other odd positions) is a solution. I wear a bike messenger back when I go around, which is actually not ironic now that I cycle everywhere. The staff at the de Young is convinced this is a “backpack” and that I must carry it by the handle at my side. At some point I’m assuming that cosmic rays colluded through this beautifully designed building and scrambled the brains of the de Young staff so that they think messenger bag = backpack = briefcase = bad, while purse the size of a truck tire = good. And it bugs the hell out of me that while I’m trying to take in some art, some doofus constantly and insistently keeps nagging me about it, even if I’m the only person in the room! And they never really like to offer up checking it as an option, although rumor has it, it’s available.
Of course, I went for the current Picasso exhibit which is definitely underwhelming, although with maybe only 60% filler. While some works are good, nothing in there is a terribly notable work–those are mostly all in Europe. But the one thing that drove me crazy was that despite the de Young having a relatively decent African art collection (Quai Branly is more impressive, but this is good for the West Coast of the US), they made no effort to link the two up in any way, which is silly given that everything Picasso is famous for was
stolen from influenced by African art. I don’t get this as anyone who attends will note in the brochure that all the write ups for the exhibit were copied reprinted from the Seattle Art Museum. So… beyond sloppily hanging up a couple of non-notable works in a crowded way, what exactly is that $25 full-priced ticket really paying for?
Obviously, I’m done with the de Young. If I feel like it and have visitors, we might go out there, check out the building and use the toilet without flushing. Otherwise, the de Young just feels like a lot of overpaid arty folks doing next to nothing, but expecting to get paid a fortune for it. I suppose in that way, it is indeed so San Francisco…