Sunday, March 23, 2008

Saturday, Stanford Museum

I have not been to the Stanford Museum since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that jostled me up to Seattle and closed the museum for almost five years. In the renovation, the Gods of Art tripled the size of the museum but maintained its intimate nature. It seems that every graduate of Stanford has donated at least one very nice piece of sculpture including a gigantic semi-peeled flying banana that takes up an entire interior courtyard. (Nope. Not kidding.)

I am a sucker for small museums and this is a well currated space with few people. The lighting was extraordinary. Oh, and admission is free.

A huge hinge for the museum is a very large collection of Rodin sculptures including a vast sculpture garden and a truly handsome bust of Anna-Elizabeth de Noailles with her magnificent nose and hooded eyes. (This link is the second of two works – this one at the Met.) There is nothing more lovely than a woman with an interesting nose, but at the time the subject was so appalled by her own profile that Rodin left this piece unfinished.

Some pieces were so casually displayed that I caught a boy about five trying to heft a small Rodin torso and I am afraid I shrieked. (When what I actually was thinking was “Goddamn, it’s not a Crate and Barrel store! Watch your kids, Madam!”) With this kind of reactionary squeaking, I have to admit I find the bronzes wildly sexy and can barely resist licking the ears and wrists. There is a more permissive attitude in the sculpture garden: visitors stroke the odd shoulder, investigate to see if the Gates of Hell really might open, polish Adam’s famously solid toe knuckles. No one seems to mind. It's really nice.

The painting room was neatly sectioned: still life, sketches from grand tours of Europe, sentimental portraiture, allegory, landscapes.

My favorite section was based on a late 1800s British quote, something to the effect that Americans are incapable of tastefully collecting and arranging art. The illustrate this quote, a large expanse of wall was crammed with unlabeled paintings of all sizes and subjects each one having even less to do with it neighbor than the last. A romantic portrait of a young man with a luminous corona, a cravat and upturned eyes seemed to be very embarrassed by his proximity to a painting of two melancholy sheep just above him which were eyeing the grapes in a nearby still life. Actually all the portraits looked as trapped as humiliated as spouses at Christmas parties, but the sheep eyed the fruit and viewer with deep soulfullness but were far too clean to be modeled on actual sheep. It was cleverly arranged and truly lighthearted.

After a good long cultural haul, Mum and I sat in the cafĂ©’s balcony, drinking iced tea in the bright afternoon sun watching Stanford’s manicured stretch of lawn as if it were a raked stage.

From the left entered a young man with a shaved head and earrings carrying two very large drums followed by a girlfriend with a guitar and a large bag of percussion instruments. From stage right entered a young Asian family with sun hats and cameras, with a girl who appeared about nine and a young boy (maybe about four?) who rocketed around like a Superball. After the father tried to interest the boy in the drums but he bounced away as his sister leaned in to the musician. The young man relinquished one of the two drums to her and began an improvised drum lesson.

After twenty minutes, the girl had the “Ah HA!” moment of distinguishing the subtle sound of flat palm on the drum head and the poinky noise of a rebounding strike; the drummer gave her a double thumbs up. They then worked into a “call and response” as her mother and father looked on with pride, the boy dancing around the lawn and the girlfriend still on the grass with her guitar untuned, but contemplating her boyfriend. The little girl had a look on her face like she had at last discovered her true calling. Although we could not hear any conversation, it was fascinating theater.

On the drive home along the pastoral Mill Valley Road (owned and undeveloped by Stanford) there was a large steer wedged under a crook of an oak tree, wriggling out a good back scratching. His face displayed such ecstasy.

It's the Birthday of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet laureate of San Francisco. The poem here is his sonnet to The City. It is also 63 degrees.


Linda 'K' said...

Had forgotten what a big impact "A Coney Island of the Mind" made upon me in the 60's. Zowee - Ferlinghetti!

Ben-Bob said...

I, too, am a devotee of small museums in a big way. Haven't been inside the Stanford, but can remember a long-ago pleasant afternoon there stumbling around the Rodins.... (And the Gates of Hell rock.)