Sunday, July 27, 2008

Something Borrowed, Something New

In an effort to broaden my sanity when I am away from work, I am taking in one new thing in the City per weekend. It can be a new restaurant, a new neighborhood, an annual event I haven't attended yet after 4 years of knowledge of the City, or an activity that I always meant to try, among other things.

Last weekend it was the Zine Festival, and the weekend before that was the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a new venue on Mission between 3rd and 4th Streets. Its brick facade with shark-fin of skylights sits back from the street and nearly behind the Catholic church next to it that used to bring me solace when I worked at Tilia. The museum sits this far back due to a small park with square reflective pools and squaring benches around them. The whole thing is exposed to the sun, and quite warm in the afternoon, but gives the visitor room to ruminate on the exhibition they just visited, the exhibition that they are going to see, or the sheer and simple stunning face of the museum.

I must admit up front that I did not tour the entire museum. For me, visiting a museum to see the whole thing is like grocery shopping when you're hungry--you leave unsatisfied and with a basket of things that don't make sense with each other. I also don't go to museums solely for their architecture--to me it is icing on the cake. (My brother is polar opposite--he stood in line with Serena when the DeYoung wasn't even open and they were giving sneak peeks just to see what that wacky swirl looked like on the inside.) My draw to museums is an event: in Springfield Missouri it was the annual national watercolor exhibition, at the DeYoung it was the fashion exhibition and the long-awaited Chilhuly, at the Legion of Honor the female Impressionists, and the Ming dynasty of the Asian Art Museum and Frida Kahlo at SFMoMA. I go and see the exhibition and maybe the gift shop (EVIL PLACES, MUSEUM GIFT SHOPS) and then walk out into the world feeling perfectly fulfilled and lit from within.

The exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum that caught my eye was From the New Yorker to Shrek: The Art of William Steig. The exhibit is winding through a series of walls cut in odd angles and painted in children's crayon pastels to pop out the artwork on the walls. I opted out of the audio tour for this one, although I may go back and try it with the commentary at a later time. The rooms are in the various stages of his life--avante gard New Yorker, established New Yorker, children's book author. The rooms progress in a layout of sort of a hair-pin: you start at one end of the U and the bottom of the U faces a window to the public outside, which is a reading/media room for kids, completely decorated a la Steig with a fireplace and some of his children's books' characters. In the next room are platforms against the walls where you can revisit the books that made him a hit with kids--my old friend in that room was Sylvester (a donkey) and his magic pebble that makes him a rock until his parents find him and wish him back into a donkey. Steig is a children's author that I don't easily remember, but there he was, back in my life after a lifetime.

I have never read his Shrek tales--I knew Shrek first from the movie. According to the collaboration of Steig, this approach is perfectly respectable, since he was closely involved with the creation of the movie. (Not all of them--Steig passed away in 2003.) Steig struck me as possessing an extremely accomodating sense of humor, even in his bluest periods of his life--he possessed a patience and tolerance that nearly demanded return just by association. He created some rather riotous stereotypes in his books and cartoons (cops portrayed as a pigs in children's stories, etc) but there were always prominent people with good sense to give us a reason for that in Steig and leave the image in without censure. Controversial as he was, he was who he was and refused to compromise himself for any of his art, and others refused to allow him to be compromised.

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