Peter’s Travels

  • Post published:12/20/2007
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When Peter travels he needs to fill his eye with ART. And do he went looking for works by Louise Nevelson – and others. His journey continues.

If a flâneur were to select the ideal urban spots for his dawdling, no doubt two of three places selected would be a park and a museum. Fortune smiled when our San Francisco trip’s plans included a visit to the de Young Museum, located in Golden Gate Park. The museum is newly rebuilt after a recent earthquake caused structural damages beyond repair. The new structure, a wonderfully organized assemblage of gallery and administrative spaces organized about gentle and spacious circulation and clad in a gargantuan-scaled mesh of steel armature and perforated copper panels, designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Basel, Switzerland.

We entered the museum from the parking garage (new, clean, spacious) and thus missed the more august arrival sequence into the museum, but quickly took to the spirit of the place. We headed first to a vast, temporary exhibition of the sculptor Louise Nevelson, whose work I’ve been attracted to since I was an architecture student. Afterward we found ourselves in a vast collection (and seemingly infinite, by virtue of mirrors) of commissioned teapots. One would not have thought there were so many ceramicists, so much creativity, or so many willing to tackle such an iconic and quotidian object. For readers of Common Weeder, it would have been much like entering an especially flamboyant Royal Horticultural Society’s London Flower Show, accompanied by throngs of matrons in garden party or Ascot-appropriate hats. Oh, that I might have taken surreptitious cuttings!

But enough about Art.

We took a sleek elevator up the administrative tower to a top floor space offering a panoramic view of Golden Gate Park and the northern half of the city. From that vantage point it is readily apparent that the city enjoys a wealth of outdoor spaces. And it also affords a view of one of the lessons the de Young Museum teaches to willing eyes: that exterior texture can mimic the effects of the garden and the landscape. The roof of the de Young is furrowed like a field, the copper veil is perforated by a computer-generated pattern that shifts and plays with light, and even the transition from walkway paving to simply planted outdoor space is a contrast of textures.

What lessons for gardeners and others? I could be flippant and suggest more gardeners could have museum stores, but the de Young makes a far more serious case for the highly effective incorporation of strong texture in the garden, both with plant materials and with manmade surfaces. I have no doubt that gardeners are well-aware of this, but it is heartening to know that the possibilities are endless for invention, and that invention continues and certainly continues to give pleasure to the eye.

A final note: the museum’s café offers organic foods to be eaten in its dining room or on its broad terrace overlooking a sculpture garden. We chose the terrace for our lunch and at some point noted that the clear hard plastic cases in which our sandwiches were packed bore stickers reading “I Can Be Composted”! We did not see packaging at the Louvre’s café reading “Je peux être fait du compost.” San Francisco. What can I say?

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