Friday night, we went over to the Oakland Museum for the reopening of the refurbished Natural History Gallery. I lived in Oakland from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s, during the time when the Oakland Museum first opened. I loved living in Oakland, I loved the diversity, I loved the Raiders, and I – especially – loved the Oakland Museum. I still love the museum, it was and still is the only Bay Area museum about California and California art.
Even then, the San Francisco museums were trying to become national or world museums, trading in their excellent examples of local artist’s work – such as Nathan Oliveira – for mediocre examples of works by more famous New York artists like Jasper Johns. I like Jasper Johns, but I would much rather see local artists when I go to a local museum; Roy Lichtenstein in New York and Robert Arneson when I go to a California museum. The Arnesons are in storage at SFMOMA and – one of them atleast – are on display in Oakland.
Our night started out in an empty BART car in Daily City that filled as we went through downtown SF.
We got out at Lake Merritt and walked a block to the Museum and a Friday night Food Truck Jamboree. As I understand it, the Food Truck thing is the museum’s idea in an effort to get more people to visit, and – I guess – the City of Oakland has blocked off the nearby space. The museum provides music, sells wine and beer, and has made Friday admission half price. I hope it is working.
Inside, the newly refurbished and reopened Natural History Gallery was packed. And it should be: it is brilliant. But, then, I also liked the old gallery which had the various California econiches in different parts of the room. The problem with the old system is that it was static. Somebody, we have no idea who, decided what was important and we – the museum goer – passively went along. Year after year, it remained the same and, after wandering trough a couple of times, the museum goer – now presumably a better person for being better informed – wandered off to a new place. Hopefully, the new place was one of the actual econiches itself, say Yosemite, but – usually – not. Usually the passive spectator just got bored and quit coming back. I did both.
The new Gallery is much more interactive and the main econiche is Oakland, both – I am guessing – in an effort to build traffic.
There is also an emphasis on the streams and creeks that flow through Oakland from the surrounding hills. Most of these streams and creeks have been buried in pipes and channelized but some are – also – newly reopened and refurbished (reminding me of the refurbished and reopened Los Angeles River that Will Taylor has been talking about on facebook).
Another change that I like and I hope works – but I am not so sure that it is – is adding some California art to the Natural History Gallery in an effort – I presume – to drive traffic to the California Art Gallery upstairs.
The good news on the art side of things is that the main gallery that had an powerful show of paintings by Hung Liu, the Professor of Painting at nearby Mills College, was packed (no pictures allowed). The other good thing was that Gina Matesic and I were able to get a couple of self portraits reflected in a very nice Larry Bell.