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Internal Landscape

October 22, 2008


Friday nights are the night to visit the de Young Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

When the museum hosts its weekly "Friday Nights at the de Young" event, museum-goers can enjoy live bands, a full bar and, best of all, galleries that stay open till 8.45.

The Friday Night crowd don't seem all that interested in art though. When I visited last Friday, most people congregated for the party, leaving the exhibition halls blissfully uncluttered. It was a real treat to wander around the African and Early American galleries with so much space and quiet. Even the sound of the Latin band playing in the cafe could barely be heard.

What I loved the most about experiencing the de Young collection in the evening was stepping into The Family Room (a modest space on the ground floor of the museum which is mainly used for gatherings such as board meetings) and reveling in the Swiss-born Italian-American painter Gottardo Piazzoni's luminescent early modernist California murals -- The Sea and The Land.

Architects Herzog and de Meuron created a special room for the paintings when the de Young was rebuilt earlier this decade. Ten of the 14 original paintings are on display in the room. The remaining four are on loan to n the state Treasurer's building in Sacramento. The murals had previously been housed at what is now the Asian Art Museum in downtown San Francisco. (For an article about the controversy surrounding their upheaval and restoration, click here.)

Piazzoni created the paintings in 1931-1932. The lean frescos with their big open skies and yellow earth perfectly capture the spaciousness and softness of the California landscape. Tiny figures appear like ghosts staring out at the view. They seem as transfixed by the vista as I was by looking at the paintings. And the most remarkable thing about them is that they seem to imbue what would otherwise be quite a somber, relatively small room in the museum with light.

I stood in that room on my own for about 20 minutes. Later on I came back to spend another 10 minutes or so with the paintings. I think I'll be spending more Friday nights gazing at Piazzoni's Californian vistas with the sound of a band playing in the distance.


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