The other weekend I took Sophie to the Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay exhibit at the De Young. We went all the way across the Bay Bridge to the exotic city of San Francisco. Given how close we are in Berkeley, it's amazing how infrequently we go. But then I add up the bridge and cross-town traffic and the $16 parking garage fee (for this trip add on the exhibit tickets, the audio tour, a small visit to the gift shop, and lunch) and it all becomes clear.
But some things you've just got to do. How often can you drive your car to see a painting like this?
The Musée d'Orsay is doing a little remodeling and so thoughtfully sent some of their art to San Francisco (the only city in North America to host this collection) for a vacation.
My brief foray into art history via undergraduate general ed. requirements leaves me in questionable position to guide Sophie through a meaningful art experience, but this one was pretty easy: These guys got sick of painting what everyone wanted to see and buy and went off the rails to paint what they wanted to, limiting themselves not only to what they saw but what they felt. And not only wealthy people who could afford to commission paintings but ordinary people doing ordinary things. They messed with light, time, theory, and—as we saw in the optics of Pointillism—science.
We felt we were in on the joke a few days later watching Ferris Bueller's friend Cameron experience La Grande Jatte at the Chicago Institute of Art on their day out. We had done the same thing—stand close, move farther back. As your eyes go in, the picture fades into a field of dots. Cameron gets lost in the painting. I like to imagine this is where the switch was tripped that allowed him to eventually take his stand.
Sophie and I both appreciated many of the same paintings, but our favorites were vastly different. I liked some of the Monet landscapes, with dappled soft light playing off a snowy field or a wandering river. And of course Van Gough's self-portrait and room at Arles.
Sophie's favorite was The Snake Charmer by Rousseau. I'm not crazy about the stylized vegetation, but she loved the cool calm sense of nature it evoked. And of course snakes are always cool. We bought a small print of this on our way out ("You sure you wouldn't like one of Starry Night??"), and it's hanging in her room's new reading corner.
Her choice of lunch was equally adventurous in my eyes.
In keeping with the exhibit, the cafe featured a French theme. While I chose a more pedestrian sandwich, Sophie selected and enjoyed an open-faced hot mushroom sandwich topped with a warm poached egg.
Our tastes agreed in neither painting nor sandwich, but I love her all the more for appreciating my favorites but choosing her own. I choose her.