“Jeff,” said I last week, “I think I need some culture.”
So it was that last Saturday we took a morning train into San Francisco. 2 cab rides, 5 cafes, 2 museums, 3 parks, 1 store, 2 restaurants, 7.5 miles on foot and 3 public transportation rides later, I felt completely run over but happily full of “culture.” The 5 cafes are admittedly excessive, but they are the result of my feet getting really tired and wanting to stop. Walking 7.5 miles on city streets is hard on the feet!
San Francisco is one of those places where you see famous things even if you’re not intending to just by walking around. At one point we’d just huffed and puffed up a really steep hill (and I was wishing for another cafe break) and suddenly there were the oft-photographed Painted Ladies at Alamo Square park. That park really has some steep hills in it.
One of my two museum visits Saturday was to the Picasso exhibit currently at the de Young Museum. They often have good special exhibits that travel through here. I particularly enjoy shows like this one which feature not only “finished major work” but also an artist’s sketches and working drawings. I really liked tracing the chronological progress of sketches in this exhibit. I could see how Picasso abstracted or de-abstracted figures, and his long-term fascination with certain shapes. Sometimes you’d see the process of him abstracting or rearranging an abstraction through the years. I’ll tell you one thing for absolute certain about Picasso – he loved the ladies. Yes, he did. Lots of ladies, from what I could tell.
The highlight of the day for me, though, was the Korean Bojagi exhibit at the Museum of Folk and Craft Art. Of all the museums in San Francisco, this is the one that usually has items and exhibits that are closest to my particular interests. So you know that I had to go see a textile art exhibit when it showed up. I’ll definitely go back and stare some more. If you’re not familiar with bojagi, it’s an intricate form of piecework from Korea that often features a certain type of seam that is finished on both from and back. The definition from Wikipedia is:
Bojagi or bo for short (also pojagi or bojaki) is a traditional Korean wrapping cloth. Bojagi are square and can be made from a variety of materials, though silk is common. Embroidered bojagi are known as subo. Bojagi have many uses, including as gift wrapping, in weddings, and in Buddhist rites.
The definition from the museum is,
“Bojagi (Bo-Jah-ki)traditional Korean wrapping clothsis a centuries old Korean folk tradition of pieced textiles for everyday use or ceremonial purposes, hand-made by women in the domestic realm to fulfill a practical need along with an artistic impulse.”
Nice! Sounds a lot like the history of quilting in America, doesn’t it? A practical yet artistic textile tradition. I first heard about this textile tradition last year over at the Silly BooDilly blog when she started trying bojagi herself, with really beautiful modern results. I think this technique easily lends itself to very modern interpretations, as you can see from the overview. There were SO MANY beautiful textiles there, but I am not sure about showing works up close that aren’t already on the website. I’ll show you this one though.
This piece is a very long piece featured in the museum’s press releases. You can’t see the seaming well here, but what I’m doing is explaining to my brother how the seams are created so that they are finished on both sides. It’s a trick to pull off. Many bojagi pieces are only one layer thick, so finishing seams like this is important for creating a finished piece of work. I saw pieces in the exhibit that played off this tendency in a number of ways both highlighting and minimizing the seam technique.
It was interesting going from the “fine arts museum” to the “craft and folk art” museum in one day. On one hand you have this guy who paints – and painting is something people consider to be “high art” and tourists flock to the museums for it and listen to an art historian pontificate for an hour and a half on their pre-recorded tours.
Then on the other hand you have textile art (or some other art which has craft at its root), which so many people consider to be “just crafting.” It’s great art, but you can tell its relative status by the museums which show the pieces. The Craft and Folk Art museum, for example, is small and the crowds often light, which is silly because the artists and art are so good! I don’t really understand these prejudices about art, or why it ends up being that you go to a museum and almost all the art is the same old media – sculpture or painting. There’s so much more to art than that narrow definition. And it’s ALWAYS MORE INTERESTING if you include all the art, not just the pieces that fit in a tired-out definition of what art really is or can be. </end soapbox>
So that was a good bit of my “day of culture” as I put it. Now at some point if I could drag myself to the symphony (which I really enjoy and is only four pathetic blocks from my office) or to a play (there are three playhouses within four blocks of my office) or the ballet (again, three blocks away) that would be a really great victory of culture over sheer laziness.