Saturday, November 12, 2005

The New deYoung Museum is stunning!

We drove to San Francisco yesterday afternoon to get a first glimpse of this spectacular new fine arts museum in Golden Gate Park. The reviews are in and consensus is that this is an architectural triumph and worthy of its place among the world's finest. The crowds are still large, but it's so spacious that it's not a problem.

The main exhibit (until February 15, 2006) is the collection of "Hatshepsut; From Queen to Pharaoh" and is wonderful. The gold objects, travertine (Egyptian alabaster) bowls and cosmetic containers, breast plates, necklaces (one made of 1400 tiny gold beads!), lifesized sandstone figures recovered from tombs where they were stowed centuries ago for the millenium and all magically brought together from many parts of the arts world for us to see.

Now this is context. When one can get this timeless ageless glimpse of humanity across a timeline of literally thousands of years, perspective is unalterably changed. Even the wars of our times are diminished. And it's quite obvious that much of human nature has remained unchanged. We were seeking the path to eternity lo those many eons ago -- and settling on answers strikingly similar to those found today in many parts of the nation and the world. The belief that one could "take it all with them into the next world" dominated how life was lived. It occurred to me that we've codified the practice into statutes that enable us to -- if not take it all along -- at least to pass it along to our heirs. Instead of the alabaster jars, jeweled collars, golden sandles and finger guards and toe covers, we do it with real property and family heirlooms, and best of all -- estates that guarantee status for those we leave behind while we tune our harps and test our wings before the throne of The Almighty.

An awful lot of us still believe firmly in our ability to transcend this life and guarantee ourselves spaces in some faraway Heaven overseen by a God created in our own image and who respects our biases enough to see to it that we're not troubled with having to deal in the hereafter with those unlike ourselves. Or so it would seem from that life-changing visit to Corpus Christi Catholic Church in New Orleans as an impressionable teen. I've never really forgiven the fact that seating was segregated in a church built by my grandfather. This was one of the earliest memories of the feeling of being the only grownup in the room; a feeling I would recognize many years later as I sat in that school auditorium in the front row while the principal and faculty performed a minstrel show in blackface on the stage before me. I was the mother of the only black child in the school -- and he was only eight.

I was particularly interested in the Nubian scribes who were prominent in the Hatshepsut exhibit. There were a number of these learned and highly respected men shown in paintings and at least one huge sandstone sculpture of such a scribe. My friend again tried to explain to me that -- despite the ebony skincolor -- Nubians were not black; an ongoing dispute. I remember having such arguments with Bill years ago when I would insist that those in North Africa -- including the Egyptians were more closely related to me, racially, than they were to the caucasian world. How on earth could they not be? Anwar Sadat might have been my Uncle Henry if I had an Uncle Henry! (White folks foolishness!) This was the continent of Africa, after all. And here it was again, Tom is a gentle man who would rather not enter into such a debate with me -- but who looks resolute and unconvinced -- smiling tolerantly and benevolently but clearly adamant in holding to his own learned opinion. Because it was such a beautiful exhibit in such a beautiful place -- I continued to hold my ground but did so wordlessly. We were at an impasse. We'll hash this one out one day in front of his fireplace with the rain sounding lightly on the copper roof at his home in Mendocino. I've not given up -- only temporarily silenced.

Meanwhile, the fine arts are many faceted and my favorite artist these days is one Dorian Leon Reid of the National Institute for Artists with Disabilities (NIAD). Dorrie will love this Exhibit. We'll visit soon, and I may learn something from the way she incorporates the experience into her own work. She's fixed on cats and there is little more arresting than the Egyptian graceful and mystical depiction of the cat. These are her Speedy on steroids!

But today I'll attend the memorial service for dearly departed lovingly remembered Lucretia Edwards, a woman adored by all who knew her; another reminder of the passage of time and of lives.

Photo: "Apples" by Dorian, painted last year. It hangs on the wall of my kitchen and brightens both the room and my life each time I catch a glimpse of it when I flick the light switch on.

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