Thursday, November 22, 2012

San Francisco, Day 3

We woke up early again today, which turned out to be a mistake because the Museum of Modern Art doesn't open up until 11am, as we found out when we got there. We headed north for a bit in order to kill some time, stopping at a coffee place to grab a scone and one of those iced coffee drinks that are full of sugar and cream, my favorite kind of drink. After some walking around, Alyssa and I split up for the first time on our honeymoon, her to go shopping for clothes, and me to find some free internet.

I eventually ended up sitting down in the Metreon center, and had probably the most productive hour of internet use in my life as I caught up on all the things that I can't do on a smart phone. It's a weird paradox of hotels that the better the place, the more expensive the internet is, and we're staying in a very nice place, so Alyssa and I are trying to limit how many days we actually pay for internet, in part so that we don't sit on our butts all night not talking to each other (a definite danger).

We met right before SFMOMA opened up, and started from the top floor, working our way down. The two main exhibits there were Joy DeFeo and Jasper Johns, and I wonder if I would have liked it better if the artists were different.

Pretty much everything Johns did I found pretentious and insufferable; it's the kind of thing that people make fun of modern art for. There was a whole room which held his series of paintings of numbers. I stared at the painting of the number seven for about ten minutes, trying alternately to clear my mind and find some artistry in it, and was left feeling nothing but frustrated. The accompanying blurbs didn't help me to feel any better about what I was seeing. Part of my problem with his work (and I think with much of modern art) is that it didn't require much in the way of either creativity or technical skill. It was just painted numbers. They didn't inspire anything, they didn't have a feeling to them ... at best it was a conceptual exercise that I could have done with a small written prompt, and nothing was added by seeing a visual manefestation of that prompt.

So I didn't like a single thing that Johns did, and his part of SFMOMA was pretty much a wash. The other main artist's installation was Joy DeFeo, which I was much more taken with. She works in lots of different media. The most striking piece, and definitely the jewel of the collection, is called The White Rose, which stands about ten feet tall. It's a semi-sculpture with smooth white lines radiating from the center, crumbling near the edges. In part because of how the lights were set up in the room, it sort of draws you in and dominates the visual space. DeFeo also has a lot of studies of different objects, such as a series of paintings of her dental bridge, painted in such a magnified and detailed way that they're nearly unrecognizable.

On the second floor was an exhibit called Field Conditions which Alyssa and I really enjoyed. The flourescent lights on the ceiling were attached to motors and a camera system which followed you as you walked across the room, and this piece was installed above a black and white randomized tile floor, so that you could walk across this large room sandwiched between two different pieces of art. In a back hallway was probably my favorite part of the whole museum, a series of psuedo-technical drawings. It was like someone had abstracted the precise lines and small exploded diagrams into something that gave the absolute sense of engineering while at the same time being utterly meaningless - the lines and shape signify nothing.

The second floor also had a lot of paintings and sculpture by some of the biggest names in modern art; Matisse, O'Keefe, Pollock, Picasso, and Dali. Most of the pieces weren't terribly well-known, with the exception of DuChamp's toilet, my least favorite piece of art. I found it incredibly masturbatory when I first saw it in an art book, and seeing it in person did not improve my opinion in the slightest. As we were leaving, there was either a tour or a college class looking at in and discussing it, which further lowered my opinion. I've heard people say that either dismissing DuChamp's toilet is a sign that you don't understand it, or that dismissing it is the whole point, but either way I don't like it. And now I've seen it in person. I should note that this was actually a replica created by DuChamp in the sixties, as the original was thrown away shortly after it was created.

After leaving SFMOMA we stopped back in our hotel and then made our way to Chinatown for the second time for lunch. We at the R&G Lounge, which is pretty widely regarded around the city. We were looking for dim sum, which is steamed buns filled with stuff, but apparently we were misinformed and they didn't have it. Instead, Alyssa got chilled chicken in soy sauce and I got a noodles and seafood dish that had octopus, squid, scallops, shrimp, and probably some other stuff. The diner was bustling, and the servers efficient to the point of being somewhat rude, but it felt incredibly authentic for that reason. I liked my dish, though it was somewhat overwhelmingly authentic. Alyssa and I agreed that in the future, out dinners in Chinatown could be a little less Chinese - either Americanized, or Asian-American fusion. Purely Chinese food is just a little bit too foreign, and there's too much to take in when eating it. The more I eat it, the more I think that Chinese is just not one of my favorite cultures when it comes to food - I much prefer Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, or some other part of Asia.

After dinner we stopped at the Eastern Bakery, which had all manner of Chinese baked goods. If you're thinking that nothing really comes to mind when I say "Chinese baked goods", then you'll understand why I was so confused that Alyssa really wanted to visit it. She picked up a wide variety of melon and bean cakes, which she tried out when we got back to  our room. What I had of them left me unimpressed, mostly because the Chinese seem to have an aversion to both cream and sugar in their baked goods. I'm sure Alyssa would have better things to say about them.

This was a designated shopping day, and we hit a number of the Chinatown stores looking for some souveniers and other things that we wanted. I picked up some t-shirts for two dollars apiece, and we'll see how they hold up. I also got us a tea set that I'm suspecting will end up gathering dust in a cupboard, and some medicine balls that you're meant to circle in your hand to build muscle strength in your hand (fun fact: your fingers don't actually have muscles). Alyssa got some chopsticks, some "incredibly cute" bowls, and various trinkets that I'm hoping are going to be given away to friends and family.

Back in the hotel room, our feet feeling quite sore, we watched the documentary I'd picked up from Alcatraz. It was entertaining to watch ex-inmates visiting their former prison, now bizarrely a tourist attraction, and the movie pointed out a lot of the sort of feelings I've been having about the place. It's a fetishized correctional facility, where lots of horrible people were locked up, and now we have little kids posing behind bars. It's a weird juxaposition, and makes me feel like people are getting swept up in the symbology without thinking about the reality. I doubt I'll watch the documentary again, but I could say that about pretty much every documentary I've seen.

We had dinner at the Thirsty Bear, which is a microbrewery that served up tapas. Whenever Alyssa and I go to places like that, we sort of wish that we drank. The menus always make beer or wine sound like it's the most amazing thing - honey apricot notes of whatever. But beer always tastes like wet bread to me, and it's a taste that I don't have the patience or desire to acquire, even if I thought kindly of alcohol.

Tapas is like having lots of appetizers, which is amazing; I wish it were a more common thing back in Duluth. We had shrimp, roast potatoes, empanadas, fried artichokes, and some meatballs. In addition to the tapas, the restuarant also had something really cool - very cheap single bites of things. I had one that was shrimp and olive, while Alyssa had one that was jam and cheese. They were amazing. I hope to go back to the Thirsty Bear before we leave to try some of their other stuff - it was definitely one of the better places we've eaten at so far.

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