Eating crow is rarely fun. But I'm good at placing myself in prime position for doing it, complete with a bib around my neck.
I was recently one of 19 recipients of an e-mail from an acquaintance who had been to see the Richard Avedon exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art. “I went last night and was blown away,” he wrote, imploring each of us to go before the show closed a few days later. “It's a massive and powerful body of work from Avedon.”
My response—to everyone on the string, mind you—was as follows: “… I went last week. I had just seen the Avedon exhibit at SF MOMA two weeks before that, and it put San Diego to shame. It certainly was an interesting comparison of how pent-up San Diego is in comparison to freak-flag SF.”
You see, I am so much more radical and cultured than all of you.
Um—can you say douche-bag? I can. And so could someone on the string named Chris, who called me out on my, albeit unintended, arrogance. He didn't actually call me a D-B, but it was implied, and now that I have some perspective on it, I can say with complete confidence that it was wholly deserved.
Ultimately, the goal of the sender was to get people to go see incredible, world-renowned art that happened to be right here at our fingertips. And, really: Why would anyone diss that? Because I'd been fortunate enough to see two shows by the artist, I'd made a totally subjective analysis—it is art, after all—and then acted like a schmuck.
Fast-forward one week after this exchange, and where do I find myself but standing in one of the SDMA galleries, in the sole presence of its lovely, gracious and humble deputy director of curatorial affairs, Julia Marciari-Alexander. Was it irony? Fate? Karma? God? You decide. All I know is that I had a lesson to learn, and, dammit, the universe wasn't done teaching.
Marciari-Alexander had just given a small group of us a private tour of the spectacular Calder Jewelry exhibit. I was fascinated with his wearable art—the magnificent if dangerous “Jealous Husband” is a heart-stopper—but even more so by the stories behind it, as told by Marciari-Alexander.
I could feel my face beaming as she spoke of Calder's affinity for an orange corduroy suit, a guaranteed attention-grabber on his more-than-6-foot frame. And I must have looked like a wide-eyed dope as she described the intent behind his New Year's Eve gifts to his wife. Admittedly, I was buzzing a little after gulping down two glasses of champagne on an empty stomach. Still, I was as excited as a toddler with a lifetime supply of bubbles.
I was enthralled as she described Calder's works, each piece unique—never editions—made with specific people in mind. And I thought I'd fallen in love with Marciari-Alexander herself as she demonstrated how one could try on Calder's “Crown of Leaves”—a delicate twist of brass wire, and my pick if I could have any one piece—by squatting beneath it and catching your reflection on the wall across the room. If you're not excited about art, you need to spend three minutes in the presence of Marciari-Alexander. This woman is so invested, she could make garden gnomes fascinating.
As if this first-rate exhibit weren't enough to send me into fits of self-flagellation and then to the membership desk for penance, just across the hall was (is) a complementary and spectacular collection of paintings, drawings and sculpture by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Alexander Calder. People: I don't care where you are right now, this is down the street!
I wandered alone through this exhibit shaking my head at the superb quality of the shows. I stopped for a long time in front of Picasso's “Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman” (this alone is worth a visit to the museum) and thought about how I could very easily have been in Paris, strolling the Centre Pompidou or the Musée Picasso. It was world-class—as was the Avedon exhibit that preceded it—and it is in our backyard.
It was while I was experiencing my very own Dorothy Gale moment, while I was coming to terms with what a dolt I'd been to my acquaintance and his e-mail friends, that I came to be standing alone with Marciari-Alexander. She approached and thanked me for my enthusiasm during her tour. I felt like a band geek. “I'm in awe of you,” I said. She smiled and laughed, “There's no reason to be in awe.”
And then we stood, just the two of us, and chatted for a bit about the two complementary shows and about her effort to make art accessible to everyone, including “the most rigorous scholar and my 5-year-olds,” as she told the Union-Tribune this past March. “Not everyone goes in the same door.” What Marciari-Alexander, a down-to-earth, animated, incredibly knowledgeable woman, wants is to get anyone and everyone inside the museum through whatever door works.
By the time we said goodnight, I'd confessed my SF MOMA vs. SDMA diatribe and—because I'm not one whose first instinct is to maintain dignity—my girl-crush. I admit it: I shamelessly fawned. Neither admission seemed to faze her, but why should they have? She's obviously an asset to San Diego, and she's creating a top-shelf product inside the walls of that building.
Unfortunately, if you want to see Avedon, you will have to catch a flight and head north. But for an immediate thrill, don't miss the current exhibit. In the words of my e-mailing friend, and on behalf of those 19 people who silently endured my rant: “If you haven't seen this show at SDMA, go.” Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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