My last post asked why more museums don’t attempt the occasional illuminating mix of periods and media from their own collections. In no time my blogosphere colleague Tyler Green came up with a quick example of a museum that’s been doing that, the De Young in San Francisco. (You need to look into the first item on his list of Five Things, then follow the link to his own earlier posting about the DeYoung.)
Sounds like exactly what I had in mind. My own visit to the De Young took place before the official opening, so the permanent collection wasn’t entirely up on the walls. That may be why I don’t recall seeing Jasper Johns’ Bread displayed with the 19th century American trompe l’oeil paintings, one of the combinations Green mentions, but that would be just the kind of thing I was talking about yesterday. Not an ordinary thematic grouping. (“Fifteen paintings of Spring!” The Brooklyn Museum attempts that kind of mix, with mixed results. ) The juxtaposition at the De Young casts a more intricate light on how an artist rethinks old problems and reconfigures tradition.
So much the better if the new work breaks out of the tradition by a long way, as Johns does vis-a-vis trompe l’oeil and the Shonibare I talked about yesterday does in relation to Hogarth. Combinations like those can set off a whole complicated chain of reflections. With their ever high admission fees, most American museums are suspicious of anything free, but even they should be ok with free association.