When I first found out that there would be an exhibit in San Francisco featuring Gustav Klimt, I was excited because I had recently become more interested in his work. When I looked at his paintings online, the combination of realistic looking human figures with wild bouts of color and pattern were very appealing to me. I had also seen the movie Woman in Gold which had one of his paintings at its center. This past summer, my friend Alicia mentioned that her boyfriend wasn’t as into art exhibits as she was, so we thought that it would be fun to go to San Francisco together and go to a museum. As time passed, and we finally got an opportunity to go in October, I stayed set on this museum idea and convinced her to go see “Klimt and Rodin: An Artistic Encounter” at the Legion of Honor.
I haven’t been to many major art exhibits, but the ones I have been to left an impression on me. I remember the Andy Warhol exhibit I saw at the DeYoung museum as a college student and how it was so multidimensional: music, art, objects, video, even a room dedicated to zoning out to the Velvet Underground complete with a large padded ottoman and psychedelic lights. I remember the Impressionists exhibit I went to in the same museum. I had known about them since I was a little kid because of my mom, and have grown to love them myself. All around me were real paintings from Manet, Monet, Degas and Renoir. I distinctly remember looking at Renoir’s, “The Swing,” and noticing how the colors were more intense in person than in any reproduction I had seen in a book. Klimt’s work, however, was somehow less impressive in person.
I don’t know what it was. I wasn’t completely unaffected, but there was an emotional connection I wasn’t feeling to Klimt’s paintings. I had forgotten that a lot of the mystery of art is the unpredictability of whether you will connect with it or not. Not only that, but the exhibit had no clear beginning and it didn’t tell a defined story about Klimt and Rodin. It was easy to disengage from the art. It was better to make jokes with Alicia and observe the other people there. Being that I travel three hours from a small town north of Sacramento in order to get to San Francisco, the people I come across in the city are not the kinds of people I come across in my daily life. The people I see walking around the streets as I ride through town fascinate me mainly because I enjoy looking at their style. When I stand side by side with fellow visitors of the art exhibits I’ve attended at the DeYoung and The Legion of Honor, I find them fascinating but also irritating.
Both Alicia and I drew a lot when we were younger and appreciate art, but serious art connoisseurs we apparently are not. When we went to the Klimt-Rodin exhibit, I felt the difference between us and the people who surrounded us. They seemed like Art People and our smiles and laughter as we made jokes about the paintings and sculptures seemed extra irreverent in their presence. They wore serious expressions and spoke quietly. Some posed in front of paintings touching their chins in contemplation. They had informed and intellectual conversation about the art at hand if they did choose to speak. I exaggerate only a little. Alicia and I weren’t making observations about the similarities and differences between Klimt and Rodin. We were taking pictures for Snapchat and coming up with funny captions. After seeing the paintings and sculptures, all that was left of the exhibit was a wall of Klimt’s drawings. Most were nudes of women. Looking at one drawing, Alicia cracked, “I think he just slept around a lot and said, ‘Hey, let me draw you naked.'” Immediately after that, Alicia told me that the girl standing beside her gave her a disapproving look. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy the art at all, or take any time to notice particular details of the pieces there, but for us it wasn’t sacred. If you want to fit in with this crowd, make sure to check your sense of humor in at the door.