Art museums are like high school reunions: The idea sounds horrible until you actually get in there and wander around ... and eventually you leave with a positive life-affirmation. The stuff you thought you wanted to see (the Diebenkorn retrospective, or the dipshit you had a crush on in health class) ends up being blah and somewhat depressing. But the stuff you accidentally happened upon, like the decorative arts collection or the total geek you ignored in school, turns out to be pretty amazing.
And so it was at the de Young, a place I had never set foot in despite being in S.F. for 20-odd years. The museum is doing all it can to tempt the boozers and has billed itself, in essence, as S.F.'s best-kept secret underground bar, a speakeasy for the well-heeled and highbrow, in an attempt to draw more than just the art conscious. "Friday Nights at the de Young" is a mishmash of cultural events with cocktails, wine, and beer. My brother and I were there early on a Friday and the museum was setting up some sort of symphony thingie (Quick, get out while you can! ran through my head). The café, a large room flanked by picture windows, was more our speed. Globulus blown-glass lights hang down in various shades of reds and oranges over everyone while they rest their weary feet and look out over the sculpture garden.
I was ready to discuss my love of portrait galleries. The de Young had a bunch of good portraits of famous people. We had purchased our beverages and some house-made Chex Mix, which was a pretty rad thing for a museum to make, when you think about it.
"So you are liking it here," said my brother, who knew I was a bit reluctant to go to an art museum.
"Yup," I said, stuffing ever more Chex Mix into my craw. "We need to hit the gift shop though." Art museums have the coolest gift shops.
We sat there in silence for a while. The place was surprisingly empty, despite being mid-August. Where were the little kids? There were zilch families around; mostly just pairs of men and women who were either locals with the day off or tourists. You can tell the difference by the sort of eyewear they have on; locals go to Hayes Valley and pay dearly for hipster frames, Europeans can get cool-looking glasses at whatever the Deutsch equivalent to Walgreens is. Beer was flowing, all right. A cursory look at the wine list told me absolutely nothing because I don't know one goddamn thing about wine. However, it looked fancy and well thought out. So basically what I am saying is that wine, to me, is like an art exhibit that I cannot appreciate. I can tell that some curator really knew his or her stuff, but don't ask me to be a docent.
"Don't you think that Diebenkorn's work looks a lot like Cezanne?" said my brother. We both knew that Cezanne is my father's favorite artist. Diebenkorn lived in Berkeley, which is an important part of my father's life as well, since he got his Ph.D. in physics there. We are siblings and we didn't need to say any of this to know what each of us was thinking. There comes a time in your life when you realize that your brother has known you longer than anyone else, outside of your parents. Your brother trumps your best friend whom you met in third grade. He trumps everyone.
We decided that we were all arted out, but he wanted to go up in the tower that looks out over the entire city before we left. We took the elevator up and emerged in a glass-encased panoramic chamber. My brother asked me to point out which parts of the city were what, but dang, I couldn't really tell. It was a hazy day, and the patchwork of roofs that stretched out for miles looked like an impressionist painting of some ancient Mayan ruin. "There's downtown!" I said excitedly, pointing towards the skyscrapers, the only recognizable landmarks.
"Will you take our picture?" my brother asked the security guard. The man was gracious and motioned for us to squeeze together. I froze a smile on my face and so did my brother while the guy tried to figure out how to use the phone. When he was done he showed us the shot, and there we were, trapped in that moment, adults who had grown up together. We would look back on that picture, maybe even after one of us was gone, and remember that day.