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Thursday, June 7, 2007

SF MOMA Exclusive with El Radio Fantastique

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2007 at 2:38 PM

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On Wednesday we got the chance to see the true value of upper-level membership at the SFMOMA: Exclusivity. One night every handful of months, $250 (and way up) a year lands you the opportunity to line pleasantly up at the door and get herded into opening-night exhibitions a full hour ahead of general members ($75 a year) and a satisfyingly distancing three days ahead of the ragtag public (zero per year, but with no obligation to go to the museum). Upper-levels also get, aside from the chance to overhear conversations by people who actually call themselves "donors," free stuff -- free music, free drinks, and most importantly, free food, provided you can elbow matrons with the skill of a diplomat. At last night's "Matisse: Painter As Sculptor" opening, depending on vagaries of replenishment, two buffet tables were loaded with some, all, or not nearly enough of the following:

Crackers arranged in concentric circles, green beans, cheese wheels, a loaf of pâté as big as a suburban mailbox, squares of quiche Lorraine that we practically set up camp next to, and lettuce leaves starring soft cheese and possibly a date (if we know our fruits, which we do not). We were expected to pile all of this onto tiny cocktail napkins and stab at it with toothpicks. Perhaps they were ensuring nobody tried to make it dinner. They failed. We also got two full service bars, both of which had roughly 20 to 30 people wondering what the fuck was taking so long.

We also got music, and by some freakish piece of luck it wasn't a jazz combo or something involving strings and formal wear. It was El Radio Fantastique, a haunting band that came to S.F. by way of New Orleans in 2005. We can think up a bunch of interesting ways to describe them, but they already put some thought into that, so we'll hand it over to their Web Site: "As a living music-breathing entity, El Radio Fantastique's 7-piece band is a stitched together b-movie creature -- part rumba band in purgatory, part cinematic chamber group, part shipwrecked serenade. Feeding on invisible mysterious musical currents, it's alive, waiting in the shadows to posses you."

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And they did! Posses us, especially with their bedraggled Victorian garb and fine headwear, and it got incredibly interesting when leader Giovanni DiMorente pulled out the theremin. (We're suckers for theremin, even though we try hard not to be.) And you know you've got a fine band when the only child in attendance squirrels to the front and starts dancing, which she did.

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At the stroke of 8 p.m., however, our upper-level privileges wore off like drug-induced coma, the bartender pulled out a price list with such a flourish that he'd probably been waiting all hour to do so, and we were bombarded by all these … these … general members, who seemed to seep through the air vents and plumbing outlets, attacking what was left of the brick of pâté. So we absconded to the fourth floor, by way of the elevators, accompanied by elderly couples in the current season's best ensembles and art hipsters in their finest no-season amalgamations, all of us looking like were attending somebody's graduation. As for the art, well, fuck, what do you want? It's Matisse in a museum. If you don't call it stunning they'll launch you off that catwalk. It turns out the master did a lot of sculpting throughout the years -- we particularly enjoyed his portrayal of what had to be weightlifter doing a dead lift, noticing with awe how the genius did not include his model's barbell, which was so innovative for the 1900s. The work was scattered about his stunning paintings, all arranged with the proper gravity. I also have it on good authority that Matisse took a shit once, and it was brilliant. --Michael Leaverton

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Matt Stroud

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