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    I Found My heART in San Francisco

    By Howard Steiermann–

    My partner and I try to avail ourselves of the Bay Area’s cultural offerings, as well as California’s natural beauty. Recently we headed to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. We enjoy the park often, sometimes to check what’s in bloom in the Botanical Garden, but more often than not we are using it as the neighborhood park when babysitting my cousin’s three-year-old.

    She gets mesmerized by the concourse’s fountains, intently watches dancers practicing new routines, and is getting more proficient using fat chalk to create designs in the tunnel near the Blue Playground.

    Michelle E Fillmore. Autonomy, 2023.

    I was similarly mesmerized during the recent trip my partner and I took to the park. Perhaps it was the Chicago born and raised boy in me who simply delighted in being outside in shirtsleeves on a sunny, blue-sky late November morning. All the bushes appeared to have been recently trimmed into perfect shapes, and some trees were displaying their panoply of fall color.

    I was primed for viewing the de Young Museum’s Open 2023. The Open is an exhibition showcasing over 800 works of art by local Bay Area artists. I was eager to view the exhibit, as many times over the course of a year I visit galleries, and attend various artist open studios. I was curious to be introduced to artists I hadn’t yet seen, and smile in recognition of those I had. The aesthetic side of my brain was ready for seeing art. But wow! I had no idea what a wonderfully visceral reaction I would have.

    Kev Gill. Hiroshige and Hokusai Hang Ten, 2022

    One enters the de Young’s lower gallery and immediately sees two large rooms full of art from floor to ceiling—a lot of art. Upon turning the corner, you realize there is far more. And then around the next corner, and another, and another. There are portraits, quilts, threads, wood, carpet, monochromatic, linear, curvy, two dimensional, three-dimensional. Images as familiar as a down vest, to sculptures I wasn’t quite sure what it was I was looking at. Some pieces were huge, some as small as my hand. Some images were brilliantly vibrant, some quietly muted. There were collages of all materials and amazingly photorealistic paintings; each piece clamors for attention as it pops from the darkly painted walls.

    Cory Piehowicz. Kansas City Cowboy, 2021. Jeffrey Nemenzo. Reminisce Over You, 2021

    How refreshing it is that a major museum exhibit contains such a diversity of art and artists—including art of, and created by, people of color and queer folx. It felt novel seeing more than just white men portrayed (although Paul Newman was quite handsome in one painting). Some other famous faces I saw were those of Maya Angelou, Frida Kahlo, RBG, Malcolm X, and a wonderfully powerful Harriet Tubman.

    Lorraine Woodruff-Long. You’re Getting Warmer: Rising Global Temperatures 1850-2022, 2023; IMAGE COURTESY OF ARTIST

    It was captivating to see such a wide array of art and artists, rather than a focus on well known, aka, well-marketed pieces. I really appreciate that a world-renowned museum dedicated so much exhibition space to hundreds of undiscovered or newly emerging artists. So different than the high stakes, multimillion dollar art shows in which the art sometimes come across as commodities.

    Paul Morin. They/Them (Jonathan With Earring), 2023.

    After making my way through the exhibit, I circled back to the beginning to absorb more. However, I quickly realized I was saturated, so I set a date to return.

    Cory Piehowicz. Kansas City Cowboy, 2021.

    My partner’s comment upon leaving was that being immersed in the Open was worth a whole year’s cost of membership. (Tip: admission is free every Saturday.) And, yes, one can view the individual pieces online, but the visceral and delightful overload on your senses is definitely worth the trip to Golden Gate Park. 

    The exhibit closes January 7, 2024.

    Howard Steiermann is an ordained ritual facilitator.