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SFMOMA: Behind the scenes (A personal tour)

Jaime Caban

I had the great pleasure of joining my friend and colleague, Kevin Koerner, today at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  A buddy of his, Jaime Caban, is an executive assistant to the Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs there and we were invited to come see the latest exhibit: The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde

What I DIDN'T expect was when Jaime asked us if we'd like to take a quick tour of the archive rooms and staff work areas hidden throughout the building.  Wow...all I can say is, "What a treat that was"! (as if the show wasn't enough).  The minute we stepped behind the 'closed doors' it was like entering another world.    I wish I could remember the names of all the people we met and the conversations about upcoming exhibits, staffers joking about narrowly avoided installation and delivery disasters from the know, the kind of stuff one might expect museum curators to chat about around the water cooler.

The current show:  The Steins Collect Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde is truly a 'must see' for all lovers of Matisse, Picasso, Paul Cézanne, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, (among others).  The exhibition runs from May 21st through September 6th, 2011.

In the early 20th Century, the Steins (including good 'ole Gertrude herself) moved to Paris and began collecting art like nobody's business.  They were huge promoters of Matisse and Picasso which is evident in the collection that's currently on display.  The Museum did a fantastic job of displaying over-scaled photographs of the original salon in Paris as well as the Stein's interior walls of their Palo Alto home.  In these photos you could see some of the paintings that were on display.  I love seeing the actual piece alongside a hundred year old photo of where it originally hung. 

staffer at SFMOMA

Framing Room at the SFMOMAJaime Caban at SFMOMA

sfmoma workroomJamie and Kevinprint

The following is an excerpt from the SFMOMA website, and one that really paints (pardon the pun) the initial reaction to these great artists when first introduced in the U.S.


The Steins Return to the Bay Area

Gertrude Stein

It is April 1906. Sarah and Michael Stein are in a rush to leave Paris, where they've been living the bohemian expatriate life, to catch a ship for the United States. The sobering news of the earthquake and fire has called them back to their hometown of San Francisco to check on Sarah's family and their rental properties; the latter are an important source of income and thus a matter of no small anxiety.

They weren't in such a hurry, however, that they didn't make time to pack three paintings by Henri Matisse to show their friends back home.  It would be the first time Matisse's work was seen in the United States.   And San Francisco wasn't ready; the words grotesque, demented, affront, and horror all appear in their friends' writings about encountering Matisse's paintings for the first time.

Source: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art


Here's a quick video of our conversation with one of the curators...

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Comment balloon 22 commentsDavid Ames • May 27 2011 10:14PM
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