Yesterday’s visit to the Legion of Honor got me thinking. Clearly, I was inspired by Rodin’s The Thinker in the courtyard entrance. I love the Legion of Honor for a number of reasons. The setting alone always makes it a worth the visit. I also like the building inside and out. When it comes to art museums, I admit to being somewhat old fashioned. I don’t mind modern architecture for a museum. My issue is with museum buildings that don’t have that special presence.
When you walk up to the Legion of Honor, enter the Courtyard, say hello to The Thinker and make your way inside, you know you have arrived at a museum. I like the feeling of a temple of culture. The newly renovated and modern Oakland Museum also gives you that feeling as you make your way up the stairs off of Oak Street. It does not have to be all about columns and marble. The Asian Art Museum, in the converted old Main Library, retained the grand feel of the Beaux Arts style building. While it’s a very un-Asian building from the street, it clearly has the presence of an important museum. Many newer museums are beautiful once you make your way inside and get into the galleries, but the initial experience is not very museum-like. Every time I walk into the new de Young I feel I should be looking for my gate and signs that say things like Jet Blue and Southwest.
San Francisco has a lot of newer buildings that do not look like what one might expect. The de Young feels like an airport terminal. The International Terminal at SFO looks more like a Costco. The massive Costco South of Market looks like a jail. Down the street the jail looks more like a modern art museum. Turn up Third Street and you might mistake the SFMoMA for a bank. You step into the lobby and expect to even see a row of tellers. The newer main library next to the Asian Art Museum feels more like a shopping mall when you enter into the large atrium. It is very similar to the San Francisco Centre down the street, but without the Nordstrom’s upstairs.
One could respond that museums are more about their collections and how they are curated. Which, yes, is the most important thing. But I prefer the whole experience and like my museum entrances grand as well.