The de Young Revisited

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The M.H. de Young Museum is likely to open to the public later this month, with a limited number of visitors able to tour the institution by purchasing tickets in advance for timed entry. In addition to the permanent collection, three special exhibitions are on view. 

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving, originally slated for March, features Kahlo’s outfits and personal belongings, many never before exhibited, alongside the artist’s lesser-known works. Kahlo’s clothes and personal life are displayed alongside three plaster corsets she had molded to her body and then painted in 1941, 1944, and 1950. Emblazoned with Communist political imagery, internal organs, and a developing fetus, these hybrid body-suit/paintings are a concise example of Kahlo’s exploration of identity through self-portraiture. Family photographs of the young Kahlo offer views of the artist from outside her own imagination.

Uncanny Valley is a deep dive into questions around art and technology, examining the distinctions between human and artificial intelligence. Many of the pieces are grand in scope and scale. The pinnacle is Aidol, 2019, an eighty-three-minute digitally animated film by Lawrence Lek about a weather satellite that comes down to earth in hopes of becoming the first robot artist. Lek uses a deluge of stunning visuals to draw viewers into a science-fiction narrative that provokes questions of artistic license and the authenticity of human expression. Like Aidol, most Uncanny Valley pieces critique technology while deploying it in the artistic process, complicating the endeavor with a layer of complicity.

The de Young Open features 877 artworks culled from submissions from Bay Area artists. Many of the pieces represent recognizable locales, elucidating a sense of community and the pangs of shelter-in-place estrangement.

Landscape paintings by Kanna Aoki and Leslie Allen offer San Francisco skylines and coastal vistas, respectively, while Ric Ambrose and Eric McCracken draw scenes set inside Muni cars. Another now-familiar sight proliferates in the work of multiple artists: portraits of locals wearing face masks and tee-shirts emblazoned with political slogans such as “Black Lives Matter.” Judith E Ganz’s photograph SAFE, 2020, shows a conspicuously unmasked man walking beneath the marquis of the Fox Theatre in Oakland, which reads: STAY SAFE AND HEALTHY! BACK SOON! Open displays a community marked by the pandemic, political unrest, and strong creative passion.

Posters near the museum’s entrance remind visitors that the risk of contracting COVID-19 “is much higher indoors,” and outline City-mandated facial covering and physical distancing guidelines. 

Frida Kahlo and Uncanny Valley are in-person only exhibits. Open is available online. While the exhibition isn’t as breathtaking on a computer screen, remote viewing might be the safest way to see the best work currently featured at the museum.