Symbols of Actual Life: The Legion of Honor Redefines Art for the Masses

This means much more than just a smattering of massive, gorgeous canvases…

It often strikes me quite plainly, the contrasts of this city. The modern innovation mixed with history, the buzz of youth coexisting with the hum of the long established, the profound wealth just a street over from poverty. This juxtaposition of two extremities is beautiful at times, and at other times thought-provoking in a way that should perhaps make some of us shameful. Good or bad, or as I see, both, this duality is a characteristic of this city that stays with me. Struck again by it I was this past Thursday night as I strolled at golden hour through perhaps my favorite spot in our seven by seven mile San Francisco, the Court of Honor at the Legion of Honor Museum.

Usually pearlescent and luminous with its marbled colonnade conjuring fantasies of Europe for all visitors, on Thursday evening it wore a different face. Massive modern canvases installed around the entire court, which will remain for the coming months, embodied the duality I’ve been speaking of in a perfectly literal display. To thank for this, we have the the artist Julian Schnabel, creator of these original works, along with the curatorial team of the FAMSF.

Schnabel, a famed artist since the 1980s, is experiencing a sort of second coming as of late, with the Legion’s installation a large feat in itself. What artist wouldn’t jump at the chance to have their work staged alongside the likes of Rodin, swimming in a sea of exemplary neoclassical masterpieces?

Photography courtesy of The Legion of HonorPhotography courtesy of The Legion of Honor

Photography courtesy of The Legion of Honor

While Schnabel’s exhibit continues inside the marble-tiled museum, casting the building’s art into a different conversation, I believe the most worthy beauty of this project lies at your first acquaintance with it–the Court of Honor. The dizzying and picturesque colonnade is free to all visitors, free for any local or tourist to while away five minutes after a hike through Land’s End, or five hours to ponder anything at all.

Like many cities of wealth and progress, so often it feels like San Francisco is embracing us with one arm, and shaking out our pockets with the other hand. And we, so happy to be apart of it, sign over all that we can just to belong. What’s more, art museums across the nation have been making it more difficult for the masses to access them rather than less so. (Just this past year, the Met revoked its “pay what you can” policy for any visitors that aren’t New York state residents.) To be handed this gift by one of the most opulent, high-brow institutions in the city, is reason to feel a deep sense of belonging and joy, is it not?

// 100 34th Ave, Presidio; Julian Schnabel’s work will be on display through August 5th; More information available here.

Symbols of Actual Life: The Legion of Honor Redefines Art for the Masses
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